Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 29, 2005

Whitley Strieber and Hurricane Katrina

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:41 am
Last night around 2:30am, I woke up to take a piss. After returning to bed, I turned on the radio as I often do to help put me back to sleep. As it turned out, a discussion between Art Bell, a WABC talk show host, and Whitley Strieber who is best known for his science fiction novels and for his claim that he was abducted by space aliens, was in progress.

Although I consider Strieber a wack job, he was making some very good points about the threat posed by Hurricane Katrina. He focused on two questions, the failure of the government to adequately study the capability of the levees meant to protect New Orleans from flooding; and the global warming conditions that would explain recent super-storms. This is something that is of long-standing interest to Strieber. He wrote a book titled “The Coming Global Superstorm” (co-authored with Art Bell) that was turned into “The Day After Tomorrow,” the rather silly movie about global warming. The movie showed, for example, Manhattan being inundated by 100 feet of water. Now it doesn’t seem quite as silly.

Strieber has a website with articles about superstorms, space aliens, etc. I suggest that you skip the space alien stuff. Although many of the superstorm articles have a predictably lurid cast, they are most often based on commentaries that appear elsewhere in authoritative journals. Here’s a sample:

Global Warming Really Here

Melting Glacier
Despite what the government and car manufacturers would like you to believe, the fact is that global warming is really here. One thing that will slow down the Gulf Stream, the powerful ocean current that brings warm water (and weather) to the UK and the rest of Europe, is dilution of the ocean’s salt level, due to an influx of freshwater from melting glaciers and ice sheets. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts,which is keeping an eye on this phenomenon, says that large regions of the North Atlantic Ocean have been growing fresher since the late 1960s, due to melting glaciers and increased precipitation, both associated with greenhouse warming. Salinity records show that large pulses of extra sea ice and fresh water from the Arctic have flowed into the North Atlantic.

In a recent paper published in Science magazine, Ruth Curry of Woods Hole, along with Cecilie Mauritzen of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, figured out for the first exactly time how much additional fresh water has flowed into the North Atlantic Ocean, how fast it entered the Atlantic circulation, and where that fresh water was stored in frozen form in the past.

full: http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/?id=4746

Yesterday I called some old married friends in Los Angeles. Since the wife’s mother lives in New Orleans, I wanted to find out how she was coping with Hurricane Katrina. It turned out that she had refused to leave the city and was holing up in the second floor of the brick apartment building she lives in. There’s not much chance that the building will be blown away or anything like that, but I am genuinely concerned that the lack of electricity and water will jeopardize her health. Without electricity, there is no air-conditioning. How will she manage in New Orleans’s oppressive heat? Last summer, I was stuck without electricity and water for a day and a half in my 13th floor apartment during the blackout that hit the Northeast. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be subjected to those conditions for a week, let alone the month or more that might affect New Orleans.

Last night the news reported that oil commodity futures are being sold at $70 per barrel since oil refineries are already being shut down in southern Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. This, of course, fully expresses the deadly logic of late capitalism and the looming environmental crisis. The burning of petroleum has created the greenhouse gases that are warming the atmosphere and the oceans. And global warming in turn jeopardizes the orderly capital accumulation process. For some, industrialization and technology are simply tools that are at the ready disposal of the proletariat. If we throw out the bums that run Exxon, we can create a socialist paradise with tract housing and SUV’s for all.

The late Mark Jones, who graced the Marxism list and pen-l with his prickly but sagacious presence, was a prophet of these sorts of developments and it is sad that cancer robbed us of his ability to tie such things together. Today’s AM, a free newspaper that is handed out at subways, had a huge banner headline, Katastrophe–a play on Katrina. It was tempting to see Mark as a “Katastrophist” himself. He examined global warming, energy depletion and war not as separate and distinct processes but as nexus of related phenomena related to the particular needs of the capitalist system in its most advanced but senescent stages. Although I tended to be lumped with Mark as a fellow catastrophist, my emphasis was more on agriculture and water which I saw as more immediately pressing matters. Now, I am not so sure.

August 27, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on August 27, 2005

Now playing at the Quad Cinema in New York, Simone Bitton’s “Wall” is a riveting study of the impact of Israel’s “security fence” on the lives of Jew and Arab alike. Without any editorializing, it all the more effectively drives home the point that the walls, barbed wire fences, checkpoints, watchtowers, etc have turned the West Bank into a vast prison. As one left-leaning Kibbutznik tells Bitton, the Jews–who suffered through ghetto conditions for much of their history–have now imposed them on the Palestinians.

Bitton’s technique owes a lot to American documentary film-maker Frederick Wiseman, who has devoted himself to allowing inhumane institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals and high schools–and the people who experience them from the top and the bottom–to reveal their own inner contradictions. Like Wiseman, Bitton allows a camera in a fixed location to observe seemingly mundane details, such as workmen installing huge chunks of the wall, to speak for themselves. Unlike Wiseman, she also interviews the actors in this drama. With deceptively neutral questions, she allows an Israeli General in charge of installing the fences to hoist himself on his own petard. Palestinians pour out their souls to her, providing bitter testimony about destroyed livelihoods and a sense being captive.

With a film track that includes haunting performances by anti-Zionist Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon and an austere cinematography that increases the sense of isolation, the film conveys a feeling that “the devil has taken over the Holy Land,” as the above-mentioned Kibbutznik put it.

Another West Bank Israeli expresses a sense of futility, feeling that the wall will only deepen Palestinian hostility and a new cycle of violence once ways around the wall are discovered. Indeed, the final scene of “Wall” shows Palestinians sneaking through the crevices of a security fence.

It is hard to imagine anybody with a glimmer of humanity viewing the wall as anything but a affront to civilized values. Singularly ugly and covered with graffiti, they break up the natural flow of town and city alike. When Bitton mentions to the Israeli General that they are considered hazardous to the environment, he shrugs his shoulders and basically blames any untoward consequences on the Palestinians. This is a system that has lost the capacity for self-criticism, much to the dismay of decent people like Simone Bitton.

Bitton makes no attempt to provide any sort of historical framework or offer a political solution to a seemingly intractable situation. As an artist, she has more than successfully carried out her responsibility, which is to look at injustice and render it in dramatic and visual terms. On the film’s website, which includes still photos of the wall, Bitton explains how she got the idea to make it:

On a summer evening in 2002, while watching the evening news on television, I saw the first images of the wall. The Israeli Defense Minister, who had just inaugurated its construction, said that this fence made of iron and concrete would be the ultimate solution for the country’s security problems. Both these words and these images were so weird and worrying to me, and I said to myself: “That’s it, they’ve gone crazy!”

That night I couldn’t sleep. The very idea of a wall erected between Israelis and Palestinians tore me apart. In the following weeks, I was really distressed. I had the feeling that I was being cut in half, that who I am was being denied: an Arab Jew whose entire being is the site of a permanent dialogue. I felt that this wall would be insurmountable for all the goodwilled people like myself, while creating hundreds of new suicide bombers.

