Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 21, 2020

The Life of a Worker

Filed under: pakistan,workers — louisproyect @ 8:30 pm

In 2017, I reviewed a documentary titled “Machines” made by Rahul Jain that took you inside an Indian textile mill, showing workers making the fabrics that end up in markets everywhere. Not only does the work leave the men barely capable of enjoying anything after work except smoking a cigarette and listening to a radio; the starvation wages would not allow anything much more than that. The film makes the term wage slavery hit home. In my review, I stated:

Dark and satanic are words that immediately come to mind when “Machines” begins. For the first 15 minutes of the film, you see nothing but men operating machinery. The plant looks fairly ancient with poor lighting and no air conditioning. Except for the modern machines, they are housed in a building not that different from late 18th century England at the dawn of the industrial revolution that Engels described in “The Conditions of the Working Class in England”: “The atmosphere of the factories is, as a rule, at once damp and warm, usually warmer than is necessary, and, when the ventilation is not very good, impure, heavy, deficient in oxygen, filled with dust and the smell of the machine oil, which almost everywhere smears the floor, sinks into it, and becomes rancid.”

You can now see “Machines” on YouTube for $2.99. It will help you understand why India remains a hotbed of revolutionary zeal, even as Modi tries to tamp it down through Islamophobic nationalism.

Incredibly, the workers in “Machines” have it a lot better than the textile workers in Multan, Pakistan. Two days ago, I received an invitation to spread the word about a documentary made by the comrades in the Internationalist Marxist Tendency (IMT), where they have developed a working-class base. While I am averse to vulgar Marxism, I have always believed that it is poverty and super-exploitation that will make workers revolutionary-minded.

Titled “The Life of a Worker”, the 19-minute film consists of an interview with a power loom operator in Multan who describes his humble beginnings, his marriage and family living in poverty, the lethal conditions inside his factory where the textile fibers make asthma an epidemic, and his hopes for a different way of life.

The film is in Urdu but you can select English subtitles as an option. Have a little patience since the actual documentary begins about 2 and ½ minutes into “The Life of a Worker”. While you might not be surprised by the brutal conditions faced by a textile worker in Pakistan today, it is entirely possible that the good days of living in the advanced capitalist countries might be ending soon. An article in today’s NY Times titled “Coronavirus and Poverty: A Mother Skips Meals So Her Children Can Eat” dramatizes the depths to which American workers are falling:

Ms. Mossbarger hardly mentioned it, but she was starving. “I honestly wasn’t going to eat, but Jordan was like, ‘You got to eat something,’” she said.

The next morning, she again skipped breakfast and was sipping a Monster Energy drink. She was tired and her head hurt.

“I feel it,” she said.

“The Life of a Worker” ends with the strains of “The International”. We used to sing it at conventions of the Socialist Workers Party years ago, but it was mainly an exercise in nostalgia. Today, it is the capitalist system that is rapidly turning into a relic of the past, the sooner the better.

We toilers from all fields united
Join hand in hand with all who work;
The earth belongs to us, the workers,
No room here for the shirk.
How many on our flesh have fattened!
But if the norsome birds of prey
Shall vanish from the sky some morning
The blessed sunlight then will stay.

March 20, 2020

Considerations of the post-Sanders era

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 7:05 pm

 

Steve Fraser assess Bernie Sanders; I assess his assessment

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 20, 2020

Just the other day, I was looking through the articles Kevin Coogan had written over the years. Kevin, a long-time commenter on my blog, died unexpectedly on February 27th and I was curious to review his take-downs of Lyndon LaRouche’s cult. A bit younger than me, Kevin was a former member and hoped to warn others about making the same mistake he made. I had the same missionary zeal when it came to the Socialist Workers Party. We both shared Ishmael’s need to repeat the verse from Job at the very end of Moby Dick: “and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

Continue reading

The Prospect of Death Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully to Socialism

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:46 am

via The Prospect of Death Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully to Socialism

March 17, 2020

Homage to Kevin Coogan

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,obituary — louisproyect @ 7:58 pm

I couldn’t locate a photo of Kevin but since he posted on my blog as Hylozoic Hedgehog, this might suffice

Within the past five months, I have lost two of my closest political co-thinkers. On November 9, 2019 Noel Ignatiev died somewhat unexpectedly even though he had been dealing with serious illnesses for a number of years. On March 6th, I learned that Kevin Coogan had died. By a strange coincidence, I only met Noel and Kevin just once in person and each time at lunch, over hamburgers. We spent hours in conversation. With Noel, it was about the 1960s and being Jewish. With Kevin, it was mostly about Lyndon LaRouche. Notwithstanding the brief time I spent with the two, there were long-standing email and FB exchanges that made me feel as close to them as people I knew in the Trotskyist movement. What we three had in common was old soldiers tales about life in the “vanguard”. We traded stories about battles we fought and laughed at ourselves for having participated in them.

Before speaking about my experiences online with Kevin, I should share a couple of important posts that help put him into context.

