Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 14, 2017

Minimalism At Home, Maximalism abroad: The Curious Case of Islamophobic Anti-Islamophobia

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:17 pm

P U L S E

8f54ed819732badc8cd3e9fdba223d30 Artwork by Molly Crabapple 

Every once in a while, this space christened the Left—of whose foundational texts and core values I largely hold in regard—feels like a foreign place. The paradox is that occupying a place on the Left, a priori, is “supposed” to feel like refuge. 

A curious phenomenon I’ve come across on the Left is a politics of pro-Muslim islamophobia. Take for instance Angela Merkel’s proposition to ban the Niqab, or the face-veil. Of course, a ban would be an affront to egalitarian ideals. And a ban should be very much be opposed. But one noticeable knee-jerk reaction—even cliche—that many progressives have produced is that such an initiative would alienate German—and by extension all—Muslims, if not impel them to active opposition or radicalization. This is profoundly mistaken. There is no data that supports such a conclusion.

But it’s worth noting, first, the problematic nature of the underlying presumption: that…

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Do workers admire and seek to emulate the superrich?

Filed under: capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

On November 10, 2016, an article titled “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” appeared in the Harvard Business Review. The author is Joan C. Williams, the Distinguished Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, who has a new book coming out on “The White Working Class” that presumably is a full-length treatment of the arguments found in the article. They can be boiled down to the claim that “the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich.”

It rests mostly on her personal experience of having a father-in-law who was “a blue-collar white man who thought the union was a bunch of jokers who took your money and never gave you anything in return.” He rose from poverty to become an inspector in a factory that made machines that measure humidity levels in museums, read the Wall Street Journal and was a registered Republican. Apparently, he is the prototypical Trump voter in Williams’s eyes.

With respect to white workers resenting professionals, she cites Barbara Ehrenreich who referred to her blue-collar father as not being able “to say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack.” Furthermore, he believed that “Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Perhaps Ehrenreich’s father was not the most representative sample. He was a copper miner but went to the Montana State School of Mines and then to Carnegie Mellon, finally settling in to a position as senior executive at the Gillette Corporation. If he resented management, it was not to such a degree that he avoided becoming part of it.

Apparently fond of citing leftists to buttress her argument, Williams also cites a sociologist who is considered a follower of Pierre Bourdieu:

Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk.

There’s only one problem with Williams’s citation of Lamont. The people workers “can’t knock for succeeding” are not the rich but the managers they supposedly resent–as an article on workers voting Republican in the Nation Magazine indicated:

In fact, while these workers generally did not feel resentment toward the middle-class managers and professionals above them–saying, for example, that “I can’t knock anyone for succeeding”–their view of them was far from admiring.

You get more or less the same thing in today’s NY Times from Andrew Ross Sorkin in an article titled “A Billionaire’s Party Is a Lens on Wealth in the Trump Era” written by Andrew Ross Sorkin. From the opening paragraphs, you’d think you’d be getting the sort of thing that Matt Taibbi or Chris Hedges writes:

So, Stephen A. Schwarzman had another birthday party.

The celebration for his 70th birthday at his Palm Beach, Fla., home over the weekend included live camels, trapeze artists and a performance by Gwen Stefani. Some reports speculated the party cost as much as $20 million, a price tag that insiders say is ridiculously inflated, but clearly the event fell in the category of over-the-top expensive.

Yet, the entire purpose of the article is to legitimize this gilded-age bacchanalia because working people want to emulate the Stephen A. Schwarzman’s of the world.

The populist, anti-Wall Street sentiment that was so loud after the financial crisis found its voice last year in the campaign of Bernie Sanders — and to some degree, ironically, in Mr. Trump’s. Whatever animus exists against fat cats has been muted among Mr. Trump’s red-state voters, at least temporarily, as long as he follows though [sic] on his promise to create jobs. It’s a point that many of us in the media — myself included — largely missed.

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s surprise election may speak volumes about how large parts of the country view big business today, as well as Mr. Trump’s efforts to lower taxes and deregulate parts of Wall Street. And Mr. Schwarzman is at the center of many of those efforts.

Back in 2012, NPR ran an article which clearly did not get the attention it deserved, especially given what it portended for the subsequent election cycle. The headline: “The Income Gap: Unfair, Or Are We Just Jealous?”

At the time, much of the media was regularly reporting on income inequality, the widening gulf between the rich and poor.

The NPR article was based on the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center that bear repeating: They showed “a significant shift in public perceptions of class conflict in American life,” but “they do not necessarily signal an increase in grievances toward the wealthy.”

According to the Pew report, “It is possible that individuals who see more conflict between the classes think that anger toward the rich is misdirected.” The data, the report said, did not indicate “growing support for government measures to reduce income inequality.”

Maybe that explains it. Or perhaps everyone who criticized Mr. Schwarzman a decade ago is now just too busy focusing on Mr. Trump.

To start with, Sorkin is a sleazy defender of the one-percent so this article is par for the course. Not long after Occupy Wall Street began, Sorkin took it upon himself to investigate the movement in order to provide a dossier for a Stephen Schwarzman type that would allow him to judge the risk to his ill-gained wealth:

I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the C.E.O. asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”

Like Williams, Sorkin cherry-picks the data to support his conclusion. In referring to the Pew Research report that dismissed support for “government measures to reduce income inequality”, he fails to mention that such measures are supported by 46 percent of Americans. Considering the utter failure of both the Democrats and Republicans to support such policies, the fact that nearly half the country is for some redistributive measures speaks volumes. He also failed to mention another Pew finding that hardly squares with the notion of working people only seeking to emulate Horatio Alger type to become like Schwarzman. Pew pollsters found that 82% of Americans favored policies that encourage economic growth should be high priorities. Since the word policy means government action, this represents a huge mandate for New Deal type action that both Trump and Clinton would have avoided like a vampire avoids a cross.

 

February 13, 2017

The death agony of the Socialist Workers Party

Filed under: cults,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

barnes

Jack Barnes

As most of my regular readers know, I was in the SWP from 1967 to 1978. Three years after leaving, I came into contact with Peter Camejo, a former leader who had broken with the party. His article “Against Sectarianism” had a profound impact on my thinking and I have tried to incorporate its lessons in nearly everything I write about the problem of party-building.

