Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 2, 2019

Butting in to Bhaskar Sunkara’s debate with a Trotskyist

Filed under: Jacobin,social democracy — louisproyect @ 9:26 pm

Debates between DSA’ers and Trotskyists are few and far between, especially today when Trotskyist groups are gnats compared to the elephantine DSA. Once upon a time, long before the Sandernista left reconstituted itself as the DSA, these debates were more frequent because the relationship of forces was different. The SWP, which is a micro-gnat today, was once the largest group on the left and anxious to defend its ideas against all comers. Although I hate to see even a single penny go to this grotesque cult today, Pathfinder’s collection of 3 debates titled “The Lesser Evil?: Debates on the Democratic Party and Independent Working-Class Politics” is only sixteen dollars and would be useful reading today. It contains Peter Camejo’s legendary standoff with DSA founding father Michael Harrington in 1976, cult leader Jack Barnes’s with Stanley Aronowitz in 1965, and George Breitman’s with Carl Haessler in 1959. While the DSA did not exist in 1965 or 1959, social democracy did.

Aronowitz was a leader along with James Weinstein, the late publisher of “In These Times”, of the Committee for Independent Political Action that was a forerunner of the DSA strategy. A NLR article on the Rainbow Coalition will indicate that this strategy has been around for a long time:

In 1965, a group of white socialists in New York City created the Committee for Independent Political Action, which attempted to advance an anti-Vietnam war agenda within the Democratic Party primary elections. Radical trade unionist Stanley Aronowitz viewed the strategy as a means for ‘an independent political movement’ to attack the Democratic Party, as well as to ‘evolve into a third party.’ Revolutionaries who entered the Democratic Party could ‘put reform Democrats who are radicals programmatically on the spot’, while educating a mass audience.

As for Haessler, he was 72 at the time he debated George Breitman and had probably shifted to the right, keeping pace with other SP members who were thoroughgoing anti-Communists in 1959. To his credit, he went to prison for opposing WWI and was closer to Eugene V. Debs than he was to Victor Berger, the sewer socialist he dubbed an “old fogey”.

While Bhaskar Sunkara has largely been identified with Michael Harrington and Karl Kautsky, I would see him much more as in the tradition of Stanley Aronowitz who was one of CUNY’s best-known Marxist professors. He helped to get the Socialist Scholars Conference going in the 1960s and restarted it in 1981 as a DSA-backed enterprise.

Like Sunkara, Aronowitz was a very nimble defender of social democratic politics and had momentum on his side in the 1970s when a number of Democratic Party elected officials joined the DSA, especially African-Americans. The disgusting McCarthyite KeyWiki website provides a list of DSA elected officials from 1990 that includes 19 men and women including Congressmen Ron Dellums and Major Owens, NYC Mayor David Dinkins, and Ruth Messinger, the Manhattan Borough President. It was not uncommon for leftists to take jobs with these elected officials. For example, Lars Lih worked for Ron Dellums as Ron Ashford did for Major Owens. Ashford was a member of CISPES in New York, where I got to know him, as well as a member of the Communist Workers Party that made the tragic mistake of getting into an armed confrontation with the KKK in North Carolina.

More recently, there have been two debates between leading DSAers and people coming from a Trotskyist tradition. Back in April, there was a conference in NYC co-sponsored by Jacobin and HM that included a debate between Charles Post and Eric Blanc. Unfortunately, there was no video recording but you can read my capsule summary here.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been watching a debate between Bhaskar Sunkara and James Peterson, the editor of Socialist Revolution that can be seen above. Peterson, like Post, repeats the standard arguments for independent class action that they learned in the Trotskyist movement. Post was a former member of the SWP and Peterson belongs to the American section of the IMT, a British Trotskyist International led by Alan Woods that never gained nearly as high a profile as its rival Socialist Alternative. Probably, the decision of Peterson’s group to call itself the International Marxist Tendency has quite a bit to do with its modest presence.

Actually, I was far more interested in what Sunkara had to say since he has never really replied to his critics on the left, least of all a skunk like me. When he was 16 years old (or something like that), he was on the Marxism list but never promoted social democratic politics except in his farewell address to the subscribers:

I’ll be in the DSA, in the cesspool of the Democratic Party, in the mainstream unions, where the working people are, until you comrades can prove me wrong and build a viable alternative for working people and then I’ll apologize and happily join you.

