Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 31, 2010

Iranian hip-hop

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 11:05 pm

(Hat tip to Mike Ely)

Guest post on Turkish workers

Filed under: Turkey,workers — louisproyect @ 3:12 pm
TEKEL Workers’ Resistance: Re-Awakening of the Proletariat in Turkey – Erinç Yeldan*
30 January 2010 –
A specter is haunting Turkey, the specter of the proletariat…” these are the words singing from ear to ear in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, since December 15. Since that day, despite the severe cold, poor conditions of the street-life, and brutal assaults of the ruling AKP government and its leader Tayyip Erdogan, the workers’ of TEKEL (the recently privatized public enterprise producing cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol and spirits) had taken the streets of the main district of Ankara as the center of resistance. The workers have been taking turns in shifts in their tents of resistance day and night, and receive tremendous support from all over Turkey –ordinary citizens, University students, workers from all other unions… National support for their cause has now spread out over international borders and is assuming non-traditional displays of solidarity such as exhibit of supporting banners in the European football stadiums during the games over the weekend of January 30-31.

What ignited the resistance was the move of the AKP government to veto the workers’ existing contracts and force them to accept part-time conditions with significant loss of pay and of social rights. The proposed new contract is known with its identifying code: the 4-C. The 4-C contracts were formulated by the government as an interim solution to offer employment for the displaced workers after privatization of state-owned enterprises. It involves re-defining of the employees’ job status as provisional for up to one year and offers salaries tied to legal minimum wages. The new “jobs” would not necessarily be related to the displaced workers’ ability or expertise, and in practice have taken various forms of simple public services such as gardening public parks, etc. For the TEKEL workers this move would have meant a reduction of their average monthly wages from 1,200TL (approx. 800$) to 800TL (approx. 550$) and a job contract of 10 months with no further guarantee of re-newel.

Declaring these conditions as unacceptable, the TEKEL workers marched to Ankara and set up a camp of resistance in front of the headquarters of the major workers’ unions confederation, Türk-İş, and started literally living on streets, cooking, sleeping and socializing with guests of solidarity in their tents of board, plastic wraps and whatever form of shelter they could obtain from the local merchants.

The real underlying sources of the events leading to the post- December 15 resistance were, no doubt, deeper than what’s stated above. A series of Turkish governments had already taken steps for dissolving and privatizing the TEKEL enterprises since 1999. In 9 December 1999 a letter of intent was conditioned by the IMF that involved open directives to dismantle all public support and subsidization schemes for the agricultural economy in general, and privatization of the tobacco, sprits, animal husbandry, and sugar plants, in particular.

The current AKP government had finally succeeded in selling the TEKEL alcohol and spirits plants to a national consortium (MEY) for $292 million in November 2003. Yet, at that date the produced stocks of those plants were already valued at $126 million! What’s more, the company was known to have incurred a huge purchase of raw materials totaling $70 million using public funds just before the exchange of ownership. In addition the state had forgiven TEKEL’s existing debt to the public banks and the Treasury totaling $200 million, and had further announced that it had assumed the severance payments of the retirement compensations of the existing workers (totaling approximately another $25 million) nine days prior to the privatization.

But the episodes of fraud and corruption behind TEKEL’s privatization were not limited to all these instances stated above. The new owners were further granted bank credits with no down payment for a period of two years. The “new owners” in turn had re-sold the alcohol and spirits component of TEKEL to Texas Pacific Group in 2 years time for a total of $900 million! This gift was captured without any actual payment to the state until then.

The private owners of TEKEL dismissed their “promised” obligations for maintaining production activities and since 2003, five of the enterprises were shut down, displacing 12,000 workers. These are the workers now campaigning for their rights for a decent job in the streets of Ankara.