The first was a series of Tweets about Kevin from Craig Fowlie, who is the Editorial Director for Routledge’s social sciences division. He leads an editorial team of 120 that included Kevin, a free-lancer. If you have a Twitter account, you can read them here. It begins: “Kevin was a brilliant & extremely knowledgeable researcher whose 1999 book Dreamer of the Day  is one of most important works on post-war fascism.”

In addition, there’s a bibliography of his writings, both in print and online, at Beyond the Fringe Politics, a blog that “features contributions from several researchers, academics and activists who investigate the far right.”

Most importantly, an obituary that appeared as an announcement in the NY Times has appeared at Legacy.com. I urge you to read the whole obit that starts:

Kevin J. Coogan of Queens, New York died unexpectedly on February 27, 2020 at the age of 67. Kevin was an investigative journalist and author. His 1998 book, Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey & The Postwar Fascist International, remains one of the most important works on post-war fascism.

Kevin grew up in a loving family in Philadelphia. His parents were both writers. Kevin easily gravitated to books and to writing.

As a high school student, Kevin joined an American New Left faction, Students for a Democratic Society. After matriculating at Sarah Lawrence College, Kevin joined the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC). He left school and drove a cab three nights a week to keep financially afloat. As he put it, after a while, “driving a cab in the middle of the night in 1970s New York was in a way a paid vacation” from what he came to view as a “pretty nasty cult.” In 1979 Kevin quit the NCLC. He wrote critical essays and published several books online about the NCLC’s leader, Lyndon LaRouche.

My first encounter with Kevin took place on August 1, 2017 when he posted the first of 118 comments on my blog. It was in response to the first of a series of articles on Lyndon LaRouche under the title “This is what American fascism looks like: the Lyndon LaRouche story”. Since my intention was to establish LaRouche’s status as a Marxist theoretician and how his current-day movement made points that overlapped leftist websites like Consortium News, Kevin was clearly honing in on the same phenomenon:

I’m writing to call attention to my two studies on LaRouche and the early Labor Committee: Smiling Man from a Dead Planet: The Mystery of Lyndon LaRouche (available at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.UnityNow) and How It All Began: The Origins and History of the National Caucus of Labor Committees in New York and Philadelphia (available at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Library.HIAB).

These studies appear on a website entitled LaRouche Planet and run by ex-members and aimed at debunking the cult. You can access the home page at http://laroucheplanet.info/pmwiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.HomePage. LaRouche Planet has just published extremely rare photos of “L. Marcus” on the Columbia campus in 1968 if that interests anyone.

At the time, I had no idea who Kevin was. He posted as Hylozoic Hedgehog, a nom de guerre intended to protect him from LaRouche’s cult. I never asked him what Hylozoic Hedgehog meant but feel confident that it incorporated his worldview. Wikipedia states that “Hylozoism is the philosophical point of view that matter is in some sense alive.” I suppose that Kevin found hylozoism relevant to his own experience since it has an affinity with the ancient Greek philosophers like Democritus whose materialism was analyzed in Marx’s Ph.D. As for the hedgehog, I suppose that is a reference to Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”. Berlin tried to draw a distinction between hedgehogs, who view the world through a single defining idea and foxes, who draw upon multiple experiences irreducible to a single idea. Berlin did not mention Marx, but clearly he was much more of a hedgehog than a fox. Who knows? Maybe Kevin had an entirely different idea. I only wish he had lived long enough to discuss it with him.

Kevin stuck around after my LaRouche series was finished. He was as knowledgeable about culture as he was about politics. His take on a documentary about the underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin demonstrated his erudition:

It’s really a tremendous film with an amazing sound track among other things. Fans of the Velvet Underground owe it to see the film as do fans of Dylan. But mostly it’s so well edited and the narrative flows beautifully. Because Jonas Mekas was a pack rat, their letters are great, and his reading of his memorial obit for her is particularly touching. It’s a minor masterpiece in its way and it does capture quite well the sense of burn out (a lot of it self-inflicted through drugs — speed in particular) that took over large sections of the counter-culture movement. The scenes at the farm, which was supposed to be the great escape, are especially telling.

Same thing with music. He shared my enthusiasm for the Ken Burns Country Music series on PBS:

I watched almost the whole series on PBS and it’s all great IMO. I can’t say I’ve become a fan of country music in general just as I’m not going to become a fan of rap or heavy metal, but within all these genres there are brilliant songs and artists. I don’t like “rap” but Nas’s Illmatic is one of the greatest albums ever made. I don’t like heavy metal but AC/DC can do no wrong.

I now feel the same way about Hank Williams after watching the series. (I always like Johnny Cash, who really centers the entire Burns’ film.) I got to understand why Kris Kristofferson is the Bob Dylan of country music and why Willie Nelson is such an interesting artist. I still don’t quite get George Jones but it’s my fault, not his.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Burns series is the bond between Bob Dylan and the “folk scene” revival and its overlap into country music. Burns shows this through Dylan and Cash’s friendship. He also shows that bluegrass was dying before it got revived again on college campuses, in part based on “Dueling Banjos.”

I was so excited that I listened again to “Nashville Highway,” which I remember really hating when it first came out.

