Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 30, 2011

Ron Daniels on Black politics

Filed under: african-american — louisproyect @ 9:57 pm

Ron Daniels

In part four of a series of articles on ZNet urging the left to get behind Obama in 2012 based on hoary “lesser evil” logic, Ron Daniels refers to some key moments in the Black struggle and electoral politics but draws all the wrong conclusions.

Daniels refers to the National Black Political Convention in 1972, a conference I remember well from coverage in the Militant newspaper long before it lost its moorings to the planet Earth. For Daniels, the convention was important because it emphasized the need for “Black politics”:

Having laid out an analysis of the Black condition and the unreliability of the major parties in promoting Black interests, the document calls for a “new Black politics” to advance the interests and aspirations of Africans in America: “… The Black Politics of Gary must accept major responsibility for creating both the atmosphere and the program for fundamental, far-ranging change in America…It is the challenge to consolidate and organize our own Black role as the vanguard in the struggle for a new society.”

There were 8000 people in attendance, including some of the most powerful Black elected officials including John Conyers. There was widespread sentiment for a Black political party but the hostility to such a measure from the bourgeois politicians and their friends in the CPUSA kept the convention from adopting such a call. Instead what you ended up with was an amorphous call for “Black politics” that was obviously consistent with stumping for Barack Obama in Ron Daniel’s view.

At the time the SWP might have had 50 Black members but they were too small in number to have much of an impact on the convention. Furthermore, our “democratic centralist” notions drove a wedge between our Black members and even those who were sympathetic to the idea of a Black political party.

The Trotskyist movement decided that a Black political party could have had a catalytic effect on electoral politics by splitting off a component of the Democratic Party and forcing the labor movement to consider running its own candidates in a Labor Party, a strategy that had been part of the party’s arsenal since the 1930s but mostly gathering dust because of the ability of high wages and job security to keep workers placated.

In the last paragraph, Daniels repeats the need for backing Obama in 2012, as he has been doing throughout these series of articles:

As Africans in America prepare for the 2012 elections, we must be clear that President Barack Hussein Obama is the firewall thwarting the virus of radical conservatism from decisively turning back the clock on Black progress and the march toward a more perfect union by the progressive forces for change. Therefore, while we offer constructive critiques of his performance on issues of vital concern to Blacks and other similarly situated constituencies, it is in our best interest to turn back the conservative tide by supporting Obama’s reelection for President.

If you look through the Militant newspaper archives that only include issues after the “turn”, all the discussion of a Black political party is tainted by the workerism that infected the SWP from 1979 onward. For example, a 1996 article is titled “Black Party Charted Course For Workers”, as if an alternative title “Black Party Charted Course For Black community” would have been insufficiently Bolshevik. While the title was a bit “off”, the article made some useful points:

Pathfinder is reprinting two Education for Socialists bulletins on the struggle to chart a course in the fight for Black rights and against racist discrimination, one that relies on the independent mobilization and organized struggles of the oppressed and exploited toilers.

These publications-Independent Black Political Action, 1954- 78: The Struggle to Break with the Democratic and Republican Parties and The National Black Independent Political Party: An Important Step Forward for Working People-will be particularly useful in sorting through the claims today by various individuals and organizations to offer a road forward for working people in the 1996 U.S. elections.

On July 18, for example, Benjamin Chavis announced plans for an African-American Leadership Summit in August. “What comes out of the hearing will be our national agenda, and we aim at pushing it at all parties-Republican, Democratic, and Reform,” Chavis said. The summit is also expected to call a national convention to be held September 20-22 in St. Louis, Missouri.

And in June, Labor Party Advocates sponsored a founding convention of the Labor Party. The new party aims to pressure the Democratic and Republican parties. It will not run candidates of its own. “If we are a unified voice, maybe one of those other parties would listen to us,” one participant said.

Break with the capitalist parties

The articles, resolutions, and other documents reprinted in these two publications take on such a class-collaborationist approach and put forward the need for independent working-class political action. They are drawn from the pages of the Militant and from resolutions of the Socialist Workers Party from the beginning of the civil rights movement in 1954 to 1980.

“The Socialist Workers Party contends that racism, like unemployment, exploitation and war, can be abolished in this country only by independent political action aimed at taking control of the government out of the hands of the capitalists and their parties,” a 1963 resolution reprinted in Independent Black Political Action states. “As a step in this direction, we have advocated that the unions break from the Democratic Party and form an independent labor party that would seek to politically unite workers, farmers, and Negroes and elect their representatives to office. In addition, and for the same reason, we have also endorsed and supported representatives of the Negro community whenever they have run for office independently of and in opposition to the old parties.”

“The job of the militant Negroes and their white allies is to break with the capitalist parties, not to infiltrate those parties in the illusion they can be reformed,” the Militant emphasized in another article on the 1954 fight to get Harry Hazelwood, an independent Black candidate, elected as councilman-at-large in Newark, New Jersey. The Stalinist Communist Party, fearing the prospect of Blacks deciding “to go it alone,” had urged an alliance with the Democratic Party. A break by Blacks with the capitalist parties would, in fact, “have thoroughly progressive consequences” for all working people,” the article added.

Farrell Dobbs explains in a 1959 discussion that independent political action is not the same as supporting any candidate who runs outside one of the two capitalist parties. The Los Angeles branch of the party had decided to offer critical support to Edward Atkinson, a Black candidate in the non-partisan election for city council. Dobbs, writing for the SWP Political Committee, noted that Atkinson was associated with internal factional squabbles within a wing of the Democratic Party.”

We must be careful, Dobbs said, “about rushing to characterize as independent a campaign where there is evidence it may in fact represent an attempt to play a greater role within a capitalist party…. Our aim is to lead the fight for independent political action. For us two criteria are paramount: the nature of a given movement; and the direction in which it is going.”

Nearly 20 years later, SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes made a similar point in reference Charles Evers, who ran for U.S. Senate in Mississippi against the Democratic and Republican candidates. Evers’s campaign, Barnes explains in the final selection in Independent Black Political Action, “reveals the decisiveness of program on the electoral front. Independence is a programmatic question…. As the pressure mounts to break out of the framework of capitalist politics, the rulers are going to make more and more of an effort to come up with safety valves that keep the exploited and oppressed stuck in lesser-evilism.”

Could you imagine the impact if someone with a mass following like Al Sharpton woke up one morning and said, ”God damn. Enough already. I am going to run for mayor as a candidate of the New York African-American Party. Even if I don’t win, I will raise all kinds of hell.” Of course, the tragedy of Black politics in the U.S. is that the highest-profile leaders like Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are wedded to the Democratic Party. If they weren’t, there’s always the same measure waiting in the wings that awaited Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. Malcolm referred to the bullet or the ballot. Little did he realize that the bullet might come from the revolver of a cop who was charged with the responsibility of killing people using the ballot effectively.

July 29, 2011

Alexander Cockburn responds on Lind/Bleivik

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn — louisproyect @ 9:19 pm

From http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn07292011.html

Incidentally, on the topic of Breivik, we have had an enquiry from a reader noting that Breivik’s “Manifesto” has plagiarized material from William Lind, erstwhile Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation, and asking that since CounterPunch published material by Lind, what is our precise relationship to this contributor. The inference seems to be that we published racist neo-Nazi propaganda which helped inflame Breivik. God knows what he would say about our contributor William Blum, considering the late Osama bin Laden famously cited Bill as one of his favorite writers.