What the TEKEL resistance had already achieved is beyond their fight for jobs and daily income. It had clearly revealed the true face of AKP as the truly favored party of the Turkish bourgeoisie and the main follower of interest of both the national and international capital. Since its inception in 2002, AKP tried to maintain a character beyond the labor-capital conflict, and revealed itself as a party of Islamic brotherhood based on cemaat (believers’) solidarity and friendship. Most of the workers, among them definitely those of TEKEL, had been brought under this deity. Yet, the turnover of events since December 15 had all of a sudden revealed what was already known: since the 2001 crisis Turkish wages in manufacturing were slashed by 25% percent in real terms; their social rights were severely constrained; and the open unemployment rate hit 14 percent under conditions of the global crisis (with total unemployment including discouraged workers estimated at 19 percent).

It is a widely circulating quote in Turkey that one of the TEKEL workers stated that before December 15, he was just a person praying five times a day; now he is a worker five times a communist!

TEKEL workers are now waiting for the government’s next move to be announced on Monday, February 1st; while the minister of finance, Mehmet Şimşek, stated that his government would seek ways to find extra funds in the budget to meet the workers’ demands. The supporters of the TEKEL resistance can only attest to this claim with a dramatic grain of salt, remembering that during peak days of the 2001 financial crisis in Turkey a total of $40 billion (reaching about 40% of the gross domestic product then) was spent for rescuing failing banks and financial businesses in the name of the health of finance and combating inflation. But that, of course, was another matter.

The Turkish labor force is also waiting for Wednesday, February 3rd, on which day a national strike had been called for.

The re-emerging spirit of proletariat and of workers’ solidarity has already taken its place in the history of labor movement in Turkey. Above all, it had re-shown to friends and foes alike, that the neoliberal revelations of the so-called modern left to dispense with the ideology of wage labor and capital conflict are a complete farce.

History has once again revealed the true dialectics of capitalism.

Note: For our non-Turkish friends, a good source of information on the Turkish working class movement that is in English is provided at:

For a wider and in-depth coverage of the TEKEL resistance see also:

The photos used in the text are taken from this site, and I gratefully acknowledge their artistry.

Ankara, January 30, 2010

* Erinc Yeldan, Bilkent University,

All materials of Sendika.Org can be used freely by referring to the source

January 30, 2010

Obama: I am not a radical or a Bolshevik

Filed under: Obama,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Perhaps nothing encapsulates the essence of the Obama administration better than his encounter with the Republicans in Baltimore yesterday where he tried to paper over his differences with the labor-hating and racist politicians.

Pressed by Mike Spence, the verbose Representative from Indiana who puts Joe Biden to shame, why he failed to adopt Republican-style tax cuts, Obama defended himself by referring to the key role of tax cuts in his stimulus package:

The package that we put together at the beginning of the year, the truth is should have reflected, and I believe reflected what most of you would say are common-sense things. This notion that this was a radical package is just not true. A third of them were tax cuts. And they weren’t — when you say they were boutique tax cuts, Mike, 95 percent of working Americans got tax cuts. Small businesses got tax cuts. Large businesses got help in terms of their depreciation schedules.

I mean, it was a pretty conventional list of tax cuts.

Do you see how he denied that there was anything “radical” about his package? This kind of pleading reminds me of nothing more than the ex-Communists testifying before HUAC or Senator McCarthy trying to establish their True American bona fides even though they signed a petition against General Franco in 1938. But that was never good enough for the witch hunters. They would only be assuaged if the hapless former Communist named names. In Obama’s case, the only way to save himself is to go the whole hog and adopt the Republican Party’s full program, something he apparently has embarked upon.

Even more self-abnegating was his performance before Marsha Blackburn, the Representative from Tennessee who complained about his sorry health plan that looks like it will die on the vine anyhow. He practically got on his hands and knees to beg the filthy right wing politicians to accept him as a True American:

The component parts of this thing are pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.

Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker and Tom — and certainly you don’t agree with Tom Daschle on much but that’s not a radical bunch. But if you were to listen to the debate, and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.