Listened again and it still sucked.

As for Haggard, there is a great scene in the series where someone says about the line about “we don’t smoke dope in Muskogee” that Haggard when he wrote that line was a huge pot smoker.

The Burns series is really great and minus the sappiness that can weigh him down. The line writing is phenomenal and Coyote’s narration is perfect as always. For me, it’s the best thing he has ever done by far. I learned so much from it.

Like me, Kevin went through a traumatic experience as a LaRouche cult member, just as I was left with practically a case of PTSD after 11 years in the SWP. He was a highly adroit analyst of the “Leninist” illness as this comment on the dissolution of the ISO bears out:

It strikes me that a lot of these sects, like the Labor Committee, were held together by the delusional belief that the members were some morally superior vanguard out to save the world and enlighten the masses with their profound wisdom. In that sense, I don’t see much of a difference sociologically between these vanguard sects and messianic church fundamentalists who created their own little churches with their own “correct” interpretation of sacred texts, by they from Marx or the Book of Mormon.

I can’t help but think that Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity view of religion was reborn in a secular form in the countless cult/sects. The difference in them is that some of them are very nasty (LaRouche/Healy), some of them are bureaucrat nasty (Barnes), some of them are boringly benign and then turn nasty (ISO), and some of them are really off the wall (LaRouche taking first prize honors on that one at least among the Trotsky line).

Decades ago Janja Lalich wrote a very interesting study of the cult/sect she was trapped in for years called the Democratic Workers Party led by Marlene Dixon that is well worth reading in this context. Also Alexandria Stein’s book Inside Out on her really unreal life in a Maoist sect in Minnesota. Her book is truly astonishing in its mix of Kafka and Orwell and Mao.

In my view what makes all these sect/cults chug along is the narcissism of the members who elect to stay year after dreadful year and who believe that by being in the sect/cult (the boundaries are fuzzy and one can bleed into the other) they are members of the “elect” and that ego puff makes them stay when it is clear that they are just treading water at best. At worst, they contribute decades of unpaid “surplus labor” to the group to keep “leadership” in top rate booze as with Dixon or they serve as a vanity press for the likes of a LaRouche or a Healy. They do so because somehow they believe their very “sacrifice” for “the struggle” makes them better than everyone else. There is definitely a symbiotic relationship. Again, I am sure you could find parallels in different Christian sects. Both derive psychological benefits even if it it all emotional junk food.

In a relatively benign sect, who cares? I am guessing that News and Letters will go on forever and a day rather like the last followers of Daniel De Leon whom I met in NYC in the 1980s. But when they turn nasty, they can become a real problem. However in 99.99% of the time they turn nasty towards their own followers and none of this has any impact in the world outside the cult. So no one notices. Of course, as the sects/cults with a “Leninist” frame have a far easier time suppressing dissent. I would say the key difference between a sect and a cult is the degree of internal democracy and transparency (including financial transparency). Sects are transparent and operate more democratically; cults do not. Hence you can start out a sect and morph into a cult but it is almost never the case that it works the other way round.

In any case, there is an obvious sociology/psychology of all these groups that has nothing to do with “correct” or “incorrect” interpretations of Marxist or Christian scripture and a lot to do with issues of personal identity. Over time, most people in these sects wise up and get out but some of them simply transfer their loyalty to a different sect to find the same mental reward. Or they go from serf in one sect to boss in another.

The last comment posted by Kevin appeared on February 22nd, just 12 days before he died.

However, I did hear from him through email on February 14th since he wanted to share some chapters for a book he had worked on years ago about Karl Marx and racism but abandoned. He had the same take as me on Friedrich Sorge’s racism that I analyzed in a CounterPunch article:

Hi Louis,

Some years ago, I began a huge project on Marx and the 19th century. Although my main interest was in the “Great Game” involving England, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire (Marx was a Turkophile), I did get diverted into the Marx/race issue. One reason is that one centerpiece of my study was Marx’s totally obscure book Herr Vogt. Karl Vogt was a leading scientific racist as well as an 1848 revolutionary.

In a way, this project ironically mimicked Capital, which Marx basically gave up after Volume One. I gave up for a lot of reasons, including my belief that I was writing for a Left that no longer existed. The deeper I got, the more I felt this stuff was simply too esoteric for a movement whose intellectual depth was like an inch deep. It just became too big and too depressing.

In any case, here are three draft sections from the book. The first is on Marx and the South and the debates over slavery. I think Marx is awful, but he does evolve a bit from the nadir which is in the 1840s-1850s. But he is terrible.

I also began research into Engels and I spent a bit of time in Manchester. I was trying to find out more about his firm Ermen and Engels. They were a cotton textile firm and Engels was supported in a way by black slave labor as the firm got its cotton from the South. At one point, Engels was even supposed to visit New Orleans.

The second section is on the 1848 radicals and how some of them backed the South. It goes to my investigation of Karl Vogt, a key ideologue of scientific racism and a mentor of Agassiz if I can even remember what I wrote. IN my book, I write as a historian and not a cheerleader. Nor did I find much to cheer about. I entered the project inspired by Hal Draper. At the end, I was amazed at how Draper could write five books and Marx comes out as the hero every time. It felt preposterous.