In 1991 I went to work for Columbia University and soon began writing about the phenomenon of Marxist sectarianism on various mailing lists hosted by the Spoons Collective and later on for Marxmail that was launched in 1998. From 1991 to the early 2000s, there was a steady decline in the SWP’s influence, so much so that I became persuaded that discussing it any longer on Marxmail was a waste of bandwidth. Some ex-members on Marxmail, who remained obsessed with the group as bitter adversaries or devoted sympathizers, ignored my advice to put it behind them and periodically started some thread about a group whose numbers and influence had dwindled to the vanishing point.

I had no other recourse except to create a mailing list on Yahoo in 2005 devoted to discussing the SWP. The whole purpose of creating the list was to shunt conversation away from Marxmail where 90 percent of the subscribers had little interest in it one way or the other, including myself at that point. The Yahoo list has twice as many subscribers as there are SWP members although I have no plans to make them go out and sell a book door-to-door based on my thoughts.

In the recent past, there have been such shocking developments with this sect-cult of probably around a hundred members with an average age of 55 or so that I have decided to file this report. I don’t think there is much point in trying to connect its paroxysms with the tasks facing the left today except maybe to indicate that “Leninism” can produce some remarkable pathologies.

On December 16, 2016, the equally nutty and irrelevant Spartacist League wrote a typical scandal item concerning the SWP’s newspaper that I almost regarded as a spoof. The Militant had sent out a notice to its subscribers to throw away its November 28 issue because it had the wrong line on the Donald Trump presidency.

screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-2-26-53-pm

I don’t remember any of Craine’s previous articles that anticipated the discarded November 28th item but I would guess that it was boilerplate analysis of the sort that had been run in the paper for a year or so, referring to itself as the true working class alternative to Sanders, Clinton and Trump. While any radical outside of the DSA orbit would likely see the need for a clean break with the Democrats, it was hard to take the SWP campaign seriously. But what would persuade Jack Barnes to authorize a letter to the Militant subscribers asking them to throw away the November 28 issue? Didn’t it enter his mind that this makes the group look rather batty? Apparently not.

This kind of instability has marked the party’s public record on a fairly consistent basis for the past decade or so and accelerated in the past few months. Poor Naomi Craine was once again taken to task in the issue dated February 13, 2017. In this instance, it was not about Trump but about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Recognition of Israel key for toilers in Mideast

 The article “Capitalist Rulers in Mideast Shift Allies While Toilers Face Catastrophe” in the Jan. 16 issue of the Militant concludes with a quote, with no comment, from former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saying, “I tell you of the threat that surpasses terrorism which is the Zionist enemy. And we should all stand on one front against this threat.”

Any new reader would have to assume that Militant editors agree with the reactionary former Iraqi prime minister on “the Zionist enemy.”

Regular readers must have been surprised, since the quote is the opposite of the political line of previous Militant articles, the Socialist Workers Party’s program and its political course.

Al-Maliki’s statement fits with the view of the entire middle-class left in the United States, across Europe, and worldwide. Not to mention the Iraqi, Iranian, and many other bourgeois regimes across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia — all of whom demagogically posture as defenders of the dispossessed Palestinian people to bolster their own class rule. All of whom oppress and exploit the workers and farmers in those countries.

That is the opposite of the internationalist working-class course of the Socialist Workers Party. As the global capitalist crisis intensifies, the resurgence of Jew-hatred and attacks on Jews and synagogues is a reminder that the Holocaust and what led to it are not matters of “history.” They are growing realities of the brutal imperialist world order today.

Revolutionaries must press for recognition of the state of Israel, and for the right of Jews who wish to go there for refuge to do so. That’s also a political precondition to rebuilding a movement capable of advancing a successful fight for a Palestinian state, and for a contiguous, viable homeland for the Palestinian people.

Of all the gyrations found in The Militant, none is more bizarre and more reactionary than the open support for Israel. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to describe the party as Zionist. Not that it would excuse having such positions, one might expect the sect to provide some sort of analysis on how it came to reverse previously held positions. When I joined in 1967 just after the Six Day war, I was eager to break with the Zionism of my mother and father if for no other reason than Israel supporting the Vietnam war, a litmus test for me. In numerous books and articles by Peter Buch and Jon Rothschild, the SWP advocated the same position that it now describes as that of “the entire middle-class left”.

In keeping with the instability of the SWP, it continues selling books through Pathfinder Press that it would condemn as “Jew-hatred”. This includes Maxime Rodinson’s “Israel: A Colonial-Settler State?” that it describes as examining “the historical roots of the Zionist movement and how the State of Israel was formed as a colonial-settler state dispossessing the Palestinian people.” Or Gus Horowitz’s “Israel and the Arab Revolution” that consists of resolutions adopted by the SWP from 1970-1971, including one by Horowitz that states:

Our program for the Palestinian revolution and the Arab revolution as a whole includes support of full civil, cultural and religious rights for all nationalities in the Mideast, including the Israeli Jews. But, while we support the right of the Israeli Jews to pursue their national culture within the frame-work of a democratic Palestine, we are opposed to the Israeli state.

How can you take a group seriously that still sells literature that its newspaper would consider guilty of anti-Semitism? The answer is that you can’t. Compare what Horowitz wrote in 1971 with a report from the SWP convention held between January 14-16, 2017:

Revolutionaries must push for recognition of the right of Israel to exist, Clark said, including the right of return for Jews looking for refuge from persecution, as well as for recognition of a state for the dispossessed Palestinian people. This is the only way to open the space for working people who are Arab and Jewish to build solidarity and fight together against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression throughout the region.

You must ask yourself what sort of person would join a group that defends the “right of return” for Israel during a dramatic expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Or whose main activity consists of members going door-to-door peddling a book titled “Are They Rich Because They’re Smart?” that consists of transcriptions of speeches given by cult leader Jack Barnes between 1993 and 2009. This is a leader who humiliates Naomi Craine for writing articles that deviate 3 degrees from his own potted notion of the party line but who hasn’t written an article for the Militant in over 20 years or so.

The interesting question is whether Jack Barnes was nuts back in 1967 when I joined or became nuts in the same way that Gerry Healy or any number of other Trotskyist geniuses became crazy. When you see yourself as the avatar of Lenin or Trotsky destined to lead the world proletarian revolution, there are enormous gravitational forces that propel you in a megalomaniac direction.

I have heard an uncorroborated report from a former member that a national leader of the party was touring the country, talking to “Organized Supporters” in cities where they don’t have branches about the dire straits they find themselves in – shrinking membership, circulation of The Militant down, etc.

