Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 31, 2014

What’s going on in Thailand?

Filed under: Thailand — louisproyect @ 7:44 pm

Given the perception by many leftists that the “yellow shirts” in Thailand are a typical color revolution orchestrated by George Soros and the CIA to thwart the will of the progressive-minded “red shirts” defending the Thaksin presidency, it might come as a surprise that Eric Draitser, who blogs at Land Destroyer and is about as committed to Baathist rule in Syria as can be imagined, has a different take on things:

Thailand: Thaksin Regime Turns on its Own Supporters

Regime sends “red shirt” enforcers to threaten farmers and their families for protesting 6 months of unpaid subsidies – smashing the myth of “rural support.”

January 30, 2014 (ATN) – While the US, UK, and others across the West attempt to sell upcoming sham elections in Thailand as upholding “democratic values,” the regime overseeing the one-party self-mandate in a climate of regime-sanctioned terrorism, political intimidation, and a “state of emergency,” has begun turning on its own supporters – mainly farmers.


It should be mentioned that Tony Cartalucci, another hard-core “anti-imperialist”, is also rather averse to the Thaksinite/Red Shirt forces:

Thailand: US Sides With Increasingly Violent, Desperate Regime

US State Department condemns protests against sham election, but ignores assassination and thuggery aimed at opposition.

By Tony Cartalucci

The US State Department openly sided with Thaksin Shinawatra and his proxy regime, and backed their planned one-party sham elections being carried out in a climate of political intimidation, terrorism, assassinations, and a draconian “emergency decree” in a statement released after protests disrupted polls across the country Sunday.


Andrew Vltchek, who despite being in 100 percent agreement with Draitser and Caralucci on the need to defeat the jihadists in Syria, is gung-ho for the “red shirts”. He groups the “yellow shirts” with all the reactionary elements being spawned by George Soros and Samantha Powers:

It is definitely not a set of uprisings that are supposed to improve the lives in all those above-mentioned countries. Instead it appears that these are events sponsored from abroad and their only goal is to bring politically, religiously or economically oppressive or regressive regimes to power: Mubarak and the military in Egypt, jihadi pro-Saudi cadres in Syria, pro-business and pro-Western market fundamentalists in Ukraine and now this feudal clique in Thailand trying to survive by all means.

Of course, I find this all rather amusing. The general tendency of people like Draitser, Cartalucci and Vltchek is to reduce politics to binary oppositions between Western imperialist conspiracies and the “axis of good” state leaders who wander into NATO’s radar screen. That being said, how could you end up with such wildly divergent assessments on Thailand? Isn’t it possible that Thailand, like the Ukraine (notwithstanding Vltchek’s reductionism), is just another example of a society not falling into simple “good” versus “bad” categories? And isn’t it possible that the current cast of players on the front lines of the political struggle in Thailand, just as is the case in the Ukraine, are incapable of moving the country toward a more democratic and a more just future? What is the role of socialism in a society that seems bent on resolving its contradictions within a capitalist framework?

Before answering those questions, it would be helpful to put the current crisis into historical context.

Unlike most other countries in the region, particularly Vietnam, Thailand was never colonized. It also was ruled by a monarchy. The combination of these two factors meant that progressive politics did not historically get channeled into a socialist and nationalist direction. There was no counterpart to Ho Chi Minh, let alone Gandhi.

Even after the nation began to divest itself of feudal social relations in the 20th century, the monarchy continued to exercise a strong hold on politics. Additionally, the army has intervened both in the political sphere and in economics, playing a role somewhat equivalent to Kemalist Turkey or Nasserite Egypt but with far less commitment to nation-building goals.

Primarily agricultural, Thailand was wrenched from its traditional social patterns during the Vietnam War when billions of dollars were poured into the economy to support the American military bases. The investment was not in productive spheres such as infrastructure or manufacturing but in the “service” industries catering to the war machine, such as bars, brothels and airstrips.

But enough cash was floating around in the economy so that Thailand was able to become part of the “Asian tigers” trend that helped it to ramp up per capita GDP from $100 in 1961 to $2750 in 1995.

Like the rest of the tigers, Thailand was bushwhacked by the 1997 meltdown that was triggered largely by currency speculation. Huge numbers of workers left manufacturing jobs in the cities and returned to impoverished countryside villages. After 2001, the economy began to recover but the farming sector largely based in the north and northeast regions remained stagnant.

With ambitions to transform the economy, billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra entered the scene in 1998 at the helm of a party he founded called “Thais Love Thais”, or TRT. In order to break down barriers put up by the old guard of the monarchy, the military, and the state bureaucracy, he needed powerful social sectors to supply the muscle. That was supplied by the millions of farmers who would benefit from his program for rural development, including loan forgiveness, and many of the nation’s poor who would be eligible for a sweeping public health program. In many ways, Thaksin’s approach emulated that of Juan Peron in Argentina. As such, it was understandable why many Marxists would sign up with the “red shirts” who constituted his shock troops. Among them was Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a prolific and ubiquitous commentator on Thai politics who has written for Greenleft Weekly, the Guardian, MRZine, the British SWP, the ISO, and the Fourth International. In many ways, for better or for worse, he is the go-to guy on Thai politics for the left.

While not above criticizing Thaksin, Giles is solidly behind the mass movement that he inspired. Exiled from his homeland for basically being disloyal to the King (anybody who has seen Yul Brynner in “The King and I” knows how risky that can be), Giles sees the red-yellow divide in stark terms. In 2009 he characterized the Red Shirts as being on the right side of history:

A sense of history helps to explain why Red Shirt citizens are now exploding in anger. They have had to endure the military jackboot, repeated theft of their democratic rights, continued acts of violence against them and general abuse from the mainstream media and academia.

The stakes are very high. Any compromise has the risk of instability. The old elites might want to do a deal with Thaksin to stop the Red Shirts from becoming totally republican. But whatever happens, Thai society cannot go back to the old days. The Red Shirts represent millions of Thais who are sick and tired of military and palace intervention in politics. At the very least they will want a non-political constitutional monarchy.

On the other hand, the Yellow Shirts were described in terms very similar to the anti-government protestors in the Ukraine:

The Yellow Shirts are conservative royalists. Some have fascist tendencies. Their guards carry and use firearms. They supported the 2006 coup, wrecked Government House and blocked the international airports last year. Behind them were the army. That is why troops never shot at the Yellow Shirts. That is why the present, Oxford-educated, Thai prime minister has done nothing to punish the Yellow Shirts. After all, he appointed some to his cabinet.