Section three is on a weird French racial writer who believed geography is destiny that Marx liked and Engels rightly thought was crazy.

Anyway, it’s been over a decade since I abandoned the project as it had grown so massive that it was crushing me for no real purpose that I could see except bringing me down while further isolating me. But I’m sending you these excerpts. If nothing else, I have a lot of great sources in the footnotes.

Again, I have not looked at all this for over a decade. I have no idea if I can defend everything I wrote and I’m also sending you first drafts. Don’t read it as an argument; just read it for background. Frankly, when I was copying sections of it, I could not even remember writing some of them. But I can see from your interest in this topic that there may be leads or suggestions that you might find worthwhile.

Cheers,

Kevin

I am sure that you will find these three chapters as interesting as everything else Kevin ever wrote.

1) Marx Racism 2) Marx Racism 3) Marx Racism

Finally, I have gone through all of the posts that Kevin commented on and categorized them as Kevin Coogan. They all make for great reading, Kevin’s comments and not necessarily my posts!

He will sorely be missed.

March 14, 2020

Polio, COVID-19, and socialism

Filed under: COVID-19,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 8:53 pm

One of the few remaining survivors, Paul Alexander spends almost every moment of the day inside his iron lung.

In 1952, when I was very young, fear gripped my little village in the Catskills and across the USA as well. Sixty thousand children were stricken with the polio virus that year, leaving 3,000 dead and thousands more paralyzed. Some children were kept alive in an iron lung that functioned like the modern-day ventilator but that kept them confined to a virtual living coffin.

Summer was called “polio season”. In Woodridge, we had Kaplan’s Lake, a pond really, that local kids swam in. I went there mainly to wade near the beach. One summer our parents told us that it was being shut down because of the polio epidemic. We were also warned about sitting too close to each other in movie theaters, a real problem when the latest Martin and Lewis movie had kids lined up around the block to buy a ticket at the Lyceum Theater in Woodridge.

FDR was probably the most well-known polio victim in the USA but many others had the illness, including Neil Young and Francis Ford Coppola who had milder cases. Born in 1950, Patrick Cockburn came down with polio when he was six. He wrote a book about his experience titled “The Broken Boy” in 2005. In an NPR interview that year, the host told him: “You’ve been left with a limp, a severe limp. But you interviewed other survivors who were really much worse off.” Cockburn replied:

Yes, many of them. One man who became a businessman had to learn to sign his name using his teeth–with a pen stuck in his teeth and a special apparatus. Many others were–had their back affected, their lungs affected, their legs affected. But many people fought back. I mean, I met one man who was a farmer who was frightened that when he went home, because he was so badly crippled, that people wouldn’t accept him. But actually his family–and Irish families are very strong–re-adapted the farm so he could operate the farm machinery, so he could be a working farmer. And many other people fought back against extraordinary odds.

For many doctors, the goal of developing a vaccine to prevent polio became paramount. FDR founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938 and promoted the March of Dimes for polio research. When Harry Truman became president, he committed to a war on polio using language redolent of the 30s New Deal:

The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war. It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.

Two research doctors, New York Jews, were instrumental in developing a vaccine. Neither one of them saw this as a way of getting rich. Their goal was only to save the lives of children.

Born in New York City in 1914, Jonas Salk developed a vaccine based on dead polio viruses in 1955. Backing for his project was universal, with 100 million contributors to the March of Dimes, and 7 million volunteers going around with the iconic collection bank.

Salk could have made millions by patenting the vaccine but he preferred to see it made as widely available as possible. When he went on Edward R. Murrow’s popular “Person to Person” show, the host asked him who owned the patent. Salk replied, “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” (Had it been patented, it would be worth $7 billion.)

As it happens, Salk graduated from CCNY, a hotbed of radicalism in the 1930s. It should come as no surprise that J. Edgar Hoover had his number. Five years before he came out with the vaccine, he was the subject of an FBI investigation. Writing to Dillon Anderson, a top aide to Eisenhower, Hoover recapitulated his transgressions:

  • Three unnamed associates of Salk, professors at U-M, said that during World War II Salk contributed to war relief for the Soviet Union and was “outspoken” in his praise for that country. The associates said Salk praised the country’s technical advances, while his wife, Donna, was even more outspoken in her praise for all aspects of Soviet life, Hoover wrote.
  • One of Salk’s professional associates at U-M in the 1940s said that Salk was “far left of center.” Another associate noted that a liberal organization for which Salk served as treasurer in 1946 became “leftist” under Salk’s leadership.
  • Salk and his wife registered to vote for the American Labor Party in the early 1940s, the letter says. According to an informant, the Communist Party emerged as a controlling force of the ALP within areas of New York City during that time.
  • An informant advised that Salk’s brother, Lee, was a member of the Communist Party in Ann Arbor in 1948.
  • According to an informant, Hoover said, Salk’s name appeared on the mailing list of the New York Conference for Inalienable Rights in 1941. The group was cited as a Communist front by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Born Albert Saperstein in Bialystok, Poland in 1906, Albert Sabin received a medical degree from NYU, just as Salk did. Unlike Salk, Sabin’s goal was to develop a vaccine based on weakened polio virus. Both vaccines worked, with Sabin’s having the advantage of being able to be taken orally and longer-lasting.