Unlike Eric Blanc, Sunkara is not much of a theorist. I’ll be getting around to his “Socialist Manifesto” but as far as I know, most of his statements are rather anodyne op-ed type pieces in the bourgeois press, including a regular column in the Guardian where he offers up this kind of wisdom:

I’ve been wrong about this once before, but I’d bet that whoever the Democratic nominee is in 2020, they’ll be able to defeat Trump. That’s all the more reason to go with the most viable progressive candidate – someone committed to change and with the knowledge and willingness to do battle with the big business interests that want to hear none of it.

At the very least, this acknowledges that Sanders is a “progressive candidate” rather than the boilerplate description of him as a socialist, a label that is getting harder and harder to justify given how he has clothed himself in New Deal garments.

Early on in the debate, Peterson defends the distinction between socialism and communism that in reality never appeared in Marx’s writings, as Michael Lebowitz points out. For Peterson (and many other Marxists, including Lenin—I would add), socialism is identified with the dictatorship of the proletariat—a state in which the workers rule. After socialism has become a world system and completed the task of wiping out all traces of capitalist property relations, money will no longer be needed and the state will begin to dissolve until communism is achieved, a purely classless society that will have a lot in common with utopian literature of the past. Frankly, I’ll be glad if we even get to those conditions that Trotskyists used to call a workers state with bureaucratic deformations given the descent into hell of the past decade or so.

Sunkara views this distinction between socialism and communism as baseless. There will always be a need for a state, in his view. He puts it this way. “Let’s say that you want to build a bridge and I want to build a tunnel. How do we mediate that without a state?” To start off, I remain mystified by any attempts by the left to grapple with the problem of future socialist societies whether it is the boneheaded Fully Automatic Luxury Communism or the thoughtful attempt by Sam Gindin to say “What socialism will look like”.

I try to imagine why a state would be necessary to decide for example whether a tunnel or a bridge should be built. The implication of Sunkara’s example is that markets would solve these problems rather than planning. Keep in mind that this is what Vivek Chibber, the editor of Catalyst magazine, has already said:

What is more challenging is the issue of economic planning. We have to start with the observation that the expectation of a centrally planned economy simply replacing the market has no empirical foundation. We can want planning to work, but we have no evidence that it can. Every attempt to put it in place for more than short durations has met with failure.

In a society of millions of people, billions if you conceive of communism as a world system, planning will be essential if for no other reason to utilize resources intelligently. Scientific planning, in fact, is the only way to avoid the Sixth Extinction whatever the Jacobin/Catalyst hustlers believe. If scientists getting together to figure out how to preserve old-growth forests while still supplying the wood needed for chairs and desks is the same thing as cops arresting environmentalists sitting in to protect redwood trees, then the differences between social democrats and Marxists is deeper than anybody could have ever imagined.

Moving right along, Sunkara and Peterson wrangled over the question of “bourgeois democracy”. At 18:00 in the video, Sunkara expresses disagreement with the idea that democracy was a gain of bourgeois revolutions, as put forward by Peterson who was simply expressing the idea scattered throughout Kautsky’s writings. He wonders why the bourgeoisie should get credit for the very thing they violently opposed. He says that from 1848, the bourgeoisie opposed “democratization”. Of course, there is a problem in the way he formulated this. Marxists don’t use a term like “democratization” that is class neutral. That is why they refer to bourgeois democracy. For example, the American civil war produced bourgeois democracy. It ended chattel slavery and allowed Blacks to become free wage laborers. Even if Jim Crow forced them into second-class citizenship, they still had the right to move wherever they wanted, including New York and Chicago where they could get jobs making Ford automobiles and vote for the Democratic Party that was largely responsible for Jim Crow. This is a contradiction that largely escaped Sunkara, whose grasp of dialectics is about as deep as mine is of particle physics.

The final 30 minutes or so of their debate revolves around the Democratic Party that Sunkara referred to as a cesspool above. In accord with Eric Blanc’s article on “the dirty break”, he explains that it is okay to “use” the primary ballot to raise all sorts of hell as a socialist candidate more likely to get air time than we used to when we ran people like Peter Camejo for President. If this was all there was to the tactic, I’d take the Jacobin publishing empire-builder a bit more seriously. However, these campaigns by Sanders, A. O-C, et al are not about socialist propaganda. They are serious attempts to get elected and seen so by Jacobin and the DSA, so much so that A. O-C told CNN that she “look[s] forward to… us rallying behind all Democratic nominees, including the governor, to make sure that he wins in November.” That was Andrew Cuomo, the politician who represents everything that is filthy about the Democratic Party. It is no different than Sanders urging a vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. My guess is that whoever runs against Trump next year, Sanders will certainly endorse whoever the Democrats nominate, even Joe Biden. That will be a contradiction for Bhaskar Sunkara to unravel—speaking dialectically.

