Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 19, 2012

Left Forum 2012

Filed under: Left Forum — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

The Left Forum is always a mixed bag but even if some panel discussions turn out to be duds, there is always enough there to warrant the time and money spent. Apparently about 4000 other lefties agree with me, at least based on Stanley Aronowitz’s announcement of registration figures at Friday night’s plenary. What follows are my impressions of various workshops I attended with no pretense of objectivity. In fact they will be highly opinionated so please be forewarned.

After the Crisis, is a New New Deal Possible? Do We Want One?

To start with the best, After the Crisis, is a New New Deal Possible? Do We Want One? was just what I hoped it would be: a debunking of the FDR presidency in the spirit of chapter 13 of Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”. Ironically, the participants were all from the economics department of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a city college nominally geared to training cops. I am not sure how this came about, but the school apparently has a fair share of leftists. Michael Meerpol, who recently retired from the economics department, had been the chair of a lecture series on social justice with my good friend Paul Buhle a recent guest. Perhaps there’s a certain cachet in having socialists on a faculty of a school with an ostensible reputation for being politically backward. The Mormon-oriented University of Utah also has an economics department with a bunch of Marxists, including the good Hans Ehrbar who hosts the Marxism list.

The first speaker was Ian Seda-Irizarry, a graduate of the U. of Massachusetts, another haven for left scholarship. Ian is a Marxmail subscriber whose dissertation on the Latin music industry in New York sounds like just the thing that can be turned into a good book, unlike the usual sterile credentials-earning exercise.

The talks, delivered from notes, were a model of concision and clarity, qualities missing from many others I heard over the weekend. My suggestion to any of my readers who plan to be a featured speaker at future Left Forums is to not read papers and if you do so, please try to make eye contact with your audience and to pause between sentences occasionally as if you were speaking one-on-one otherwise you will put people to sleep.

The last speaker, who is in the audience, was Josh Mason, an URPE member who teaches at William Patterson University and who speaks in favor of a new New Deal. Again, that’s another good idea. When you stack a panel with speakers who agree with each other, it is counterproductive. Marxism is based to a large extent on dialectics, a Greek word for dialog involving opposing different viewpoints.

One of the points that had the biggest impact on me during the workshop was made by Eric Pineault, the chairperson who teaches sociology in Montreal. In drawing a contrast between the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of today, Pineault referred to the different forms that the attack on the working class took. In the 1930s, the problem was obviously massive unemployment but today working people are being crushed by debt much more than by joblessness. He used the term debt peonage to describe the problems faced by millions as they confront home foreclosure and collection agencies trying to get a worker to pay for a huge Visa or Mastercard bill.

In the 1930s, layoffs in a place like Detroit or Chicago would affect workers as a social layer. Since this was at a time when workers tended to live near the factory and even walk to work in many instances and when they hung out at the same saloons or parks, they tended to think in terms of joint action.

But today someone in debt will tend to see themselves as an individual whose adversary is another individual at a bank or a collection agency. Since going into debt often strikes people as a personal failing, they will also tend to blame themselves rather than larger social and economic forces. I was reminded of this the other day when I was speaking to a very old friend about my age who hasn’t worked in a couple of years. Not only is the job market poor, he has developed Parkinson’s, an ailment that will make getting hired as a salesman even harder. It doesn’t matter how good a salesman you are (and my friend was great at this) if your hands are trembling. That is the reality of a fucked-up system that places so much emphasis on appearances.

To keep a roof over his head and to pay for other basics, he has gone into debt—owing over $40,000 on various credit cards. He now pays $300 per month, the minimum required. At this rate he will be paying until he dies and have not made a sizable dent into a debt that mounts steadily as he continues to dip into Visa or Mastercard to pay for food or other necessities. This is the same treadmill that millions of other Americans are on, with no end in sight. We might be living under advanced capitalism, but the social relationship is not that different than the one described in B. Traven’s novels. Fortunately, there are no debtors’ prisons today—at least for the time being.

I was reminded of this at a panel discussion on Capitalism in India: Glitter, Commodities, and Blood presented by Sanhati, a network of academics and activists committed to social justice in India, and chaired by my friend and fellow Marxmailer Taki Manolakos.

Deepankar Basu, another good Marxist economist ensconced at U. of Mass., spoke on peasant suicides, a problem that Sanhati has devoted much attention to.  During the discussion period, with Eric Pineault’s comments on debt peonage fresh in my mind, I asked Deepankar if the epidemic of suicides might be related to the phenomenon noted earlier in the day. Was debt peonage in India leading to mass suicide rather than mass struggle for the same reason that debt-burdened workers in the USA were tending to seek individual solutions?

A bit of research this morning turns up some evidence that connects the two societies. From a blog post by Barbara Ehrenreich on July 28, 2008:

Suicide is becoming an increasingly popular response to debt. James Scurlock’s brilliant documentary, Maxed Out, features the families of two college students who killed themselves after being overwhelmed by credit card debt. “All the people we talked to had considered suicide at least once,” Scurlock told a gathering of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in 2007. According to the Los Angeles Times, lawyers in the audience backed him up, “describing clients who showed up at their offices with cyanide, or threatened, ‘If you don’t help me, I’ve got a gun in my car.’”

India may be the trend-setter here, with an estimated 150,000 debt-ridden farmers succumbing to suicide since 1997. With guns in short supply in rural India, the desperate farmers have taken to drinking the pesticides meant for their crops.

