Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 2, 2017

5 millionth hit for the Unrepentant Marxist blog

Filed under: Marxist literature — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

me as chaplain

Sometime yesterday I got the 5 millionth “hit” on my blog according to the page view widget displayed over to the right. A page view is defined by each page that is accessed by a visitor. The other key statistic is unique visitor. For example, I have had 807 page views so far and 495 unique visitors today. Generally, I get around a thousand page views a day and up to 2,000 on a good day. Since my first blog post was on July 1, 2004, the 5 million total sounds right.

The most page views for any post cumulatively was 62,991 for one on Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and the perils of success  while the runner-up was 27,292 for Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

That first post was titled Reply to a Realo and took up the betrayal of the Demogreens:

In his ongoing capacity as chief ideologist of the Demogreen/Realo faction of the US Green Party, Ted Glick has an article on the Zmag website that talks about every aspect of the recently concluded Green Party convention except the politics. I will try to draw this out with bracketed comments on selected passages from his piece.

Thirteen years have passed and not much has changed apparently when it comes to the Green Party. Sigh.

When I first began writing longish posts on the Internet and maintaining an archive of them on my Columbia University website, I used to get invitations to contribute to leftist academic journals like “Capitalism, Nature and Socialism” or “Science and Society”. After running into some static from fickle editors, I decided to decline any such invitations in the future. The nice part of blogging is that you never receive a rejection notice. I learned long ago that it is best for me to write for myself and those foolish enough to take me seriously.

Shortly before I retired I was approached by the head of Verso Press in Brooklyn about writing a book about the American presidents written for a popular audience. Fortunately for me, he did not care for something I sent him about JFK that I had already written years earlier. What would be the point of spending two years doing nothing but researching and writing a 250 page book that would be remaindered in a year or so and that would pay me $5000 if I was lucky? I don’t need the money and much prefer to interact with my readers, something that is impossible when you are print-bound.

Since July 1, 2004, I have written 3,796 articles for my blog, averaging about 1,500 words. Since a 200-page book might contain 100,000 words typically, my output is somewhere in the vicinity of 50 books. All of it is probably unpublishable but who gives a shit? My goal has never been to enter the ranks of the literati and get invited to cocktail parties but to influence the left.

According to Alexa, I am rated 407,927 globally and 116,540 in the USA. For comparison’s sake, ZNet ranks 279,482 and 94,292 respectively. In terms of comparison with Marxist bloggers, I am not sure where to start. Part of the problem is that there are very few Marxist bloggers in the USA nowadays. When I began, there were dozens but most faded away. Of course, all the sects maintain websites but they are largely replacements for a newspaper. Socialist Alternative’s numbers are 375,486 and 93,966 while the ISO ranks 2,409,697 and 714,615. Somehow the ISO’s figures don’t sound right but who knows?

Although I am on FB and Twitter, I don’t really use them for serious debate or discussion. Mostly FB is for crossposting various articles, including my own. Twitter is strictly for crossposting my blog articles since I regard it as a septic tank by and large.

I started Marxmail on May 1, 1998 and that is my primary emphasis in terms of engaging with Marxists. Currently there are 1,535 subscribers and I would guess that about another 5,000 or so people read the archives each day. My blog has recorded 1,104,852 unique visitors since 2004. I imagine that only maybe 10 percent of them represent committed Marxists. That being the case, the effort has been worth it.

I’ll check back with you after 10,000,000 hits.

August 1, 2017

The Western Left and the Russian Revolution: a reply to Diana Johnstone

Filed under: human rights,Stalinism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 8:55 pm

Yesterday an article by Diana Johnstone titled “The Western Left and the Russian Revolution” became available on the Monthly Review website. It was part of the magazine’s special issue on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. At one time I was great admirer of Johnstone for what I considered to be her keen insights into the Balkan wars but grew disaffected by her support for Russian intervention in Ukraine and Syria. I grew even more disaffected when she published an article in CounterPunch that defended Marine Le Pen’s “sovereignism”—ie, French nationalism—on the basis of these lofty words: “Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion.” What would you expect someone running for president to say? That they don’t deserve equal treatment?

To give credit to CounterPunch, they had no problems publishing an article by Gregory Barrett last Friday that applauded articles denouncing Green Party figure Caitlan Johnstone for urging a left-right alliance but also questioned why the other Johnstone got a pass. “I despise nationalism as much as I despise neoliberalism. But if anyone at CP has ever attacked Diana Johnstone for her position on the French election, or piled on those writers on the Left who believe that nationalism is where the anti-neoliberal action is at the moment, then I must have missed it.”

In the 25 years or so that I have been reading the 83-year old author’s articles in places as varied as In These Times and the New Left Review, I can’t remember her ever addressing what I call “the Russian question”, one that I define as off-limits to Marxmail. Nothing gets flame wars going faster than “what happened in the USSR?”, not that a print publication like Monthly Review really has to worry about such matters.

Speaking only for myself, I would never dream of drawing up a balance sheet on the Western left and the USSR in 3500 words. It opens you up to all sorts of reductionism that fly off the page in her very first paragraph

Lenin predicted that revolution in Russia would trigger communist revolution in Germany, which would spread from there throughout the Western industrialized world. This was the Bolshevik leader’s major error of appreciation. In reality, the Bolshevik Revolution marked the start of a century of counterrevolution in the West.

Johnstone should have said that the Russian revolution failed to trigger a successful communist revolution in Germany. To really understand what happened in Germany, you need to read Pierre Broué’s 980-page “The German Revolution, 1917-1923” that can be read on Libcom. While I am not in Broué’s league by any stretch of the imagination, it took me more than twice the amount of words in Johnstone’s entire article to explain why the German revolution failed.

In the next paragraph, her confusion deepens. She said that the Bolsheviks erred in conceptualizing the proletarian revolution as one that ends up with one class (the workers) overthrowing the old ruling class (the bourgeoisie) after the fashion of the bourgeois revolution overthrowing the feudal aristocracy. In attempting to clarify this, she once again compresses decades of history into a sentence or two: “The classic model was the bourgeois revolution that overthrew the nobility. This comparison was wishful thinking, if only because the so-called bourgeoisie throughout civilized history had always been a partner in the ruling class.” I suppose that this is a reference to revisionist historians like François Furet who argue that the revolution was led by aristocrats rather than capitalists but if so, it probably deserved a few words of clarification.

In any case, this leads her to make her next point: “Despite the momentary success of the soviets (councils), power was never seized by the proletariat, but by intellectuals acting in its name, mobilizing the working class to achieve rapid industrialization.” Once again we see the reductionism at work. In fact, Marxism has always had leaders who could be described as “intellectuals”, starting with Karl Marx and going down the line to John Bellamy Foster. The German socialists developed the idea of a vanguard party that would be necessary since workers on their own have difficulty transcending trade union consciousness. This insight was embraced by V.I. Lenin who put it this way in “What is to be Done”:

We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.

Certainly Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff would have understood such elementary points.

After sections on the conservative and fascist efforts to overthrow the USSR, Johnstone turns naturally enough to Trotskyism—a tendency that she clearly reviles, just as does her writing partner Jean Bricmont. Most people would regard her efforts to sum up the Stalin-Trotsky debate in 189 words as sheer folly but let’s at least try to extract some sense out of her arguments that likely reflect her strong orientation to the “axis of resistance” today. She writes:

In retrospect, one may say that both Stalin and Trotsky were wrong as to what was possible, but Stalin was, in his brutal way, the more realistic of the two. Despite their relative ideological conservatism, the Stalinist parties of the Third International had more success abroad than their Trotskyist rivals, both in promoting national liberation struggles in the third world and in winning social benefits in the West.

What’s missing from her comparison is any appreciation of the role of state power. Pro-Moscow CP’s could have much more “success” because they were able to leverage their connection to the Kremlin in a way that small propaganda groups could never do. For example, when I was on a consulting trip to the ANC in Zambia in 1990, nearly everybody I spoke to had been to a university in Moscow, all expenses paid. The ANC and the SACP were organically linked and had the allegiance of millions. How could a small Trotskyist group in South Africa ever compete with such “facts on the ground”? By the same token, it was this bloc of parties that failed to carry the revolution forward—stuck as they were in the “popular front” strategies that amounted to elevating a section of the Black population into the top ranks of the bourgeoisie while the poor were left behind in a state of economic apartheid.

The only other point worth making is that both Stalinism and Trotskyism are spent forces. Trotskyism was mainly a negative critique of Stalinism and once it disappeared, Trotskyism failed to capitalize on its absence. It was born as a sect and died as a sect, always making the “correct” analysis but failing to sink roots into the mass movement. Something else is needed and to some extent Monthly Review has been helpful by spreading ecosocialist ideas. It is unfortunate that they would consider Diana Johnstone’s article to be relevant to the class struggle today.

In the section headed “The ‘Failed Revolution’ Narrative”, Johnstone continues to beat “Trotskyism” about the head and shoulders. She is outraged that “The Trotskyist stance, criticizing the revolution for not being revolutionary enough, provided a radical leftist basis for the human rights ideology that has become a quasi-religion in the West”. Such ultraleftism supposedly led a section of the French ’68 “revolutionaries” to make a  stink about the Vietnamese “boat people”, thus serving to facilitate their successful careers in the media and academia, where they spread their disillusionment toward the revolutions they had once celebrated.

This is obviously a reference to the New Philosophers such as Alain Glucksmann who was indeed a major figure in publicizing the plight of the “boat people”. However, he had nothing to do with Trotskyism. Instead, he started off as a Maoist as did Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau. All this is detailed in an article titled “Isle of Light: A Look Back at the Boat People and the European Left” by Vo Van Ai, a Vietnamese poet who worked closely with such people. He writes:

In the cafe that evening in 1978, a Vietnamese friend of mine and I argued that the people on the Hai Hong were not economic refugees, but people seeking freedom from totalitarianism, and that this exodus was unprecedented. Throughout our four-thousand-year history, even in the worst times of famine or war, we Vietnamese had never left the land of our ancestors. But now the boat people were voting with their feet in order to survive.

Among our group were Claudie and Jacques Broyelle, sinologists and former Maoists who had just returned from China, deeply disillusioned with the evolution of the Chinese regime; Alain Geismar, former leader of the 1968 student “revolution” that rocked the de Gaulle government in France; and André Glucksmann, a writer and acclaimed “new philosopher.” These friends were all passionate idealists, all from far left-wing backgrounds, but all with no illusions about life under communist regimes. Their decision was rapid and unanimous. We had to do something to save the boat people.

Continuing along with her five minutes of hate against Trotskyism, she takes on those whose “hostility toward Stalinism reached fever pitch in reaction to mistreatment of Jews in the Soviet Union, after their revolutionary ideal had shifted to Israel.” These were people who wanted the USA to punish the USSR for restricting educated Jewish emigration to Israel and in the process transformed themselves into “neoconservatives”. I have no idea who she is talking about. The neoconservatives who became ardent supporters of the Reagan administration had abandoned their youthful radical ideas long before people like Natan Sharansky became a thorn in the Kremlin’s side. Irving Kristol, for example, had begun writing for the anti-Communist Commentary magazine in 1947—that’s decades before Russian-Jewish immigration to Israel became an issue.

Toward the end of Johnstone’s dreary article, she takes potshots at groups like Human Rights Watch, which do in fact tend to reflect State Department perspectives, especially in places like Venezuela and Cuba. Demonstrating her nostalgia for the good old days when the USSR provided housing, education and healthcare to the masses even if you could be sent to prison for ten years for complaining about the secret police, she blames human rights advocates for diverting the left from pursuing economic equality. She adds that any social revolution will violate the established “rights” of the dominant classes, and thus human rights is a permanently counterrevolutionary doctrine.

Call me an unreconstructed Trotskyist but I believe that the defense of human rights is essential for the left. I am particularly appalled by governments that bomb hospitals and wholeheartedly support a universal standard of human rights in which such acts must be regarded as a war crime.