With the cash they have on hand from the multimillion dollar sale of the West Street headquarters, they should sputter along for some time. Then again, so did the Socialist Labor Party that closed its national office on September 1, 2008 after more than a century. The more likely cutoff date for the SWP will be when the last member dies of some geriatric illness like cancer or heart disease. That will happen sooner or later, just like the sun sets in the evening.

February 11, 2017

Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass and the fake news from Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm

Patrick Cockburn

When Patrick Cockburn sets himself up as a critic of “fake news” from Syria, you are reminded of Donald Trump castigating CNN or the New York Times. In a February 2nd LRB article titled “Who supplies the news? Patrick Cockburn on misreporting in Syria and Iraq”, you can expect the worst as the LRB has been a prime purveyor of Assadist propaganda as I pointed out in an article submitted to Critical Muslim that was not published because it risked violating Britain’s draconian libel laws. In the first paragraph of Cockburn’s article we read:

NBC news reported that more than forty civilians had been burned alive by government troops, vaguely sourcing the story to ‘the Arab media’. Another widely publicised story – it made headlines everywhere from the Daily Express to the New York Times – was that twenty women had committed suicide on the same morning to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, the source in this case being a well-known insurgent, Abdullah Othman, in a one-sentence quote given to the Daily Beast.

It would be helpful if Cockburn supplied the date for the NBC news article that appears to be the one cited by the regrettable Rania Khalek in her FAIR article making the same points as his. Anybody who has spent much time reading such people will recognize that the same talking points get circulated like a sexually transmitted disease. Her article “In Syria, Western Media Cheer Al Qaeda” written for the pro-Assad FAIR alluded to this:

NBC News (12/13/16) reported that “scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces.” The source for this accusation was unspecified “reports from Arab media.”

If you go to the actual NBC News article, you will find this caveat:

Arab media reported that scores of civilians were burned alive by regime forces, although this was not confirmed by observers at the Aleppo Media Center or the U.K.-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights.

Do yourself a favor and Google “Aleppo Media Center” and you will discover that Khalek’s co-thinkers at 21st Century Wire, the Off-Guardian, Global Research and Moon of Alabama all consider it to be strictly al-Nusra. So, if you are inclined to put a minus where al-Nusra puts a plus, couldn’t you say that it was confirmed that scores of civilians were burned alive? After all, that’s the way these people think. As far as the Syria Observatory for Human Rights is concerned, this is supposedly another pro-jihadist outfit so you get the picture by now. If it didn’t pass muster with these two sources, why would Cockburn and Khalek even bother to refer to this unsubstantiated report? I think I know. It is meant to deflect attention from the much easier to verify reports about East Aleppo being bombed into oblivion.

In terms of the NY Times report on twenty women committing suicide to avoid being raped by the arriving soldiers, you must wonder once again why Cockburn did not bother to supply a link or even a date. I can’t blame him. If he did, you would find out that the item was not in the newspaper of record but in a blog post of something called Women in the World that has a rather tenuous connection to the Times. It is a LLC corporation founded in 2010 whose main purpose is to hold yearly conferences on women’s empowerment. The women who write for it are not on the NY Times payroll and do not speak in the paper’s name.

Cockburn obviously sought to convey the idea that this unsubstantiated tale of women killing themselves was written by a Times reporter to buttress his argument that there was a shit storm of “fake news” about East Aleppo. The only shit I see flying around is his own.

Cockburn admits that 85 civilians were executed by forces loyal to Assad but derides a comparison with real atrocities:

But it remains a gross exaggeration to compare the events in East Aleppo – as journalists and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic did in December – with the mass slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994 or more than 7000 in Srebrenica in 1995.

I am not sure who is going around making such a comparison but the facts speak for themselves. A half-million have been killed in Syria and more than half the country has been forced to flee their homes. If there is a more brutal regime in this century than Assad’s, I would be hard put to name it.

Cockburn does admit that East Aleppo has been the target of indiscriminate Russian and Syrian air strikes but tries to balance that devastation with the fact that there were between 8000 and 10,000 rebel fighters in East Aleppo. Sure, everybody knows that when terrorists are immersed in a civilian population, there is no reason to turn pacifist. The proper comparison is with the IDF that resorts to the same kind of aerial bombardment of Gaza to destroy Hamas, which had the temerity to hide out in apartment buildings. It would have been best for the fighters in East Aleppo to assemble in some open field far from East Aleppo and wave their jihadist flags so that the MIGs would have a much easier job of exterminating them without collateral damage.

He points out that when the residents of East Aleppo were offered a choice over where they would go after the Baathists took over, most decided to go to government controlled territory. This was proof in his eyes that they were afraid of the jihadists in rebel-controlled territory like Idlib that would behead them for smoking cigarettes and the like. How silly of some people to conclude that Idlib was avoided because it was being bombed back into the stone age as well. A few weeks ago, I got a FB message from a law student who had been driven out of East Aleppo and had relocated to Idlib—probably because he was a known enemy of the dictatorship (why else would he have sent me a FB friend request?) and would have been murdered by Assad’s goons in Damascus. Not long after he got there, he broke a leg fleeing from a Russian bombing attack rather than a jihadist intent on beheading him for a failure to follow sharia law.

Charles Glass

Turning to another high-toned purveyor of Assadist propaganda that was included in my Critical Muslim article, there’s the NY Review of Books that has had the reputation of being in line with Samantha Power who has written many “humanitarian intervention” articles for them over the years. When it comes to Syria, however, the friends of Obama who run the magazine were much more inclined to feature pro-Assad hacks like Charles Glass who has a piece in the latest issue titled “How Assad is Winning”.

Glass was a reporter for such outlets as ABC News, where he was the Mideast correspondent between 1983 and 1993, and Newsweek. So where does he get the balls to lecture about guerrilla warfare as if he were John Reed who rode with Pancho Villa? He pontificates:

In both cases, opposition fighters failed to shield people from the regime’s sieges and assaults as well as the misbehavior of their own “rogue elements.” Rather than wage a mobile guerrilla war and build a solid coalition within the population, they occupied land they could not hold.

Right, as if you could ward off MIGs with an AK-47 or an RPG. The only way that the people could have been shielded was if the CIA had not intervened to block MANPADs from entering Syria.

Glass’s fundamental premise in this article is that “The government, with its known record of harsh human rights abuses including torture, demonstrated more flexibility than its opponents.” By flexibility, he means that it could act as both soft cop and hard cop. If rebels and their civilian supporters accepted a “deal” (ie. surrender), they’d be spared; otherwise the barrel bombs would keep falling. You wonder how the liberal editors could read Glass’s manure and not see right through it. The soft cop and the hard cop were the same person. You keep dropping barrel bombs until the obstinate rebels cried uncle. It was the same strategy Reagan used against the Sandinistas, after all.

