Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 6, 2020

Six millionth hit for the Unrepentant Marxist blog

Filed under: Marxist literature — louisproyect @ 7:38 pm

On August 2, 2017, I reached the five millionth hit on my blog. In my post announcing that milestone, I said I’d check back with my readers after I reach my ten millionth. Who knows if I’ll be around that long?  So, in the meantime, I’ve decided to mark each additional million hits with a post like this that takes stock of the blog and the left in general. The blog stats over to the right puts us at 6,000,477 so we only have another 999, 523 to go.

In 2017, Alexa rated the blog at 407,927 globally. Today it ranks 181,703. It’s a little difficult to figure out what this means since—to be honest—I average about 800 hits a day and am pretty sure it was about a 1000 back in 2017. Frankly, I am not even sure how Alexa collects its data since in its referral metrics, it claims that the top referral site is the fucking Militant.com with Marxmail second. Third is just as bizarre as the first: BenNorton.com. I can’t imagine any referrals coming from #1 and #3 since I am an unperson in both sites.

There are far fewer Marxist blogs like mine that are based on a single blogger’s efforts than there were twenty years ago. What tends to happen is people get the idea that it would be cool to start one but let them lapse after figuring out that churning out two or three posts a week is exhausting. As for group Marxist blogs, there’s only one I check daily: Cosmonaut.blog. Their Alexa rating is 257,457. Commune Magazine, another Marxist group blog that is much more academic and autonomist than Cosmonaut, ranks 593,807. What prevents me from feeling cocky about the comparative ranks is how Richard Seymour is so far ahead (358) of not only us but a popular (deservedly so) website like CounterPunch that comes in at 45,729. Grayzone, despite its notoriety and Russian funding (I would guess) only ranks 88,599. Rather surprisingly, Corey Robin’s blog is trailing far behind: 2,488,935. It probably doesn’t matter that much to him since he has a very high profile in dead tree media like The New Yorker, et al.

As for number of hits, I suppose that I get a slew of readers on CounterPunch who might find my combination of stand-up comedy and old-school Marxism amusing and edifying. I put more research and effort into my weekly posts for CounterPunch than I do with my own blog. I even use Grammarly to polish it up. With 1,500 subscribers to the Marxism list, 3,500 FB friends and 1,348 Twitter followers, I feel like I am reaching a sufficient amount of people on the left as it is. I made the decision about 15 years ago to use the Internet rather than Verso, HM or other more academically-based outlets for my analysis. I prefer the interaction on the Internet and feel a lot less constrained by peer review and other notoriously ingrown features of the left academy.

I get a deep satisfaction out of blogging because it puts me in touch with some of the most interesting and insightful people I’ve ever known: Karl Smith, Reza F., Michael Yates, Richard Estes, Farans Kalosar, Manuel Garcia Jr. and the late Kevin Coogan. For most people writing for New Left Review, HM or any of the Sunkara empire’s publications, there’s probably a sense of accomplishment for “making it”. I can understand that completely since there are so few ways to feel rewarded in the decadent society we live in. Besides being able to interact with the comrades mentioned above and anybody up for the kind of conversation that might go on in a pub favored by leftists, my biggest satisfaction comes from seeing my own words. I learned long ago that unless I write something about an issue that means a lot to me, it is entirely possible that nobody else will. Thank god my mom taught me how to touch-type when I was 13 years old. It makes pumping out the prose a lot easier, even if the journalist Marc Cooper was prompted to refer to me as the prolific buffoon.




June 5, 2020

Reflections on my COVID-19 antibodies

Filed under: Counterpunch,COVID-19 — louisproyect @ 1:45 pm


The last couple of months leading up to a Quest serology test that yielded “positive” antibodies for COVID-19 have been a roller coaster ride. Take a seat in the car behind me, strap yourself in, and let me recount a story that Agatha Christie might have written.

The tale began last October when I suffered through bronchitis for most of the month. This viral infection of the bronchial tubes is just another illness to which geezers like me are susceptible. It is usually not fatal but can lead to hospitalization. After recovering, I began taking measures to avoid getting sick again. They included using Purell, avoiding touching my face, and all the other defenses that should prevent exposure to any virus, including COVID-19. Being ahead of the curve, how the hell did I end up with antibodies?

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June 2, 2020


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

Opening as virtual cinema on June 5th, “Tommaso” is the greatest film by an American director I have seen since “First Reformed” in 2017. Like Paul Schrader, the director of “First Reformed”, the 68-year old Abel Ferrara, who is 5 years younger than Schrader, is a relatively obscure filmmaker with a long and controversial past. Interviewer Vittorio Carli asked Ferrara if religion a big influence on your work. He replied, “Well I was brought up Roman Catholic and I’m sure it did.” Schrader also comes from a religious background—Calvinist—but was deeper into it than Ferrara. Even though both left religion behind long ago, they make films where religious questions come deeply into play.

In “First Reformed”, the main character—a priest played by Ethan Hawke—is about to carry out a suicide bombing against corporate polluters. “Tommaso” is devoid of social issues but it ends with the lead character Tommaso, an obvious stand-in for Ferrara himself, being crucified on a busy Rome street. That Tommaso is played by Willem Dafoe, who also played Jesus Christ in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, a Scorsese film that Schrader wrote, will not be lost on most cineastes.

Essentially, “Tommaso” is Abel Ferrara’s take on Federico Fellini’s “8 ½”, a film about a famous director who is suffering from a loss of inspiration as well as marital difficulties. Like Fellini’s character, Tommaso is a tormented soul. Just four years younger than Ferrara, Dafoe was ideally cast as the Ferrara-like main character. That being said, he was also great playing Vincent Van Gogh only two years ago, even though Van Gogh was 37 years old. Dafoe is so great at becoming his characters that you don’t pay much attention to his wrinkles.

Despite the Italian first name, Tommaso is an American who has emigrated to Rome, the backdrop for the film. In an early scene, we see him in an Italian lesson that will help him adjust to his new home. Ferrara also moved to Rome after September 11, 2001 both to get away from the madness, plus to get better access to funding. Unlike Scorsese, a fellow Italian-American obsessed with religious questions, Ferrara never hit it big. His specialty was making extremely violent and sexually explicit independent films that might have satisfied his own aesthetic yearnings but not the Hollywood studios.