One such group that is involved in providing urgently needed care to hospital patients in war-torn regions is Doctors without Borders that was founded in 1971 by French doctors who had served in Biafra. Among the founders was Bernard Kouchner, a former member of the Communist Party who would fit Johnstone’s profile as an imperialist stooge for his support for Kosovo in the war in Yugoslavia and even for Bush’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein. So do we automatically characterize Doctors without Borders as the enemy?

Things get complicated.

On August 15, 2016, Saudi jets bombed a Yemeni hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders that left 11 people dead and 19 injured. Among the people who were outraged by this attack was Assadist propagandist Ben Norton who wrote about such brutality in Salon (before he was fired for unspecified reasons):

Doctors Without Borders said six hospitals it supports in Yemen treated more than 400 wounded Yemenis after the attack. Four hospitals operated by Doctors Without Borders in Yemen have been bombed by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition.

Meanwhile, his writing partner Max Blumenthal virtually gives Assad the green light to bomb hospitals in rebel-controlled Idlib province.

Let me conclude with what I stated in the final paragraph of a CounterPunch survey on the films of Andrzej Wajda, a director who would be vilified as an anti-Communist defender of human rights by Johnstone:

Unless the left begins to support a universal standard of human rights irrespective of geopolitical considerations, it will not be capable of providing the leadership for a new world order based on the abolition of class society and its replacement by one that respects each human being as having inviolable rights including the right to live securely and in dignity. Whatever Andrzej Wadja’s ideological flaws, his films are a cri de coeur for the rights of the Polish people. Viewed as untermenschen by the Nazis and the butt of racist “Polish jokes” in the 1960s, Wajda’s films are a necessary corrective as well as some of the greatest filmmaking of the past half-century.

US vs Free Syrian Army vs Jabhat al-Nusra (and ISIS): History of a hidden three-way conflict

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:23 pm

Source: US vs Free Syrian Army vs Jabhat al-Nusra (and ISIS): History of a hidden three-way conflict

July 31, 2017

This is what American fascism looks like: the Lyndon LaRouche story (part one)

Filed under: Fascism,LaRouche — louisproyect @ 7:20 pm

(From Dennis King’s website)

The other day I ran into a tall African-American man in his early 30s in front of the Lexington Avenue subway stop on 86th Street wearing a sandwich board with words to the effect of “Stop the attack on Donald Trump”. He was passing out a one-page broadsheet titled “The Hamiltonian” that reeked of Larouche’s fascist cult. As I stopped to take one from him, I informed him that I had just read a book about his movement. “What was that?”, he asked. I responded, “Dennis King’s”. He frowned and told me that he King is crazy and sells drugs.

The lead article in the broadsheet was titled “Russia-Gate Exposed as Total Fraud” and could have been written by Max Blumenthal who made identical points on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Among Trump’s fiercest defenders against Russia-Gate were ultrarightists like Carlson but also that section of the left that looked to the Kremlin for its talking points: Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton, Robert Parry, Stephen F. Cohen, Ray McGovern, et al. If you search the LarouchePAC website for occurrences of “Sarin gas”, you will find the same sorts of articles that appeared on the left describing the Sarin gas attack on East Ghouta  as a “false flag”, including one dated April 7, 2014 that is headlined “Seymour Hersh Exposes Obama’s Red Line And Rat Line”.

Indeed, the article begins by citing the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) leader Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA agent who like Hersh and Theodore Postol was an “expert” that could be relied upon to clear Assad’s name. Ray McGovern has also been interviewed by the LaRouchites to prove that Russia did not interfere with the American elections. Maybe McGovern was in on the meetings that the LaRouchites used to have with CIA agents in the 80s and retains fond memories of these Jew-baiting, racist pigs.

In May, I began reading Dennis King’s Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism after slowly coming to the realization that his movement was the most powerful fascist movement ever seen in the USA, including those that existed in the 1930s. Next to what he had “accomplished”, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos were inconsequential.

There are obviously theoretical questions about whether the Ku Klux Klan was fascist but it could certainly be said that LaRouche was much closer to “classical” fascism as understood by Leon Trotsky. Of course, the irony is that LaRouche spent 20 years in the Socialist Workers Party, a group that I belonged to as well and one considered by Trotsky to be the flagship of his ill-conceived Fourth International.

My intention originally was to view LaRouchism as a historical movement that was past its prime, especially in light of the time-frame of King’s book that ends nearly 30 years ago. But in the course of posting snippets of King’s book to Facebook and Marxmail, I received an email that put the article referred to above in context:

So I’ve come across the Larouchies several times while covering the Syrian conflict. While the Larouche organization itself is persona non grata in mainstream political circles, there are several Larouchie and ex-Larouchie organizations and individuals who are very active on the “alt right” and the Assadist pro-Putin “alt left.” There is a lot of spillover with Russia Today as well. it’s notable that during the 2011 Tahrir Square protests Russia Today featured Lyndon LaRouche himself as an expert on the events. Many Larouche affiliated organizations seem to enjoy very active relationships with authoritarian regimes, an alliance that has become more useful to these governments after the Arab Spring created the need for a fresh crop of conspiracy theories to justify remaining in power.

Syrian UN ambassador recently spoke at a Schiller Institute event a few months ago and he appeared very familiar with the individuals and the organization. The Virginia State senator Richard Black, who has raised red flags with his repeated contacts with the Assad regime, including a visit during which he posed in the cockpit of a Syrian government fighter Jet, has been a go to commentator on Syria for the LarochePAC YouTube channel. In a shockingly bizarre incident earlier this year, The Schiller Institute Chorus sang the Russian National Anthem after somehow duping local law enforcement into holding a ceremony with Russian diplomats after the crash of a Tu-154 crash that killed the Red Army Choir. It’s very noteworthy that the ceremony treats the incident as a terrorist attack and tries to draw a parallel to the 9-11 attacks even though the official Russian position is that this incident was an accident.

The Larouche organization has been involved in sending solidarity delegations to Damascus as well as El Sisi’s Egypt for some time and they are somehow involved in a project called “the new silk road“. I’m not sure what relationship this has to the Chinese economic initiative that India snubbed a few days ago but as far as I can tell there is a connection. LaRouchie protestors have showed up to events with signs that say things like “please join China and Mr. Xi on the new silk road.” Indeed Larouche delegations have been sent to Egypt and Syria with the explicit purpose of pushing this concept. This YouTube video from LarouchePAC from last week, hypes the Chinese conference. Apparently Larouche has been devoting a ridiculous amount of resources to promoting an obscure Chinese economic initiative for several years now. I think there is really something to this story because the LaRouche organization has been pushing for a “New Silk Road” for at least 3 years. Here is a video from 3 years ago of LaRouche talking about this were he mentions the Chinese leadership.

Trolls and Dupes

Navsteva

Scott Gaulke is a Wisconsin-based LaRouche follower who has developed quite a reputation for trolling and stalking under his online personality “Navsteva.” At one point Gaulke claimed to have visited Damascus but presented images that were taken by Ulf Sandmark, a Swedish LaRouchie who had visited on a solidarity delegation, which incidentally was named “the new silk road.”

Caleb T Maupin

In this image, Caleb T Maupin, the Russia Today journalist who was described by Trump as his “favorite journalist” can be seen with former Larouche candidate Webster Tarpley, who once notoriously claimed that AIDS was an airborne disease and that AIDS patients should be locked up. Tarpley has also been a fixture of Assadist circles for a while, this 2015 video from a bizarre meet up of Assadists features Tarpley and is absolutely hilarious to watch when the crowd turns on the speakers.

I’m sure if you follow the money there is something going on with the “New Silk Road” talk.

I hope this is useful and let’s stay in touch

It is my intention now to post three articles about LaRouchism, with this one leading off the series. It will cover LaRouche’s political evolution up until the point when he abandoned Marxism in the mid-70s, even of the most aberrant variety. Next I will review the heydays of the movement that coincides with Dennis King’s time-line and that will be based to a considerable degree on his exemplary investigative journalism. Finally, I will cover the period from 1990 to the present day with particular attention paid to the affinities between LaRouche’s movement and the Red-Brown movement coalescing around Vladimir Putin, Breitbart News, Infowars, Alexander Dugin, et al.

Lyndon Hermyle LaRouche, Jr., was born in Rochester, New Hampshire on September 8, 1922. His father was a French-Canadian immigrant and Quaker. After developing an interest in philosophy in high school, he grew to question his parents’ beliefs.

He was drafted into the army in 1944 and send to India where he came in contact with Communists. When he urged them to lead an uprising in Bengal, where the British had caused a famine, they rejected his proposal. This led him to say in a 1974 memoir to become a Trotskyist. Nine years later, after he had become a full-fledged fascist and a presidential candidate, he told a different story. He said that the love of Indians for American capitalism left him gratified.

In January, 1949 Lyndon LaRouche joined the Boston branch of the SWP during the height of the Cold War witch-hunt. He went to work on the assembly line in the GE plant in Lynn as part of the party’s “colonization” of industry, a strategy that was relaunched nearly 30 years later and with the same degree of success: none.

In 1954, LaRouche moved to New York and married a party member named Janice Neuberger that I met at a get-together at Cynthia Cochran’s apartment in 2005. Janice and Cynthia were long-time friends, bonded by their affiliation with the Murray and Myra Tanner Weiss grouping in the party that LaRouche gravitated to as well. It was around this time that he became interested in cybernetics and began a career as a management consultant with the George S. May Company, “often making a thousand dollars a week or more helping corporations reduce labor costs” as reported by King.

In 1965 LaRouche hooked up with Tim Wolforth, the leader of the tiny sect that supported Gerry Healy’s version of the Fourth International. Apparently LaRouche was impressed with the authoritarian and cultish environment of Healy’s sect in England that exercised the kind of bullying mind control over his own membership. He also valued the violence Healy resorted to against those outside his movement, including my friend Ernie Tate.

By 1966, he decided to reorient to the New Left and particularly its largest and most influential group, the Students for a Democratic Society. And within SDS, he oriented to the Progressive Labor faction that was Maoist at the time. He found a small band of followers within PLP organized as the Worker-Student Alliance. A number of the faction were students at Columbia University at the time and found his arcane interpretations of Marxist economics irrestible.

In 1968, there was a student rebellion at Columbia led by SDS. In addition to Mark Rudd, another key leader was Tony Papert, a PLP/SDS member who was a follower of LaRouche. That summer LaRouche gave classes in Marxism at a fraternity house that had been turned into a “liberation school”. By this time Papert, who had been expelled from PLP and become totally committed to LaRouche, launched the SDS Labor Committee that essentially marked the beginnings of LaRouchism as a movement. Like some other SDS Labor Committee members from that period, Papert remains in the movement’s leadership.

After the split in SDS precipitated by the clash between Mark Rudd’s Weatherman faction and the PLP-led Worker Student Alliance, the organization began to leak demoralized members, some of whom were willing to join the National Caucus of Labor Committees founded by Tony Papert. By 1973, the NCLC had 600 hard-core members totally devoted to Lyndon LaRouche who would soon exploit a disciplined and politically experienced cadre as a battering ram against the left.

Was there anything in LaRouche’s Marxist economic theories that could explain his evolution into a supporter of the capitalist system based on a fascist state? To understand this, I strongly recommend the pseudonymous Hieronymous’s article titled “Capitalism and productivism in Lyn Marcus’ dialectical economics”, which is an analysis of LaRouche’s “Dialectical economics:  an introduction to Marxist political economy”, a 481 page tome written in 1970 but only published by a vanity press 5 years later. In the lead paragraph, Hieronymous reduces it to a call for capitalism based on planning—a concept that clearly overlaps with the classic definition of fascism as a kind of corporatist state.