The aims of the Yellow Shirts are to reduce the voting power of the electorate in order to protect the conservative elites and the “bad old ways” of running Thailand. They propose a “new order” dictatorship where people can vote, but most MPs and public positions are not up for election. They are supported by the mainstream Thai media, most middle class academics and even NGO leaders.

Ironically, it a bourgeois politician like Thaksin who is better capable of exploiting contradictions than those on the left committed to analyzing society in Manichean terms.

In a number of articles and books, Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker have been dissecting the “business populism” of the TRT. In an article titled “’Business Populism’ in Thailand” that appeared in the 2005 Journal of Democracy, they put Thaksin’s rise to power under a microscope:

The TRT’s attitude toward governance reflected the party’s business orientation. Somkid Jatusripitak, a key Thaksin lieutenant, worked with Philip Kotler and Michael Porter, who advocated the application of corporate principles and business-school economics to the national economy. Somkid collaborated with Kotler on The Marketing of Nations,9 and compiled his own Thai-language articles into a book titled Thailand Inc. Thaksin adopted his aide’s rhetoric. In one 1997 speech Thaksin said: “A company is a country. A country is a company. They are the same. The management is the same.”10 The TRT’s initial election campaign also reflected its business orientation. In late 1998 and early 1999, the party proposed to restore economic growth in the wake of the crisis by stimulating entrepreneurship, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises.

Thaksin had little leverage in building links to the rural poor who could help catapult his party into power so instead he recruited veterans of the Thai left who were about my age or a bit younger on the basis of bringing significant social change to the country. For many of these erstwhile radicals and Marxists, this was a possibility to have an impact that Maoism failed to have. In a way it was like the “Progressives for Obama” development in the USA but—unlike Obama—Thaksin meant business (in both senses of the word).

While his leftist operatives had visions of class struggle in mind, Thaksin’s program had much more in common with the “third way” that was taking shape in Britain and the USA. In a 2001 speech he said:

The post–Cold War political parties should no longer compete on the basis of ideology, but on the basis of winning the hearts and minds of the people through their actions. . . . those in the opposition try their utmost to topple the government and assume power themselves. . . . Such adversary politics may not be for the best interest of the people. On the contrary, it may be a betrayal of our social contract to the people.

After taking power, Thaksin unleashed a “war on drugs” that was particularly devastating in the south of the country where Muslims had long harbored aspirations to secede from a state seen inimical to their interests. Inter Press Service reported:

In 2003, alone, over 2,500 people were killed in the ‘war on drugs’ that was unleashed by the Thaksin administration to combat growing concern about the high number of Thais – some as young as 15 years – being hooked on methamphetamines.

But Thaksin, who was ousted from power by the military in a September 2006 coup, dismissed charges of extra-judicial killings. Ignored were the directives given by him and others in his administration to show little mercy – which human rights group said, at the time, was a “license to kill.”

And when Thaksin went after Muslims in the south, he made an amalgam between them and the drug users as recounted by Philip Bowning in the October 28, 2004 NY Times:

The deaths this week of 84 unarmed Muslim demonstrators in southern Thailand was tragic enough in itself. Six appear to have been shot dead and more than a dozen wounded, while 78 died later of asphyxiation while being transported in army trucks.

Just as shocking as the deaths themselves, which may have been due to unfortunate accident rather than design, was Thaksin’s callous reaction. He commended the anti-riot forces for their work, claimed that “many of the protesters appeared to be in a drug-induced state” and suggested that those who died did so not because of the military but “because they were in a weak physical condition resulting from fasting.” In short, the dead had only themselves to blame.

As president, Thaksin offered a carrot to the poor at the same time he brandished a stick against his adversaries, particularly those gosh-darned middle-class educated elites living in the big cities. What better way to keep them in line except by managing the message that went out to the masses.

Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker report on a scenario that sounds eerily like the manner in which Vladimir Putin maintains the status quo in Russia:

In order to break with the “old politics” and to suppress critics, Thaksin’s government has set out to restrict the public sphere. Four television channels and all radio stations are still owned by the government or the military. Thaksin has instructed them to broadcast “positive” news only. Two companies that had pioneered public-affairs programs fostering debate lost access to the airwaves. Reporters and producers found themselves dismissed or reassigned. Thaksin’s family company bought Thailand’s only commercially owned television channel, ITV, in 2000. A dozen staffers who objected to the slant of the channel’s election coverage in early 2001 were summarily sacked. On all channels, the time allocated to news and current-affairs programming shrank significantly, and the remaining time was used to broadcast the government line. Even dramatic series adopted themes with a progovernment, even propagandistic, edge.

Finally, there is ample evidence that despite some genuine benefits for the people, Thaksin’s “business populism” was titled toward the business side of the equation. Once again let’s hear what Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker have to say:

Despite pressure from supporters, Thaksin’s government accepted all the existing IMF reforms and even launched a privatization program more ambitious than anything that the IMF had outlined. Proposals to restrict large foreign retail concerns that had gained a foothold in Thai markets during the crisis were dropped “simply because we don’t want to send a wrong signal to the foreign community.” Thaksin insisted that he was an international businessman himself, and firmly committed to free markets. Beginning in late 2001, his government aggressively sought more foreign investment. Thaksin retained some nationalist credentials by repaying the IMF’s crisis loan early and dubbing the occasion “Independence Day,” but this was purely symbolic.

Thaksin did a similar two-step in key areas of foreign relations. After 9/11, no doubt with an eye on the Muslim minority long concentrated in southern Thailand, he kept a certain public distance from the U.S.-led war on terrorism while quietly lending assistance in keeping with Thailand’s treaty obligations. An official visit to Washington in mid-2003 produced a U.S. designation of Thailand as a “major non-NATO ally,” as well as favorable references to Thaksin’s campaign against drugs—a significant legitimation given that the UN and the U.S. State Department had raised human rights concerns related to the antidrug campaign. Shortly thereafter, Thaksin committed 440 Thai troops to humanitarian missions in Iraq and signed Thailand on to a new U.S.-orchestrated security grouping designed to combat violent Islamism in Southeast Asia.