And so I’m thinking to myself, “Well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist . . . “

No, look, I mean, I’m just saying — I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans — it — it’s similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.

What a pathetic display, trying to disabuse these Republicans of the idea that he is not a “Bolshevik” as if anybody outside of the deranged ideological universe of AM talk radio would believe such a thing. What does Obama expect? That these howling hyenas are going to lie down with sheep? That is the fundamental problem of American politics today after all. The Republicans want blood and the Democrats are all too anxious to bare their neck.

It is also obvious that this Columbia University and Harvard educated president does not have a very good grasp of recent American history. Holding up Robert Dole and Howard Baker to this mob is a complete waste of time since the Republican Party has mutated into an ultraright body that is bent on ridding itself of any vestige of centrism, such as the kind that Dole and Baker represented. It is like asking a serial killer to remember what a nice boy he was in kindergarten.

This Republican Party, with its bible-thumping, xenophobic, market fundamentalist base, is not the party of Richard Nixon. Indeed, we would be lucky if the Democrats were as far to the left as Nixon, whose Keynesian economics and support of affirmative action makes most Democrats look reactionary by comparison. As the Republican Party continues to shift to the right, we end up with Democrats trying to stake out a center that also keeps shifting to the right. It is as if liberal politicians in Weimar Germany tried to maintain the center during the rise of Hitler. Come to think of it, with all proportions guarded, that is what we are up against today.

January 29, 2010

The Shock Doctrine

Filed under: Film,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 4:37 pm

As today’s selection at the 2010 Sundance Festival, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s “The Shock Doctrine” is a reminder that some of the most hard-hitting political documentaries make their first appearance here despite Utah’s reputation as a reactionary sump, a distinction shared by the University of Utah’s Marxist-friendly economics department that is the home of Marxmail, a mailing list I moderate. You are also invited to take a look at The Mormon Worker, a website that describes itself as modeled on the radical Catholic Worker, where you will find an article raising the question “Are the Rich Damned”. Amen!

“The Shock Doctrine” is a taut 86 minute journey through the wreckage of the free market revolution spawned by the late Milton Friedman, who is featured prominently as an interviewee throughout this documentary based on Naomi Klein’s best-seller.

It should be stated that Klein  disowned the movie at one time, considering it an oversimplification of her book. She felt that the movie relies too heavily on narration at the expense of interviews with leftwing analysts such as her presumably. Klein does appear throughout the film lecturing a large student audience, but apparently this did not assuage her. The latest development, however, is that Klein has warmed up sufficiently to at least participate in a panel discussion after the movie today. Perhaps she intends to trash it, but I don’t think that’s her style.

While I have not read “The Shock Doctrine”, I am familiar enough with Klein’s ideas to state that the movie does not misrepresent them. While she was expecting something closer to “The Take”, a movie about the economic collapse of Argentina that she produced, I found “The Shock Doctrine” to be a totally engrossing work similar in spirit to “Hearts and Minds”, another movie heavily reliant on stock footage.

Indeed, it is the director’s skillful use of stock footage, a gift they share with Michael Moore, that makes this movie so compelling. Starting with the Pinochet coup in Chile, it tracks the implementation of Milton Friedman’s “shock therapy” economics in one country after another, from Videla’s Argentina to Putin’s Russia.

While the events depicted in the movie might not be unfamiliar to veteran radicals, much of the film footage will likely have the same attention-grabbing effect it had on me. For example, it details the murder of Orlando Letelier on Embassy Row in Washington, DC on September 21, 1976. As Allende’s ambassador to the United States, Letelier crusaded against Pinochet’s coup after he became a citizen-activist rather than an official. For his efforts, he received a death sentence from the CIA. Just as is the case with the Cuban counter-revolutionary who blew up a Cuban airliner, Letelier’s assassin never spent a day in jail.