Full: http://www.wallthemovie.com/

Bitton was born in Morocco in 1955 and speaks both Arabic and Hebrew. She now lives in Jerusalem. Her entire career has been involved with presenting a progressive alternative to Zionist aggression. In 2001, she made “Citizen Bishara,” a 52-minute portrait of Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian philosopher and member of the Israeli Knesset.

As powerful as this film is, one cannot but feel a sense that there still needs to be a documentary about the history and role of Zionism. With the vast propaganda machine at its disposal in the United States, there is a pressing need for a documentary that can tell the entire terrible story.

The Balkanization of Iraq

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:18 am
If you look at the map below, it will be obvious that most of Iraq’s oil is in the Kurdish controlled north and the Shiite controlled south:
In the May New York Review of Books, Peter W. Galbraith argues for what amounts to the breakup of Iraq:
The best hope for holding Iraq together–and thereby avoiding civil war–­is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants. This, too, suggests the only policy that can get American forces out of Iraq.

In the north this means accepting that Kurdistan will continue to govern its own affairs and retain responsibility for its own security. US officials have portrayed a separate Kurdistan defense force as the first step leading to the breakup of Iraq. The Kurds, however, see such a force not as an attribute of a sovereign state but as insurance in case democracy fails in the rest of Iraq. No one in Kurdistan would trust an Iraqi national army (even one in which the Kurds were well represented) since the Iraqi army has always been an agent of repression, and in the 1980s, of genocide. The Kurds also see clearly how ineffective are the new security institutions created by the Americans. In the face of uprisings in the Sunni Triangle and the south, the new Iraqi police and civil defense corps simply vanished…

In the south, Iraq’s Shiites want an Islamic state. They are sufficiently confident of public support that they are pushing for early elections. The United States should let them have their elections, and be prepared to accept an Islamic state—but only in the south. In most of the south, Shiite religious leaders already exercise actual power, having established a degree of security, taken over education, and helped to provide municipal services. In the preparation of Iraq’s interim constitution, Shiite leaders asked for (and obtained) the right to form one or two Shiite regions with powers comparable to those of Kurdistan. They also strongly support the idea that petroleum should be owned by the respective regions, which is hardly surprising since Iraq’s largest oil reserves are in the south.
full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17103
Although Galbraith has liberal credentials (son of John Kenneth), he is no slouch when it comes to the art of breaking up countries to benefit US imperialist aims, as is evidenced by his post as US Ambassador to Croatia during the 1990s.
To show how tuned in he is to the real needs of imperialism, as opposed to neoconservative fantasies, he gets a ringing endorsement from NY Times editorialist David Brook, who does not mince words:
Galbraith says he is frustrated with all the American critics who argue that the constitution divides the country. The country is already divided, he says, and drawing up a constitution that would artificially bind three divergent societies together would create only friction, violence and civil war. “It’s not a problem if a country breaks up, only if it breaks up violently,” Galbraith says. “Iraq wasn’t created by God. It was created by Winston Churchill.”
One of my other calls yesterday went to another smart Iraq analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht, formerly of the C.I.A. and now at the American Enterprise Institute. Gerecht’s conclusions are often miles apart from Galbraith’s, but they have one trait in common. Both of them begin their analysis by taking a hard look at the reality of Iraqi society. Neither tries to imagine what sort of constitution might be pretty to our eyes or might be good in some abstract sense. They try to envision which system comports with reality.
Gerecht is also upbeat about this constitution. It’s crazy, he says, to think that you could have an Iraqi constitution in which clerical authorities are not assigned a significant role. Voters supported clerical parties because they are, right now, the natural leaders of society and serve important social functions.
full: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/25/opinion/25brooks.html
The one thing that is not mentioned in Galbraith or Brooks’s articles is oil. It is obvious that the Sunnis are opposed to the new constitution because it would leave them impoverished, if the logic of Balkanization goes full cycle. It is interesting that they are supported by Sadr’s guerrilla army whose main social base is in the Baghdad slums rather than the Basra bazaar.
BAGHDAD, Aug 26 (Reuters) – A hundred thousand Iraqis across the country marched on Friday in support of a maverick Shi’ite cleric opposed to a draft constitution that U.S.-backed government leaders say will deliver a brighter future.
The protest could reinforce the opposition of Sunni Arabs who dominate the insurgency and are bitterly against the draft.
Supporters of young Shi’ite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr, who has staged two uprisings against U.S. troops, also protested against poor services during their marches, stepping up the pressure on the government.
A hundred thousand Sadr supporters marched in eight cities, including 30,000 people who gathered for a sermon delivered on his behalf in a Baghdad slum district.
They hardly noticed a huge government poster which read “One Nation, One People, One Constitution”, instead seeking guidance from Sadr who inspires fierce devotion in his followers.
A new more complicated situation might be facing the Iraqi resistance. If imperialism and its local allies plunge ahead with the break-up of Iraq, it will have the effect of creating a more *class* based resistance. However, by tearing the country apart geographically and allowing the relatively oil-free middle to fend for itself, it will be able to concentrate its forces in the north and south and construct barriers of the sort that you find in the West Bank today. American GI’s and quisling troops will man checkpoints at the entrances to both regions. While the Sunni-led resistance might have made imperialist rule over the middle of the country, more far-sighted elements of the American ruling class might have decided to write off this portion just as the Israelis wrote off Gaza.

August 25, 2005

Prolific buffoon

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:49 am

Counterpunch, August 25, 2005

Will the Real Leaders Please Stand Up?

Drop Kicking Juan Cole and Marc Cooper


“I’m tired of waiting on a ship that won’t leave shore
The water’s bloody with the ones, who came before”

-Sleater-Kinney, Steep Air

Go ahead and get excited about Cindy Sheehan’s overnight popularity. It really is a incredibly important development for the antiwar movement. But before we drop what we are doing and follow her lead, we better take a sobering step backward and recognize Sheehan, alone as a one-woman show, has very real limitations.

First, we should start listening to what she is actually saying, which is that this is not about her or her loss. It’s about the war. It’s about the slaughter taking place in Iraq right now. She’s also calling for troops to come home right now. Which is exactly what the antiwar movement should be calling for. But isn’t. Not yet anyway.

Liberals like Marc Cooper and Juan Cole are calling for a phased withdraw ala Senator Russ Feingold’s exit December 2006 proclamation. Writing for his blog Cole explains his lofty perspective:

“I think ‘US out now’ as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn’t having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76, e.g. People often allege that the US military isn’t doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.”

Yep. Those are prolonged occupation excuses from an “antiwar” scholar. Cole’s thesis is a non sequitur. Funny how the tenured Prof’s rationale mirrors that of the Bush administration ­ “stay the course” he effectively says. Keep the occupation steaming onward. Forget the mounting death count. If we “cut and run” a “volcano” (obviously Cole isn’t a geologist) will erupt for Christ’s sake! Those damn Arabs are not smart enough to be able and figure out their future all by their lonesome! We’ve got to show them! That’s the American way damnit!