While I am generally leery of anything that Eric Draitser and Tony Cartalucci have to say on anything, I do recommend a look at what they have written. But I especially recommend the article titled “More Dishonesty About Thailand’s Upheaval From the International New York Times”, an article in the December 15, 2013 Truthout by Michael Pirsch. For those of you following the Times’s coverage on Thailand, you might have noticed that the paper tilts toward the “red shirts” rather than the “yellow shirts”—as does The Economist. Thomas Fuller, who covers the Thailand beat for the NYT, is in the habit of reminding his readers about the Thaksin carrots, less so the stick.

(I should hasten to add that I found out about Pirsch’s article from my old friend Jeffrey who learned about it in turn from the pro-“yellow shirts” proprietors of an outstanding Thai restaurant in the Rockaways called Thai Rock. (http://thairock.us/) I have eaten there twice and can assure you that it really does rock.)

I strongly urge you to read Pirsch’s entire article but will reproduce the concluding paragraphs that  I think are essential reading:

The universal health-care policy is popular everywhere in the country. The same cannot be said about the corruption-riddled rice-pledging scheme, which pays farmers a price 40 to 50 percent above world market price. It is estimated the government has lost $13 billion over the last 2 years funding this scheme. Not all farmers qualify for payment, as a minimum weight of harvested rice is required. Many of the poor rice farmers in the northeastern part have farms too small to grow the minimum. Some analysts estimate 20 percent of the funds go to farmers, the other 80 percent go to middle men and rice millers. Again, it isn’t the rice price supports people are angry about, it is the corruption surrounding the policy. There are several ongoing investigations regarding corruption in the program.

A telling encounter between the late long-time Thai politician Snoh Thienthong and Thaksin’s wife, Pojaman, reveals the motivation behind the policies of Thaksin’s proxy political parties. Snoh claimed he asked Pojaman why she needed so many billions of dollars and was told, “In politics, you have to hand out money. It has to be considered a business.” Snoh asked her what would happen if things blew up, and she replied, “If Thaksin falls, the Thai Rak Thai party will have to stay in power for at least two more terms for safety.”* Since Thaksin fell in 2006, there have been 3 proxy regimes, and none has served a full term. It becomes clear from the single-minded Phuea Thai party goal of absolving Thaksin that Thaksin is more important than anyone or anything else in Thailand.

 At every opportunity, Fuller writes with sympathy about Thaksin. He calls the one conviction of Thaksin in the government land sale to his wife the result of a “highly politicized trial.” He does not even mention the 2,500-plus murders in Thaksin’s “War on Drugs.” He does not reference the torture and murders in the Malay-Muslim South, nor the forced disappearances of 18 human rights activists. He also does not mention the multiple corruption allegations against Thaksin. He does not credit the protestors with demanding an end to corruption; instead, he belittles the focus on corruption.

Fuller describes the protestors in his November 27 article, “Among the protestors are elegantly dressed Bangkok residents, supporters of the Democrat Party, and rubber farmers . . . ” On December 3, he described the protestors as “. . . a diverse group varying from upper class Thais who have attended the rallies in high heels and office attire to rubber farmers . . . also include groups of students known for their brawling, which compounded the political tensions.” The reference to vocational students, known for their brawling with rival schools is true. What Fuller hides from the reader is that, for the first time in history, vocational students have joined together in a single goal without violence against each other. They are fighting the corruption of Thaksinism.

I have walked through the demonstrators’ main encampments near Democracy Monument during both day and night. I have yet to see the high-society matrons Fuller sees in his dreams. I have seen the faces of everyday Thais who appear to come from all walks of life. I have seen the calloused and weathered hands of men and women who have performed manual labor their entire lives. I have seen artists, roadside food vendors, elders, children, shop owners, factory workers wearing their company’s jackets. Fuller’s descriptions insult the many diverse Thai people who have attended the protests. All are sick of the corrupt nature of their government.

He also implies that the demonstrations are an affront to democracy since Thaksin’s proxy parties have won recent elections. The most recent election in 2011 saw the “Thaksin Thinks-Phuea Thai Acts” party receiving 48 percent of the vote. This total was not enough for the party to form a government, so they had to invite other smaller parties to join. They were more than happy to do so given the corrupt nature of Phuea Thai and the opportunities and rewards that follow from being part of the majority. The Phuea Thai percentages drop when we factor in the number of eligible voters. Phuea Thai received only 32 percent of the number of eligible voters. That means 68 percent either did not vote for Phuea Thai or did not vote at all. If it would be possible to factor in the number of bought votes, the percentages might be less in both calculations. Eliminating vote-buying is the number one point of the six-point reform plan presented by the protest leaders. Thailand does not come even close to having a democracy and neither does my country, the United States of America. We make a big mistake confusing the 2 to 5 minutes it takes to cast our votes as the expression of democracy. As Howard Zinn pointed out, the time we spend voting is not as important as what we do in the intervening years between those 2 to 5 minutes. This is what Thailand is doing today.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I am a partisan of the “yellow shirts”. As was the case with my post on the Ukraine, my main interest is in highlighting the complexities of the struggle. In the world of schematic Marxism, you always end up with all of the good guys on one side of the barricade and all the bad guys on the other.

Thailand, like the Ukraine, suffers from a deficit of class consciousness. In a way, both societies are victims of the collapse of official Marxism. In Thailand, Marxism meant Maoism. Most of the activists who emerged in the 1970s were attracted to Maoism and some went so far as to join guerrilla detachments in the countryside. The failure of that movement left many activists in a quandary as to how to move the struggle forward. When Thaksin came along with promises (and intent) to change Thai society, they jumped on board. Whether or not that change went to the heart of class relations became a secondary consideration.

In the Ukraine, activists made headlines by toppling a Lenin statue. In all of the protests over the country’s desperate attempts to avoid the consequence of neoliberal assaults, the solutions have revolved around more neoliberalism—either EU or Kremlin in nature. It is up to the anarchists mainly to draw class distinctions.

Taking the long term view, the Thai left has the same mission that we all do, namely to resurrect Marxism and develop a party that can fight for social transformation. That might sound utopian, but I don’t know of any other solution that is worth fighting for.

The Cinema of Mass Hysteria

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:07 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition Jan 31-Feb 02, 2014
The Cinema of Mass Hysteria

Sexual Witch Hunts, Here and There


Made in 2012, “The Hunt” is Denmark’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards ceremony scheduled on March 2nd with all the usual red carpet, tuxedo and designer gown nonsense. Apart from “Philomena”, it puts all the other English language Best Film nominees to shame. Considering that film’s British provenance, one can state that American films continue their steep decline based on the evidence of this year’s nominees, topped off by the inclusion of Martin Scorsese’s woeful “The Wolf of Wall Street”.

