Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 1, 2017

Seven Documentaries

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 8:56 pm

In late November, I wrote about some excellent films featured in the 2016 New York African Diaspora International Film Festival. New Yorkers will get a chance to see a follow up screening of the “best of” films from the festival between January 13 to 15 including one called “Gurumbe: Afro-Andalusian Memories” that epitomizes the mission of the festival that began in 1993.

“Gurumbe” is a documentary that pays tribute to the Africans who were enslaved by the Spaniards in the early stages of capitalism but not transported to the Americas. Instead they were sold at the auction in Spanish cities to serve as household servants, factory workers and even assistant to fine artists. In the 1700s, for example, 10 percent of the population of Seville were slaves and another 5 percent were freemen. Whether slave or free, the Africans made an important contribution to Spanish culture, particularly to flamenco—an art form that has always been seen as exclusively a contribution from the Roma but that also owed much to uniquely African rhythms.

The film succeeds on two levels. For the mind, you get some of Spain’s top-flight anthropologists and historians who have been delving into the historical archives of cities like Seville to unearth evidence of the African legacy. Even more astonishingly, forensic anthropologists have discovered skeletons beneath the garbage dumps from hundreds of years ago that were certainly African. Since the slaves were not considered proper Catholics, they did not deserve a proper burial in the eyes of their masters. With some skulls bearing the marks of a lethal blow, you get proof of the deep-seated racism that persists until this day in Spain that the film’s creators and the experts they interviewed are determined to eradicate.

On another level, the film appeals directly to the heart through performances by a wide range of musicians who have mastered the flamenco style and particularly its likely African roots. There are also flamenco performances that have the rawness that are most often linked to the Roma sensibility but conceivably are testaments to the feelings of desolation and homesickness felt by slaves.

It was not just music where slaves left their mark. Juan de Pareja served as a slave in the studio of Diego Velasquez, one of Spain’s greatest artists, carrying out menial tasks. But when he showed an artistic ability, Velasquez gave him the opportunity to develop his talent and finally gave him his freedom in 1650. His painting “The Calling of St. Matthew” is exhibited in El Prado while Velasquez’s portrait of his assistant is at the Met.

The Calling of St. Matthew

Portrait of Juan de Pareja

The film is directed by Miguel Ángel Rosales, an anthropologist focused on Andalusia. His work is a labor of love that I can’t praise highly enough. The film is not only a great introduction to Spain’s past but a cry of protest against the racism that has been infecting Europe in the past few years. For many Spaniards, the boat people coming from war-torn and economically devastated Sub-Saharan Africa are viewed as a pestilence. The film will serve to demonstrate the debt owed to such peoples, including from Santander Bank that was the product of a merger historically with a bank that derived every penny from the slave trade.

“Watani: My Homeland” is a film that touches more directly on the refugee crisis. This is a forty-minute documentary that is being considered for an Academy Award alongside “The White Helmets”. Like “The White Helmets”, it is a response to the hell that has been visited on the people of East Aleppo by the Baathist tyranny and its foreign allies.

The film begins in East Aleppo where we meet Abu Ali, who is an officer of the Free Syrian Army and whose wife and four children literally dodge mortal shells, machine gun bullets and barrel bombs in their daily routines. The children have become shockingly inured to the violence as they even play games with toy weapons that mimic the real fighting taking place a stone’s throw from the hollowed-out buildings that surround them.

Abu Ali is frank about the prospects awaiting him, his family and his comrades in East Aleppo. Has he destroyed their lives in a futile attempt to change a brutal system whose brutality reached deeper levels of depravity as the war wore on? By the time the film was being made, it was too late to turn back the clock.

After Abu Ali is abducted by ISIS, his family becomes eligible for refugee status in Germany. They move to a small village that is populated by old people who are anxious to receive new and younger neighbors to keep it alive. This is a factor that probably explains the material basis for Angela Merkel’s specious humanitarianism.

The film was made by Marcel Mettelsiefen, a German citizen, who has been covering the Arab Spring since 2011 and began reporting from within Syria in April 2011. Since then he has filmed and photographed within Syria more than twenty-five times. He deserves a medal for risking his life to make such a powerful film.

Fortunately, much of the material that make up the film was shown originally under the title “Children of Aleppo” on a PBS Frontline documentary (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/children-of-syria/) that I recommend both watching and circulating far and wide. It will go a long way in countering the vicious propaganda campaign directed at the White Helmets and even the seven-year-old Bana Alabed that would have you believe that they are al-Qaeda agents.

Despite the horrors that took place yesterday in Istanbul yesterday, the city is capable of great warmth and solidarity, even extended to the street cats that are paid tribute to in the wonderful documentary “Kedi” (Turkish for cat) that opens on February 10th at the Metrograph theater in New York.

Unlike most cities, Istanbul has not been reduced to sterile concrete edifices. There are many nooks and crannies where cats can remain feral but amenable to interacting with human beings in a variety of ways but on their own terms. We see cats departing from their makeshift homes each day and making the rounds of nearby restaurants and shops where Turks are all too happy to share food with one of god’s creatures. What makes the film so effective is that the director has devised a camera rig that follows the cat around on its peregrinations at its eye-level. We see things from the cat’s perspective and also see it from behind as it circumnavigates restaurant tables, fishermen’s wharves, back alleys, trees, rooftops and other places where the cat feels at home.

And to top it off, we hear from Istanbul’s cat lovers who combine humor, self-deprecation and the uniquely Turkish sensibility that makes the country’s current troubles seem such a curse.

There’s a personal angle here worth mentioning. My wife’s brother-in-law moved to New York about a year ago to get away from the country’s troubles. He brought along with him a female cat named Boncuk (Turkish for jewel and pronounced bonjuk) that he spotted on the street in Istanbul and adopted. She has the supreme diffidence that makes cats so special as well as a beauty that will make her name seem so appropriate.

boncuk

Boncuk

Moving from cats to dogs, I urge you to see “Stray Dog”, a documentary about a man who appears at first blush to belong to Donald Trump’s “basket of deplorables” but becomes something much more—far much more—as Debra Granik’s film unfolds. Granik’s subject is Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, a Vietnam veteran who manages a trailer park in rural southern Missouri and who is married to a Mexican woman–a recent immigrant. His favorite pastimes seem to be driving his Harley-Davidson to memorial meetings for military veterans and sitting around with other veterans in the trailer park swapping tales about their past and ruminating on the miseries of old age, including the need for Viagra and dentures. Despite his advanced years, Hall is a formidable character with tattoos and garb that are distinctly Hell’s Angel fashion-wise. He looks exactly like the kind of person you would avoid if you ran into him on the way to a peace demonstration.

Granik ran into him in southern Missouri when she was casting for her film “Winter’s Bone” that is about the area’s hillbilly drug dealers. He was cast as type but in the course of making the film, she learned that appearances can be deceiving.

Hall, unlike many Trump voters, was open to marrying a Mexican immigrant and even making a home for her twin teenaged sons that he and his wife will be bringing up to the trailer park for a new life in the USA in the course of the film. He is also no war hawk, saying offhandedly at one point that it is the rich man who makes war and the poor who fight it.

Hall knows all about poverty, growing up the son of a cotton-picking sharecropper family. He joined the army to escape poverty and went to Vietnam for two tours of duty. He brought back terrible memories of the war that wake him up on many nights yelling in horror. In the press notes for “Stray Dog”, Granik explains her motivation in making such a film:

Stray Dog’s story is also about a Midwestern workingman negotiating the convulsions of our times – gun culture, unemployment and underemployment in recession-era America. Why does a relative or a neighbor join a militia group? How do you advise a grandchild who can’t make ends meet working two full-time jobs? When does boredom, frustration or lack of opportunities lead to changing the receivables on an AK-47?

As the Vietnam generation grows older, its history is being re-written, and is at risk of being whitewashed. Stray Dog is a warrior who sees the links between his struggles and those of today’s soldiers. He and some of his fellow vets can show us what PTSD is like many years later, long after the headlines fade. Now we have a name for the way it changes the brains of soldiers. We know that it’s one of the costs of war, and we know this mainly because people like Ron have taken the risk to tell us about it.

“Stray Dog” can be seen on Amazon streaming and is well worth the $3.99 to see a memorable portrait of a man who defies stereotypical thinking.

If you like me are filled with loathing over those BP ads that flood Sunday morning TV about how things have “returned to normal” in the waters off of Louisiana, I recommend “After the Spill” that documents the permanent damage to the wildlife and nature in general.

It is an indictment of Louisiana politicians who are all too willing to destroy the lives of fisherman and the general public in order to “save jobs”, the cry of the state’s venal politician Bobby Jindal and lesser-known legislators who are in the back pocket of oil companies.

Louisiana is literally being deluged by the Gulf of Mexico as a consequence of unwise “development” that removed the natural barriers to flooding. There are men and women of conscience in Louisiana willing to take on the despoilers, including John Barry whose expert commentary is heard throughout the film.

Barry is a historian who wrote about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that had as much of an impact on driving working people to the north as the Jim Crow system. Because of his expertise on water, he became a member of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East (SLFPAE) , the levee board overseeing the New Orleans metro area on the east bank of the Mississippi River. On July 24, 2013, SLFPAE sued Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Chevron and 94 other oil, gas, and pipeline companies for their role in destroying Louisiana’s coastline. Barry’s expertise was reflected in the suit and he became its major spokesman. Governor Bobby Jindal fought against the lawsuit and a federal judge sharing his pro-corporate views dismissed it. It is now under appeal and obviously faces an uphill battle given a Trump White House.