As any CounterPuncher can quickly establish by reviewing Lind’s contributions  through our “Search” function at the top of this home page, we published columns on the conduct of America’s wars by  Lind between 2003 and 2007, in the Bush years because, from a conservative position,  he was a trenchant and knowledgeable military analyst and critic of the US onslaughts on Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Lind had been a participant of the military reform group, trenchant critics of the Pentagon.

His column was distributed by the Center and we would pick it up if it was on themes we cared for, which did not include Lind’s commentaries on many other matters, the cultural downslide of America and so forth.

CounterPunchers should know that its editors stand responsible for pieces CounterPunch publishes – though we obviously don’t agree with every word in the roughly 3,000 pieces we put up on this site every year. We publish and where necessary edit articles for  the edification of a large and intelligent regular readership. We don’t publish anti-Semitic or Nazi propaganda, as assessed by any rational person. I add this because many people eager to throw these terms around are irrational and usually malevolent. If you read our website with any frequency you will know where we’re at, as a left, radical enterprise.   We’ve always held it as part of our brief – stemming from political appreciation of the actual prospects here in the USA – that we should acknowledge positive political work and insights on the libertarian front and the right and from original viewpoints. Every once in a while some Trotskyite purist like Louis Proyect will hoist his skirts  and jump up on the kitchen table, aghast at the sight of an “incorrect” thought or assault by CounterPunch, often specifically me, on the canons of political and cultural PC as sedulously observed by this politically and intellectually demure old Trot. Then, when I say something he likes he’ll dispense a grateful bouquet.

We  don’t hold ourselves responsible for articles our contributors publish elsewhere. We have neither the time nor inclination to dredge through their lifetime archive on the internet to scrutinize articles they may have written one, five, ten or twenty years ago.  These days we get regular requests from contributors to purge our archives of their seditious thoughts because they are up for a job, or are in a tenure battle. A new search site has just been launched to enable the internet bloodhounds to person their blacklisting tasks more efficiently. That’s not our world.

 * * * *

Unfortunately, Alexander does not engage with what I wrote. I specifically said that Lind’s articles were not objectionable except one. I guess he still stands pat on this one unfortunately:

4GW theory warns that we now face a world of cultures in conflict, that we must defend Western culture and that many, perhaps most, other cultures are threats, especially when they flood Western countries with immigrants. Cultural Marxism welcomes immigrants who will not acculturate precisely because they are threats to Western culture.

Rather sad, really.

Did Qaddafi’s demand for reparations lead to war?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 5:00 pm

Last Wednesday an article titled “Lies of the Libyan War” by Thomas Mountain appeared on Counterpunch. My first reaction, even before reading it, was to wonder if Mountain was involved with a little bit of Freudian projection since most of what he writes about Libya is bullshit. But I was not prepared for this tidbit:

What seem to have finally tipped the balance in favor of direct western military intervention was the reported demand by Gadaffi that the USA oil companies who have long been major players in the Libyan petroleum industry were going to have to compensate Libya to the tune of tens of billions of dollars for the damage done to the Libyan economy by the USA instigated “Lockerbie Bombing” sanctions imposed by the UN inSecurity Council throughout the 1990’s into early 2000’s. This is based on the unearthing of evidence that the CIA paid millions of dollars to witnesses in the Lockerbie Bombing trial to change their stories to implicate Libya which was used as the basis for the very damaging UN sanctions against Libya. The government of the USA lied and damaged Libya so the USA oil companies were going to have to pay up to cover the cost of their governments [sic] actions. Not hard to see why Gadaffi had to go isn’t it?

My first reaction upon reading this was to ask myself where the “demand” was first “reported” because past experience has taught me that Mountain is not averse to making things up just like Jon Lovitz.

I first encountered some of Thomas Mountain’s bullshit artistry on Counterpunch back in March when he alleged that a Benghazi “mafia” was “employing thousands in various capacities and corrupting Libyan police and government officials.” When I asked him to substantiate this claim, he said that his “investigations” in Benghazi confirmed this. Great, just what we needed. A leftist version of Judith Miller.

This time I didn’t waste my time asking Mountain to back up his claim that a “demand” for reparations was “reported”. I went directly to Nexis and spent a good half-hour on the outside chance that something like this really happened. Searches using a combination of keywords like “reimburse”, “damages”, “compensation”, “oil companies”, “Libya”, etc. turned up absolutely nothing, as I expected they wouldn’t.

My next step was to use the same keywords on google. This time something did show up. On April 12th an article by Susan Lindauer titled “Putting Out Fire With Gasoline in Libya” appeared on Veterans Today. She wrote: “Gadhaffi challenged U.S. (and probably British) oil companies to reimburse Libya for the economic damage caused by U.N. sanctions tied to the Lockerbie bombing, which Libya had nothing to do with.”

So being the nuisance I am prone to be, I wrote Lindauer asking for a citation on this claim. She wrote back:

I’m actually speaking from my own direct knowledge. Last summer I heard all about this while I was finishing my book. I learned it from spooks, and we joked about how the U.S. would not be amused, and how Gadhaffi was playing with fire. Nobody expected a war though. We expected Gadhaffi to throw a tantrum and the U.S. to offer a substitute.

So once again we have some Internet investigative reporter telling us that there are no independent sources to back up their story. Mountain tells me that he should be believed about a Benghazi mafia because he’s been “investigating” the story and Lindauer tells me that she “learned it from spooks”. All I can say is that I am beginning to understand the plea in certain quarters to keep print journalism alive. With people like Thomas Mountain and Susan Lindauer, you almost feel nostalgia for Judith Miller.

I should add that Lindauer is a “truther”. On the website for her book “Extreme Prejudice”, she states in light of the disappearance of 911 eyewitnesses in JFK assassination style that “If in the future I should die under mysterious circumstances, my supporters can trust with certainty that nothing could ever compel me to commit suicide. Suggestions to the contrary should be scorned.” In 2001, Lindauer was charged with acting as a spy for Iraq but during the trial the judge ruled her mentally incompetent and allowed her to go free.

A retrial convinced the judge to let her off again, as the NY Times reported:

He cited findings that she had paranoia and delusions of grandeur; he also questioned the strength of the government’s case, saying, “There is no indication that Lindauer ever came close to influencing anyone, or could have.”

Judge Preska, in her ruling, said that Ms. Lindauer generally understood the roles of jurors, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges, but did not seem to have a “rational understanding of the roles” they played in her case.

The judge cited the testimony of a government psychiatrist who said that Ms. Lindauer claimed to have special powers and that she had indicated she once met with Osama bin Laden, who disclosed to her the location of a bomb. The judge said that demonstrated “a lack of connection with reality.”

There is little doubt that her “reported claim” about Qaddafi seeking reparations was the basis for Mountain’s reporting. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

Turning from the ridiculous to the nearly ridiculous, a recent WSWS article also looks for a “smoking gun” that would explain why NATO went to war. In this instance, it relies more credibly—at least on first blush—on Wikileaks:

The scramble by dozens of international oil and gas companies to cash in on the lifting of sanctions, however, soon produced two major problems for the US government. Firstly, in the words of a November 2007 cable, “Libyan resource nationalism”—policies designed to increase the Libyan government’s “control over and share of revenue from hydrocarbon resources.” The cable ominously concludes that the US should demonstrate “the clear downsides” to the Libyan regime of such an approach.