Now available on Netflix streaming, “The Hunt” is the first narrative film to deal with the “repressed memories” sex abuse witch-hunts of the Reagan years that inspired some of Alexander Cockburn’s best reporting. It was not the first film, however, to tackle the topic. That distinction was earned by Andrew Jarecki, who made the documentary “Capturing the Friedmans” in 2003, a film that was marred by a certain degree of ambivalence by its director. In the years following its release, Jarecki stopped being a fence-sitter and became a passionate defender of Jesse Friedman, one of the film’s subjects whose attempts to clear his name are ongoing.

 read full article

January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 4:12 pm

NY Times, January 28 2014

Pete Seeger, Songwriter and Champion of Folk Music, Dies at 94


 Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died Monday. He was 94 and lived in Beacon, N.Y.

His death was confirmed by his grandson, Kitama Cahill Jackson, who said he died of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.

In his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. “We Shall Overcome,” which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem.

Mr. Seeger was a prime mover in the folk revival that transformed popular music in the 1950s. As a member of the Weavers, he sang hits including Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene” — which reached No. 1 — and “If I Had a Hammer,” which he wrote with the group’s Lee Hays. Another of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” became an antiwar standard. And in 1965, the Byrds had a No. 1 hit with a folk-rock version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Mr. Seeger’s setting of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Mr. Seeger was a mentor to younger folk and topical singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, among them Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Decades later, Bruce Springsteen drew the songs on his 2006 album, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” from Mr. Seeger’s repertoire of traditional music about a turbulent American experience, and in 2009 he performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Mr. Seeger at the Obama inaugural. At a Madison Square Garden concert celebrating Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday, Mr. Springsteen introduced him as “a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along.”

Although he recorded more than 100 albums, Mr. Seeger distrusted commercialism and was never comfortable with the idea of stardom. He invariably tried to use his celebrity to bring attention and contributions to the causes that moved him, or to the traditional songs he wanted to preserve.

Mr. Seeger saw himself as part of a continuing folk tradition, constantly recycling and revising music that had been honed by time.

During the McCarthy era Mr. Seeger’s political affiliations, including membership in the Communist Party in the 1940s, led to his being blacklisted and later indicted for contempt of Congress. The pressure broke up the Weavers, and Mr. Seeger disappeared from television until the late 1960s. But he never stopped recording, performing and listening to songs from ordinary people. Through the decades, his songs have become part of America’s folklore.

“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”

Peter Seeger was born on May 3, 1919, to Charles Seeger, a musicologist, and Constance de Clyver Edson Seeger, a concert violinist. His parents later divorced.

He began playing the ukulele while attending Avon Old Farms, a private boarding school in Connecticut. His father and his stepmother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, were collecting and transcribing rural American folk music, as were folklorists like John and Alan Lomax. He heard the five-string banjo, which would become his main instrument, when his father took him to a square-dance festival in North Carolina.

Young Pete became enthralled by rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing,” he is quoted in “How Can I Keep From Singing,” a biography by David Dunaway. “The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.”

Planning to be a journalist, Mr. Seeger attended Harvard, where he founded a radical newspaper and joined the Young Communist League. After two years, he dropped out and came to New York City, where Mr. Lomax introduced him to the blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly. Mr. Lomax also helped Mr. Seeger find a job cataloging and transcribing music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.

Mr. Seeger met Mr. Guthrie, a songwriter who shared his love of vernacular music and agitprop ambitions, in 1940, when they performed at a benefit concert for migrant California workers. Traveling across the United States with Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Seeger picked up some of his style and repertory. He also hitchhiked and hopped freight trains by himself, trading and learning songs.

When he returned to New York later in 1940, Mr. Seeger made his first albums. He, Millard Lampell and Mr. Hays founded the Almanac Singers, who performed union songs and, until Germany invaded the Soviet Union, antiwar songs, following the Communist Party line. Mr. Guthrie soon joined the group.

During World War II the Almanac Singers’s repertory turned to patriotic, antifascist songs, bringing them a broad audience, including a prime-time national radio spot. But the group’s earlier antiwar songs, the target of an F.B.I. investigation, came to light, and the group’s career plummeted.

Before the group completely dissolved, however, Mr. Seeger was drafted in 1942 and assigned to a unit of performers. He married Toshi-Aline Ohta while on furlough in 1943.

When he returned from the war he founded People’s Songs Inc., which published political songs and presented concerts for several years before going bankrupt. He also started his nightclub career, performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village. Mr. Seeger and Paul Robeson toured with the campaign of Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party presidential candidate, in 1948.

Mr. Seeger invested $1,700 in 17 acres of land overlooking the Hudson River in Beacon and began building a log cabin there in the late 1940s. In 1949, Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman started working together as the Weavers. They were signed to Decca Records by Gordon Jenkins, the company’s music director and an arranger for Frank Sinatra. With Mr. Jenkins’s elaborate orchestral arrangements, the group recorded a repertoire that stretched from “If I Had a Hammer” to a South African song, “Wimoweh” (the title was Mr. Seeger’s mishearing of “Mbube,” the name of a South African hit by Solomon Linda), to an Israeli soldiers’ song, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” to a cleaned-up version of Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene.” Onstage, they also sang more pointed topical songs.

In 1950 and 1951 the Weavers were national stars, with hit singles and engagements at major nightclubs. Their hits included “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and Mr. Guthrie’s “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know Yuh),” and they sold an estimated four million singles and albums.

But “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet listing performers with suspected Communist ties, appeared in June 1950 and listed Mr. Seeger, although by then he had quit the Communist Party. He would later criticize himself for having not left the party sooner, though he continued to describe himself as a “communist with a small ‘c.’ ”

Despite the Weavers’ commercial success, by the summer of 1951 the “Red Channels” citation and leaks from F.B.I. files had led to the cancellation of television appearances. In 1951, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigated the Weavers for sedition. And in February 1952, a former member of People’s Songs testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that three of the four Weavers were members of the Communist Party.

As engagements dried up the Weavers disbanded, though they reunited periodically in the mid-1950s. After the group recorded an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Mr. Seeger left, citing his objection to promoting tobacco use.