 

July 1, 2019

Lars Lih versus Eric Blanc

Filed under: Jacobin,Kautsky,Lenin — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

Lars Lih, the master disowns his disciple

In what practically amounts to self-plagiarism, Lars Lih has written now what seems like the tenth article elevating Karl Kautsky’s reputation to heights not seen since the early 20th century before it was permanently damaged by his ideological scabbing on the Russian Revolution. Jacobin, the go-to place for neo-Kautskyism, has just published Lih’s “Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution”, which is meant as a corrective to his acolyte Eric Blanc’s attempt to consign Bolshevik-type revolutions to the ashbin of history. Ironically, Lih views October 1917 as a vindication of Kautsky’s writings while his disciple Blanc views those same writings as a disinfectant against the unreconstructed Leninism that stubbornly refuses to accept Bernie Sanders as the greatest revolutionary since Eugene V. Debs. In essence, Kautsky serves as a Rorschach test for the two Jacobin authors. Lih sees the image resembling Lenin and Blanc sees it as the anti-Lenin. Of course, before Blanc became so gung-ho on Democratic Party politics, his take might have been closer to Lih’s but why expect him to be consistent? After all, consistency is the hobgoblin of foolish minds.

While Lih himself has never said a word about post-1920s politics, he implicitly takes issue with Blanc’s attempt to replace Lenin with Kautsky as supreme helmsman for the revolution DSA will lead in the glorious future. Very few DSA’ers have ever read Karl Kautsky, let alone Eric Blanc, but among the Jacobin/DSA mandarins Kautsky plays the kind of role that Trotsky played for the sect I belonged to in the 1960s and 70s. If you need an excuse to re-register as a Democrat and pass out campaign brochures for Bernie Sanders, nothing tops citing Kautsky who at least never set up gulags or outlawed abortion.

Blanc’s Jacobin article “Why Kautsky Was Right (and Why You Should Care)” implicitly endorses Kautsky’s 1918 condemnation of the Bolshevik seizure of power in “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat”:

Following Lenin’s arguments in his 1917 pamphlet The State and Revolution, Leninists for decades have hinged their strategy on the need for an insurrection to overthrow the entire parliamentary state and to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils. In contrast, Kautsky argued that the path to anticapitalist rupture in conditions of political democracy passed through the election of a workers’ party to government.

You’ll note how similar this is to what Kautsky wrote in the early 1930s that was collected into a book titled “Social Democracy versus Communism”, long after his anti-Bolshevik stance had calcified into something resembling a Dissent Magazine article by Irving Howe:

There are people who believe that even under a democratic order Labor should utilize the methods of “revolution,” insurrection, the general strike, because, in their opinion, such methods will lead to Socialism more quickly than the casting of ballots, and that in the final analysis the opponents of Socialism in the democratic states will yield only to insurrection and the general strike.

In rejecting democracy, they go so far as to believe that a Socialist minority could achieve power by force in a democratic state. And, finally, they assert that Socialists cannot hope to attain an electoral majority even in countries where Labor represents the greatest number as long as the opponents of Socialism retain control over the economic and intellectual instruments of power.

How odd it is that a young radical like Eric Blanc can mutate ideologically into the Kautsky of the 1930s, probably without even being aware of it. One hopes that he does not lurch even further to the right. Over the past 50 years, I have seen many leftists lose their revolutionary fiber, an occupational hazard of living in the most brutally reactionary state in world history.

The word insurrection occurs repeatedly throughout Blanc’s article, a dirty word that summons up those Trotskyist Neanderthals that are as detached from reality as the eponymous hero of “Morgan: a Suitable Case for Treatment”, a failed artist who spends most of his day either fantasizing about being the leader of a Red Army detachment or a gorilla stomping through the rainforest.

This business about October 1917 being an “insurrection” does not fit into Lih’s schema, namely that Kautsky’s revolutionary tactics guided those of Lenin and all the other Bolshevik leaders toward the seizure of power in a massive socialist revolution based on Soviet democracy. He has made that argument many times in the past and repeats his talking points once again:

Bolshevik hegemony was not the only piece of tactical advice by Kautsky that proved crucial in 1917. In 1909, Kautsky published a small book entitled Road to Power. The Bolsheviks reacted with by now typical enthusiasm. In a glowing book review, Lenin’s closest lieutenant, Grigorii Zinoviev, brought out the book’s wide range of topics as well as its significance as a weapon of the “orthodox” against the “revisionists” — or, in Russia, the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks.