Oh, how noble of Professor Cole. If we are to accept his putrid rhetoric, however, then we are not acknowledging the voices of dissent in Iraq that have been ringing in unmistankingly clear these past months. They want the US out yesterday. Occupiers like Cole don’t listen, though. They impose whatever they think is best on those they occupy.

Can you imagine someone defending slavery in this manner? “No, no, no, don’t end slavery!” they’d scream. “The slaves will just turn against each other. It’d be civil war! The savages! We’ll give them their freedom in due time! When we say so!”

Well, I hate to say it, but Cole isn’t accepting democracy no matter how much he claims to believe in its principles. The Iraqis voted and the majority that did want their occupiers to leave now. They want to govern themselves. Build their own infrastructure. Run their own government. Is that too much to ask?

Prof Cole doesn’t want that. At least not yet. He’ll let us known when. Good thing Cole has the liberal huckster Marc Cooper who has chimed in to defend his “stay the course” bullshit. As Cooper writes on his own conceited blog,

“Some of the more delusional responses predictably enough come from the Idiot Right who accuse Cole of being a traitor. And, yes, also from those who want immediate, unconditional, un-thought-out withdrawal on the Unrepentant Idiot Left. One of the more prolific buffoons from that corner — Louis Proyect the self-described ‘Unrepentant Marxist’– can offer no better response than to compare Cole with Dick Nixon and then further suggest I undergo a lobotomy for having linked to Cole and to cure what he diagnoses as my incipient [Christopher] Hitchens Syndrome.”

I am pretty sure I’d much rather be a buffoon than endorse the death of more innocent civilians – which would surely happen under Cole and Cooper’s rosy “eventual withdraw” (read: prolonged occupation) scenario. Staying the course will only elicit more violence. More anti-US sentiment. This is a fact. What we do not know for a fact is how Iraqis will deal with US exiting. There is absolutely no way to know for sure. If a civil war breaks out in Iraq after our exit – god forbid – that’s the course Iraqis will choose to take. On their own. But we don’t have any moral authority to impose our values on them and their decisions. I’m sure Prof Cole (and maybe even Cooper) has heard what this imperial behavior is called – we call it ethnocentrism.

So let’s get back to Cindy Sheehan, who is calling for an immediate withdraw of soldiers in Iraq. She doesn’t want any permanent bases in the country, which is a far better position then both Cole and Cooper combined. But Sheehan as a lone messenger has real limitations. She has been branded by the media as a mother who is motivated by her own grief. She is not thinking rationally, they say, she is just trying to make sense of her son’s death. All this, despite the fact that her message is purely political; Sheehan is articulate and media savvy, heck she even has a “progressive” publicist. Cindy lacks something important however ­ she has never served in Iraq like her late son Casey.

The true leaders of the anti-war movement are going to be Casey’s fellow troops like Kelly Dougherty, Pablo Paredes and Jason Gunn who have served in Iraq and are now speaking out against the war. There are hundreds of them. Perhaps thousands. They can’t be discredited in the same manner as Cindy Sheehan. They’ve seen the blood and smelled the death first hand. These are the men and women who will become the leaders of the movement. Not Cooper and Cole, thank heavens.

Joshua Frank is the author of the brand new book, Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, which has just been published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted rate at www.brickburner.org. Joshua can be reached at Joshua@brickburner.org.

August 23, 2005

The Future of Food

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 1:51 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on August 23, 2005

Scheduled for theatrical release at NYC’s Film Forum on September 14, “The Future of Food” documents the rise of genetic modification in the food industry. While it is a much more sober and a much more informative work than “Roger and Me,” both films are focused on corporate villains: General Motors in one case and Monsanto in the other. Rather than relying on a jocular narrator like Moore, “The Future of Food” calls upon some of the most respected authorities in the field. One of them is Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a Berkeley professor who won a tenure battle after criticizing the university’s ties to the biotechnology industry. While this case did not receive the same media attention as moves against Ward Churchill or the Middle Eastern Languages and Culture Department at Columbia University, the stakes were just as high if not higher.

Besides interviewing scientists and policy experts, it also allows farmers themselves to speak out against Monsanto. When Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser’s field was accidentally strewn with patented Monsanto canola seeds, he was sued by the multinational corporation for stealing intellectual property as if he were downloading music from Kazaa! When Monsanto offered to settle out of court with Schmeiser, he decided to fight them. Unfortunately, the Canadian Supreme Court decided in Monsanto’s favor since all branches of government tend to be favorable to giant corporations.

The film gives one example after another of how elected politicians serve on the board of Monsanto and related companies. It also documents the incestuous relationship between their high-level employees and federal agencies meant to regulate them. It is not unusual for some top manager of Monsanto to take a job with the FDA, which is analogous to an Exxon executive going to work for the EPA. Politicians, both Democrat and Republican, have been co-opted as shills for biotechnology. In 1997, Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, joined the Monsanto board where William Ruckelshaus, Nixon’s EPA director, already sat. One wonders why the property-owning class bothers with the pretense of democracy at this point. It would be far more honest if the government was simply made up of CEO’s selected at random from Fortune 100 companies.

The notion that living organisms can be patented defies logic and common sense. As one expert witness points out, it is one thing to patent a tennis racket and another to patent a gene. The ultimate outcome might be control over life itself. If a gene can be patented, then every place it appears–including the human body–would come under the jurisdiction of the law, just as the errant seeds that found their way into Schmeiser’s field.

The film provides a detailed history of how this state of affairs came to be. The first bid to patent a living organism occurred in 1978 when a scientist developed a genetically modified microbe that could absorb oil, a means of controlling spills. This opened the door for Monsanto and other corporations to follow suit. As the film points out, this was never voted on. In effect, genetically modified crops began to dominate the American rural economy and the retail marketplace no matter what the public desired. In 1980, there were zero acres of cultivated GM seeds. Today there are 100 million.

And when the public began to react against this coup, agribusiness figured out ways to maintain its grip on the system. In Oregon, a ballot referendum would have made it mandatory for food labels to disclose whether an ingredient was genetically modified. Big corporations poured millions into an effort to defeat the measure on the basis that it smacked of “government interference.”

The ultimate ambition of companies like Monsanto is to force “Terminator technology” on the world’s farmers. This involves genetic modification to a seed so that subsequent generations will be sterile. This goes against the grain (pun intended) of traditional farming in which seeds are recycled based on their intrinsic value. Percy Schmeiser recoiled at the idea that he would be prevented from using such seeds in the future, since he and his family had considered this the business of the farmer himself and not some greedy corporation.

One of the more poignant sections of the film details the onslaught of American agribusiness on traditional corn-growing practices in Mexico, which date back to the Aztec era. There are over 100 types of corn now being cultivated by Mexican farmers. In certain areas known as “land race” fields, Mexican corn has evolved into new “races” that often incorporate resistance to diseases as well as the taste that is preferred by Mexicans themselves. When doing field research on one of these fields, Ignacio Chapela detected contamination by North American GM corn that had cross-fertilized local corn. Despite government legislation against the import of such grain, it is entirely possible that food handouts from the United States targeted to the poor in the Mexican countryside might have contained GM seeds that were planted unsuspectingly.

