Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 18, 2012

Why you should contribute to Counterpunch

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn,journalism,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

Jeff St. Clair

I just contributed $50 to Counterpunch’s fund-drive and strongly urge you to do so as well.

As many of you might have noticed, I began writing for Counterpunch recently and am thrilled to do so. The circumstances are fairly typical of my complex (to say the least) relationship to the magazine and the towering presence most identified with it, Alexander Cockburn.

A day or so after it appeared I made some rude remark on Marxmail about Mike Whitney’s CP hatchet job on Pussy Riot. Jeff St. Clair (who I was pleased to discover is a lurker) then dropped me a line inviting me to weigh in with my disagreements. He actually corrected me on one important point. I had complained about how the coverage was one-sided but he pointed out that Chris Randolph had already answered Whitney there.

That’s the thing about Counterpunch. It gets your juices flowing. This week people on Marxmail have got themselves all worked up over Israel Shamir’s love poem to Pol Pot, as if there was any great danger of his article actually winning people over to the Khmer Rouge’s cause. The consensus was that CP was wrong to give Shamir a platform.

I get a chuckle out of that because in some circles I am considered more of a reprobate than Shamir, given my supposedly Hitchenesque embrace of the Libyan and Syrian revolutionaries. Jeff shared an email he got over my maiden voyage on CP:

Why does Counterpunch keep running the thoughts of Chairman Louis Proyect on your site, since he is a guy who is a total discredit to all that marxism should stand for?  Why not republish works by Gus Hall instead, for at least he is no longer alive still censoring comrades for not being supposedly ‘marxist’ enough … OH! so politically correct as Proyect does on HIS so-called marxism list?  And Gus Hall at least is not currently working to promote NATO-Pentagon bombing of Syria over on Proyect’s new ‘Northstar’ blog either, which also censors off all contrary viewpoints being allowed there online same as on ‘marxism list’.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that it is better for people to talk about you even if they have nothing good to say than to be ignored. In fact the last $50 contribution I made to Counterpunch was out of gratitude for Alexander Cockburn’s diss:

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 cares if I am lice-ridden as long as I get my name out there?

On a more serious note, the best indication of the value of Counterpunch is the amount of articles I crosspost to the Marxism list. I doubt that a week goes by without me forwarding something (just by coincidence the last one is on “The Pussy Riot of Vietnam” by Linh Dinh that is just the sort of thing that more than makes up for Israel Shamir).

It is also important to underline Counterpunch’s utility as a research database for the left. On countless occasions when I have written something for my blog, I go to the search field on Counterpunch first to find articles that I can cite. For example, I will be preparing something on the nature of the jobs that have been created under Obama’s “recovery” and particularly the recent spike that cut the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent. I just entered “low-wage jobs” and “recovery” there and came up with an article by Eileen Appelbaum titled “Low-Wage Jobs and the Stalled Recovery” that I am sure I will consult. For the left to have such information at its fingertips is an incalculable asset.

It is surely worth a dollar a week, isn’t it? Go to Counterpunch (http://www.counterpunch.org) and read Jeff’s appeal. Then, without wasting any time, click this link (http://www.easycartsecure.com/CounterPunch/Donations.html) and support the voice of those struggling for a better world.


  1. How come you never told me that simply calling you names might result in you sending ME money? I feel I’ve wasted nearly 50 years of golden opportunities.

    Comment by Richard Greener — October 18, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

  2. I’ve got something better. I am going to send you a copy of my memoir. I’ve got your address in my rolodex.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 18, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

  3. I’ve long thought you’d be a good addition to Counterpunch’s line up of writers because:

    1) you actually think instead of just mechanically blurting out responses originating from ideological embedded programming,

    2) you have pretty good epidermal armor to resist the slings and arrows of outraged…, let’s just say “readers.”

    Since you always present facts along with your opinions, and do so in a way that stimulates thinking, and you write well, I am sure you would add to CP’s potential to better inform the public.

    My advice to you is your earlier advice to me: don’t worry about the critics, state what you think is right, with confidence.

    And, have fun!

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — October 18, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

  4. I’d shell out $50 too if the current CP administration’s insults were 1/10 as witty and stylish as those AC directed your way-the best they could do for me was “asshole” and “ultra leftist”. And then they hit me up for bucks. Well, their not lacking in the chutzpah department, that’s for sure.

    Comment by John Halle — October 18, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  5. Oops-“they’re” Counterpoint copy editing standards in force.