Dry your eyes, already: Death is an effective remedy for debt, along with anything else that may be bothering you too. And try to think of it too from a lofty, corner-office, perspective: If you can’t pay your debts or afford to play your role as a consumer, and if, in addition – like an ever-rising number of Americans – you’re no longer needed at the workplace, then there’s no further point to your existence. I’m not saying that the creditors, the bankers and the mortgage companies actually want you dead, but in a culture where one’s credit rating is routinely held up as a three-digit measure of personal self-worth, the correct response to insoluble debt is in fact, “Just shoot me!”

For reasons I can’t quite fathom—maybe it is just psychological—I decided to check out a couple of workshops run by the ISO. Unlike the New Deal discussion described above, the comrades felt no need to include a point of view opposed to their own. Despite everything that Paul Le Blanc has written, I strongly doubt that they are open to the idea of a multi-tendency left organization since their actions suggest a preference for something far more homogenous if not quite so stifling as the American SWP of yore. The SWP of my youth would have been as open to the idea of publishing an article in the Militant that went against the party line as they would be to running ads for tobacco (even though Iskra did in Lenin’s day.)

Their workshop on Evo Morales was chaired by Jefferey Webber, the author of a book titled From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia that the ISO speakers agreed with, but in terms probably more extreme than anything Webber has ever written. One of them, a young man named Jason Farbman who compared Morales to the former dictator Hugo Banzer, felt compelled to repeat a Facebook comment on a confrontation between the Bolivian police and a protest of the disabled:

The handicapped BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF THE COPS. The cops only covered themselves with their shields. They didn’t do shit. The handicapped went loco, BUT REALLY LOCO. Hardcore, they were blowing up firecrackers in [the cops’] faces and [the cops’] helmets barely protected them. They threw real rocks at them…

I should add that after I forwarded a London Review blog post about this incident to Marxmail, Richard Fidler, a long-time subscriber, offered this comment:

“Cambio dwelled on the injuries sustained by the police and blamed the violence on a group of infiltrados posing as disabled people….

“As evidence of the violent infiltration, Cambio unveiled a photograph of a man in a striped sweater standing in front of a policeman in riot gear, accompanied by the caption ‘Activist beats up policemen at disabled protest’. Below that were two more photographs, purportedly of the same man protesting against the TIPNIS road.”

The story says nothing about Cambio alleging the disabled themselves attacked the police — which would be pretty incredible to begin with.

It would have been nice if the ISO had invited someone with a different perspective, one like Frederico Fuentes whose critique of Jefferey Webber the ISO was nice enough to print in their magazine. (My guess is that Fuentes’s membership in the Socialist Alliance in Australia gave him the clout necessary to get a hearing.)

As I pointed out in the discussion period, there has been an ongoing debate about these questions and recommended that people check out Fuentes’s and Roger Annis’s responses to Webber (I mistakenly referred to Annis when I meant John Riddell, who works closely with Annis–and Richard Fidler as well.)

Despite my recommendation to the audience that they check out what Fuentes et al had to say, my own view was different from both the ISO and the other side in the debate. I never thought that Morales was going to make a socialist revolution in Bolivia but welcomed the kind of changes that he was likely to foster. Perhaps they do not measure up to the ISO’s yardstick but nothing ever would, when you stop and think about it.

The competition, as I pointed out in my comments, is between a living social reality with all its contradictions and the ideas in the cranium of Ahmed Shawki, Tom Lewis and all the other people who write for the ISO press about how socialism should work. Living reality obviously can never compete with someone’s ideals. I had an uncle like that in Kansas City. No matter how many women my mom introduced him to, they could not match his ideal which was a combination of Betty Grable’s looks and Katherine Hepburn’s wit. He died a bachelor.

There was more of the same the next day at a workshop titled State and Revolution in the 21st Century: Is Lenin Still Relevant? that included Todd Chretien, one of my favorite ISO’ers who was fairly close to Peter Camejo. Another speaker was Sam Farber, who the ISO’ers dote on for some unfathomable reason. Farber has written loads of bullshit about Cuba in the ISO press that I have tried to clean up over the years, like the guy with a dustpan following the elephants in a circus parade. This is the same Sam Farber whose new book on Cuba Jefferey Webber blurbed as follows: “Samuel Farber’s work on Cuba has long championed revolutionary democratic socialism from below.” I can only wonder if Webber has ever read Farber since the Cuban-American professor emeritus much preferred the Stalinist party in Cuba to the July 26th Movement:

Last but not least, the PSP [Popular Socialist Party, the pro-Kremlin official party] was the only significant political force in Cuba that claimed to be socialist or Marxist and therefore stressed the importance of a systematic ideology and program for the development of strategy and tactics. Its ideology and program were tools used to win ideological support from radicalized Cubans seeking a systematic explanation of the country’s situation. This aspect of the PSP is even more noticeable when contrasted to the antitheoretical and antiprogrammatic stance of the Twenty-sixth-of-July movement.

Yeah, we know how important it is to claim that you are “socialist” or “Marxist” to stay friends with the ISO, a group for whom ideals loom so large. Who cares if the PSP’s socialism was compatible with support for Batista? That’s not half as bad as being “antitheoretical”, I suppose.

Farber’s talk took the form of a lecture to the Occupy movement over its refusal to formulate demands on the state. He invoked the history of the civil rights movement to instruct the anarchists, who would not be found dead in a workshop like this, that in order to achieve genuine reforms you have to put demands on the state. He was generous to a fault to the young people who risked police attack and other hardships to occupy Zuccotti Park but felt that for the need for their full development as revolutionaries they had had to take a different path.