Obviously, this does not take into account Lenin’s April Theses that broke with the Second International “stagism” found not only in Kautsky’s writings but Lenin’s as well prior to 1917. As I have pointed out a number of times, Lih does not consider the April Theses a breach with Lenin’s earlier writings that advocated a democratic-bourgeois revolution but instead just another example of Kautsky’s deep influence on the Bolsheviks. That Lenin complained about “Kautskyism” seeping into Pravda articles on April 12, 1917 somehow escaped Lih’s attention. What could have prompted Lenin to take up this matter in a letter to J.S. Hanecki and Karl Radek? Alexander Rabinowitch, one of the most authoritative historians of the Russian Revolution, filled in the details:

Beginning with the March 14 issue the central Bolshevik organ swung sharply to the right. Henceforth articles by Kamenev and Stalin advocated limited support for the Provisional Government, rejection of the slogan, “Down with the war,” and an end to disorganizing activities at the front. “While there is no peace,” wrote Kamenev in Pravda on March 15, “the people must remain steadfastly at their posts, answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.” “The slogan, ‘Down with the war,’ is useless,” echoed Stalin the next day.

If Lih erred in granting Kautsky authority he did not deserve, at least he understood that the word “insurrection” was misplaced when it came to Bolshevism:

In his Jacobin article, Eric Blanc states the following: “Following Lenin’s arguments in his 1917 pamphlet State and Revolution, Leninists for decades have hinged their strategy on the need for an insurrection to overthrow the entire parliamentary state and to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils.” This remark brings together not one, but two, deep-rooted misconceptions about 1917: first, that a clash between two types of democracy — parliamentary vs. soviet — as found in the pages of State and Revolution, had anything to do with the October victory or the politics of the revolutionary year. (State and Revolution was drafted in 1917 but only published in 1918 and it is irrelevant to the events of the previous year.) Second, that the Bolsheviks took power by means of an “insurrection,” “armed uprising,” or whatever.

So, it looks like master and disciple have parted ways. I suspect that Lih had no interest in disassociating himself from Eric Blanc’s Democratic Party politics but in only fending off attempts to drive a wedge between Kautsky and Lenin. For all I know, the fact that Lih worked in Ron Dellums’s office for 6 years might have indicated that he could be just as flexible as Blanc. In an interview conducted by Dario Cankovic in the defunct North Star website, Lih hardly sounded predisposed to the kind of militancy found in the 1970s left: “My own politics—well, I don’t spend too much time thinking about them, because I’m too busy thinking about the early 20th century, you know, so I just characterise my views as vaguely left. Which I think is OK, because that means I’m sort of automatically not partisan and I think that’s good for everybody.” Vaguely left? I quite agree. In fact, the only thing he even begins to sound dead-set on is minimizing Leon Trotsky’s role in the Russian Revolution.

 

 

June 28, 2019

Bruce Dixon ¡presente!

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 7:52 pm

We lost a giant today. Bruce A. Dixon died at 2:32 pm with his family in Georgia. I miss his political clarity, his guidance, his candor, his warmth and his humor. Bruce was a legendary organizer. He was old school – organizing person-to-person and always willing to provide assistance. It’s hard to believe you are gone, Bruce. The world is a better place for you having been in it. Rest in Power.

Margaret Flowers on Facebook


From the Green Party page on Bruce

I was born to working class parents, and raised on the south side of Chicago. By 1967 I was involved in the citywide organizing effort among black high school students demanding the first black history courses and opposing the war in Vietnam. In the fall and winter of 1967 we hooked up with young Marine and Army veterans just back from the war. We took them to nine or ten black high schools on the west and south sides of Chicago where we conducted teach-ins at which they recounted stories of rapes, murders and war crimes they either took part in or witnessed but were powerless to stop. They told us we had a political and moral obligation to resist the war and the draft and not allow us to be used in the shameful way they had been used.

In January 1969 I joined the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, in which I served as part of the education cadre, responsible for conducting the party’s political education classes. I also served as a patient advocate in the party’s free medical center. I left the BPP about August of 1970.

In 1974-75 Bobby Rush, former Illinois Black Panther Party’s Deputy Minister of Defense ran for Democratic ward committeeman in Chicago’s 2nd ward. I took part in the campaign, running 5 precincts, canvassing and training others to canvass for about 60 days prior to the election. This was my first brush with electoral work. Bobby is now of course congressman from the first congressional district of Illinois.