The remainder of the article is a report from what Glass is honest enough to describe as a “Potemkin Village” where the rebels and civilians who have cried uncle can be spared from future torment:

The camp, which the regime must regard as a “Potemkin village” to attract other rebels to accept amnesties, was achieving a kind of normality in an abnormal environment. The children attend school in Harjallah, and they receive remedial lessons in mathematics, Arabic, and English to make up for four years of lost education. “Fifteen women are giving birth,” Dib said. “There will be a wedding for five couples in two days.”

I left Dib’s office to walk through the camp. Four women sitting on the doorstep of a house invited me inside for coffee, as they would have done with a stranger in any Syrian village. My hostess was Ghousoum al-Ghazi, the thirty-three-year-old wife of a farmer whose two children followed us in. Her friend, fifty-four-year-old Ruweida Abdel Majid Naccache, came as well and asked me to sit on a cushion. The house had one bedroom, a bathroom, and a modest front room with a kitchen built into the far wall. Paper-thin mats marked “UNHCR” for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees covered the freshly washed floor. Mrs. al-Ghazi told me she had moved into the house on August 26, weeks before the final surrender, when civilians were fleeing Daraya. “We were very hungry,” she said. “There was fighting every day. The children were afraid at first. Then they got used to it.”

Mrs. Naccache recalled life in Daraya: “When there was an airplane, we fled to a shelter. It was just a hole in the ground. We stayed like that for five years. I was there when they besieged the town. I lost a lot of weight. There was no food. Here we are living in heaven.”

So this is how Assad is winning the war. You bomb, starve and terrorize an obdurate anti-Assad population until they agree to surrender their arms and move to a pacified refugee camp where they live like they are “in heaven”. (You can bet that an Assadist handler was watching over the interview to make sure that this is the sort of thing Glass would hear.)

Glass called it a Potemkin Village. There’s another word for them: strategic hamlets. The USA herded Vietnamese peasants into them to deprive the NLF of its base of support. Despite this, the American puppets lost in the long run in the same way that Assad will fall as well. No matter the “freshly washed floor” and the remedial lessons in mathematics. Syrians will never forget how they suffered under Assad. As long as the penalty for opposing the regime is torture or death, there will be an unquenchable desire for freedom by any means necessary. This is obviously something a reporter for ABC and Newsweek will never understand.

February 10, 2017

Land of Mine

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:59 pm

Nazi Youth as Human Mine Detonators

In “Land of Mine,” Danish director Martin Zandvliet has defied conventional thinking on this historical episode and made the best narrative film I have seen this year, one that I recommend highly to CounterPunch readers. It opens on Friday at Laemmle’s in Los Angeles and at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in New York with a national rollout soon to follow.

The film has the same white-hot intensity as the 1953 “Wages of Fear” classic that had a couple of men driving trucks filled with dynamite up a treacherous mountainous road to be used to stanch an out of control oil well fire. Yves Montand, one of the drivers, carries out his assignment with great aplomb while his partner is paralyzed by fear. As each obstacle is faced on their way up the mountain, the tension mounts.

Defusing a bomb has the same sort of built-in drama. I found myself covering my eyes every time one of the Nazi POW’s was unscrewing a fuse. If you understandably don’t care much about whether such people live or die, be prepared to have your expectations turned upside down as the film progresses.

Between 1942 and 1944 Germany built the Trump-like Atlantic Wall designed to thwart an Allied invasion from Great Britain. This was a massive system of fortifications along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia with Denmark expected to be a likely landing for invasion forces. The country had more landmines per square foot than any other location along the entire European coast.

Written by the director, the screenplay has the audacity to accurately portray the Germans as teenagers who had been dragooned into service toward the end of the war to replace the seasoned troops annihilated in Russia. Like Yves Montand, who sought nothing more except to live for another day and enjoy the reward he got for delivering the dynamite, these boys wanted nothing more except to go home and pick up where they left off.

Read full article

February 8, 2017

Left on Purpose; Keep Quiet

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:32 pm

When I joined the Trotskyist movement in 1967, I got weekly reports in the New York branch about the frictions within the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade Committee that had been founded by A.J. Muste. This was the first incarnation of the three-legged stool that made up the Vietnam antiwar coalition in its early stages, with representatives from the SWP, the CPUSA and the pacifist movement working together despite significant ideological differences.

Most of the names that cropped up in these reports were in the deepest recesses of my memory but when I heard that a documentary had been made about Mayer Vishner, the son of a Jewish garment worker who I remembered as a very young and talented leader of the pacifist wing of the coalition, I was interested to see the film that opens at the Cinema Village on Friday in the same way I looked forward to seeing Bert Schultz’s “Fordham SDS”. Vishner eventually hooked up with Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin to form the Yippies, a group far more interested in making a splash than moving the masses. They were mistaken but so were we in many ways. It is a miracle that all of us came together against the war.

Unlike the people that Bert interviewed, who largely lived fulfilling lives after “the 60s” came to an end, Mayer Vishner was one of its casualties. Like his friends Abby Hoffman and Phil Ochs, Vishner had trouble adjusting to post-radicalization realities. And like Abby and Phil, he would commit suicide but only after years of coming close to the precipice but not jumping. Indeed, “Left on Purpose” is mostly devoted to the 64-year old basket case arguing with the filmmaker and his close friends about whether there was any purpose to him living any longer. The very end of this grim but deeply dramatic documentary shows his corpse atop the bed in his filthy walk-up apartment on West 4th and MacDougal Streets, the heart of the Greenwich Village of yore when Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Dave Von Ronk could be heard on an almost weekly basis.

The title of the film is a double entendre. It refers to Vishner’s lifelong leftist commitments as well as his determination to purposely leave a life that consisted of continuous and deep depression, loneliness and an alcohol addiction that had led him to drink quart after quart of beer, even during filming. During most of the shooting, he is clad only in a filthy t-shirt, inevitably one with a political message, and underwear. With his massive beer belly, stringy gray hair flowing from a bald head down to his shoulders, the film’s subject holds forth about the inevitability of suicide amidst the filth and clutter of a tiny apartment. Within the first few minutes of the film, you cringe at the appearance of the man and his apartment and find yourself wondering why an experienced filmmaker would descend into this man’s personal hell.