    Comment by John Halle — October 18, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

  6. Don’t be subjective, John. Everybody has a right to lose their temper once in a while as those who know me can attest.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 18, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  7. But doesn’t that awful piece about Pol Pot severely undermine Counterpunch’s credibility, Louis? I can’t understand how anyone in their right mind could publish it…

    Comment by Scott — October 19, 2012 @ 12:25 am

  8. Scott, for every silly article by Shamir, there are a dozen that are first-rate. That is a very good batting average, much better than ZNet.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 19, 2012 @ 12:50 am

  9. I’m with Scott on this. Of course publishing Shamir doesn’t win people over to whichever cause he is promoting but it does undermine the general cause promoted by CP. Also, search the name Atzmon and you’ll find for all the articles he has had published on CP there are none, but none, criticising him. Between CP in the USA and the SWP in the UK, Atzmon has been given credibility he simply doesn’t deserve.

    Also there’s been a major issue with Counterpunch denying rights of reply to those smeared by Atzmon and his friends or disallowing any response to some of the nonsense they come out with. In fact, there’s a major ruckus going on over antisemitism a la Shamir and Atzmon in the Palestine solidarity movement right now. Let’s see if Greta Berlin finds a refuge or advocate at Counterpunch. If she does, perhaps they’ll let you respond, Louis.

    Comment by levi9909 — October 19, 2012 @ 6:49 am

  10. If the Khemer Rouge is so hated in Cambodia why have so few been prosecuted even until now?

    My guess it’s because they still have a strong base of residual support in the country.

    Comment by purple — October 20, 2012 @ 4:18 am

  11. http://www.khmer440.com/k/2012/09/historical-revisionism-and-the-contrarian-left-counterpunch-and-the-case-of-cambodia/

    A 2009 countrywide survey of Cambodians conducted by the Human Rights Center of the University of California Berkeley found that 92% of those who had lived under the Khmer Rouge viewed themselves as victims of that regime. 84.6% expressed hatred towards the KR responsible for violence. 27% had experienced torture and 20% had been threatened with death. Fully 39% expressed the wish they could exact personal revenge on the KR for the sufferings they and their families endured. The study is available for review here.

    Rather than simply guessing you might want to read the whole report linked in the article.

    Comment by levi9909 — October 20, 2012 @ 7:15 am

  12. Is Israel Shamir’s article so preposterous that no reader of Counterpunch will take it seriously? I’m not so sure. While the article is likely to alienate some readers, I wouldn’t be surprised if it deceived others. I note that, according to Counterpunch’s editor, half of his readers doubt that the 9/11 attacks were the work of Al Qaeda. If this many readers can be confused about something as copiously documented as 9/11, then I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few could accept Shamir’s defence of Pol Pot. The comment by ‘purple’ earlier in this thread should be a spoof, but probably isn’t.

    What I find most depressing about both Shamir’s rubbish and mainstream media discussions of the Khmer Rouge is the total failure to acknowledge the nature of the Pol Pot regime. We have piles and piles of documents, many of which have been translated into English and published with scholarly annotations, which make it very clear that Pol Pot wanted to turn Cambodia into an industrial superpower by staging his own Great Leap Forward – the first stage in his plans involved the creation of a massive surplus of rice to export, and the second was supposed to involve spending the revenue from exports on the building of factories – and yet we still get nonsense about an experiment in agrarian socialism. Advocates of Marx’s later work, which calls for genuine experiments in agrarian socialism in semi-capitalist and pre-capitalist societies like Russia, should be concerned about the perpetuation of myths about Pol Pot. I blogged about this back when the media was discussing the 30th anniversary of Pol Pot’s overthrow:

    Comment by Scott — October 20, 2012 @ 2:59 pm

  13. @Scott: Is Israel Shamir’s article so preposterous that no reader of Counterpunch will take it seriously?

    Of course some will take it seriously but the real question is whether anybody’s mind will be changed by it.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 20, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

  14. Hi Louis,

    Wouldn’t a lot of younger readers who don’t have memories of the era when the Khmer Rouge were about, haven’t had contact with refugees from Pol Pot, and are perhaps inclined to ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ ways of thinking about regimes in countries like Iran and Syria be in danger of buying Shamir’s line?

    But I think a lot of readers, or potential readers, of Counterpunch would be very offended and permanently alienated by the article. As you know, the Khmer Rouge’s genocide was aimed at Cambodia’s Vietnamese, Chinese, and Muslim minorities, as well as at its Khmer majority, and the refugees from Pol Pot’s rule have established communities in many distant parts of the world. I went to school with two refugees from Pol Pot, and have two friends married to members of refugee families. By publishing Shamir’s apology for Pol Pot, Counterpunch invites the scorn not only of the communities who experienced the Khmer Rouge firsthand, but of the millions of people who have personal connections with refugees from the Khmer Rouge.