Michael Winterbottom, one of the co-directors, is a left-leaning Briton who has not worked in documentaries before, except for the docudrama “The Road to Guantanamo”, about the “Tipton Three”, three British Muslims captured by US forces in Afghanistan who spent two years as prisoners at Guantánamo Bay as alleged enemy combatants. He is also—unfortunately—responsible for “Welcome to Sarajevo”, a Serb-bashing affair that I reviewed here.

If I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Winterbottom, I would ask him whether he had ever considered NATO’s war on Yugoslavia in the same terms as he considered Pinochet’s coup. After all, the neo-liberal regime forced upon the poorer regions of the former Yugoslavia has followed the same dismal recipe described in his excellent documentary.

As a kind of experiment, three movies from this year’s Sundance Film Festival can be downloaded as video on-demand from your local cable provider such as Time-Warner or Direct TV. I recommend this film for people who are familiar with the sorry narrative of the past nearly 40 years, and especially to others who are first finding out about the unspeakable crimes of American foreign policy to this day, now being promoted by a candidate promising “change”.

Shock Doctrine trailer

January 28, 2010

Smashmouth football

Filed under: sports — louisproyect @ 4:42 pm

As a long-time football fan, I root for the home team—either the Jets or the Giants. The Giants were widely expected to make a run for the Super Bowl this year, but their much vaunted “smashmouth” defense let them down. Meanwhile, the Jets did much better than expected under Rex Ryan, a new coach who had previously been defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. In an article that ironically appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, reporter Mark Sappenfield highlighted the talents that Ryan brought with him:

In the Jets vs. Colts AFC championship game Sunday, the New York Jets and Head Coach Rex Ryan will be trying to prove that smashmouth football can still succeed in today’s NFL.

But even amid some good fortune, Ryan has remained unsurprisingly unabashed: His goal is to bring the forgotten gospel of bloody knuckles and splintered teeth back to football, one grind-it-out Jets win at a time.

The most violent, but effective, player on defense for the Baltimore Ravens is Ray Lewis who is near the end of his career. Here he is in action:

Like most fans, including the hapless fictional hero of the interesting but uneven “Big Fan”, I got a kick out of such violent attacks on the football field without giving them much thought unless it resulted in the paralysis of somebody like Boston Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley who was left a quadriplegic after a brutal tackle by the Oakland Raiders Jack Tatum in a preseason game in 1978. Stingley eventually succumbed to heart disease aggravated by his paralysis at the age of 55. Here’s Tatum assaulting a wide receiver along the same lines as a Ray Lewis performance.

I don’t think I’ll ever watch another football game, however, after watching a segment about football concussions on Brian Gumbel’s HBO Real Sports program. It makes the connection between football concussions and the early onset of Alzheimer’s and highlights the role of Harvard graduate Chris Nowinski in putting pressure on the NFL to better protect its players. Nowinski suffered concussions as a football player at Harvard and as a professional wrestler after he graduated Harvard. Despite professional wrestling’s obvious fakery, you can get injured in the ring in the same way that a stuntman can get injured or killed during filming.

You can watch the HBO segment in its entirety on Youtube:

Watching someone like Ralph Wenzel, who is only two years older than me, suffering from Alzheimer’s is pretty hard to take. My mother, who passed away in a nursing home nearly two years ago, had all sorts of problems toward the end of her life but thankfully Alzheimer’s was not one of them. When I used to visit her, it was always hard to get past the sight and sound of Alzheimer patients in the ward who were in various stages of mental disintegration. Although I am of course frightened of the idea of developing Alzheimer’s, I accept that as a possible fate as I penetrate deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness that is old age (I turned 65 two days ago.) But if I became an Alzheimer’s patient at the age of 67 like Ralph Wenzel who once told people that he couldn’t count the number of concussions he had suffered during his career, I would feel like the victim of a crime not the natural process of aging. The corporate bosses who have forced such men to return prematurely to the football field after suffering a concussion belong in prison. In some ways, they are worse than murderers since they are responsible for robbing human beings of their most precious gift, the ability to think.

