Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 30, 2004

Petras, Putin and Conoco

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:07 am

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 30, 2004

Shortly after the terrorist attack on Beslan, James Petras wrote an attack on Chechen nationalism that contained the following:

“Anglo-US governments and their ‘political fronts’ provide sanctuary to the Chechen terrorist leaders as part of their strategy to sustain a war of attrition against Russia and especially Putin using the Chechen people as guinea pigs. The outcome of Chechen independence would most likely resemble Kosovo – a client state, with a big US military base, run by gangsters and warlords, trafficking in drugs, sex-slaves and military contraband – and deeply involved in fomenting separatist terror along Russia’s southern border – namely the Republic of Dagestan (which is multi-ethnic and close to the oil and gas rich Caspian Sea). The enemy of Russia is not an autonomous Chechen Republic but a terrorist gangster-run state, controlled by US and British security forces, aimed at further dismembering Russia and destroying Putin’s efforts to reform the Russian state.”

full: http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=4747

This facile analogy between Kosovo and Chechnya can only be made if one ignores political economy. The breakup of Yugoslavia was intended to remove one of the few remaining legacies of socialism in Eastern Europe. Secessionist movements in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Kosovo were encouraged as a battering ram against the state-owned enterprises favored by Milosevic and elements of the Yugoslav army. In Serbia, after CIA-backed “dissidents” finally came to power in a coup against Milosevic, they began dismantling the Titoist base of the economy. The end result has been economic misery.

What was the model for these CIA-backed “dissidents”? None other than the Yeltsin government in Russia, whose successor now presides over a class-divided society where capitalism is being built free of the counterproductive excesses of the Yeltsin era.

Although much is made over NGO agitation on behalf of the Kosovars and the Chechens respectively, the contrast between them and the real locus of power cannot be sharper. Not only has Washington has refused to confront Yeltsin or Putin over the war against the Chechens, President Clinton stated that Yeltsin was a Lincoln-esque figure trying to preserve the union against secessionists.

Putin has also ingratiated himself to Washington. You’ll recall that just at the time that the claim that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq was being debunked for good, Putin stepped forward to say that Russian intelligence had proof that they did exist. His proof was about as solid as Donald Rumsfeld’s.

By serving as an effective steward over the capitalist transformation of Russia and an accomplice to US imperialist goals, Putin has earned George W. Bush’s undying friendship. The May 20, 2002 Guardian reported that Bush has even coined a pet name for him: “Pootie-Poot”. The article quotes Condoleezza Rice on their male bonding: “To see the kind of relationship that Presidents Bush and Putin have developed and to see Russia firmly anchored in the west, that’s really a dream of 300 years, not just of the post-cold war era”. Time magazine quoted a former Putin aide as saying the Russian leader “devoured an enormous amount of information on Bush and everything related to him”. That sounds a little bit like making an effort to read every novel ever written by Tom Clancy.

Reading today’s NY Times would certainly go a long way in allaying fears about Western imperialist plots to break up Russia in order to seize control over the oil fields. It turns out that the Russians themselves are all too happy to cut deals with multinationals in much the same way that rival mafias hammer out a deal to share in drug profits. Not only has Conoco become a partner in Lukoil, they share a common interest in robbing the Iraqi people of one of their few assets: oil.

NY Times, September 30, 2004
ConocoPhillips Buys Stake in Lukoil

MOSCOW (AP) — In a deal paving the way for future joint ventures, U.S. oil giant ConocoPhillips on Wednesday won an auction with a bid of nearly $2 billion for the Russian government’s 7.6 percent stake in Russia’s Lukoil — the world’s No. 2 oil company by reserves.

In the biggest privatization in Russia’s history, ConocoPhillips offered $1.988 billion, only a fraction above the $1.928 billion starting price.

“Of course, we are satisfied with the biggest price in Russia’s privatization,” said Lukoil vice president Leonid Fedun. “We are expecting a significant increase in the capitalization of the company.”

Immediately after winning the auction, ConocoPhillips announced in a joint statement that it planned to increase its stake to 20 percent, which would allow it to record a share of the company’s reserves of 20.1 billion barrels of oil equivalent in its books.

It also announced that it had offered to buy a 17.5 percent stake in a production sharing agreement allowing Lukoil to develop Iraq’s giant, 4 billion barrel West Qurna field, and would pay another $374 million to secure a 30 percent stake in a new joint venture to tap into rich Siberian oil reserves in the Timan Pechora region.