During the mid and late 1970s I took part in a series of ephemeral community organizing efforts in the Cabrini-Green public housing project on Chicago’s near north side around issues affecting public housing residents including public education, police practices, jobs the corrupt practices of the Chicago Housing Authority and more. In 1979-80 I was part of a group that planned and executed a series of highly visible protests over the fact that Chicago residents could not register to vote except weekday business hours downtown in non-presidential election years. I was arrested a few times, but we embarrassed the city into allowing Chicago’s first off-site voter registration drives, and signing up about 60,000 new voters in time for the 1980 Illinois gubernatorial election. From this time until the end of the century I was involved in contesting primary elections every cycle as a volunteer or consultant or staffer or precinct captain or one of the folks who trained precinct captains, always against the Daley Machine.

I was caught in a couple of plant shutdowns in 1978 and 1981, and the second time worked with other rank and file steelworkers to gain control of our union at Chicago’s old Pullman passenger rail car plant and mobilize to prevent the shutdown. We seized the local union but were betrayed by our international, and 3,000 of us were put on the street that year. All through the 1980s I worked on campaigns against the Daley Machine in Chicago, including the 1983 and 87 mayoral campaigns of Harold Washington. In 1984 I worked in the congressional campaign of Danny Davis, who now represents the 7th district of Illinois, and the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign that season, and the 1987 Chicago mayoral campaign. I ran field operations for primary election campaigns in 1988 and 1990 in which we decisively beat the Daley Machine. I also recruited and trained the first Local School Improvement Councils for five Chicago Public Schools in the Cabrini Green neighborhood in the 1988-1991 period. I gained a reputation for running successful voter registration drives and field operations against the Daley Machine.

In 1992 I was tapped to be one of three field organizers responsible for the summer and fall voter registration drive leading up to the general election that year. Our director that year whose chief responsibility was fundraising was a guy fresh out of Harvard law with no political experience, but a quick study and a great fundraiser. We took him around to the people we’d organized in our previous 15 years, our union folks, our people in public public housing, in neighborhood organizations and the like. His name was Barack Obama. We signed up 133,000 new voters in four months and chased them out to the polls. Afterward I took a job in the Elections Department of the Cook County Clerk’s office responsible for registrations and elections in the suburban half of Cook County, where my responsibilities included training deputy registrars and prospective candidates for local office, writing manuals and some other stuff.

I left Chicago at the end of 2000, and moved to Georgia. In 2002 I took a week off to work in the congressional campaign of Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and afterward published a critical assessment of the effort online. The article attracted the attention of Glen Ford and we began collaborating with Margaret Kimberley to produce an online journal called the Black Commentator, and in 2006 we founded Black Agenda Report, a weekly journal of news, commentary and analysis from the black left published each and every week.

In 2009 I joined the Georgia Green Party. To tell the truth the GA Green Party, like the national party had a lot of problems when I joined it, most of which I have learned are reflected in the experience of Greens in other states as well. Assessing, addressing and overcoming them is more than just a notion, it’s been a journey of several years here in GA, but I believe we are in sight of being able to build a party with a mass base here, capable of putting a couple hundred people in a room in Atlanta, and a hundred or more in Macon, Savannah and Augusta within a year, leasing a permanent meeting place in Atlanta and one other location, and launching a successful drive for ballot access in Georgia, with or without aid from the national party or its presidential campaign.

I was also a staff person in the 2016 campaign of Jill Stein, until I had to leave because of illness. I contributed to the ballot access and campaign plans, to Jill’s tour of NC and GA, composed a number of mailings, operated parts of the web site, and more.

At the GP’s 2016 Annual National Meeting, I worked with Howie Hawkins of the NY Green Party to prepare and present what was undoubtedly the best attended workshop of that year’s offerings, on the subject of transforming our party into a dues paying membership organization, the model followed by successful opposition parties almost everywhere in the world except the US.

Socialism 2019: the Left at a Crossroads

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,ISO — louisproyect @ 2:41 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JUNE 28, 2019

For a number of years, the International Socialists Organization, once the largest Marxist group in the USA, held educational conferences either in Chicago or in various American cities. In 2004, I attended a plenary session of a regional conference at City College in New York, mostly to hear my old friend Peter Camejo who was the featured speaker alongside Ahmed Shawki, the disgraced former leader whose cover-up of multiple rapes in the ISO led to its dissolution this year. If Peter had lived, I am not sure what he would make of its demise. Although he was a sharp critic of “Leninism”, he had high regard for the ISO, as did the late Sol Dollinger, a member of Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s Socialist Union. The Socialist Union was the first attempt to break with sectarianism in the USA but dissolved in 1959 because of unfavorable political conditions not all that different from what we face today.