I also recommend that you take a look at Chris Nowinski’s website. With his Harvard degree, he is not the typical jock. As a professional wrestler, he took time to speak out on young people getting involved with politics, particularly through registering to vote. You might also be aware that professional wrestling not only requires immense physical gifts; it also requires the ability to craft a persona for yourself. Initially Nowinski styled himself as a villainous snob from the Ivy League (not that hard to do!) and even used the ring name Chris Harvard. While it is difficult to figure out whether this was meant to shore up his villainous image in professional wrestling, Nowinski also assumed the role of “race traitor” akin to the hero of “Avatar”, as his wiki page indicates:

On the May 26, 2003 edition of Raw, Christopher Nowinski helped Rodney Mack defeat Bubba Ray Dudley in a “White Boy Challenge” and joined Theodore Long’s group “Thuggin’ And Buggin’ Enterprises”, a group of African Americans who worked a race angle in which they portrayed themselves as being victims of racism and being held down by the “White Man”.

A remarkable character, to say the least. Let’s hope that his six concussions do not eventually rob the world of his talents as spokesmen for the gladiator victims of the bread and circuses in today’s version of the Roman Empire.

January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn is dead

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 11:49 pm


Howard Zinn, historian who challenged status quo, dies at 87

January 27, 2010 05:40 PM

By Mark Feeney, Globe Staff

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and a leading faculty critic of BU president John Silber, died of a heart attack today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling, his family said.He was 87.

“His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our lives,” Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, once wrote of Dr. Zinn. “When action has been called for, one could always be confident that he would be on the front lines, an example and trustworthy guide.”

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. Dr. Zinn’s best-known book, “A People’s History of the United States” (1980), had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers — many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out — but rather the farmers of Shays’ Rebellion and the union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” (1994), “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and Silber. Dr. Zinn twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers “who poison the well of academe.”

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against “the BU Five” were soon dropped, however.

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before joining the Army Air Force during World War II. Serving as a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, he won the Air Medal and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University as a 27-year-old freshman on the GI Bill. Professor Zinn, who had married Roslyn Shechter in 1944, worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor’s degree from NYU, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women’s institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were the novelist Alice Walker, who called him “the best teacher I ever had,”and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children’s Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism now became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at countless rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and another leading antiwar activist, Rev. Daniel Berrigan, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Zinn’s involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968). He had previously published “LaGuardia in Congress” (1959), which had won the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Prize; “SNCC: The New Abolitionists” (1964); “The Southern Mystique” (1964); and “New Deal Thought” (1966).

Dr. Zinn was also the author of “The Politics of History” (1970);“Postwar America” (1973); “Justice in Everyday Life” (1974); and“Declarations of Independence” (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement so as to concentrate on speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: “Emma,” about the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and “Daughter of Venus.”

Dr. Zinn, or his writing, made a cameo appearance in the 1997 film‘‘Good Will Hunting.’’ The title characters, played by Matt Damon, lauds ‘‘A People’s History’’ and urges Robin Williams’s character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns growing up.

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, ‘‘The People Speak,’’ which ran on the History Channel in 2009. Damon was the narrator of a 2004 biographical documentary, ‘‘Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.’’

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did so.

Dr. Zinn’s wife died in 2008. He leaves a daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington; a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaugthers; and two grandsons.

Funeral plans were not available.

Norman Finkelstein rejects playing the holocaust card

Filed under: Jewish question,Palestine — louisproyect @ 9:00 pm

January 26, 2010

I.F. Stone on the long-term struggle

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 11:59 pm

I.F. Stone

(posted to LBO-Talk by Miles Jackson)

The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose,  because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing – for the sheer fun and joy of it – to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.

–I. F. Stone

January 25, 2010

Review of an ex-Trotskyist’s memoir

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,socialism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 2:37 pm

Les Evans

Leslie Evans’s Outsider’s Reveries

by Louis Proyect

Book Review

(Swans – January 25, 2010)   Available as a download from Scribd.com, Les Evans’s Outsider’s Reveries is the latest memoir revolving around the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) of the United States.