As the film progresses, you are not exactly identifying with Mayer Vishner but at least grappling with the problems that almost everybody faces as they get older. Vishner has not been in a relationship for decades and is tormented by loneliness. He goes out to a wedding in Berkeley with his cousin, who is about his age, marrying a woman also about his age. He tells filmmaker Justin Schein, “What’s the point? In a few years one or the other will be forced to become a caregiver for an infirm spouse.”

Throughout the film, we see Vishner remonstrating with friends, including Schein who has become a lifeline, about the ineluctable necessity of ending his life. They tell him that he still has a lot to offer, including his work in a nearby community garden where he has sought respite from depression for 30 years by growing vegetables. There is also his political legacy that he can impart to the young but we learn that part of his isolation stems from an utter failure to keep up with the social media that younger lefties thrive on. Despite owning a computer, he has no clue how to use it.When he offers Occupy activists the organization of a phone tree, they look at him as if he stepped out of a time machine.

The film is a companion piece to “Honey”, a 2014 Italian narrative film about a young woman who is a licensed euthanasia administrator, typically serving terminal cancer patients and the like. When she runs into a man who tells her that he is simply tired of living, she adamantly refuses to help him end his suffering. This would not only be a violation of her license but something that she finds objectionable on existential grounds. Life is worth living, she insists on telling the old man who has a lot more to live for than Mayer Vishner. As “Left on Purpose” winds down, we realize that he has won the argument against his friends—including the director. After dropping off his cat, his only companion, with a friend in Texas, he returns to New York and swallows a bottle of Secanols.

Despite the grimness of the subject matter, “Left on Purpose” is touching and deeply relevant to the eternal problems of aging and death that everybody faces at one point or another as Vishner reminds a friend at one point. As a portrait of man who lost much of the purpose for living after the 60s wound down, the film will be compelling to any of my readers who identify with my own confrontations with the grim political situation we have been facing for decades now. If Vishner lacked the inner resources to keep on with the struggle, we at least understand what wore him down. Fortunately for me, the only death I seek are those of the monsters who are responsible for the oppressive system we are forced to live under and not my own—as inevitable as it is.

Also opening on Friday at the Lincoln Plaza is another documentary film about a deeply political Jew but on the other end of the spectrum, in this instance a top leader of the anti-Semitic and fascist Jobbik party in Hungary who is “outed” by a disgruntled member of the party as the grandson of a Jewish woman who was in Auschwitz. Since Jewry is based on matrilineal descent, he is found “guilty” of violating one of his party’s chief principles—the need for racial purity.

As vice-president of Jobbik and founder of its Stormtrooper-like militia, the Hungarian Guard, Csanád Szegedi was a Holocaust denier. The Guard itself was modeled on Hungary’s Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party guilty of killing thousands of Jews during WWII. Always on the lookout to increase their numbers, Jobbik officials toyed with the idea of retaining Szegedi as a member since it would make them look more “tolerant” but the ranks of the party were so racist that Szegedi was instead drummed out.

Much of the film shows him in consultation with a Hasidic rabbi who persuades him to renounce his fascist beliefs and accept being a Jew. Showing a remarkable ability to adapt to changed circumstances, Szegedi goes whole hog and becomes an Orthodox Jew putting on tefellin each morning, a leather strap that you wind around your arm down to your hand and that is terminated by a tiny box with a fragment from the Torah. Just after I was bar mitzvahed back in 1958, my father told me that I had to go to morning services in the synagogue and wear tefellin, something I had never done before. I found it so alienating that I not only stopped going to morning services but bailed out on Judaism for the rest of my life.

Szegedi is paraded around to Jewish organizations and synagogues where he talks about his conversion to Judaism and how he came to renounce fascism. Some in the audience find that this was hard to believe. How does someone who has been a fascist since his teens go through such a rapid change of heart? During a reception after one of his talks, a man asks Szegedi’s rabbi how do we know he is not still a Nazi. The rabbi replies that he is a Jew and must be accepted as such. If he has Jewish blood, he is a member of the tribe. The man asks, “A Jewish Nazi?” The rabbi replies, “Yes, a Jewish Nazi but nevertheless a Jew”.

It reminds me why I left all that behind me nearly sixty years ago.

 

February 7, 2017

Vanity of the bonfires

Filed under: Academia,anarchism,black bloc idiots — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Encounters with David Graeber, George Ciccariello-Maher, and Shon Meckfessel on social media reminded me that the black bloc does have its fans in the academy. As might be expected, the three professors are anarchists. Over the past five years I have developed a deep respect for anarchism’s refusal to line up with the “anti-imperialist” pro-Assad mindset of so many Marxists and especially for the late Omar Aziz, who Leila al-Shami, the co-author of “Burning Country”, commemorated on Tahrir-ICN:

Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organization, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from the tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring.

Al-Shami followed these words that ones that relate more directly to the problems I have with the infantile ultraleftism that has cropped up since January 20th and expressed particularly by the viral Youtube clip of Richard Spencer getting punched and the misadventure in front of the Berkeley Student Union.

In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs. He was not obsessed with giving interviews to the press …[Yet] at a time when most anti-imperialists were wailing over the collapse of the Syrian state and the “hijacking” of a revolution they never supported in the first place, Aziz and his comrades were tirelessly striving for unconditional freedom from all forms of despotism and state hegemony.”

In a 2002 NLR article, Graeber made the case for what he called “The New Anarchists”:

The effort to destroy existing paradigms is usually quite self-conscious. Where once it seemed that the only alternatives to marching along with signs were either Gandhian non-violent civil disobedience or outright insurrection, groups like the Direct Action Network, Reclaim the Streets, Black Blocs or Tute Bianche have all, in their own ways, been trying to map out a completely new territory in between.

Odd that within Graeber’s definition of the arsenal of tactics that can be used against the state, mass action of the sort that was mobilized to end the war in Vietnam gets reduced to “marching along with signs”. Menu alternatives are limited to three choices: civil disobedience, outright insurrection or anarchist affinity groups. It is the third that Graeber opts for, a “completely new territory” that is actually not very  new since it became pretty old when I was an activist in the late 60s.