While much of “Dialectical Economics” is a fairly conventional presentation of the basic principles of Marxism, including the falling rate of profit, there are signs that LaRouche was veering off into the kind of techno-optimism that runs through his entire ideological edifice. He writes:

[it] is the wildest presumption imaginable to calculate the space and resources available for human existence solely in terms of the earth. Since there is no possibility that human existence will continue beyond this century without the massive conversion of our technology on the basis of thermonuclear fusion, and since that realization means the most ex- plosive scientific advances in the history of mankind, it is the wildest delusion, a literally pathetic delusion in every respect, to doubt that man will soon be populating the moon and Mars. Entering solar space on the rocket of thermonuclear revolutions in technology, man will — as no responsible specialist doubts — instantly begin to bring the massive energy output of the sun under his control. What lies beyond that may be relative speculation for the moment, but it would be the wildest speculation to imagine that anything less than the most explosive and titanic advances in man’s mastery of the universe are not unfolding for our species once we have safely negotiated the difficulties just ahead.

There are also indications that LaRouche’s prior career as a management consultant prompted him to offer suggestions that would make the capitalist system work better. They include forcing capitalist firms to include “externalities” such as water pollution into the costs of production, something that Hieronymus regards as useless under the capitalist system since it is unenforceable as should be obvious from Trump’s naming Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, an agency he has fought for decades.

He also advocates investment in infrastructure, including urban mass transit, railroad systems, and roads. This must explain his website’s breathless endorsement of the Trump presidency: “And now in the United States, a President has emerged who rejects the Imperial divide of the world, who rejects regime change, and who promotes friendship and collaboration with Russia and China, both to defeat terrorism, and to cooperate in the Belt and Road Initiative to meet the common aims of Mankind.” (The Belt and Road Initiative is a reference to China’s Silk Road economic development project that people like Pepe Escobar regard as benign globalization.)

Back in my days in the Trotskyist movement, I used to hear references frequently to one of the main goals of socialism: overcoming the breach between intellectual and physical labor. This was how Marx put it in Critique of the Gotha Program:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

And this is how Lyndon LaRouche, a 20 year veteran of the Trotskyist movement who moved on to a career as a management consultant before morphing into a dangerous fascist leader, considered the relationship between intellectuals and those who do physical labor according to Hieronymus:

From all this,  one gets the following sense which is difficult to doubt: Resting on this unrelenting development of productive forces, Marcus’ [LaRouche’s “party name”] vision necessarily entails a “leadership,” a regime of specialists (political economists, accounts, actuaries, scientists, architects, administrators “and others” not the least of which would be Marcus himself). In their “mediation” as “’experts’ on each category of human need” and in “using concrete professional skills to mediate its [the working class’] comprehension of technology and other phenomena”, they inhabit an institutionally distinct space, that of “centralized planning.” Their activity is crudely that of counting and calculating and on this basis creating a plan and whatever options it affords. We consider these very much bourgeois “activities” in the narrow sense of engaging economic rationality. Meanwhile the mass of workers would discuss this plan which is simply presented to them fully formed. According to Marcus, this means an “interchange” between leaders and workers occurs “within the class as a whole.” It signifies an “extended debate about economic problems” transpires between two groups. But it is only one which “thinks” and in so doing generates (even if only in the bean counting, numerically manipulative fashion of the bourgeoisie) the fabled plan. The other discusses the options or ready-made alternatives presented to it. Marcus calls this discussion about the economic programs” “a kind of organic celebration.” He appears to believe that human creativity does not of necessity immediately and directly involve generating the alternatives. Instead, it is a matter of having it done on workers’ behalf by “experts,” “professionals” and “leaders” who pursue “socialist accumulation” as the “centralized agencies of the class as a whole.”

In my next post, I will address the question of how this repellent but fairly conventional technocratic/elitist formula helped to lead LaRouche and his followers to become allies with the KKK and neo-Nazis, meet with officials of the Reagan administration, build up a treasury of millions of dollars, and run hundreds of campaigns around the country including Lyndon LaRouche’s periodic run for President.

 

July 28, 2017

Sled Dogs

Filed under: animal rights,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 1:02 pm

On a free association basis, when you hear the words “dog abuse”, the first thing that comes to mind are pit bulls being trained to fight each other. Next would be Michael Vick’s conviction for both raising dogs for that purpose and killing those that were deemed inadequate to the task. “Sled Dogs”, which opens Friday, July 27th at the Cinema Village in New York and elsewhere later on, will leave you shocked at how the same sort of cruelty has been going on since 1964 in Alaska under the auspices of the Iditarod, a dog-sledding race that covers a thousand miles from its start in Seward in the south to the finish line in Nome in the northwest.

Not only are animals sickened onto death in this 1000 mile spectacle, they are culled from kennels devoted to training such dogs just as they were in Michael Vick’s kennel. If a dog in a sledding kennel was not equal to the task of pulling a sled, it would be terminated. Besides detailing the horrors associated with sled dog competition, “Sled Dogs” raises important questions about the relationship between humanity and animals. Are they simply property that an owner can dispose of at his discretion when they cannot fulfill his profit-making expectations?

The Canadian government ruled that they were indeed property in a landmark case that is examined in Fern Levitt’s powerful documentary.

Continue reading

July 26, 2017

The Forest Brothers and the holocaust

Filed under: Fascism,genocide,Stalinism,war — louisproyect @ 5:06 pm

For many on the left, the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—are the epitomes of Cold War villainy. Belonging to NATO, they are poised like daggers on the edge of Russia just as they were when it was the USSR. We are constantly being told that they were Adolf Hitler’s allies during WWII and that the CIA continued to back them during the Cold War as counter-revolutionary bastions. Like Ukraine and Poland, they have no redeeming qualities with some leftists probably considering the possibility that they are congenitally reactionary after the fashion of Daniel Goldhagen’s “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”.

Needless to say, those on the left who are either unreconstructed Stalinists or are rapidly moving in that direction like Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton view their role as fighting the good fight against jihadists, Baltic fascists and anybody else who would deter Vladimir Putin from his mission of saving the world from Western imperialism. In a nutshell, they are to journalism what Oliver Stone’s interviews with Putin are to film.

Since there will obviously be a smaller market for their Pamela Geller-style articles denouncing the Wahhabi/Salafi/ISIS/al Qaeda threats to Enlightenment values now that Trump has backed Russian goals to the hilt and cut off all support to Syrian rebels, they will likely swerve in the direction of finding new enemies of the Kremlin to denounce.

Evidence of that is an Alternet Grayzone article by Norton titled In Flashy New Film, NATO Celebrates Nazi Collaborators Who Murdered Jews in the Holocaust that reads as if it were written for Sputnik or RT.com. It is aimed at an 8-minute documentary about the Forest Brothers produced by NATO.

The Forest Brothers were a guerrilla army made up of volunteers from all three Baltic states that fought against the Red Army and even alongside Nazi troops at times. The brunt of Norton’s article is to categorize them as murderers of Jews even though this charge is not based so much on what the guerrillas did but on supposedly the past history of “many” of its members. Citing Dovid Katz, an American professor based in Lithuania endorsed by Norton, you might wonder whether there was anything they could have done to be found innocent of these charges except to join forces with the Red Army:

Many of the members of the Forest Brothers “were fascists, including some recycled killers from the 1941 genocide phase of the Latvian Holocaust,” Katz explained. The group “served to delay the Soviet advance (in alliance with the United States, Great Britain and the Allies) that would liberate the death camps further west.”

Based on Norton’s time-tunnel, it is absolutely impossible to figure out why Baltic men and women would want to deter the Red Army since it destroyed Nazism, something that people like Oliver Stone remind us of every chance they get. Did Baltic youth read Mein Kampf in grade school? What made them so evil? Since for people like Stone and Norton, history begins at the point when the Forest Brothers took up their fight, you really have no idea what made them tick.

As I pointed out in my review of “The Fencer”, a Finnish film that reviews some of this history, Estonia was a piece of real estate ceded to Stalin as part of the secret protocols in the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact as was Lithuania, Latvia and the eastern half of Poland. If you’ve learned from the history of Stalin’s rule—as Norton did before he prostituted himself—you’ll know that millions died in Ukraine and the USSR during the 1930s before a single Jew died in a Nazi concentration camp. Comparing Nazi Germany in the 1930s to Stalin’s Russia in the same period might have even led some people in the Baltic states to see Nazism as a lesser evil especially in light of Stalin’s brutal transformation of these nations into Soviet satellites in 1940. While not genocidal, it had the same character as his rape of the Ukraine. Indeed, in his “Why the Heavens did not Darken”, distinguished historian Arno Mayer described Nazi treatment of the Jews before the Wannsee conference as comparable to the treatment of Blacks in the Deep South.

As I pointed out in my review of “The Fencer”, Estonia lost 8,000 people in the year following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, victimized as “enemies of the people” in the Soviet occupation’s wide net. If this nation had the same population in 1940 as the USA today, that would have represented the loss of 2.4 million of its citizens.

What about Lithuania? On July 1, 1940 the country became a single-party state absorbed into the USSR. The 1,500 member Communist Party was the only one permitted to run in elections. Like Bashar al-Assad, they won a resounding victory. Prior to the election, 2,000 political activists were arrested. Another 12,000 individuals were imprisoned as “enemies of the people” soon afterwards. According to Wikipedia, “between June 14 and June 18, 1941, less than a week before the Nazi invasion, some 17,000 Lithuanians were deported to Siberia, where many perished due to inhumane living conditions”. Around this time, Lithuania had a population of 2.4 million. So once again using today’s population in the USA as a benchmark, this would have meant that the equivalent of 4.5 million people were victimized by Stalinist repression.

Not even Jews were spared. Eliyana Adler, an orthodox Jew who is Associate Professor in History and Jewish Studies at Penn State, wrote an article titled “Exile and Survival: Lithuanian Jewish Deportees in the Soviet Union” that began by describing Lithuania as having “established a unique and relatively tolerant relationship with what had been a fairly small Jewish community of about 150,000 people” in the intra-war period. Although Stalin was anti-Semitic, the main motivation for sending Lithuanian Jews to Siberia was their class origins. Adler writes:

On June 14, 1941, the Soviet security forces (Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, hereafter NKVD) arrested about 30,000 Lithuanians, including 7,000 Jews, as ‘enemies of the people’. The action was well-planned. Two to three agents arrived at each home simultaneously, leaving no time for friends, neighbors, or relatives to contact and warn one another. Each family was given twenty minutes to pack their luggage and loaded into waiting trucks that brought them to the train station. They were then crammed into cattle cars, unable to say goodbyes, and with no knowledge of what awaited them.

What awaited them was what awaited most people who were exiled to Siberia and it took these Lithuanian Jews living in exile sixteen years to finally get the right to leave the USSR.

Latvia got the same treatment. Nearly 2 percent of the population was sent to Soviet gulags, including thousands of Jews.

Norton has the distinctly odd idea that none of this had any connection to anti-Communist armed struggles. He is so feckless as to make a stink about the Lithuanian organizers of collective farms being killed by anti-Soviet partisans. Is this guy for real? One imagines that at this point in his sorry career, he would endorse the forced collectivization of agriculture in both Ukraine and in Lithuania as the same way as Grover Furr or Roland Boer. In both cases, they were a total disaster. Farmers who resisted collectivization in Lithuania were deported to the USSR. Furthermore, as was the case in the USSR, agriculture suffered setbacks that it never fully recovered from.

Turning now to the question of Lithuania and the holocaust that is the main focus of Norton’s article, it is important to get the facts straight. The murders were carried out by a combined force of the Nazi Einsatzgruppe and Lithuanian auxiliaries who volunteered to be part of the killing machine. You can read Dina Porat’s account of all this in a chapter titled “The Holocaust in Lithuania: some unique aspects” that is included in David Cesarani’s “The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation” and can be read on Dovid Katz’s website.

The Lithuanian killers were organized as the Labour National Guard that was so extreme that even the Nazis sought to differentiate themselves from it. The Labour National Guard consisted of 8,400 men who also worked with the Lithuanian cops to systematically exterminate Jews in areas they policed. Porat cites a Nazi memorandum referring to how “the local population” was appalled by their bloodlust.