Well, if a Wikileaks cable states that “Libyan resource nationalism” was what led to war, then it must be true even if dozens of articles in leading newspapers made the case for Libya being a jackpot for oil companies. One understands why WSWS, Counterpunch and other voices of the pro-Qaddafi left would be so invested in looking for proof that Qaddafi was some kind of revolutionary nationalist since it is required to make the story of a repeat of the war on the Serbs plausible. It doesn’t matter if the bourgeois press painted a picture of Qaddafi as a willing accomplice of the CIA and more than happy to collaborate with Berlusconi on keeping “illegals” out of Europe, they had to portray him as a heroic anti-imperialist fighter no matter how much cherry-picking of the facts was required.

Ironically, a supporter of the PSL on Marxmail who agrees with the Counterpunch-type analysis of Libya warned against taking Wikileaks literally (of course, in this case a cable describing how Qaddafi kept the eastern part of the country impoverished):

This kind of “analysis” reflects a common problem with Wikileaks. People think Wikileaks is some kind of secret source of the “truth.” It isn’t. It’s a secret source of U.S. Government documents. This isn’t a secret Libyan government document revealing “deliberate Libyan government policy,” it is the opinion of some U.S. Diplomat, based on who-knows-what source of information (for all we know, some of those who would become rebels).

Need I remind people of the famous Michael Moore incident, where a Wikileaks cable claimed that the Cuban government was so offended by Moore’s “Sicko” that it had banned it, whereas in actual fact it had been shown on Cuban TV?

Just because something is “Wikileaked” doesn’t make it true.

Well, as long as people are dipping into the Wikileaks database, I might as well cite a cable that should make you think twice about the level of “resource nationalism” that Qaddafi was committed to. The WSWS article informs us that oil companies were alarmed by statements made at a Georgetown University conference in 2009, so much so that it led to war presumably.

The oil giants and the US government were alarmed by threats Gaddafi made, in a January 2009 video-conference to Georgetown University students, to nationalise the oil and gas industry. A January 2010 cable recounts that “regime rhetoric in early 2009 involving the possible nationalization of the oil sector … has brought the issue back to the fore.”

But if you take a look at another cable, there seems to be much less concern:

During a recent video conference with Georgetown University students, Muammar al-Qadhafi suggested that Libya and other oil exporting states could nationalize their oil production in view of sharply plummeting petroleum prices. Several days later, however, a senior MFA official assured the visiting Spanish King’s delegation that Libya does not intend to do so.

Famous for saying the unexpected (a favorite local saying is “from Libya comes the new”), al-Qadhafi did not disappoint with his threat to nationalize Libya’s oil production. As with similar dramatic, headline-grabbing statements on various other subjects in the past, though, much of what he says and does represents tactical maneuvering rather than a sincere expression of intent. While it is never wise to rule out the possibility of seemingly irrational decisions by the GOL, we are not inclined to believe that nationalization is being seriously considered.

I want to conclude with a statement to my more intellectually-challenged readers. This blog is not endorsing NATO’s murderous attack on Libya when it criticizes sloppy, ideologically-loaded reporting about Qaddafi’s “anti-imperialist” credentials. Furthermore, it does not try to “demonize” Qaddafi. There has never been a single instance of my giving credibility to stories about government troops using Viagra during mass rapes, etc. My writings on Libya have a very specific goal, which is namely to debunk the sort of article that Thomas Mountain writes and that never should have appeared on Counterpunch, DissidentVoice or other websites that know damned well how to conduct a close reading of the N.Y. Times to expose some lies. I maintain that if the left is to have any credibility, it must maintain higher standards than the bourgeois press. It is really too bad that the people running Counterpunch appear to disagree.

A response to Paul LeBlanc’s “Marxism and Organization”

Filed under: Pham Binh,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 2:28 pm

(A guest post by Pham Binh)

Although the following was written in response to Paul Le Blanc’s “ Marxism and Organisation ” essay, it is not a line-for-line response, nor do I believe that he personally subscribes to all of the positions I attribute to “Leninists” in general. I have nothing but respect for him and his life’s work (changing the world for the better); I have re-read his “Lenin and the Revolutionary Party” many times and referenced it occasionally as I wrote the following response. My hope is that it leads to comradely but sharp debate, something that is sorely lacking on the far left where insults, epithets, and name-calling are all too common.

“Leninists” project their conceptions of organization back in time onto the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) to the point that the actual historical development of the RSDLP becomes incomprehensible. There is a tendency to see the ultimate outcomes of the RSDLP’s disputes as foredained and inevitable; this mistake is compounded when revolutionaries believe that we must form our own organizations based on those outcomes. What Lenin did or pushed for at any given time was determined not only by his own political preferences, but also by the actions of his opponents. For example, it was the refusal of the Mensheviks to abide by majority votes they lost on at the 1903 congress even though Lenin dutifully yielded on issues he lost votes on that compelled him to call for a third party congress.

Both the Menshevik and the Bolshevik wings of the RSDLP supported the same “revolutionary Marxist program” up until spring of 1917: overthrowing the Tsar and establishing a capitalist democracy. Their differences concerned strategy, which, of course, had organizational ramifications (Lenin later correctly characterized the 1903 split as “an anticipation”). What divided the two factions? The Bolsheviks believed the working class should play the leading role in overthrowing the Tsar and establishing a capitalist democracy; the Mensheviks argued (logically) that only the capitalist class could play the leading role in establishing their rule via a capitalist democracy (the Bolshevik idea of a worker-led revolution voluntarily handing power to their exploiters and enemies didn’t make any sense to them).

The point is that the “revolutionary Marxist program” did not separate the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks for most of the RSDLP’s history. What separated them was the actual class struggle and their practical orientation to it. When the program they shared with the Menshviks became an impediment to fighting for the interests of the working class, the Bolsheviks modified it.

This brings me to my second point.

“Democratic centralism” is not a special principle/mechanism practiced by the Bolsheviks. Lenin believed in organizing the party in a thoroughly democratic way. That, more than anything else, is what motivated Lenin in his struggle against the Mensheviks in 1903/1904. The Mensheviks expected Lenin and the Bolsheviks to respect the decisions of the party congress that they disagreed with; at the same time, the Mensheviks flouted the congress decisions they disagreed with politically. For Lenin, this was an intolerable situation that made a mockery of the very idea of a party, much less one where majority rule prevailed.

Lenin’s commitment to democratic organizing meant that the central committees of both the RSDLP and of the Bolshevik faction were elected as individuals by secret ballot, not the slate system (that was introduced in 1921 at the 10th party congress where they banned factions ending the democratic norms that characterized the pre-revolutionary Bolsheviks) that to my knowledge all “Leninist” groups use today.

Electing the central committee in this way did something important. Party members elected and were led by the party’s most outstanding and popular leaders, making it far more likely members would voluntarily implement decisions by their leaders. As individuals, these leaders had different approaches, different experiences, and different temperaments; this heterogeneity gave rise to sharp debates and clear differences of opinion that taught the entire organization how to work through them in a comradely, productive, and practical way. It created a culture of debate, dissension, majority voting, and collective implementation to resolve contentious issues, many of which did not have a clear-cut “right” answer. This culture came straight from the top of the organization and filtered down into every branch, every cell, and involved every member.