David Graeber

On his death at the age of 90 in early January, John Berger’s 1968 article “The Nature of Mass Demonstrations” was circulated by Marxists. Written during the period when millions were “marching along with signs” everywhere against the war, Berger made some essential points about their value:

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

In 1968, SDS leaders grew frustrated by the seeming inability of mass actions to end the war in Vietnam so they chose another course of action, one in which the protests were much smaller but far more violent. This culminated in the infamous “Days of Rage” in October 1969 that an anarchist author connects directly to the black bloc tactic:

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

For Graeber, groups like the black bloc (yes, I know, it is only supposed to be a tactic but it is a loosely organized group that carries it out on a consistent basis) are a form of horizontalist direct democracy that are based on consensus rather than majority vote. Yeah, who needs a cumbersome and verticalist procedure such as voting that would only get in the way of a determined horizontalist bunch of people wearing bandannas over their faces intent on raising cain. If a black bloc spokesperson with a bullhorn had asked the 1500 or so Berkeley students in front of the Student Union protesting Milo Yiannopoulos to raise their hands if they favored busting windows and shooting skyrockets into the lobby of the building, they might have had the gumption to reject such tactics. We can’t abide such laggards getting in the way of bold actions, can we?

Essentially, the black bloc is as elitist and verticalist in its own way as the self-declared vanguard groups of the Leninist left that aspire to control mass organizations. Groups like the American SWP that I belonged to for 11 years used to caucus before a meeting to make sure that the membership followed a predetermined line before a critical vote even if in the course of discussion they decided that the SWP was wrong. Meanwhile, the black bloc does not bother with votes at all. This is a Hobson’s Choice, if there ever was one.

I had never paid much attention to George Ciccariello-Maher prior to his being the target of the alt-right over his “White genocide” tweet. All I knew about him was that he wrote about Venezuela and was something of an ultraleft based on his social media posts that were rather intellectually vacuous and often fixated on violent confrontations of one sort or another. Since academics tend to use social media as a form of “slumming”, I never paid much attention to them.

But after he began posting about the Berkeley adventure in a way that suggested his approval of the black bloc, I concluded that these were his politics. After unfriending him (and a bunch of other pro-black bloc types) with a post alluding to his support for the hijacking of the Berkeley protest, he lashed back at me as I expected. If anything, Ciccariello-Maher is nearly as hotheaded as me. What I didn’t get was his claim that it was only his FB friends that supported the black bloc and that my problem was with them.

That does not square with the arguments he made in 2011 against Chris Hedges, who had blasted the black bloc’s role in the Occupy movement and likened it to a cancerous tumor. Joining with Graeber, who had debated Hedges in an article titled “The Violent Peace-Police”, George wrote his own article making essentially the same arguments. Titled “Counterinsurgency and the Occupy Movement”, it goes the extra mile against Hedges:

Many, notably anarchist theorist David Graeber, have rightly attacked not only the misrepresentations in Hedges’ argument, but crucially its implications: by singling out and denouncing a sector of the movement, by dividing ‘good’ protesters from ‘bad,’ this purportedly nonviolent writer was in fact encouraging police violence himself (after all, surgical removal of a tumor is nothing if not violent). Less noted, however, is the degree to which Hedges’ discourse literally does the work of the police by contributing to actual policing strategies as they have developed in recent decades. By grasping the development of these strategies, we will be in a better position to avoid the pitfalls of the hysterical liberalism espoused by Hedges and others, and by understanding our enemies, we will be better prepared to confront them.

Unlike Graeber, Ciccariello-Maher is less concerned about whether black bloc tactics work or not. The brunt of his article is designed to conflate peaceful protesters and the black-clad vanguard. If you denounce them as a cancer, you are siding with the cops: “Much has been said about the violence-versus-nonviolence debate within and prior to Occupy, and it is true that we need to defend the violent as well as the nonviolent and accept not only a diversity of tactics but also a diversity of strategies for building the new world.” This diversity of tactics argument of course is associated with the NGO’s that tolerated the black bloc at each and every protest against the WTO. Like Graeber and Ciccariello-Maher, their emphasis was less on building a mass working-class based movement and more on making a “statement”.

George Ciccariello-Maher

That being said, the professor does appear to have a fetish for violence. In a Salon article titled “Riots Work”, he is ready to condemn mass protests against racial oppression that do not produce results according to some timetable. Like the Weathermen judging the antiwar movement as a milquetoast affair, Ciccariello-Maher seeks something much more dramatic:

Some insist that riots only provide a ready-made image to the media that emphasizes the “negative” over the “positive” (meaning the “violent” over the “peaceful”). But this view has little to say about whether so-called “peaceful” protests are effective in bringing attention to police murder, offering instead a moral imperative: the media should cover peaceful marches, the system should respond. But they don’t, and it doesn’t, and if so-called peaceful tactics don’t bring change, then they lose their status as a “positive” alternative, and even become complicit in continued systemic violence.

Well, I don’t know. It was peaceful protests, those people “marching along with signs”, in New York that were largely responsible for the stop and frisk laws being abolished. I was at one of them in 2012, the Silent March that was among the most impressive I have seen in the past decade.

Would a riot have ended the stop and frisk laws? I tend to doubt it, even if that risks being seen as pro-police in Ciccariello-Maher’s eyes. For him, there’s not much difference between a riot and the national liberation movement in Algeria that involved millions in a protracted war against the French imperialist army:

Frantz Fanon insisted that to break the smooth surface of white supremacy requires something more than peaceful protest. It requires the explosive self-assertion of the oppressed, through which the oppressed themselves can come to understand their own power.

If we were only so fortunate to see the Black liberation struggle in the USA beginning to take on the dimensions of the FLN. There was one attempt made by Malcolm X to build such a movement and he was killed for his efforts. For what it is worth, Malcolm tried to build a powerful organization instead of preaching about the need for disorganized riots.

Ciccariello-Maher has a new book out titled “Decolonizing Dialectics” that is based on the ideas of Fanon, a Latin American philosopher named Enrique Dussel, and Georges Sorel. I know Dussel only by name but wonder if he has overdosed on Georges Sorel. In an article titled “To Lose Oneself in the Absolute: Revolutionary Subjectivity in Sorel and Fanon” that likely formed the basis for the new book, he sees Sorel’s fetishization of violence in pretty much the same way as he sees Fanon—as a kind of mixture of existential revolt evoking Camus and his own peculiar interpretation of Marxism:

When united with proletarian violence, on the other hand, the myth becomes essentially a mechanism for the consolidation of revolutionary identity. In Sorel’s context, this takes the form of a working-class separatism embodied in and established through the proletarian general strike—the unity of liberatory violence with the absolutism of mythical identity—in which a strike against the bosses is transformed into a “Napoleonic” battle and “the practice of strikes engenders the notion of a catastrophic revolution”.