She speculates that a lot of the animus directed against the Jews had to do with widespread sympathies for the USSR:

One issue that lies outside the scope of this chapter concerns the explanations for the Lithuanians extreme conduct. In short, it was a combination of a complex of factors such as national traditions and values, religion (Orthodox Catholic, in this case), severe economic problems and tragically opposed political orientations. Lithuanian Jews supported the Soviet regime in Lithuania during 1940-1, being partly of socialist inclination, and in the full knowledge that life imprisonment [Soviet regime] is better than life sentence [Nazi rule], as in the Yiddish saying. By contrast, the Lithuanians fostered hopes of regaining, with German support, the national independence that the Soviets extinguished, as a reward for anti-Jewish and anti-Bolshevik stances. During the Soviet rule of Lithuania these feelings heightened and burst out following the German invasion. One might say that the Germans provided the framework and. the legitimation for the killing of Lithuania’s Jews„ while the national aspirations and the hatred for communism provided the fuel. Still, this is not a full explanation for such brutality, especially as there was no tradition of pogroms in Lithuania. Not all Lithuanians took part in the killings, and one cannot depict all of them as murderers. At least one thousand Lithuanians sheltered Jews, thereby risking their own and their lives. A few tens of thousands took active part in the mass murders while the rest were either apathetic or aggravated the misery of the Jews in lesser ways than actual killing. [emphasis added]

In my view, the blame for such inhumanity was WWII. You might as well ask what motivated well-meaning American citizens in uniform who under ordinary circumstances would not kill a fly to become enthusiastic participants in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Dresden, and other atrocities. Total war is an incubator of atrocities.

Finally, the origins of the Forest Brothers has to be addressed. They had no connection to the Labour National Guard although you can assume that some of its members joined the Forest Brothers at some point. It is, of course, impossible to pin down how many.

But the Forest Brothers in Lithuania emerged from a totally different dynamic. Its members were formerly part of the Territorial Defense Force who had disbanded with their weapons and uniforms and the Lithuanian Freedom Army, established in 1941. (Wikipedia). More importantly, the Forest Brothers did not take up arms against the Red Army until 1944, long after 95 percent of the Lithuanian Jews had been exterminated.

The Territorial Defense Force was hardly the sort of militia the Nazis considered trustworthy. In an article titled “Lithuanian Resistance To German Mobilization Attempts 1941-1944” written for a Lithuanian scholarly journal, Mečislovas Mackevičius describes the clash between Nazi goals and legitimate Lithuanian national aspirations [emphasis added]:

Since the brutality of the Germans was unpredictable, a special Lithuanian conference was convoked May 5, 1943 to ease the tensions. The Germans did not oppose the conference, especially since it was in favor of mobilizing against the eminent communist threat. The Red Army was gaining on the German Eastern front while the Eastern region of Lithuania was routinely harassed by communist partisans, supported and supplied from the Soviet Union. The Germans disagreed only with the conference’s references to Lithuanian independence. November 24, 1943, the first councilor (Pirmasis Tarėjas) convened a meeting of 45 select prominent Lithuanian figures. At the meeting, it was stated that a Lithuanian SS legion or any SS unit would be unacceptable in Lithuania as such groups are contrary to the Lithuanian spirit. Lithuanians can only accept and support a national armed force, the purpose of which would be Lithuanian national defense. The use of the term “Lithuanian Armed Forces” was completely unacceptable to the Germans. After a lengthy discussion, it was agreed that an SS legion would not be formed in Lithuania. Instead, simple armed Lithuanian forces would be established with the name Litauische Streitkrafte (Lithuanian Troops), acceptable to the Germans.

After long discussions and conferences, Gen. Povilas Plechavičius, Jackeln and SS Police Chief for Lithuania Maj. Gen. Harm signed a written agreement February 13,1944 for forming a local Lithuanian detachment (Lietuvos Vietinė Rinktinė).

The stipulations were as follows: Only Lithuanian officers would be in charge of the detachment, thereby preventing any German intervention. Such intervention was also specifically prohibited by the agreement. Lithuanian commands were to be formed all over the country, their work being limited to the territory of Lithuania proper. This ensured the detachment from assignment to foreign locations. Twenty battalions were planned with possible additions later. The soldiers would wear Lithuanian insignia on their uniforms. The detachment was to be formed only from volunteers. Additionally, the Germans agreed not to deport any more Lithuanians to forced labor as soon as the detachment was started.

February 16, 1944, Lithuanian Independence Day, Gen. Plechavičius, commander of the Lithuanian detachment, made a radio appeal to the nation for volunteers. It is noteworthy that all Lithuanian political underground organizations supported this solution. This was achieved through constant communication between Lithuanian commanders and resistance leaders. The February 16th appeal was enormously successful: More volunteers came forward than was expected. The Germans were very surprised and deeply shocked by the number of volunteers since their own appeals went unheeded, as described.

The Germans, worried by the success of the detachment, started to interfere, breaking the signed agreement. March 22, 1944, Jackein called for 70-80 thousand men for the German army as subsidiary assistants. Chief-of-Staff of the Northern Front Field Marshal Model pressed for 15 battalions of men to protect the German military airports. Plechavičius rejected the demand April 5, 1944. Renteln himself demanded workers for Germany proper. Other German officials also voiced their demands.

Finally, April 6, 1944, the Germans ordered Plechavičius to mobilize the country. Plechavičius responded that the mobilization could not take place until the formation of the detachment was complete. This greatly displeased the Germans since it was clear the detachment did not serve their immediate needs and interests.

The Germans decided to end the resistance of the Lithuanians and the formation of the detachment. Provocation seemed to be the best method to escalate the situation. Jackein demanded the detachment troops to take an oath to Hitler, the text of which was provided. Plechavičius rejected the demand. May 9, 1944, Jackein ordered the detachment units in Vilnius to revert to his direct authority. All other units of the detachment were to come under the command of the regional German commissars. Furthermore, the detachment was to don SS uniforms and use the “Heil Hitler” greeting.

The Lithuanian headquarters directed the detachment units in the field to obey only the orders of the Lithuanian detachment. It also ordered the Detachment Officer School in the city of Marijampolė to send the cadets home. May 15, Plechavičius, the commander of the detachment, and Col. Oskaras Urbonas, chief-of-staff of the detachment, were arrested together with the other staff members. They were deported to the Salaspils concentration camp in Latvia. Subsequently, 40 more officers of the detachment were arrested and deported.

The Germans acted ferociously in liquidating the detachment. For example, they publicly executed 12 randomly selected soldiers in a Vilnius line-up which consisted of some 800 men. En route to the city of Kaunas, while transporting some arrested members, one of the prisoners escaped. In retaliation, the Germans then selected non-commissioned officer Ruseckas for execution on the spot. Since the German regular army guards were stalling the execution, a German SS commissioned officer did the actual shooting.

The cities of Vilnius, Panevėžys, Marijampolė, and others were deeply affected by the dismantlement of the Lithuanian detachment. Any resistance resulted only in suffering and greater sacrifice: 3,500 were arrested. A part of those resisting were sent to forced labor camps in Germany. Some of the armed soldiers inevitably reached the forests and undoubtedly joined the newly formed armed Lithuanian underground to fight the second Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

These were kind of men who joined the Forest Brothers, not the cops and thugs who took part in the mass murder of Jews. In its attempt to turn the criminal into the victim and the victim into the criminal, the Russian state press is sweeping this history under the rug. Why someone who was educated in Marxist politics like Ben Norton would pick up a broom on their behalf is a mystery. That is, unless the pay is really, really good.

July 25, 2017

Menashe

Filed under: Film,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 4:01 pm

Opening in New York and Los Angeles on Friday (locations are here), “Menashe” is an extraordinary film on a number of levels. To start with, it is the first Yiddish-language film in nearly 70 years. The earlier films catered to Eastern European immigrants who were interested in being entertained just like English-speaking audiences but in their native language. As such, the plots were often fairly conventional with at least one Western that might remind you of “Johnny Guitar”.

Since the audience for “Menashe” will likely be people who do not speak Yiddish, there are subtitles. Indeed, the only people who speak and read Yiddish nowadays, except for scholars, are the Hasidic Jews who live in Brooklyn and who do not go to movies, watch television or even go on the Internet. As the Jewish version of the Salafist sect in the Muslim world, the Hasidim are authoritarian-minded religious zealots who live in an insular, male-dominated society.

As it happens, that is exactly the world that is portrayed in “Menashe”, which has a nonprofessional cast of Hasidim that took considerable risks in taking part in a film that while being respectful toward their traditions challenges some of their key practices. That indeed constitutes the central drama of the film. Menashe is a man in his late 30s who is attempting to raise his 10-year old son Rieven by himself after his wife has died. However, the sect he belongs to will not permit single parenting. A full year after her death, he is under intense pressure from his brother-in-law Eizek and religious authorities to turn Rieven over to Eizek.

While Rieven prefers his loving father to the cold and remote uncle, he is savvy enough to understand that Menashe can barely take care of himself, let alone keep their family going after the death of his mom. Since there are strictly segregated sex roles in Hasidic families, Menashe has little idea of how to do what his wife once did. So breakfast now for Rieven might consist of a piece of cake and a cola drink. When he is preparing a dinner for the day of his wife’s memorial, he has to call on a neighbor to find out how to make a kugel, an egg noodle dish that is a Hasidic staple and that he burns.

When Rieven tags along with his father for a male-only drinking and singing party, he is appalled to see his father down three shots of vodka in rapid succession and obviously become tipsy. When his father isn’t looking, Rieven grabs his cell phone and calls Eizek to be rescued from Menashe who lashes out as his son as a snitch the next day.

Like John Travolta’s Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever”, Menashe has a low-paying job as a clerk in a retail store—in his case a small supermarket owned by a fellow Hasid. He owes his landlord back payments on rent and is constantly hitting up his boss for loans. In the first hint that the film is not romanticizing Hasidic life, Menashe argues with his boss about selling unwashed lettuce to a Hasidic housewife, a violation of strict Jewish dietary laws. He is told that the store’s profits are more important than following scripture.

Throughout the film, there are other signs of fissure inside the tightly circumscribed Hasidic world. In a visit to Eizek to pick up his son, Eizek’s daughter is heard complaining about why she can’t go to college. There are also arguments about why Hasidic women cannot drive a car. These are disputes that are going on right now in Hasidic neighborhoods and as the case in Saudi Arabia, there are voices for reform pitted against the hardliners. Despite the film’s bold attempt to address these conflicts, its main purpose is to reveal the daily rhythms of Hasidic life from the recitations of prayers during mealtime to dates arranged by a matchmaker.

The film was directed by Joshua Weinstein, a secular Jew who has only made documentaries in the past. The script was co-written by Alex Lipschultz, a secular Jew like the director, and Musa Syeed, the son of Kashmiri immigrants.

The story of how the film originated is told in a January 18, 2017 Los Angeles Times article titled How did a Sundance filmmaker shoot a scripted movie in the insulated world of New York’s Hasidim? I urge you to read the entire article but this excerpt should give you an idea of the challenges that faced Weinstein:

Weinstein, who attended a Conservative Jewish day school in suburban New Jersey, knew little of these groups growing up. He makes his living as a cinematographer, often on far-flung documentaries. But as he walked through the Hasid-rich Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park earlier this week, he spoke of his inspiration for the movie. In 2014 he had just completed a series of difficult shoots involving subjects such as poor villages in India and end-of-life care in the U.S. A more humanist story, in his own backyard, seemed appealing.

Without even knowing what story he wanted to tell, he began hanging out in Borough Park, bringing his notepad to the streets, stores and synagogues of this bustling neighborhood, often wearing a large black yarmulke to blend in. (Thank God for hipster filmmaker beards.) He also connected with several members of different Hasidic communities who’d left but retained roots in it, and linked up with a Chabad-affiliated casting agent who could bridge two worlds.

