Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 26, 2008

Tim Unwise

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 11:00 pm

Tim Wise: opposed to Albanian folk music and tofu

Over on alternet.org, a website occupying a place on the political spectrum a bit to the left of Huffington Post, there’s an article that has been generating a bit of controversy. Titled rather provocatively “Enough of ‘Barbituate’ Left Cynicism, Obama Is a Victory over White Supremacy,” it is a reproach to those reprobates like me, Alexander Cockburn, Paul Street and others who tend to regard the Obama presidency as Bill Clinton’s 3rd term.

When crossposted to the pro-Obama Portside mailing list, it even rankled some people who had actually rung doorbells for Obama. If Wise’s intention was to win people to his point of view, he really needs to brush up on his people skills. The politics of course is a lost cause.

The bulk of Wise’s article is a kind of throwback to 1950s B movies like “My Son John” that has some kid looking like Wally Cleaver getting sucked into a secret commie cell and getting transformed into a robotic true believer after the fashion of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. For some reason, Wise has chosen to personify these kinds of it-came-from-outer-space Rooskies as pro-Albanian Marxists:

But despite being interesting, these folks also managed, at least for me, to demonstrate one of the key problems with the left in the U.S. Namely, for the sake of ideological purity few within the professional left expressed any joy about life, or any emotion whatsoever that wasn’t rooted in negativity. They were like the political equivalent of quaaludes: guaranteed to bring you down from whatever partly optimistic place you might find yourself from time to time.

This was never so evident as the day I hopped into a car with one of the Stalinoids (a member of something called the Albanian Liberation League, which viewed the brutal regime of Enver Hoxha as a worker’s paradise), and headed downtown for a rally to protest Contra aid. Once in the car, I asked about the music playing from his stereo. What was it? I wanted to know. He quickly explained that it was Albanian folk music, and the only music he listened to. I made some joke about how strange it was to be living in one of the greatest musical towns on Earth and yet to restrict oneself to a single genre of music (especially that favored by Albanian sheepherders), to which my revolutionary friend responded with a grunt and a scowl. Of course, because Comrade Stalin never much liked jazz.

And if it is not bad enough that they listen to the music favored by Albanian sheepherders, they are into health food as well:

In the case of the latter, one most often notices an almost permanent scowl, a dour and depressing affect devoid of happiness, unable to appreciate life until the state is smashed altogether and everyone is subsisting on a diet of wheatgrass, bean curd and tempeh.

First of all I want to assure comrade Wise that it is not necessary for the state to be smashed in order to subsist on such a diet. Now I can’t advise anybody to mess with wheatgrass, which tastes just like it sounds, but tofu and tempeh are really quite nice when combined with the right sauce. More to the point, I strongly urge everyone to give quinoa a shot. This health food store staple has only recently entered my cupboards lately and it is really quite wonderful. I especially recommend it with sautéed green pepper, ginger, garlic, carrots and onions. Yummy!

Taking a cue from Don Quixote, Wise next takes up his lance and attacks an opponent that exists only in his mind:

Now, in the wake of Barack Obama’s victory these barbiturate leftists are back in full effect, lecturing the rest of us about how naive we are for having any confidence whatsoever in him, or for voting at all, since “the Democrats and Republicans are all the same,” and he supports FISA and the war with Afghanistan, and all kinds of other messed up policies just like many on the right.

If you can get past the clumsy, run-on sentences, you are struck by his tendency to put words in his opponents’ mouths like “the Democrats and Republicans are all the same.” Carl Davidson is also very good at inventing crude formulations that supposedly appear in publications of the anti-Obama left like:

‘You’re deluded!’ You’re Obamaniacs! ‘You’re wrong!’ ‘Obama is a capitalist!’ ‘Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid! Obama is the more dangerous warmonger because he’s the new ‘Uncle Tom’ Black face of imperialism!’

Well, if you ever catch me writing this kind of garbage, you have permission to chop off my typing fingers. Contrary to Wise, the point I and others have made is that the Democrats and Republicans are not the same. The liberal supporters of Obama are quite right when they point out that the Republicans appoint rightwing fanatics like Anthony Scalia to the Supreme Court. It is up to the Democrats to appoint judges like Stephen Breyer who have the same kind of centrist, pro-corporate orientation as the politician who nominated him. If the 2-party system was not able to offer voters this kind of choice, it would break down immediately. The purpose of a Stephen Breyer or any of a number of liberal congressmen like Dennis Kucinich is to maintain the illusion that it is worth voting for Democrats. Like the shills in a 3-card Monte game who are allowed to win every so often, they serve to keep the suckers in play. Considering the con job that Barack Obama is currently running on the American people, an army of shills will be required to keep them from raising the kind of hell that any politician will run from in fear, whether he is Black or white; male or female. For in the final analysis, bourgeois politics is ultimately about keeping the Citibanks and AIG’s on top of the heap and the working class on the bottom despite empty rhetoric about “hope” and “change”.