Like “Stray Dog”, “After the Spill” can be seen on Amazon streaming and other VOD services.

Opening on January 20th at the Village East in New York, “They Call Us Monsters” is a look at three juvenile offenders trapped inside a prison system that now treats all offenders as adults no matter how young they are. The film shows one eleven-year old boy on trial for murder. The three youths in “They Call Us Monsters” are older but certainly not as capable as adults in acting responsibly, especially when they live in neighborhoods that are dominated by gang warfare. Even when they are released, as one of the three is, it is a struggle to avoid recidivism especially when you are homeless and unable to find work.

Into their world comes a filmmaker named Gilbert Cowan who is one of the documentary’s producers. His goal is to draw them into a screenplay writing class that will result in a film that they help write. Since they are facing long prison sentences, there is little hope that such an exercise will prepare them for work after release or even whether it will help make life behind bars more tolerable. Mostly, they take part in the exercise with a healthy degree of skepticism and find it mostly as a diversion from the boredom and despair of prison life.

Like Cowan, director Ben Lear (the son of Norman Lear) is a member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition that teaches a weekly writing class within the high-security Compound of Sylmar Juvenile Hall and mentors former juvenile offenders.

Guess where this reactionary practice of treating 15-year olds as adults come from. You guessed it. It was part of Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill. Along with the draconian mandatory sentences, putting young people in prison for long stretches has cost our country billions of dollars and destroyed the lives of young people and their families as well. An article in Atlantic Monthly pointed out that a year in a New Jersey prison costs $7000 more a year than a year at Princeton. And a forty year prison terms costs far more than 4 years at Princeton.

Every so often, actually every day of the year, I am reminded of the irrationalities of the capitalist system. Leave it to the son of the good Norman Lear to work on such a project that fights for sanity and to make a film relevant to his humanitarian ideals.

(Screening information on “They Call Us Monsters” nationally can be seen here.

Heavy screening duties in early December prevented me from seeing “First Lady of the Revolution” until after it had finished its run in New York. This is a documentary about Henrietta Boggs, who became the wife of Costa Rica’s President José ‘Don Pepe’ Figueres in 1941. Boggs is still alive at the age of 98.

The film is a combination of her personal story and Costa Rican politics that was tangled to say the least. Bogg’s account of her husband’s political legacy was decidedly critical even though it is generally positive. I invite you to see it if becomes available as VOD (I will give you a head’s up) but it might be useful to consider my analysis of what happened in Costa Rica when Boggs was First Lady:

Another important element of the particularism of the modern Costa Rican state and society was the events surrounding the Presidency of Rafael Calderon in the 1940s. Calderon was a Roosevelt-styled reformer who won the election in 1942 and proceeded to institute a number of progressive social measures including Social Security, a first for Central America. Like Roosevelt, he instituted many of these measures from the top down and had no intention of allowing the working-class or peasantry to go beyond the boundaries this caudillo had set.

He had two powerful allies in this enterprise: the Catholic Church and the Communist Party of Costa Rica. The CP had a substantial base among banana plantation workers and under the influence of the popular front threw its full support behind Calderon in the same way its sister party supported FDR.

Calderon’s development model was based on export agriculture and for the most part had goal to undermine the power of the traditional oligarchies. While Costa Rica’s bourgeoisie was not as vicious as El Salvador’s, it still had no intention of allowing full-scale agrarian reform.

Calderon’s paternalism and his development model alienated much of the country’s emerging urban petty-bourgeoisie. They preferred a more modern capitalism that was diversified and less oriented to export agriculture. Furthermore, Calderon, like many of Central America’s traditional caudillos, was corrupt. The corruption was not as blatant as Somoza’s but it was just enough to anger the urban petty-bourgeoisie.

This most politically advanced members of this modernizing middle-class started a think tank called the “Center for the Study of National Problems” in 1948. This think tank was sharply anti-imperialist and thought that Calderon’s export-oriented model ceded too much to the United Fruit Company and other foreign companies. They produced studies that fed into popular discontent against Calderon.

They could be properly called “petty-bourgeois nationalists”, the formulation a list member used to falsely categorize the Sandinistas. They believed that Costa Rica’s main problem was domination by foreign and domestic capital, however they did not accept Marxist theory at all.

This group became allied with a grouping within the powerful bourgeois Democratic Party called Democratic Action. Its main leader was one Jose Figueres who was also a petty-bourgeois nationalist. Figureres’s group joined with the urban middle-class professionals in the Center for the Study of National Problems and created Costa Rica’s Social Democratic Party in 1948. This party also attracted the support of many of Costa Rica’s oligarchs who were nervous about Calderon’s populism and his Communist Party support.

When the anti-Calderon forces lost the elections in 1948, they launched a civil war that targeted many CP members. Martial law was declared and the junta threw its support to the Social Democratic rebellion. The civil war, while bloody, was inconclusive. The two factions eventually made peace and formed a coalition government. Neither of the contending class forces in the civil war were capable of achieving victory and the contradictions between them remained unresolved for the next several decades.

In order to mediate between themselves, they made a decision to suspend warfare and co-exist within parliamentary forms. They also decided to dissolve the army since they calculated that it could be counted on as a reliable ally to either faction. This act was unprecedented in Central American history. The irony, not at all understood by superficial Social Democrats like Village Voice writer Paul Berman, was that it required a bloody civil war to result in the abolition of the armed forces of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica managed to avoid the deep-going conflicts that marked the rest of Central America in the post WWII era largely because Calderon’s welfare state model was eventually accepted by both factions. This model allowed the bourgeoisie to coopt popular struggles. It has remained a successful counter-revolutionary strategy for some decades, but could break down in the 1990s as export agriculture-based economies continue their downward slide. Just as Sweden has begun to attack the welfare state measures that defined it, so has Costa Rica. What the political consequences of all this will be is difficult to say, but one thing is clear: Costa Rica’s exceptionalism is not permanent.

December 30, 2016

Alone in Berlin; Sophie Scholl–the Final Days

Filed under: Counterpunch,Fascism,Film — louisproyect @ 5:40 pm

Alone, Resisting the Nazis

Seven years ago, when I heard that Hans Fallada’s novel “Alone in Berlin” had been translated into English, I immediately borrowed a copy from the Columbia library and began reading about the elderly couple who had secretly distributed anti-Nazi postcards in public places after their only son had been killed in combat during the German invasion of France in 1940. As the novel was 544 pages and had to compete with other reading tasks that had higher priority at the time, I was forced to put it aside after 60 or so pages.

After seeing a press screener for the film based on the novel that opens at the IFC Center in New York City on January 13th, I plan to take the book out again and give it my highest priority. That’s what a powerful film will do—inspire you to read the original, in this case a work based on a true story.

As the film closes, you will see a dedication to the couple that it was based on: Otto and Elise Hampel, a working-class couple (he was a factory worker; she cleaned apartments) that composed postcards calling for the overthrow of Hitler and left them in public places around Berlin. They were eventually caught, tried, and beheaded in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison in April 1943. The title of Fallada’s novel was meant to convey the determination of the couple to act against Hitler, even if they were “alone” in doing so. As Fallada’s character Otto Quangel tells his wife Anna once they begin their fearless but desperate campaign, the death of their son—their only reason for living—has left them free to act in an unfree society. More existential than political, their choice was the only one that presented itself to Germans of conscience in 1940, when support for Hitler was at its height.

Made in France but using English actors, the film benefits from a first-rate screenplay co-written by director Vincent Perez and the husband and wife team Achim and Borries von Borries (Achim wrote the very fine screenplay for “Goodbye, Lenin!”, a film that had the nerve to find good things to say about Communist East Germany). Perez, of Spanish descent but who grew up in Spain, started off as an actor and given his being cast in the lead role of Ashe Corven in the dark thriller “The Crow: City of Angels”, you might wonder what drew him to this project. The press notes explain why:

For Perez, Fallada’s book had great, personal significance. On his father’s side, Perez’s family is from Spain. His grandfather fought for the Republicans against Franco’s Fascist regime during the Spanish Civil War and was executed for it while his family on his mother’s side is German and fled Nazi Germany. “My mother was born in 1939 but they, like many millions, joined the Exodus, walking for five years, then coming back after the war,” he explains. “When you have German blood it raises so many questions I needed to find the answers to, and through that book I found some amazing things. Reading Fallada forced me to build up a family history.”

Read full article

December 29, 2016

A conversation with Anthony DiMaggio about Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

Anthony DiMaggio

Anthony DiMaggio, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University and long-time contributor to Counterpunch on American politics, wrote an article about Syria on December 28th that is distinguished by its attempt at evenhandedness. Titled “The Pathologies of War: Dual Propaganda Campaigns in Reporting on Syria”, it adopts a “plague on both your houses” stance toward RT.com et al on one side and the American bourgeois media on the other. What is missing unfortunately is any engagement with the reports from those who have taken up the cause of the Syrian rebels such as Robin Yassin-Kassab, Idrees Ahmed, Gilbert Achcar and Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian communist who spent 16 years in prison for writing articles critical of the system in the same manner that DiMaggio does on Counterpunch.