Radhika Desai, a political science professor at the U. of Manitoba, was far more polemical than Farber, lacing her talk with references to neo-Proudhonism and anarchism that were practically spitted out. We learned from her that there were petty-bourgeois tendencies in the Occupy movement that had to be combated. She recommended that the young people who were getting their heads busted at Zuccotti Park find the time to read Lenin’s State and Revolution, a work that was recommended in the same spirit that a navy doctor used to recommend prophylactics to sailors on shore leave.

While the ISO is not nearly as batty on these questions as the American SWP (nobody could be), you can’t escape the feeling that they approach it in the same spirit that they approach Evo Morales’s Bolivia. Somehow the articles in their magazine that defend classical Marxism against reformism or anarchism are meant to change people’s behavior.

In reality groups or individuals only modify their actions when a positive example becomes prominent and accepted by the great majority of the left. That is why Lenin’s party became the party of the Russian working class, not because its words were so convincing but because they led by example.

Unfortunately for the ISO, this new movement has emerged with zero input from them or any other “classical Marxist” groups. It has all the problems you might expect to see in such a movement, including bouts of adventurism as displayed by the black bloc or fetishism over consensus, horizontalism and all the other pet schemas of the anarchist or autonomist movements. But whatever the problems of the new movement, it has reached ordinary working people in a way that no Marxist movement has done since the 1930s. For that they deserve our respect and our collaboration, not patronizing lectures from above.


  1. about your uncle in Kansas City: “they could NOT match his ideal”?

    Comment by uh...clem — March 19, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

  2. Ever since the ISO adopted the slogan for their Day Schools that were termed “Build the Left’, it was quite obvious that they always meant “Build the ISO.”

    Comment by David Walsh — March 19, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

  3. Well, yes, of course. If the ISO, or any other socialist organization for that matter, didn’t think they had something unique to offer, they would have, I suppose, closed up shop a long, long time ago. And what does the term “build the left” mean anyway? I’ll always have a soft spot for the ISO, Sam Farber notwithstanding, for in the 1980’s when I lived in Cincinnati, they were the only ones who would contribute warm bodies to defend SWP meetings when threatened (and attacked) by rightists, and the SWP was the only ones who would return the favor.

    Comment by dave r — March 19, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

  4. they would have, I suppose, closed up shop a long, long time ago

    What a telling phrase…

    Comment by louisproyect — March 19, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

  5. It would be interesting if the ISO conducted its workshop about Morales in Bolivia. That would be something worth attending.

    Off topic, got a chance to see “A Separation” on Saturday. While the story got a little too engrossed in the judicial aspect of things, the class dimension was, I thought, more prominent than you suggested. Through the accumulation of detail, the lives of the middle class family going through the divorce and the poor caregiver’s family were sharply contrasted to compelling effect, particularly the extent to which the middle class family was able to hire out for what it needed (a tutor for the daughter, a caregiver for the grandfather), while the cobbler’s family found itself left with competing for such work to survive even though they were unsuited for it.

    Overall, I thought that the film was very good in terms of bringing out such social contrasts through everyday experience instead of didactically, and was all the more effective because of it. There was also a thread of Fate that ran through it, reminiscent of some of the 1950s films of Fritz Lang. In the end, the film indicts a society in which the needs of neither the middle class family nor the poor cobbler’s family are addressed, with fundamentalist religion being part of the glue that entraps them. The rare scenes of the two girls enjoying themselves together suggest an alternative beyond adult perception.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 19, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

  6. I don’t believe that Radhika Desai has any formal affiliation with the ISO. Not saying that you said she did, but you left it open to interpretation. Too bad she was so ultra-dogmatic about Occupy, I always thought she had her head on pretty straight.

    Comment by ld — March 19, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

  7. Desai does not have any connection with the ISO but it was clear that she was picked to speak for the same reason–to defend orthodoxy. I should add that Viewpoint Magazine’s Salar Mohandesi, the author of an excellent article on the black bloc, presented a paper making the case that “State and Revolution” marked a turn for Lenin toward “violent revolution”. I am not quite sure why this was so important for him to dwell on since it seems so remote from the tasks of 2012 America. The truth to tell, as good as Viewpoint can be, it does have a soft spot for ultraleft conceptions and language.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 19, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

  8. Lots of tendencies have been around for a “long, long time”, with various contributions and degrees of success. Including tendencies associated with ideas inherent in Camejoism. By the way, great line about the circus elephants. May I nick for future use?

    Comment by dave r — March 19, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

  9. “Desai does not have any connection with the ISO but it was clear that she was picked to speak for the same reason–to defend orthodoxy.”

    Based on what?

    Comment by Robin — March 19, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

  10. Louis wrote:

    “Fortunately, there are no debtors’ prisons today—at least for the time being.”

    Looks like it’s now past the time being:


    (Read her embedded links; it’s chilling stuff.)

    Comment by Todd — March 20, 2012 @ 1:32 am

  11. There is no reason for your friend to pay that credit card bill. If one is young and desires a clean credit record to buy a house, maybe. He should call them and tell then he simply wont pay it, can’t pay it whatever. Or hire a lawyer to do it. Play hardball with these assholes and it will work, you cant get payments drastically reduced if there is the threat of getting nothing. Same thing people do with the IRS every day. I speak from experience with 1 degree of seperation. Just be prepared to get ugly because you are dealing proverbial animals. And a month later someone else will send you a card

    Comment by purple — March 20, 2012 @ 5:46 am

  12. Dear Louis,
    I’m sorry you didn’t speak up in the State and Revolution meeting. I didn’t even notice you there. Needless to say you are one of my favorite sectarian internet hacks. Peter would have loved the meeting, by the way.