Free market dogma would posit the eventual victory of the GM juggernaut on the basis of cost-effectiveness. Why fret over the ostensibly outmoded practices of Mexican farmers, no matter their environmental sustainability, when U.S. corn and wheat can be bought at much cheaper prices. In a world dominated by Adam Smith’s formulae, it might appear difficult to counter this argument. However, it is a bogus argument. The plain truth is that U.S. corn and wheat enjoy government subsidies. The film makes clear that farmers would realize a net loss if they did not receive a subsidy. The real profit is not in farming, which accounts for a dime out of a $1.50 loaf of bread, but in the wholesaling and retailing ends.

GM food, which is the logical end result of the Green Revolution, has been touted as a solution to world hunger. If it is not economically feasible, then perhaps the only excuse for it is that it can feed the needy. Jeffrey Sachs, who strikes poses as the best friend that hungry Africans ever had, has said:

“Scientific advances again offer great hope. Biotechnology could mobilise genetic engineering to breed hardier plants that are more resistant to drought and less sensitive to pests. Such genetic engineering is stymied at every point, however. It is met with doubts in the rich countries (where people do not have to worry about their next meal); it requires a new scientific and policy framework in the poor countries; and it must somehow generate market incentives for the big life-sciences firms to turn their research towards tropical foodstuffs, in co-operation with tropical research centres. Calestous Juma, one of the world’s authorities on biotechnology in Africa, stresses that there are dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of underused foodstuffs that are well adapted to the tropics and could be improved through directed biotechnology research. Such R&D is now all but lacking in the poorest countries.”

Contrary to Jeffrey Sachs, the real answer to world hunger is production for human need rather than profit. Corporations such as Monsanto exist for one reason alone and that is to generate profits. The attraction of GM is not that it is beneficial, but that it lends itself to corporate control just like any commodity. Once the world’s food is produced on the basis of patent, it will become possible to exert monopoly control. To ensure that this goal is met, it is necessary to destroy all resistance, from anti-WTO protestors to solid citizens like Percy Schmeiser, whose only sin was trying to carry on with family traditions.

Future of Food website: http://www.thefutureoffood.com/

Precipitous withdrawal?

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:55 am

Dear Juan Cole,

I was dismayed to discover a favorable reference to your blog entry against precipitous withdrawal on Marc Cooper’s blog this morning. As you might know, this Nation Magazine journalist is developing the dreaded Hitchens syndrome, for which medical science has yet to discover a cure–except lobotomy perhaps.

After I posted Achcar’s reply to you on this matter to the Marxism list I moderate, one of our subscribers had this to say:

“I heard Cole on DemocracyNow! (www.democracynow.org) this morning and it was unbelievable. What he proposes — especially increased reliance on murder from the air — is in fact the most likely scenario for the kind of escalation of the war that Norman Solomon predicted at zmag.org yesterday. It’s also the scenario Nixon used in the last years of Vietnam — successfully, unfortunately — to whittle away antiwar sentiment. And all of Cole’s specific proposals assumed the right of the US to use military force in Iraq and to determine its political fate.”

He is quite right, you know. Here’s a snippet from Nixon’s Silent Majority Speech of November 3, 1969. It is eerily reminiscent of what the Democratic Party “doves” are saying today. It also strikes me that imperialist politics is continually dusting off old routines for new wars. Remember when the Iraqi resistance was accused of interfering with the electoral process last year? It was the same charge that was leveled against the NLF of Vietnam and the FMLN of El Salvador. An oldie, but baddy.

Richard Nixon:

For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster of immense magnitude.

–A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends.

–Our defeat and humiliation in South Vietnam without question would promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest.

–This would spark violence wherever our commitments help maintain the peace-in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere.

Ultimately, this would cost more lives.

It would not bring peace; it would bring more war.

For these reasons, I rejected the recommendation that I should end the war by immediately withdrawing all of our forces. I chose instead to change American policy on both the negotiating front and battlefront.

In order to end a war fought on many fronts, I initiated a pursuit for peace on many fronts.

In a television speech on May 14, in a speech before the United Nations, and on a number of other occasions I set forth our peace proposals in great detail.

–We have offered the complete withdrawal of all outside forces within 1 year.

–We have proposed a cease-fire under international supervision.

–We have offered free elections under international supervision with the Communists participating in the organization and conduct of the elections as an organized political force. And the Saigon Government has pledged to accept the result of the elections.

full: http://watergate.info/nixon/silent-majority-speech-1969.shtml

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

August 13, 2005

Looking Back at The Battle of Algiers

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 5:54 pm

La bataille d' AlgerChallenged by terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare in Iraq, the Pentagon recently held a screening of “The Battle of Algiers,” the film that in the late 1960’s was required viewing and something of a teaching tool for radicalized Americans and revolutionary wannabes opposing the Vietnam War.

Back in those days the young audiences that often sat through several showings of Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 re-enactment of the urban struggle between French troops and Algerian nationalists, shared the director’s sympathies for the guerrillas of the F.L.N., Algeria’s National Liberation Front. Those viewers identified with and even cheered for Ali La Pointe, the streetwise operator who drew on his underworld connections to organize a network of terrorist cells and entrenched it within the Casbah, the city’s old Muslim section. In the same way they would hiss Colonel Mathieu, the character based on Jacques Massu, the actual commander of the French forces.

The Pentagon’s showing drew a more professionally detached audience of about 40 officers and civilian experts who were urged to consider and discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film — the problematic but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq. Or more specifically, the advantages and costs of resorting to torture and intimidation in seeking vital human intelligence about enemy plans.

Michael T. Kaufman, “What Does the Pentagon See in ‘Battle of Algiers’?” (The New York Times, September 7, 2003)

Larbi Ben M'HidiAt a press conference dramatized in The Battle of Algiers, the captive FLN leader Larbi Ben M’Hidi is asked what chance he has of defeating the French. He answers that it has a better chance than the French have of defeating history. M’Hidi’s reply was probably lost on the Pentagon audience since every imperial power in history seems utterly convinced of its own invulnerability. The film has an entirely different significance for the left. We watch it to become inspired, all the more so at a time when Americans are facing our own version of the battle of Algiers.

Although there are real differences between Algeria and France in 1958 and the United States and Iraq today, there are a number of crucial similarities. To begin with, the Algerians saw their struggle in religious terms just as many insurgents do today. The very first communiqué of the FLN — heard in voice-over in the film — calls for “The restoration of the sovereign, democratic and social Algerian state, within the framework of Islamic principles.” Then, as now, the outside power saw itself as rescuing people from feudal and theocratic backwardness. During the height of the battle, the FLN resorted to terror just as elements of the Iraqi insurgency are doing today. When M’Hidi was asked by a reporter at the press conference whether he thought it was “cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people,” he replied:

And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.