I recommend reading the article since it is noteworthy for taking exception to the dominant narrative at Counterpunch put forward by Mike Whitney, Pepe Escobar, Andre Vltchek, Rick Sterling et al. It is not as if Counterpunch is censoring writers critical of Assad; it is more that there are so few of us who have decided that the cause of the Syrian rebels is worth taking up. DiMaggio writes, for example:

Despite the documentation of war crimes and human rights atrocities, pro-Russian, state funded media outlet Russia Today denies responsibility for the attacks. Pro-Russian citizens of the west who indulge in Russian and Syrian government propaganda are given free rein on the network to exonerate these countries from moral condemnation or blame (Wahl, 3/21/14; Bartlett, 12/17/16). Numerous Americans I’ve spoken with on “the left” accept this propaganda, and are willing to accept any claim from countries opposing U.S. military power, no matter how outlandish.  No evidence, no matter how thoroughly documented, is strong enough for them to take seriously if it threatens to harm the image of Putin and the Assadists.

This, needless to say, is a statement that would have been more difficult to put forward a couple of years ago. I suspect that “quantity has become quality”, to put it in crude Marxist terms. There is nothing like a year’s worth of Russian bombing on everything that moves in East Aleppo to focus one’s attention if not break down sobbing.

After raising some concerns with DiMaggio privately about the value of Patrick Cockburn’s reporting, he asked me to provide some detail that would help penetrate the propaganda haze surrounding Syria. In focusing on the part of his article that deals with the alleged problem of pro-rebel propaganda, I will try to differentiate my own Marxist perspective from that of John McCain, Nicholas Kristof, Hillary Clinton or any other bourgeois politician that many on the left amalgamate with my views. I should add that those views are different from many of those who support the rebels, starting with being opposed to no-fly zones and supporting Jill Stein for president in 2016 even though her ideas are obviously in sync with Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Stephen Kinzer, et al.

Turning now to the section of DiMaggio’s article that seeks to debunk the mainstream media’s portrayal of the USA as a disinterested party in the Middle East only concerned with peace and fair play, there a familiar approach that pivots on the use of Wikileaks and a selective reading of the bourgeois press to show that Obama’s real intentions were anything but. He writes that the USA was responsible for helping to destabilize Syria by supplying weapons to the rebels early on despite pretending that it sought “to protect regional order and stability in the Middle East.”

He cites the WSJ:

U.S. officials said the Obama administration is pursuing what amounts to a dual-track strategy, which aims to maintain military pressure on Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters while U.S. diplomats see if they can ease him from power through negotiations. U.S. officials said the pressure track was meant to complement the diplomatic track by giving the U.S. leverage at the negotiating table.

Despite DiMaggio’s take on the WSJ article as revealing some deep, dark secret, the sad fact is that applying military pressure on Assad in order to ease him from power through negotiations was exactly the strategy Washington hoped would protect “regional order and stability in the Middle East”. Basically, the American ruling class sought the same kind of solution that it sought for Yemen and Egypt when unpopular dictators were eased out of power in order to keep the system intact. As Count Tancredi says in Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “For things to remain the same, things will have to change.”

Washington was never opposed to Baathist rule, only to the sort of excesses that had driven the country’s desperate peasantry to rise up. In the spring of 2011, when peaceful protests began taking place in Homs, Daraa, the suburbs of Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere, Washington hoped that Assad would be forced to resign by members of his inner circle who thought like Tancredi. Instead, he directed his cops and soldiers to begin firing on protests, which led to the formation of militias whose only goal was to protect protestors—not overthrow a government that had a powerful air force and armored divisions. When the USA began arming the rebels in the early period, it was only with an eyedropper. From the very beginning the FSA complained about being inadequately armed. For the full report on the US role in arming the rebels, I recommend Michael Karadjis’s thoroughly researched article on “Yet again on those hoary old allegations that the US has armed the FSA since 2012”.

Karadjis makes the essential point that the USA had to supply light arms such as RPG’s and automatic rifles in order to put itself in the position as a control monitor of arms shipments. Once it had ownership of the pipeline, it could more effectively block the shipment of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that could have ended the war as early as three years ago. He cites an article from the NY Times in 2013 whose title would at first blush indicate that the USA was “destabilizing” Syria: “Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From C.I.A.” But a careful reading of the article demonstrates that imperialism’s real goal was to put a leash on the opposition:

But the rebels were clamoring for even more weapons, continuing to assert that they lacked the firepower to fight a military armed with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers and aircraft. Many were also complaining, saying they were hearing from arms donors that the Obama administration was limiting their supplies and blocking the distribution of the antiaircraft and anti-armor weapons they most sought.

I would recommend that DiMaggio have a look at the documentary “The Return to Homs” that illustrates what “destabilizing” Syria meant in practice. In 2011 the city’s poor began peacefully protesting Assad only to be shot down in the streets. Young men formed self-defense units that relied on RPG’s and automatic weapons, some obtained from the USA, others from Sunni-dominated states in the region and others on the black market. Once they were capable of preventing slaughter in the streets from Baathist cops and foot soldiers, Assad escalated his attacks on the neighborhoods opposed to his dictatorship. Tank cannons blew holes in tenements killing everybody inside and helicopters began dropping barrel bombs on street markets. In order to stave off such criminal attacks on civilians, the FSA needed anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that they could have received from Libya. And what happened? The CIA organized what amounted to an embargo on heavy weapons and prolonged the misery of Syria’s desperate, poverty-stricken masses.

Next DiMaggio addresses the perennial question of “jihadis” in Syria that has prompted so many to view Assad as a lesser evil even if he has killed far more of his countrymen than any group falling into this category. In fact, Assad militarized the conflict early on since he knew that it would provide an opening for groups with little interest in the democratic aspirations of the protesters in 2011. With support from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, such groups could play a role all out of proportion to their actual political support just as ultraright street fighters were able to do in Ukraine during the Euromaidan protests.

DiMaggio quotes one of Clinton’s hacked emails to show how far the USA would go in building up the jihadists: “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the [Middle East] region”.

Well, if someone said this in an email to Hillary Clinton, it does not make it true. The truth is that ISIS gets no support whatsoever from the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have funded groups far more willing to take on ISIS than Assad ever did. A cursory glance at the historical record would bear this out in spades, starting with the Daily Star in Lebanon’s January 4, 2014 article “Syria rebels fight back against ISIS”.

But more significantly, ISIS has all the money and arms it ever needed, mostly acquired by driving the oppressive Shi’ite officials, cops and soldiers out of the Sunni regions in Iraq in 2014 that it then replaced with its own medieval rule. I tried to document this in an article that was written in reply to Ben Norton who like Patrick Cockburn relied on the Wikileaks email DiMaggio cites.

My article cites an Amnesty International report that identifies the heavy weaponry ISIS captured from fleeing Shi’ite soldiers in Iraq.

Most armoured fighting vehicles currently in use by IS are Russian-designed or US types captured from Iraqi military stocks. The main battle tanks deployed by IS are the Russian T-54/T-55 and T-62; IS has been able to capture some Chinese Type 69-II tanks and US M1A1M “Abrams” in Iraq. It appears, however, that all captured M1A1M tanks were later destroyed by IS, and there is no evidence of their use in further combat.

Additionally, during the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq, IS has captured hundreds of light ar- moured fighting vehicles of more than a dozen different types that were in service with the Syrian and Iraqi armies. However, the vast majority of light armoured fighting vehicles used by IS fighters comprise only a few models: the Russian BMP-1, MT-LB Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the US M113A2 Armoured Personnel Carrier, M1117 Armoured Security Vehicle, and up-armoured HM- MWV (Humvee) variants.

Furthermore, ISIS never needed a penny from the Qatari or Saudi governments (which it is a sworn enemy of) or even from wealthy Salafists acting on their own in those kingdoms. When it conquered Sunni cities in Iraq, it emptied the banks of their currency and gold to the tune of a half-billion dollars.

Even if it had not walked off with such a massive stash, it could have kept going on the same basis of any state in the world: through taxation and the sale of oil within territory it controlled. In 2014 the RAND corporation reviewed 200 documents captured from ISIS and concluded that only five percent of its revenues came from foreign donors. Mostly it relies on the following sources:

  • Proceeds from the occupation of territory (including control of banks, oil and gas reservoirs, taxation, extortion, and robbery of economic assets)
  • Kidnapping ransom
  • Material support provided by foreign fighters
  • Fundraising through modern communication networks

Finally, there is no engagement in DiMaggio’s article with the all-important question of whether receiving training and arms from the USA and its allies constitutes prima facie evidence of a “destabilizing” presence in the region. If being backed by the USA is a kind of litmus test, I am afraid that we would be forced to condemn Ho Chi Minh for “destabilizing” Asia. While he would eventually find himself locked in a deadly struggle with American imperialism, Ho Chi Minh had no problem connecting with the OSS during WWII as recounted by William Duiker in his 2000 biography “Ho Chi Minh: a Life”:

While Ho Chi Minh was in Paise attempting to revitalize the Dong Minh Hoi, a U.S. military intelligence officer arrived in Kunming to join the OSS unit there. Captain Archimedes “Al” Patti had served in the European Theater until January 1944, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and appointed to the Indochina desk at OSS headquarters. A man of considerable swagger and self-confidence, Patti brought to his task a strong sense of history and an abiding distrust of the French and their legacy in colonial areas. It was from the files in Washington, D.C. that he first became aware of the activities of the Vietminh Front and its mysterious leader, Ho Chi Minh.