Defying Cold War hysteria, Sabin worked closely with Soviet bloc doctors and scientists, thus earning him the reputation of working on a “communist vaccine”. In an article titled “Vaccination and the communist state: polio in Eastern Europe”, Dora Vargha concludes that the communist states were capable of “doing good things” as Bernie Sanders has said:

Both East and West shared the perception of what the communist state was and its ideal role in polio prevention. Following the appearance and successful application of live poliovirus vaccines, Eastern European states saw themselves as particularly suited to achieve effectiveness in curbing – and eradicating – polio through their part in vaccine development and its distribution. The West, while not endorsing such political regimes ideologically, agreed. Indeed, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland became pioneers in introducing, testing and applying live poliovirus vaccines on a mass scale, while their Eastern European peers were quick to follow in mass vaccination.

From a broader geopolitical perspective, polio raised uncomfortable questions about the positive side of communist regimes (i.e. effective epidemic control) and in a short time came to symbolise ‘neutral’ science that broke the barriers between East and West. The top-down organisation of vaccine trial organisation and immunisation, which was, at the time, seen as particularly communist and Eastern European, also came to be seen as the most effective way to eradicate polio on a global scale.

Sabin continued reaching out to demonized post-capitalist societies long after this. In a 2014 article titled “Epidemics and Opportunities for U.S.-Cuba Collaboration”, Marguerite Jiménez described his internationalist outlook:

Several years after his collaborative breakthrough with the Soviet Union, Sabin set his sights on a much smaller Communist collaborator, one that was much closer to home. Sabin had traveled to Cuba multiples times prior to the Cuban revolution in 1959, however he had been unable to return since the early 1950s. Despite receiving multiple invitations from public health officials on the island during the early 1960s, the escalation of hostilities between the United States and Cuba made such a high-profile visit by a famous U.S. scientist all but impossible.

Sabin’s enthusiastic pursuit of collaborative opportunities with the Soviet Union during the 1950s foreshadowed his efforts in Cuba to overcome political obstacles and diplomatic melodrama. Accordingly, at the end of 1965 when the Department of State announced an easing of restrictions on travel to Communist nations by certain categories of professionals, Sabin quickly seized the opportunity. The Department of State reported that the relaxation had been in response to the “urging of the medical community,” and had been done for reasons of “humanity” to promote greater international cooperation in combating diseases. While medical research justified the humanitarian nature of the move, the New York Times reported, “The hope in official circles was that the medical scientists could open the door to closer cooperation in other scientific areas.” Sabin immediately sent copies of the announcement to colleagues in Cuba and within twenty-four hours he received an invitation through Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Finally, after almost two years of planning, Sabin arrived in Havana on December 4, 1967. While in Cuba, he had the opportunity to visit and meet with people in a wide range of scientific and medical institutions, as well as hospitals, polyclinics, and research facilities. While other elements of his trip became public thanks to a handful of newspaper articles on the subject published in both the United States and Cuba, what is not commonly known is that during his trip, Sabin met with Antonio Nuñez Jiménez, a prominent young leader within Fidel Castro’s regime and the president of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba. Sabin described Jiménez as a “pistol packing” and “very pleasant” person.

Yesterday, I was reminded of Salk and Sabin after reading a report from the Sunnybrook Research Institute, a hospital associated the University of Toronto. Titled “Research team has isolated the COVID-19 virus”, it revealed that Dr. Robert Kozak, Dr. Samira Mubareka, Dr. Arinjay Banerjee had isolated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the agent responsible for the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

That information would be critical to developing a vaccine. In describing their discovery, Arinjay Banerjee sounded very much in the Salk/Sabin tradition: “Now that we have isolated the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we can share this with other researchers and continue this teamwork. The more viruses that are made available in this way, the more we can learn, collaborate and share.”

Collaborate and share. That’s not only necessary for overcoming COVID-19 but in saving the world from capitalist destruction.

Farhad Manjoo, one of the only readable NY Times op-ed columnists, was onto something when he wrote that “everyone’s a socialist in a pandemic”. He wrote:

There may be a silver lining here: What if the virus forces Americans and their elected representatives to recognize the strength of a collectivist ethos? The coronavirus, in fact, offers something like a preview of many of the threats we might face from the worst effects of climate change. Because the virus is coldly indiscriminate and nearly inescapable, it leaves us all, rich and poor, in the same boat: The only way any of us is truly protected is if the least among us is protected.

Amen.