Another important similarity is the resort to torture, justified by the colonizers as a necessary evil. Today, after the growth of human rights activism, it is more difficult to mount the same brazen and open defense that the French did. Instead, you have references to “excesses” at Abu Ghraib, always the subject of review but never abolished. Liberal Joseph Lelyveld wrote a lengthy New York Times Magazine article on June 12, 2005 that amounts to a casuistic justification of “soft torture.” Sleep deprivation is okay; electrodes are not. He writes:

Here I have to admit to what may seem a moral debility. As a journalist who had reported on torture and torture victims, and who therefore thought he knew something about the subject, I was surprised that I was finding it harder than most commentators and most people I knew to take a fixed view of coercive force in interrogation.

The Battle of Algiers is a documentary-like, day-by-day, and even hour-by-hour, chronicle of the siege of the Casbah in 1958, which ended in a bloody rout of the FLN. However, just as was the case with the Tet Offensive of 1968 or the assault on Falluja in 2004, this was a pyrrhic victory. The political costs to the French far outweighed the tactical gains. As France grew isolated internationally, it found itself forced to deal with the FLN on its own terms, just as surely the United States will in Iraq.

The confrontation between the French and the FLN involves real and composite characters played nearly entirely by nonprofessionals. Director Gillo Pontecorvo once explained his preference for nonprofessionals. Queimada!When he has a face in mind for a certain character, he will not rest until he finds the person who has just the right appearance. When he was meeting with studio executives during the initial stages of the filming of Burn, they proposed that Sidney Poitier play the leader of the slave revolt. Pontecorvo stood his ground and insisted that Evaristo Marquez, a Colombian cane cutter who had never seen a film before working on Burn, be cast in the role instead.

full: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/proyect120805.html

August 12, 2005

The Rising

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:55 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on August 12, 2005

As the most expensive Bollywood film ever made, “The Rising” might be expected to deliver lavish song-and-dance numbers, old fashioned melodrama and plot twists out of a Dickens novel in ample supply to those both familiar and unfamiliar with this genre. That the film also commemorates the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 in terms reminiscent of Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Burn” sets it apart from the standard fare coming out of India’s film industry. (“The Rising” is scheduled for worldwide release on August 12th, to coincide with India’s Independence Day, which arrives this weekend.)

For those who have never seen a Bollywood film before, you might find it a jarring although pleasant experience. Imagine a John Ford western with John Wayne riding into his home town pursued by a vigilante mob. Upon dismounting he joins old friends in a production number out of Rogers and Hammerstein that celebrates small town virtues. But when the vigilante mob arrives, the singers and dancers switch gears and begin to blaze away at them with six-guns. That is basically the esthetic framework for Bollywood films, which derived their name from combining Bombay and Hollywood.

“The Rising” focuses on an historical figure, the sepoy Mangal Pandey who was hung by the British in the early stages of the revolt. (The word sepoy is Urdu for soldier.) His martyrdom only helped to deepen the anger of a population that had been suffering from one hundred years of East India Company oppression. When the sepoys and their allies rose up, polite opinion in Western Europe viewed them as savages. There were exceptions of course:

However infamous the conduct of the sepoys, it is only the reflex, in a concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India, not only during the epoch of the foundation of her Eastern Empire, but even during the last ten years of a long-settled rule. To characterize that rule, it suffices to say that torture formed an organic institution of its financial policy. There is something in human history like retribution; and it is a rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the offended, but by the offender himself.

–Karl Marx, “The Indian Revolt,” New York Daily Tribune, Sept. 4, 1857

Mangal Pandey is played by Aamir Khan, the charismatic star of the 2001 “Lagaan,” another anti-colonial but comic film that revolves around a cricket match between British soldiers and Indian villagers who never played the game before. If the villagers win, they will enjoy freedom from taxes (lagaan) for three years.

Another historical character portrayed in the film is Captain William Gordon (Toby Stephens) who is Mangal’s commanding officer and close friend. In the opening scene, we see Gordon being rescued from Afghan riflemen by Mangal, who then gives the sepoy his pistol in gratitude.

When rumors circulate that pig and cow fat is being used to grease the cartridges for the new Enfield rifles being deployed in India, the sepoys are horrified. Since they are required to bite off the end of the cartridge before loading powder into the Enfield barrel, both Hindu and Moslem religious sensitivities are assaulted: the first for the misuse of the sacred cow; the second for having to come in contact with an unclean animal. The film makes clear that the East India Company chose to use animal fat because it is cheap. Director Ketan Mehta is unstinting in his view of British greed and cruelty.

When the sepoys are assembled on the parade ground and ordered to test the new rifles, none steps forward except Mangal who has been assured by his friend Captain Gordon that the cartridges are not tainted. When he subsequently learns that he has been betrayed, he flies into a rage and becomes a central leader of a movement to make war on the British.

“The Rising” exposes the profit-making nature of British colonialism at odds with the pompous speeches about “civilization” delivered by the military brass throughout the film. Gordon is never quite comfortable among the elite officers since he is Scottish, Catholic and lower-middle class. Not much is known about the historical Gordon, except for the fact that his sympathies were with the rebels and that he might have even fought with them. Leaving aside questions of historical accuracy, the character is essential for the dramatic development of the film since he embodies the moral complexities at work in the mind of a professional soldier faced with blatant injustice. In explaining the role of Gordon as a conflicted colonial soldier, director Mehta said, “It’s not white and black. We’re dealing in multiple shades of characterisation and multiple perspectives.”

At one point, Gordon rescues a young woman condemned to sati, a Hindu funeral custom in which the widow was burned alive with a newly deceased husband and that had been outlawed by the British. She then becomes his lover. The British opposition to this practice, which they called suttee, has been analyzed by post-Marxist theorist Gayatri Spivak in “Can the Subaltern Speak” as a mechanism for the continued domination of India. The British claim that they are rescuing Indian women but are really more interested in superprofits.You find the same sort of dynamic at work in opposition to the chador in Afghanistan or the veil in Algeria during the French occupation. The film takes Gordon’s opposition to wife-burning at face value but we are still left with the feeling that British presence, despite its willingness to attack superstition, does more harm than good.

In terms reminiscent of contemporary globalization theory, “The Rising” dramatizes the way in which the East India Company’s tentacles penetrated far and wide. We learn that Indian villagers are forced to grow poppies for opium exports to China since that is the only commodity that can be exchanged for Chinese silk and tea. When some villagers begin selling poppies to a local trader in violation of an East India Company monopoly protected by British law, Mangal Pandey and his fellow sepoys are ordered to fire on them and burn down their houses.

In a key scene, Mangal and Captain Gordon are discussing the growing rift between the Indian soldiers and their British commanders. After warning Gordon that the sepoys will destroy the Company, Mangal then asks, “What is a company?” It is clear that the Indian soldier has about as much of a grasp of the operations of multinationals as many soldiers fighting on their behalf do today. Gordon explains that the Company is like a multi-headed god from the Hindu religion except that it has more than a thousand heads and operates solely on the basis of making profit.

Whether the director or screenwriter had modern day Iraq or Afghanistan in mind when they began working on this project, the similarities are striking. Historian William Dalrymple, whose next book “The Last Mughal” deals with the 1857 revolt, has pointed out that the revolt had a Muslim character in Delhi, where words like fatwa, mudjahadeen and jihad were all in play.