The next day, Patti arrived at Debao airport, just north of Jingxi, and after consultation with local AGAS representatives, drove into Jingxi, where he met a Vietminh contact at a local restaurant and was driven to see Ho Chi Minh in a small village about six miles out of town. After delicately feeling out his visitor about his identity and political views, Ho described conditions inside Indochina and pointed out that his movement could provide much useful assistance and information to the Allies if it were in possession of modern weapons, ammunition, and means of communication. At the moment, Ho conceded that the movement was dependent upon a limited amount of equipment captured from the enemy. Patti avoided any commitment, but promised to explore the matter. By his own account, Patti was elated.

As Leon Trotsky pointed out in an article written in 1938, you can’t automatically put a minus where the ruling class puts a plus. If that was the case, Lenin never would have gotten on that German train bound for the Finland Station in 1917. Trotsky writes:

In ninety cases out of a hundred the workers actually place a minus sign where the bourgeoisie places a plus sign. In ten cases however they are forced to fix the same sign as the bourgeoisie but with their own seal, in which is expressed their mistrust of the bourgeoisie. The policy of the proletariat is not at all automatically derived from the policy of the bourgeoisie, bearing only the opposite sign – this would make every sectarian a master strategist; no, the revolutionary party must each time orient itself independently in the internal as well as the external situation, arriving at those decisions which correspond best to the interests of the proletariat. This rule applies just as much to the war period as to the period of peace.

Let us imagine that in the next European war the Belgian proletariat conquers power sooner than the proletariat of France. Undoubtedly Hitler will try to crush the proletarian Belgium. In order to cover up its own flank, the French bourgeois government might find itself compelled to help the Belgian workers’ government with arms. The Belgian Soviets of course reach for these arms with both hands. But actuated by the principle of defeatism, perhaps the French workers ought to block their bourgeoisie from shipping arms to proletarian Belgium? Only direct traitors or out-and-out idiots can reason thus.

Let me conclude with a reference to the very best article on the nature of the Syrian uprising that was never reflected in either RT.com or the NY Times. Very few Western reporters, including Patrick Cockburn, ever took the trouble that my friend Anand Gopal took in 2012 when researching the article titled “Welcome to Free Syria” that appeared in Harpers. Gopal took considerable risk in sneaking across the Syrian border from Turkey in the dark of night to reach the men and women Cockburn has entirely ignored in preference to Damascus hotels and being escorted around by the Baathist military. Gopal writes:

Matar brought me to a mosque that sits next to one of the mass graves. Inside, there were heaps of clothes, boxes of Turkish biscuits, and crates of bottled water. An old bald man with a walrus mustache studied a ledger with intensity while a group of old men around him argued about how much charity they could demand from Taftanaz’s rich to rebuild the town. This was the public-affairs committee, one of the village’s revolutionary councils. The mustached man slammed his hands on the floor and shouted, “This is a revolution of the poor! The rich will have to accept that.” He turned to me and explained, “We’ve gone to every house in town and determined what they need”—he pointed at the ledger—“and compared it with what donations come in. Everything gets recorded and can be seen by the public.”

All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.

In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”

It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.

“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)

It was Gopal’s article that convinced me that the Syrian revolution had to be supported in the same manner that I supported the Vietnamese in 1967 and the Nicaraguans 20 years later. What others on the left decide to do is their own business. I only hope that they at least take the trouble to get all sides of the story before taking up the cause of Bashar al-Assad who was determined to crush the kind of developments Gopal reported on.

December 28, 2016

The Cassiopaea Experiment: the grotesque cult in Assad’s corner

Filed under: cults,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

Cult figure Laura Knight-Jadczyk, co-editor of Signs of the Time with Eva Bartlett

When I discovered last week that David Icke was simultaneously a high-profile propagandist for Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal-like war on his own countrymen and an author who writes that a group of shapeshifting reptilian humanoids are conspiring to destroy the planet Earth, my first reaction was stunned disbelief. When I discovered a couple of days ago that a cult with notions just as bizarre as Icke’s was also carrying Assad’s water, it dawned on me that there was a pattern. If you understand the war in Syria as a conspiracy by the West to remove a popular and progressive leader, you would be inclined to see the world in conspiratorial terms generally and be capable of asserting that alien abductions are real.

As I have pointed out in the past, some of the key Assadist outlets such as Global Research are also committed to 9/11 Truthism. But when I ran into the people behind the Sign of the Times website that like David Icke was all too happy to give Eva Bartlett a platform, it finally became clear to me that the Assadist subculture had bred some truly grotesque creatures out of the conspiracist underground that would repel any sensible person on the left. Not only have dozens of her articles appeared on Signs of the Time; she is also listed as an editor.

I was vaguely aware of sott.net since any number of the imbeciles I have debated over the past 5 years have referred to it as a reliable source of information on the war in Syria. Like Global Research, 21st Century Wire, Canary and Mint News, it is primarily an aggregator of news articles sympathetic to Assad, Iran and the Kremlin.

When I noticed a link to it earlier in the week, I decided to check out its provenance—wondering if it was based in Russia like many of these outlets. In small print at the bottom of the home page you find this: “E-mails sent to Sott.net become the property of Quantum Future Group, Inc (QFG) and may be published without notice.”

Okay, putting on my tinfoil investigative reporting cap, I decided to check out the QFG. They describe themselves innocently enough:

During the the [sic] past hundred years or so, every important idea for social change has been incubated in the nonprofit sector. The struggles for civil rights, for women’s rights, for environmental health, for AIDS treatment, for disabled access, for sustainability, for peace, for family support, for jobs and economic development — these are all ideas that were nurtured and launched through nonprofit organizations that have changed the world. The ideas of the founders and members of Quantum Future Group go to the core of these issues, seeking scientific socio-cultural solutions to the most fundamental problems of humanity.

Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

Looking further as I always do in these instances, I checked out the board of directors. These were the three primary players: Arkadiusz Jadczyk, a physicist with a PhD from a Polish university, his wife Laura Knight-Jadczyk, who attended a community college but lacked a degree, and Joe Quinn, who had an MBA and worked in management before becoming a full-time volunteer for the Quantum Future Group.

Again, no warning signs.

It was only when I went to their Reports page that the plot began to thicken. Ms. Knight-Jadczyk was the author of a forthcoming book titled “Josephus, Pilate and Paul: It’s Just a Matter of Time” that struck me as a bit odd. Meanwhile, her husband had a book titled “Political Ponerology” that struck me as even odder since ponerology is a rather obscure term meaning the study of evil. A quick search on Google revealed that the book had been published by Red Pill Press, which is as you might expect a subsidiary of QFG.

When I went to the Red Pill Press website, that’s when the shit began to hit the fan. Among the books on sale there besides “Political Ponerology” was one called “Manufactured Terror” that was co-authored by the aforementioned Joe Quinn and someone named Niall Bradley and that was described as “banned from Amazon.com”. The book purports to be an investigation of “false flag” incidents, including Sandy Hook where a crazed 20-year old gunman named Adam Lanza killed 20 grade school students and 6 adults working at the school. On Joe Quinn’s blog, he argues that “an elite cabal has existed in the USA for several decades and has been involved in assassinations” and that “it is entirely rational to conclude, on the balance of this collective evidence, that Adam Lanza was not yet another ‘lone gunman’”.

So naturally Eva Bartlett, whose journalism consists mostly of denying that any children were killed in East Aleppo and other outrageous claims, would have an affinity with the likes of Joe Quinn.

There’s also a book for sale there written by fellow QFG board member Laura Knight-Jadczyk titled “The Secret History of the World” that has this blurb:

Conspiracies have existed since the time of Cain and Abel. Facts of history have been altered to support the illusion. The question today is whether a sufficient number of people will see through the deceptions, thus creating a counter-force for positive change – the gold of humanity – during the upcoming times of Macro-Cosmic Quantum Shift. Laura argues convincingly, based on the revelations of the deepest of esoteric secrets, that the present is a time of potential transition, an extraordinary opportunity for individual and collective renewal: a quantum shift of awareness and perception which could see the birth of true creativity in the fields of science, art and spirituality.

What the fuck was a Macro-Cosmic Quantum Shift? Succumbing to my insatiable curiosity about lunatics such as David Icke and the QFG people, I googled “Macro-Cosmic Quantum Shift” and discovered a link to the Cassiopaea Experiment, the bizarre cult that gave birth to the Quantum Future Group that gave spawned Signs of the Time. I now felt like Ripley in “Aliens” after discovering the primal egg-producing creature that had to be destroyed.

Primarily a project of community college drop-out Ms. Knight-Jadczyk, it is described as follows:

Many years of research, experience, and constructive curiosity led to Laura’s experiment in Superluminal Communication that eventually, after two years of experimentation and fine tuning, which included contacts with “dead dudes” (alleged discarnate entities) and deceptive sources posing as higher sources of knowledge, resulted in the Cassiopaean Transmissions. All these years the process has gone through refinement and adjusting all “instruments” for higher accuracy and facilitation of better communication. These communications ARE different from most other channeled information.

Between David Icke’s belief that he was a latter day Jesus Christ assigned the task to save the world and her Superluminal (faster than light) Communication with “dead dudes”, clearly we are in the realm described by Leon Trotsky in “What is National Socialism”: “Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms.”