    Comment by Todd Chretien — March 20, 2012 @ 8:14 am

  13. ` … a debunking of the FDR presidency.’

    Excellent. The New Deal was about cotton wooling US capitalism so it could survive the Great Depression (which before long won’t look so Great) until the political obstacles to the realisation of the potential of American capitalism could finally be swept aside by the war.

    `Despite everything that Paul Le Blanc has written, I strongly doubt that they are open to the idea of a multi-tendency left organization’

    Just out of interest Lou, who would want to build or set out to build a multi-tendency left organisation?

    Comment by David Ellis — March 20, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  14. I’m sorry you didn’t speak up in the State and Revolution meeting.

    I generally lack the patience to keep my hand in the air until I am called on. It reminds me too much of Miss Cramer’s 9th grade English class.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 20, 2012 @ 11:38 am

  15. Chretien seems to be making a habit of leaving vacuous comments instead of responding with anything substantive. An earlier example: http://links.org.au/node/2657

    Something tells me neither Camejo nor Lenin would be love that.

    Comment by Binh — March 20, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

  16. Chretien seems to be making a habit of leaving vacuous comments instead of responding with anything substantive.

    I don’t think the ISO comrades are comfortable with the give-and-take of Internet forums such as this or Marxmail. They much prefer to present their ideas in their press without the messy business of having to defend them. To give credit where credit is due, the Australian Socialist Alliance comrades, many of whom were in the Zinovievist DSP before they moved more in a true Leninist direction, have begun to embrace the Internet–the Iskra of today. Lenin viewed the press as a means for socialists to unite but also to air out their differences. The last time we had anything like that in the USA was the Guardian newspaper.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  17. Just out of interest Lou, who would want to build or set out to build a multi-tendency left organisation?

    The people in Solidarity. They have members who view Cuba as a “workers state” and others who view it as “state capitalist” but that does prevent them from operating in the same organization, especially since their focus is on changing American society. I have problems with Solidarity that have nothing to do with its program or how it is organized but it is not worth going into here.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

  18. Four thousand attendees!! This reflects that we are in a period of both prolonged social crisis and renewed searching for analysis and understanding. So your remarks about how speakers ought to deliver a presentation are important and more than simple complaining. Often a speaker has something important to say but it gets totally lost “in the reading” (I have made this mistake myself– disastrously!). To your injunctions to pause periodically to make eye contact with the audience, I’d just add something I was told: “Slow down! Try to talk as if you’re on Valium. You know what you are going to say but the audience is a few sentences behind you.” This actually worked out well. Good advice Lou, since more people will be writing and speaking in the period ahead. Take the “sectarian internet hack” line as a backhanded compliment.

    Comment by Bob Montgomery — March 20, 2012 @ 1:47 pm

  19. Pham,
    How did your meeting re regroupment turn out?

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 20, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

  20. “They much prefer to present their ideas in their press without the messy business of having to defend them”-Proyect

    What hypocrisy from the least democratic, or maybe the correct phrase, most undemocratic person on the US left!.

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 20, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  21. Ken, you and you alone are responsible for getting unsubbed from the Marxism list. You can resub as long as you don’t waste bandwidth with jackass comments. If you want to be a jackass, do it here where there is more leeway for personal attacks.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

  22. `They have members who view Cuba as a “workers state” and others who view it as “state capitalist” but that does prevent them from operating in the same organization, especially since their focus is on changing American society.’

    So two incorrect factions. I guess the Stalinists can live with the state-cap twaddle as it cannot really be taken seriously even by those who spout it. But the question is who would deliberately set out to build a multi-faction or tendency party? Only a mad man surely. Entering one is a different matter naturally. It reminds me (not that I was there) of how Stalin instructed the Chinese Communist Party to join the Kuomintang. They would have Kuomintang branch meetings on a Tuesday where they would all pretend to be Kuomintang and then on a Thursday exactly the same people would have CCP branch meetings where they would discuss their successful entry work of the previous couple of days.

    Of course in the end the Kuomintang did for them all. But seriously if you are consciously building a multi-tendency party do you build the marxist tendency on a Monday, the anti-marxist one on a Tuesday, the anarchist one on a Friday, etc etc. you get the picture.

    Comment by David Ellis — March 20, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

  23. Hey Louis, I was really impressed with your committment to respectful, democratic debate when you stood up and started writing on the chalkboard while someone else from the audience was speaking, rambled on about agreeing with details but disagreeing with a nebulous whole, and then walked out as soon as you had finished bestowing your wisdom on the rest of us without waiting to hear what anyone else had to say about it. You’re a shining example of the intellectual culture the left needs so desperately right now.

    Comment by herrnaphta — March 20, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

  24. I ran into Lee Sustar at the door, who asked me to stick around since he was going to “answer me”. I am glad that I didn’t since I had already heard an hour-and-a-half of the same shit. And thanks for your angry comment. It convinces me that my arrows hit their mark, even more so from the woman who shook my hand on my way out, stating “I am so glad that you made those points”.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

  25. Louis, among the myriad problems in the handful of sentences on our Bolivia panel, you copy-pasted from my SW article and made it seem like that was a quote from what I said at LF. You also spoke early in the discussion and bolted from the room, which isn’t super cool OR a good way to assess a panel (the response to which was overwhelmingly positive), particularly from someone who claims to want open debate. Your contribution mainly consisted of attacking the ISO (in a panel on Bolivia) about the “ISO position” on Cuba. Did you attend the Cuba panel, where that might have been more useful? As was pointed out after you left, there are very few disagreements from the pro-Morales crowd with the empirical details we reported, which is why the opposition has to be based on spurious grounds of “extremism” etc.