For a scholarly discussion of the historical role of Mangal Pandey, I strongly recommend the Chapati Mystery blog, which has begun a series of articles on the martyred sepoy. This cooperative blog “where the empire is resisted” was created in honor of the 1857 rebellion and one of the contributors can be reached at sepoy@chapatimystery.com!

At half past three on Sunday March 29th, 1857, a sepoy of the 34th Native Infantry named Mangal Pandey put on his red army coat and hat, but left his traditional dhotti on instead of the standard issue pantaloon, grabbed his musket and went out to the regiment ground shouting – “Come out, you bhainchutes [sister-fuckers], the Europeans are here. From biting these cartridges we shall become infidels. Get ready, turn out all of you.” When the sergeant-major came rushing out, Mangal Pandey took a shot at him and sent him hiding. The adjutant Lt. Baugh was informed and he rushed out on his horse with a brace of pistols in the holster. As he entered the regiment ground, Mangal Pandey shot the horse from under him. Baugh jumped off the horse and fired on Pandey who was reloading. Then he drew out his sword and rushed at Pandey who dropped his musket and drew out a talwar. They fought ferociously until Pandey seriously injured Baugh who retreated before the fatal blow could fall. At the same moment, sepoy Sheikh Pultoo grabbed Mangal Pandey and called on the Jemadar Ishwari Pandey of the guard to help bring Panday down. The Jemadar never moved an inch; Mangal Pandey wrestled himself free and wounded Pultoo as well. The men of Barrackpore stood and watched as the first struggle of the mutiny played out before them.

Full: http://www.chapatimystery.com/>

August 11, 2005

The Tragedy of Progress: Marxism, Modernity and the Aboriginal Question

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:21 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on August 11, 2005

About eight years ago, I began writing about the contradictions between Marxism and indigenous movements with an eye toward resolving them on a higher level. These investigations were provoked by articles that had appeared in Living Marxism (LM), the magazine of the Revolutionary Communist Party in England. They were also fueled by a long-running debate with James Heartfield, an RCP member who was their public face on the Internet and who continues to profess Marxist beliefs long after the people associated with the RCP began identifying themselves as libertarians.

I found one LM article particularly provocative. It argued that human rights groups defending the Yanomami Indians in the Amazon rainforest were hindering their social and economic development by seeking to keep them preserved as if in amber, like museum displays. This attack was related to their attacks on an environmental movement also seen as hindering “progress.” For the RCP, progress meant widespread adoption of nuclear energy, DDT, genetically modified foods, etc. Nowadays, this group–with the exception of Heartfield–has dropped all pretenses to socialism, but still pushes heavily for its “modernization” agenda through its latest public face, http://www.spiked-online.com/>.

For example, this snippet from an article on the Bolivian struggle encapsulates their attitude toward indigenous forms of struggle:

However, some of those lining up with today’s Bolivian protests are not just disillusioned with politics at home – they’ve never really tried it. People who might skirt around their local estate because it’s too rough will nonetheless happily march alongside Bolivian peasants in opposition to US policy. Theirs is a middle-class anti-Westernism, a suspicion of big business and big development. It’s a fantasy of return to a simpler, cleaner life, away from the mess of burgers and MTV. The call to ‘restore the Inca nation’ strikes a chord.

full: http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CABEC.htm>

There is so much that is wrong with this that I wouldn’t know where to start. So I will just say that it is indistinguishable from the garbage you get from Thomas Friedman columns and leave it at that.

Until recently, I found very few people on the left who were trying to reconcile Marxism and indigenous struggles. Three of them, all Indian, became members of the Marxism list: Hunter Gray (nee John Salter, a contributor to the Cochranite American Socialist magazine in the 1950s whose article I had stumbled across in the course of archiving the magazine), Roland Chrisjohn and my good friend Jim Craven.

Very recently, I discovered another voice in the wilderness, namely David Bedford, a Canadian professor whose “The Tragedy of Progress: Marxism, Modernity and the Aboriginal Question” (co-authored with York graduate student Danielle Irving) I have just completed and which can be ordered at: http://www.fernwoodbooks.ca/pages/fern_intro.html>

In an email from David, I learned about how he was led down this road. He was a member of the Canadian affiliate of the Spartacist League whose experiences in the class struggle forced him to question many of his previous assumptions:

My own interest in Aboriginal struggle came from my wife’s experiences. She is a doctor who in 1990 was practicing on the Mohawk reserve on Khanawake. This was the year of the Mohawk resistance to the Canadian state and she had incredible experiences every day trying to get into the blockaded community to see her patients… regularly running the gauntlet of city police, provincial police, regular army units and racist crowds. The article and book stemmed from discussions with comrades on the issues of the future of aboriginal communities, their role in socialist transformation and more theoretical issues of stages, progress, nationalism, and development. Needless to say I did not always agree with my comrades.

The introduction of “The Tragedy of Progress” is titled “Aboriginal Crisis and the Silence of the Left.” It documents the indifference of the organized labor movement and socialist groups to the assault on native struggles over fishing, hunting and land claims, including the one at Khanawake that involved preventing the extension of a golf course. Developers sought to cut down a pine forest that was sacred to the Mohawks. This had followed years of encroachment on Indian land. All across this hemisphere, such struggles are taking place continuously, including Chile where the Socialist government has done little to defend Mapuche land claims. With the failure of the organized left to come to the defense of indigenous peoples, Bedford can understand why people such as Ward Churchill have expressed hostility toward Marxism. But the purpose of the book, as has been mine, is to show that Marxism can be a powerful weapon on behalf of indigenous struggles, particularly if seen in terms of the national question.

Chapter one is titled “The Continuing Conquest.” It identifies the mode of production that prevailed in pre-conquest American Indian society and draws upon the work of anthropologist Eleanor Leacock. I can’t recommend Leacock highly enough. Here is some background on her from the woman anthropologist pages at the University of Indiana:

After graduating from college in 1944, Leacock sought to work with Ruth Benedict in Washington D.C. at the Office of War Information to act on her opposition to fascism. However, she failed to pass an FBI background check due to “un-American” activities dating back to her times as a radical at Radcliffe and chose instead to attend graduate school at Columbia University. With her experience of being persecuted for her political beliefs behind her and the intense focus of the field on historical particularism, she chose to keep her Marxist leanings to herself…

For her dissertation, Leacock asserted that family hunting territories, individually owned and inherited tracts of land, were not aboriginal among the Innu (Montagnais-Naskapi), the subarctic Indian people of Labrador. “Her path-breaking work exploded the prevailing antievolutionary and explicitly anti-Marxist theses (promoted by Frank Speck) that ‘communism in living’ had never existed and that private property existed even in gather-hunter societies. She found that subsistence resources were not privately owned, even after centuries of commodity production; although the rights to trap in given places were privatized, the rights to gather, fish, hunt for food, and so on were still communal.