Matters would soon go awry. Would-be performers would sign on and drop out, realizing that it wasn’t worth the fallout at their synagogue or children’s school. Even now, Weinstein has declined to reveal the names of nearly all the actors apart from Lustig, knowing they could face blowback from the tight-knit community.

Financing was tricky too — money came from sources in the larger Jewish community, but in dribs and drabs. Weinstein would shoot for a few days or weeks at a time, put down his camera, go back to his day job, raise money, and then return to production. (The film was shot over a period of nearly two years.)

Locations would also fall through, as some store owners would get cold feet, fearing negative communal publicity.

“That’s the supermarket we shot in,” Weinstein said, as he gestured to a large store on a major thoroughfare. “Well, one of them. We got kicked out of four supermarkets, I think. They all form one supermarket in the movie.”

Meanwhile, only a small percentage of the people who came in to read for parts had even seen movies — and even then they tend to be locally sourced “kosher” recordings, low-budget productions with spiritual messages. Some had honed their chops at so-called “Purim Spiels,” a kind of Hasidic Chitlin Circuit of seasonal skits centered on the springtime masquerade holiday. Still, those were big, broad comedies — not exactly useful for a lo-fi drama. Weinstein asked performers to enact stories or behaviors from their own lives, wrote scenes around them, then fit them into the script.

Key to the film was Lustig. A member of the Skver sect, the 38-year-old had stirred up minor celebrity — and controversy — in his community after posting a series of slapsticky home videos on YouTube. Weinstein met Lustig and was struck by his talent and back story. Lustig had moved to London when he married his wife, a Hasidic Brit, around 2000. His wife would die several years later, and Lustig returned to New York with his then-4-year-old son. Like the widower character he plays, a family member had sought to keep custody of his son. Weinstein heard the tale and built his movie around it. Then he convinced the Hasid to take a starring role.

“I don’t feel I’m being rebellious,” said Lustig, as he waited in the lobby at a pre-festival reception in Manhattan that evening, in his trademark beard and conservative garb. “I just think if someone has talent — if God gives you talent — because you’re a Jew you’re not allowed to use it? It doesn’t make sense.”

Ilan Halevi wrote an authoritative Marxist study titled “A History of the Jews: Ancient and Modern, history of the Jews” that places the Hasidic movement in the context of economic and social dislocations of 19th century Europe:

There is one area where Hasidism not only did not challenge orthodoxy, but outbid the rabbinical discourse: the crucial area of the cleavage Jews and non-Jews. The eschatological justification of difference as essential. Difference was one of the constantly recurring themes of rabbinical Judaism: Separation (havdalah) was a key concept. God separated Israel from among the Nations and this extraction was of an ontological nature:

‘Like day from night, like the sacred from the profane.’ Talmudic law pushed the horror of the mixing of species to the prohibiting any grafting of vegetable species. Kabbalistic literature was full of such expressions of national pride and messianic particularism. But the intellectual practice of the Mediterranean Kabbala could, through exegesis, lead to heretical questionings of this basic distinction, which cannot simply be reduced to the divine guarantee of the ethnic superiority chosen group. The rabbinical caste, indeed, was dependent on it for relations with the princely rulers and the stratum of intermediaries. The weight of this dual relationship tempered the cosmological tribalism of the Law. It had even, under the tolerant Islam of the Abbassids, allowed this tribalism to harmonize its language with the surrounding civilization, which was itself fascinated by Greek Reason.”

Nothing like this, no modification of rabbinical ethnicism was at work in universe of the Hasidim: the fact was that the persecution of the community was occurring in conditions that were unique in the history of this Law. The de facto separation of the Shtetl from the surrounding society, a separation that was not only religious and social, but linguistic and spatial, found in this the theological weapons it needed to assert itself. While postponing to an indefinite future the hopes for a political messiah, Hasidism also expressed, by its outright denial of time and place, the historical subjectivism of the Shtetl which could later fuel the growth of Jewish nationalism.

The internal crisis of the Shtetl, whose roots are to be found in the crisis of Polish feudalism, was exacerbated and radically aggravated. The domain of Polish sovereignty was shrinking rapidly. A kingdom that had stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea grew smaller and smaller as around it tsarist Russia, the Hapsburg empire and the German states grew larger and larger. The Polish question became the European question and centuries-old Polish Jewry saw its territory carved up among several states Austria, which took Galicia, lightened the conditions of Jews there: but Russia, having seized the Ukraine and Byelorussia, oppressed them there, said Lenin, ‘more harshly than the Negroes’. The Napoleonic conquest, short as it may have been, precipitated the disintegration, inducing a general upheaval in the empires of the centre and east. Following the French occupation, the whole map of the region was transformed. The new frontier of Austria and Russia, which shared the whole of what remained of Poland in 1815, cut the Ashkenazi world in two, divided the dynasties of Hasidic rabbis, and determined new sub-problematics. The sociological unity of Ashkenazi Judaism was beginning to fracture.

These upheavals deepened in the 20th century and at their nadir plunged the Hasidic population into Hitler’s concentration camps, where they died alongside their secular relatives. After WWII came to an end, they relocated to America, led by their Rabbis. When they came here, not only were they in a state of shock but were not sure how they would relate to American society.

At first they did not adopt the familiar Hasidic garb. The men were clean shaven and both men and women wore normal clothing. The only thing that made them stand out were their tattoos, which they received in concentration camps. I recall seeing them up in the Catskill Mountains in the early ’50s. The assimilated Jews referred to them as “the refugees.” I remember how shocking the tattoos seemed to me at the time. No Jew was supposed to get a tattoo because it meant that you couldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Jewish religious codes dictated that you had to leave the world in the same way that you came into it. The only tattooed Jews I knew were merchant marines who got them when they were on a drunken binge in some port.

Eventually the Hasidic leaders made an interesting decision which goes against the grain of the American melting pot. They decided to recreate the Hasidic world in urban New York. During the 1950s, when there was enormous pressure to assimilate, when xenophobia was at an all-time high under the auspices of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and when anti-Semitism was expressed openly around the Rosenbergs trial, the Hasidim made the decision to reject American culture and society. They would create an enclave of everything that was “non-American” within the American heartland.

Not only did they decide to look non-American, they decided to reject the temptations of American success. Hasidic youth were directed not to go to college, since worldly temptations existed there. Also, during a time of enormous popularity for television and movies, they rejected both as impious. Most Hasidic families are tightly constrained by economic duress. When you have 10 to 12 children–a typical family size–and the breadwinner is a truck-driver or clerk like Menashe in a Hasidic-owned business, food and lodging expenses alone are onerous.

I have only gotten to know one Hasidic person in my life, and then only on a casual basis. This was Joe, a free-lance computer programmer I used to work with at Metropolitan Life. He had 9 kids and lived in a housing project. He said that it was extremely rare to see a Hasidic computer programmer like him because you generally needed a college education. He got into the field when this wasn’t necessary. He was a very likable guy with a sense of humor. He made no attempt to proselytize me. If anything, I was more of a nuisance to fellow employees because of my Trotskyist politics.

The Hasidim are a complex subject. On one hand they evoke admiration for their steadfast refusal to blend in. It was this stubborn “un-Americanism” that appealed to Philip Roth. One of the most memorable stories in “Goodbye Columbus” is about the resistance of assimilated Jews in a suburban town to the presence of a Hasidic yeshiva. The main character goes through an identity crisis/nervous breakdown in the course of the fight and decides to don a Hasidic black robe and parade through the town’s main street to everybody’s shock.

On the other hand, their exclusionism when mixed with power politics can lead to some highly toxic chauvinism. The clashes with blacks in Brooklyn and with Palestinians in the Mideast indicate how the historical pariah and underdog can become the oppressor given sufficient military and economic clout.

July 24, 2017

Chapo Frat House

Filed under: comedy,sexism,social democracy — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

The Chapo Trap House boys from left to right: Matt Christman, Felix Biederman, Will Menaker

I am gay and I voted for Obama
I am a shill for the Clinton campaign and the leftwing mainstream press
I’m a pussy who gets fucked right up the ass

I am a cuck
I am a libtard
I am a fag who was blessed to live amongst us
And Arabs to have equal rights.
I have no love of country and the white folks are not all bad
And the Albright folks are tacky
It makes me sad

I am a cuck
I am a libtard

Don’t talk of Trump ‘cause nothing scares me more
I really should call him daddy
He could be the savior and will go down in history
And save us all from douchebags like me

I am a cuck
I am a libtard
A cuck has no fun
A libtard always cries

Choosing a Chapo Trap House podcast to listen to for the first time, I picked a show that featured an interview with Shane Bauer. Bauer is a journalist who has written for Mother Jones and who I follow on Twitter, partly because he has a very good understanding of what’s happening in Syria. Perhaps that’s a function of spending two years in an Iranian prison accused of being a CIA agent. He and two others were hiking in Iraq (don’t ask me why) and inadvertently strayed in to Iranian territory.

Bauer was being interviewed on his going undercover to gather material on rightwing militias for a Mother Jones article and for the first half-hour, I found nothing objectionable even if it was hardly the sort of radio (or podcast) that I would make a habit of.

At the thirty-minute break, the song above came on. Sung ostensibly by the Chapo Trap House principals, I wondered what was the point. Was this something in the spirit of Sasha Baron Cohen singing “Throw the Jew Down the Well” at a Texas roadhouse in “Borat”? The point of Borat’s exercise was to demonstrate that Texas was filled with anti-Semites but what was their point? Maybe they didn’t have any except to show that they were “bad boys”.

Ironically, in another podcast I sampled earlier, they were riffing on Bill Maher’s use of the “nigger” word to show how disgusting he and HBO were. So exactly what’s the difference? I don’t see any unless it is okay to call people “fags” as a joke but not to use the word “nigger”. What about “kike”? That might get a few laughs.

I first heard about this show from a puff piece that appeared in The New Yorker magazine on November 18, 2016 that quoted Matt Christman, one of the three men who started Chapo, on what the goal of the “dirtbag left” is: “to offend the sensibilities of ‘leftist’ language police whose only goal is sabotaging social solidarity in order to maintain their brands as arbiters of good taste and acceptable speech.” Oh, I see. How about throwing in some “kikes” and “niggers” somewhere along the line to push the envelope even further.

For me, the mystery was how Chapo ever got such a glowing testimonial in a magazine that hates the left. The New Yorker, for example, published an article by Jill Lepore trashing Howard Zinn, as well as one promoting GMO. The editor is David Remnick, a Sovietologist who Alexander Cockburn once referred to as “a third-tier talent who has always got ahead by singing the correct career-enhancing tunes, as witness his awful reporting from Russia in the 1990s.”

Like Jacobin, Chapo has the knack of getting accolades from the most powerful newspapers and magazines in the USA. The next big publicity shot in the arm came in the form of a July 5, 2017 New York Times Sunday Magazine article titled “Hated by the Right. Mocked by the Left. Who Wants to Be ‘Liberal’ Anymore?” The author was Nikil Saval, a founder of n+1 magazine that is often mentioned in the same breath as Jacobin—namely, a Young Lion pretender to the throne of Marxism. I generally enjoy reading n+1 but found Saval’s prolix account of working on the Bernie Sanders campaign pretty objectionable from a Marxist standpoint. As might be obvious, the Chapo/Jacobin/n+1 milieu takes Sanders’s “socialism” at face value.

The brunt of Saval’s piece is to call attention to liberal-bashing of the sort that Chapo Trapo House specializes in. Saval mentions that they spend a lot of airtime “making fun of liberal cultural life, with one common target being fervor for the musical Hamilton.” Well, with the price of tickets for the Broadway smash hit, most of their listeners would not be able to pay for a ticket so the jokes might have sailed over their heads. However, with the $70,000 per month the boys are making from their podcasts, I assume that they might want to go see it for themselves. I just hope they don’t yell any racial epithets at the performers even if they are tempted to call Javier Muñoz, the HIV-positive star, a fag.