  1. Wise has seemed especially irritable since he was taken to task, appropriately, at Black Agenda Report for some elitist analysis of poor white people’s politics (in service to Obama, of course).

    It must be tough for him to be repeatedly reminded that he supported a candidate of slaughter and empire. His solidarity with dark-skinned peoples does not extend to Afghans, I guess.

    Comment by jp — November 26, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

  2. A thought occurs: What’s to stop someone today from *creating* such fantastical scarecrows as this “Albanian Liberation League” in order to excitedly point at them in this manner?

    All it takes is making a semi-believable website, filled with the loony articles of his choice, pictures of random people from demos, a few semi-decent photoshops of “published” book covers, and a Wikipedia article (if it is in Wikipedia, it’s real as we all know).

    And next time Louis, or anyone else googles the organisation’s name, he will find immediate “proof” of its existence.

    I know it sounds like too much work to write up semi-believable articles for such a website, but all one needs to do really is copy and paste various paragraphs from existing published material of various political organisations (including fascist ones, after all you want to make them look rather incoherent and loony), into single articles. Ta-daaaaa! The “Albanian Liberation League” is born!

    Comment by Antonis — November 26, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

  3. As for the presumed stalinoids’ tofu-eating habits, this is directly borrowed from the lame put-downs of Republican bloggers, who often refer to “tofu-eating” and “latte-sipping” pinko-liberals. Which really is a post-modern way of effeminizing your opponents, instead of outright calling them sissies, fags etc like they used to. So well done Tim Wise, for using the exact same methods Republican troglodytes use instead of engaging politically.

    Comment by Antonis — November 27, 2008 @ 12:00 am

  4. Yeah I agree with Antonis. The whole thing about stopping everyone from having fun, draws on the nagging woman stereotype as well.

    Comment by Required — November 27, 2008 @ 1:41 am

  5. Great post, I’d not read this Wise person. I like this bit in your post: “Considering the con job that Barack Obama is currently running on the American people, an army of shills will be required to keep them from raising the kind of hell that any politician will run from in fear, whether he is Black or white; male or female.” I remember on November 4th, those on the true left (rather than ‘decent’ left) said we’d have to act quickly to organise, because the Obama folks would be moving just as quickly in gettin’ their DLC peeps into the Dear Leader’s office. What amazes me is how the media have been treating Obama as if he were president now.

    Also see this on Undernews (via FAIR): http://prorev.com/2008/11/media-cheering-obamas-centrists-with_27.html

    As for quinoa, yeah! Actually, I’m making “Quinoa with Butternut Squash and Spicy Tomato Sauce” today!

    Recipe: http://www.waitrose.com/recipe/Quinoa_with_Butternut_Squash_and_Spicy_Tomato_Sauce.aspx

    Comment by Jay Vos — November 27, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

  6. Apart from local ideological questions, there’s something sick-making about people like Wise. It’s the bantering way they speak about foreign countries: as if places beyond Empire U.S.A. only exist to furnish punch lines in dumb jokes. Albania, for instance, may be rough and poor, but it is a very real place. I can just see it over the water from where I live. Its people are not all sheepherders though that’s an honorable and skilled job, probably more interesting than what half the inhabitants of New York do for a living. A lot of Albanian professional people—lawyers, nurses, engineers—are in Italy doing humble jobs to survive. Often they look after incapacitated old people. Italians aren’t reproducing themselves and society would be in trouble without such help. By the way, I thought everyone knew that under Enver Hoxha, Stalin was the most hated figure in the world.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — November 27, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  7. ‘You’re deluded!’ You’re Obamaniacs! ‘You’re wrong!’ ‘Obama is a capitalist!’ ‘Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid! Obama is the more dangerous warmonger because he’s the new ‘Uncle Tom’ Black face of imperialism!’

    Which one of these lines are garbage? I can see all of them are true.