A slate system, by contrast, encourages political conformity at the top (only “team players” need apply), which filters downward, robbing the party of its dynamism. “Leadership” becomes based on who is the loudest/most enthusiastic proponent of the line coming from the top, rather than a process of initiative, trial, error, learning, reassessment, and moving forward. Discipline ends up being a question of rote, obedience, and passive-but-non-believing submission; where those fail, administrative measures are applied. All of these are mental and moral poisons for revolutionaries; no organization can flourish in the long run in this manner.

Furthermore, if you can elect a slate of 12 Lenins prior to a revolution, great; but what if you elect 12 Zinovievs? Then what?

The thoroughly democratic practices and habits of the Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP were decisive in 1917. It was only on the basis of this thorough democracy that the erroneous parts of the party’s strategy could be modified and an outsider like Trotsky elected to the party’s highest body, despite Lenin’s uninterrupted political attacks on him for almost a decade and a half prior. An organization without democracy can’t fix its program or be changed from below. Even if said organization’s program is 110% correct, it is doomed to fail the test of revolution because only by fully airing differences within its ranks can it have a chance (not a guarantee) of coming to the right decision about what to do in the heat of the moment.

An organization with a faulty program that has the capacity to change and learn from its mistakes is in a much better position than one that has the right program but no capacity for critical self-reflection. I keep returning to this point because one of the single most damaging problems within the revolutionary wing of the socialist movement post-1917 has been an obsession with “defending the program.” This obsession has led to ferreting out “renegades” i.e. dissidents and elevating secondary political issues or tactical disagreements into all-out wars to “defend the revolutionary Marxist program.” This is especially absurd when tiny, uninfluential socialist organizations in one country split over strategy and tactics adopted by socialists in another country.

If we are going to be “obsessed” with anything, it should be with leading our side to victory in struggles, big and small, by any means necessary. Our measure of success should be the gains and reforms won by our initiatives, however small or fleeting. Only by accumulating those victories will our side rebuild its confidence, providing the basis for a revolution.

So if democracy and not a formally correct program is key, what about the Mensheviks? Why couldn’t they just modify their program and march lockstep with Lenin and Trotsky to October?

By the time of the 1917 revolution, their faction had ossified around their orientation towards pressuring/encouraging/cheerleading Russia’s capitalists to play a stronger role in the fight to overthrow Tsarism. This was particularly true after the defeat of the 1905 revolution (during 1905 the two wings of the RSDLP nearly united, giving lie to the notion that Lenin made up his mind to not unite with the Mensheviks prior to 1912 as part of his life’s mission to create a “party of a new type”). Menshevik organizers tended to be middle class intellectuals or older, more conservative workers who renounced the “foolishness” of their 1905 days in favor of “realism”. Bolshevik organizers tended to be younger and involved with militant actions (illegal strikes, underground organization) because their faction stressed that the working class could only get anything by its own strength and organization, whereas the Menshevik faction tended to downplay militant worker activism since it would scare big business into deserting the revolutionary cause.

The Bolshevik party emerged as an organic part of Russia’s workers’ movement and had a role in a huge array of workers’ activities — strikes, protests, demonstrations, social insurance societies, unions, student organizations, war industry committees (despite their hostility to WWI), and managed to win seats in Russia’s sham legislature despite unfavorable electoral laws; it was part of the class from the party’s inception; its program was derived from and a response to Russian conditions and problems; when conditions changed, so did the party’s program. It succeeded as a revolutionary workers’ party because it was rooted in the class it sought to lead and thoroughly democratic from top to bottom.

This is the key to understanding why the attempt to export conclusions drawn after almost two decades of trial and error in Russia in the early 20th century and impose them “from above” or a priori in the West via the Third/Fourth Internationals has led to complete failure on the part of all “Leninist” groups to lead working-class revolutions.

The early Comintern is often hailed as the high point in the international revolutionary workers’ movement, and it was, but the reality is that the Comintern’s practical influence on the course of the class struggle in other countries was decidedly, almost totally, negative during its “golden years”. The Communist Party of Germany’s (KPD) policies, actions, and slogans became subject to the decisions of an executive thousands of miles away from the front lines; that’s putting aside the unprincipled, apolitical, and bureaucratic nonsense that went on before anybody knew who Stalin was.

Why anyone would look to a model that put the communist movement’s Zinovievs and Bela Kuns in charge of mass workers parties that were being ably led by experienced revolutionaries of the caliber of Rosa Luxemburg (RIP), Paul Levi, Clara Zetkin, Antonio Gramsci, and Angelo Tasca is really beyond me. Louis Proyect wrote a piece that should be read carefully and absorbed by everyone who is a Marxist and wants a workers’ revolution: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/organization/comintern_and_germany.htm

Is it any wonder the KPD leadership failed to learn how to think for itself and became ever-more dependent on Moscow’s directives when the Comintern’s executive continually decapitated the KPD leadership? This occurred at least three times before Lenin’s death: Paul Levi was expelled in 1921 (with Lenin’s approval), leaving the party in the hands of the ultra-lefts who were partly responsible for the “March Action”; Reuter-Friesland was expelled in 1922 for protesting against mistaken Comintern directives concerning Germany’s union movement; and Brandler was removed from the KPD’s leadership in 1923 after he failed to conjure up a German October at Moscow’s behest.

These expulsions, coming on the heels of the murders of Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknict, and Eugen Levine, meant that the KPD was finished as an independent force able to draw conclusions from its own experience and to respond with quick changes to its political “line” necessitated by rapid shifts in the balance of class forces. By 1923, the KPD was led by the leftovers of leftovers of leftovers; this was the fault of the Comintern and no one else. The development of self-confident national parties was crippled by the Comintern experiment, which deepend Russia’s isolation. Trying to replicate this flawed model is the height of folly.

So what does all of the above mean? Is there nothing we can learn from the experience of the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) or the early Comintern?

It means a few things:

1) We have to analyze the Bolshevik party historically rather than project our (mis)conceptions about “Leninism” backwards in time by reading into debates that took place in 1903-1917 things that became clear later and after much struggle, the outcomes of which were not inevitable. Trying to implement Comintern resolutions from 1919-1921 (or worse yet, Lenin’s prescriptions from 1902/1903) instead of finding our own path will only create sects, not a party of working class fighters and organizers capable of winning socialism. “Leninism” and “party-building” have been tried in dozens of countries in many, many different circumstances for the last 90 years, and not once has there been a success! Refusing to acknowledge the inherent flaws of the model we’ve inherited as the last/first word in how to organize and what to do by continually blaming unfavorable “objective conditions” isn’t going to help.

2) There are no cut-and-dried organizational/practical schemas that can serve as templates how revolutionaries should organize, everywhere and always.

What has come to be known as “Leninism” — setting up a disciplined “democratic centralist” organization with a “revolutionary Marxist program,” a newspaper modeled on and motivated by Lenin’s 1902 article “Where to Begin?” and his 1903 book “What Is To Be Done?”, an excessive focus on selling said paper (the result of elevating the newspaper to a matter of principle and revolutionary duty rather than using it as one expedient among many), and creating a miniature caricature of the Bolshevik party, complete with a dozen full-time salaried central committee members, many of whom occupy the same posts for decades(!), all in anticipation of a revolution even though working-class militancy has been at historic lows for two or three decades now — needs to be discarded.