    Comment by Jason Farbman — March 20, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

  26. you copy-pasted from my SW article and made it seem like that was a quote from what I said at LF.

    Look, you did say that. I was there and had no reason to put words in your mouth.

    One other thing. You obviously must have noted my comments about delivering papers, etc. My suggestion to you is that when you give talks don’t end declarative sentences with the tonal inflection of a question. I first noticed this speech pattern among CISPES activists in the early 80s and it is singularly annoying.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  27. Actually Louis, uptalking, as linguists call it, is a relational way of speaking. It’s a way to convey to one’s listeners that one is interested in feedback, and not simply handing down information on high. Much of the obloquy heaped on the practice is actually thinly veiled sexism, as in the stereotypical valley girl who is totally underconfident in what she says and thus pronounces declarative statements as questions. When linguists actually study the matter, they find that it’s a relational way of talking that doesn’t signify underconfidence at all, but rather a connection with interlocutors. Since such connection doesn’t seem to be high on your perlocutionary agenda, it’s unsurprising that you find the practice irksome.

    Comment by herrnaphta — March 20, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  28. ‘don’t end declarative sentences with the tonal inflection of a question”=Proyect

    I first heard this speech pattern among San Francisco Yuppies and Yuppie wannabes in the 1980’s, in which they would add a drawn out “okaaay” in question mode at the end of the sentence. Unfortunately it spread to younger educated people in the nineties, especially those working for non profits. If anyone knows the history of this speech pattern please refer me to a link where I can learn more or contact me privately. Thank you.

    For Louis’ benefit my critique of you on Marxmail was not a personal attack, but disagreement in a satirical format. In fact it was your inspiration that provided the impetus for my first attempt at poetry in my entire life. Perhaps if I had mentioned that, you wouldn’t have been as offended.

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 20, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  29. Re Ending declaratives with an interrogative inflection as postmodernist cultural affect:

    Comment by Bob Montgomery — March 20, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

  30. Ken, go ahead and resub. Just try to lay off the satire.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

  31. It’s a way to convey to one’s listeners that one is interested in feedback, and not simply handing down information on high.

    Yes, Jason Farbman conveyed that throughout his talk.

    Comment by Louis Proyect — March 20, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  32. “It’s a way to convey to one’s listeners that one is interested in feedback, and not simply handing down information on high.”

    With the middle class people who did that in the eighties, with the uptalk and damnable stretched out “okaaay” at the end, it was always in the context of a disagreement. It was like they were saying, “what I have to say is so superior to you, that I can only end with okaaay”. In that context it was condescending. Having said that, it would be unfair to say that of the current younger generation, lest I be accused of grumpy old manism.

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 20, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

  33. Don’t anyone introduce Louis to any young Australians:

    Comment by skidmarx — March 20, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

  34. Louis, a highly entertaining account. In particular I was fascinated at the revelation that Iskra ran ads for tobacco companies!

    I find these kind of events a bit like a trip to the dentist (part pain, part anaesthesia) usually; reading accounts like this (and the subsequent debate) is much more preferable. And the analogies of the uncle who died a bachelor and following the circus elephants were very funny…

    Comment by Ben Courtice — March 20, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

  35. I could be way, way off, but the annoying “uptalk” inflection that has become pervasive among the under-40 set — across boundaries of class, gender, and race — has at least something to do with the massification of Valley Girl speak. But there seems to be something very correct about the observation that it is especially pronounced among the NGO youth (from the 90’s until now). It always seems to be deeply paired with the therapeutic-managerial vocabulary of “conflict resolution,” “unlearning oppressions,” tortured confessional discourses on privileged identities, etc.

    Comment by ld — March 21, 2012 @ 12:04 am

  36. Oh, I didn’t see herrnaphta’s comment distinguishing the speech pattern from Valley Girl talk. Could be, but for all intents and purposes I think VG talk and the speech of liberally educated middle class youth (and not-so-youth) has effectively merged into a most unpalatable hybrid.

    Comment by ld — March 21, 2012 @ 12:18 am

  37. “has”=”have”, my error

    Comment by ld — March 21, 2012 @ 12:19 am

  38. Hi Jason,

    You wrote: “As was pointed out after you left, there are very few disagreements from the pro-Morales crowd with the empirical details we reported, which is why the opposition has to be based on spurious grounds of “extremism” etc.”

    I would be more than happy to take up the empirical data you presented in your talk, particularly if your last article is anything to go by.
    There you wrote: “But in Morales’ first years in office, Bolivia enjoyed the kind of fiscal conditions that neoliberals love: government budget surpluses, low inflation rates, and a big growth in international currency reserves.” Each point is at best a half-truth or incorrect.

    Budget surpluses? The truth is that the 2012 budget is nearly four-times bigger than the 2004 budget, hardly an indication of austerity. By law each budget must be in deficit, however most years the government has end with a surplus. Why? Because the capitalist state was never set up to invest in social and public spending and has hampering government programs (combined with the lack of experienced political cadre to fulfill roles in the state apparatus). Moreover, it is generally the regional and local councils that have utilised less of their budget, not the national government

    Low inflation? So what? What’s your “revolutionary” alternative? high inflation?

    Growth in currency reserves? Again, so what? Would Bolivia be better off with no reserves? The key is what is the government planning to do with these reserves: pouring an important part of it into public investment to stimulate the productive apparatus. The result? Public investment has risen from 600 million in 2005 to over 5 000 million for 2012 and 8-fold increase.

    Hardly the kind of stuff neoliberals are implementing elsewhere, is it?