    Comment by Ajit — November 27, 2008 @ 7:21 pm

  8. It’s the work of Carl Davidson Mark II.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — November 28, 2008 @ 6:36 am

  9. I used to be a regular listener to WBAI and was constantly subjected to barrages of Tim Wise’s white guilt-tripping during pledge drives on “Wake-up Call.” Can you imagine starting your day off with an earful of this kind of stuff day-in and day-out since WBAI is always hard up for money? And then they wonder why they can’t raise any?

    Listening to Wise is the equivalent of reading Carl Davidson, only the later can at least quote Gramsci out of context to justify his prostration before the Democrats.

    Comment by MN Roy — November 28, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

  10. Re: “Obama is the more dangerous warmonger because he’s the new ‘Uncle Tom’ Black face of imperialism!’”

    According to Dennis Ross, one of Obama’s high profile foreign policy experts, “When you have someone like…Obama as president, it is a lot harder to demonize the United States.”

    That come’s straight from the horse’s mouth. As for what comes out of the other end, I await Carl Davidson’s latest contribution…

    Comment by MN Roy — November 28, 2008 @ 10:00 pm

  11. If this guy had spent any time around genuine sectarians, he’d know the last thing they’d eat is tofu or tempeh. They like to prove their proletarian credentials by eating only groats.

    Comment by John B. — November 29, 2008 @ 12:21 am

  12. Tim’s no dummy, for as jp above hinted, he took his act to the Huffington post because he was going to take a real pasting from many at the Black radical websites.

    History tells us that Bill Garrison got along pretty well with Fred Douglass until Fred started developing his own ideas about which strategies Black abolitionists should pursue without Garrison’s check of approval. It’s an old grief. And there was a time when Tim Wise understood how arrogant it is for white progressives to proscribe for blacks a uniforimity in their support of liberal leadership, but I guess that it’s come and gone.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — December 1, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

  13. […] Lou Proyect points out [and nods to him for the Wise link], American elections actually presuppose—they require—that […]

    Pingback by Tim Wise on Obama’s “victory over white supremacy,” part I: Or, The difference between an index and a prospect « amerikanbeat — December 5, 2008 @ 2:50 am

  14. That’s my link in #13. I used Lou’s post as a jumping off point for it. Tim conflates (1) “feeling proud that a black man is president of a country with a racist legacy” with (2) the confidence that Obama will actually do something to further the fight against white supremacy. I think he is upset at radicals’ lacking (2), but he acts as if they lack (1)–or rather, he acts as if lacking (1) amounts to lacking (2). (And he just makes way too much of (2) anyhow.)

    I like Wise’s stuff, very much actually. But this is just crap through and through. He writes, “[H]onestly, who wants to join a movement filled with people who look down on you as a sucker?” I don’t see how you couldn’t lob this at anyone with a viewpoint about anything. To believe something (something that [you believe] matters, anyway) implies that others are wrong to not believe it. And being wrong is either a way of being “suckered” too, or if not, is just as bad.


    Comment by amerikanbeat — December 5, 2008 @ 3:25 am

  15. Shit, I meant Tim “acts as if lacking *(2)* amounts to lacking *(1)*. (And he just makes way too much of *(1)* anyhow.” Got the numbers reversed.

    Comment by amerikanbeat — December 5, 2008 @ 3:29 am

  16. Look, Wise is wrong on this account. Those on the radical left can agree about that – but let’s not dismiss his work outright – especially if you haven’t read it. His anti-racist writings are accessible and well-done, which I can say because I’ve read them. I believe he’s fighting for a good cause and he does it in the right way (he talks to white middle-class liberals in a way that even they can understand their shit stinks), despite his fantasies about Obama.

    Comment by babnik81 — December 13, 2008 @ 3:30 am

  17. The problem Wise has is that he seems to have a Blank Slate view of human nature. Inequalities exist, therefore they must all be explained by societal unfairness.

    As Steven Pinker has pointed out there is a danger of adopting a blank slate view of human nature which can also lead to problems. Namely, that human nature can be molded from top down (ie. Pol Pot’s year zero, or Chairman Mao’s ‘cultural revolution’).

    The other risk is that groups who are successful get blamed for succeeding due to unfairness. Examples of this are perhaps the Armenian Jews, the Jews in Germany, or Chinese in Malaysia. Their occupational and academic success lead to resentment, but if you look at their IQ performance, which is above average, their success makes more sense. The same goes for East Asians in the US, NZ or Australia who excel academically. This is partly due to cultural factors which encourage hard work & place a high value on academic success, but they also perform better than whites, on average, on IQ tests.

    Comment by Ben — February 3, 2009 @ 2:59 am

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