“People were expecting a knock-out number,” said Ronald Smith, oil and gas analyst at the Renassiance Capital investment bank of the auction results. “We thought maybe they’ll give a real signal that Russian assets are undervalued. But they ConocoPhillips got a great deal. If you look just at Timan Pechora — it means they can add 12 percent to their liquid reserves immediately.”

Lukoil’s 1997 deal to drill at West Qurna, one of the most promising Iraqi oilfields, has hinged on approval of the new Iraqi administration.

“Iraq is a wild card,” Smith said. “If that ever comes off, both companies will be terribly tickled: no analysts include the Iraq numbers in their reports, though.”

full: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/business/AP-Russia-Lukoil.html

September 24, 2004

“Left in form, right in essence”

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:30 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 24, 2004

Although Ted Glick has wrapped his attacks on the Nader campaign in the kind of bland obsequiousness Charles Dickens immortalized in the character Pecksniff, his latest reveals the snarling Commissar beneath.

Using the title of Carl Davidson’s 1973 pamphlet “Left in form, right in essence” as a club to bash Peter Camejo over the head with, Glick neglects to include Davidson’s subtitle: “A Critique of Contemporary Trotskyism.” It is no accident that Glick would find inspiration in this dreary screed written during the period when dozens of Maoist sects were hoping to breathe new life into the discredited party-building model of William Z. Foster and his subsequent replacements.

Davidson wrote his attack in the pages of the Guardian newspaper back then in an attempt to create a pole of attraction for the thousands of ex-SDS’ers who were lurching from new left impressionism to the kind of ultra-Stalinism that actually helped to destroy SDS through the agency of the Progressive Labor Party.

Davidson’s pamphlet contains jewels such as the following:

“The Trotskyists believe they are the only authentic practitioners of the policy of the united front. Yet in practice, they have opposed full implementation, either from rightist or ‘leftist’ positions. The most apparent example of this role was the Trotskyist attitude toward World War 2, in which they took a ‘defeatist’ position towards the capitalist governments fighting the fascists, called for the ‘revolutionary’ overthrow of the Soviet government and opposed the united front with the national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries invaded by the fascists. The fact that the Trotskyist line led them inevitably to these positions substantiated the charge that they objectively served the interests of the fascists.”

full: http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/critiques/guardian/index.htm

This disgusting smear is drawn from the same cesspool as Glick’s assertion that “that Camejo hopes that Bush/Cheney will win re-election.” The logic behind this kind of character assassination, which actually drove the CPUSA to back Smith Act convictions of Trotskyist leaders during WWII, is based on the assumption that WWII was a “people’s war”. To refute such a claim, it is not necessary to read Trotskyist literature. You can find essentially the same arguments from Howard Zinn and a host of new left historians–including Gar Alperovitz.

In 1967, after New Dealer LBJ escalated the war in Vietnam, new leftists were forced to come to terms with the legacy of US wars and whether they ever had a progressive purpose. One of the saddest things about ardent ABB’ers like Davidson and Glick is their failure to remember the lessons that new left historians taught us about the Democratic Party and its Wilsonian crusades for “democracy” and Wall Street profits.

In arguing for a Kerry vote (or the next best thing–a vote for David Cobb), Glick puts forward a really addled argument drawn from a misreading of American history:

“Since World War II the strongest, national, progressive third party movements have developed when Democrats were in power. The first example was the Henry Wallace/Progressive Party effort in 1948 when Harry Truman was President. Then there was the 1968 national Peace and Freedom Party effort when Johnson was President. The decade of the ’90s, when Bill Clinton was in office, was a decade which saw the emergence of three major efforts, the Green Party, the Labor Party and the New Party.”

To begin with, it is very striking that Glick has nothing to say about the 1930s when the objective possibility for a 3rd party based on the working class was greater than at any time since Eugene V. Debs. We know why such a party was not launched. The CPUSA, which enjoyed hegemony, attacked every initiative to build one using the same class-collaborationist arguments as Carl Davidson and Ted Glick. It was necessary to back FDR because he was not as bad as–you fill in the blanks.

Although historian Harvey Klehr has endeavored to portray the CPUSA as a dangerous subversive organization, his own research militates against his thesis. In “The Secret World of American Communism,” he discusses an NKVD report on communications between Earl Browder, the head of the CPUSA, and Franklin Roosevelt. FDR congratulates Browder and the CPUSA for conducting its political line skillfully and helping US military efforts. Roosevelt is “particularly pleased” with the battle of New Jersey Communists against a left-wing Labor Party formation there. He was happy that the CPUSA had been able to unite various factions of the Democratic Party against the left-wing electoral opposition and render it ineffectual.