full: http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/leacock.htm>

In chapter two, titled “Aboriginal Genocide and the Left,” the authors conduct a survey of the Canadian left including the NDP, the CP and various Trotskyist groups. All are found lacking to one extent or another. Basically, they are all plagued by “stagist” conceptions which posit a kind of Hegelian necessity for precapitalist societies to be replaced by capitalism. Capitalism then creates the material basis for socialism, whose arrival will remedy past injustices against the Indian. No wonder people like Ward Churchill are hostile to Marxism with such a point of view prevailing. I was particularly pleased to see a sharp criticism of George Novack’s 1992 pamphlet “Genocide Against the Indian” there. I too find this work replete with stagist conceptions that would be repugnant to American Indians, whose traditional ways are seen as a kind of obstacle to capitalist progress. I commented on a defense of Novack’s schema that had appeared in the Militant newspaper last year:

“Novack explains the historically progressive spread of capitalist social relations from coast to coast in the United States, while at the same time condemning the brutal extermination of the Native American population by which this was accomplished. There is a difference between sweeping away precapitalist encumbrances such as tribalism, and a genocidal war, which is what the capitalists ended up carrying out for reasons described by Novack. Similarly, explaining that slavery needed to be swept away does not mean one is calling for killing all the slaves.” [Quoting from the Militant]

There is so much confusion in this reply that one hardly knows where to begin. First of all, the American capitalists were not interested in wiping out “tribalism”, whatever that is. Their goal was removing Indians from the land they legally owned. To somehow conflate this with the historic goals of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is a stretch at best. One of the most brutal attacks on the Indian people took place in the Southeast, where small and free Cherokee landowners were driven from their land in order to exploit it for cotton production based on a latifundia model. If this is supposed to have something in common with Tom Paine or the Enlightenment, I cannot discern what it is.

More to the point, there is an implicit notion in Novack’s schema that capitalism is more productive than previous systems. “Encumbrances” such as tribalism had to be removed in order for civilization to move forward. This kind of undialectical view characterizes the Kautskyism of the Second International. In truth, the American Indian made far more productive use of nature than the capitalist ranchers and farmers who replaced them. The capitalist mode of production could certainly produce more goods with less labor, but at a terrible cost to the long-term viability of the land. If anything, the socialist world of the future will have to re-institute many of the ways that indigenous peoples related to the environment.

full: http://lists.econ.utah.edu/pipermail/marxism/2004-January/003199.html>

Chapter three is titled “Aboriginal Apprehensions of Marxism.” It is a survey of critiques of the kind of stagism found in Novack from both Marxists influenced by postmodernist thought or the Frankfurt school, and from indigenous thinkers.

“Post-Marxist” thought will tend to have more of an affinity for indigenous issues as it tends to question “grand historical narratives” of the sort found in schemas such as Kautsky’s writings. As one example, the authors cite David Barsh, whose 1988 article “Contemporary Marxist Theory and Native American Reality” argues that Marxism and liberalism share certain assumptions about “progress”:

Marxism itself [like liberalism] is a logical development from the rise of scientific and technological rationalism at the end of the 18th century. People used science to conquer nature, and Marxism now proposes to use science to overcome the constraints in human society that (in theory) hold back the further progress of conquering nature.

This leads him to conclude:

In the final analysis, the problem of industrialism dwarfs the Left-Right debate as Indian leaders have long maintained. Large-scale technocratic industry concentrates power, alienates workers, unleashes ecological irresponsibility, and increases States’ capacity for suicidal warfare without regard to whether production is controlled by corporate or State bureaucracies.

This obviously has an affinity for ideas put forward by Russell Means, a close ally of Ward Churchill, in an article titled “The Same Old Song” presented at a Black Hills Survival Gathering at Rapid City, South Dakota in 1980 when both Indian and Marxist organizations submitted papers. The Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) presented a paper titled “Searching for a Second Harvest” that reeked of dogmatism and racism, just as the sort found in the similarly named British group. Means argues:

Now let’s suppose that in our resistance to extermination we begin to seek allies (we have). Let’s suppose further that were to take revolutionary Marxism at its word: that it intends nothing less than the complete overthrow of the European capitalist order which has presented this threat to our very existence. This would seem to be a natural alliance for American Indian people to make. After all, as the Marxists say, it is the capitalists who set us up to be a national sacrifice. This is true as far as it goes.

But, as I’ve tried to point out, this ‘truth’ is very deceptive. Look beneath the surface of revolutionary Marxism and what do you find? A commitment to reversing the industrial system which created the need of white society for uranium? No. A commitment to guaranteeing the Lakota and other American Indian peoples real control over the land and resources they have left? No, not unless the industrial process is to be reversed as part of their doctrine. A commitment to our rights, as peoples, to maintaining our values and traditions? No, as long as they need the uranium within our land to feed the industrial system of the society, the culture of which the Marxists are still a part.

The parallels with Barsh are striking. For both the post-Marxist and the indigenous activist, the primary contradiction is between “the industrial system” and Indian traditional ways.

In the final chapter titled “Marxism and the Aboriginal Question” and a postscript titled “Prospects for the Future,” the authors put forward some tentative suggestions on how Marxism and native struggles can be reconciled. They are rooted in a critical reading of works such as Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks and Engels’s “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.” These works are imbued with a “tragic sense” of how a democratic and egalitarian society was superseded by private property and “civilization”. Although Marx and Engels saw the rise of capitalism as being based on iron historical laws, they did not worship at its altar as the British RCP did.

Referring to the Iroquois constitution, Engels writes:

And a wonderful constitution it is, this gentile constitution, in all its childlike simplicity! No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits – and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected, by the gens or the tribe, or by the gentes among themselves; only as an extreme and exceptional measure is blood revenge threatened-and our capital punishment is nothing but blood revenge in a civilized form, with all the advantages and drawbacks of civilization…And what men and women such a society breeds is proved by the admiration inspired in all white people who have come into contact with unspoiled Indians, by the personal dignity, uprightness, strength of character, and courage of these barbarians.

full: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/ch03.htm>

But despite the noble character of these people, they were inevitably to fall victim to the relentless march of history. As Engels puts it in the same passage, “Let us not forget that this organization was doomed to extinction.”

Moving forward in the history of Marxist thought, Bedford and Irving seek to resolve the contradictions between Marxism and the indigenous through a fresh reading of Lenin’s writings on the national question. They believe that the following citation lends itself to a defense of struggles such as the kind that the Mohawk nation fought:

Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favour, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against. We fight against the privileges and violence of the oppressor nation, and do not in any way condone strivings for privileges on the part of the oppressed nation.

full: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/ch04.htm>

I just want to conclude with a couple of suggestions to David and Danielle for further research.

First, I would strongly recommend Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marx”, which is published by Monthly Review press. It is a study of his relationship to the Russian populist movement that demonstrates a clear move away from earlier writings, especially on India, that betray a certain weakness on the question of the inevitability of capitalist progress. Marx specifically tells the Russians that his economic writings were not meant as some kind of prescription for how society must evolve. By taking his stand with the precapitalist rural commune, Marx showed that he was not a captive of Hegelian type schemas about progress.