Like David Icke, Ms. Knight-Jadczyk believes in Extraterrestrials but probably more benign than his reptilian interlopers. In an article titled “The Case for the UFO”, she finds thunderstorms a rather convincing demonstration of visitors from another planet:

In our study of storms we have been driven inexorably to admit that some storms have an artificial aspect, a sort of organic appearance, an air of being manufactured for a purpose and to be carrying out that purpose. We therefore postulate some percentage of artificiality, or intelligence, among that small percentage of storms which suddenly appear in otherwise undisturbed skies, proceed with a purposeful manner, as though concealing something, and discharge peculiar materials. They seem too concentrated, perhaps too directive, to be entirely meteorological in their origins.

I believe that space structures of five to twenty miles diameter are sufficiently large to produce such storms, and there may be elements of purposefulness in so doing, if only for camouflage or concealment.

Evidently, some people find the Jadczyk’s much more impressive than I do, so much so that a cult formed around them. Describing herself as an ex-cult member, Colleen Johnson  spilled the goods on the “Malevolent Alien Abduction Research Web Site” of all places. I have no idea whether Johnson believes in alien abductions but her article is mostly about the shady operations of the QFG, the Cassiopaea Experiment and anything else connected to these people.

Former members that wish to remain anonymous, also claim they were scammed out of large sums of money when the Jadczyk’s suddenly uprooted the Perseus Foundation from New Port Richey, Florida and moved it to France leaving many a bewildered cult member feeling emotionally raped by their experience and financially taken advantage of.

The Jadczyk’s raised well over $100,000.00 to $150,000.00 from a bogus raffle to sell their home (AKA the Perseus Foundation) via PayPal then split with the money, leaving an unverified winner unknown to members but close to Laura. According to 2003 documents the home is still up for sale and a former devoted member lives there as caretaker showing the property. Laura is in legal trouble with fraud and embezzlement if she returns to the USA. Many  ex-members would sue her if they could get her back here.

You can get more of the lurid details from “starspray21” on his or her Newsvine website.

The Background – In 1994 a down and out new age spiritualist named Fred Irland along with a very disturbed woman trained in the science of hypno-therapy and thought manipulation began an experiment where they attempted to “channel” beings from a higher state of consciousness through a ouiji board. The pseudo-scientific séance experiment (or scam) was a “success” and the Cassiopaeans revealed themselves. Subsequently the woman, Ms. Laura Knight Jadczyk, made off with the idea and on her websites does not credit Mr. Irland at all for his part in helping to discover these profitable beings. The beings known as the Cassiopaeans are supposedly “herself in the future” (?) from the distant constellation Orion. Basically the Cassiopaeans are used to promote and validate a certain world view. This world view now forms the foundation of her cult. The world view she promotes claims that we are all under the domination of 4th dimensional evil “overlords of entropy” who feed off of our negative energy and keep the humans on this planet the way a scientist might keep lab rats or the way a farmer might keep livestock. After ditching Mr. Irland, she merged a severely edited version of these crazy Cassiopean ‘transmitions’ with a bastardized and twisted version of the teachings of a French philosopher named Gurdjieff. Then abra cadabra, a cult was born. The ideas of Gurdjieff seem on the face of it to lend credibility to Ms. Knight Jadczyk and her crazy money scheme. But when you look closely you see it for what it is – psychosis parlayed into a very profitable scam.

Don’t these people sound exactly like those that would bond ideologically with “journalist” Eva Bartlett, their fellow editor and scam artist?

 

December 27, 2016

Defend George Ciccariello-Maher

Filed under: Academia,repression,technology — louisproyect @ 4:32 pm

George Ciccariello-Maher

Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher is under attack right now from the alt-right for Tweets supposedly targeting whites.

Although I hold Slate.com in pretty low regard, they have an article today that is quite useful for background:

George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, provoked the wrath of the internet’s worst people on Christmas Eve when he tweeted, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In a follow-up tweet, he added, “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a very good thing indeed.” (The tweets are no longer available online, as Ciccariello-Maher has since made his Twitter account private.) In context, it seems clear that he was tweaking white supremacists for their repurposing of the term “white genocide,” which is disingenuously invoked nowadays to pretend that uncontroversial things like interracial dating are as threatening as the slaughter that took place in Haiti in 1804. But Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets were as good a reason for a witch hunt as any, and what better time to hunt witches than Christmas?

Breitbart, as usual, was the most openly racist about it; their writer Warner Todd Huston went out of his way to link Ciccariello-Maher to the largest university in Mexico, apparently as a disqualifying factor, and characterized his Twitter feed as “filled with hateful, obnoxious messages, anti-Americanism, slams of President Donald Trump, attacks on Jews, as well as pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-communist sloganeering.” The story quickly went as viral as dysentery, spattering its way all over the right-wing media—there are currently four separate stories about it on The Daily Caller alone—and the customary wave of obscenities, calls for Ciccariello-Maher’s firing, and death threats crashed into Drexel.

Read full article

There’s a petition defending George at Change.org that I have signed and I encourage all my readers to sign it as well. The fact that Breitbart.com is spearheading the McCarthyite attack on him should be reason enough to speak out. With Breitbart editor Steve Bannon serving as Donald Trump’s chief political adviser, there is little doubt that witch-hunts against the left are on the agenda.

While I am completely in solidarity with George, who is a Facebook friend, I do want to switch gears a bit here and say something about the problem with radicals using Twitter for political commentary.

As should be obvious from the Steven Salaita affair, tweets are made to order for rightwing attacks since they are easier to rip out of context than blog posts or any other medium that does not force you to express yourself in 140 characters. That Twitter is Donald Trump’s favorite way of reaching the public might give you pause. Just the other day Trump tweeted about nuclear weapons but in such a cryptic manner that 140,000 words have already been written to wring out their meaning.

Here’s the NY Times attempting to decipher Trump’s words: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

For them, they had one of three possibilities:

  • Modernize existing nuclear forces, in line with but upgrading President Obama’s plan
  • Expand qualitative nuclear capability by developing faster or more powerful delivery systems, like cruise missiles
  • Deploy existing weapons systems closer to adversaries, for example in Eastern Europe

Now it doesn’t matter much whether Trump is purposely sowing confusion to keep friends and enemies alike off-balance or simply too foggy-minded to express a clear opinion. After all, he is 70 and not much of a thinker even when he was 40 years younger. Plus, as the most powerful man in the world, he has liberties that most of us do not enjoy, especially a college professor who unlike most is not afraid to express himself in uncompromising terms.

There was another such college professor who was victimized for his tweets not so long ago. Steven Salaita was denied a job at the University of Illinois he had already been accepted for after the Israeli lobby singled some tweets out of context. For example, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing” was simply a cry of anguish not an invitation to abduct anybody.

Others less known have also run into static as Inside Higher Education has reported. On November 21, there was an article about Rutgers University adjunct Kevin Allred, who had been placed on leave and barred from over this tweet: “Will the Second Amendment be as cool when I buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no …?” Rutgers ratted Allred out to the New York City cops who forced him to be evaluated by psychologists and then released him. Twitter also ordered him to remove the tweet.

On May 14, 2015, there was another article about Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University. Socawledge.com, a Breitbart-like website, had collected some of her tweets in an effort to at least scandalize her and worse. Like the Drexel administration, Boston University allowed the ultraright to dictate the terms of the controversy with its spokesman Colin Riley telling Fox News that the university “does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements.” One of the offensive statements was “Why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?” With so many racist incidents taking place on college campuses around the country, this does not seem like an unreasonable question.

The problem with all of the tweets cited above is that they are utterly lacking in context. When George Ciccariello-Maher made a cogent defense of his Swiftian tweet, it should have convinced anybody outside of alt-right ranks that he was making a satirical commentary about the notion that white people are facing an existential threat such as the Jews faced under Hitler. But that was not exactly obvious from the tweet. Speaking for myself, a Marxist for the past 50 years or so, I had no idea that “white genocide” was a term peculiar to the alt-right so what would a Drexel administrator know?

It boils down to this. The left has to abandon Twitter as a form of political commentary. I use it but very sparingly, most of the time as an automatic feed for my blog posts. By and large, very few academics have either the time—or more importantly—the inclination to write political analysis unless it is directly related to their job. They might write an article every year or so for Historical Materialism, New Left Review, Science & Society or some more specialized JSTOR type journal but would never dream of pumping out 2000 words on “white genocide” in a blog. There’s no pay for that nor room for it on your CV. Except for Juan Cole, Michael Roberts and the left-liberals at Crooked Timber, I can’t think of any other academic radical off the top of my head who blogs on a regular basis.

On September 2nd, 2015, Times Higher Education, a trade journal having no connection to the newspaper of record, published an article titled “The weird and wonderful world of academic Twitter” that was impressed with how “Twitter … acts as a virtual water cooler, a place where academics go to build community, have some fun, and let off steam.’ Let off steam, indeed.

The article singles out the Twitter account “Shit Academics Say” as a representative of academic tweeting at its best. This is typical:

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-11-18-12-am

What a waste of 10 years getting a PhD.