3) Our reality and modern-day conditions have to be our starting point for any discussion of how to organize and where/how to “draw boundaries.” We are materialists, after all. We need to figure out the way forward for our class without relying (mechanically) on what Lenin and his contemporaries said and did. There’s no use importing solutions from a bygone era when we are operating in a radically different context. We should use what we find useful in the experience of others but not copy anything wholesale. Above all else, we have to find ways to be rooted in the class struggle today, such as it exists, if we hope to actually influence its direction, rather than comment/lament on it from the outside.

4) “Party line” newspapers written by toy Leninist groups never have and never will command more than passing attention from workers, although they have managed to absorb a disproportionate amount of the time, energy, and attention of each generation of revolutionaries in the 90 years since the Russian revolution.

The American working class has a long history and tradition of humor, songs, icons, and much more we should be drawing from in our own media (see the disgruntled Whole Foods employee’s farewell letter, for example). In our day and age, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter inform people’s politics a lot more than “old” forms of propaganda like newspapers and pamphlets. We should be discussing how to best utilize the mediums people actually use to influence them politically, rather than figure out how to get them to conform to our preconceptions, especially when those preconceptions are largely erroneous or based on a flawed reading of history in the first place. The more we harp on Russia and the universality of Lenin’s glorious struggle against liquidators, economists, oztovists, and Mensheviks, the more remote we become from the concerns, interests, and lives of workers in the here and now who are desperate for a party that won’t sell them out or screw them over.

To sum up, we need to be flexible tactically and organizationally while remaining steadfast on our goals. Just as the Bolshevik wing of the RSDLP developed answers and prescriptions to problems that arose in the course of leading workers in struggle, we must do the same. We would would do well to emulate the approach of Malcolm X who continually reinvented himself in the struggle to win black liberation, and shed the Nation of Islam’s conservative sectarianism in the process. If the socialist movement could do the same, we’d be in a much better position.

If this conclusion is vague and unsatisfying, we can always turn back to the sect with its ready-made and unchanging answers to all problems. Personally, I’d rather not.

July 28, 2011

Sleep Furiously

Filed under: farming,Film — louisproyect @ 4:09 pm

“Sleep Furiously”, a luminous documentary with music by Aphex Twin about life in Trefeurig, a tiny Welsh farming village, opens tomorrow at the Cinema Village in New York. It derives its title from the sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” that was composed by Noam Chomsky in his 1957 Syntactic Structures as an example of a sentence that is grammatically correct but semantically nonsensical. Since “Sleep Furiously” is an exercise in cinéma vérité (but one that contains elements of magical realism), you don’t have a narrator explaining at the outset what Chomsky’s words have to do with the film, but it is not hard to figure out that Trefeurig is a place where logical expectations of how rural folks behave is discarded and lovingly so.

Before we see anything on the screen in “Sleep Furiously”, we hear a clanging bell. After a moment or two, we see its origin: a man in an 18th century red uniform walking down a country road ringing a bell, for what purpose we do not really know and which is never explained. The image and the sound are sufficient to delight the audience, including someone like me who is rational-minded to a fault.

Soon afterwards, we find ourselves in the back of what we used to call a Bookmobile when I was growing up in my own tiny rural village in the fifties with the librarian-driver advising a borrower about which books are worth taking out but all in the Welsh language. The film is subtitled when the subjects speak Welsh but when they use English, a language that is encroaching irresistibly, it is almost as difficult to follow. The obsolescence of Welsh like just about everything in this quaint village is something that will leave nobody impoverished materially but the spiritual and psychological loss would be immeasurable.

If you have seen “Babe”, you will get an idea of the kind of community that “Sleep Furiously” celebrates. Like the hero of this fictional film that teaches his pig to herd sheep, the residents of Trefeurig are not the kinds of people to embrace modernity for its own sake. They too use dogs to herd sheep, just the way it has been done for centuries. While it is not as well-known as “Pig”, the Korean documentary “Old Partner” is another affectionate treatment of resistance to modernization, in this case a husband and wife farming team who continue to use an ox for plowing and transportation.

In one of the most memorable scenes in “Sleep Furiously”, a man stands at a street sign by a crossroads in the village, reciting his own poem about how the wind often blows the steel signs about, making them useless. When they were wooden, they resisted the wind, leading him to wish that someone would “plant a nice old wooden one, at least it could be trusted.”

Trefeurig is located in the same general area as the villages celebrated by Dylan Thomas who surely would have appreciated the poem about the untrustworthy steel sign. When I was an undergraduate, I used to love to read Dylan Thomas who was much more fashionable than he is today. I especially loved “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” that not only evokes the charm of places like Trefeurig but my own village in the Catskill Mountains. Lines like this still send shivers down my back:

Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

If these words move you, then do make a point of going to see “Sleep Furiously”.

For those who are outside of New York, I invite you to watch it at Fandor.com starting at 12am ET on July 29th for 24 hours along with the online exclusive companion featurette, A Sketchbook for the Library Van, also by director Gideon Koppel, who grew up in Trefeurig as the son of Jewish parents who sought refuge from Nazism in Wales. The companion film is about the traveling librarian I wrote about above.

July 27, 2011

What do Alexander Cockburn and the Norwegian mass murderer have in common?

Filed under: conservatism,Fascism,media — louisproyect @ 6:06 pm

The short answer to that is an affinity for the writings of paleoconservative William S. Lind. If you do a search on “by William S. Lind” on the Counterpunch website, you will come up with 16,500 hits. It should be understood that many of these hits refer to the same article, but clearly we are dealing with someone who was at one point as much of a presence there as fellow paleoconservative Counterpuncher Paul Craig Roberts is today.

Last October Alexander Cockburn defended this orientation to the right in an article that referred to me as an “old Trotskyist lag” in light of my unaccountable inability to appreciate the Tea Party:

Contrary to a thousand contemptuous diatribes by the left, the Tea Party is a genuine political movement, channeling the fury and frustration of a huge slab of white Americans running small businesses – what used to be called the petit-bourgeoisie…

Who says these days that in the last analysis, the only way to change the status quo and challenge the Money Power of Wall St is to overthrow the government by force? That isn’t some old Trotskyist lag like Louis Proyect, dozing on the dungheap of history like Odysseus’ lice-ridden old hound Argos, woofing with alarm as the shadow of a new idea darkens the threshold.

Who really, genuinely wants to abolish the Fed, to whose destruction the left pledges ever more tepid support. Sixty per cent of Tea Party members would like to send Ben Bernanke off to the penitentiary, the same way I used to hear the late great Wright Patman vow to do to Fed chairman Arthur Burns, back in the mid-70s. Who recently called the General Electric Company “an opportunistic parasite feeding on the expansion of government?” Who said recently, “There are strains in the Tea Party that are troubled by what they saw as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working-class people have been abused or hurt by special interests and Washington.” That was Barack Obama, though being Obama he added, “but their anger is misdirected.”

As has been revealed not long after it made its appearance on the worldwide web, Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto is pretty much a copy and paste job from other authors, including the Unabomber whose references to the hated “leftists” was replaced with “cultural Marxists”.