Tommaso is married to Nikki, a woman 35 years younger. They have a 3-year old daughter. Mother and daughter are played by Ferrara’s wife Cristina Chiriac and his real-life daughter Anna Ferrara. The film was also made in the couple’s apartment.

Whether or not they are going through the same difficulties as the characters they play cannot be determined but my guess is that such an extreme difference in age leads to the conflicts depicted in the film. Tommaso is far more needy than his young wife who feels dominated by the older and more professionally fulfilled director. Nikki misses her freedom and does not see eating dinner together as a litmus test for a good marriage. More worrisome is the fact that the daughter sleeps in the same bed as the parents and that they have not had sex in months.

Tommaso’s life is structured around a series of routines that define him as a human being. He attends alcoholics anonymous meetings. He leads a group of young men and women in acting exercises that often involve deep breathing and attempts to bring buried memories to the surface. Oddly enough, they evoke Tommaso’s yoga exercises to mind. Seeing the 64-year old actor standing on his head is worth the price of the rental.

A lot else is drawn from the quotidian existence of living in any major city. In one of the most powerful moments of the film, Tommaso and Nikki are disturbed by the drunken babbling of a man down the street from that prevents them and their daughter from going to sleep. Even when Tommaso yells out the window for him to cut it out or else get a punch in the mouth, the man continues. This leads the tightly wound director to barrel down the street to confront the man, who is as old him and obviously homeless. At first, you get the feeling that there will be an altercation but in a moment or two there is solidarity over having a shared experiencee of being an alcoholic and adrift in life.

“Tommaso” is not a conventional film. Like “8 ½”, it is a series of encounters that doesn’t neatly cohere into a narrative arc that most films require. Instead, it is vividly realistic portrayal of two people in a marriage that is hanging on by a thread. I hope for the director’s sake, this is all fictional.

“Tommaso” is part of Kino-Lorber’s virtual cinema series. The film can be rented from a theater where it was originally scheduled to be seen. Go to https://kinomarquee.com/ to buy a virtual ticket.

Finally, let me recommend “Bad Lieutenant”, a 1992 Ferrara film that starred Harvey Keitel as a corrupt, drug-addicted cop—very timely given the current situation. It was the first film I ever saw by Ferrara and that turned me into a devoted fan. It is available on YouTube, Amazon and all the other VOD sources. It is great.

June 1, 2020

A follow-up on Joshua Clover’s “Riots-Strikes-Riots”

Filed under: Academia,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 8:52 pm

Joshua Clover

Someone asked me for my opinion on the Afterword to the 2019 edition of Joshua Clover’s “Riot. Strike. Riot: The New  Era of Uprisings” that answers his Marxist critics. I am at a disadvantage since I never read his book. I still don’t have plans to read it—life is too short—but I will take a stab at it based on a reading of a Verso blog article he wrote in defense of the Yellow Vests, who he sees as emblematic of riots as the working-class struggle of our time, just as the strike was in an earlier period. In essence, he sees the strike as the embodiment of class struggle at the point of production that might be typified by the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-7, while the Yellow Vests express the struggle that erupts at the point of circulation, ie., the marketplace. Instead of the worker as producer, he is focused on the worker as consumer. He writes:

There is little reason to be confused; the Gilets Jaunes movement has in its form developed with laboratorial clarity. It is a textbook riot. A labor protest, to state the obvious, features labor-based demands, workers in their role as workers fighting to set the price and conditions of their labor — an action unfolding in the context of production, the provision of goods and services, the creation of value. The classical riot as it arises in medieval and early modern Europe is the form of collective action that

1) struggles to set the price of market goods;

2) features participants with no necessary kinship but their dispossession;

3) unfolds in the context of consumption, featuring the interruption of commercial circulation.

In the 14th through the 18th centuries this commonly involved a community mobilization directing itself at a baker or more often grain merchant, demanding they sell their goods locally and affordably. It was a struggle in the marketplace over the cost of self-reproduction. It will be obvious that the Gilets Jaunes movement follows this protocol quite closely. Not because it is violent and disorderly, insulting the propriety of the state — the bourgeois measure of riot — but because it begins with and sustains itself on the demand that a subsistence good must be sold at a lower price for proletarian reproduction to continue. It is a sign that the customary compact between classes is in crisis. The bread riot has returned.

Except that it has not gone anywhere. In particular, riots over the costs of compulsory transport are a fixture of the present, from the withdrawal of fuel subsidies that provoked nationwide riots in Haiti to the repeated gasolinazo protests of Mexico and elsewhere to the insurrectionary force unleashed by an increase in bus fares in Brazil. Once transportation becomes a necessity for survival, its costs become part of the subsistence package and a site of contest. The focus has been relentless. “Roundabout protests,” one participants calls the actions on a road outside Toulouse. The protestors gather there to block traffic. Elsewhere they attack tollbooths, auto makers — all the physical manifestations of circulation.

Against this analysis, which is purported to be the one that most closely matches to the concrete conditions workers face today, there are those out-of-date dogmatic Marxist metaphysicians who refuse to face reality. He writes:

The skeptical responses to the book, often appearing in legacy socialist journals, have been magnetized without fail according to the principle that the strike must be defended. Some fraction of these defenses have been little more than oaths of fidelity to what C. Wright Mills called sixty years ago the “labor metaphysic.” They are regularly compelled to remind us of the truism that capital remains vulnerable at the point of production.

Since he doesn’t name them, I had to do a little research to track them down. He must be referring to the British SWP’s review that reminded him that “the end of the strike are much exaggerated.” Furthermore, “They have been at the heart of epic struggles in Greece, the French spring of 2016 and even the battles of the precarious or gig economy involving logistics workers in Italy and the UK in recent months.”