This is exactly the role that Glick is playing today, our latter-day but inferior version of Earl Browder.

September 23, 2004

Frank Smyth, Marc Cooper and Naomi Klein

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:19 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 23, 2004

Recently Naomi Klein wrote an article in the Nation Magazine (a US liberal publication dating back to the 1860s) that has angered some of the magazine’s other contributors. Written on the occasion of the Republican convention in NYC and titled “Bring Najaf to New York,” it states:

“Najaf is not just another Iraqi city; it is the city of the dead, where the cemeteries go on forever, a place so sacred that every devout Shiite dreams of being buried there. And Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq. Yes, if elected Sadr would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran, but for now his demands are for direct elections and an end to foreign occupation.”

full: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040913&s=klein

This prompted Marc Cooper to write a nasty attack on his blog (www.marccooper.com), which concludes that Klein’s “column is a forthright apology for the religio-fascist militias of Muqtada Al Sadr. Indeed, it’s damn near a call for the peace movement to join in solidarity with his Mahdi Army.” He also says that there is “no evidence” whatsoever that the militia represents “mainstream sentiment” in Iraq.

I reminded Cooper that the May 20 Financial Times reported the following: “An Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.” The FT adds, “Respondents saw Mr Sadr as Iraq’s second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s most senior Shia cleric.”

(I should mention, by the way, that Cooper has refused to allow any of my comments–at least written under my own name–to be posted to his widely read blog after the FT item was posted. I am under the distinct impression that high-profile liberal journalists such as Cooper, Alterman, Doug Ireland and others have recently begun publishing blogs because they perceive the Internet as an important venue. What they are not comfortable with is the give-and-take of listservs such as PEN-L or Marxmail. A blog allows them to have their cake and eat it too.)

While Cooper’s piece is little more than an incoherent rant, you get a much more polished version of the same self-serving nonsense from Frank Smyth on the Foreign Policy in Focus website (http://www.fpif.org/papers/0409progiraq.html). Titled “Who Are the Progressives in Iraq? The Left, the Right, and the Islamists,” it broadens the attack on Klein to include Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” radio show. All are tarred with the brush most favored by left-liberals–an alleged link to the ANSWER coalition led by Ramsey Clark:

“Unfortunately the knee-jerk, anti-imperialist analysis of groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. has wormed its way into several progressive outlets. Dispatches and columns in The Nation as well as reports and commentary on the independently syndicated radio program ‘Democracy Now’ have all but ignored the role of Iraqi progressives while highlighting, if not championing, the various factions of the Iraqi-based resistance against the U.S.-led occupation without bothering to ask who these groups are and what they represent for Iraqis.”

Basically, Smyth views the armed resistance as a mixture of evil ex-Baathists and Shia fanatics led by the woman and gay hating Muqtada al-Sadr. He writes:

“Others like The Nation’s Naomi Klein, meanwhile, seem to have naively fallen for the al-Mahdi militia that recently fought U.S. Marines in Najaf. The al-Mahdi militia is a loosely organized Shiite opposition group led by Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a young man who inherited his role after his father and two brothers were murdered by Saddam. Lacking either the maturity or training of a senior cleric, al-Sadr has tried to lure supporters from more-respected Shiite clerics by promoting militant enforcement of the most fundamental tenets of Shiite Islam, including the explicit repression of gays and women.”

Without denying for one instant that al-Sadr has some really backward ideas on gays and women, he does have the right idea about the US occupiers. He has said, “I appeal to the fighters and mujahedeen in Karbala to stand together so as none of our holy sites and cities are defiled. We are prepared for any American escalation and we expect one…Let remind you of Vietnam. We are an Iraqi people that has faith in God, and his prophet and his family. The means of victory that are available to us are much more than what the Vietnamese had. And, God willing, we shall be victorious.”

Against these gun-toting and women-hating fanatics who would certainly never be invited on a Nation Magazine Caribbean cruise, Smyth much prefers the Communist Party of Iraq which is supposedly hostile to American interests. In voting for the quisling Iraqi National Council, the CP came in second with 55 votes.