Those conditions played a large role in the ISO’s demise. If being a Marxist today is like swimming against the current (the aptly named magazine of Solidarity, another left group following in the Socialist Union tradition), the current period has left most socialist groups gasping for air like spawning salmons. The ISO was formed in 1977, just at the point when the Socialist Workers Party, the sect I belonged to, had begun a “colonization of industry” strategy that would eventually reduce its membership by 90 percent. The Maoist groups of the late 60s and early 70s had also begun to sputter out and die, their story recorded in Max Elbaum’s essential “Revolution in the Air”.

If Leninist groups have a shelf life, the 21-year history of the ISO is about par for the course. Except for Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative, there is no self-avowed Leninist group that amounts to anything in 2019. Those that still exist tend to be hermetically sealed sects like the Spartacist League or the Socialist Equality Party that have never sought to have an impact on the mass movement, seeing themselves instead as its high priesthood critics.

Continue reading

June 27, 2019

Chulas Fronteras; Del Mero Corazón

Filed under: Film,music — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

New Yorkers have the opportunity to see a couple of Les Blank documentaries opening at the Metrograph, a new theater that has an outstanding commitment to the sort of films that make New York City still a worthwhile place to live despite the gradual transformation of the city into something resembling Abu Dhabi.

Indeed, Les Blank’s sensibility was about as opposed to such places as can be imagined. In a career that spanned 53 years, he always sought out communities of people who were culturally rich even if materially not that well off. The Metrograph is showing a remastered version of “Chulas Fronteras”, a 1976 introduction to Tex-Mex music and the people who dance to it, as well as “Del Mero Corazón”, a 28-minute film based on its outtakes. Taken together, you are transported to the border towns of Texas that gave birth to a musical genre that mixed together the polka that German immigrants brought to Texas in the 19th century and lyrics written by the original occupants of that part of Mexico, which was colonized by the gringos in the Mexican-American War of 1845-1847. Those lyrics encompass the entire Chicano experience, ranging from bluesy love songs reminiscent of Hank Williams to protest songs about the ongoing racism and economic exploitation faced by farmworkers and truck drivers.

Despite the hardships faced by Chicanos, the films show them enjoying a life of abundance. There are barbecues, weddings, dances, bull sessions, interviews with musicians, and—above all—performances that are enthralling.

Like Anthony Bourdain and Harvey Pekar, Les Blank was totally devoted to “local color”. He started out as a commercial film maker but soon switched over to making the kinds of films he really wanted to make—those that celebrated “roots” type music and the people who helped keep it alive.

His artistic partner was Chris Strachwitz, who is still alive at the age of 87. Strachwitz was the founder of Arhoolie records, a label that was devoted to the same kind of music that Blank filmed. If you were buying blues, Cajun, or authentic C&W records in the 1960s, Arhoolie was your first stop. Strachwitz reminds me a lot of Alfred Lion, the German immigrant who founded Blue Note records in the 1930s and who was the subject of a documentary I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Unlike the men and women who worshipped Hitler, they loved the cultural and racial diversity of the USA that despite the country’s racism was able to create an environment that made Tex-Mex music and culture possible.

There was a poignant moment in “Del Mero Corazón” when one elderly musician reminisced about performing on the streets during the Great Depression for 10 cents a song, his only means of survival. Given the economic collapse of much of Mexico, it is not surprising that the same kind of performances turn up in New York City’s subways.

 

June 25, 2019

James Steele’s fine biomess

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

In Max Blumenthal’s new book, there’s a brief reference to a Colonel James Steele who was a righthand man to David Petraeus in Baghdad in organizing death squads during the occupation that led to the extreme Sunni/Shia polarization and the foothold it gave the Islamists who eventually formed ISIS. While Blumenthal’s book is worthless on Syria, it does have some interesting reflections on the American national-security state, including the revelation that Steele perfected his death squad tactics in El Salvador in the 1980s when I was active with CISPES, a group that was raising money and political support for the guerrilla movement.

