Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 9, 2017

“Adventurism” and Its Historical Failures

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:10 pm

Source: “Adventurism” and Its Historical Failures

September 8, 2017

Trophy; Company Town

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

Long before the threat of large scale animal extinction became front page news, a film titled “The Roots of Heaven” appeared in theaters back in 1959. This was a John Huston film based on a Romain Gary novel about a small band of outsiders, as Godard would put it, who conduct nonviolent guerrilla warfare against elephant ivory poachers in French Equatorial Africa. It was the first film I ever saw that gave me a sense of the joy and honor of political resistance.

Three years later, a book titled “Silent Spring” began to be serialized in the New Yorker that linked the looming extinction of large-scale predators like the condor to the use of DDT in killing the pests that fed on crops in places like California. When the eagles or condors fed on the toxin-laden insects, their eggshells became too thin to bear offspring, The underlying message of Rachel Carsons’s book was that capitalist development threatened not only animal life but that of humanity itself.

Opening at the Quad Cinema in New York today, “Trophy” poses the provocative question of whether big-game hunting in Africa is the best way to save elephants, rhinos, buffalo and other endangered species. Focusing on South Africa and Zimbabwe, the film interviews white ranchers who have discovered that there is big money to be made by allowing hunting safaris to pay up to $250,000 for killing an elephant on their land. So much money can be made that these former masters of the native peoples began raising endangered species rather than cattle. Like many whites who were part of the colonial elite, they have a fondness for the Africa of yore when elephants and rhinoceros roamed freely in great numbers like bison in the northern Plains.

The directors of “Trophy” were wise enough to avoid editorializing. They pose questions that you most wrestle with. What are you to make of John Hume at his rhino ranch about a 100 miles east of Johannesburg where he keeps 1,500 rhinos protected from poachers, part of which involves armed guards patrolling his vast holdings? Hume also dehorns the beasts to make them less valuable for the sordid trade that capitalizes on the irrational beliefs of the Chinese and Saudi rich that the horns are an aphrodisiac. Hume is licensed to sell 264 horns per year to anyone in South Africa, the revenues of which helps him pay $170,000 per year on security.

We also see a Texas sheepherder named Philip Glass who is life-long hunter and devout Christian (clearly not the Jewish composer who wrote “Tefilim”) who has paid big bucks to go on his yearly hunting safari on private lands where large animals are sheltered from poaching. We see him tracking down a massive and elderly lion that he has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of killing. He sees himself in the same way that Theodore Roosevelt or Ernest Hemingway saw themselves when the white race ruled the world, enjoying the privilege of killing massive amounts of wildlife. Standing over the lifeless lion, he begins to shed tears and talk about why creationism must be true. God’s obvious plan was to have man enjoying dominion over the animals. Just as the case with John Hume, the money that Glass paid goes to protect other lions and other endangered species lucky enough to be spared the bullets from his high-powered rifle.

The most interesting interviewee in the film is Craig Packer, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s Lion Center. Packer places the dwindling numbers of large-scale predators in the same context as Rachel Parsons—victims of capitalist development. In a New Yorker profile on Packer that was triggered by the killing of a protected lion by an American dentist, he defends the need for trophy hunting as a necessary evil:

It is his position, as the story begins, that the lions of the Serengeti need sport hunters to survive; that Cecils must die if prides are to endure. The lions’ existential threat is not American machismo but the slow spread of traditional cattle ranchers, some of whom have been forcibly removed from their lands in order to make room for game parks, and who will poison or spear cattle-killing lions with or without government sanction. The semi-nomadic Maasai kill lions that kill their livestock, kill lions that kill their children, and kill lions to prove themselves brave. That more than a quarter of Tanzania has been given over to hunters means that it has not been given over to people trying to make a living—so there is still hope for the lions within. “Take away the incentive for hunters to grow a healthy crop of lions, and the king of beasts would be eliminated from most of its remaining range,” Packer argues, recalling the early days of his monomaniacal quest to save Tanzania’s remaining animals. “Lions needed trophy hunting as much as trophy hunting needed lions.”

Over on CounterPunch, there is another perspective. Past and present members of Survival International who oppose traditional conservationist groups, especially for the premium they put on police action against poachers, have written articles against both trophy hunters and attempts to sustain nature preserves. As long-time defenders of indigenous rights, they obviously hope to keep pastoral peoples like the Masai masters in a state of nature even if that impinges on that of nature itself. For Stephen Corry, indigenous peoples are elevated over trophy hunters because they are tied to the land in a way that no safari ever could be:

Other big game hunters really should be grappling with a monumental theological crisis around subsistence hunting. On the one hand, they’ve always opposed it because it reduces “their” game, but on the other hand, tribal hunters surely deserve recognition as the original authorities, the respected “elders,” as it were. After all, tribesmen are infinitely more expert than anyone else at tracking and stalking, they have a much deeper understanding of their prey, and are far more respectful towards the animals – aspects which are also engrained in the beliefs of the big game hunters. Tribesmen are also of course highly skilled at making their own weaponry and, most importantly, their communities are better conservationists than anyone else.

This strikes me as a romanticized version of tribal life that has little resemblance to African realities. Lions, elephants, rhinoceroses et al are dwindling in numbers in part because their habitat is being encroached upon by subsistence farmers whose cattle are being eaten by lions or whose crops are being trampled by elephants. They have no interest in an ecological balance with such beasts who are regarded as a nuisance in the same way that a cattle rancher in Montana regards wolves as the enemy. Also, by chopping down trees and clearing bush, they are destroying the habitat of large animals in the same way that replacing the prairie with wheat killed the bison just as efficiently as rifles.