Sorel is problematic to say the least. After becoming dissatisfied with the CGT, France’s major trade union, in the same way that the Weathermen became impatient with peaceful protests, Sorel hooked up with an outfit called Action Française that was led by Charles Maurras. During WWII, AF supported the Vichy government and Maurras spent seven years in prison for his collaboration with the Nazis.

After he became a partisan of the Bolshevik revolution, the Italian fascist movement still revered Sorel no matter his heterodox Marxism. It seems that the feelings were mutual. In a 1921 letter to Benedetto Croce, an admirer of Mussolini who would eventually break with Il Duce, Sorel wrote: “The adventures of fascism are, perhaps, at present, the most original social phenomenon in Italy; they seem to me to surpass by far the combinations of the politicians.” In a letter to Jean Variot, a close ally of Sorel, he wrote:

It is possible, it is even probable that Benito Mussolini has read me. But, attention! Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin. . .. He is not a Socialist a la sauce bourgeoise; he has never believed in parliamentary socialism; he has an amazing insight into the nature of the Italian masses, and he has invented something not to be found in my books: the union of the national and the social-something I have studied  without ever developing the idea.

Well, that’s for damned sure. Mussolini never did believe in parliamentary socialism.

While I have neither the time nor the inclination to wade through Ciccariello-Maher’s new book, something tells me that his distinctly odd infatuation with Georges Sorel is consistent with his immature posting of violent confrontations on social media. It is rather sad to see a tenured professor acting so foolishly.

Shon Meckfessel

Let me conclude with a look at Shon Meckfessel’s new book titled “Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used To Be” that is based on his doctoral dissertation and that reminds me a bit of Regis Debray’s “Revolution in the Revolution”. Where Debray fetishized rural guerrilla warfare, Meckfessel fetishizes the black bloc. At least Debray can be forgiven for basing his book on a success—the Cuban revolution. Meckfessel inexplicably elevates a movement that has achieved nothing except getting its adventures written up in the bourgeois press.

Although it is highly possible that there are some discrepancies between the new book and dissertation, I am taking the chance that they are relatively small and will refer to the dissertation in the following remarks.

Since chapter three is titled “The Eloquence of Targeted Property Destruction in the Occupy Movement” and chapter four is titled “The Eloquence of Police Clashes in the Occupy Movement”, there is little doubt that what you will be getting is a sophisticated defense of the indefensible.

There’s not much to distinguish Shon from Ciccariello-Maher as this passage from chapter three would indicate.  Although some might think that plagiarism was afoot, I think that both of the professors are simply reflecting the zeitgeist of the widespread ultraleft milieu that would naturally lead them to admire Fanon and Sorel uncritically:

If targeted property destruction works to assert comparisons within and across categories of violence in the hopes of destabilizing ideological chains of equivalence and triggering a revaluation, its affective reconfigurations in the discursive field of subjectivity are equally eloquent in its rhetorical strategy. In his classic “Reflections on Violence,” Georges Sorel put forward his notion of the General Strike as a myth which condensed all of the desired political values of proletarian struggle; violence, in his formation, “is assigned the important function of ‘constituting’ an actor.” (Seferiades & Johnston 6). Similarly, Fanon put forth the celebrated formulation in The Wretched of the Earth (1968) that decolonization requires a violence to be done to the colonizer’s body in order to disarticulate its sacred inviolability, and thus constitute the post-colonial subject through the act of violation. Contemporary practices of public noninjurious violence, such as targeted property destruction, can be seen to enact analogous discursive actions of subjectification while avoiding the dehumanizing effects of bodily harm, as can be heard in the words of Cindy, one observer of the Seattle May Day 2012 riots:

I think that property destruction has a good effect on those who carry it out… I think most people need to unlearn submission and show themselves that they have the 165 capacity to act for their own liberation. I think that when people burn cop cars, break bank windows, or blockade a road (thwarting the transfer of goods and or law enforcement) they are also demonstrating to themselves some of the magnitude of their ability to resist. (Cindy interview)

In the next chapter, Shon refers to the “eloquence” of fighting the cops with a reference to Judith Butler:

As with the uneasy boundary between the materiality and discursivity of bodies examined in Judith Butler’s Bodies that Matter (1993), the materiality of individuals enacting oppressive behavior is not simple to divorce from the discursivity of their role.

I can’t exactly say that I understand this jargon but I do know this. Butler found nothing “eloquent” about the Berkeley Student Union misadventure. In an email cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education, she stated: “I deplore the violent tactics of yesterday and so do the overwhelming majority of students and faculty at UC Berkeley.”

I find something vaguely dispiriting about college professors in their 40s and 50s being drawn to such juvenile antics. In a strange way, they remind me of the neglected minor masterpiece “Little Children” that starred Patrick Wilson as a law student who is not sure that he is cut out for the profession. In what might be called a case of “arrested development”, he spends hours on end watching teens skateboarding at a nearby rink. They remind him of the youth he once enjoyed doing the same sort of thing. At the end of the film, they talk him into having a try on one of their skateboards that results in a nasty spill and a hospital stay. Let’s hope that the three professors’ infatuation with the “eloquence” of fighting the cops is only of a Walter Mitty sort. Cops are capable of extremely brutal behavior and the three professors all have good jobs and families and/or students who rely on them. My only other recommendation is that they read Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” that is a much better guide to revolutionary change than Georges Sorel.

February 5, 2017

The black bloc in 1969

Filed under: ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

In an online book titled “The Black Bloc Papers”, David Van Deusen of the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective makes clear that the Weathermen were the forefathers of the people who staged a riot at Berkeley:

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

 

February 4, 2017

Fordham SDS

Filed under: Academia,antiwar — louisproyect @ 5:58 pm

In 1983 I saw the documentary “Seeing Red” that mixed interviews of former members of the Communist Party talking about their experiences with exciting film footage and photographs of the class battles they took part in. Among the highlights was Bill Bailey reminiscing about the day in 1935 when he tore the Nazi flag off the Bremen, a luxury liner docked in New York.

Bill was 25 when he carried out this protest and 72 when he was interviewed for “Seeing Red”. Over the past few years, I have toyed with the idea of making a film like “Seeing Red” but based on the experiences of veterans of the Socialist Workers Party, many of whom are about the same age today as Bill Bailey was in 1983—including me.