A search on Steele in Wikipedia provided some other rather unexpected results. It turns out that after his military career came to an end, he became the CEO of Buchanan Renewables, an biofuels company. It appears that most of the money to start this corporation came from the John McCall MacBain Foundation that gives the appearance of a junior version of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. On the McCall MacBain Foundation website, you can see a page devoted to Climate Change & Environment that states “We believe that climate change is the single most pressing problem facing our planet and that we must all do our part to address it.” It also states that John McCall MacBain was the Founding Chair of the European Climate Foundation and the Foundation has been a major donor since 2009. To give you an idea of what the European Climate Foundation is about, it includes Pascal Lamy and Stephen Brenninkmeijer on the board of directors. Lamy used to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organization and Brenninkmeijer, the board chairman, runs Willow Investments, an outfit devoted to progressive social development.

John McCall MacBain, a Canadian, has the typical philanthropist’s profile. He made billions in the print classified ad business until Craigslist et al took over. One of his biggest payouts was $200 million to McGill University. In 2006, the Globe and Mail reported on his plans to donate $1 billion for sub-Saharan Africa projects. Like the Gates, his heart bleeds for the poor Africans.

One supposes that because of his generosity and social conscience, McCall MacBain was an ideal choice to head the Trudeau Foundation board of trustees. Like the Clintons, these people know how to game the philanthropic industry. In 2016, he was the key figure in the single largest bribery scandal in Canadian history. He made a $928,000 gift to Justin Trudeau that represents the largest bribery scandal in Canadian history, claim inside sources and lined up other donors who have affiliations with organizations currently lobbying the Canadian government.

Buchanan Renewables symbolized everything that is corrupt and self-serving about corporate environmentalism. The company went to Liberia with the intention of converting rubber trees into biomass chips that would power the nation and, better yet, fuel their own profits.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) provided $217 million in loans to get the project going but within two years, it shut down after firing 600 workers. It never built the power plant but shipped its biomass chips to Europe for a tidy profit.

According to the AP, it repaid the U.S. government loans, paid its non-African employees handsomely, but “left behind fields of depleted rubber farms and a trail of allegations of sexual abuse and workplace hazards.”

James Steele was the perfect choice to run this operation. He was a onetime partner of OPIC’s CEO, Robert Mosbacher Jr. Mosbacher’s father was secretary of commerce under Bush ‘41. Just as was the case in El Salvador and Iraq, the natives got the shitty end of the stick.

Since wood was a precious commodity for cooking, some women said they became pregnant after trading sex for sticks with Buchanan employees. “If we didn’t have sex with the employees they wouldn’t give you sticks,” said Sarah Monopoloh, chairwoman of a local charcoal sellers union.

Tree planter Aderlyn Barnard was knocked unconscious, breaking a leg and wrist and dislocating an arm, when the company’s clearing machine felled her with a tree and left her disabled.

Leaving aside the treatment of such people, there is the additional question of biomass as an alternative energy source. Wikipedia defines biomass as any “plant or animal material used for energy production, heat production, or in various industrial processes as raw material for a range of products.”

For a good explanation of what biomass represents, I refer you to “Mapping the Biomass Racket” an article by Josh Schlossberg, the editor of Biomass Journal, that appeared in CounterPunch on February 12, 2013. He writes:

Over 200 electricity-generating, wood-burning biomass power incinerators currently operate in the US, with another 200 proposed, according to Forisk Consulting. Though more and more of these facilities are being built across the nation—due, in large part, to generous federal and state “renewable” energy subsidies and incentives—the ecological footprint of existing industrial-scale biomass energy facilities has yet to be adequately assessed.

“Even as forest protection is increasingly recognized as one of the best defenses against climate change—while also critical to protecting water, soils and biodiversity—governments are putting into place policies and subsidies to cut and burn forests the world over for ‘biomass’ electricity and heat,” said Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in the US and UK. “They falsely refer to this as ‘clean, green and renewable,’ but it is a total disaster in the making.”

A total disaster in the making? Just the sort of words to describe James Steele’s role in El Salvador and Iraq. In El Salvador, you have economic misery that fuels the rise of gangs and desperate immigration to the USA. In Iraq, you have Shi’ite authoritarianism and Sunni resentment that helps to fuel wars across the entire Middle East. With people like James Steele having his fingers in pies across the planet, it is high time that someone took a good sharp knife and cut them off.

June 24, 2019

A Douma chemical attack false flag scenario does not make sense at all. Here is why.

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

via A Douma chemical attack false flag scenario does not make sense at all. Here is why.

June 21, 2019

Endzeit

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

Opening today at the IFC Center in N.Y. is a German zombie film titled “Endzeit”, which means ever after. However, it has little in common with George Romero and much more with European art films of the kind that show up at the IFC rather than the Cineplexes. It is based on the graphic novel by Olivia Vieweg of the same title that is much more about female bonding in a post-apocalyptic Germany that has been reduced to two cities behind fences. In Weimar, those infected are killed on sight while in Jena, they are working on a cure.