I would also strongly recommend the writings of José Carlos Mariátegui, the father of Peruvian communism. My analysis of the importance of Mariátegui in resolving the contradictions between Marxism and indigenous struggles can be found at:


You can also find an online archive some of his writings at:


This page contains a link to his 1928 article, “The Problem of the Indian” at:


I will conclude with an excerpt from this article:

The assumption that the Indian problem is ethnic is sustained by the most outmoded repertory of imperialist ideas. The concept of inferior races was useful to the white man’s West for purposes of expansion and conquest. To expect that the Indian will be emancipated through a steady crossing of the aboriginal race with white immigrants is an anti-sociological naiveté that could only occur to the primitive mentality of an importer of merino sheep. The people of Asia, who are in no way superior to the Indians, have not needed any transfusion of European blood in order to assimilate the most dynamic and creative aspects of Western culture. The degeneration of the Peruvian Indian is a cheap invention of sophists who serve feudal interests.

August 9, 2005

John Dinges on Venezuela

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:22 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on August 9, 2005

Dear John Dinges,

I stumbled across your CJR article on the Venezuelan press through a rave review on Marc Cooper’s blog. Since Marc, who apparently is an old friend of yours from Allende’s Chile, has staked out “The God that Failed” territory with Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens recently, I fully expected your article to be 100 percent crapola. As it turns out, it is only half-crapola. Congratulations.

To begin with, I must commend you for a bravura centrist performance. By staking out a position between the “extremism” on both sides in Venezuela, you remain true to the NPR ethos that you must have absorbed in your tenure there as managing editor. It is the same sort of centrism that was on display in their coverage of the war in Iraq and that led Scott Sherman to make these observations in a long article in the Nation Magazine on NPR three months ago:

Since 9/11 NPR’s ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, has devoted a number of his columns at npr.org to the network’s coverage of the Bush Administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s perhaps too early for a definitive assessment of NPR’s reporting on these subjects, but what’s clear is that quite a few listeners are dissatisfied with the coverage of George W. Bush and his foreign policy. Consider a recent missive from Richard Steinman, a research scientist at Columbia University. On the weekend of March 19, 2005, Steinman turned on his radio, looking for coverage of the demonstrations that marked the second anniversary of the Iraq War. In a subsequent letter to Dvorkin, Steinman recounted NPR’s programming choices that weekend: “a ‘patriotic,’ feel-good West Point piece; sports fans’ feelings toward a baseball player (yes, steroids); more feel-good filler about an Iraqi-American painter and her use of color; Bantu Refugees Adjust to New Lives in America. Quote from the story: ‘we give the government of America the high five’; Army Chefs Battle for Best-Dish Honors; a singing physics professor.”

Although I will give you credit for acknowledging Chavez’s popularity among the poor and for distancing yourself from the kind of hysteria in liberal circles in the USA that no doubt led to Cooper’s characterization of him as a “Frankenstein,” I do believe that the section of your article that deals with Teodor Petkoff to be both tendentious and propagandistic.

Let me cite it in its entirety:

Teodoro Petkoff may be the closest thing to a genuinely independent journalist in Venezuela. It helps that he owns his own newspaper, Tal Cual, a thin afternoon daily that combines brainy, fact-laden editorials with bitingly humorous news reports. He is an acerbic critic of the government, but he condemned the military coup and keeps the opposition at arms length. Petkoff describes himself as a one-time revolutionary who learned to appreciate democracy and to reject all forms of militarism and totalitarianism. He is a man of the left who wants the Chavez experiment to succeed, and while he applauds its attention to the poor he faults the government for not using its oil profits for long-term investment and job creation. He sees Chavez as a military man with an authoritarian streak and an indelible suspicion of a free press. “He has one foot in democracy, one foot in authoritarianism. But he is going to maintain that ambiguity, that unstable equilibrium. He is not going to become a dictator,” Petkoff predicted.

Petkoff is optimistic about the future of both democracy and the media. More than devotion to journalistic principle, it is the prospect of six more years of Chavez, plus the fear of sanctions under the new press laws, that have put the media owners on a more balanced path, he says.

full: http://www.cjr.org/issues/2005/4/dinges.asp

Let us perform an exegesis on this ungainly clot of prose that might pass muster in the Columbia Journalism School but not among the more critical minded. You state that Petkoff faults the government for eschewing “long-term investment and job creation.” Don’t you think that you owe it to your readers to put this into some kind of context? We are not dealing with some sort of disinterested Keynesianism here. Petkoff has a history as a finance minister in the government that preceded Chavez’s. In an April 19, 1996 report, The Financial Times made it clear that Petkoff was like Argentina’s Menem or any other of the politicians ramming neoliberalism down the throat of the poor:

Far from having qualms about his new job, the socialist minister assures foreign investors about Venezuela’s commitment to implement market-oriented reform and to seek an agreement with the IMF. Mr Michel Camdessus, IMF managing director, said yesterday he was ‘optimistic’ the IMF and Venezuela would be able to reach an agreement on a loan package soon. ‘I hope we will see in the next few days a conclusion of the negotiations,’ he said.

When Petkoff was finance minister, he had a chance to demonstrate his commitment to Venezuelans about the benefits of “long-term investment.” In a Jun 13 1996 InterPress article by Humberto Marquez, we learn:

Venezuela is trying to attract investment in oil and petroleum derivatives, mining, tourism, telecommunications and construction. And it is seeking buyers for shares in enterprises to be privatised, including aluminum, steel, telephones, electricity, tourism and transport.

The Agenda, whose stringent adjustment of the buying power of Venezuelans – four out of five of whom are poor – began to go into effect in April, with the aim of taming inflation and restoring fiscal balance based mainly on higher revenues.

The government instrumented a sixfold rise in fuel prices – the oil sector is a State monopoly – and its second 70 percent devaluation in four months. And it freed up the currency, prices, rates on public services and interest rates, while parliament was asked to raise sales taxes from 12.4 to 16.5 percent.

So beneath all of Petkoff’s lofty phrases about “democracy” and “investment,” we discover a track record that led to the class polarization that swept Chavez into power and that keeps him there now.

Finally, on the question of Chavez’s alleged human rights violations, I think it is useful to remember the state of affairs that existed in Venezuela in the period that Petkoff waxes nostalgic for:

Between October 1994 and September 1995, security forces killed 126 people, 46 in extra judicial executions, and 28 while they were in police or military custody. Authoritarianism and repression are growing. Of 13,941 arbitrary detentions, 94 per cent occurred during anti crime operations mainly in poor neighbourhoods. Amnesty International has detailed many examples of miscarriages of justice and claims that the main perpetrators of human rights violations are agents of the state. It is not that the country is lawless. On the contrary. There is, for example, a Vagrancy Act in operation which allows the police to arrest and detain without charge, and for up to three months, anyone considered “vagrant”. As the local police stations cannot cope with so many detainees it has become common practice to “sell” them to the bigger prisons where the most horrible and horrifying abuse is meted out to them. It is hardly surprising, that AIDS has become rampant within the prison system; hardly surprising that up to four prisoners die each day in captivity. (The Irish Times, October 17, 1996)

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

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