For a solution to these contradictions on top of contradictions, it will have to begin with a vastly ambitious reorganization of our relationship to nature, starting with a more equal distribution of people and resources between town and countryside. Subsistence farming is on the increase in Africa because there are so few jobs in the city. If labor could be better integrated into the production of use values in cities with a much lighter footprint than today’s Johannesburg, tribal peoples would not feel the need to kill elephants or to destroy the plant life they subsist on.

“Trophy” does not and really cannot address the future world that is so necessary but it is a powerful examination of the current hell we are living in.

“Company Town” made me so enraged at the Koch brothers that I went to the Lincoln Center website to track down the names of people on the board of directors to send a mass email denouncing them for taking money from the men who were responsible for a cancer epidemic in Crossett, Arkansas. After cooling off, I decided that my time would be better spent advising my readers to see a powerful documentary that takes up one of the most outrageous cases of environmental racism that can be imagined.

In 2005 the Koch brothers bought Georgia-Pacific that produces a wide range of commodities based on timber. This includes paper goods like Brawny, Dixie, Angel Soft, Quilted Northern and Vanity Fair that you should not buy under any conditions. It also produces a wide range of chemicals. The biggest G-P plant was in Crossett, Arkansas and employed a largely African-American workforce from the town and the surrounding Ashley county that began to suffer from a cancer epidemic clearly related to the plant dumping toxic byproducts into the soil and earth around the plant—illegally.

The star of the film is a retired African-American G-P worker named David Bouie who is also a pastor in a Crossett church. When people living on the streets in his neighborhood began dying one by one, he began looking into the possibility that toxic dumping might have been responsible, especially since nearby streams that were formerly clear and pure now were filled with gunk whose odor could make you gag.

He teamed up with a local woman who was a river-keeper for local streams in the same that Pete Seeger was for the Hudson, as well as environmental scientists to prove that G-P was acting on Koch brothers behalf to boost profits at the expense of the well-being of people living in Crossett. Most importantly, a whistle-blower from G-P came forward to tell Bouie and his fellow activists that company policy was to dump chemical byproducts into the streams and fields near Crossett under the cover of night.

Eventually they teamed up with EPA officials, who happened to be African-American just like most of the people working at G-P. Let’s put it this way. If they weren’t getting paid off by the Koch’s, they were doing the best they could to make such an impression.

In one scene that makes you want to scream, the local activists and G-P management were supposed to have a phone conference but at the last minute G-P bailed. When Bouie expressed his dismay at their refusal to discuss how toxic dumping could end, the EPA chief tells them that it might be a good idea to be less aggressive. After all, he advises, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Granted that the Koch brothers are like houseflies, this was obviously a way of telling them to accept the status quo, including more cancer cases.

The Crossett case has been widely covered in the press. I strongly advise you to see the film at Cinema Village but if that is not possible because of prior engagements between today and the 14th, I urge you to read Jane Mayer’s article that appeared in the New Yorker a year ago. (). Titled “A Whistle-Blower Accuses the Kochs of “Poisoning” an Arkansas Town”, it is likely one that Lincoln Center’s board members chose to ignore. Mayer is the author of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right”, an investigative report on the Koch brothers and their cohorts. She writes:

In June, Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the billionaires Charles and David Koch, launched a new corporate public-relations campaign called “End the Divide,” to advance the notion that Koch Industries is deeply concerned by growing inequality in America. An ad for the campaign urges viewers to “look around,” as an image of an imposing white mansion is replaced by one of blighted urban streets. “America is divided,” an announcer intones, with “government and corporations picking winners and losers, rigging the system against people, creating a two-tiered society with policies that fail our most vulnerable.”

The message was surprising, coming from a company owned by two of the richest men in the world, who have spent millions of dollars pushing political candidates and programs that favor unfettered markets and oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor. But no trouble appeared to have been spared in the commercial’s creation. It features a cast of downtrodden Americans of all colors and creeds. To portray corporate greed, it includes a shot of a Wall Street sign, followed by a smug businessman looking down at the camera, dressed in a flashy suit and tie. But, according to Dickie Guice, who worked as a safety coördinator at a large Koch-owned paper plant in Arkansas, the company need not have gone to such lengths. Instead of scouting America for examples of social neglect, the Kochs could have turned the cameras on their own factory.

This summer, Guice decided to speak out about the paper mill in Crossett, a working-class town of some fifty-two hundred residents ten miles north of the Louisiana border.* The mill is run by the paper giant Georgia-Pacific, which has been owned by Koch Industries since 2005. According to E.P.A. records, it emits more than 1.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals each year, including numerous known carcinogens. Georgia-Pacific says that it has permits to operate the mill as it does, and disputes that it is harming local health and safety. But as far back as the nineteen-nineties, people living near the plant have described noxious odors and corrosive effluents that have forced them to stay indoors, as well as what seems to them unusually high rates of illness and death. Speaking by phone from his home, in Sterlington, Louisiana, Guice pointed the finger directly at the mill’s owners, and described a corporate coverup of air and water pollution that he says is “poisoning” the predominantly African-American community.

Guice made his début as a whistle-blower in a new documentary film, “Company Town,” about the pollution of Crossett, which premièred in June at the L.A. Film Festival. Natalie Kottke-Masocco, the film’s director, and Erica Sardarian, its co-director, spent some five years in Crossett, and over time they coaxed Guice to go on camera. “I was warned that I’d never get hired again,” he told me, when I asked why he was coming forward. “But I thought, What the heck, what are they going to do, kill me? It had to be done.”