Shut out of national exposure, Mr. Seeger returned primarily to solo concerts, touring college coffeehouses, churches, schools and summer camps, building an audience for folk music among young people. He started to write a long-running column for the folk-song magazine Sing Out! And he recorded prolifically for the independent Folkways label, singing everything from children’s songs to Spanish Civil War anthems.

In 1955 he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he testified, “I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”

Mr. Seeger offered to sing the songs mentioned by the congressmen who questioned him. The committee declined.

Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”

By then, the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Mr. Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10.

Mr. Seeger was signed to a major label, Columbia Records, in 1961, but he remained unwelcome on network television. “Hootenanny,” an early-1960s show on ABC that capitalized on the folk revival, refused to book Mr. Seeger, causing other performers (including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary) to boycott it. “Hootenanny” eventually offered to present Mr. Seeger if he would sign a loyalty oath. He refused.

He toured the world, performing and collecting folk songs, in 1963, and returned to serenade civil rights advocates, who had made a rallying song of his “We Shall Overcome.”

Like many of Mr. Seeger’s songs, “We Shall Overcome” had convoluted traditional roots. It was based on old gospel songs, primarily “I’ll Overcome,” a hymn that striking tobacco workers had sung on a picket line in South Carolina. A slower version, “We Will Overcome,” was collected from one of the workers, Lucille Simmons, by Zilphia Horton, the musical director of the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tenn., which trained union organizers.

Ms. Horton taught it to Mr. Seeger, and her version of “We Will Overcome” was published in the People’s Songs newsletter. Mr. Seeger changed “We will” to “We shall” and added verses (“We’ll walk hand in hand”). He taught it to the singers Frank Hamilton, who would join the Weavers in 1962, and Guy Carawan, who became musical director at Highlander in the ‘50s. Mr. Carawan taught the song to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at its founding convention.

 The song was copyrighted by Mr. Seeger, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Carawan and Ms. Horton. “At that time we didn’t know Lucille Simmons’s name,” Mr. Seeger wrote in his 1993 autobiography, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” All of the song’s royalties go to the “We Shall Overcome” Fund, administered by what is now the Highlander Research and Education Center, which provides grants to African-Americans organizing in the South.

Along with many elders of the protest-song movement, Mr. Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival with a loud electric blues band. Reports emerged that Mr. Seeger had tried to cut the power cable with an ax, but witnesses including the producer George Wein and the festival’s production manager, Joe Boyd (later a leading folk-rock record producer), said he did not go that far. (An ax was available, however. A group of prisoners had used it while singing a logging song.)

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

During the late 1960s Mr. Seeger started an improbable project: a sailing ship that would crusade for cleaner water on the Hudson River. Between other benefit concerts he raised money to build the Clearwater, a 106-foot sloop that was launched in June 1969 with a crew of musicians. The ship became a symbol and a rallying point for antipollution efforts and education.

In May 2009, after decades of litigation and environmental activism led by Mr. Seeger’s nonprofit environmental organization, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, General Electric began dredging sediment containing PCBs it had dumped into the Hudson. Mr. Seeger and his wife also helped organize a yearly summer folk festival named after the Clearwater.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s Mr. Seeger toured regularly with Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son, and continued to lead singalongs and perform benefit concerts. Recognition and awards arrived. He was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972, and in 1993 he was given a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. In 1994, President Bill Clinton handed him the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest arts honor, given by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1999, he traveled to Cuba to receive the Order of Félix Varela, Cuba’s highest cultural award, for his “humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism.”

In 1996, Mr. Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Arlo Guthrie, who paid tribute at the ceremony, mentioned that the Weavers’ hit “Goodnight, Irene” reached No. 1, only to add, “I can’t think of a single event in Pete’s life that is probably less important to him.” Mr. Seeger made no acceptance speech, but he did lead a singalong of “Goodnight, Irene,” flanked by Stevie Wonder, David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane.

Mr. Seeger won Grammy Awards for best traditional folk album in 1997, for the album “Pete,” and in 2009, for the album “At 89.” He also won a Grammy in the children’s music category in 2011 for “Tomorrow’s Children.”

Mr. Seeger kept performing into the 21st century, despite a flagging voice; audiences happily sang along more loudly. He celebrated his 90th birthday, on May 3, 2009, at a Madison Square Garden concert — a benefit for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater — with Mr. Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and dozens of other musicians paying tribute. In August he was back in Newport for the 50th anniversary of the Newport Folk Festival.

Mr. Seeger’s wife, Toshi, died in 2013, days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. Survivors include his son, Daniel; his daughters, Mika and Tinya; a half-sister, Peggy; and six grandchildren, including the musician Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, who performed with him at the Obama inaugural. His half-brother Mike Seeger, a folklorist and performer who founded the New Lost City Ramblers, died in 2009.

Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.


January 27, 2014

Recent novels about Leon Trotsky

Filed under: literature,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 6:47 pm

For reasons not clear to me, there’s been a bumper crop of novels about Trotsky in Mexico published recently. The first was Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna” that came out in 2009 and is very pro-Trotsky. I have not made time for it, however, because most critics view it as a lesser work.

Moving closer to the current day, there are two books about the assassination of Leon Trotsky that have just been published. One is titled “The Man who Loved Dogs” and written in 2009 by Leonardo Padura, a Cuban. A translation by Anna Kushner now makes the nearly 600-page novel available to English readers. The N.Y. Times review would have us believe that Padura wrote the novel to discredit the Cuban government:

In the context of a plot that revisits the grim mockery of Stalin’s show trials, these acts of compulsive self-incrimination are not only loaded with significance but are also — given that Mr. Padura is a Cuban author writing in Cuba — charged with an additional layer of meaning.

Fidel Castro’s most scandalous show trial was not mounted against a political figure but against a writer: Heberto Padilla. In 1971, after 38 days of detention, Mr. Padilla was forced to “confess” at the Cuban writers’ union to the charges of “subversive activities.” He had published a book of poems faintly critical of the regime.

I don’t know if all this self-incrimination is part of the novel because Mr. Padura wants to make the point that in Cuba, writing is an activity fraught with fear, or because it is the involuntary reflex of someone who has awaited the day of his own political trial. In any case, it stands as a clear register of the author’s circumstance: Cuba may be the last place in the Americas where being a writer means living in terror.