Breivik also borrowed liberally from William S. Lind. I first learned about Breivik plagiarizing from Lind in an email to the PEN-L mailing list by Tom Walker who blogs at Ecological Headstand where he wrote:

UPDATE: Plagiarism alert Breivik’s text on “Political Correctness” appears to be lifted almost entirely from a screed called “Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology,” by William Lind, “Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.”

I was so struck by Breivik’s rant on “political correctness” that I posted it on my blog the day before yesterday. When I subsequently learned that the words were Lind’s and that he was a frequent contributor to Counterpunch, I decided to do some poking around there.

To Counterpunch’s credit, nearly all the articles by Lind are strictly anti-war affairs of the sort that might have been written by Justin Raimando. It is not as if there were anything particularly wrong with them, only that they were unexceptional and mostly of interest perhaps because they were written by a paleoconservative.

But there’s one that’s more than a bit troubling. It appeared on July 12, 2007 and is titled “Old Bottles for New Wine: Not Fourth Generation Warfare“. Lind, who is an expert on Fourth Generation Warfare, warned Counterpunch readers:

On Friday, July 13, a Boyd Conference at the Quantico Marine Corps Base will devote a day to the subject of Fourth Generation war. As a panelist for one session of the conference, I have been asked to answer the question, “As one of the original authors and principal proponent of the 4GW concept, how well is it understood and acted upon by the West? By our adversaries?”

I will leave the second part of this question until Friday. As to how well the West grasps the concept of 4GW, the news, sadly, is bad on every level.

At the level of national governments, Western states not only do not grasp 4GW, they avert their eyes from it in horror, pretending it is not happening. In part they do so because they are the state, and the state does not want to admit that its own legitimacy has come into question. As Martin van Creveld said to me a decade or more ago, “Everyone can see it except the people in the capital cities.”

In larger part, they ignore the reality of 4GW because it contradicts their ideology, commonly known as “multi-culturalism” but actually the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School. That ideology says that all the world’s cultures are wonderful, happy, peaceful cultures except Western culture, which is oppressive and evil and must be destroyed. In fact, Western culture is one of only two cultures in human history that has succeeded over millennia (the other is Chinese). 4GW theory warns that we now face a world of cultures in conflict, that we must defend Western culture and that many, perhaps most, other cultures are threats, especially when they flood Western countries with immigrants. Cultural Marxism welcomes immigrants who will not acculturate precisely because they are threats to Western culture.

To start with, why is it the worry of Counterpunch’s editors or its readers whether 4GW is “understood or acted upon by the West”? As it turns out, Lind co-authored a book with two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart titled “America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform.” Look, I don’t quite know how to put this, but I don’t want America to win. There, I said it.

The wiki on 4GW states:

The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor. Classical examples, such as the slave uprising under Spartacus or the assassination of Julius Caesar by members of the Roman senate, predate the modern concept of warfare and are examples of this type of conflict.

Not being up to speed on Julius Caesar, I am not sure what the Marxist position would be on this but I am damned sure that I would have been for the Spartacus-led slave revolts. And the last thing I would have been interested in is advising the military on how to defeat 21st century versions of such revolts.

But the thing that really sticks out is this:

4GW theory warns that we now face a world of cultures in conflict, that we must defend Western culture and that many, perhaps most, other cultures are threats, especially when they flood Western countries with immigrants. Cultural Marxism welcomes immigrants who will not acculturate precisely because they are threats to Western culture.

Was Alexander drunk when he read this article by Lind and gave it the green light? How in god’s name does one of America’s most well-known radical journalists fall asleep at the wheel and let such racist crap pollute a website that he has many reasons to be proud of.

Perhaps he published it as an example of the kind of sickness that pervades a certain sector of the American right. If that was the case, I would only ask that he include a brief introductory note the next time he favors us with such an item—something along the lines of this:

Dear Counterpunch readers

This article from regular contributor William S. Lind is not the sort that we usually include from him. It is not worthy of the kind of praise that his antiwar articles merit. We include it because it gives you an idea of the kind of nativism that affects a wing of the American conservative movement that could ultimately lead some of its furthest reaches—either here or abroad—to take violent action against its perceived enemies.

Alexander Cockburn

Frank Foster obit

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 5:09 pm

NY Times July 26, 2011

Frank Foster, Jazz Saxophonist, Composer and Arranger, Dies at 82


Frank Foster, a saxophonist, composer and arranger who helped shape the sound of the Count Basie Orchestra during its popular heyday in the 1950s and ’60s and later led expressive large and small groups of his own, died on Tuesday at his home in Chesapeake, Va. He was 82.

The cause was complications of kidney failure, said his wife of 45 years, Cecilia. Mr. Foster had a varied and highly regarded career as a bandleader, notably with his Loud Minority Big Band, and he was sought after as an arranger for large ensembles. But it was the strength of his contribution to the so-called New Testament edition of the Basie band, from 1953 to 1964, that anchors his place in jazz history.

Mr. Foster wrote and arranged a number of songs for the band, none more celebrated than “Shiny Stockings,” a puckishly genteel theme set at a cruising medium tempo with a slow but powerful crescendo. Recorded by Basie on his classic 1955 album “April in Paris,” it subsequently became both a band signature and a jazz standard, often performed with lyrics (there were two sets, one by Ella Fitzgerald and one by Jon Hendricks).

Among Mr. Foster’s less famous entries in the Basie canon, some, like “Blues in Hoss’ Flat,” have enjoyed steady circulation in the repertories of high school and college jazz bands.

He was one of two musicians named Frank in the band’s saxophone section, the other being the tenor saxophonist and flutist Frank Wess. Their contrasting styles as soloists — Mr. Foster was the more robust, with a harder husk to his tone — became the basis of a popular set piece called “Two Franks,” written for the band by Neal Hefti.

After leaving Basie, Mr. Foster worked for a while as a freelance arranger, supporting the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan.

He returned to the Basie band in the mid-1980s, this time as its leader. (Count Basie died in 1984.) He held the post for nearly a decade and earned something like emeritus status: when the Count Basie Orchestra was enlisted for Tony Bennett’s 2008 album “A Swingin’ Christmas,” Mr. Foster was the arranger.

Frank Benjamin Foster III was born on Sept. 21, 1928, into Cincinnati’s African-American middle class — his father was a postal clerk, his mother a social worker — and began his musical studies first on piano, then clarinet. The alto saxophone came next, and within a year of picking it up he was playing in a neighborhood dance band.

Most of his early professional experience involved playing stock arrangements in big bands; during his senior year of high school he formed one himself, writing charts from scratch. He considered himself self-taught as an arranger, having studied only harmony in school.

Mr. Foster attended the historically black Wilberforce University in Ohio, after being rejected by Oberlin College and the Cincinnati Conservatory. He played in and arranged for Wilberforce’s dance band, the Collegians.

As a budding tenor saxophonist he drew inspiration from Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, strong stylists who made the transition from swing to bebop. “I’m a hard bopper,” he told an interviewer with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program in 1998. “Once a hard bopper, always a hard bopper.”

But Mr. Foster was hardly confined to bebop as a musical language. His tenure with the Count Basie Orchestra, which began after his tour of duty with the Army during the Korean War, proved as much.