As Guice tells it, he started working at the Crossett plant in February, 2011, when Larco Inc., a local heavy-equipment and construction firm, where he worked, was contracted by Georgia-Pacific to handle disposal of the paper plant’s waste. According to Guice, the contract called for his company to spread two hundred thousand cubic yards of “ash” dredged from the Georgia-Pacific paper mill’s sediment ponds across four hundred acres of property that it owned in the town. He says that Georgia-Pacific supervisors told him to spread the waste in layers in pits that were sometimes forty feet deep, and then to cover it with six inches of dirt, “so that it looked like a regular piece of land.” The land often flooded, Guice told me, and runoff would flow into trenches that fed into a local creek, which ran behind a residential area. He said that Georgia-Pacific would also dump “big plastic tanks” of untreated liquid waste. “It looks like brown liquor,” he said. “And steam comes up from it, sometimes all day.” Within a few months of starting at the paper plant, Guice said that he fell ill from exposure to the waste, developing respiratory problems. “My doctor told me to get out of there,” he said. “But I needed that job.”

Could Punching Nazis Have Prevented Hitler From Taking Power

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 11:49 am

 


Street-fighting between Nazis and Communists, 1933

On November 28, 2006 Alexander Cockburn wrote an article titled “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left” that interpreted the rise of conspiracism as the result of a dwindling number of leftists learning “their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules.” This created a theoretical and strategic void that was filled with “a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world” that understood historical change as driven by CIA skullduggery rather than the class struggle or inter-imperialist rivalry.

Although I totally agree with this assessment and would even go a bit further by adding the RT.com zeitgeist to the mix, there is another problem bedeviling the left that is the product of Marxism’s decline and that dates roughly close to 9/11. I speak of the elevation of street-fighting tactics over theory and strategy, symbolized by the black bloc and antifa. Starting with the Seattle protest in 1999, the occurrence of some spectacular altercation became a litmus test on whether a protest was successful. A peaceful protest in which people only marched down the streets making a demand on the state is seen as tame and “liberal”, even though that describes most of the movements that occurred in the last major period of radicalization in the USA prior to 1999, from the Vietnam antiwar movement to the fight to legalize abortion.

Ever since Charlottesville, I have seen repeated references to how Nazism could have been stopped by street-fighting with almost no attention paid to the concrete socio-political conditions of Germany between 1920 and 1933, when Hitler took power. For many of those who think that physical force was the key to stopping Nazism, the viral video of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face was far more important as a guide to action than understanding the tragic history of the German left. On January 22, 2017 Natasha Lennard wrote a Nation magazine article titled “Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer Got Punched—You Can Thank the Black Bloc” that saw little need for tame mass actions. All we had to do was passively applaud the self-appointed saviors: “You don’t have to fight neo-Nazis in the street, but you should support those who do that day.” Unfortunately, Lennard had little to say about the consequences of the black bloc adventurism that day. The cops arrested innocent bystanders who are now facing up to 75 years in prison, all because some people felt the need to take part in a empty ritual as if capitalism could be undermined by a broken bank window.

I would ask CounterPunch readers to forgive me for the length of this article that will try to tell the story of the German left’s failure to stop the Nazis from taking power. As a survivor of what Alexander Cockburn called a Trotskyist groupuscule, this was a topic that all new members paid close attention to, especially since Hitler’s triumph was one of the primary motivations for Trotsky founding a new International. For him, the key to understanding Hitler’s triumph was disunity on the German left. In some ways, despite the entirely different set of circumstances we face in 2017, this remains our continuing problem. My hope is that this bit of history might have some provide some insights on the kind of movement that needs to be built today since punching Nazis in Charlottesville was not the solution to an intractable problem that will take millions of Americans acting on their own class imperatives to solve.

Continue reading

September 5, 2017

Misreporting Ukraine: The Scourge of Conspiracies

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

Source: Misreporting Ukraine: The Scourge of Conspiracies

The Trump-Putin coalition for Assad lays waste to Syria: Imperial agreement and carve-up behind the noisy rhetoric

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:25 am

Source: The Trump-Putin coalition for Assad lays waste to Syria: Imperial agreement and carve-up behind the noisy rhetoric

September 4, 2017

What in the world ever happened to Richard Seymour?

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

At one time Richard Seymour was someone who had a penetrating class analysis. However, in recent years he writes less and less on his blog based on historical materialism and much more in the Lacanian psychoanalytic vein. I don’t know how much interest there is in the Lacanian stuff given his Alexa rating of 850,507 worldwide. He has set himself up on Patreon where for $3 per month and up you can get the a-list Seymour. With articles like “Make cry-bullying kill itself”, I am not sure if $3 per month is worth it.

Over on Lenin’s Tomb, you can also find the same kind of article. For example, there is one titled “On Fetish”, which sounds like the kind of paper delivered at the yearly American Language Association conference:

This estrangement of the visual order, this conversion of attention into alienated labour, is what Beller calls the ‘cinematic mode of production’. True to the paranoid, psychotic structure of the theory, he can do no other than offer us a cinematic image by way of explanation. We are in The Matrix, the life-energy we put into the world converted into energy to run the image-world, “imprisoned in a malevolent bathosphere, intuiting our situation only through glitches in the programme.”

Good grief.

Most of this stuff has little interest for me but recently Seymour posted a link on Facebook to a May 19th article titled “Is Fascism on the Rise”  that shows how much damage this kind of psychoanalytic Social Text malarkey can do when the matter at hand requires a sober class analysis rather than the sort of prose that Alan Sokal parodied. I hadn’t noticed the article when it first showed up but thought it was worth some commentary since Seymour has become one of antifa’s PR men.

These are the opening paragraphs:

It was the Martinican poet and anticolonial fighter, Aime Cesaire, who tried to point out to Europeans that what they called Nazism, they had been practicing with a free conscience in the colonial world for decades. And that this relationship was not incidental.

In fact, the conscience of the European was never free. Octave Mannoni, the French psychoanalyst who famously psychoanalysed the colonial situation, once suggested that there was a surprising pervasiveness of the colonised, in the dreams of Europeans who had never left the continent and never seen such a person. Today, one wonders if provincial, sedentary English men and women dream of the Muslim.

Okay, spend a minute studying these paragraphs and try to figure out what is wrong.