Actually, Klein’s got it right. Despite her autonomist leanings, she understands–perhaps instinctively–that the state is composed of bodies of armed men as Lenin put it in “State and Revolution.” Mao said something similar when he said that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

For left-liberal intellectuals in the USA like Smyth and Cooper who are susceptible to Democratic Party pressures, it is clearly inadequate to come out and defend the DP party line on the need to stay the course in Iraq. This smacks too much of Christopher Hitchens even if there really is no substantial difference between Hitchens and the liberal intelligentsia on the right of the USA to determine events on the ground in Iraq.

So the “communists” in Iraq become a surrogate for their own pro-imperialist politics. The argument goes: if the commies work with the PGA, how bad can it be? Figuratively speaking, wrapping an M-16 in a hammer-and-sickle banner might make it acceptable to some.

Smyth and Cooper are self-styled Latin Americanists. In the first case, you are dealing with somebody who wrote about the FMLN in El Salvador for the Nation Magazine with a degree of sympathy, while Cooper held down a job as a translator for Allende in Chile.

Perhaps lack of familiarity with Iraqi history might lead one to adopt a more benign view of the CP than what is reasonable given its tendency to temporize with bourgeois governments. Although Smyth makes a big deal out of the fact that Saddam Hussein terrorized the CP, the party had no trouble working out deals with Batista in Cuba. At its congress in 1939 the Cuban Communists promised to “adopt a more positive attitude towards Colonel Batista”. Batista was no longer “…the focal point of reaction; but the focal point of democracy”. (New York Daily Worker, October 1, 1939).

The Comintern stated in its journal: “Batista…no longer represents the center of reaction…the people who are working for the overthrow of Batista are no longer acting in the interests of the Cuban people.” (World News and Views, No 60 1938). Historian Hugh Thomas once commented that the Catholic laity had more conflicts with Batista’s dictatorship than the Cuban Communists did.

Meanwhile, the CP in Chile was also no slouch when it came to prettifying Uncle Sam. In 1938, Carlos Contrera Labarca, the General Secretary of the Chilean Communist Party explained to the workers of Chile why US investment was good for the country:

“As for foreign capital invested in Chile, the people have always respected and always will respect the provisions of the political Constitution of the state which guarantee the property of foreign capital and, in general, of all capital, requiring at the same time that the capitalists, national and foreign, respect them on their side. The people have never ceased to recognize the need for the cooperation of foreign capital and are still disposed to solicit that cooperation in the future, if the national interest requires it.”

Sounds exactly like the sort of thing that would endear the CP of Iraq to someone like Paul Bremer. It is also exactly the sort of thing that Naomi Klein has condemned:

The reconstruction of Iraq has emerged as a vast protectionist racket, a neocon New Deal that transfers limitless public funds –in contracts, loans and insurance–to private firms, and even gets rid of the foreign competition to boot, under the guise of “national security.” Ironically, these firms are being handed this corporate welfare so they can take full advantage of CPA-imposed laws that systematically strip Iraqi industry of all its protections, from import tariffs to limits on foreign ownership. Michael Fleisher, head of private-sector development for the CPA, recently explained to a group of Iraqi businesspeople why these protections had to be removed. “Protected businesses never, never become competitive,” he said. Quick, somebody tell OPIC and Paul Wolfowitz.

Full: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040105&c=4&s=klein

My suspicion is that it is this sort of outcry against the foreign economic domination of Iraq that has Smyth and Cooper upset, rather than her supposed adaptation to Islamic radicalism.

In any case, the fight of the Iraqi resistance to foreign occupation is progressive in and of itself whatever the failures of the largely religious based leadership to live up to Western liberal expectations. While nobody will ever mistake the Mahdi army for the NLF in Vietnam, there is one thing that Vietnam and Iraq have in common. They are battlegrounds whose outcome will determine whether the USA will be able to dominate the rest of the world with ease or difficulty. We hope that it will be as difficult as possible. A victory over the Iraqi resistance will serve as a beachhead for further control over the Arab world and its oil resources and geopolitical assets. The imperialist mouthpieces such as Thomas Friedman understand this completely, even it is lost on some of our left-liberal friends.

September 21, 2004

Imperialist feminism in Iraq

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:16 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 21, 2004

One of these days some enterprising radical scholar should write an article or a book on how feminism was used as a justification for the “war on terror”.

In the run-up to the war in Iraq, a segment of the left was championing RAWA, a feminist group in Afghanistan that while never actually supporting the war, would make appearances on CNN at the very moment the USA was being whipped into a war fever–not a very wise time and place for a group with a progressive agenda.

Two years ago, Bush told the UN: “Respect for women… can triumph in the Middle East and beyond…The repression of women [is] everywhere and always wrong!”