The best known of these is Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s When Skateboards Will be Free, which seeks to draw a contrast between the author’s youthful yearnings to be normal — hence the skateboard — and his parent’s mad obsessions about overthrowing the capitalist system. For obvious reasons, the memoir was a big hit with The Washington Post and The New York Times. On Facebook, the proud author announced that he has been meeting with HBO. For those who have followed this premium cable station over the years, it is well understood that they find material about dysfunctional families very marketable. It is difficult for me to imagine a fan of “The Sopranos” finding that much of interest in the sad tale of an apolitical youth being forced to boycott grapes, but the HBO executives do have a solid track record making money (the primary ambition of the author they are courting, it should be stressed). Tales about creepy Communists do fit in well, after all, with the American ideological landscape.

In 2005 Barry Sheppard, the number two man in the party for many years until he was expelled, published the first installment of The Party, titled The Sixties: a political memoir. This is a largely self-congratulatory effort that contains page after page of the party’s accomplishments in the antiwar movement and other struggles under the author’s stewardship. The second volume is obviously much more difficult for the author to produce since it is largely about the party’s transformation from a powerful force on the American left into the bizarre cult-sect described in Sayrafiezadeh’s work, written from the perspective of a tender youth who was not even a member. For Sheppard, the challenge is to produce a volume two that amounts to an autopsy on the party he spent decades building. Perhaps it will prove insurmountable.

Just before his death in September 2008, Peter Camejo was putting the final touches on an eagerly awaited memoir that will be released posthumously as The North Star in honor of Fredrick Douglass’s abolitionist newspaper. Unlike Sheppard, Camejo was dubious about the Socialist Workers Party even when he was part of a troika including Sheppard and Jack Barnes, the cult leader. In the early 1980s, when I was working with Camejo to build the North Star Network, a loose grouping incorporating his new non-sectarian politics, I once asked him if he regretted not having left the SWP much earlier. Expecting him to say that he should have left after around 10 years (about the length of my own tenure) rather than 20, he said he should have left after several months. There was a dogmatic character that disturbed this young Fidelista from the very outset.

Les Evans’s memoir is a study in ambivalence. As a top leader of the SWP primarily involved with writing and editing, Evans retains a lot of the “then we did this and then we did that” quality of volume one of Sheppard’s book but as another expellee, he cannot help but look askance at the party. Looking back in retrospect, he sees warts that were not obvious at the time. Unlike Camejo, however, these misgivings — as we shall see — flow from an anti-Communist perspective in line with the “god that failed” literature. This ambivalence is what gives the book its dramatic tension, notwithstanding the superfluous details that typically show up in an unedited manuscript published by a vanity press. For example, there is a chapter on the author’s stepchildren, an obvious labor of love but of almost no interest to people outside the Evans household.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art16/lproy59.html

January 24, 2010

Guest post on Haiti

Filed under: bard college,cruise missile left,Haiti — louisproyect @ 10:36 pm

Mark Danner

John Halle

Mark Danner’s Choice

By John Halle

(John Halle is a music professor at Bard College and the only leftist teaching there, now that Joel Kovel is gone. Mark Danner is a faculty member there as well, epitomizing the prevailing George Soros/New York Review of Books ideology.)

A long standing staple of Fox News discourse claims that liberalism in the academy holds sway as a kind of semi-official ideology.  This view is largely correct, though it should be kept in mind that it is the liberalism targeted in recent denunciations by Adolph Reed and Chris Hedges, not the “radical leftism” of teabaggers and other fantasists of the right.

A more or less paradigmatic example of the former can be found in Mark Danner’s recent NY Times Op-Ed “To Heal Haiti, Look to History” which would be quickly picked up at commondreams.org, Democracy Now! and grit.tv among other sites.