So did his efforts after leaving Basie, when he played in smaller groups, including those led by his wife’s first cousin, the drummer Elvin Jones. At the time he was drawn to the adventurous music of John Coltrane, in whose quartet Mr. Jones had created an influential polyrhythmic pulse. An album called “Well Water,” recently released on the Piadrum label, captures Mr. Foster and Mr. Jones jointly leading the Loud Minority Big Band in 1977, with a determinedly modern mind-set. The album includes their take on “Simone,” Mr. Foster’s best-known post-Basie composition.

Even as he spent a good portion of the late 1960s and ’70s exploring harmonic and rhythmic abstraction, Mr. Foster never quite surrendered to it. And he was no purist about jazz-funk — “Manhattan Fever,” one of his best albums, released in 1968 on Blue Note, has several effervescent backbeat-driven tunes.

In 2001 Mr. Foster had a stroke that hindered his ability to play the saxophone. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master the following year, and continued to write and arrange music, often as a commission for organizations like the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He also became active in the Jazz Foundation of America, a nonprofit organization that delivers aid to musicians in need.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Foster is survived by two children from their marriage, Frank Foster IV and Andrea Jardis Innis; two sons from his first marriage, Anthony and Donald; and six grandchildren.

July 25, 2011

Norwegian mass murderer’s ruminations on Marxism

Filed under: Fascism — louisproyect @ 3:03 pm

(Since posting this, I have learned that it was plagiarized from William S. Lind, a paleoconservative. That being said, it is still a useful indication of how the far-right in Europe sees our movement.)

The Historical Roots of “Political Correctness”

Western Europe is today dominated by an alien system of beliefs, attitudes and values that we have come to know as “Political Correctness.” Political Correctness seeks to impose a uniformity of thought and behaviour on all Europeans and is therefore totalitarian in nature. Its roots lie in a version of Marxism which seeks a radical inversion of the traditional culture in order to create a social revolution. Social revolution has a long history, conceivably going as far back as Plato’s Republic. But it was the French Revolution of 1789 that inspired Karl Marx to develop his theories in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the success of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia set off a wave of optimistic expectation among the Marxist forces in Europe and America that the new proletarian world of equality was finally coming into being. Russia, as the first communist nation in the world, would lead the revolutionary forces to victory. The Marxist revolutionary forces in Europe leaped at this opportunity. Following the end of World War I, there was a Communist “Spartacist” uprising in Berlin, Germany led by Rosa Luxemburg; the creation of a “Soviet” in Bavaria led by Kurt Eisner; and a Hungarian communist republic established by Bela Kun in 1919.

At the time, there was great concern that all of Europe might fall under the banner of Bolshevism. This sense of impending doom was given vivid life by Trotsky’s Red Army invasion of Poland in 1919. However, the Red Army was defeated by Polish forces at the battle of the Vistula in 1920. The Spartacist, Bavarian Soviet and Bela Kun governments all failed to gain widespread support from the workers and after a brief time they were all overthrown. These events created a quandary for the Marxist revolutionaries in Europe. Under Marxist economic theory, the oppressed workers were supposed to be the beneficiaries of a social revolution that would place them on top of the power structure. When these revolutionary opportunities presented themselves, however, the workers did not respond. The Marxist revolutionaries did not blame their theory for these failures. They blamed the workers. One group of Marxist intellectuals resolved their quandary by an analysis that focused on society’s cultural “superstructure” rather than on the economic substructures as Marx did.

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs contributed the most to this new cultural Marxism. Antonio Gramsci worked for the Communist International during 1923-24 in Moscow and Vienna. He was later imprisoned in one of Mussolini’s jails where he wrote his famous “Prison Notebooks.” Among Marxists, Gramsci is noted for his theory of cultural hegemony as the means to class dominance. In his view, a new “Communist man” had to be created before any political revolution was possible. This led to a focus on the efforts of intellectuals in the fields of education and culture. Gramsci envisioned a long march through the society’s institutions, including the government, the judiciary, the military, the schools and the media. He also concluded that so long as the workers had a Christian soul, they would not respond to revolutionary appeals.

Georg Lukacs was the son a wealthy Hungarian banker. Lukacs began his political life as an agent of the Communist International. His book History and Class Consciousness gained him recognition as the leading Marxist theorist since Karl Marx. Lukacs believed that for a new Marxist culture to emerge, the existing culture must be destroyed. He said, “I saw the revolutionary destruction of society as the one and only solution to the cultural contradictions of the epoch,” and, “Such a worldwide overturning of values cannot take place without the annihilation of the old values and the creation of new ones by the revolutionaries.” When he became Deputy Commissar for Culture in the Bolshevik Bela Kun regime in Hungary in 1919, Lukacs launched what became known as “Cultural Terrorism.” As part of this terrorism he instituted a radical sex education program in Hungarian schools. Hungarian children were instructed in free love, sexual intercourse, the archaic nature of middle-class family codes, the out-datedness of monogamy, and the irrelevance of religion, which deprives man of all pleasures. Women, too, were called to rebel against the sexual mores of the time.

Lukacs’s campaign of “Cultural Terrorism” was a precursor to what Political Correctness would later bring to Western European schools. In 1923, Lukacs and other Marxist intellectuals associated with the Communist Party of Germany founded the Institute of Social Research at Frankfurt University in Frankfurt, Germany. The Institute, which became known as the Frankfurt School, was modelled after the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. In 1933, when Nazis came to power in Germany, the members of the Frankfurt School fled. Most came to the United States. The members of the Frankfurt School conducted numerous studies on the beliefs, attitudes and values they believed lay behind the rise of National Socialism in Germany. The Frankfurt School’s studies combined Marxist analysis with Freudian psychoanalysis to criticise the bases of Western culture, including Christianity, capitalism, authority, the family, patriarchy, hierarchy, morality, tradition, sexual restraint, loyalty, patriotism, nationalism, heredity, ethnocentrism, convention and conservatism.

These criticisms, known collectively as Critical Theory, were reflected in such works of the Frankfurt School as Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom and The Dogma of Christ, Wilhelm’s Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Theodor Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality. The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950, substantially influenced Western European psychologists and social scientists. The book was premised on one basic idea, that the presence in a society of Christianity, capitalism, and the patriarchal-authoritarian family created a character prone to racial and religious prejudice and German fascism. The Authoritarian Personality became a handbook for a national campaign against any kind of prejudice or discrimination on the theory that if these evils were not eradicated, another Holocaust might occur on the European continent. This campaign, in turn, provided a basis for Political Correctness. Critical Theory incorporated sub-theories which were intended to chip away at specific elements of the existing culture, including “matriarchal theory,” “androgyny theory,” “personality theory,” “authority theory,” “family theory,” “sexuality theory,” “racial theory,” “legal theory,” and “literary theory.” Put into practice, these theories were to be used to overthrow the prevailing social order and usher in social revolution. To achieve this, the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School recognised that traditional beliefs and the existing social structure would have to be destroyed and then replaced. The patriarchal social structure would be replaced with matriarchy; the belief that men and women are different and properly have different roles would be replaced with androgyny; and the belief that heterosexuality is normal would be replaced with the belief that homosexuality is equally “normal.”

full: http://www.scribd.com/doc/60739170/2083-a-European-Declaration-of-Independence

July 24, 2011

Chto Delat and Ostalgia

Filed under: art,ussr — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

On Friday the NY Times had a glowing article on the “Ostalgia” show that just opened at the New Museum. “When Repression Was a Muse” is the title of Holland Cotter’s piece and gives you a good idea of his angle:

For some artists repression had a psychological upside. It gave their work a clear-cut sense of importance. It established art’s primary value as moral, not monetary; instrumental, not formal. If what you were doing was censorable, you could trust you were doing something right; heroic, even. And this attitude fostered solidarity and the growth of a counterculture in which experimentation, individuality and iconoclasm were protected and nurtured.