Just this week a feud broke out between the boys and The New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer who faulted them for trafficking in “dominance politics”, which means using mean-spirited humor against the Clinton wing of the party that The New Republic identifies with. Heer advocates reconciling the Sanders wing of the party that Chapo belongs to with the centrist old guard, something obviously not on Chapo’s agenda.

In a Twitter war between Heer and the boys, Chapo host Felix Biederman tweeted that he is “not reading Jeet’s article about how rude we are until he takes David Frum’s dick out of his mouth”. Both Heer and Frum are heterosexuals, while Frum is a longtime neoconservative who voted for Hillary Clinton. It is really difficult for me to understand how in 2017 this kind of gay-baiting can take place. I was around to see the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 and welcomed the rise of a Gay Liberation movement. In the radical movement of that period, you could have gotten expelled for using that kind of language unless, of course, you were in Avakian’s sect. Now it seems that it is not only permissible in the DSA/Jacobin milieu but perhaps helps to generate $70,000 per month. Other times, other manners, I suppose.

While not exactly an A-List bourgeois newspaper, the Guardian certainly has the readership that might pay for a Chapo subscription. Yesterday, they published an article titled “Leftwing Breitbart? Chapo Trap House is strong new voice in resistance to Trump” by Edward Helmore that took Chapo’s side in the conflict with Heer and The New Republic.

Helmore’s article has the benefit of placing Chapo into an ideological context:

The hosts, who are aligned with the Brooklyn arm of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), met on social media, gaining followers with their offbeat humor and views on what is termed “left Twitter”.

That led to a series of podcasts on the popular Street Fight Radio before the launch of Chapo Trap House, named for Sinaloa cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the hip-hop term for a drug house.

One DSA member familiar with the thinking of the podcast producers offered the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxism as an ideological reference, and said the spat with the New Republic illustrated the resistance of neoliberals to warnings that a hard left turn is necessary to counter the rise of the so-called alt-right and avoid continued electoral defeat.

Yes, indeed. How did I miss the parallels between Chapo Trap House and Theodore Adorno, especially given the chapter on fags in “Dialectics of Enlightenment”. I should have realized that DSA members would have been attuned to the Frankfurt School, given Stanley Aronowitz’s role in the organization’s ideological journey. Maybe at the next Left Forum, the boys can do a performance of “I am a cuck”. I’ll bet it will go over great with the bitches and the fags. Oh, did I mention that in the closing moments of the Shane Bauer podcast there was an elevated discussion of the Trump-Putin connection with the new president being referred to as Putin’s “bitch”?

Helmore is also very astute in sizing up Chapo’s role in electoral politics, referring to John Mason, a political science professor in New Jersey:

“Who is the most popular politician in the United States right now?” asked Mason. “Bernie Sanders! The ground has shifted and this is really the centre of the Democratic party. The people who have been marginalised, especially after this defeat, are those who belong to the Clinton-Obama wing.”

The far left, Mason said, is articulating itself in new ways. He pointed to a recent meeting of Sanders and Al Gore and the emergence of anti alt-right groups such as Redneck Revolt. Last week, the DSA published an electoral strategy guide; it anticipates strong or record attendance at its convention in Chicago next month.

So, let me get this straight. The “socialist” wing of the Democratic Party is now its center and proof of that is Bernie Sanders meeting with Al Gore? And what about that electoral strategy guide? Written by Joseph M. Schwartz, a political science professor at Temple University and national vice-chair of DSA, it proposes the same “inside/outside” electoral strategy that not only defines social democracy in the USA but that of the Communist Party as well:

DSA should not be in the business of solely working to secure Democratic majorities for the purpose of pressuring them from the left. But many of our allies in the black, Latino, trade union, LGBTQ, immigrant, Muslim, and feminist communities will be mobilized in 2018 to flip Republican state legislatures, to expand Democratic majorities in Democratic states, and to take back, at least, the House at the national level. We can’t simply ignore what those constituencies who would constitute a multi-racial and class-based left will be doing.

Thus, in my view, DSA should deploy its limited resources primarily to build social movements and, where possible, shore up a progressive electoral pole (a more multi-racial and labor-based version of the post-Sanders trend) that opposes the corporate, neo-liberal dominance of the Democratic Party.

I believe that the best way of doing that is to run viable democratic socialist candidates either in Democratic primaries (see Ross Mittiga) or in local non-partisan races (see khalid kamau). But if the social movement groups we work with back a strong anti-corporate Democratic Party candidate of color or labor or another staunchly progressive activist, some locals will clearly consider working on those campaigns, too — particularly if they involve a primary challenge to a pro-corporate neo-liberal Democrat.

That’s what we are left with beneath all the “bad boy” shock jock humor at the expense of gay people. A business as usual orientation to liberal politicians like Bernie Sanders and Al Gore in the hope that the Democratic Party can serve as what? The vanguard of a socialist revolution? A return to the New Deal? Talk about utopian schemas.

I find myself in advanced years wondering what will take such people to break with the Democratic Party once and for all. If it wasn’t support for slavery, the invasion of the USSR in 1918, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korean war and the Vietnam war, what will it take? At a certain point, you begin to wonder if maybe such people are not that opposed to the capitalist system, especially when you are making $70,000 per month sitting around making banal observations about American politics that relies on four-letter words to spice things up.

Update:

I have just learned on Facebook that “I am a cuck” was “a song by the comedian Tim Heidecker who wrote it to mock the alt-right kids who went after him for, among other things, siding against keeping an alt-right influenced show on Cartoon Network’s adult swim.” As I said, the song was likely meant in jest but so was Bill Maher’s wisecrack about being a “field nigger”.

July 23, 2017

Imperialism is the world-monster that ties all our destinies.

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:29 am

Source: Imperialism is the world-monster that ties all our destinies.

July 22, 2017

Boris Souvarine: No, the Kaiser did not fund the Bolsheviks

Filed under: Lenin,Russian Revolution — louisproyect @ 4:49 pm

Boris Souvarine

On June 17th, I posted an article titled “Did the Kaiser Fund the Bolsheviks” that was prompted by several articles that made this case, including in the liberal Nation Magazine—perhaps unsurprisingly. This elicited an interesting comment on the article that showed up this morning:

For a discussion of Zeman’s documents see Souvarine’s Solzhenitsyn and Lenin, in Dissent 1977, online here

There’s also Souvarine’s response to Carmichael in Dissent January 1978 (Letters, pp.113ff), only available to those who have access (Louis perhaps you can put this online?)

Zeman was mentioned in my article as a scholar who dismissed the alleged ties between Lenin and Alexander Parvus, who was both an early theorist of Permanent Revolution and a successful businessman who was supposedly a funnel of German funds to the Bolsheviks.

Souvarine’s article was a critique of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Lenin in Zurich”, a hybrid novel/history that concurred with the German funding of the Bolsheviks hypothesis. Souvarine even went so far as to argue that there was no “sealed train” to the Finland Station, a staple of belief by all sides on this debate—until now, at least for me. I find Souvarine most convincing.

As per the commenter’s request, I am posting the exchange of letters between Joel Carmichael and Boris Souvarine from the Summer, 1978 Dissent. Carmichael is obviously a hardcore anti-Communist who was outraged by Dissent magazine’s temerity in publishing an article that cleared Lenin’s name of a charge going back to the early 1920s, namely that his party was subsidized by the Kaiser. His main distinction was translating Sukhanov’s essential memoir on the Russian Revolution.

Souvarine is a notable figure by any standard. At the time he wrote his article and the letter below, he was 83 and as he mentioned in the response to Carmichael half-blind. I hope I am half as sharp as Souvarine when I get to be that age.

My strong recommendation is to read the entry on Souvarine in Wikipedia, which would quickly establish his credentials:

Souvarine was born Boris Konstantinovich Lifschits in Kiev to a Jewish family. Souvarine’s family moved to Paris in 1897, where he became a socialist activist from a young age. He trained as a jewelry designer. And at the age of fourteen came into contact with the French Socialist movement while working as an apprentice in an aviation factory. During this time he began attending meetings held by Jean Jaurès.

Souvarine experienced his first trauma with the outbreak of the First World War. Mobilised as part of the French army in 1914, he quickly discovered the horrors of Trench warfare and in March 1915, lost his older brother who died fighting on the front-line.

War pushed Souvarine into politics and the antimilitarist movement. He joined the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO) in 1916 and begins contributing to publications of the anti-war socialist minority like Le Populaire, signing articles with the pseudonym he held onto for the rest of his life: Souvarine, patronym borrowed from a character in Émile Zola’s Germinal.

LETTERS

On Lenin and Solzenitsyn

Editors:

Boris Souvarine (Dissent, Summer 1977) twists Solzhenitsyn’s somewhat mythological Lenin in Zurich into a springboard for a peculiarly lopsided account of the evidence for the German subsidy to the Bolsheviks in 1917-18.

The tone of this lopsidedness is set by his throwaway reference (p. 327) to “every insinuation about German gold” as a “calumny pure and simple—until April 1917.” The effrontery of this is all the more astonishing since it is precisely Lenin’s penury until then that indicates the starting point of the subsidy.

Souvarine does not even mention the two articles written by Eduard Bernstein—never accused of corruption or stupidity—in January 1921 in the official organ of the German (Social Democratic) government. Bernstein sets down a specific figure—”more than 50 million gold marks.” It was this staggering sum—the equivalent in today’s currency of more than $800 million—that made me look into the question for both my Encounter articles and my Trotsky. Beforehand I had been mesmerized by the 50-year-old discussion in which Lenin’s revolutionary integrity played the principal role.

Nor does Souvarine refer to the 41 Bolshevik periodicals published by August 1917: these came out at the rate of more than 300,000 a day and were often distributed gratis. Avowed Party revenues could not have covered a fraction of this. (This is all detailed in Leonard Schapiro’s history of the Soviet Communist party.)

It was not I who “revealed” the German financing of the Bolshevik regime after the putsch: among other sources I mentioned Kurt Riezler, counselor of the Stockholm German Embassy, who in his memoir refers matter-of-factly to the allocation in July 1918 of 40 million gold marks between the Bolsheviks and some moderate monarchists. Souvarine attacks the plausibility of this like a rationalist ideologue: how could the Germans support “the confiscation of private property”? As though they were thinking of anything but the immobilization of the Eastern front!

Souvarine’s remark that I “deduced” the German subsidy from the “sealed train” is, I should think, deliberately fraudulent. He may belittle the evidential value of the numerous sources I mention—in fact he simply omits them all—but how can he say I “made a blinding deduction from a luminous premise”? His authority explodes here in a puff of duplicity.

Anyone who read my Encounter articles will see that I was linking the train and the subsidy only in order to highlight a possible Marxist defense of the latter: if Lenin accepted the train for the Cause, why not the subsidy? The notion that the Bolsheviks were given vast sums in actual banknotes is, of course, so silly that it is easy to sneer the fact itself out of existence. The transfer of funds highlights the key role played by Alexander Helphand (Parvus). It was precisely here that Helphand’s business network played a primordial role: he owned not merely a coal-mining company, but a freight company registered in Copenhagen: with German funds he bought countless items, shipped them to Scandinavia, and from there to Russia via Lenin’s agents Radek and Furstenberg (Hanecki).

Souvarine tucks all this away in his Postscript, detaches it from Helphand, and at the same time refers to bookkeeping records as though it were all a matter of conventional commercial transactions. But how could ordinary records have been kept in this very dangerous relationship?

To my mind the factual data add up to a lot. The gaps are accounted for by the obvious necessary secrecy: this applied to both Lenin and Helphand. There is surely an element of high comedy in Souvarine’s “dismissal” of von Kuhlmann as a plain “liar” when juxtaposed to his incredible acceptance of the institutionalized mendacity of the Bolsheviks, including Radek —Radek! This is surely of a piece with Souvarine’s pious priggishness in saying that as soon as Lenin “got a whiff of Parvus’s views he sent him packing” (p. 330). He could have got this only from a memoir by someone like Shlyapttikov, a cementheaded acolyte who may have believed everything Lenin told him. But Souvarine?