    You also warn us that “THE NEW Bolivian space program is part of a 2009 agreement with China that will put the country deeply in debt. This is a dangerous road for Bolivia. Unpayable debt in the developing world translates to even more leverage for the already powerful developed nations.”

    Have you bothered to check Bolivia’s current debt level’s? Its external debt has decreased from 40% to 11% between 2006 and 2012! Since it seems you like comparsions with Banzer consider this: Under Banzer Bolivia’s foreign debt was 5.000 millon, representing over 50% of GDP. Today it is not only less as a share of GDP but in monetary terms: it is only 3.493 millon. So where is the evidence of a government plunging its nation into debt crisis?

    But as I said more than happy to demonstrate how most of the allegations and “empirical evidence” is really just playing with figures to prove black is white

    In solidarity

    Comment by Federico Fuentes — March 21, 2012 @ 12:23 am

  39. “zero input from them or any other “classical Marxist” groups”

    This actually just shows how clueless Louis is about the Occupy movement – and tells us something about his conception of how socialists should work in movements. Apparently, if you don’t win every argument about tactics and organizational structure, you might as well not be there at all…

    Comment by Kal — March 21, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  40. Regarding debt, seconding Purple above, your friend should not hesitate to declare bankruptcy. But I would say, don’t hire a lawyer, and try doing it yourself, which is what I am in the process of doing as I write.

    Here is my story. Way back in 2004, I had manageable credit card debt, then I quit my HS teaching job to go to take classes in GIS, just as my partner became pregnant. I was working part time at UPS, about $250 bucks a week. I used credit cards to make ends meet and buy groceries, and pay tuition. All this with plans that I would land a ~60k job in a few years and be able to pay it off. That job never materialized, and soon I was working at my other profession as an archaeological field tech, which is generally by project only, working 3-5 months, then laid off for a month and looking for another gig. Pretty soon I was getting credit card offers “transfer those high interest balances to us for 0% APR…….” and before you knew it I was making minimum payments on about 6 accounts at about 100 bucks a pop. Like Bruce Springsteen sings in Atlantic City “Well I got a job and tried to put my money away, but I got debts no honest man can pay”

    Seeing the writing on the wall I consulted a bankruptcy lawyer about 3 years ago, he advised that if I was going to file, then stop paying those accounts, and start making payments to his firm. Well that was the one mistake in the whole process, but it was handy sending their stationary to creditors and collectors which requires them to stop calling you. I would still get calls from collectors, but would just never answer. Since I moved to another state, that lawyer can’t do my case now. After 3 years of just being in default on all those accounts, I finally got served with papers for one, which basically kicked me in the ass to file for bankruptcy myself. This isn’t at all hard to do, and as long as you cross all your Ts and dot your i’s anybody with standard intelligence should be able to do it. This book lays it all out with examples of how to fill out the paperwork etc:


    Also, don’t go to one of those agencies that charge you fees to negotiate lower balances and payments. This is because after one stops paying, you start getting letters from collection agencies offering to settle those accounts for about 50% of the balance either in lump sums or payments. Still, probably the best best is to just declare bankruptcy and have all that debt discharged. Of course you have to live without credit for awhile and won’t have that to fall back on. My only regret is that I didn’t do it right away.

    I credit my Marxist perspective for not internalizing this situation as a personal failing (Marxist therapy 🙂 The fact of the matter is, I got deep into debt trying to fulfill my basic needs, educate myself for a better paying job etc.. I worked my ass off through all of this. My intent was to pay it all off, and I certainly would like to have an excellent credit rating. But working class wages and living standards are on the downward slide, even for people with college educations and technical skills, and that current was way too strong for me to swim against it. So Fuck them! I am about a month away from discharging about 40 grand in credit card debt. I am sure Bank of America, Chase etc. won’t even miss it.

    Comment by Sheldon — March 21, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

  41. Federico Fuentes’ comment is one reason I stopped buying what the ISO says about Bolivia. My experience at OWS is the reason I stopped buying what it says about America. And Todd’s comment here goes a long way to explaining why the group lost many of its long-standing cadre in the Bay Area. Sad.

    Comment by Binh — March 21, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

  42. We should all make an attempt, myself included, to visit the lines of any number of strikes or lock-outs currently under way in the U.S. and Canada, where beautiful people who want nothing more than to care for their families are being ruined. We would all come away with a better set of manners for one another by doing so.

    Comment by dave r — March 21, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

  43. “But I would say, don’t hire a lawyer, and try doing it yourself, which is what I am in the process of doing as I write”

    Unless you really know what in the hell you’re doing, incredibly bad advice. In the event, Sheldon, that you do know what you’re doing you need to contact Purple off list. Purple, if Sheldon gives you an easy understandable game plan how to file Per Se with an attorney), by all means follow his advice. If he tells you it’s not that hard, you can figure it out, consult a lawyer. Most will work out an installment payment plan. You guys really need to work this out together off list. Best of luck to you. Been there, done that..

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 22, 2012 @ 5:17 am

  44. “My experience at OWS is the reason I stopped buying what it says about America”-Binh

    So when the ISO says, that tens of millions in America, are suffering the results of massive unemployment, poverty, homelessness, foreclosures and lack of access to education and health care, they don’t know what they’re talking about?” If that’s what you’re saying Binh, that the ISO is wrong, then you’re claiming that we’re all one big happy middle class family, and all economic deprivation is voluntary?” Makes me wonder why you’re even involved with OWS..

    Comment by Ken Morgan — March 22, 2012 @ 5:21 am

  45. `So Fuck them! I am about a month away from discharging about 40 grand in credit card debt. I am sure Bank of America, Chase etc. won’t even miss it.’