Links, the magazine of the Socialist Alliance in Australia, also had problems with the book. Its reviewer Ben Peterson wrote a useful summary of Clover’s arguments and reinforced my decision to avoid it like the plague:

The argument Riot-Strike-Riot is not as complicated as its writing style, which makes ample use of unnecessary academic jargon and unexplained references to classical mythology, would imply. In short Riot-Strike-Riot argues that as capitalism has evolved, the predominant form of class resistance has evolved with it. In capitalism’s early phases, circulation and trade was the central aspect of capitalism. Therefore ‘Riots’ in the form of bread riots or mob enforced price setting were the predominant form of resistance. As industrial capitalism developed, the central dynamic of struggle changed, and the new form of proletarian resistance became the strike. However, since ‘1973’, the centrality of production in capitalism has ebbed, and circulation is now key- thus we are seeing a return to a new era of riots, “riot prime”.

He also makes a critical point, namely that Clover underestimates the importance of strategy. If the goal is to seize power, abolish capitalism, and construct socialism, the focus on rioting seems limited to a tactical approach and one rather limited at that. Peterson writes:

Such a strategy implies that radicals should not focus on union struggle, or winning over multiple layers of the broader working class, but instead aim to build up a stronger organisational ability to create blockades and occupations. The goal is to interfere with the distribution of the economy. By holding things up, it creates pressure to win demands. This will bring activists and the surplus population into conflict with the state. As this struggle grows, those activists must develop a new commune to win this battle with the state, and end class antagonisms.

From what I can glean from the reviews, Clover’s idea of a “new commune” does not have much to do with Marx or Lenin. Indeed, as a contributor to Commune Magazine (they don’t identify an editorial board but I assume he is a mover and shaker), he must identify with their self-definition in an article in the initial issue titled “Introducing Commune” that disassociates itself from the “legacy socialist journals” and only promises to “clarify and communicate some important contemporary ideas about capitalism and its opposition.”

In the latest issue, Clover holds forth on “The Year in Struggles”. It naturally applies the questionable criteria of circulation and production found in his book. He sees the burning of the metros in Santiago as another example of the struggle over the right to an affordable transportation in the circulation sphere. The Yellow Vests rioted over a gas tax and students in Chile rioted over a four-cent increase in the price of a metro ride. And even when Blackjewel’s laid-off miners are involved, they are not at the point of production but join the others in the circulation sphere as a result of being forced to struggle over back pay. The  miners  illustrated the “The form through which this oldest of production demands, pay us you motherfuckers, can be realized in this moment is beyond production, pure circulation struggle.”

It is somewhat surprising that he cares that much about the miners’ fight for back pay given the “Introducing Commune” take on jobs: “And seriously, who wants full employment? On the list of things we might demand, if we believed demands made any sense, this does not even rank. Wage labor is a misery.” Wage labor is a misery? I guess that’s why Clover decided to become a poetry professor.

Reading through his article, you come away with the sensation that he is really into particular struggles but has little interest in thinking through how they can be generalized. As a rule of thumb, local struggles do not seek national solutions, let alone the international transformation that classical Marxism always embraced—especially Trotsky.

If Clover uses unnecessary academic jargon and unexplained references to classical mythology, you can always go to his Twitter account that lays things on the line:

“The anarchism of the Paris Commune for all its basis in handicraft consciousness would render it closer to communism than would the socialism of Bolsheviks the Soviet Union.” (January 5, 2020)

“Russian anarchists in a huuuge comeback its like Dostoyevsky all over again out here.” (May 30, 2020)

I hadn’t given much thought to Commune Magazine ideologically until someone involved with Cosmonaut, a website produced by young Marxists, disparaged it as autonomist Marxism, a term that I see as synonymous with anarchism.

This fetishizing of riots is exactly what people like Toni Negri were doing in the 1970s and Joshua Clover is apparently following in his footsteps. Negri’s autonomist followers were mad dogs, shooting a Communist professor in the kneecap and generally undermining the mass movement through their ultraleft bullshit. I guess the best thing you can say about Clover is that he is largely ignored.


May 30, 2020

Are riots revolutionary?

Filed under: Academia,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

About a week ago, someone posted a link to a Verso book by Joshua Clover titled “Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings” that I took a quick gander at on the Verso website. It stated that “Political theorist Joshua Clover theorizes the riot as the form of the coming insurrection.” I didn’t pay that much attention to it except to note that insurrection is a problematic term if you are a Marxist, at least if it is understood as anything like October 1917. There wasn’t much that was violent about the takeover of the Winter Palace or for that matter neither was there much rioting going on in Russia. Mostly, there were mass protests demanding peace, bread and land.

It turns out that Clover, an English professor and poet, is something of an ultraleft jackass. Like many others in the academic left, he is steeped in the kind of cultural theory-mongering that made Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler superstars. I guess that Clover is not in their league, but in the minor leagues. Here’s a sample of his jive:

Thus we might come to understand the tactic of the black bloc, which has achieved such infamy these last years, as itself a kind of pop culture. Not because those who don the anonymizing balaclavas are famous, or believe in a struggle in the realm of images, but because this is an inevitable position within the universalized fame of surveillance. It is Warhol’s wig in negative. From the moment that daily life becomes a screen test, the black mask is inevitable. Every surveillance camera makes anarchy more compelling, more joyous. Pussy Riot’s Day-Glo glory adds a flourish, but the logic is impeccable.

In a discussion with fellow poet Anne Lesley Selcer about the Nation article that generated some controversy, she offers this observation: “If the sixties were about bending the politics of representation toward leftist aims, this tactic [black bloc] embodies a pure, active antagonism.” Jeez, I had no idea that I was involved with the representation toward leftist aims. That almost sounds like I was doing water-colors or something. Clover responded:

It wants to move toward the condition of being numerous, so much so that masks become unnecessary, at which time we will see that the black bloc comprises neither “outside agitators” nor some specially privileged bunch of white boys — as the dovetailing stories of right media right and left counterrevolutionaries have it — but is everyone.