Is the minute up? I hope that you would have noticed that the word “Europeans” is not rooted in a class analysis. Which class was practicing something like Nazism on the colonized peoples? When your unit of analysis is the nation or the continent, that goes out the window. It was the capitalist class, not the French workers, who were oppressing and exploiting Algerians.

“Today, one wonders if provincial, sedentary English men and women dream of the Muslim.” What sort of nonsense is this? Who could he possibly be writing about? Colonel Blimp? This is a reductionist attempt to characterize an entire people, something that would never appear in a serious Marxist analysis. It evokes an op-ed piece in the NY Times, where someone like Thomas Friedman would pontificate on the “Europeans” versus the “Asians”. What a sad decline from the sharp analysis he used to deploy.

After a couple more paragraphs of this kind of gaseous air-borne prose, Seymour finally lands on the ground:

There is a traditional schema according to which economic crisis equals polarisation equals extremism. Things are more complicated. There’s a particular sequence which we should pay attention to.

Yes, they are more complicated but it was economic crisis, after all, that precipitated the rise of fascism historically. Furthermore, Golden Dawn is the only powerful fascist movement in Europe that has the same kind of social weight as the 1920s version. How can you not connect that to economic crisis? Impossible. Furthermore, even with the deep crisis in Greece, there is no section of the bourgeoisie that has aligned itself with Golden Dawn, unlike Germany where the Thyssens were funding Hitler early on.

Explaining how conditions today can produce a new Adolph Hitler, Seymour is not exactly lucid. He writes:

Yes, economic crisis is important, but it has to be metabolised by the state somehow. A crisis of capitalism, has to be a crisis of its political institutions and of its ideological claims. That crisis must manifest itself in a deadlock of political leadership of the ruling class. If, typically, one of its sectors leads (say, the City of London) and imposes its imperatives as being for the good of all, that leadership will come into question.

Does anybody understand what it means for an economic crisis to be metabolized by the state? I don’t have a clue. To metabolize means to convert food into energy in a living organism. I gave up trying to understand what this might have to do with the Trump White House except maybe that his addiction to red meat and Coca-Cola might be producing baleful psychological effects that will condemn us all to concentration camps.

But is Seymour right that the fascism of today won’t look anything like the Nazis?

But the fascism of the future doesn’t have to be traditional. Nor does it have to respect the sequences observed in the interwar years, or reanimate old cultures. It could even adopt a patina of edgy cool, as with the alt-right: we should never underestimate the erotic glamour of fascism and its appeal to the death-drive.

The erotic glamour of fascism? The appeal to the death-drive? Lacan is now in the driver’s seat, not Marx. Not being versed in Freudian psychoanalysis, I have no idea what this means. I guess I am a Marxist moldy fig. I believe that people join fascist movements because they support a total war on the left and the creation of an absolutist state that will govern in their interests, at least based on the demagogy of the fascist leader. And primarily this meant solving the economic crisis. To the middle-class, Hitler promised eliminating the Jews who were ruining it. To the workers, it was job security and social benefits. To the bourgeoisie, it was a promise to put an end to working-class power.

While Seymour’s article barely mentions the USA, it does join with the leftist consensus in early 2017 that Trump was capable of imposing a fascist dictatorship: “The attempt by Bannon and Miller to force a rupture in the American state was premature and voluntaristic. A more competent germinal fascism would take its time, patiently exploiting the fascist potential within the liberal state, to incubate and nurture the fascist monster of the future.”

I generally bristle at the word “rupture” since it smacks so much of the academic leftist prose that refuses to use a simple Anglo-Saxon word like “break” or “split”. What kind of split was Bannon trying to force? You’d think that Seymour regarded him as a latter-day Kurt von Schleicher who was a close adviser to Paul von Hindenberg. In 1930 he helped to topple the Social Democratic government, the first step in a series that would lead to Hitler becoming the German Chancellor. It was Schleicher who whispered in von Hindenberg’s ear about the need to make Hitler Der Fuhrer.

Does anybody in their right mind think that this was what Bannon was about? To whisper in Trump’s ear about the need to arrest the leaders of the Democratic Party and to pare down the Republican Party to the narrow base that continues to back Trump? What then? Arrest the editors of the NY Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN and put them in prison where they would be tortured or killed? What about the universities? Round up George Ciccariello-Maher, Jodi Dean and even Paul Krugman? That is what fascism would look like, after all.

None of that was on the agenda. Instead, Bannon and Miller only hoped to use the power of the executive, their legislative majority and rightwing judicial figures to ram through a program that was the same old shit that the Republican Party has been pushing for 25 years. It is the Koch Brothers, Sean Hannity, et al. Just because Trump has cozied up with crypto-fascists like Alex Jones, there is no reason to cry wolf. As someone who lived through the Reagan years and read about the meetings that his top officials were having with Lyndon LaRouche’s cult members, I tend to be a bit more cautious about the F word. The US ruling class prefers to rule though bourgeois democracy and there is little need to take the kind of drastic action that Nazism represents.

It should be understood that Salvage Magazine that includes Richard Seymour on the editorial board views Donald Trump as a fascist. In an editorial titled “Lèse-Evilism: On the US Election Season”, they obviously demonstrated a poor grasp of American presidential politics:

If Trumpism is not fascist, it is clearly not not-fascist in the same way that mainstream Republicanism is not-fascist. Given its insurgent nativism, its overt racism and performative misogyny, its spectacular glorification of violence, including racist violence – as when Trump described as ‘very passionate’ a Boston supporter who severely beat a Hispanic man with an iron bar – its refusal to condemn overt white supremacist support, its sadistic and resentful authoritarianism, its populist denunciations of ‘big finance’ and ‘the system’, its willingness to suspend constitutional-legal norms in the interests of resolving a supposed emergency, and given our hard- and painfully-won perspective that things, particularly in these bad times, can get worse, Salvage is not complacent about the trajectory of this movement.