December 26, 2016

Ben Norton completes his Stalinist turn

Filed under: conservatism,Fascism,Spain,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

Ben Norton

When someone posted a link to Ben Norton’s attack on George Orwell, my first reaction was to shrug it off. Ever since the lad got fired from Salon for what some speculate as violating their rules against writing for other publications, he has lost his bully pulpit for spreading Assadist lies. (Who really knows if he was canned for writing an article for Intercept? I doubt it was incompetence since Salon’s bar is set rather low in that regard.) Although I have my own problems with Orwell, I was more interested in Norton’s rather crude and reactionary take on Trotskyism that amounts to a defense of Stalin’s betrayal of the Spanish revolution. It has been quite some time since I have had to bother with writing about the Spanish Civil War. To kill two birds with one stone, I hope to demonstrate how Norton has capitulated to Stalinism as well as to make some points about how Franco achieved his victory. Considering the fact that Bashar al-Assad is today’s Generalissimo Franco, it is not surprising that Norton can get Spain so wrong.

Norton writes:

Apologists insist Orwell simply “sold out” later in life and became a cranky conservative, yet the story is more complex. Orwell had a consistent political thread throughout his life. This explains how he could go from fighting alongside a Spanish Trostkyist militia in a multi-tendency war against fascism to demonizing the Soviet Union as The Real Enemy — before returning home to imperial Britain, where he became a social democratic traitor who castigated capitalism while collaborating with the capitalist state against revolutionaries trying to create socialism.

If you take the trouble to clink the link for “a social democratic traitor”, you’ll discover an article written by Norton in 2014 that has not a word about betrayal. In fact, it is the sort of Dr. Jekyll politics he adhered to as a member of the ISO until he turned into Mr. Hyde at Salon. The article, titled “George Orwell, the Socialist” makes useful points, among them:

Schools prefer propagating binary ideological thinking: “Orwell was opposed to Soviet ‘totalitarianism,’ therefore he was not a ‘socialist,’ therefore he was a capitalist, therefore he supported the capitalist West,” the unspoken logic habitually goes. Orwell’s opposition to capitalism is almost never presented, nor is his advocacy of (democratic) socialism.

It is not only schools that prefer propagating binary ideological thinking. It is also the neo-Stalinist left that has rallied around Bashar al-Assad, including Norton, Max Blumenthal, Rania Khalek, Yoshie Furuhashi, the Socialist Action sect, John Rees et al. By reducing the war in Syria to a geopolitical chess game in which the USA is responsible for everything that has gone wrong, they let Putin and Assad off the hook.

Most of Norton’s article refers to “Animal Farm”, a work that was widely viewed as Cold War propaganda but that was primarily about the Stalinist counter-revolution seen in metaphorical terms. There are some on the left who view it this way, including John Newsinger who defended Orwell’s politics in a 1994 book. Norton characterizes the Orwell who wrote a “snitch” letter to British censors as “the first in a long line of Trots-turned-neocons”, including Christopher Hitchens, yet there is little evidence that either Orwell or even Hitchens had much in common ideologically with men like Paul Wolfowitz or Robert Kagan who were ferociously neoliberal.

For the most part, it was ex-Communists rather than ex-Trotskyists who helped to shape Cold War ideology, such as the six men whose “confessions” can be found in “The God that Failed”: Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright. By comparison, Orwell never wrote anything like this in his later years unless you believe that “1984” and “Animal Farm” were ringing endorsements of Washington and London. In “1984”, the world was divided into hostile camps with London just as culpable of totalitarian control as Moscow. With respect to “Animal Farm”, let’s not forget that the farmers invaded their former realm in exactly the same manner as the 21 invading armies sought to destroy Soviet power.

I have my own problems with Orwell, especially his snitching, but he has much to offer the left. Just read “Homage to Catalonia”, a work far more useful than the Daily Worker articles from 1936 that Norton is channeling. I can say the same thing about Alexander Cockburn, who Norton cites in his article as an authority on this tarnished hero of “the non-Communist left”. I have learned a lot from Cockburn just I have learned a lot from Orwell. I can forgive Orwell for his snitching just as I can forgive Cockburn for allowing CounterPunch to turn into a haven for Islamophobes like Mike Whitney, Andre Vltchek and Pepe Escobar.

As for Hitchens, despite Cockburn’s deep animus for him, the two had something in common with each other when it came to “jihadists”. The difference between them on Iraq in 2003 and Syria after 2011 is paper-thin, after all. Both of these journalists were all too ready to back outside intervention when it came to defeating “al Qaeda” even if it was being administered by a MIG rather than an F-16. In 1980, Cockburn wrote a Village Voice column that stated: “I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it’s Afghanistan. Nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets. and unspeakably cruel too.”

Nobody’s perfect, not even Ben Norton whose musings on Syria—and worse his ghoulish tweets—are informed by the same Orientalism as Cockburn’s Voice article. I can say this, however. If Norton lived for a thousand years, he never would be capable of writing a single sentence that would rank with Orwell or Cockburn.

There are three paragraphs in Norton’s article that really stick out like a sore thumb, combining his more recent turn toward the Assad/Putin/Iran reactionary bloc with more traditional Stalinist ideology:

Sure, the USSR did a lot of objectionable things, but it was also the only large country in the entire world that supported the Spanish Republicans in their fight against fascism (excluding a bit of extra support from Mexico). The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

Orwell’s politics are social chauvinist in the rawest sense. It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

Let’s start with the rather stupid observation: “The Soviet Union understood that one cannot have a revolution if one cannot even defeat the fascist counterrevolution first — a lesson many on the left still have not learned today.”

I have no idea whether Norton understood what happened in Spain when he was a properly educated ISO member and now rejects it or simply was too intellectually challenged to ever understand the material available to him from state capitalist sources. Or maybe he was just too shallow to ever bother reading something like Tony Cliff’s “Trotsky: The darker the night the brighter the star”.

As it happens, Norton’s business about defeating the fascist counterrevolution before making the revolution is virtually word for word the same as Spanish Popular Front Prime Minister Largo Caballero’s “First we must win the war and afterwards we can talk of revolution.”

Largo Caballero, who was supported by both the Communists and anarchists, sought to restore bourgeois normalcy in Spain as the first step in defeating Franco. This meant first and foremost eradicating all forms of “dual power” in Spain that were substantial.

Workers and peasant committees had to give way to the rule of the central government as Cliff reports:

IN THE WEEKS after 19 July 1936 struggle continued between proletarian power – in the form of factory and militia committees on the one hand, and the Republican government on the other. The latter won.

One further step to consolidating the power of the bourgeois state was taken on 27 October – a decree disarming the workers.

Steps were also taken to restore the bourgeois police.

In the first months after July 19, police duties were almost entirely in the hands of the workers’ patrols in Catalonia and the ‘militias of the rearguard’ in Madrid and Valencia … The most extraordinary step in reviving the bourgeois police was the mushroom growth of the hitherto small customs force, the Carabineros, under Finance Minister Negrín, into a heavily armed pretorian guard of 40,000.

On 28 February [1937] the Carabineros were forbidden to belong to a political party or a trade union or to attend their mass meetings. The same decree was extended to the Civil and Assault Guards thereafter. That meant quarantining the police against the working class …

By April the militias were finally pushed out of all police duties in Madrid and Valencia.

A comparison Franz Borkenau made of an impression of life in Spain between a first visit in August 1936 and a second in January-February 1937 is very instructive:

The troops were entirely different from the militia I had known in August. There was a clear distinction between officers and men, the former wearing better uniforms and stripes. The pre-revolutionary police force, asaltos and Guardia Civil (now ‘Guardia Nacional Republicana’), were very much in evidence … neither guardia nor asaltos made the least attempt to appear proletarian.

A further vivid description of life in Barcelona at the end of April 1937 comes from the pen of George Orwell:

Now things were returning to normal. The smart restaurants and hotels were full of rich people wolfing expensive meals, while for the working-class population food prices had jumped enormously without any corresponding rise in wages. Apart from the expensiveness of everything, there were recurrent shortages of this and that, which, of course, always hit the poor rather than the rich. The restaurants and hotels seemed to have little difficulty in getting whatever they wanted, but in the working-class quarters the queues for bread, olive oil, and other necessaries were hundreds of yards long. Previously in Barcelona I had been struck by the absence of beggars; now there were quantities of them. Outside the delicatessen shops at the top of the Ramblas gangs of bare-footed children were always waiting to swarm round anyone who came out and clamour for scraps of food. The ‘revolutionary’ forms of speech were dropping out of use. Strangers seldom addressed you as  and camarada nowadays; it was usually señor and UstedBuenos días was beginning to replace salud. The waiters were back in their boiled shirts and the shop workers were cringing in their familiar manner … In a furtive indirect way the practice of tipping was coming back … cabaret shows and high-class brothels, many of which had been closed by the workers’ patrols, had promptly reopened.

I strongly recommend reading Cliff’s entire chapter on Trotsky and the Spanish Revolution to get the whole story on how Franco achieved victory over a self-destructive Spanish Republic leadership as well as reviewing the Marxism Internet Archive’s very fine resource page  on the Spanish Civil War that include articles by Leon Trotsky and Felix Morrow whose “Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain” can be read in its entirety there as well.

I am struck by Orwell’s description of how things were returning to normal. “The smart restaurants and hotels were full of rich people wolfing expensive meals, while for the working-class population food prices had jumped enormously without any corresponding rise in wages.”

Isn’t this exactly how some reporters describe life in Damascus except for those like Vanessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett for whom the working-class does not exist? As outright supporters of Syria’s Franco, this is understandable but what is more difficult to understand is how people like Norton, who at least demonstrates an affinity for the Popular Front’s desire for bourgeois democratic normalcy, would end up as a kind of fascist apologist.