The black bloc wants to be everyone? Really? Did that include the people who came to Washington on inauguration day in 2017 and began breaking bank windows? I imagine that the unmasked bystanders who got gathered up the cops and who left the masked rioters alone would ever bond with them after facing sentences of up to 10 years for felony rioting charges.

You don’t have to read Clover’s garbage book to figure out what he stands for. In an interview with “The Rumpus”, he offered up one stupidity after another. He starts off drawing an equation between the protests that Martin Luther King Jr. led and the riots. MLK Jr. adopted a posture “that is media-friendly, a version of respectability politics.” On the other hand, the riots were taking care of certain practical goals, things like “destroying the power of the police, or making your neighborhood uninhabitable for people you don’t want there.” Since Clover was six years old in 1968, he probably had no direct knowledge of riots making any neighborhood uninhabitable for the cops. On the other hand, MLK Jr. led protests that helped to put Jim Crow in the grave. Toward the end of his life, he was moving toward eliminating de facto segregation once de jure segregation had ended. He was also putting forward a more explicitly anti-capitalist message that clearly made him a target of reactionary elements. That Clover can dismiss King as involved with “respectability politics” shows what an ivory tower dick he is.

Since he attached the label “practical” to riots, Rumpus asked him to explain how it was since it will “just get you thrown in jail or killed, none of which sounds very practical.” To save you the trouble of reading his book, his words tell you all you need to know:

Often people read Riot.Strike.Riot as advocating riots rather than strikes. That is not the case. The book is simply trying to understand what it has meant that people fight where they are, and to grasp shifts in forms of struggle as a story about where people are. It’s also about a great restructuring of what gets called “class composition” at a global level. When people are in a workplace where it’s possible to organize and engage in labor actions, that’s how they fight, and it can be very effective. When people are not in that situation, they fight in other ways. They fight in the marketplace. They gather in the street, the square. One need not prefer one or other. One need only notice that there’s been a meaningful shift in where people are over the last thirty, forty, or fifty years from traditional productive industries—which are easier to organize—toward a kind of work that involves circulation of capital and products, and toward unemployment. People who are in that situation are unlikely to fight somewhere else. They’re going to fight in that space.

He, of course, is missing the entire point. We understand that there is a need to fight. Most fighting in fact is defensive in nature. The real goal, however is how to win. That’s something the clueless professor has nothing to offer. Right now the left is faced with major challenges on how not only to defend the meager conditions of life during economic depression and a plague but how to finally defeat the capitalist class and take power in the name of socialism. Thus, it is imperative to think through tactics that the labor movement can pursue, just as it did in the 1930s when there were very few riots—come to think of it.

In 2018, Kim Moody reviewed “Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings” for Jacobin. The review takes Clover far more seriously than I ever would, trying to engage with his stupidities as if they were on a Historical Materialism Conference panel together, with lots of references to Marxist value theory, his theoretical debts to Brenner-Wood’s political Marxism, etc. The conclusion, however, strikes a fatal blow:

In Clover’s analysis, the rise and convergence of riots, occupations, and other actions in the streets, squares, and highways are to culminate (inevitably?) in the commune — the society that transcends capitalism, the wage relationship, and consumption as a source of profit. Unlike the riots in the streets and squares, however, the commune, Clover says, is “not a place” like the Paris Commune, but a “social relation.”

One doesn’t have to be David Harvey to understand that, even in the internet age, human beings and their societies are spatially as well as temporally rooted even if their places multiply, expand globally, and their inhabitants migrate from one place to another. Place is integral to the human condition.

The problem here, however, is bigger than this idealized commune. Any change in social relations and economic systems requires human “agency.” If the employed core of the working class is no longer in the running for this position, what social force or forces are?

Clover is, of course, clear throughout that the racialized surplus population is the major candidate for change in the new era of circulation. The full answer, however, the culmination of 180 pages of often wordy if well-crafted discourse, is found in the following exceptionally succinct third of a paragraph:

The shape of the double riot is clear enough. One riot arises from youth discovering that the routes that once promised a minimally secure formal integration into the economy are now foreclosed. The other arises from racialized surplus populations and the violent state management thereof. The holders of empty promissory notes, and the holders of nothing at all.

While Clover acknowledges the difficulties of bringing these two elements together, that isn’t the major problem. The major problem is that while both participants in the “double riot” may disrupt society for a time in one or more places and play a role in broader movements for social change, neither group has much social power, or indeed staying power, over the long haul. Their very separation from production underlines their relative social weakness.

Furthermore, youth are divided by class with different aspirations and possibilities even today. Are frustrated graduate students with diminishing prospects for university tenure, or those seeking their MBA, in the same position as the less-educated youths trapped at McDonald’s or worse?

More importantly, even together youths and those in the active reserve army are a minority of the broader proletariat, even of the racialized proletariat, and even insofar as young people as a generalization are part of the proletariat at all or share its experience.

Is Clover looking at revolution won or a commune realized by and for a minority? Is this a First World urban version of Regis Debray’s 1960s guerrilla “foco,” albeit writ large and minus the central discipline? What about the democratic majoritarian political vision of socialism from below, the political form of which was suggested to Marx by the place-specific Paris Commune?

As a suffix to this article, I want to cite some Facebook posts by FB friend Rick Sklader, who experience on the left is considerable, going back to the 1960s, followed by one by David Miller, another Minneapolis resident. They make it clear that the left has to grapple with the problem of riots from now on since the capitalist class and its cops are now calculating that its goals can be met by sacrificing a few buildings. A Target store can always be reconstructed but once socialist ideas are implanted in person’s mind and he or she begins acting on them, there’s no turning back. Take it from me, I became a socialist in 1967 and am more convinced on the need for revolution than I have ever been:

Rick Sklader:

MORE BREAKING NEWS Wells Fargo Bank in Uptown neighborhood of. Minneapolis currently on fire. There’s been a lot of needless destruction and mindless vandalism, with a US Post Office now on fire. Minneapolis Police nowhere to be seen.At least two neighborhood restaurants on fire with additional stores being attacked. This has nothing to do with Floyd’s Murder. There appears to be no politics being articulated here, which will likely have negative consequences.