While most unbiased observers recognize that Saddam Hussein promoted women into leadership positions (despite having extremely backward attitudes on other questions), feminism has also been misused as a way of controlling the population. NGO’s have sought to drive a wedge between groups conducting the resistance against imperialism and women in their communities who have been traditionally oppressed. By lining up women behind nominally progressive goals, NGO’s or functionaries in the Provisional Governing Authority apparently seek to divide and conquer.

This process is described in great detail in a fascinating article that appeared in Sunday’s NY Times Magazine section. (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/19/magazine/19WOMENL.html) It is focused on the late Fern Holland, a 33 year old PGA official who was assassinated recently. She was involved in setting up women’s centers and providing legal advice to Iraqi women.

Two such women came to her seeking aid in a legal dispute with a Baathist official who built a house on their land and refused to leave. Holland decided that the best way to deal with him was to get a legal write to destroy the house. Although the Times does not explicitly say so, she basically tried to bribe the judge by bringing an Internet cafe to his rice-farming village.

She managed to cajole the court into providing legal cover for bulldozing the house. Although the judge agreed that, ”No one should jump over a woman’s rights,” he pointed out that it was shameful to destroy somebody’s house. After the judgment was made, no Iraqi would carry out the order. Holland had to deliver the bulldozer herself. An Egyptian NGO colleague told her, “A bulldozer…that is an Israeli act.” She replied, ”They can’t just harass women this way, Dr. Adly.”

With her mixture of brutality, gung-ho idealism and missionary contempt for the natives, Holland will remind you of the CIA character in Graham Green’s “The Quiet American.” As reporter Elizabeth Rubin puts it, “From early in her life, Holland harnessed a go-it-alone, pioneer mentality to a Wilsonian belief in universal human rights and self-determination. As an American, she felt a moral obligation to the world, despite or maybe because of her decidedly rough beginnings.”

When a friend from Oklahoma told her about antiwar protests and the failure to find WMD’s, she responded, “I don’t know anything about W.M.D. But I can tell you this countryside is littered with the graves of men, women and children murdered by this regime.” When you read through the Times article, a consistent portrait is drawn of an imperious American official who will not allow herself to be bothered by counter indicative information. In other words, a touchy-feely version of Condoleeza Rice or Paul Wolfowitz.

When she arrived, there were profound illusions that the Iraqis could be bent to the US’s will. Rubin describes the prevailing mood:

It was an exciting time. Visions were grand. Cash was flowing by the truckload from Baghdad. Because it was confiscated money from Saddam’s coffers that the U.S. was distributing and not official American funds, there were almost no regulations on how it was spent. As Rachel Roe, a reservist and lawyer who was rebuilding the legal system in Najaf, told me: ”Fern showed up in the palace in Baghdad looking for the head of democracy and human rights to see what’s the plan and found some 21-year-old political appointee who had no idea what was going on. Someone would just say, ‘O.K., take this cash, put it in a backpack and build democracy centers.’ It was insane. I was looking for guidance on Iraqi law and was met by a 22-year-old American in charge of the Ministry of Justice who said, ‘Don’t worry about that, I’m pretty sure we’re going to rewrite that constitution anyway.’ This is a country of 23 million people, and we’re there with no plan for what we’re going to do. So we just started figuring it out ourselves.”

The article concludes with the following perceptive observations:

Shortly before I left Iraq, I went to a Baghdad provincial council meeting with a council member, Siham Hamdan. She lives in Baghdad’s impoverished Sadr City and had spent several days with Holland in Washington. A professor of English literature at Mustansirya University in Baghdad, Hamdan tried to explain why Iraq’s young men had revolted. ”We did nothing for them in a year,” she said. ”No jobs. No projects. No water, services, sewage, electricity.”

And then there was the cultural miscommunication, which seems to have been complete. The American military has its code of ethics and behavior; the Iraqis have their dignity; and the two have only clashed. She said she spent her last night in Washington touring the city with Holland and had met some of her friends. ”I came to believe she was wonderful,” Hamdan said. ”She told me she wanted to come back to Iraq because she loved the people and couldn’t leave them anymore.”