By these standards, we would have been facing a fascist threat under Reagan. In 1980, Ronald Reagan gave a speech openly endorsing “state’s rights” at the Neshoba County Fair. The fair was held in Philadelphia, Mississippi where 3 civil rights activists were murdered by the KKK in 1964. He broke the airline controllers’ strike. He used illegal methods to support the Nicaraguan contras in collaboration with fascist groups like the World Anti-Communist League. Was any of this an indication that a “rupture” was pending? No, it was a reflection that a right-wing Republican was in power, not that much different from others that had preceded him. Fascism was not required to make life hell for workers and Black people. The American government has been doing that for the past 200 years.

Finally, I would refer you to an article by Nathan J. Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs, a magazine that has been doing yeoman work rebutting the supporters of antifa like Richard Seymour. In a piece titled “Response to Critique On Free Speech and Violence”, Robinson replies to Seymour’s FB critique of his views on antifa. Seymour, who is referred to as Psmith throughout, wrote a boiler-plate defense of the antifa adventurists:

But Robinson ends by worrying that readers, who might be thinking of punching Nazis, would be “giving up” their principled commitment to “free speech” and “nonviolence” and should think twice before doing this. This is strange: personally, I do not have any commitment to a principle of free speech that says blocking talks is “intrinsically” or “in principle” wrong. Free speech is always provisional and contingent. If you use your speech to incite against migrant or trans students, as Yiannopoulos did, I have no obligation to defend your freedom to do that.

That is par for the course.

Robinson replied:

I might add here that those who endorse a highly contingent view of free speech rarely engage with the most important questions surrounding it. They don’t even seem to understand the reasons why people support robust open forums. It’s not because we believe that Nazis who “incite” hate are a legitimate part of the dialogue, it’s because we believe that once you start determining who can speak based on a “legitimacy/illegitimacy” framework, you are beginning to impose restrictions that will ultimately hurt everybody. Yes, everything is technically “contingent.” But the more we embrace that contingency, instead of seeing it as a very narrow and reluctant set of exceptions, the less free people generally will become. That’s because words like “contingent” and even “incite” end up being squishy and slippery, and we lose the kind of clear limiting principles that will help us maintain as open of a forum as we can. This is true whether we’re speaking of private or public action. In terms of the First Amendment, the more you empower courts to make exceptions for “hate speech” or “fascist speech,” the more you have built in a dangerous exception to your own civil liberties that now depends on you convincing a judge that you aren’t hateful. “Incitement,” without a clear and limited definition of what it does and doesn’t mean, is worryingly broad. (Yes, the Supreme Court adopts an “incitement” standard, but it’s “incitement to imminent lawless action,” with the imminence question being crucial, which is why mere advocacy of lawless action is permitted, and the qualification is crucial for safeguarding the right.) People like Psmith never seem to want to tell us how the limits of what constitutes an “incitement to hate” will be determined.

I urge you to read the entire article and to look for any others written by Robinson on the antifa question. I also recommend Carl Boggs’s article in today’s CounterPunch that is superlative. Here is an excerpt:

Antifa screams about racism and fascism on the right, which of course exists, while ignoring those same tendencies – not to mention warmongering – among liberal Democrats.  The group seems blind to far more consequential fascist interests at work within the power structure itself.  Despite a well-cultivated radical image, Antifa rarely focuses on the growing ultra-nationalism, militarism, and imperialism that lies at the very core of American politics – tendencies in fact more dangerous than the rhetoric of Yiannopoulos, Coulter, and Shapiro.  Beneath its ultra-leftism is a modus operandi riddled with the worst of identity politics.  And since its violent tactics are not aligned with any popular movement, its opposition to fascism (such as it is) turns hollow, empty.

 

 

September 1, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and the dialectics of nature

Filed under: climate,Counterpunch,disaster,Ecology — louisproyect @ 1:25 pm

Between 1872 and 1882, Frederick Engels worked on a book titled “The Dialectics of Nature” that sought to apply Marxist dialectics to the natural world. Although it was never completed and is filled with dated ideas about science, it is a work that has earned the respect of some of the most important scientists on the left such as Stephen Jay Gould who praised its best known chapter that was issued separately as a pamphlet—The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Long before people such as Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson were laying the groundwork for the eco-socialism of today, Engels anticipated the kind of contradictions that have led to three disastrous hurricanes: Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey. Engels wrote:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries.

If you understand that the prairies surrounding Houston, the wetlands to the south of New Orleans and the brush that grew across the coastline around greater New York were closely related to the forests of the earliest class societies that Engels refers to, you will realize that “each victory” will bring us closer to the ultimate defeat of civilization itself. Just consider the words that follow those above:

When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.

Furious torrents. Are there any words better matched to the pictures of Houston seen on television every night?

Continue reading

Photographers beware of violent antifa protesters

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 12:03 am

Photo by Thomas Hawk of photographer attacked by masked antifa goons.

Opinion: Photographers beware of violent antifa protesters

While I understand people not wanting to be photographed, if you to a rally at a free-speech park where there are media and photographers there should be no expectation of privacy.

By Thomas Hawk

Thomas Hawk is a photographer and blogger based in San Francisco. This piece was first published on PetaPixel.

This past Sunday, I photographed the “Rally against Hate” protests in Berkeley, California, which was organized to oppose a “Say No To Marxism” rally that had been planned. There was very little representation of the so-called alt-right at the park on Sunday. However, there were 100 to 200 antifa (or anarchists, or whatever they are called) who showed up dressed in all black to the protest.

The vast majority of the people protesting were anti-hate, peaceful protesters. But this group of black-clad masked protesters assaulted several photographers at the event. I personally witnessed photographers having their cameras stolen and smashed and damaged.