12:06AM Massive show of force used solely to disperse crowd and to allow firefighters in to do their jobs. According to WCCO (CBS affiliate) no arrests made. Police cars leaving Nicolett area with reports Mayor has police moving downtown to next hotspot. Additional reports of multiple fires throughout the city and that the Black barbershop owner called Fire Department and was told they’d put him on their list. Three hours later no business left to save.

Someone burned down a Black Barber’s Barbershop on the near NorthSide the oldest Black neighborhood in the city of Minneapolis and the only place Black people could buy houses for the longest period of time. This used to be a predominately Jewish Area until around 1950. This is the kind of mindless anti-social behavior I have been referencing. This is not nor has anything to do with fighting institutional racism.

BREAKING NEWS assholes set 2nd Library on Fire in Uptown at 28th and Hennepin Avenue. This is fucked up

Neighborhood grocery store also set on fire as well as Minneapolis’ oldest White Castle Restaurant.

1:50AM Governor Walz reported shots exchanged with cops and improvised munitions used as well. Governor is increasing National Guard troops by adding an additional 1,000 soldiers.

David Miller:

5/30/20 South Minneapolis:

While there is legitimate anger and rebellion against the Minneapolis Police Force and the City Government of Minneapolis, most people I know who live in and around Lake Street on the Southside, and in and around Broadway on the North Side were out trying to help people last night.

Help calm things down, doing mutual aid, like getting people and their animals out of burning buildings.

And they did this, heroically, in a situation where armed White Terrorists from out of State rode around in out of State Cars/Trucks (looking at YOU Texas) shooting people.

We are under attack by right wing forces who are burning post offices (we would not do that/trust me) and beloved community institutions (Gandhi Mahal/Migizi Communications).

They are taking out whole blocks with military level training arson tactics in under an hour.

While protesters target major corporate chains, these guys reduce everything to ash.

Last night it got real personal, because they started burning residential homes, over here on the Southside.

Their goal is to push us all over the edge where this spirals into an actual war.

Where people feel so abandoned that we all start shooting at each other. Where the chaos grows so great that Trump has to send in the army and declare martial law, and start shooting.

And guess who they will be shooting? Not the heavily armed White Guys from Texas. No it will be who they always shoot…Black, Brown, Native, PoC…our neighbors.


May 29, 2020

Does neo-feudalism define our current epoch?

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 2:42 pm


Is there anything feudal about Mark Zuckerberg?

When I learned that we were entering a new period called neo-feudalism, my first reaction was to wonder if that was any worse than what we have now. After all, the serf might have suffered from a lack of freedom but at least had lots of time off as Michael Perelman pointed out in “The Invention of Capitalism“:

Although their standard of living may not have been particularly lavish, the people of precapitalistic northern Europe, like most traditional people, enjoyed a great deal of free time. The common people maintained innumerable religious holidays that punctuated the tempo of work. Joan Thirsk estimated that in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, about one-third of the working days, including Sundays, were spent in leisure. Karl Kautsky offered a much more extravagant estimate that 204 annual holidays were celebrated in medieval Lower Bavaria.

Then again, I wondered if they were using the term feudalism in the same way I do. When I first began to hear about Trump as a “neo-fascist,” I stubbornly insisted on using the term fascism in a strict sense. I didn’t find him that different from past American presidents, including F.D.R. who threw Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in defiance of constitutional guarantees to citizens.

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Global Warming is Nuclear War

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:03 pm

By Manuel Garcia Jr.

The average global surface temperature rose by 1°C during the 110 years between 1910 and 2020.

During the 50 years between 1910 and 1960, the average global temperature rose by 0.25°C, an average rate-of-increase of 0.005°C/year. Another 0.25°C of biosphere heating occurred during the 25 years between 1960 and 1985, a rate-of-rise of 0.010°C/year. During the 20 year span between 1985 and 2005 another 0.25°C of temperature was added, a rate-of-rise of 0.0125°C/year. During the 15 year span from 2005 to 2020 another 0.25°C of temperature rise occurred, with an average rate-of-rise of 0.0167°C/year.

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May 27, 2020

Was Keynes a socialist?

Filed under: economics — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm

John Maynard Keynes

The latest issue of Catalyst, a journal that is published by Bhaskar Sunkara and edited by Vivek Chibber, has an article by economics professor Gary Mongiovi titled “Was Keynes a Socialist?” It is a gushing review of “Keynes Against Capitalism: His Economic Case for Liberal Socialism”, a new book by James Crotty. Crotty, a 79-year old economics professor emeritus, is a post-Keynesian just like Mongiovi. Among the left professorate, post-Keynesianism is a way of being on the left but not too far left. It puts you in the same camp as the staff of the Jerome Levy Institute at Bard College, a school well-known for its housebroken faculty. At such places, Hyman Minsky is taken in large doses and a smidgen of Karl Marx is thrown in just to add some spice to the stew. After all, you don’t want to go too far with the Marxism stuff in light of Keynes’s take, which is cited by Mongiovi:

Keynes was highly antipathetic toward Marx. He characterized Das Kapital as “an obsolete economic textbook which [is] not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world.” To George Bernard Shaw he wrote in 1934: “My feelings about Das Kapital are the same as my feelings about the Koran. I know that it is historically important and I know that many people, not all of whom are idiots, find it a sort of Rock of Ages and containing inspiration. Yet when I look into it, it is to me inexplicable that it can have this effect. Its dreary, out-of-date, academic controversialising seems so extraordinarily unsuitable as material for the purpose.”

Interesting that Keynes would confide in Shaw. Both of them were members of the Fabian Society, a reformist gathering of intellectuals that was sort of the equivalent of the Jacobin editorial board in the 1930s. Despite their disavowal of revolutionary politics, they absolutely doted on Joseph Stalin, whose show trials and mass executions Shaw defended:

But the top of the ladder is a very trying place for old revolutionists who have had no administrative experience, who have had no financial experience, who have been trained as penniless hunted fugitives with Karl Marx on the brain and not as statesmen. They often have to be pushed off the ladder with a rope around their necks.