What accounts for someone educated in Marxist politics (speaking charitably) such as Norton ending up adopting the anti-Marxist sentiments of Largo Caballero, whose opposition to socialist revolution was primarily responsible for Franco’s victory?

I would say that the left is dealing with neo-Stalinist tendencies today that share many of the same impulses as those demonstrated by the original. Norton writes:

Yet leftists like Orwell and his devoted followers continue to lament Kronstadt and revel in their ideological purity — while conveniently living relatively comfortable lives in Western imperialist countries that commit much more heinous crimes throughout the world every day.

This business about living comfortable lives in imperialist countries is pure demagogy as if Norton, who apparently comes from wealth himself, ever had to duck barrel bombs in hipster Brooklyn. With respect to “ideological purity”, this is a very telling complaint. What Norton is trying to say is that Marxism does not serve his goals. When class politics interfere with a career in journalism, why remain committed to them? The journals that he aspires to write for have little use for the sort of class rigor found in Leon Trotsky, whose ideas would only appeal to those who have made up their mind that socialism is the only alternative to barbarism, not the renewed Democratic Party called for in countless Salon, Huffington Post, Alternet, CommonDreams and Nation Magazine articles

Norton finally connects the dots between his Assadism and Popular Front Stalinism in the third paragraph cited above, issuing questionable statements such as this:

It is no coincidence that many of his avowed admirers today lionize and whitewash “revolutionary” extremist militias in Syria and Libya, while at the same moment violently condemning progressive revolutions in Cuba, Vietnam, and beyond as mere “Stalinist bureaucracies.”

One assumes that he is referring to the ISO here since it is the only group on the left of any significance that has opposed both Assad and the late Fidel Castro. But what evidence is there that the ISO admires Orwell? The only reference to Orwell in the entire ISO website is this: “As George Orwell said in Why I Write, good prose is like a window pane. He meant good writing doesn’t draw attention to itself, but to the ideas, facts and events that the writing is about.”

I believe that this makes perfect sense, even if the man who wrote the words was capable of exercising poor judgement in “naming names”. I only wish that Norton would have stumbled across this during the time he spent in the ISO since he is so flawed when it comes to drawing attention to ideas, facts and events in his sad attempt at professional journalism.

Syria: Can Any Capitalist Force Provide a Solution?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:13 pm

Can any capitalist regime help the masses of Syrian people? That is the question of the hour. Some, incredibly including some socialists, believe so. They base this belief on the view that the one …

Source: Syria: Can Any Capitalist Force Provide a Solution?

Separated at birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 2:00 am

screen-shot-2016-12-25-at-8-59-09-pm

December 23, 2016

FDR and the Little Steel strike

Filed under: Counterpunch,New Deal,trade unions,two-party system — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

FDR and the Little Steel Strike

Frank in particular has built a virtual career out of making such points. In April 2016, he gave an interview to In These Times, a citadel of such hopes, titled Thomas Frank on How Democrats Went From Being The ‘Party Of The People’ to the Party Of Rich Elites  that was based on his new book Listen, Liberal, which argues that the Democrats have gone from the party of the New Deal to a party that defends mass inequality. In the interview Frank chastises Obama for not carrying out a new New Deal despite having control of Congress. “He could have done anything he wanted with them, in the way that Franklin Roosevelt did in the ’30s. But he chose not to.”

For many on the left, particularly the DSA and its journalistic sounding boards such as Jacobin, In These Times and Dissent, FDR is an icon who embodies their hopes for what they call socialism, a Scandinavian style welfare state that ostensibly put the needs of the workers over the capitalist class. While likely admitting that this is not the socialism that Marx advocated, they certainly are right that a reincarnated New Deal would be better than Donald Trump or the corporatist presidency of Barack Obama. Whether that would be feasible under a capitalism that has been leaking jobs to automation and runaway shops for the past 40 years is debatable. Many on the left have argued that it was WWII that lifted the USA out of the Great Depression rather than any New Deal program.

But the gauzy, halcyon portrait of the New Deal does not stand up to the reality of the Little Steel Strike of 1937 that is the subject of Ahmed White’s magisterial The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America that I discussed in a previous CounterPunch article focused on identity politics and the racism endured by Black steelworkers. For those new to the topic, “little” refers to the group of companies that blocked the CIO from organizing its workers, as opposed to US Steel, the “big” company that had they had come to terms with in March 1937. Little Steel consisted of Republic Steel Corporation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company and Inland Steel Company. Despite being called “little” in comparison to US Steel, each ranked among the hundred largest firms in America.

Read full article

December 22, 2016

Arash Azizi: After Trotskyism, what? Some personal thoughts

Filed under: sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 12:12 am

(Posted on Facebook originally)

ARASH AZIZI·WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2016

“The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” — Karl Marx

A few months ago, I left the International Marxist Tendency, an organization of which I had been a member for more than seven years. Many friends and comrades wrote to ask me to outline the reasons for this decision. I write these lines primarily for them. As someone who had recruited many to the ranks of the IMT, I felt responsible to explain why I had left it and what path do I see ahead in the fight for socialism. I don’t claim to have found a magical formula or the answer to all my questions but hope that these humble lines will be of interest to some.

I should start by saying that the sad ultra-left turn that IMT has taken in the last few years surely did accelerate my decision. Abandoning of the fundamental orientation to the Labour Party in Britain (signaled by the change in the paper’s masthead) which happened to come only months before the historic election of Jeremy Corbyn; similar distancing from the traditional organizations of the working class in other countries; advocating abstention in the Brexit referendum; and the refusal to endorse Bernie Sanders’s campaign are just some examples. But it would be dishonest if I pretended that this turn was my ultimate reason and that all I long for is a pre-turn IMT or a similar Trotskyist organization. It is true that by reflection on my years of political activity, and by taking into account the developments of the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that orthodox “Trotskyism”, as we know it, is no longer the path forward for the working class and for the cause of a better world. We need new political strategies for the epoch we are in.

My Trotskyist Experience

When I joined the IMT in late 2008, few months after I had left my native Iran for Canada, this wasn’t out of a whim. For about five years I had been a member of WPI, an Iranian organization that could be described as belonging to the Left Communist and Council Communist tradition. I had joined it at the age of 15 for the simple reason that it was the only Marxist organization I knew that dared to organize under the authoritarian Islamist regime that reigns in Iran. As I had started a process of questioning the WPI, and as I needed a political home in Canada, I embarked on a study of international left from the times of Marx and Engels down to the currently existing international organizations and their branches in Canada. I chose IMT because it stood on unapologetic socialist politics (of much importance to me, it didn’t follow much of the international left by supporting the Tehran regime), because the Trotskyist Anti-Stalinism appealed to me, because its political strategy of working inside the NDP to win a majority for Marxist ideas in the country’s main working-class party seemed plausible and because it boasted many hard-working people who took their politics seriously.

I haven’t changed my mind on any of those reasons but it is only after a sustained period that you start finding holes and problems; you can try to fix some of those problems and tolerate others (since I never believed that membership in an organization should be tantamount to agreeing with every single thing about it) but you then recognize that some of the problems are in the DNA of the group. It has inherited them from a political tradition and, unless there is a commitment on part of a significant number of its leaders, they are not going to change.

What are these problems, where do they come from and how can we overcome them?

Basis of unity — the problem of sectarianism

Any political group has a criteria for its membership, a basis of unity that brings people together as they strive for a goal. Getting such a basis right is a difficult task and easier said than done, especially for a Marxist organization. How do you gather around the largest possible number of people possible while making sure that your group is not diluted in the goals it pursues? How can you ensure the maximum amount of discipline and seriousness in work while also letting people who can’t commit as much time or resources participate?

I have always believed that this basis of unity needs to be political and around the goals that we all strive for. If people share the fundamental socialist goal (a world free of classes where production is organized on the basis of need not profit) and basic strategies and stances of a political group in any given period, they should be encouraged to join.

As members of IMT would concede this isn’t the real basis of unity for this organization. To be a member of the IMT, you’d need to share in an article of faith that I’ll try to honestly summarize as such: “IMT [with a membership that is today probably around 2000 worldwide, at most] is the only genuine Marxist organization on the planet. It alone has the “correct ideas” [an astonishing term that even the Catholic Church doesn’t use with such certitude], which are encapsulated in the ideas of Marx, Lenin, Engels and Trotsky [maybe, a book or two by Rosa Luxembourg] and those continued by Ted Grant and the IMT. It alone can offer the workers the revolutionary leadership that is needed to win power and build socialism.”

If you believe in this Article One, it would follow that since the only organization that is capable of leading the workers to power is yours, and since it is currently minuscule, your strategy is simple: Build your own organization, around that very narrow basis of unity, even if it means recruiting only a handful of people every month. You are building a “cadre organization” which means you’ll only wants as members those who are ready to commit themselves to the article of faith in its entirety.

From such self-applause, bizarre conclusion will follow: In IMT, you’d often hear that if a revolutionary movement happens while IMT is still a small organization this is a bad thing since “we need time to prepare”. It also follows that work of no Marxist writer or theoretician after Trotsky’s death in 1940 is worth considering, except for the few fellows that have had the honor of working with the IMT. I remember asking a leading member of the Italian section if he could he recommend any good Italian Marxist writers? Surely, with such a strong communist party with millions of members and the allegiance of the majority of the country’s intelligentsia, there should be some bright names. The response was shocking: None. No one. He jokingly said: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky!