I also personally witnessed photographers being physically assaulted.

At one point, while a photographer was being assaulted the Berkeley Police Department had to rush into the black bloc crowd to fish a guy out who was being beaten on. That is the guy whose face is bloodied and the photo I took where the police are escorting him.

Continue reading

August 31, 2017

This is what American fascism looks like: the Lyndon LaRouche story (part three)

Filed under: anti-Semitism,LaRouche — louisproyect @ 8:15 pm

Lyndon LaRouche’s use of anti-Semitism

(part one, part two)

Marine Le Pen: The Jews have nothing to fear from the National Front

In the Weimar Republic, anti-Semitism served the interests of big capital by singling out the Jews for scapegoating. With an enraged and economically desperate middle-class, it made sense to blame the Jews for their suffering. All this is detailed in Abram Leon’s “The Jewish Question” that can be read online.

The economic catastrophe of 1929 threw the petty-bourgeois masses into a hopeless situation. The overcrowding in small business, artisanry and the intellectual professions took on unheard of proportions. The petty bourgeois regarded his Jewish competitor with growing hostility; for the latter’s professional cleverness, the result of centuries of practice, often enabled him to survive hard times more easily. Anti-Semitism even gained the ear of wide layers of worker-artisans, who traditionally had been under petty-bourgeois influence.

What is more difficult to understand is how anti-Semitism can serve the same function in contemporary America. To start with, except for the Hasidic sects in Brooklyn, there are no identifiable Jewish neighborhoods in large cities like New York. An assimilated population, the Jews are spread throughout the city and cannot be identified by skullcaps or any other marker. Additionally, the scapegoat of choice for today’s fascists is the African-American, the Latino, the immigrant and the Muslim. Considering all this, it is somewhat of a mystery why men on the “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville were chanting “The Jews will not Replace Us!” What exactly did that mean? That a tax accountant in Park Slope whose grandfather changed his name from Bernstein to Burns was now going to take their jobs at Walmart or an auto repair shop?

In this article, I want to take a close look at the LaRouche movement’s use of anti-Semitism and more recent expressions found in places like Daily Stormer, as well as the European fascist movement that in many instances is strongly Zionist and Judeophilic. These are complex questions that I hope to answer here, especially for my own need for clarity.

As it happens, the chapter in Dennis King’s “Lyndon Larouche and the New American Fascism” on the cult’s anti-Semitism has the same title as Abram Leon’s book: the Jewish Question.

In 1975, not long after LaRouche had completed his fascist turn, he came into contact and formed a partnership with Willis Carto, who was the founder of the Liberty Lobby and the most prominent anti-Semite of the time. Carto put out a magazine called The Spotlight that had a paid circulation of almost 200,000 in 1979. LaRouche’s targets became the same as his: the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, Henry Kissinger, and the Council on Foreign Relations. And like many ultrarightists today, starting with David Duke, Carto was staunchly anti-Zionist. This might help understand why people like David Duke are sympathetic to Bashar al-Assad today. He is a symbol of resistance to Israel. Just ask Max Blumenthal.

Not long after Carto and LaRouche bonded, The Spotlight began publishing articles by National Caucus of Labor Committee (NCLC) members writing under pen names, including his Jewish members who were plentiful. You were also able to buy LaRouche’s publications through Carto’s mail-order service.

The anti-Semitic dynamic accelerated after LaRouche traveled to Germany to straighten out some problems among his followers there. On that trip, he met Helga Zepp who he would soon marry. Zepp remains an important figure in his movement today even as she is a care-giver to the 94-year old man in his dotage. When he returned to the USA, his newspaper New Solidarity began publishing the same kind of articles as Spotlight but with more of an anti-capitalist coloring.

In 1986, ex-member Linda Ray explained why Jewish members went along with this:

Many people find it difficult to understand how Jews—such as I—could have worked for an anti-Semitic group. Perhaps the answer is that the members get so hypnotized by the simplistic “good guys and bad guys” approach to history that they do not hear what LaRouche is really saying.

For example, a 1974 edition of LaRouche’s Campaigner magazine falsely reported that Britain put Hitler in power. Britain, the story said, was the initial controller of the Nazi German war machine, before it went out of control. LaRouche kept writing on that theme for many years. By 1978, he even was writing how the British were a different, “subhuman species.”

Since the blasts were overtly directed against the British, Jewish members often did not recognize the subliminal anti-Semitism of the attacks. LaRouche, like the Ku Klux Klan, Hitler and Goebbels, was attacking the Rothschilds and other British-Jewish banking interests. In the wake of these anti-Semitic writings, many of us were confused. But we continued to defend LaRouche by lamely saying, “We’re not anti-Semitic. So many of our members are Jews. We always say in our publications that we are against the Nazis.”

Today, George Soros is added to the mix. For the alt-right, he is a like a villain plucked out of a James Bond movie who is masterminding conspiracies all around the world. Reflecting the agenda of the Breitbart right, blogger and provocateur Mike Cernovich has depicted Soros and the Rothschilds as orchestrating the purge of Steve Bannon from the White House in this cartoon:

That is Trump’s National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster on the left and David Petraeus on the right. The image suggests that the Jews are controlling everything.

While clearly the bailiwick of the far right, there are signs of the same sort of anti-Semitic tropes on nominally leftist websites. Indeed, if you looked at LaRouche’s press when he was still arguably on the left, you can see the same sort of thing.

Let’s take a look at 21st Century Wire, a website that features articles by Vanessa Beeley and that was launched by an Infowars editor. There you will find the same sort of crap. A search on Rothschild will turn up a shocking article titled “The Money Changers: Rothschild Banking Dynasty Said To Be Worth $100 Trillion” by an asshole named Dean Henderson who has also written for In These Times, for what that’s worth.