It is the psychological factors, however, that seem to me to complement the objective indications in a way that is even more convincing.

The most remarkable piece of evidence for the German subsidy is something intangible—the titanic fact of Lenin’s flight. This is the core of the Bolshevik putsch: it explains Trotsky’s cardinal function.

Trotsky devoted two chapters (one in My Life, one in his History of the Russian Revolution) to an overwrought denunciation of the story of the German subsidy as the “vilest slander in history.” He is forced into this extravagant language because he must explain Lenin’s flight from Petrograd in July 1917, in the aftermath of what seems to have been an abortive insurrection accompanied by the fragmentary disclosure of the German connection. This last involved high treason in wartime: all the Bolsheviks were in mortal peril.

Trotsky must disprove the commonsense reaction— especially among old-fashioned Marxists—that Lenin should really have stayed on in order to clear himself: to do this Trotsky must persuade his readers that the “Right wing” hated Lenin so much that they would have stopped at nothing, hence Lenin’s flight was natural. Yet on the face of it, his version is nonsense. Sukhanov—quoted approvingly by Trotsky and by Souvarine, when it suits them—shows most circumstantially that any possibility of lynch law was “absurd, in the summer of 1917”!

But there is a still weightier aspect to all this.

How could Lenin, aflame at the prospect of seizing power in a vast country as a preamble to the triumph of the World Revolution, abdicate his leadership at the crucial moment? Abdicate it, moreover, to someone whom he and other Bolsheviks had been denouncing for a decade, a man detested by one and all?

Trotsky did not merely stage-manage the putsch, he defined it as it were constitutionally. Since Lenin, throbbing with euphoria, thought the inevitable upheaval of the German proletariat would safeguard the Bolshevik sortie, he wanted the Bolsheviks to proclaim their seizure of power as Bolshevik. Trotsky wanted to camouflage the putsch by presenting it as a function of the Soviet. (Isaac Deutscher makes a particularly comic attempt to reconcile these two ideas.)

Trotsky was, of course, chairman of the Soviet, a priceless vantage point. Since the Bolsheviks were not to have any “enemies on the Left” for a decade or so, the parvenu dictators could claim and secure the support of the bulk of the population, e.g., of the peasants, too, until the Civil War was won and the swiftly consolidated apparatus could put the whole population through the mangling machine of the crash collectivization and industrialization programs that still constitute the fabric of life in the Soviet Union.

Lenin, remote from the scene of action, was forced to swallow Trotsky’s initiative, including his version of the putsch. Once in power, the Bolsheviks could exploit the camouflage of the Soviet very effectively. The very name of the Soviet Union keeps the fiction alive.

Thus Souvarine, in saying I “tried to involve” Trotsky in the German subsidy, not merely falsifies what I wrote in Encounter, he succumbs to an unaccountable flash of foolishness. My whole explanation of Trotsky’s brief eminence in the Bolshevik party is based on his not having been involved: that was just what made him indispensable.

I think Lenin’s refusal to accept a trial, together with his eliminating himself from the putsch, is an overwhelming argument for the factuality of the German subsidy.

Souvarine is particularly harsh on Solzhenitsyn’s blunders. He dismisses Radek’s remark to Lenin in April 1917: “In six months we’ll be either ministers or hanged.” But the point of the anecdote, after all, is to illustrate the ardor of all Marxists at the time: a great state had fallen to the forces of socialism, as it seemed—who knew what the future held! Radek’s quip is perfectly natural, indeed, banal—and Souvarine brings up passport formalities!

At the same time Souvarine seems incapable of grasping Solzhenitsyn’s true interest. Not only does he refer, rather comically, to Helphand as a “Russo-German,” but he is baffled by Solzhenitsyn’s obsession with Lenin’s ancestry.

Yet Solshenitsyn’s preoccupation is the very axis of his mythology. He is saying something basic: the Russian people—simpleminded, holy—has been duped by aliens, i.e., Jews and Germans. For this mythology the figure of Helphand is ideal, indeed, indispensable—he was a caricature of all the required factors. With a huge head, heavy torso, and spindly legs, Helphand lived in a sea of champagne, large-scale business deals, and luscious blondes. From Solzhenitsyn’s point of view, and of course from his own, he had not a drop of “Russian” blood. He was simply a shtetl Jew who became the only Marxist multimillionaire. Solzhenitsyn is so intent on establishing the links between the Jew Helphand and the German General Staff that he disregards the true point— the dimensions of the German connection. No doubt his homework was geared to his fundamental views; Souvarine has found it easy to exploit these on behalf of a different polemic.

Souvarine admits Lenin was “no paragon of morality.” I suppose he means Lenin was a liar as well as, at the least, an architect of massacre, of course in the service of the Cause. He follows this low-key summation with a curious point: Lenin was nevertheless very careful “not to let himself fall into disrepute with the Russian people whom he aspired to … lead toward social revolution.”

The Russian “people”! This piece of—for a Marxist— silliness tells us a lot about Souvarine. If the evidence of the German subsidy is all worthless, why does he weasel about so much in bypassing it? What, after all, is he defending?

Surely, I imagine, his youthful ardor. In this respect Souvarine seems to typify a category—all those who, while appalled by the monstrosity brought about by the rosy dreams of their youth, nevertheless balk at abandoning those dreams.

This comes out in his final piece of chicanery: in his starry-eyed description of the atmosphere in Petrograd around October 1917 he shows that the Bolsheviks did, after all, represent genuine opinion while functioning within the democratic arena of the Soviet: one could call oneself a “Bolshevik” while meaning no more than disgust with the war. His quotation from Pierre Pascal makes much of the absence of Marxism “either among the people or the poets or the October decrees.”

But that’s the whole point! The Bolsheviks took advantage of just that state of mind—which of course they shared—and, because they could not remotely represent the real interests of the people, installed the most ferocious apparatus of repression in history.

There German subsidy invalidates the “legitimacy” of the Bolshevik putsch—but not by much. Whatever the meaning of legitimacy, it was lost once and for all by the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and by the conduct of the dictatorship ever since. Since the Bolsheviks collided with the interests of the whole population—except the handfuls of idealists and the crowds of careerists—they were in essence wholly illegitimate—unless, of course, one believes in their mission!

I was, I admit, very surprised by Souvarine’s disingenuous account of all this. Perhaps his deceitfulness, like Trotsky’s, should also be construed as evidence for the German subsidy.

JOEL CARMICHAEL New York City

Boris Souvarine Replies:

My article on Lenin in Zurich (originally in Est et Quest, Paris, April 1976) was somewhat abridged in Dissent (Summer 1977) with my consent. In consequence, some arguments and references were sacrificed. I am no longer in a physical condition that permits me to compare the two texts, for I am too old and half-blind. My reply to Mr. Carmichael’s diatribe may allude to some passages that were omitted in the shortened English-language version. I would ask Dissent to indicate such passages, if any, in footnotes.

The unnecessarily irascible letter that takes issue with me is scarcely persuasive when it taxes me with not having read everything or quoted everything. A magazine article is not a doctoral thesis, and mine dealt with Lenin in Zurich, which implies certain limits. However, I have read Bernstein and Sukhanov and Leonard Schapiro, who are deserving of comment. The difficulty is that my accuser shows little concern for the meaning of words, and that what he terms “source” is mere hypothesis or echo or deduction.

Eduard Bernstein’s articles were known initially in France only through unreliable press resumes. Because I had then—and have still—the highest opinion of their author, the articles perplexed me at the time in that they contradicted all the unquestionable, given facts. I was able to read the articles in full only later and, in English, in David Shub’s book on Lenin. Then everything became clear. Bernstein’s material is not a primary source or document but the echo of the gossip of unscrupulous bureaucrats. Two major statements he makes suffice to prove this: (1) the (pseudo-) sealed railway car becomes a “parlor car”; and (2) Lenin allegedly received more than 50 million gold marks. Such nonsense discredits even gossips.

(I) The railway car was a second-and third-class coach, and the travelers paid for their tickets. The car was coupled to an ordinary train in Zingen. Proofs of this exist.

(2) The German documents published by Hahlweg and by Zeman mention 1 million marks—only one—which Parvus claims he sent to Petrograd. (To whom? not to Lenin.) Parvus is obviously lying, for private letters of Lenin and statements of Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Molotov make it clear that at that time the Bolshevik committee in Petrograd was almost nonexistent. Only Shliapnikov managed sometimes to make fleeting contact from Stockholm. In any event, 1 million is not “more than 50 [million].” Parvus surely pocketed the money; there is no other plausible explanation. Lenin was in Zurich.

Solzhenitsyn has rightly noted that after January 22, 1916 the Wilhelmstrasse “paid Parvus not a pfennig” [p. 176]. In other words, the payment of I million in late 1915—the only such payment, and the fate of which no one knows—was unique. With all my regard for Bernstein, I concluded that he had reported idle talk. In 1921, he was much younger, yet he would no doubt have checked such hearsay. Now, however, reliable documents and testimony are available, and in my article I quoted them. It is permissible to disagree with a respectworthy person on a specific point. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas. The same documents and testimony refute also the “sealed train” that, according to the article in Encounter, was offered by Ludendorff (sic) to Lenin alone. The German document signed by Captain Hillsen (No. 19 in Zeman) mentions 300 to 400 Russians who were to be transported. To deal with them by pretermission so as to take cognizance only of Lenin is “star-worshipping;’ not historical criticism. Martov, Axelrod, Riazanov, Lunacharsky, Bobrov, Angelica Balabanoff, and many others made the same trip as Lenin in a similar railway car (not sealed), for all that the fact thwarts a blind Leninophobia.

The role attributed to Ludendorff is quite simply comical. No more than any other non-Socialist at the time did he even know Lenin’s name. The German General Staff merely approved the Wilhelmstrasse’s proposal that a few hundred Russians (of all political colorations, not Bolsheviks only) be permitted to pass through Germany. The decision was natural enough: every government at war tries to encourage domestic difficulties within the enemy country. It is unnecessary to invent an imaginary connivance between Ludendorff and Lenin.

The initiative to cross Germany came not from Ludendorff, not from Parvus, not from Lenin, but from Martov—a man who was above reproach—and this has been proved to the hilt. The proposal dates from March 19, 1917. The available documentation shows that at first Lenin did not want to travel via Germany. He tried in vain to go via France and England. Only on March 30th, when he learned that Chernov had been refused permission by the British authorities, did he decide to carry out Martov’s idea. Surely it suffices to consult correspondence of the period; it was not written to serve the ends of controversialists 60 years later.

The other German documents that mention transfers of funds—never of 50 million marks—indicate they were for “revolutionary propaganda,” a term used in the vaguest sense. In those days, the Revolutionary Socialist party held center stage. The money seems to have been intended for separatist movements (one of Parvus’s fixed ideas, by the way). It benefited primarily intermediaries and parasites. In any case, there is no question of Lenin’s having been involved. The peak of the absurd is reached and overtopped in insisting that he was, for the German documents indicate that the most sizable remittances were sent after the October coup. So they were not intended for Lenin or for the Bolsheviks, who had seized public bank deposits, nationalized the banks, cleaned out the state coffers, nationalized the Mint, and taken possession of the plates for printing banknotes—in a word, they had at their disposal more money than one would know what to do with.

Furthermore, an appendix to the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk later stipulated that Russia pay Germany a war indemnity of up to 300 million gold rubles. Yet according to the article in Encounter. Berlin subventioned the Bolsheviks right up to the end of the war. I have said, and I repeat. here is the wherewithal “to make hens laugh” (a Russian saying). The Encounter article sought support not in the available evidence but in the cogitations of two eminent, trustworthy personages who merit our full consideration. First, Sukhanov: he could not explain to his own satisfaction why Lenin went into hiding after the July 1917 riot. To him it seemed suspect, for, he believed, Lenin was in no danger. Then what was he afraid of? Of having some accounts to render?