For us, there was nothing quite like the experience of fighting in the Spanish Civil War as Bill Bailey did, or being part of militant trade union struggles like Dorothy Healy, but we were part of the most important radicalization in American history following the 1930s. And like the CP’ers, we had come to learn that the party could betray our best hopes. In their case, it was allowing themselves to be manipulated by Joseph Stalin—in our case being manipulated by a cult leader whose actions have reduced the party by 90 percent since I left in 1978.

While SDS never aspired to be a vanguard party, except toward its tumultuous final days when it was being torn apart by Maoist factions, it was arguably to the 1960s what the CPUSA was to the 1930s, the most authoritative voice of young rebels, especially those on campus.

With that in mind, I can recommend Bert Schultz’s “Fordham SDS” as coming close to the insights and the sheer pleasure of being a radical that were revealed in “Seeing Red”. Bert was a student at Fordham in the 1960s when an SDS chapter was formed and that soon aligned with the Worker Student Alliance faction of SDS. His interviewees are former members, some of whom became members of the Progressive Labor Party, the Maoist group that led the Worker Student Alliance. At least one of them sounds like she could still be a member, or at least a strong sympathizer.

The film, which lasts 37 minutes, is crowned by footage of a sit-in to protest the war in Vietnam that Bert took with a 16mm camera. Like the far better known Columbia occupation that took place a year earlier and that inspired the Fordham struggle, this was the strategy adopted by SDS nationally and arguably had as much of an impact on weakening the war drive as the mass demonstrations my party focused on.

Some other things make the film particularly interesting. Unlike Columbia, Fordham was a Catholic school with rigid social norms. Wearing a turtle-neck shirt was frowned on since it smacked of rebelliousness. Fordham was also a largely blue-collar commuter school that reflected the deepening proletarian orientation of the antiwar movement. When I was up in Boston in 1970, I saw the same dynamic at work when students at U. Mass Boston became activists. Many of them were like my girlfriend at the time, the daughter of an Irish Catholic trolley car engineer, who had attended a community college to become trained as a nurse.

Our hopes, as it was of the Progressive Labor Party and the Worker Student Alliance, was that the 1960s radicalization would penetrate the heart of the working class and that we would have a revolution in the USA, by 1985 at least. Little did Bert or I anticipate that by 2017 things would have come to what they are today.

Like Bert, I have high hopes for the future since Donald Trump is putting more people into motion than any leftist leaflet could have possibly done. Watching his documentary will give a good idea of how the left functioned nearly a half-century ago, warts and all. You are left with the feeling that SDS could have done things better just as I would have done if I made a film about the SWP. In any case, I strongly urge you to watch his film for $1.49 that would be a bargain at ten times the price, especially if you are in your twenties and about to become involved in what I anticipate to be major class battles that will be third act of resistance to American capitalism.

 

February 3, 2017

How Columbia students protested Nazis on campus in 1936

Filed under: Academia,Fascism — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume LX, Number 9, 6 October 1936

250 Students Parade In Torchlight March To Reinstate Burke
Teachers Union Passes Resolution Backing Campus Fight
Wechsler, Will Speak
Demonstrators Walk With Red Flares

Two hundred and fifty paraders demonstrated on the Columbia Campus last night in an attempt to reinstate Robert Burke, ousted Junior Class President. The demonstrators, who marched by the light of 300 Roman torches, paraded about the Campus, held three orderly mass meetings and finally broke up after more than two hours of shouting their feelings in the Burke case. The first mass meeting, which started at 7:45, was addressed by James A. Wechsler, editor of the Student Advocate and former editor of The Spectator, Albert Witt, member of the Student Council at the Heights center of New York University, and Burke. In a resolution made public last night, the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union condemned the action of Dean Herbert E. Hawkes in expelling Burke from Columbia College. Declaring that Dean Hawkes’ action was “clearly a violation of the right of students to assemble and to express their convictions on matters of social significance” the Teachers Union urged that the administration reinstate Burke.

Union Urges Burke Return

The resolution passed by the union follows in part: “Whereas, the objectives of the students’ demonstration were in accord with a resolution previously passed by the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union, in which the Union declared opposition to Columbia’s participation in the Heidelberg ceremonies because of the ruthless suppression of academic freedom in Heidelberg University and throughout Germany; “Therefore, we, the Columbia Chapter of the Teachers Union urge that the administration immediately reinstate Mr. Burke as a student of Columbia College and by such action affirm the right of student and faculty to free expression of opinion and recognize in practice the right of academic freedom which has long been a tradition on our Campus.” Burke, in appealing for a unified action stated: “The time has come to speak up, The Administration is clamping down! Either the student body will get together and fight as an integrated whole or we will be whipped.” Wechsler Asks Support Calling upon the assembled paraders to conduct an orderly meeting, Wechsler declared that “any disorders come from Dean Hawkes’ pets who get their line from his ‘ office.” Wechsler, scoring the whispering campaign now current on the Campus, urged the “hundreds who are not prepared to quit or run out or accept the flimsy apologetic excuses of the administration” to lend the full strength of their support to Burke.

After Witt spoke, the paraders marched through the Van Am Quadrangle, past South Hall and Furnald and out into Broadway. Shouting invitations to Barnard dormitory residents to join them, the demonstrators marched up Broadway to 120 th Street where they turned east and continued to Morningside Drive. Here the group, preceded by three of the twenty policemen who were on hand to ensure an orderly demonstration, turned South and marched toward the home of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler. Ceasing their shouts at 117 th Street the paraders filed past the President’s home in absolute silence, raising their hand in imitation of the Nazi salute as they passed the entrance. At 116 th Street, the demonstration returned to the Campus. Entering- upon the Van Quad again, the marchers, still shouting their demands to reinstate Burke and chanting that “Butler Wants Hitler But We Want Burke.” The group responded to the cry of “Water” from numerous dormitory windows with louder chants and demands. Leaving the Library steps, the marchers proceded to form a group at the Sun Dial. Here they were again addressed by Burke and Wechsler.

Wechsler again attacked the supporters of Burke who were afraid to come out in the open and lend him their aid. Burke thanked the crowd for its support and attacked Albert I. Edelman ‘3B Law, and Thomas Bandler ’37 who recently wrote letters to the editor of The Spectator condemning its action in supporting Burke and requesting that the entire incident be forgotten. In a resolution which was passed by the almost unanimous consent of the assembled crowd, Dean Hawkes and the administration were called upon to reinstate Burke. The full text of the resolution follows. “Resolved that this body believes the expulsion of Robert Burke to be a breach of academic freedom on the Columbia Campus.”

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