Humans Are Toxic

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:37 pm

via Humans Are Toxic

March 13, 2020

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Filed under: feminism,Film — louisproyect @ 7:41 pm

Opening today at the Angelica and the Landmark on 57th street, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” gets its title from a multiple choice series of questions that a social worker at an abortion clinic in NY poses to the 17-year-old protagonist of this powerful neo-realist film who has come to New York. One of the questions that she answers without hesitation is “Have you had anal sex?” The answer is sometimes. However, when she is asked if her boyfriend has beaten her, she pauses for a moment and then begins crying softly.

Directed by Eliza Hittman, it has a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and deservedly so. Its two main characters speak for a generation of young women who have seen abortion rights erode under a relentless attack from the Republican Party. Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), the pregnant girl, works as a cashier in a Western Pennsylvania town that, following the state law, will not permit an abortion unless she has a parent’s signature. This is something she cannot agree to. When she rushes to the bathroom at work due to morning sickness, her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who works alongside her, trails behind to see what’s wrong. Autumn is evasive, only saying that is woman’s stuff. She eventually learns that Autumn is two months pregnant.

Like many young women dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, she goes to a center promising help with a pregnancy listed in the Yellow Pages. A staff member gives her a pregnancy detection kit that turns out positive. Autumn asks her if she could have bought such a kit at pharmacy and done the test herself. The staff members agrees that she could have but then directs the conversation toward possible solutions to her problem, which involve giving up the baby to adoption and just about everything else except terminating the pregnancy. To help persuade Autumn, she begins playing a video about the rights of the fetus made by some Evangelical sect. That’s enough for Autumn to figure out that she’s been the victim of a bait and switch operation.

Autumn and Skylar pool their meager savings from their minimum wage jobs and get on a bus headed to New York. As it leaves town, you see abandoned coal mines and factories on the way. This is a film that places its main characters into a social and economic context that is sadly lacking in most Hollywood films about unplanned pregnancies. In fact, to my knowledge there has never been one made that makes you feel like a happy ending will be the termination of “life”. The director’s ethos is that of the abortion rights movement of the 1970. When it is coupled to a style of an American Ken Loach, this is a film you must see. Hopefully, the theaters will still be open for business. My recommendation is to go see it and sit somewhere a few seats away from everybody else. A work like this deserves strong word-of-mouth.

Despite Hollywood’s liberal veneer, whenever the topic of unplanned pregnancies is tackled, the outcome is a film that would be embraced by the Christian right. In my 2007 review of “Knocked Up”, I commented:

 Despite its MTV ‘tude, “Knocked Up” boils down to a defense of “family values.” In 2005, “Just Like Heaven,” another romantic comedy, was a veiled defense of keeping Terri Schiavo on the feeding tube with its attractive female lead in a coma. Now we have “right to life” at the opposite end of the life-cycle. As difficult as it is to imagine an ambitious and reasonably intelligent woman like Allison Scott going to bed with a slob like Ben Stone, it is even far more difficult to imagine her having his baby.

The film notes give you an idea of how important this film was to its director/screenwriter:

Hittman did field research in Pennsylvania, where abortion restrictions have resulted in women crossing state lines to get the procedure in neighboring New York and New Jersey. She traveled to some of the state’s small towns to see what reproductive healthcare services were available to women living there. She came across pregnancy centers, which are affiliated with the pro-life movement and steer pregnant women towards either parenthood or adoption. In visiting these centers, Hittman went through the same steps a client would: taking a pregnancy test and speaking with the women who worked there. She then wrote a second treatment informed by her research, but her own pregnancy subsequently led her to set the project aside.

 

 

March 9, 2020

The Twilight of the Political Revolution

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,DSA,Jacobin — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

On the morning after the Nevada primary, Jacobin/DSA heavyweights Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick proclaimed “It’s Bernie’s Party Now.” Even before losses in South Carolina, Texas, Minnesota and elsewhere a week later, I deemed their triumphalism a bit premature. Before enumerating the powerful institutions that gird the longest still-functioning capitalist party in the world, I wrote that “it is pretty obvious that the Democratic Party is not an empty shell. Even if most people continue to vote for Bernie Sanders up until the convention, they have no other relationship to him except as an endorser.” It turned out that I was perhaps a bit swayed by the impressive victory in Nevada in failing to warn the democratic socialist comrades that the Nevada vote might have been an outlier.

Hope springs eternal in the democratic socialist breast apparently. Despite opinion polls giving Biden a 24-point advantage in Michigan, a state with 147 delegates, the Jacobin/DSAers still feel like destiny favors them. Matt Karp argued on March 4th that Democratic voters are more aligned on the issues than they are with Biden but admits that their overwhelming desire to deny Trump a second terms might persuade them to not take chances on a “socialist”. In any case, Sanders faces an uphill battle since even if he comes to the convention with a plurality of delegates, he must face a runoff that would allow the centrist super-delegates to cast their 771 votes with Biden. If Biden racks up the kind of victory in Michigan and other northern states tomorrow, it is conceivable that Sanders will drop out.

Just as was the case in 2016, Sanders will stump for Biden like he did for Clinton. Yesterday, he told Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd, “Look, Joe Biden is a friend of mine. He has indicated that if he wins the nomination I will be there for him. Together, we are going to beat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country, but you can’t — we live in a democracy, and we have to contrast his — our records and our ideas, our vision for the future.”