As it turns out, the Times assigned one Álvaro Enrique to review Padura’s book. Enrique is a Mexican novelist who perhaps does not consider journalists to be writers. If he did, he surely must be aware that a hundred reporters have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, with most of the cases being unsolved.

One should certainly not prejudge Padura’s novel based on the use that Enrique is making of it since the wiki on Enrique states:

Padura’s novel El hombre que amaba a los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs) deals with the murder of Leon Trotsky and the man who assassinated him, Ramon Mercader. At almost 600 pages, it is his most accomplished work and the result of more than five years of meticulous historical research. The novel, published in September 2009, attracted a lot of publicity mainly because of its political theme. The main argument of the author seems to be that Joseph Stalin betrayed socialism and destroyed the hope of creating a utopian society in the 20th century.[citation needed] It leaves open the possibility that such a society might still be possible in the 21st.

The novel that I am looking forward to reading the most, however, is John P. Davidson’s “The Obedient Assassin”. I had the great pleasure of experiencing his writing in a long article that appeared in the January 2014 Harper’s titled “You Rang: mastering the art of serving the rich” that chronicled his experience at butler school! It is exceedingly witty and socially aware:

Getting the details right was especially important when there were several houses, so that consistency could be maintained from property to property in the remotes for television sets, the controls for lighting and security systems, the organization of kitchen and bathroom cupboards. Principals did not want to fumble around, lost in their own houses. Ms. Fowler used Excel spreadsheets to stock refrigerators with soft drinks, then lined up and photographed the contents so that a glance would tell what needed replenishment. She religiously checked the expiration dates on cans of soda: if you own seven houses and each has as many as six refrigerators — two in the kitchen, one in the garage or storeroom, one in the pool house, one in the master suite, one in the screening room — for a total of forty-two refrigerators, it’s possible that years could pass before a can of soda is opened.

One hopes that Mr. Davidson has found better uses of his talents than checking on soft drink expiration dates, such as his new novel. On his website he describes how became interested in the Trotsky assassination:

My decision to write the novel came gradually, starting on a visit in 2001 to the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacán. As I walked through the Trotsky compound, I sensed an old turmoil, a kind of narrative static electricity. Trotsky’s life in Mexico was so unexpectedly romantic, and the assassination so dramatic, I didn’t understand how it could be that I didn’t know the story.

Or rather, I didn’t understand how I had forgotten the story, because I had been to the museum on earlier visits to Mexico, walked through the rooms, read the documents, and looked at the old black-and-white photographs of the Trotskys with Frida Kahlo, Diego River and André Breton.

I wondered if decades of anti-Soviet propaganda had kept me from grasping Trotsky’s humanity. Or perhaps my perspective had been changed by 9/11 and my own maturity. But whatever the cause, I was certain there must be a compelling book about Trotsky’s exile and the assassination. I began to search for that book but found nothing that was accessible or in print.

In the chapter that I have reproduced below, Davidson describes the encounter between Trotsky’s assassin and Joe Hansen, Trotsky’s chief bodyguard. I only knew Hansen well enough to say hello after joining the Socialist Workers Party in 1967 but I was much closer to George Novack who spent a lot of time in Coyoacan and was one of the main organizers of the Leon Trotsky Commission of Inquiry chaired by John Dewey.

Hansen was 57 when I joined the SWP and still quite vigorous. Despite the fact that I was not that familiar with him personally, his approach to political problems was a great influence on me. To this day, I have Hansen’s methodology in the back of my mind when I am writing about some vexing problem in the class struggle such as how to figure out what is going on in Ukraine and Thailand where class lines are not sharply delineated.

I have only browsed through “The Obedient Assassin” to this point but what I have seen impresses me a great deal. Davidson’s background is as a journalist and this probably accounts for the lean but compelling character of his prose.

The other day Stephen Colbert interviewed novelist Michael Chabon about Ernest Hemingway in a show devoted to the novelist Chabon regarded as always sounding fresh. Although Chabon did not mention it, I think a lot of what we like about Hemingway can be attributed to his training as a journalist. With so many novelists today writing 800 page novels trying to capture What Life is Like Today, it is refreshing to read prose that is focused mainly on capturing human drama in a pellucid style such as how Davidson writes:

Row after row, eight abreast, thousands of Mexicans marched down Reforma. Many looked Aztec or Mayan, with straight black hair and sharply sculptured features. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters, the rank and file of the Communist Party in Mexico, they carried cardboard placards demanding that Trotsky get out of the country. Afuera Trotsky! Trotsky, get out! They walked silently, their faces so impassive, it might have been a funeral procession but for the trucks with loudspeakers that passed at regular intervals bearing large pictures of Trotsky looking satanic with his white goatee, eyes glaring intensely through his spectacles, a harsh metallic voice ringing from big cone-shaped speakers. “Trotsky is a traitor and terrorist!” the voices would cry from the distance, grow painfully loud, then fade away as the trucks moved on. All the while, the shuffling of the workers’ feet on pavement remained soft and constant.

To the casual observer, the May Day parade was a stunning turn-around. Trotsky had been a hero to peasants and workers when he arrived in Mexico, and now he was an archvillain. To Jacques, the parade was a demonstration of Eitingon and Caridad’s prowess They had brought the power of the Kremlin and Comintern to bear upon the Communist Party of Mexico. Moving behind the scenes never showing their hand, they purged the Communist newspapers in Mexico, replacing the editors and writers who had accepted the presence of Trotsky. Brought to heel, the Communist press mounted a campaign against Trotsky, all but calling for blood. Trotsky was not a friend of the worker. He was a terrorist and a Fascist.

Eitingon and Caridad had applied the same sort of pressure to the largest and most powerful labor unions in Mexico, which were Communist-run. Union bosses had turned out twenty thousand Mexicans to protest against Trotsky. Eitingon and Caridad had their kinds on the levers of power and were pulling all of the elements of their plan into alignment. Everything was running according to schedule. The attack on Trotsky would take place soon. It was the first of May; Hitler’s troops had invaded Denmark and Norway. France, the Netherlands, and Belgium were next. The free world would watch in horror as a Fascist dictator marched through West-ern Europe. Hitler would provide all the cover needed for Stalin to settle an old score.

After the parade finally passed, Jacques got in his car and started for Coyoacan. He would have preferred not going on that particular day, but Marguerite had asked him, and he feared it would look strange if he didn’t appear.