Keep in mind that admiration for Stalin’s ruthlessness was widespread among the intellectual elite in the 1930s. The NY Times’s Walter Duranty defended the show trials, as well. To his credit, Keynes never fell into this trap. He called Stalin “terrifying” and guilty of eliminating every critical mind in the USSR.

That being said, Keynes never believed in the power of ordinary working people to control their own fate. Like the rest of the Fabians, he saw socialism as a project to be carried out by a modern version of Plato’s philosopher-kings who would administer a mixed-economy state. In the 1930s, the closest anything came to this ideal was the New Deal and Sweden’s social democracy, two of the Sandernista models. In a shrewd analysis of Crotty’s book, Michael Roberts identified the elitist bent:

As Crotty puts it, Keynes’ central point was that the emerging importance of the system of public and semipublic corporations and associations combined with the evolution of collusive oligopolistic relations in the private sector already provided the foundation for a qualitative increase in state control of the economy.  Crotty concludes “Keynes was unabashedly corporatist.”  Indeed – I would add that his concept of corporatism was not dissimilar to that actually being implemented in fascist Germany and Italy at the time.

And who was to run this corporate capitalist/socialist state?  According to Keynes’ biographer, Robert Skidelsky, it would be “an interconnected elite of business managers, bankers, civil servants, economists and scientists, all trained at Oxford and Cambridge and imbued with a public service ethic, would come to run these organs of state, whether private or public, and make them hum to the same tune.”

It is beyond the scope of this article to offer a critique of John Maynard Keynes or James Crotty’s new book. Given all the projects I have taken on, it would not be worth my time or that of my readers. Instead, I want to hone in on Mongiovi’s review as another indication of Sunkara and Chibber’s slow but inexorable retreat from Marxism. By implicitly endorsing Keynes’s doctrines that Mongiovi describes in the subheading of his article as “indeed more radical than commonly thought” and of “considerable relevance for the Left today”, they are repositioning themselves as Brooklyn hipster versions of Dissent magazine.

At the start of his review, Mongiovi recapitulates what most of us, including me, think of Keynes. He cites Lawrence Klein, an early champion of Keynesian economics and a future Nobel laureate: “Marx analyzed the reasons why the capitalist system did not and could not function properly, while Keynes analyzed the reasons why the capitalist system did not but could function properly. Keynes wanted to apologize and preserve, while Marx wanted to criticize and destroy.”

Apparently, Crotty’s book is a corrective to this false characterization. Instead, Keynes “Keynes was building a case to replace it [capitalism] with a form of democratic socialism in which most large-scale capital investment spending would be undertaken by the state or by quasi-public entities.” All this would unfold in a “gradual transition, through a process of trial and error, to a planned economy.” This sounds pretty much like how Jacobin described a Sanders presidency, doesn’t it?

Perhaps realizing that the grounds for calling Keynes a socialist are tissue-thin, Mongiovi takes the tack that labels are not that important:

I doubt that there is much to be gained by trying to pin a label like “liberal” or “socialist” onto Keynes — he was too exuberant a thinker to be put into a box. And inasmuch as these particular labels can mean vastly different things to different people, the exercise is doubly futile.

But these sorts of labels are used to describe an ideology, something that can be extremely difficult to pin down. Instead, it is more important to define socialist in terms of a criterion that can be applied to a state like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. This is a function of examining who owns what. Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to come to such a decision when the data itself is in transition, like Cuba in 1960 or Yugoslavia in Tito’s early years. Frankly, it matters little to me whether you want to call Keynes a liberal or a socialist. I am far more interested in what positions he takes on a particular capitalist state itself.

For Mongiovi and Crotty, Keynes was on the left. “He was not mainly preoccupied with taming the business cycle: his ultimate objective was to bring about a radical transformation of our economic system.” So, what does such a radical transformation entail? Mongiovi attempts to answer that question in a section titled “Keynes as a Theorist of Structural Change”.

After making the case that Keynes, like Marx, saw capitalist crisis as rooted in its own contradictions, Mongiovi—speaking for Crotty—refers to the measures Keynes saw as moving toward socialism:

Since the effective demand problem was fundamentally structural, Keynes advocated a structural solution: a permanent expansion of the state. The idea was that a mechanism needed to be put in place to provide a permanent stimulus to the economy. Crotty describes at considerable length Keynes’s proposal to expand public control over investment. The central institution Keynes envisioned for this function was a Board of National Investment, an idea he first put forward in the late 1920s when he helped to draft a Liberal Party report on Britain’s Industrial Future. He pushed for such a board again in the early 1930s when he served on the famous Macmillan Committee to formulate a response to the problems confronting the British economy. Crotty describes the proposed role of the board as “very ambitious indeed — to help recreate long-term boom conditions similar in vigor to those of the nineteenth century through public investment planning. This definitely was not a short-term government stimulus program designed to ‘kick-start’ a temporarily sluggish economy and then let free enterprise take over.” One significant achievement of Crotty’s book is its demonstration beyond a doubt that Keynes’s overarching objective was to make a case for a program of national economic planning. Crotty marshals all of the available evidence and sets it out in an exceedingly clear way.

What’s entirely missing from Mongiovi’s review, and presumably in Crotty’s book, is any engagement with the class struggle. This paragraph is riddled with class-neutral terms. For example, take the “permanent expansion of the state.” If this in itself was a positive good, you might ask whether there was much difference between the New Deal and the corporatist state of fascism. Indeed, Michael Roberts pointedly refers to Crotty’s admission that “Keynes was unabashedly corporatist.”

Lynn Turgeon, the heterodox economist who died in 1999, saw corporatism as a system that was not inherently progressive. Influenced by Paul Sweezey and a frequent contributor to MR, he argued that FDR’s Keynesianism and Nazi economics had something in common, namely strong state intervention, especially using a military build-up to offset the Great Depression:

Some wag has defined an economist as someone who has seen something work in practice and then proceeds to make it work in theory. In some respects, this may have applied to Keynes, who was certainly aware of the tremendous economic miracle of Adolf Hitler in reducing unemployment from over 30 percent when he took office in 1933 to 1 percent by 1936, the year in which the German edition of the General Theory appeared. In his special introduction to the German edition, Keynes recognized how “thirsty” the Germans must be for his “general theory,” which would also apply to “national socialism.”