All this is well and good, but you really have to wonder what this has to do with Ostalgia, the neologism that combines the word East (Ost) with nostalgia and that means a longing for the socialist past, no matter how bureaucratic. Perhaps no other work of art expresses this better than the film “Goodbye, Lenin” that I reviewed in 2004. Given the preponderance of bitter rejections of the socialist system on display at the New Museum, one wonders why they didn’t call it “Anti-Ostalgia” instead.

Just by coincidence, I planned to go to the show on Friday. Although it was well worth my while and that of my readers, my praise is somewhat qualified. Here’s my impression of the work that I was mainly interested in seeing:

Perhaps a true artistic representation of “Ostalgia” would have consisted of works from the Stalin era, the typical socialist realism schlock with tractors and corn-fed smiling peasants. The only engagement in the show with that period consisted of art that borrowed from that genre only to subvert it through transformations of one sort or another. Sergey Zarva’s series of paintings based on old Soviet magazines is typical:

Standing apart from the largely inward-gazing and apolitical Conceptualist works that dominate the show is the time-line on “The Rise and Fall of Socialism 1945-1991” on the fifth floor assembled by Chto Delat,  a Russian collective that is not afraid give itself the same name as Lenin’s famed “What is to be Done” (Chto Delat). However, its members are not the sort of people who celebrate Stalin’s birthday, nor would be caught dead painting pictures of grinning peasants celebrating a record-breaking harvest. Despite the tendency to think of the Russian left in terms of the bedraggled and discredited Communist Party, there are small numbers of artists and intellectuals whose inspiration is the Marxism that arose alongside Stalinism and that served as an alternative. If you look through a copy of the English-language edition of a Chto Delat newspaper, you will find references to Gramsci, Jameson, Lukacs just as you would in an issue of New Left Review, a journal whose politics they have an affinity for.

Chto delat describes itself as follows on its website:

Chto delat works through collective initiatives organized by “art soviets,” inspired by the councils formed in revolutionary Russia during the early 20th century. These “art soviets” want to trigger a prototypical social model of participatory democracy, translating an open system for the generation of new forms of solidarity into the realm of contemporary cultural work. The “art soviet” takes on the function of a counter-power that plans, localizes and executes projects collectively.

Usually, this process results in artistic interventions, exhibitions, or artworks (video films, radio plays, performances), which, in turn, trigger new issues of the newspaper. Most of these projects have a two-fold intent: on the one hand, we are interested in the translatability and actualization of left theory (classical Marxism, post-structuralism, post-operaism, critical theory) and artistic practice (situationism, documentalism, urbanism, realism) under post-Soviet conditions and how this relates to parallel efforts elsewhere. On the other hand, we have also often focused on actualizations of the potential of the Soviet past repressed in the course of Soviet history, floating signifiers that need to be captured and used before they are subsumed totally by the present mode of production.

To give a few examples: in 2004-2005, Chto delat carried out an artistic examination of a working class neighborhood in Petersburg, attempting to actualize the communitarian utopias of its constructivist urbanity through the community, adrift with an enactment of Debord’s derive. This research into the Fordist utopia of the late 1920s and its incomplete, uneven transition to late capitalism was presented in two exhibitions and a newspaper. Another actualization of the Soviet legacy can be found in the project “Builders” (2005), in which the group restaged a classical socialist realist masterpiece from the late 1950s, which then falls apart and comes back together. In September 2006, Chto delat collaborated on a project called “Self-Educations”, an international exhibition and seminars-program at the NCCA in Moscow, dedicated to alternative, community-based forms of self-learning as emancipatory practices.

One of the members of Chto Delat is Thomas Campbell, a Yale graduate and a subscriber to the Marxism mailing list who has been my liaison with the group for some time. Thomas invited me to check out the exhibit and a talk by two members of the collective given last week while they were in town. I am glad he did since it reinforced my conviction that Marxmail and the Unrepentant Marxist blog must have at least one purpose in a period when the left seems so isolated, and that is to strengthen our ties and increase our solidarity. If the only Marxists in Russia were those in Chto Delat, they would be the people I would want to join hands with. For those on the left who are pursuing “counter-hegemonic” alternatives to Western imperialism like the BRIC, I will have to part ways, especially since the gang running Russia today would have no compunction about jailing or killing serious opponents on the left.

In addition to the time-line, there was a video on display at the New Museum from the Chto Delat collective. It is an unabashedly pro-working class work, but hardly in the “socialist realism” tradition even though it is a take on the Soviet past. Like just about everything they produce, you can see it on the Internet:

Last Saturday night I went all the way downtown to attend a meeting hosted by the 16 Beaver Group, named after their street address just a stone’s throw from where I used to work at Goldman-Sachs in the 80s. I guess the stock market crash has made a loft affordable among the ruins.

There was going to be a film showing of Chto Delat’s “Perestroika Songspiel” as well as a discussion of the Ostalgia show led by Dmitry Vilesnky and Nikolay Oleynikov. The 16 Beaver Group organizers described the event this way on their website:

But should we feel any nostalgic feelings in regards to the collapse of socialist bloc which happened 20 years ago? How do we feel today in regards to the past living through the period of globalization and neo-liberal governance?

How could we find political models and displays which help us not to betray an emancipatory potential hidden and betrayed, in its own way, by the real politics of socialist states? What lessons can we gain from all socialist developments in economy, culture, everyday which we’re not subjugated to the logic of capital and ‘free market’?

Since I am so used to thinking of Marxists in terms of social and political isolation, the meeting was a major boost to my morale. There were probably more than 50 people in attendance and the discussion was on an incredibly high level. My first reaction was to wonder where all these people were coming from. I should have realized that the ongoing capitalist crisis has a lot to do with turning people around. Sooner or later we will figure out a way to unite all of us in the spirit of Chto Delat—what is to be done.

I will conclude with my video of the highlights of the event, followed by “Perestroika Singspiel”.

July 21, 2011

Cenk Uygur leaves MSNBC after refusing to “tone it down”

Filed under: media — louisproyect @ 1:43 pm

I was partial to Cenk not just because he is a Turk but because he was one of the sharpest critics of the DP on MSNBC despite being–in the final analysis–just another DP spokesperson.

For the last week or so, Al Sharpton has been hosting his 6pm show. At first I thought Cenk was on vacation but it turns out that he was too critical of Obama and the other rightwing assholes in the DP. All he wanted was the DP to be more liberal. Fat chance of that.

For those not familiar with American politics, Sharpton is an African-American one-time FBI informant and “radical” street demonstration organizer in NYC. He has “matured” into a total DP hack who can be called upon to spin Obama’s latest rightwing offensive against workers and the Black community.

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