As Jacques pulled up in front of the house, lightning flickered in the dark clouds clustered against the volcanoes. He recognized Julia and Ana, the women Siqueiros had hired to spy on the house. Dressed like peasant girls, they were flirting with the policemen in front of their hut. They had rented cheap flats on the next street, where they entertained the police, pumping them for every last detail about their post.

Jacques waved to Jake Cooper in the machine-gun turret, then heard the electric lock snap open as he approached the reinforced door. The heavy metal bar scraped against cement; Sheldon opened lie door, stepping aside, his eyes wide in the dim light of the garage.

“What are you doing, letting me in like that?” Jacques asked in a low voice.

“I heard your car. I knew it was you.”

“You have to be careful.”

“Marguerite had to go out, but Hansen wants to see you.”

“Me? Why does he want to see me?”

“I don’t know, but he said to send you in. He’s in the library.”

Walking up the flagstone path, Jacques felt as if some great gravitational force were taking hold of him, a strong ocean current that would drag him out to sea. The doors to the library stood open a waiting trap. As he stepped beneath the bower of bougainvillea he removed his dark glasses, his eyes and mind working rapidly, taking notes for Siqueiros. The room resembled a battlefield command station, spartan, improvised, orderly with unfinished plank floors thick adobe walls plastered a deep mustard color, bare lightbulb hanging on long cords from the rafters of the ceiling. There were two desks and a worktable, two big black typewriters, filing cabinets, a telephone, a map of Europe, and a small bookshelf filled with volumes of an encyclopedia.

Jacques had imagined the room so often, assembling a picture from bits and pieces of information. He was surprised to find it empty, except for Joe Hansen, who sat at the desk toward the back of the library. He gazed up from a typed document, studied Jacque, for a moment, then got to his feet. Wiry and of moderate height Hansen was like a character from the Wild West, his dark blond hair cut badly by a Mexican barber, pale blue eyes, and a prominent Adam’s apple riding above the knot of his tie and the frayed collar a holstered pistol hanging from a wide leather belt.

“Marguerite asked me to give you this,” he said, handing Jacque, an envelope.

“I’ve seen you outside. I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Yes, I know who you are.”

“The Old Man wanted me to talk to you. He keeps hearing abo you and has begun to wonder what it is you’re doing here.”

Jacques felt his mouth go dry. “I’m in Mexico on business. M wife, Sylvia, introduced me to the Rosmers.”

Hansen frowned. “What about this false passport?”

“Yes, I had to buy a Canadian passport in Paris. I’m Belgian but couldn’t get a passport there.”

“Why was that?” Hansen asked, crossing his arms.

“A problem with my family, a legal difficulty.”

“By legal, do you mean criminal?”

“No.” Jacques recoiled a bit as if offended. “I don’t believe this is your business, but I was commissioned as an officer in the army. Later, after I was discharged, my family pulled strings to have me lecalled so I wouldn’t leave the country. I was eventually cleared hut with the war and all, my visa was tied up in red tape. Buying a passport was a matter of convenience, nothing more.”

Hansen chewed on that for a moment, nodding. “The Old Man also wants to know about your politics.”

“I stay clear of politics.” Hansen gave a slight shrug. “Well, I’ll let you get on your way.”

Leaving, Jacques found Sheldon waiting in the garage. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The tin roof above ticked as the afternoon sun abated. The area smelled of dust and oil and tires and grease. A straight-back chair, a clipboard, and a stack of old magazines sug-gested the monotony of waiting.

“What did he want?” “Nothing. He had a note from Marguerite for me.”

“Why didn’t he give it to me?”

“I don’t know.” Jacques took out his cigarette case, offered one to Sheldon, and took another for himself. As he lit their cigarettes, he observed the young man’s hand tremble slightly. Jacques put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Can you get away tonight?”

He nodded. Yes. “Come to the Shirley Courts. I’ll bring you home.”

“When should I come? Is seven too early?”

“No, that’s good. Now, you’d better let me out.”

He watched Sheldon move the heavy iron aside. The door opened to the smell of rain coming across the valley.

“The Obedient Assassin” can now be ordered from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/The-Obedient-Assassin-A-Novel/dp/1883285585).

January 25, 2014

Thoughts on Diana Johnstone and Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala

Filed under: anti-Semitism,comedy,France — louisproyect @ 7:54 pm

Over the years I’ve noticed an unfortunate tendency for the left to conduct polemics like an attorney. If someone like Nicholas Kristof is a district attorney building a case against Robert Mugabe, for example, he includes only his misdeeds. Then the leftist will trawl through print and electronic media to prove to the jury—the fence sitting public—that Mugabe is the best thing that ever happened to the people of Zimbabwe. The prosecution will fixate on homophobia and electoral fraud, while the defense will urge the jury to consider the sweeping land reform. Leaving aside Shakespeare’s suggestion as to what should happen to lawyers, it would probably be best for the left—particularly those who see themselves operating under the rubric of Marxism—to adopt a more dialectical approach, one that considers the contradictions and aspires to a higher level understanding.

Those were the thoughts that occurred to me after reading 80-year-old veteran left journalist Diana Johnstone’s defense of the besieged French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala that can be read here, here, and here in chronological order. The lawyer analogy certainly applies here more than in other cases since Dieudonné has been charged numerous times under France’s draconian Holocaust laws. Johnstone writes in her most recent piece in the Counterpunch Jan. 25-26 Weekend edition:

Dieudonné has been fined 8,000 euros for his song “Shoananas”, and further such condemnations are in the offing.  Such lawsuits, brought primarily by LICRA (Ligue internationale contre le racisme et l’antisémitisme), also aim to wipe him out financially.

One line in the chorus against Dieudonné is that he is “no longer a comedian” but has turned his shows into “anti-Semitic political meetings” which spread “hatred”.  Even the distant New Yorker magazine has accused the humorist of making a career out of peddling “hatred”.  This raises images of terrible things happening that are totally remote from a Dieudonné show or its consequences.

Much of Johnstone’s coverage of the case makes excellent points about the Holocaust industry in France in which the state and NGO’s use Hitler’s exterminationist policies as a cudgel to enforce Zionist ideological hegemony.