The conversation reminded Hamdan of E. M. Forster’s ”Passage to India.” She valued Forster for understanding that some English conventions were wrong, and that he needed to change the colonial mentality: ”He tried to tackle this in all his novels until he made this final clash — personal, religious, political, social, cultural, all in one time, in one place in the caves.” She was describing the novel’s climax, when two Englishwomen visit the Marbar Caves with their Indian male friends, and the young Miss Adela Quested comes flying out of the darkness accusing the Indian doctor of assaulting her. ”From that point every party tries to defend his own,” Hamdan said. ”And what began as an attempt at friendship and understanding ends in misunderstanding, failure and total chaos. And the final sentence is marvelous.” As Hamdan recalled it, the English colonial, Fielding, asks the Indian doctor if they can ever be friends again: ”And the doctor answered: ‘Not yet. Not now.’ ” Hamdan laughed, then said: ”Sometimes I feel what’s happening between Iraqis and Americans is just like this: ‘Not yet. Not now.’ I can have an excellent understanding on the personal level but understanding between our nations is somehow impossible.”

Actually, the novel ends a little differently than Hamdan remembered and, in the context of Iraq today, perhaps more prophetically. The Indian doctor on his horse rages at his old friend Fielding: ”Clear out, you fellows, double quick, I say. We may hate one another, but we hate you most. If I don’t make you go, Ahmed will, Karim will, if it’s fifty-five hundred years we shall get rid of you, yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the sea, and then’ — he rode against him furiously — ‘and then,’ he concluded, half kissing him, ‘you and I shall be friends.’ ”

September 13, 2004

Can “democratization” and “modernization” be blamed for fascism?, a reply to Michael Mann

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 4:43 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 13, 2004

In the September 13, 2004 copy of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there’s an interesting article (http://mailman.lbo-talk.org/pipermail/lbo-talk/Week-of-Mon-20040913/020270.html) on sociologist Michael Mann by Scott McLemee who used to participate on the old Marxism list until he discovered that those were not his politics at all. He is a very sharp writer but is plagued by the kind of world-weariness and cynicism you would find in a middle-aged, ex-socialist New York Intellectual of the 1950s. That he is nearly 25 years younger than me makes one wonder where all this world-weariness and cynicism comes from. I guess it is in style or something.

I first stumbled across Mann in the pages of the NLR where he had written a completely wrong-headed article arguing that German workers backed Hitler. I answered him here:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/fascism_and_war/fascism.htm (A long article–do a search on “Mann” to find the exact reference.)

Mann is still writing silly stuff on fascism apparently. He not only believes that the nation-state is to blame for fascism, but connects goose-stepping to democratization as well. In Rwanda, democracy was somehow connected to the need to purify the nation-state of any ethnic “contamination.”

What’s missing from this neo-Weberian’s account is any kind of historical or economic analysis. Genocidal violence is not a function of economic crisis, but a drive for “rule by the people”. He discounts the tendency of economic collapse, arguing that the true explanation for fascism is the desire for “modernization”, like Mussolini getting the trains to run on time. McLemee writes in his customarily detached fashion, “In Mr. Mann’s analysis, fascism appealed not only to people seeking to preserve the status quo, or retreat to an early form of social order, but also to those who wanted modernization to continue under the firm hand of the nation-state.”

Although McLemee is far too professional and far too cagey to express his own opinion, one might assume that he agrees sufficiently with this characterization of Mann to have included it:

But according to David D. Laitin, a professor of political science at Stanford University, Mr. Mann “uses his erudition and keenness of subtle argument to cloud social reality rather than to clarify it.” In a paper to appear in An Anatomy of Power: The Social Theory of Michael Mann, forthcoming next year from Cambridge University Press, Mr. Laitin contends that “the culprit” in genocide “is not democracy, but a form of politics that uses words similar to [those employed by] democrats, but in a different semantic sense.”

Mr. Laitin also suggests that the argument of The Dark Side of Democracy itself rests on a kind of basic confusion. “Mann implies that because democracy and genocide are both modern, they implicate one another,” he writes. “Logically, Mann is incorrectly linking two phenomena that are temporally but not causally linked. This type of reasoning would make democracy culpable for world war, AIDS, and rap music.

I understand that the prolific Professor Mann has also written a book on imperialism. I might take some time to read it after I have retired and after I have finished reading the collected Mark Twain.

September 8, 2004

Reply to Eric Mann and Ted Glick on supporting Kerry

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:47 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 8, 2004

On http://www.dissidentvoice.org you can find a couple of articles that reflect the bankruptcy of the ABB crowd. One is by Eric Mann, a long-time activist in Los Angeles who basically recycles Dmitrov’s Popular Front ideas and rhetoric on behalf of the warmonger billionaire Kerry. Poor Dmitrov, who was courageous and principled even if wrong on the question of class alliances, must be turning over in his grave. Offering his qualified support for Mann is leading Demogreen Ted Glick.