You get the same thing from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told late-night comedy host Seth Meyers that “what is so important is that we ultimately unite behind who that Democratic nominee is.” Since she also made the same pledge to back Andrew Cuomo for Governor, you can only conclude that she will never pretend that she is anything but a liberal Democrat. Adept at speaking out of both sides of her mouth, however, she is also on record as saying, “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party.” That presumably means that if the two were in Sweden, he’d be in the Moderate Party and she’d be in the Social Democrats. Given the Social Democrats’ shift to the right over the decades, that’s hardly reassuring. As is the case generally with these democratic socialists, they are for the idea of Scandinavian model that today is a Platonic ideal summoned from the past more than anything.

In 2018, the BBC reported that Social Democrats accused the Moderate Party of “wrecking” social welfare by encouraging the arrival of foreigners – especially Muslims – who they argue do not share Swedish values. Nice.

Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jacobin has the ability of straddling the left and the not so left. On the anniversary of Olof Palme’s death, it described him as an “internationalist hero” and someone who “Today’s Social Democrats Should Be More Like,” even as the magazine also publishes Kjell Östberg, who wrote that Palme used all his prestige to help pacify the Portuguese revolution by bringing the country into the Western European fold and keeping it in NATO.

Unlike most socialist magazines, you can find analyses that are at odds with each other in Jacobin just like these. If nothing else, I suppose it helps to boost subscription sales. What there seems to be, however, is virtual unanimity on the left getting on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon. Back in 2015, you could still find articles critical of Sanders written by Ashley Smith and Lance Selfa, who were in ISO. Now that the ISO has dissolved, you will find well-known ex-ISOers like Paul Heideman writing for Jacobin, but in their post-conversion mode are as gung-ho as any other Jacobin/DSAer. As for Smith and Selfa, they are unrepentant Marxists like me and write elsewhere.

Within the Sanders fan club on Jacobin, there are some writers who may be even more anxious to remain within the Democratic Party than others, no matter the shit that is shoveled on Sanders and his followers. On February 21, just a day after the Nevada victory, Sam Lewis and Beth Huang wrote an article titled “Democratic Party Elites Are Ready to Steal the Nomination From Bernie Sanders. We Need a Plan to Stop Them.” It reviews all of the factors mentioned above and concludes that it would be a big mistake to abandon the Democratic Party:

In the event that the convention is contested or stolen, the “DemExit” strategy, a 2016 attempt to form a new third party by splitting Sanders supporters from the Democratic Party, will likely reemerge.

When you click DemExit, you will be directed to a CounterPunch article from August 5, 2016 that was written by Calvin Priest and Pam Keeley, two members of Socialist Alternative. Although Trotskyists, the group, which includes Kshama Sawant, urged a vote for him in 2016, just as it does this year—even more fervently. Priest and Keeley, who took part in walkouts after Sanders got royally screwed, wrote:

We need a real #DemExit, a real walkout on corporate politics, and a new mass party of the 99%.

The formation of a new political party was a key step on the road to ending institutionalized slavery in the US. In other countries it took new parties of the working class to win socialized medicine, paid parental leave, and free college education.

It will take a new mass party of working people in the United States to bring a real challenge to corporate politics and the failed system of capitalism.

This is the last thing that Lewis and Huang want to see. They lay out a perspective that implicitly projects a takeover of the Democratic Party by democratic socialists:

Without a clear avenue to supplant either of the two major parties, DemExit risks spoiling elections for the Republicans. Additionally problematic, DemExit takes the social movement left out of a contest for power that we are currently winning. The Sanders campaign and coalition represent the greatest threat to corporate power in the party since its decisive turn towards neoliberalism in the 1970s. No one will breathe a bigger sigh of relief than the party establishment if we, the movement behind Sanders, pack our bags and go home.

While party elites have resources and undemocratic levers of power that we do not, they are also few in number. With a plan, organization, and a mass movement on our side, we can win the convention in July, win the election in November, and begin the next phase of the struggle to transform American democracy.

The next phase of the struggle to transform American democracy will not take place at the Democratic Party convention, nor will it be conducted inside a voting booth on election day. While I am not in the business of fortune-telling, the odds favor Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the two candidates in the general election in November, with Trump returning to the White House for a second term.

Trump’s second term will be marked by deepening class polarization as the intractable problems of the capitalist system grow more acute. Today’s meltdown on Wall Street will likely have the same kind of effect on the economy as it did in 2007, perhaps with fewer long-term consequences but with little assurance that job growth will continue as it has. On top of that, you can expect Trump to target Social Security and Medicare as a way of keeping military spending untouched. Black people and immigrants will continue to face repression from the cops and women will find it even harder to get an abortion. As for the publicly-owned land in the Western states, there will be encroachments that will accelerate the extinction of protected species like the wolf and the grizzly bear. On top of that, climate change will produce even more vicious hurricanes and forest fires.