This is Sectarianism 101. Instead of defining your political identity and basis of unity around goals and ideals in which others can share, you define it in a way that is akin to a narrow religious organization. Every organization will have some traditions and some historical identity of which it is proud. Every organization should believe in its own unique ability to do grand tasks and great things (otherwise, why bother?) But it is all a matter of degree. Are you flexible enough to concede that not all the truth might rest with you? Will you keep yourself current by taking in the developments in the world around you? Are you ready to grow and change, while keeping true to your basic goals, by embracing the new membership that each generation brings? Are you able to keep yourself intact after you reach a certain number?

2) A history of failure

This last question is one that few Trotskyist groups have ever been forced to ask. Being scattered into small groups of usually no more than a few dozen individuals is the curse that has followed Trotskyism since the founding of the Fourth International in 1938. At its foundation, the FI didn’t have many more members than IMT does today and same is basically true for all of a dozen or so international Trotskyist organizations during their entire history, with minor exceptions.

Now, for much of this period, this smallness was due to a brutal policy of oppression. Trotsky and his followers were some of the most persecuted people on the planet in the post-war period. Imagine being active in a situation in which, in addition to the usual animosity of the state and the capital, you’d have to battle large socialist states and massive communist parties around the world who, at times, would even go to the length of physically exterminating you. This wasn’t only political competition!

But it is perhaps precisely because of this that Trotskyism ended up developing a strange martyrdom complex where you take solace in being ‘correct’ (as your founder was, after all, one of the most brilliant Marxists and revolutionaries to have ever lived) and don’t mind your small size much.

It is unlikely that Trotsky himself, who only saw two years of FI’s activity before being brutally murdered on the orders of Stalin, would have ever agreed that, in the long-term, such a perspective (of maintaining small organizations at any rate) makes sense.

When FI was founded in 1938, Trotsky believed that within a decade, it would come to encompass millions of workers and surpass both the second and third internationals. It was perhaps obvious falsification of such a perspective by history that confused the founding leaders of the FI and led into split after split in the organization, leaving it with the often-comical legacy of many grand sounding names and a few members.

Should FI have ever been founded as a separate organization or should Trotsky’s supporters have organized differently? What would have been the correct strategy in the post-war period? These are questions of history and I don’t intend to pursue them here. I also don’t want to pretend there are any easy answers. But the question we must ask ourselves is not for 1945 but for 2016.

If the policy of building a small cadre “Bolshevik” organization from three members up has consistently failed, why continue it? Why spend all your energy on maintaining for your group a political identity that has never been successful and that belonged to a specific period? Why maintaining a Bolshevik reenactment group instead of an organization that seeks to unite the highest number of people in fight for a socialist world?

3) McDonald Internationalism

A corollary of the belief that only your organization has the “correct ideas” is the belief that if you are not present in a country, the correct way to advance there is to build a new group. Instead of taking into account the traditions of leftist organizing in other countries and attempting to learn from it, you’ll operate around what I’ve termed the McDonald Internationalism. This isn’t a perspective of internationalist proletarian solidarity but a mentality of a franchise restaurant, like the McDs, which is trying to raid other markets and open up shop in new places.

In the case of Iran, I have seen the tragic results of such ‘internationalism’. Along with a couple of other Iranian comrades, I was tasked with building an Iranian group for the IMT. One of these comrades was a full-time worker for the IMT with no political past in Iran since he had lived abroad almost his entire life. Any attempt to build a group that was independent, able to stand on its own feet, develop its own thought and strategies and be steeped in the political traditions of the Iranian left was stymied. “There are no Marxists in Iran other than us,” he’d often say. The Iranian communist movement goes back to 1920 and it has had all sorts of experiences, including that of state power in short periods. According to the IMT, this rich tradition offered nothing and all we had to do was translating the articles of the international to Persian.

This sort of McDonald internationalism, when coupled with the IMT’s sectarianism, makes a mockery out of the real process of international relations between socialist organizations in different countries.

4) Basic questions of strategy

But what of the central question of the strategy? What is the basic IMT strategy and what do I see wrong with it?

The founding document of the Trotskyist movement, the Transitional Program (1938), is known for a bold claim: “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”

As it happens, I still agree with this basic sentence. As much as Anarchists or other lovers of “from below” processes might not want to believe, the role of political leadership (which I see as a political party or, to use Marta Harneceker’s term, a political instrument) is indispensable to historical change. In Trotsky’s lasting image, the political party is like a piston box that guides the steam-like energy of the masses.

But if we are to go beyond this level of abstraction and this ‘basic truth’, what are the specific strategies that are needed today in fighting for improvement in the lives of the working people and for the ultimate overthrowing of capitalism and building of socialism? Linked with this question is our conception of socialism. How is it going to look like? And how do we move from A (today’s world) to B (the post-capitalist, socialist world)?

Since a healthy democratic socialist society that could last more than a short period has never been built in human history, much of this remains ground for fresh thinking and contribution. IMT’s answers, however, are rather simple. The model of successful organization and strategy is that of the Russian Bolshevik Party and conception of socialism that of the early Soviet regime.

Before even attempting to criticize such notions, I’d ask you to think of this: Isn’t it shocking that in 2016, our conception of a political instrument should be based on a political party that had to operate in a vastly different environment? And based on a regime that, ultimately, led to the nightmare of Stalinism? (To say that the Bolshevik regime ‘led’ to the Stalinist nightmare is not to repeat the bourgeois assertion that Leninism would have inevitably led to Stalinism. But it is to acknowledge that there were probably some flaws in the system that made the victory of Stalinism possible and for the ‘river of blood’ to flow and separate the early genuine revolutionary state from Stalinism).

But such questions are not even asked in most Trotskyist organizations. Elections are dismissed as ‘bourgeois democracy’ and civil and political rights decried as ‘bourgeois formality’. All experiences of 20th century socialism, from China and Tanzania to Italy and Japan, are decried as “Stalinism”. And there is a pretense that there are easy answers to questions of building a successful socialist economy, polity and judicial system. If only the men with “correct ideas” were at the helm!

The last thing the revolutionary left of the 21st century needs is such stymied thinking that bases itself only on the writing of a few men. We need to instead face reality and offer strategies, different ones in different countries, that are meant for 2016 not nostalgias of the past. This would also be in true spirit of the great giants of the past like Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, not upholding of everything they’ve ever said as unchangeable dogma.

What is to be done?

The above doesn’t amount to anything like a coherent criticism of the IMT and its Trotskyist model and it didn’t intend to. As I said at the outset, these are merely some humble personal thoughts.

And what of the way forward?

Without pretending to have easy, thorough answers, these are, again, some personal thoughts:

Marxists and those (like myself) who have an affinity for the 1917 tradition need to unite with others around the political and practical double goals of A, improving the lives of the working people and the oppressed here and now, B, striving at a radical transformation of society and building of a socialist alternative to capitalism.

The strategies toward these goals will differ in different countries, based on their political conditions, the balance of classes and the existing organizations and traditions. In general, however, there is a basic fact that the revolutionary left needs to come to peace with: It needs to win power by convincing a majority of a population to support its vision. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean basically turning into an electoral machine. To slightly paraphrase Eugene Debs, elections are to socialism what menu is to a meal. It is a fact, however, that the liberal democratic order, a system in which the government of the day is elected on the basis of universal suffrage, is now dominant across much of the globe (it is worth remembering that in Lenin’s time, it was almost entirely non-existent, hence a long Marxist struggle for universal suffrage) and wherever it isn’t, it is probably an imperative for us to unite with liberals for democratic goals. Democratic conditions can actually offer an excellent opportunity for socialists: Build support for our vision; convince a majority that we can offer a workable, real socialist alternative; and come to power and start implementing it! Of course, there would be resistant from the capitalist class and, of course, our strategy needs to take that into account too. But to move against a democratically elected government is not an easy task, especially if it is based on an active support of millions of workers.

This might seem very mundane at the first glance but, ask yourself, how many socialists and revolutionaries are asking themselves: How can we build an organization that is ready to win support of the majority and form a government? How many are telling themselves: “The test of socialist politics is how I can win over large numbers of people, which is possible by meeting them where they are at, not by trying to be the most left-wing guy in the room”?

In asking such questions, we’d need to be forward-looking and accept that not all differences need to be solved for leftist to unite in an organization. It is silly for socialists not to be organizationally united in pursuit of goals today because they disagree over the class nature of the Soviet Union or because they have a slightly different take on the Palestinian struggle.

Building of leftist institutions that are something beyond their name, real organizations that can represent a significant portion of a country’s politics, is a very difficult task but it is rewarding at the end. It will influence the lives of the working people here and now, it will consolidate our power and it will offer a clear route to power. It will also create a space that could help blossom the kind of thinking that is needed to address the massive questions that we will face if we are to actually conduct the mammoth task of transition to socialism.

Needless to say, in building such vehicles we should never abandon the organizations that the working class has already built which, almost all over the world, means the parties that historically belong to the second or third internationals. One of the mistakes of the left has been prematurely abandoning these organizations whereas the recent victory of Corbyn in the UK shows that even if your organization is led by the likes of Tony Blair, there is a chance that the left could come to power in them and start their transformation.

What we need more than ever is an end to the mentality of small circles and an audacity to prepare for real socialist change in our own lifetimes. It is time to offer the working people, our people, the political instrument that it deserves.

November 8, 2016

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