The article begins with a dead giveaway that it feeds from the same trough as Willis Carto and LaRouche’s fascist cult:

Since America’s inception…

 there has been a lingering notion that European Illuminati bankers seek to bring America to its knees and return it to the fold of the Crown of England, which centuries ago became the key political vassal for the Eight Families who own majority stock in every private central bank in the world — Rothschild, Rockefeller, Kuhn Loeb, Lehman, Goldman Sachs, Warburg, Lazard and Israel Moses Seif.

In sync with LaRouche, Henderson claims that “Zionist Bankers Created Nazism, White Supremacy & Eugenics”.

If many of the Jews like Linda Ray had no problem writing anti-Semitic articles for LaRouche’s press, you can something of the same tendency in the writings of Gilead Atzmon who wrote some really filthy stuff on DissidentVoice, a website that has become very problematic over the past decade despite its honorable origins as a voice against Bush’s “war on terrorism”. On April 13, 2013, Atzmon wrote this:

But, as ubiquitous as they are, AIPAC, CFI, ADL, Bernie Madoff, ‘liberator’ Bernard Henri Levy, war-advocate David Aaronovitch, free market prophet Milton Friedman, Steven Spielberg, Haim Saban, Lord Levy and many other Zionist enthusiasts and Hasbara advocates are not necessarily the core or the driving force behind Jewish Power, but are merely symptoms. Jewish power is actually far more sophisticated than simply a list of Jewish lobbies or individuals performing highly developed manipulative skills. Jewish power is the unique capacity to stop us from discussing or even contemplating Jewish power. It is the capacity to determine the boundaries of the political discourse and criticism in particular.

Finally, there is Information Clearing House, another website with a trajectory like DissidentVoice. They published an article by one John Kaminski claiming “Jewish Media Myths Leading Us Toward World War III”. Metapedia, an alt-right version of Wikipedia, identifies him as “best known for his works on Jewish supremacism and as a critic of Judaism.” Yeah, they got that right based on the article:

But just because I revile Hitler doesn’t mean I believe the fictions the Jewish dominated media have spun about the Holocaust. I have been driven irrevocably into the category of Holocaust denier (a 1947 AP story said 875,000 Jews were killed in Germany during WW II) simply because of the way the Jewish community has trumpeted its martyrdom for financial gain, how the Jewish community has destroyed freedom of speech in a dozen European countries by making it a crime to talk about the events that led up to World War II.

Here is some other Kaminski jewels cited on Metapedia:

The Jews are traitors to every country that they live in. Everyone in the entire world needs to wake up and realise what Jewish influence, Jewish poison medicine, Jewish fake wars and Jewish control of their money supplies have done to everyone in the entire world. It is easily the greatest crime ever committed by humans. The sad thing about Jewish philosophy is, after they wind up destroying everybody else, they won’t be able to avoid destroying themselves.

Jews promote diversity because it dilutes the ethnic fabric of nations and allows the tribe to assimilate and exploit more efficiently. They are better able to hide in a confusing racial mix, where people are less likely to notice they are ruthless Asian nomads, who destroy societies because they never really had one of their own that they didn’t steal from someone else.

I should mention that Kaminski is quite the regular at Information Clearing House, having published 8 articles over the years.

Despite all this, there really is no existential threat to Jews today for the reasons I stipulated at the beginning of this article. To be perfectly blunt about it, neither is there an existential threat to the working class from fascism at least in the USA. People like David Duke, Richard Spencer, the Daily Stormer website, et al are very marginal. The Southern Poverty Law Center would have you believe that we are living as if it were the Weimar Republic in 1928 but nothing could be further from the truth. Except for the sporadic turning over of headstones in a Jewish cemetery or a swastika drawn on a synagogue, Jews suffer nothing that begins to resemble what Black youth or Muslims have to put up with on a daily basis. Unlike the mostly assimilated Jewish population, Muslims tend to be much more like the Jews of the 1930s living in clearly delineated neighborhoods and identifiable by their appearance.

Google “woman hijab attacked” and you will get 1,370,000 results. By comparison, you will get only 6% of those results when you do a search on “Jew kippah attacked”, keeping in mind that most Jews in the USA would not be caught in a kippah, starting with me.

Finally, you might expect the American alt-right to catch up with their European brethren who have dumped anti-Semitism and moved in a philo-Semitic and Zionist direction. For example, Marine Le Pen stated in a June 2014 interview that “I do not stop repeating it to French Jews. … Not only is the National Front not your enemy, but it is without a doubt the best shield to protect you. It stands at your side for the defense of our freedoms of thought and of religion against the only real enemy, Islamist fundamentalism.” Indeed, she expelled her virulently anti-Semitic father who had founded the National Front because he was an obstacle to carrying out this turn.

Meanwhile, despite the veiled anti-Semitism of Trump administration figures and his support among the alt-right, there are indications that the government of Israel has become Trump’s best friend outside of the Christian right. In an article for Jacobin titled “Unholy Alliance“, Amir Fleischmann documents the growing connections with Richard Spencer perhaps being capable of carrying out a Marine Le Pen type turn:

Trump has vowed to be the best friend Israel has ever had and has floated the idea of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer has actually praised Zionism for helping inspire the ethno-nationalism that he has made his own.

Herein lies the key to understanding this alliance. The state of Israel was founded at the end of World War II, when the major powers sought to redraw the world map in a way so that (nearly) every minority got their own country. This way, there would be no minorities. In order for Israel to become a Jewish state, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to be ethnically cleansed in what is now known as the Nakbe.

This ideology — that ethnicities should be separate and that minorities should be expunged — is precisely what is driving the alt-right. This allows us to understand why the alt-right can simultaneously hate Jews and love Israel. The alt-right is fine with Jews, as long as they’re over there, far away from the United States.