    An acquaintance of mine filed for bankruptcy some time back with over £100,000 of credit card debt and only a bog standard just-below average income. Not a single one of his creditors (banks and credit card companies) turned up to the hearing probably because they had already packaged up his debts to be sold as bonds and added to the thirty-year Ponzi Scheme/Credit bubble set off by Reagan/Thatcher in the early 80s. British banks went under with £7 trillion of liabilities most of it counterfeit like the one I just described (selling written off debts as good coin) and US banks with something crazy like $34 trillion. All these sums have been guaranteed by governments even though they are many, many more times greater than world GDP. The state is the state of the ruling class after all and if the super rich don’t get their money back they won’t be the super rich for much longer and these bonds are time limited. The super rich were the ones who bought the bankers’ bonds on the promise of ludicrous 8, 10, 15 even 20% rates of return which the bankers then turned into more bad loans, packaged into more bonds to sell back again to the super rich who had lent them the money in the first place: hence the Ponzi scheme.

    Because of the time limits on bonds when the issuer has to cash them out and the truly massive size of the liabilities governments have been desperately trying to convert these private liabilities into state liabilities. In the EuroZone having slashed budgets, wages, jobs, pensions, welfare, etc they have now, in Greece at least, converted the private bonds into 20 year government bonds paying 3 to 4% per annum meaning the Bankers Versailles will go on for at least that long but in reality for ever as there is no chance that a Greek economy in recession can ever meat these liabilities even if it reduced its budgets to zero and levied a 100% tax on all income.

    In Britain where they have been borrowing, cutting and printing the money to pay the bankers liabilities the Tory chancellor who boasted that they were progressive because they were paying off debts rather than saddle the young generation with them even though they are not their debts in the first place and it is at the cost of mass youth unemployment and permanent austerity is now proposing to convert the bankers’ liabilities into 100-year bonds or even bonds that exist in perpetuity that pay 2% per annum thereby saddling not just one but four generations with the debts of the bankers. The shear size of the liabilities of the UK banks puts a 20-year Greek style swap out of reach but if that is the case in the UK then the US is truly up shit creek without a paddle, boat or even a creek just shit.

    How will the US government swap those trillions and trillions of US bankers’ liabilities for state bonds so that they can socialise the losses and keep the rich rich and for how many centuries will they doom the US economy to the Bankers Versailles?

    Why did Reagan/Thatcher unleash the credit bubble in the first place? Because monopolised Western capitalism was stagnant, sclerotic and going nowhere fast. Now it is stagnant, sclerotic and bankrupt.

    Comment by David Ellis — March 22, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  46. Just to add, I think the interest on £7 trillion even at 2% per annum is something like £12,000 billion per year for 100 years which puts us into Dr Evil commedy territory when he goes back to the 60s and demands $100 billion dollars which is far far more money than at that time there was in the entire world.

    I know in the US the bail out has already consumed many billions in `recapitalisation’ i.e. paying out liabilities but this hasn’t touched the real liability. Does anybody know if there are plans to swap these bankers liabilities for government bonds in the near future and what the terms of such a deal might be?

    Comment by David Ellis — March 22, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  47. Look at what the silly petty-bourgeois neo-Proudhonist anarchists who never bothered to pick up State and Revolution did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4VLYGfGDZg

    Comment by Binh — March 22, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

  48. “Unless you really know what in the hell you’re doing, incredibly bad advice. In the event, Sheldon, that you do know what you’re doing you need to contact Purple off list. Purple, if Sheldon gives you an easy understandable game plan how to file Per Se with an attorney), by all means follow his advice.”

    Thanks for your comment Ken. Perhaps I am in not in a position to give advice, as I am still going through the process. Better that I say people should look into attempting to do it themselves. Fact of the matter is, I did have a lawyer in another state, could never finish making the payments to have them file for me, and now I got no choice but to file myself. There are resources, and I think the key is to be careful to have all the paperwork done to perfection, be totally honest about assets etc., and file every frickin little paper on time.

    So again, people should look into filing bankuptcy it themselves.

    Comment by Sheldon — March 23, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

  49. Louis I found your story about your salesman friend very interesting. You’re right in saying he’s a great salesman but I can tell you today’s employers seem to be more interested in an applicants personal information and medical history. I myself am unemployed and have been denied jobs because of bad credit due to medical issues, because they don’t approve of a medication that I must take due to a medical condition and refusing to provide an employer my password so they can read my e-mails. Employers should not be allowed to get away with any of this period.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — March 24, 2012 @ 1:03 am

  50. The point of my last post is that businesses and corporations in America today have gone far beyond exploitation of the labor force and the unemployed struggling to find work. I think the left must focus on this because the invasion of privacy of job applicants is done mainly with the purpose of weeding out undesirables like the elderly, people with medical conditions or the long term unemployed. I think the most shocking was when I was asked for my e-mail password. Where do you draw the line?

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — March 24, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

  51. And Louis I really hope your friend with Parkinson’s Disease finds work. Unfortunately today in America it’s not about education or experience like it was years ago. Another issue that bothered me in the payroll tax legislation was that Obama caved in to Republicans by taking out the discrimination against the long term unemployed provision out. Republicans are accepting of employment discrimination and citizens need to remember that in November.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — March 24, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

  52. The more these comments mount up, the more frightening the cumulative effect. I am speaking here of the United States BTW.