We meet Vivi in the first few minutes of “Endzeit” as she is being treated in a psychiatric hospital for what appears to be post-traumatic stress. When the zombies stormed down her street in Weimar looking for prey, she could not manage to cajole her kid sister out of a backyard swimming pool in time to be saved and thus remains haunted by this memory.

Vivi is conscripted to work on repairing fences on the outskirts of Weimar where she runs into Eva, a tall and assertive woman also from Weimar who is supervising the crew. When a conscript is bitten on the arm by a zombie that has penetrated the fence, Eva does not hesitate in chopping off the woman’s arm so as to save her from being zombified. Until the infection reaches the brain, you remain human in this version of zombie hell. When the foreman overseeing Eva and the rest of the crew discovers that the conscript is still alive, she orders Eva to shoot her since those are the draconian rules they live by–literally. As a hardened Weimar enforcer, Eva is up to the task but decides afterward that will be her last execution.

Horror-stricken by what she has seen, Vivi decides to seek refuge in the relatively more humane Jena. Next morning, she stows away on an automated driverless train used to bring food in to the fence repairing detachment. To her surprise, Vivi discovers that Eva has Eva is a stowaway on the same train, no longer willing to enforce the Weimar rules. En route to Jena, the train comes to a halt for mechanical reasons apparently. The two women enter the Black Forest with the intention of making it to Jena on foot. Both are haunted by memories, Vivi by her failure to shepherd her sister to safety and Eva for all the people she has killed as an enforcer for what remains of civilized society.

For the remainder of the film, there are few encounters with zombies of the kind that you are familiar with from either George Romero’s films or from “The Walking Dead”. Instead, you see two survivors trying to make the best of a grim situation while finding moments of solace in nature and each other.

If “Endzeit” appears at first to be a two-character story, you will soon discover that the third character is nature itself. The woods, the rivers, and the sky are always in the foreground as we begin to understand that the post-apocalyptic world they occupy has in many ways become that way in the same way that the creation myth of Adam and Eve unfolded. Instead of eating the forbidden apple, mankind has challenged nature to the point that it is finally extracting its revenge. Needless to say, this is a film that relates very much to the current moment even if it more about the lives of two women than about possible salvation. Given the ineluctable forces that are gathering now to create a post-apocalyptic condition sans zombies, the film has a certain resonance.

The film was directed by Carolina Hellsgärd, a Swede, based on a script by Olivia Vieweg, the German author of the graphic novel. The director of photography is Eva Striker, an American. It was produced by Ingelore König, a German. A film with so many insights into female bonding was no doubt a product of such a uniquely female work, about which producer König had this to say:

What makes ENDZEIT special? In our industry in Germany, it is primarily men who have a say when it comes to genre films. And yet, I know enough women who are also interested. But a bit differently: we also need a really emotional story and have the expectation that it should be about something that is important to people. Violence and action for their own sake are often just tedious.

We especially want to get women excited about a road movie through a dystopian world. It’s about a friendship that gets off to an unusual start and ends up even more unusually. It’s about finding your own vision of life in a broken world, a vision apart from fenced-in cities and the insane belief that walls can save us. The film tells a story of nature’s survival despite human greed. These are topics that are of particular relevance to younger people — and, of course, to lovers of the zombie genre, too.

The Douma Gas Attack: What’s the Evidence It was a False Flag?

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JUNE 21, 2019

On April 7, 2018, a chlorine chemical attack reportedly left 43 people dead in Douma, a city of over 100,000 people in the Ghouta region to the east of Damascus. I use the word reportedly since Assad and Putin both denied a day later that anybody had died. Propaganda networks for the two leaders called the grizzly video evidence for such an attack as a carefully staged performance akin to how some conspiracy theorists describe the Apollo moon landing. Among the outlets arguing for a “false flag” incident was One America News Network, an ardently pro-Trump cable news station that was granted a permanent seat in the White House’s news briefing room and whose White House Correspondent, Trey Yingst, was one of the top five most called upon reporters covering the Trump Administration. Not to be outdone, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson opined: “All the geniuses tell us that Assad killed those children, but do they really know that? Of course they don’t really know that. They’re making it up. They have no real idea what happened.”

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June 20, 2019

When the NY Times understood what the term concentration camp meant

Filed under: Fascism,repression — louisproyect @ 3:36 pm

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