Mann starts off by echoing Tariq Ali’s claim that the masses of the 3rd world are yearning for a Kerry victory. I really have to wonder how Mann and Tariq Ali are so sure about this. Only this morning, I received a note from a colleague who had just returned from a summer in Turkey. He says, “The disposition of the Turkish and Kurdish left in Turkey towards the US elections, if I have observed correctly during the summer months, can be summarized as pity and frustration. Pity for the US antiwar movement that appears to have been entirely coopted (though I heard a lot of comments that wish the movement could continue to be built if Kerry is elected), frustration for Kerry’s equally disturbing plans for the Middle East.”

For Mann, the need for a “united front” against Bush means that we have to make a temporary alliance with Kerry and Edwards. This terminology requires a bit of elucidation. This kind of alliance between socialists and bourgeois parties was an innovation of Joseph Stalin’s Comintern, but was generally called the “Popular Front”. It was tried and failed in Spain and elsewhere. That being said, at least the Popular Front had the merit of involving roughly equal social forces. The Communist Party and the Socialist Party had millions of workers in their ranks. When they sat down to hammer out a common plan for governing with bourgeois parties, they could extract serious concessions.

By contrast, the left in the USA has neither the social or political weight to play this game. To illustrate: when Medea Benjamin held up a peace banner at the Democratic Party convention, she was given the hook as if she were an amateur performing poorly on the stage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. This is not quite what Dmitrov had in mind. It is more like the kind of relationship that a flea has to an elephant.

Mann proposes that a new organization be set up to spearhead this united front:

“The new anti-imperialist force I am proposing—Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush (PIDB)—will carry out the struggle against reaction, racism, and imperialism within this broad electoral united front. This tactical plan will rise or fall on the creation of a network of anti-imperialist groups inside the U.S., political organizations independent of the Democratic Party and the trade union bureaucracy, rooted in major oppressed nationality communities—Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and immigrant—in key urban and rural centers, beginning with Los Angeles where a group of us, functioning independent of any other organizational forms are trying to get this experiment off the ground.”

I don’t see why Mann would bother. The Cobb-Lamarche campaign has pretty much the same agenda, but without the overheated rhetoric.

Turning now to the Cobb-Lamarche camp, one must start by saying that Ted Glick still seems blissfully unaware of the lethal impact that ABB is having on his own party. He agrees with Mann that voters should pull the lever for the prowar billionaire Kerry where it might make a difference in defeating the prowar millionaire George W. Bush. But in “safe states”, they can allow themselves the indulgence of voting for Cobb and Lachance–like a recovering alcoholic rewarding himself or herself with an occasional glass of wine. Glick opines:

“At one point Mann says that the only vote that we should encourage, anywhere and everywhere, is a vote for Kerry. I’m in fundamental disagreement here. How is a vote for Kerry by progressives in Texas, or Georgia, or South Carolina, or Massachusetts or New York, all states where either Kerry or Bush will win by a large margin, of any political value at all? In states where past voting history and current polling makes it clear who will win, progressives should vote for David Cobb.”

This sort of “inside and outside the Democratic Party” approach seems like a win-win situation for Glick. Unfortunately, the only party that will win is the Democratic Party, which has already begun to absorb the Green defectors like a vacuum cleaner sucking up dust. In the Boulder Green Party, the ABB outlook has already taken its toll. One can predict by the time that the Cobb-Lamarche campaign has climaxed, the Greens will be able to fit their entire membership into a Starbucks.

Boulder Green Party torn apart by ‘defections’ Chapter languishes in face of ‘anybody-but-Bush’ election push
By Elizabeth Mattern Clark, Camera Staff Writer September 5, 2004

David Axtell turned Green just before the 2000 election.

He voted for Ralph Nader for president.

Now, Axtell is a registered Democrat again and planning to vote for John Kerry in November.

“I’m an anyone-but-Bush supporter,” the 48-year Boulder resident said.

A philosophical difference over whether Greens should vote Democratic in November is at least partly to blame for a split among Greens in the traditional stronghold of Boulder, putting an end to local monthly meetings and leaving the chapter’s Web site inactive.

Another result is that no Green Party member from Boulder County is running for a political office this fall, although Bob Kinsey of Fort Collins is running for Congress in the district that includes Longmont. He is one of six Greens in Colorado running for public office this year, according to the state party.