(From “Bastard Keynesianism: The Evolution of Economic Thinking and Policymaking Since WWII”)

Is it possible that beneath the rah-rah attitude of the Democratic Party left toward a Green New Deal, there’s not much beyond the kind of formulas encapsulated in Mongiovi’s paragraph above? All this salivating over government boards has little to do with the socialism I’ve defended since 1967. On Biden’s website, there is this:

Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.

At the risk of sounding like an anarchist, isn’t it time to stop dwelling on how the state can be expanded into a beneficent agent of economic and ecological change? Why not figure out how to smash the fucking state that will continue to kill us, if it remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie?

There’s a cognitive dissonance in the latest Catalyst. Probably sent to the press before the pandemic kicked in, it smacks of the Fabian habits of the social democratic left and light-years away from our grim pandemic and economic free-fall realities. The sclerotic and stultifying Dissent magazine of the 1960s and 70s being the prime example. It would be a shame if Sunkara and Chibber continue traveling down this road but we can compensate for this by getting our shit together as we used to put it in the 1960s.

May 26, 2020

Dinner Party, Becky: Grindhouse masterpieces on virtual cinema

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:20 pm

Although the two films under consideration here are obviously not political, I am taking the trouble to review them out of solidarity with an industry that is on the ropes, just like restaurants, health clubs and beauty salons. Since the movie industry is so gargantuan, you might ask why I am bothering. It is because the two films are very smart, indie films that probably cost $5 million each to make. Originally intended for theatrical release, they are part of the “virtual cinema” offerings I am covering until the pandemic winds down.

Just by coincidence, “Dinner Party” and “Becky” share the same type of main character, a female seeking revenge. In “Dinner Party”, it is the wife of a playwright seeking funding for a Broadway production from super-wealthy people living in a mansion in the countryside. Little did the couple realize that they were going to be victims of a cannibalistic ritual performed by a devil-worshipping cult. After her husband’s head has been chopped off, she takes matters into her own hands. In “Becky”, it is a 13-year old girl who takes on a quartet of neo-Nazi escaped prisoners who have already killer her father. To put it succinctly, it is similar plot-wise to “Home Alone” but with gory attacks mounted by the heroine rather than childish pranks by Macaulay Culkin. Both films had my wife and I floating on air after they were done. We both love leftist politics and horror movies, so there.

Despite being a grindhouse special, “Dinner Party” incorporates some commentary on class distinctions. The five hosts are all terrible snobs, looking down on the couple they are planning to eat. Behind their backs, they make snide comments about the wine they brought as a dinner gift. They probably only spent $12 on it, one of them says sneeringly. That happens to be the ceiling on what I spend on wine so I was looking forward to see them get their comeuppance.

Although the playwright has his own character flaws, including a patriarchal attitude toward his wife, he was a lesser evil to the hosts. Even if they weren’t homicidal, cannibalistic devil-worshippers, they were the biggest snobs I’ve ever seen in a film. I couldn’t help but remembering back to a great French film called “Ridicule” whose hero was a modest landowner and farmer who goes to Versailles to get approval for draining a swamp. He is advised that the only way to get close to the king is to attend dinner parties where the invitees challenge each other vying for the best put-down. He is humiliated for weeks until he develops the verbal skills to triumph. The film ends in the midst of the French revolution with him pissing on one of the aristocrats who humiliated him. In “Dinner Party”, the revenge is served up hot rather than cold.

To give them some credit, the hosts are very cultured even if steeped in a decadent culture at that. At the dinner table, the two guests are lectured on opera by one of the hosts, a real expert who regales them with expositions of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” and Bela Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”. That’s something you don’t see very often in a grindhouse films but what might be expected from director Miles Doleac who holds a PhD in Ancient history from Tulane University. His dissertation was on Pope Gregory I’s role “in developing permanent ecclesiastical institutions under the authority of the Bishop of Rome to feed and serve the poor.” I bet Quentin Tarantino couldn’t have done that.

Doleac began making movies in 2014, most of them horror films like “Dinner Party” and often including him as an actor. In “Dinner Party”, he plays Vincent, a British snob that is the most obnoxious of all the hosts. Doleac has also acted in FX’s marvelous American Horror Stories, a series my wife and I dote on.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot except to say that the playwright’s wife is able to deal with the hosts effectively only after being given super-powers by one among them whose ancestry goes back to the snake in the Garden of Eden. If you are looking for mindful entertainment in these terrible times, the publicist advised that “The Dinner Party” will hit theaters June 5 (doubtful, IMHO) and as VOD” from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Fandango Now, Xbox, Dish Network, Direct TV and through local cable providers.

“Becky” was scheduled to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2020, but the festival was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It opens in theaters, drive-ins, on demand and digital starting June 5, 2020.

It stars the 14-year Lulu Wilson in the titular role, a veteran of 22 TV and movie appearances, her first as Louis CK’s daughter, a horror show in itself.

The film begins with her going with her recently widowed father to his country house, where the two will spend “together time”. Not long after she arrives, she is shocked to see that his new girlfriend and her young son will arrive soon in order to get her used to the idea that they are engaged.

When she hears the news at dinner, she denounces her father and his bride-to-be and storms off to a playhouse about a hundred feet away and out of view from their country home. Inside the playhouse, she throws a major tantrum, giving you a feel for the pent-up anger her character harbors.

In a little while, the house is invaded by four, merciless neo-Nazi escaped prisoners who have come to the house to retrieve a key hidden in the basement by their leader Dominick who has a very large swastika tattooed on the back of his bald head. He is played against type by Kevin James, who played a UPS-type driver in Queens in the situation comedy “The King of Queens”. He is great at reprising the kind of role Joe Pesci played in “Home Alone”, except not for laughs. His character is terrifying.