Sukhanov was my friend. His wife (Galina Constantinovna, if memory serves me after a half-century) gave me hospitality when I was expelled from the Party and driven from my lodgings in 1924. 1 helped Sukhanov when, together with Volski, he founded the Vie économique des Soviets, in Paris. My sister was his collaborator. And the memory of this martyr I preserve in all affection. This said, I contend that he is in error about Lenin’s flight in July on the following grounds: Sukhanov reasoned as a distinguished St. Petersburg intellectual, who was incapable of conceiving that one could inflict harm on a prisoner. He did not put himself inside Lenin’s skin when Lenin was obsessed by “implacable” civil war.

We know from several unchallengeable sources that when Lenin returned to Russia, he was convinced he would be arrested en route, then sure he would be imprisoned on arrival. Later, during the troubles, he expected he would be shot, and still later, that he would be assassinated. He invested his opponents with his own terrorist’s turn of mind. In a secret letter to Kamenev, in which he asked Kamenev to publish his manuscript on the state, he wrote: “Between us, if they kill me …’ (oukokochat). The idea haunted him. Sukhanov had no understanding of this terrorist mentality. Hence his mistaken line of reasoning. But that is not all.

Lenin’s flight did not follow from his own wishes. One has to know how that milieu functioned: the question was debated secretly by the Central Committee of the Party. Stalin was of the opinion. Roy Medvedev tells us, that Lenin should place himself in the hands of the courts in order to vindicate himself. The majority decided otherwise. This Sukhanov could not know. What’s more: the Sixth Party Congress, no more no less, had to confirm the Central Committee’s decision.

The reference to Leonard Schapiro deserves, of course, a comment. With all the respect owed this peerless historian, I think that his error on this particular point is of the same order as Sukhanov’s. It is the error of a British intellectual who transposes conditions obtaining in England to the Russia of 1917: he cannot conceive how the Bolsheviks were able to publish 41 periodicals without outside help. No doubt he believes that this calls for money to pay for offices, business staff, salaried editorial personnel, plus paper and printing costs. No such thing in the revolutionary storm of 1917. The devotion of the militants, in particular the typographers, made all kinds of improvisations possible. The success of the Bolshevik press is explained simply by its out-and-out pacifist propaganda in a country that could continue the war no longer.

Has Mr. Schapiro tallied the publications of the Mensheviks and the Revolutionary Socialists and analogous groups? The comparison would be interesting. There was a swarm of more or less short-lived news sheets, which had no German money. But there were financial contributions from well-to-do philo-Socialist, pacifist bourgeois who gave generously even if they were not Morozovs. Of interest in this connection is the response of Maxim Gorki to Pravda’s slanderous charges about the source of funds for Novaia Jizn (No. 127 of the paper): it appears in the collection Untimely Thoughts. Gorki also was accused of receiving German money. As were my comrades and I in France, in the same circumstances.

To illustrate the point, may I be permitted a personal recollection of Lenin’s making fun of French Socialists. He said to us, in the course of a rambling conversation,

In la Guerre Sociale and in I’ Humanite, I’ve often read the lists of contributors and come across such remarks as: “For the social revolution, 10 centimes.” Hah! These French! Ten centimes for the social revolution! Hah, hah, hah! At home, the workers contribute one day’s pay every week or every month to their newspaper! Just think of it: ten centimes for the social revolution! Hah, Hah, Hah!

(I am quoting from memory, of course, but the recollection is accurate.) It’s one of the answers to the sempiternal question: Where does the money come from?

In an article dealing with Solzhenitsyn’s book, and in particular with his sources, I did not have to discuss Mr. Schapiro’s reflections. I mentioned Encounter only briefly among several references to texts that attest to the steadfast survival of legends about the sealed railway car and German gold, the one factually correct passage in the London magazine having to do with Lydia Dan, Martov’s sister. My task was not to refute everything that touches indirectly on the same subject. Also, Riezler’s book is not found among Solzhenitsyn’s sources. There was enough to do in dealing with the German documents and the book of Zeman and Scharlau about Parvus —The Merchant of Revolution—which was Solzhenitsyn’s principal source.

Having devoted 15 pages in Contrat Social (Vol. VIII, No. 4, December 1968) to an analysis of the Parvus biography, I am not inclined to begin anew. My review did justice to the authors as the first biographers of Parvus, but it also pointed out manifold errors, contradictions, misleading statements, as well as inadmissable insinuations. In retrospect, I do regret not having been more critical, for this book led Solzhenitsyn into error on many scores. However that may be, in the Introduction [to the Merchant], there is an embarrassed passage that completely clears Lenin in connection with “German gold.” And on page 181, there is another passage that deserves to be quoted once more:

The Bolshevik groups in Russia took no part in Helphand’s [Parvus’s] activities. Their cooperation depended on Lenin’s consent, and their leader had never given this. Anyway, the Bolshevik underground organization was so weakened by the war that it was hardly in a position to take effective action… . Alexander Shlyapnikov, who supervised the Bolshevik organization on Lenin’s behalf, has emphatically denied the suspicions that the Bolsheviks cooperated with Helphand at this point of the war. It is impossible to doubt his statement… .

Is it going too far to say that these few lines cancel out all the implications, the equivocations, the malicious allusions in the work, which influenced Solzhenitsyn, some of them involving various minor characters who were mixed up in the money affairs but were no part of Lenin’s life?

Mr. Carmichael accuses me of having called von Kuhlmann a liar. Every fair-minded reader can verify that it is Sir Lewis Namier (Avenues of History, London, 1952) whom I quoted. It must be added that Kuhlmann does not altogether lie except when he credits himself with a role in the October coup. Certainly, he did dispose of funds for propaganda, as did all his counterparts in other countries. He never names Lenin. And as to such funds, generally they are money down the drain, for they have never brought one historic event to pass. I have said again and again that “money is not the measure of all things.”

I am replying here to a polemic that entirely disregards the facts, arguments, proofs, quotations, and references that abound in my article. So it is useless to add others, for they would meet the same fate. However, addressing the readers of Dissent, I wish to defend the memory of my friend Shlyapnikov, who has been gratuitously insulted with deliberate lack of scruple [“sans-scrupule conscient”]. Shliapnikov was an upright man, a self-reliant spirit; he was not “cementheaded,” but was endowed with critical intelligence, a person of intellectual and moral integrity. He was among those who resolutely opposed Lenin after the October coup. Later, he inspired the “workers’ opposition” with courage and got himself read out of the Party, as a result of which he fell into the clutches of the GPU. His life was devoted entirely to the cause of the workers, and it ended in unspeakable sufferings. In the words of the French adage: “Don’t insult him who tries.”

As to the verbiage about Trotsky, which is as obscure as it is wanting in substance, I will confine myself to a single categorical denial: in 1921, I had a conversation with Trotsky about the “German gold.” He expressed his opinion with persuasive, straightforward indignation and revulsion. When other Soviet citizens were questioned by French delegates who were disturbed by press campaigns at the time, they were astonished, especially that one could still pay any attention to such an old “calumny.” Let us not forget that when the travelers arrived in St. Petersburg in their “sealed railway car” (which was not sealed), they were exonerated by the Soviet, which was composed of a large majority of “patriotic” Socialists.

It is not I who “brings up passport formalities” in connection with Radek. Like Hanecki, Radek was an Austrian subject and could not enter Russia: under the Provisional Government, you did not enter Russia the way you walk into a cafe. The frontier was guarded by French and British officers, there in their capacity as allies, as well as by Russian police. This is an incontrovertible matter of fact. “Facts are stubborn things.” Radek was able to enter the country only after the October coup, which in March was unforeseeable. As for Lenin, in March he was still in agreement with Plekhanov and Martov in thinking that the imminent Russian revolution must be a “bourgeois revolution,” whereas Trotsky, the theoretician of the “permanent revolution,” thought otherwise. Lenin changed his mind when he came to consider the Provisional Government incapable of ending the war. In September he contemplated seizing power. The fictitious remark Radek made to Lenin in March (Solzhenitsyn, p. 266:”… six months from now we will either be ministers or we will be hanged”) therefore struck me as incongruous even in a novel, and there is nothing in it to feed a base quarrel.

Solzhenitsyn has understood perfectly well, on the other hand, that it would have been impossible for Lenin to accept German subsidies: it would have meant giving up his freedom to choose his own direction and to maneuver, subordinating that freedom to silent partners. Solzhenitsyn writes:

“Should he ask what price the Russian Revolution would have to pay for German help? He refrained from doing so, but kept the question in mind for the future. It would be naive to expect such help for nothing” (p. 160). And further on: “Let myself be tied to someone else’s policy? Not for anything in the world!” (p. 185).

Solzhenitsyn has read the German documents well and has well understood that they are not compromising for Lenin. At no point does he accept the doctored version of “German gold” paid out to Lenin up until the departure of the “sealed carriage” that was not sealed—i.e., up until April 1917. This date is not mine; it marks the conclusion of Lenin in Zurich. On this point, a fresh dispute from my disputant who disputes everything and nothing. There is nothing to quibble about.

What I have challenged about Solzhenitsyn’s book is the use he made in it of the Merchant, which is a work filled with equivocations, unfounded insinuations, and risky deductions. I questioned the inadequacy of his sources regarding Zimmerwald no less than on the Russian Revolution of 1905. And fearing from certain allusions that in the book to follow the author might venture so far as to permit himself to be influenced by the false “Creel-Sisson” documents and by the genuine Nikitin documents (supplied by the very incompetent French espionage service) when no doubt I would no longer be in a condition to comment on them, rightly or wrongly I spoke out in the hope of sparing the great writer’s being misled. (The Nikitin documents have to do with business affairs of Parvus, Hanecki & Co.; see Northern Underground, Michael Futtrel, London, 1963). The rumors aroused by their business dealings induced the Central Committee of the Party to deprive Hanecki of his position in Stockholm, to Lenin’s great displeasure. This decision alone explodes the legend of German gold accepted by the Bolsheviks.

Fair-minded readers who wish to know more will be interested to read the articles of Professor Alfred Senn on “The Myth of German Money During the First World War” and “New Documents on Lenin’s Departure” (references previously supplied). Also My Life as a Rebel, by Angelica Balabanoff, who also traveled to Russia in a “sealed” (unsealed) train. And my analysis of the Merchant, entitled “L’or et le wagon,” in Con! rat Social (Paris, Vol. 7. No. 4, December 1968). 1 would like to suggest also the serious, circumspect review of the Merchant by Leo van Rossum, in the publication of the Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, which I happened upon only very recently.

Above all, it is important to be familiar with Lenin’s secret letter to his Stockholm office, written from his hiding place between August 27-30, 1917, when he was expecting the worst. A short passage touches on the matter of money: it is decisive. One can even go so far as to say that these few lines should dispense with having to read the kilos of material about “German gold.” The letter, which was recovered long after Lenin’s death, appeared only in 1930 in Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. 8. Later, the outline of this letter—or rather, a laconic aide-memoire—was found and published, in 1933, also in the Collected Works (No. 21). The letter now appears in Lenin’s Complete Works, Vol. 49. It cannot interest a prejudiced fanatic, but readers in good faith will appreciate it.

It is for them to appreciate no less the unseemly letter that has called forth mine, and to decide to whom are to be applied such choice terms as “effrontery,” `fraudulent,” “duplicity,” “priggishness,” `falsifies,” `foolishness,” “chicanery,” “disingenuous,” “deceitfulness,” and other civilities of an uncommonly elevated mind, not to mention the letter’s tone—which, as the French say, makes the message. And may they not overlook the inexpressible “Marxism,” which is as out of place as hairs in the soup.

Translated by ADRIENNE FOULKE

 

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