That the piece would be promoted by web organs of the authentic-as opposed to liberal- left was, at least superficially reasonable in that Danner’s (or for that matter anyone’s) minimally accurate thumb nail sketch of Haitian history could not fail but to deliver a stridently anti-imperialist message: Haiti has functioned as “a state built for predation and plunder”, starting with the complete eradication of its native population, to its establishment as the most brutal of slave states, to its functioning in the 20th century as a paradigmatic kleptocracy presided over by a string of vicious dictators serving themselves and the interests of foreign capital.

Danner’s bill of particulars, many of these laid on our doorstep, is of course regrettable, disturbing, and even damning and as such provides an opportunity for the displays of teeth gnashing and garment rending which liberals can be relied on to engage in.  Their doing so requires, however, that one condition is met: that these instances are all safely in the past.

Thus, what is predictably missing in Danner’s discussion is anything other than the vaguest allusion to the recent history of Haiti. And it is this history which is largely responsible for the almost inconceivable scale of the devastation caused by what would otherwise be a major, but by no means unprecedented disaster.

The relevant cause, as is described in the works of Robert Fatton, is demographic: for the past three decades the city of Port au Prince has grown from approximately 300,000 to over 2.5 million inhabitants.  Lacking the infrastructure required to support this population and the financial wherewithal to develop it, most residents of the capital lived in slums lacking the most basic sanitation facilities, with only sporadic access to safe drinking water and frequently subjected to protracted encounters with what NGO’s somewhat euphemistically refer to as “food insecurity”.  Moreover, it hardly needs to be mentioned, building codes were non existent.

It was eminently predictable from these initial conditions that a 7.0 Richter Scale seismic event would materialize as it did with countless thousands buried under rubble, those able to extract themselves doing so in a weakened condition sometimes literally dying of thirst or through opportunistic infections.

If we want to understand as opposed to merely wring our hands about this epic tragedy, we need to inquire into why these conditions obtained.  What accounted for the massive influx into Port au Prince from the rural, agricultural areas?  Danner indirectly alludes to the crucial in his proposal to “America (to) throw open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008.”

Danner has this exactly backward.  As Fatton and others have noted, it is not the failure of the U.S. to open its markets, but rather the converse which is directly implicated in the catastrophe- which is to say two decades of extortionate neo-liberal trade pacts which required Haiti to open its markets to U.S. goods.  Chief among these are heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products, most notably rice.  These were dumped on Haiti with similar results to that in much of the third world:  Farmers unable to compete with cheap imports were driven off their land, selling out to multinational agribusiness and developers, initiating an exodus to the cities offering the prospect of employment in manufacturing sector albeit at near starvation wages.

This is now an old story applying to much of the third world and told in numerous places, most comprehensively in Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums. And so it is reasonable to ask why does Danner fail to mention it?

The answer is necessarily a matter of speculation though it is probably not too cynical to assume that Danner is well aware that his reputation as a “serious” thinker on these and related matters in establishment circles requires that these obvious truths be passed over unacknowledged.

A parade examples of a fall from grace occasioned by failing to respect the boundaries of acceptable discourse is provided by former Times Middle East bureau chief Hedges whose rigorous, informed and brilliant recent works, or “rants”-as they are described when insiders even bother to recognize them, are now relegated to wilds of the internet.

Danner’s perches at the Council on Foreign Relation, the Century Foundation and the Pacific Council for World Affairs and his access to mainstream “print” media (not to mention the substantial fees which accompany these) will remain secure so long as he respects the limits which Hedges transgressed-as will his ultimate legacy as one more apologist for imperial plunder, albeit of the kinder and gentler neo-liberal variety.

If it is to be otherwise, he will need to join Hedges on “the dark side” as it were, by developing the capacity to name those individuals as well as the system (namely capitalism) which is responsible for the conditions which made widespread death and destruction, in Haiti and much of the rest of the third world, inevitable.

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