And because they consider Jews “more white” than Arabs, the alt-right is happy to use them, through the state of Israel, to keep those uppity Muslim states in check. This has been Israel’s historical role. It was the case in 1956, when France and Britain entreated Israel to invade Egypt in order to stop Gamel Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal.

More recently, the Mossad has also helped the United States assassinate Iranian scientists and otherwise sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. The alt-right is happy to give support to the state it sees as the West’s first line of defense against the dreaded Muslim invasion.

As shocking as it might seem to see orthodox Jews eagerly jump into bed with rabid antisemites, we should really know better than to be surprised. What the alt-right and Israeli settlers (and their supporters) have in common is a shared fervor for ethno-nationalism and a strong inclination towards Islamophobia and racism.

Israel is useful to the alt-right both as a tool for wreaking havoc in the Muslim world and as an ideological fellow traveler, willing to support their nationalist and chauvinist policies. Without acknowledging this, we cannot hope to understand either movement. The Left must be vigilant in opposing this alliance and refuse to let the alt-right’s support for Israel be a cover for their extreme antisemitism.

August 30, 2017

Peter Camejo on fascism and ultraleftism

Filed under: Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 1:05 am

Then you started hearing them all talk about imminent fascism. The underground papers discovered that there were concentration camp sites in this country, and that some of them were being cleaned up and gotten ready. They would say to each other, “See you next year in the concentration camps.” This was a very common attitude, because they couldn’t see any force around that was protecting their civil liberties.

Then what they began to develop was the thesis that civil liberties, elections, courts, all bourgeois democratic forms, are a gigantic put-on, a fantastic manipulation. That it is all a ruling class trick. So, these people concluded that the elections and civil liberties are unreal, and the people who run the country could call them off tomorrow. Elections and civil liberties, they said, “have nothing to do with reality”.

Then came the instant fascism theory. We are about to have fascism any moment now. But this is a very confusing theory. Somehow the rallies and demonstrations continue year after year. They don’t put us in the concentration camps.

This theory is actually a mixture of deep cynicism, thinking that the ruling class is all-powerful, but it always is combined with a last hope that maybe they aren’t completely bad. Maybe there is still someone who will listen.

Sometimes a liberal becomes frustrated not getting the ear of the ruling class, and he concludes that he’ has been using the wrong tactics. So he adopts a lot of radical rhetoric. He says this ruling class is apparently so thickheaded that what we’ve got to do is really let loose a temper tantrum to get its attention. The politicians won’t listen to peaceful things, but if we go out and break windows then Kennedy will say, “Oh, I guess there is a problem in this society. I didn’t realize it when they were just demonstrating peacefully. I thought everything was OK because they were in the system, but now they’re going outside the system, they’re breaking windows, so we’ve got to hold back.”

These liberal-ultraleftists think that’s what moves the ruling class. Actually they come close to a correct theory when they say that if people start leaving the system the ruling class will respond. But they don’t believe that the masses can be won. They think it is enough for them to leave the system themselves, small groups of people carrying out direct confrontations.

For example, let me quote a thing from the New York Times that illustrates how this type of idea develops. A girl from Kent, after the killings there, was asked what she thought could be done about Cambodia and what she thought about the use of violence. This was a person who is just radicalizing, a liberal, just beginning to oppose the war.

She says, “I’m really dead set against violence. That’s also a copout. But it’s the only way to get the government’s attention. What you’re doing is drawing their attention to you, by using the same methods they use. I’m really against that. It’s horrible that the only way you can get people to listen is to have four kids killed. There was really no blow-up over Cambodia until four kids were killed. You can have all the peace marches that were peaceful and quiet, and everyone would pat you on the back and say ‘good little kids’, but nobody would do anything.”

Now, what’s in her mind? She doesn’t see any independent, mass force that’s standing in the way of the ruling class. She’s looking at the ruling class and asking, “Are we affecting them or not? Are they being responsive?” And if not, maybe the way to get them to pay attention is to go out and break some windows and use violence. It’s a very natural conclusion when you don’t understand that there’s a class struggle, a class relationship of forces.

Having given up on the masses, the ultraleft super-revolutionaries are really trying to influence the ruling class. A classical example of this unity between the liberal and the ultraleft approach was the Chicago demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Party convention. The leaders of the demonstration came from the National Mobilization Committee. They were revolutionary. Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger and Rennie Davis were on hand, and their rhetoric was as radical as you can get.

But while the “militant” demonstrations were in process, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis were apparently closeted with McCarthy’s supporters working out an agreement to help McCarthy.

According to an article in the Jan. 22, 1970 Washington Post, “[Sam] Brown [Vietnam Moratorium Coordinator] said [Tom] Hayden suggested … that if McCarthy appeared to have a good chance by Monday or Tuesday — and if that chance might be hampered by public activity [demonstrations] — then we could meet to decide whether to go ahead with the public activity.” Hayden has never denied this account.

Another example of this type of ultraleftism was a full-page ad which appeared in the New York Times on June 7. It was placed by the New Mobe and signed by guess who? Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, et al. This ad announces in big letters at the top of the page: “It’s 11:59.” 11:59 to what? It’s 11:59 to 1984. Fascism is due in one minute.

This is another thing that these ultraleft-upside-down-liberals have: the panic button. Since they don’t see any countervailing force, they think at any moment the whole country could just go BANG! At any moment the ruling class can make a move to the right, and they don’t see any way to stop it, so they throw in the towel, they just panic. The ad says: “If you’re reading this — don’t kid yourself any longer. Big Brother is making his list. And you’re on it. Can we stop 1984? It’s 11:59 p.m. now. The clock is ticking loudly. What in hell are we going to do about it?”

Well, what solution do these ultralefts have? What do they project should be done to stop imminent fascism? In this ad they have a five-point program.

full: https://www.marxists.org/archive/camejo/1970/ultraleftismormassaction.htm

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.