    I do take your point, Louis, about Counterpunch publishing quality material, but I can’t get over them giving space to sickos like Shamir and Atzmon. How do they get away with that?

    Comment by Scott — October 20, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

  15. @Scott: I do take your point, Louis, about Counterpunch publishing quality material, but I can’t get over them giving space to sickos like Shamir and Atzmon. How do they get away with that?

    I really can’t answer that but except for these two guys and the pro-Qaddafi and pro-Assad stuff, there’s not much to complain about. More to the point, there’s at least one really brilliant article in every single Counterpunch. Just consider Charles R. Larson’s review of “Lenin’s Kisses”, a Chinese novel that sounds totally amazing. And then there’s the occasional piece by Arno Mayer, one of the greatest historians of the past 50 years. When you get people like Mayer and Larson contributing, it more than makes up for the objectionable piece by Shamir et al.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 20, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

  16. Louis, you “can’t answer that” but since you seem to have Jeff St.Clair’s ear could you ask him to answer that? You see the problem is that whilst you, possibly for old time’s sake, see a few bad apples in a good barrel, some of us are seeing a curate’s egg: “good in parts” but the rottenness (and it’s far more than Atzmon, Shamir “and the pro-Qaddafi and pro-Assad stuff”) could spoil everything.

    Comment by levi9909 — October 21, 2012 @ 12:12 am

  17. Man…when I saw this I threw my hand held on the GROUND.

    Comment by johng — October 23, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  18. It’s not clear which “this” johng has in mind.

    As far as Israel Shamir & Gilad Atzmon are concerned, they remind me of some people I’ve encountered who grew up in Catholic families and then broke away from Catholicism and even from Christianity. Although some of them are able to recover after that, there are also cases of people whose personalities are permanently warped by their Catholic upbringing. I’ve encountered some people who insist that The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion was really put out by the Roman Papacy as a way of quietly “revealing” its plans while pointing the blame at someone else. Although some of these people may sometimes make seemingly valid statements about the potential for sexual abuses within the Catholic Church, a lot of their claims end up being just more of a wildly inflated conspiratology rather than any serious critique of Catholicism. I imagine that every religion breeds such people as apostates who retain the imprint of their original indoctrination.

    Overall, it’s a good thing when people dump the religion which they were raised on and switch to another even if they don’t become atheists. A lot of former Catholics in the 1960s threw that over for Buddhism. Then in Japan there are people who are converting to Christianity and throwing out Buddhism. All of these are good trends in themselves. Humanity is probably not ready to throw religion out the window entirely just yet, so converting to other religions is a good first step. Shamir converted to Christianity as a kind of rebellion against his Jewish upbringing. That was probably a healthy step from his point of view.

    What’s problematic is when outsiders sometimes grant a greater authority to such people as Atzmon or Shamir than they actually deserve. As part of a personal journey their separation from their original Jewish roots was probably a good thing. But it doesn’t grant them higher wisdom beyond that.

    As for Shamir’s comments about Cambodia, that only creates confusion where none is necessary. It should be clear that nothing about the years 1975-9 justifies the Nixon-Kissinger bombing and invasion of Cambodia that was carried out in 1969-73. Before the US expanded the war in Viietnam across Cambodia, the Vietnamese Communists were trying to maintain a relation to the Cambodian Communists that was like Moscow’s relations to the French and Italian Communists after WWII. Vietnam expected that Cambodian Communists would act as junior partners while Hanoi led the way. The bombing and invasion by Nixon-Kissinger made this untenable and thereby led to the triumph of the Pol Pot faction within the Khmer Rouge. But it’s silly to give Pol Pot any type of “nationalist” credentials after he hired himself out to Washington to continue a war against Vietnam. There would have been more genuine “anti-imperialism” if Pol Pot had simply acted obediently towards Hanoi the way Duclos did towards Moscow.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — October 23, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  19. From a Trotskyist perspective, what’s the difference in a proletarian revolutionists attitude toward the USSR under Stalin vs. Cambodia under Pol Pot? The answer is nothing. Some here may want to re-watch the late Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia” to get a real sense of the social & psychological origins of the Khemer Rouge that were formed when they were eating tree bark & lizards amidst Nixon’s carpet bombings. Fact is few if any atrocities of the 20th Century cannot trace their origins to the congenital predation of imperialist militarism.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 24, 2012 @ 2:36 am

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