    For all the passion, and cleverness of those speaking at the forum and commenting here, it seems that the left is becoming weaker and weaker, even if its small numbers are increasing to some extent. The Occupy movement, while it points to the remote possibility of revolution, is clearly never going to become revolutionary all by itself, and the “classical” Left has to look to moralistic petty-bourgeois intellectuals for most of its constituency. Although many of those have been proletarianized to some extent as a result of the depression, they do not constitute a proletariat. Who knows where “the workers” of today stand, or even who exactly they are?

    The old-style hegemony of capitalism in the 1920s up through the 1950s and 60s depended on mass culture, mass media, and concentrated masses of workers in relatively confined and continuous neighborhoods and districts. Mass culture enabled fascism and comparable political cults, but it had, from the capitalist point of view, the disadvantage of promoting solidarity among the masses, which was always dangerous and always had to be strenuously controlled.

    Since the false Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s, this central flaw in ruling class hegemonism has been corrected. Now workers are scattered geographically about car-centered mazes which place physical barriers in the way of solidarity that cannot be navigated by the immiserated, who have nowhere to go. The centralized controlling power of mass media and mass meetings has been replaced by a fragmented, personalized artificial paradise with fewer and fewer public spaces, fueled by consumer debt. This becomes an isolation chamber when the money runs out. The police are everywhere and one’s neighbors are all enthusiastically spying for them, whipping out cell phones to alert the authorities on the slightest provocation.

    By a massive irony–sorry for the pun, but I haven’t slept for several days–the only classes beginning to reap the benefits of contiguity and colocation are the subhuman parasites often called yuppies, who serve as the shock troops for the reclamation of city centers by the wealthy enemies of the human race. In these vile enclaves, the wealthy do as they please, are serviced by a police that respond with massive force to even the most ridiculous of complaints, and rule with barely the semblance of law. The violence of yuppie men toward the older, weaker, and poorer, while limited for the most part to verbal abuse, obstruction of public spaces, and knocking people off sidewalks, is astonishingly pervasive; the police condone it and anyone who confronts the thugs is threatened with arrest. For serious violence, there are the police themselves.

    In my so-called neighborhood in Washington, DC, I walked out into the local small park as I sometimes do to enjoy a little conversation with the African-American men who still come there after dark in warm weather. As I was speaking with one of my friends, seven cop cars–yes SEVEN–sped into the park from three different direction, roared around it in circular fashion, and shat forth at least fifteen hulking blond sadists in police uniforms. The object of all this? A seventy-year-old man, staggering drunk, who was sobbing because he had just become homeless for the first time in his life.

    His crime? He had an open half-can of warm beer. After half an hour of sarcastic remarks and bullying, the filth hauled this monster of negritude off to the pokey. They had been called by the Neighborhood Watch–a yuppie with a cell phone frowning viciously from the stoop of a newly redecorated town house.

    Doesn’t anybody understand what is happening here? Forty-odd years ago, African-Americans rioted in our cities, thereby–at a certain cost–gaining control over their own neighborhoods until very recently. This situation is now reversed. The rich are rioting in our cities and they are physically attacking anyone who opposes them. They are rioting in the workplace. If you do not believe that people are dying because of it, I can assure that they are, and that there is no exaggeration at all in saying that.

    The DC Occupy encampent, what’s left of it, is only a few blocks from this location. A few years ago, a small antiwar demonstration with drums and chants marched through Logan Circle on their way to another location. There has never since been so much as a small protest in Logan Circle, where the violence I described took place. And on 14th street, around the corner, yuppies who would never had dared to set foot there before now stagger puking up and down the street in a state of indescribable drunkenness, forcing pedestrians off the street and shouting abuse at the tops of their voices. No police are ever to be seen.

    What is to be done here, people? What is to be done? How can the people defend themselves without a base to attack from?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — March 24, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  53. What Deborah’s posts suggest to me is that the US left, at least not since the unemployed councils of the 1930s, hasn’t grasped the importance of the unemployed as a part of the working class. Little attention has been paid, in my experience anyway, to the question of actually organizing the unemployed. Sure we use program demands like “30 for 40” — spread the work around with no loss in pay– or, demanding public works projects at union wages, but we don’t bring the matter of supporting the unemployed to the employed, or vice versa. The closest we come it seems is attention to “low wage workers” with living wage campaigns and demands to raise the minimum wage. But just as the organized are seen as distinct from the unorganized, the employed are seen as distinct from the unemployed. The social geography today is certainly very different from that of the urbanized and concentrated proletariat of the ’30s as Louis points out. But the US left in particular, seems to take for granted that the “unemployed” are either, temporarily out of work, or have dropped into what used to be termed, lumpen, poor, or underclass status. It was one thing to have this myopia 30 years ago, but another thing when part-timing the entire workforce is a central part of the all out attack on the working class as a whole. I myself, have dropped from a 15 year, full-time unionized senior worker in a public library with 75% full-timers, to a low wage, nonunion part-timer in another public library with only 7% FTers. Part-timing is pitting one group against the other in that race to the bottom. It’s analogous to the whole matter of personal debt burdens. So, Deborah’s lament is more than a pointer to how bad things have gotten– it’s a sign of how much a new social movement against social inequality like OWS has in front of it.

    Comment by Bob Montgomery — March 25, 2012 @ 4:09 am

  54. […] have been very close to me when I recall the points made at a 2012 Left Forum panel discussion on After the Crisis, is a New New Deal Possible? Do We Want One? where the chairperson Eric Pineault drew a distinction between the 1930s and today. I […]

    Pingback by Debt « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — April 29, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

  55. For those interested in the State and Revolution debate: http://viewpointmag.com/2012/04/27/occupy-the-russian-revolution/

    Comment by Binh — April 30, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

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