Some members say they won’t compromise their political views by voting for anyone in whom they don’t believe. But in a “defection,” as state party spokeswoman Sunny Maynard calls it, many left-wing voters have left the Green Party to join Democrats in an “anybody-but-Bush” push to oust the sitting president.

Of 930 residents who were registered as Green Party members in 2000 and still live in Boulder County, 38 percent are now registered with some other party or are unaffiliated, according to recent county voter data. Some say they changed their affiliation simply to vote in the primary election, open only to Republicans and Democrats.

As of Thursday, there were 760 “active” Green Party members in the county, meaning they voted in the last election. That’s down from about 1,200 in the 2000 general election.

“They’re diminishing, or defecting,” said Nancy Wurl, chief deputy county clerk. “We’re noticing it in the registration figures, certainly. But all parties ebb and flow, and the presidential election makes people shift perhaps more than they would otherwise.”

full: http://www.dailycamera.com/bdc/dc_election/article/0,1713,BDC_11917_3162676,00.html

September 7, 2004

Lord of the Flies

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:55 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on September 7, 2004

Until sleepiness overcame me last night, I was watching the 1963 film “Lord of the Flies”. It was the first time I had seen it since that year when I was a college sophomore. I had also read the 1954 William Golding novel it was based on in high school. It was an extremely popular book, even more so than “Catcher in the Rye”. While watching it with jaded Marxist eyes this go round, it really impressed me how the book and the film served cold war ideological imperatives.

For those who never read the book or saw the film (or the 1990 remake, which I didn’t myself), it is the story of upper-class British school boys who end up on a remote island after their plane crashes. (In the novel, they are in flight from a nuclear war.) After an initial attempt at a kind of cooperative society, they eventually degenerate into a kind of caricature of primitive society with hunters brutalizing the hunted, both human and animal. The message is a distinctly Hobbesian one. Society is a jungle.

In an early scene, one of the boys discovers a conch shell on the beach which is used to summon the others to a kind of town meeting. When you hear him blowing through the shell, you will recognize it immediately from the opening musical theme of the TV show “Survivor”. It is highly likely that Golding’s cautionary tale influenced the thinking of Mark Burnett, the rightwing, ex-paratrooper. Both Golding and Burnett portray human beings as cruel and selfish to the point of wantonness. Golding, a devout Christian, traced this to Original Sin. Burnett, on the other hand, sees aggression as a virtue to be rewarded.

For a high school student like me, Golding’s novel reinforced the ideas contained in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. Human nature is rotten. There will always be rulers and ruled. At least with parliamentary democracy, there are ground rules to keep our baser instincts in check. Furthermore, capitalism could exploit the competitive drive to make sure that goods and services matched market demand. In any case, socialism would only make things worse.

In what was obviously an ideological choice, Golding, a writer of modest talents, won the Nobel Prize in 1983. Graham Greene, a far more deserving (and left-leaning) novelist, was expected to win the prize that year but was passed over in favor of Golding. (Greene never did win the award.)

Golding became deeply pessimistic about humanity after fighting in WWII, as understandably he would. “Lord of the Flies” was followed by the 1955 “The Inheritors” which depicted the extermination of Neanderthal man by Homo Sapiens. Neanderthals are compassionate and communal, while the more sophisticated Cro-Magnons are both crueler and more advanced technologically. This sounds very much like social Darwinism mixed with Calvin.

Nowadays Golding is not much more than a footnote. I doubt that there are very many theses being churned out on the novels of William Golding. His worldview is very much with us, however. This idea that innate human cruelty prevents us from transcending an economic system based on private profit is deeply imbedded in art and social science.

The Lord of the Flies is an image that is drawn upon frequently to illustrate some “senseless” act of cruelty, the latest occasioned by a May 10, 2004 Independent editorial on abuse of prisoners in Iraq:

“One accused US female soldier is claiming that no one told her about the Geneva Convention. Gee. As a defence, this ranks just below the fellow who murdered his parents and then asked for leniency because he was an orphan. That soldier and her guilty colleagues have defouled and dishonoured a great army, a great nation and a noble cause.

Yet, albeit inadvertently, the girl was making an important point. She is not solely to blame for her appalling behaviour. Morality is more a matter of custom, habit and the constraints of circumstance than we care to acknowledge. When those all break down, Lord Of The Flies is never far away.”

With all due respect to our good liberal editors in Great Britain, the problem is one of profit-driven US imperialism rather than human nature.

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