After he and one of his lieutenants torture and then kill Becky’s father, she is ordered to give them the key she had discovered in the basement in order to prevent his girlfriend and her son from being killed as well. By this point, her anger has not only reached a boiling point but spilt over like molten lava. As she approaches the heavily muscled neo-Nazi murderer who towers over her, she grabs the key out of her pocket and stabs him in the eye with it. Later, he and his henchman go back to the house where they use a kitchen shear to detach it from the socket. Like “Dinner Party”, the violent attacks are beautifully orchestrated.

Horrified by the world we are living in? Then immerse yourself in “Dinner Party” and “Becky”. They will take your mind off these miseries as they did for my wife and I.



May 25, 2020

Dariush Mehrjui’s “The Cow”, the film that launched the Iranian New Wave

Filed under: Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

About a month ago, Shalon Van Tine, the young and brilliant Marxist film critic that joined me in an interview by Eric Draitser, messaged me on FB: “I had a lot of fun talking to you on the podcast today! Since you like Iranian cinema, have you ever seen The Cow? I absolutely love that one.” I messaged her back: “Never saw ‘The Cow’ but am familiar with its importance. Loved doing the show with you, btw. Our tastes are very similar.”

About a week ago, I decided to see if the film was available as VOD. Not only was it available, it was just one of a vast library of Iranian films, many with subtitles like “The Cow”, that are archived on the IMVBox website. It is entirely free without subtitles and only $2.49 with. There are 323 films with English subtitles, including “The Cow”. For anybody with the least bit of interest in one of the world’s great filmmaking industries, IMVBox is indispensable.

Made in 1969, “The Cow” (Gaav, in Persian) was like the ship that launched a thousand new wave films in Iran. Well, maybe not a thousand but certainly a hundred. Directed by Dariush Mehrjui and based on a screenplay by his good friend Gholam-Hossein Saedi, it is set in an impoverished farming town in southern Iran. It is so poor that Masht Hassan (Ezzatolah Entezami) is considered wealthy because he owns just one cow. It is not even clear if the cow is productive in the conventional sense because we never see Hassan milking her. She is much more of a pet that he dotes on. When he feeds her hay in the barn (more of a shed, really), he always puts some straw in his mouth to encourage her. It is almost as if he is worshipping the cow like a Hindu.

Perhaps, Mehrjui had the films of Satyajit Ray in the back of his mind since “The Cow” evokes the Apu Trilogy. As is the case with Ray, Mehrjui refuses to idealize rural life. At the start of the film, we see children hazing the village idiot with none of the elders chiding them. It is only when the most respected of them, a man named Islam, steps in that they back off.

When Hassan goes off for some business in a nearby town for a couple of days, the villagers are shocked to see in his absence that the cow has died unexpectedly, with a pool of blood close to her mouth. Dreading the impact this would have on him, they bury her and agree on telling him a story about her running off when he returns. No matter how many of them reassure him that this is what took place, he simply refuses to believe them. She had no reason to run off, he insists. Like someone in mourning, he retreats to the barn and sits inconsolably next to her stall. After a day or so, he snaps psychologically and assumes her identity, even to the point of consuming straw this time for real. It is up to Islam and two other villagers to seek help for him. They tie a rope around his waist, as if he were a farm animal, and begin on a long trek to the closest city where they hope to find a mental hospital to take him in.

I should add that although Mehrjui is often viewed as a disciple of Satyajit Ray or the Italian neo-realists, there is one scene toward the end of the film that reminds me of the very end of Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal”, at least visually. It is a long shot of the three villagers hauling Hassan by a rope toward the city, like Death leading Bergman’s characters off in the distance in a macabre dance. Bergman is on top, Mehrjul below:

Although funded by the Shah’s film company, he refused to allow it to be seen abroad since it went against the grain of his “modernization” posturing. After the Shah was overthrown, Ayatollah Khomeini gave the film his blessing, thus allowing this first seed of the new wave to grown into many new flowers.

If you are familiar with the work of either Abbas Kiarostami or Jafar Panahi, you will recognize the similarity immediately. Like Mehrjui, they made films on location in remote rural villages with nonprofessional actors. However, for key roles such as Hassan and Islam, Mehrjui chose professionals with distinguished careers. Ezzatolah Entezami, who played Hassan, would have had 56 credits as an actor when he died in 2018 at the age of 94. “The Cow” might have been in his first film but he began as a stage actor in 1941.

In addition to being tuned into Western culture as director and writer, Mehrjui and Saedi were the Iranian counterparts of the 60s radical movement, with hopes that they could put an end to the monarchy alongside the political radicals.

As for Western culture, Mehrjui was less than impressed with the UCLA film school where he enrolled back in 1959. He dropped out and began learning how to make films on his own. His take on UCLA was most astute: “They wouldn’t teach you anything very significant… because the teachers were the kind of people who had not been able to make it in Hollywood themselves… [and would] bring the rotten atmosphere of Hollywood to the class and impose it on us.”

Like many of the movement activists, Mehrjui initially welcomed the “anti-imperialist” Ayatollah Khomeini, who was much more supportive of “The Cow” than the deposed monarch. It didn’t take him long to figure out that Khomeini was about to impose clerical rules on the film industry. In 1981, he went into exile in Paris but returned to Iran four years later after deciding that he could still make films with integrity in Iran where clerics ruled—unlike Hollywood, where the dollar ruled.

Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi was much more of a revolutionary than Mehrjui and paid for it dearly. Wikipedia reports that in 1953, after Mohammad Mosaddeq was toppled, he and his younger brother were arrested and imprisoned at Shahrbani Prison in Tabriz. As members of the Tudeh party, they were prime suspects of “subversion”. He got in trouble again as the editor of Alefba, a literary magazine with fearless political independence, when he was arrested in 1974 and then tortured by SAVAK, the Shah’s version of Bashar al-Assad’s Mukhabarat. Once Khomeini came to power, Sa’edi continued to be a defender of political freedom and working-class power, but in exile. In 1985, when he was living in exile in Paris, he suffered severe depression over his political disappointments and became an alcoholic, dying of cirrhosis in 1985.

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