Against that backdrop, there will be little interest in building up the same kind of energy for another Bernie Sanders campaign in 2024 unless the DSA wants to pin its hope on an 82-year old candidate using a walker and wiping the drool from the corner of his mouth. After this year’s elections, Sanders will go back to his well-paid job as a Senator and continue to write books about the need for a “political revolution”. Like everything else in capitalist society, it will have a rather short shelf-life.

With its 65,000 members, the DSA is in the driver’s seat politically. The Leninist groups have largely disappeared or become adjuncts of the DSA, like Socialist Alternative. Given a willingness to make a clean break with the Democratic Party, it could beef up its leadership, become more professionally organized, and spearhead mass campaigns that will tap into the growing fury of the American people.

It could also begin to run candidates in its own name who are not afraid to speak the truth about the causes of our misery, namely the private ownership of the means of production. Instead of the mealy-mouthed formulations about taking on the billionaire class (whatever that means), it could raise slogans that go to the heart of capitalist production, like nationalizing the banks and making a job with a living wage a right guaranteed by the government.

Of course, they can continue on their merry way and let someone else take their place. Nature and politics both abhor a vacuum.

 

 

March 6, 2020

The Romanian New Wave

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:25 pm

The 2006 film that signaled the birth of the Romanian New Wave

COUNTERPUNCH, MARCH 6, 2020

Although I was only one of the few film critics who did not find Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” worthy of an Academy Award for best film of 2020, I was happy to see a foreign-language film get such an award for the first time. As a fan of two of his earlier films (The Host, Mother), I do count him as one of South Korea’s top directors. As should be obvious from my surveys of South Korean film for CounterPunch, I consider the country to be on the leading edge of filmmaking today, alongside Iran, China and Romania. Ironically, these four nations that have long histories of repression are far more richly endowed cinematically. Perhaps, it is not such an irony in light of our greatest composers having served as court musicians under clerics and monarchs.

Until now, there has only been a single review of a Romanian film on CounterPunch, and it was not mine. It was by the redoubtable Kim Nicolini, who in 2008 described “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” as “the movie that I’ve been waiting to see for months, and it did not disappoint.”

Here’s the good news. “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”, which describes the desperate search by a young woman to find someone in 1980s Romania to perform an illegal abortion, is part of a traveling film festival titled “Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema.” Scheduling information is here. The festival includes thirty films, including a number originating before what film scholars have dubbed the Romanian New Wave or New Romanian Cinema.

Continue reading

March 3, 2020

Some notes on viruses & infection prevention

Filed under: health and fitness — louisproyect @ 11:19 pm

(A guest post from fellow CounterPunch contributor Manuel Garcia Jr.)

Hello,

Here are some notes on viruses, viral infections, and preventative measures to ward off infections. The text is from Rick Lancaster (actually, an M.D. researcher he knows), and the images are from my daughter’s high school biology textbooks and notes. I assembled this today for my own education, given the current epidemic of coronavirus 2019-2020 (plus influenza), and I thought to transmit it to my usual network of e-mail correspondents. I’m no science nor medical expert in virology and biology, but all this looks reasonable and helpful to me; and perhaps for you as well.

In other unrelated news, tomorrow (3 March 2020) is the California primary election: I am voting for Bernie Sanders, and I have sent him a contribution. I’ve said/written enough about the presidential election, and it’s all on my blog if you want to know my thinking on the matter. Take care, MG,Jr.

Manuel Garcia, Jr.
http://manuelgarciajr.com

From Rick Lancaster: CORONAVIRUS 2020

Copied from a friends wall, this is very good advice:

I’ve copied from a doctors post: For those concerned about the coronavirus:
Subject: What I am doing for the upcoming COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic
by James Robb, MD UC San Diego

Dear Colleagues, as some of you may recall, when I was a professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, I was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (the 1970s). I was the first to demonstrate the number of genes the virus contained. Since then, I have kept up with the coronavirus field and its multiple clinical transfers into the human population (e.g., SARS, MERS), from different animal sources.

The current projections for its expansion in the US are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread in the US by mid to late March and April.

Here is what I have done and the precautions that I take and will take. These are the same precautions I currently use during our influenza seasons, except for the mask and gloves.:

1) NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.

2) Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc.. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.

3) Open doors with your closed fist or hip – do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.

4) Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.

5) Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.

6) Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.

7) If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

What I have stocked in preparation for the pandemic spread to the US:

1) Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves for use when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activity when you come in contact with contaminated areas.

Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average – everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon. This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs) The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.

2) Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you – it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth – it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.

3) Stock up now with hand sanitizers and latex/nitrile gloves (get the appropriate sizes for your family). The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.

4) Stock up now with zinc lozenges. These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available, but there are other brands available.

I, as many others do, hope that this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be. Humans have never seen this snake-associated virus before and have no internal defense against it. Tremendous worldwide efforts are being made to understand the molecular and clinical virology of this virus. Unbelievable molecular knowledge about the genomics, structure, and virulence of this virus has already been achieved. BUT, there will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available.

I hope these personal thoughts will be helpful during this potentially catastrophic pandemic. You are welcome to share this email. Good luck to all of us!

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