Since it would be unwise for an attorney to be too obvious, Johnstone does acknowledge one petty crime in the defendant’s rap sheet:

The worst thing Dieudonné has ever said during his performances, so far as I am aware, was a personal insult against the radio announcer Patrick Cohen.  Cohen has insistently urged that persons he calls “sick brains” such as Dieudonné or Tariq Ramadan be banned from television appearances.  In late December, French television (which otherwise has kept Dieudonné off the airwaves) recorded Dieudonné  saying that “when I hear Patrick Cohen talking, I think to myself, you know, the gas chambers…Too bad…”

She considered the gas chambers remark “offensive” but not “typical of Dieudonné’s shows.”

I certainly understand how jokes can be made about extermination. In “Defamation”, a documentary on Norman Finkelstein and Abe Foxman made by an Israeli filmmaker, we see Norman in the stairwell of his building raising his arm in a Nazi salute as unexpectedly as Dr. Strangelove. That’s his way of showing that he refuses to bow down to the Israel lobby. There’s also Larry David who provokes a Zionist neighbor into a screaming fit after he hires a string quartet to play Wagner on his front lawn on the occasion of his wife’s birthday. I know for a fact that my rich uncle Mike wanted to spite my mostly Jewish and Zionist village in the Borscht Belt by buying my cousin Louis a Mercedes-Benz roadster on his 16th birthday back when German goods were verboten. Who are they to tell me what car to buy, he insisted.

There’s only one problem in trying to apply this type of joking across the board. It is one thing for a Jew to make jokes about six million killed; it is another for someone like Dieudonné. As an analogy, when Black rappers use the word “nigger” in a song, it has a different character than when a Klansman would.

Now, I would leave open the possibility that Dieudonné is only “playing” a character with provocative statements about genocide after the fashion of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Borat but there are some worrying signs that there is more to it than that. Johnstone says that the wisecrack about gas chambers is not typical but how would she characterize the guest appearance of genocide “revisionist” Robert Faurisson during a Dieudonné performance. One can certainly understand Chomsky defending the free speech rights of Faurisson but you judge whether this is what prompted Dieudonné to invite him on stage:

I also wonder what his goal was in the film L’Antisémite that unfortunately was another victim of France’s repressive legal codes. I find Tablet magazine to be an obnoxious purveyor of Zionist propaganda but something tells me that this account rings true:

The opening 2-minute skit of the film consists of a Chaplanesque [sic] newsreel narration set during the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The quivering, grabby hand of a pinstriped inmate extends out from behind barbed wire as the emaciated survivor jostles with a fleshy cigar-smoking capo for attention from the camera. Dieudonné arrives dressed as an American sergeant and throws scraps of food at the beggar, commanding him with a hearty laugh and flash cards to “Mange! Bouffe!” (“Eat! Grub!”) The prisoner then reveals the existence of the gas chambers to Dieudonné. As a kitten laps up liquid from a Zyklon B canister, Dieudonné sniffs at the canister suspiciously and then dabs some on his neck like cologne. Together they sift through the ashes of a barbecue pit. “Chicken?” the skeptical Dieudonné asks. “No, those are children’s bones,” the prisoner tells him. Dieudonné proceeds to sit on a leather chair only to be yelled at by the prisoner “for sitting on my grandmother!” He picks up a chandelier and asks if it too was made of Jewish skin. “Bien sûr,” replies the prisoner before Dieudonné plops it over his head and electrifies him as if in a cartoon. The film also features guest appearances by the aged Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson and ghastly National Front ideological guru Alain Soral.

I don’t know. I think I have a pretty good sense of humor but this sounds like the work of what Bebel called the “socialism of fools”.

Well, maybe Dieudonné cast Soral because he is photogenic or because he wanted to make some subtle satirical point. The historical record is a bit disconcerting. In 2009 the two men ran for the European Parliament elections on the Anti-Zionist Party ticket. Their program was unabashedly pro-Muslim and benefited from Soral’s populist message:

The fight against the rise of commercial globalist totalitarianism which is what the European Union is in reality; the defense of French workers and their rights against the plan for the destruction of our industries, public services, and small businesses by globalized capitalism, hence by the European Union; the return of the State to all large economic sectors, or a well-reasoned protectionism.

It should of course be understood that Johnstone has a soft spot in her heart for the National Front Party in France, whose leader Marine Le Pen she considered a “moderate” among the candidates running in the 2012 elections:

This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes.  Her “far right” label is due primarily to her criticism of Muslim practices in France and demands to reduce immigration quotas, but her position on these issues would be considered moderate in the Netherlands or in much of the United States.

While Marine Le Pen and Alain Soral were both associated with the National Front, he apparently broke with them on how to regard Muslim immigrants. With respect to the National Front’s demand to “reduce immigration quotas”, Marine Le Pen has a flair for demonstrating her party’s program on keeping the undesirables out. In 2011 she visited Lampedusa, an Italian island that is an entry point for North African boat people. She stated during her visit that Europe’s navies “in reality … should go as close as possible to the coasts from where the clandestine boats departed to send them back.” Lampedusa, of course, was in the news last year for being in proximity to a boat from North Africa that capsized and left 300 dead.

One would think that a man with a Cameroonian father would want to hold National Front politicians—past and present—at arm’s length, given their nativist politics or that they would want to keep their distance from him given his pro-Muslim statements. However, the relationship between Dieudonné and Le Pen the father and Le Pen the daughter is complex, to say the least.

The Financial Times reported that Marine Le Pen agrees with the penalties being handed down against the one-time comedian:

Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s far-right National Front party, prides herself on being a lawyer, and a media lawyer at that. So she has no doubt that chilling anti-Semitic statements made recently by the provocative comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala are actionable under a French law that bans hate speech.

“What he said against Patrick Cohen is against the law, and Mr. Dieudonné knows that perfectly well,” she said last week during a two-hour interview with the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris. “So he must assume the consequences, and he should be sanctioned.”

Yet the father is still on his side apparently:

However, she didn’t deny that he is a friend of her father, who, by the way, is godfather to one of Dieudonné’s children. “One can have a friendship for someone without sharing their ideas, or being condemned in their place,” she added.

If only it were so simple. In fact, her father’s views are not so far from those of Dieudonné, particularly about the Holocaust, a regular theme of the comedian’s routine. Mr. Le Pen once famously dismissed the Holocaust as “a mere detail of history.” In 2012, an appeals court upheld a three-month suspended sentence and a €10,000 fine against Mr. Le Pen for his statement that the Nazi occupation of France was not “particularly inhumane.”

I really wonder what went through Dieudonné’s mind when he decided that Jean-Marie Le Pen was just the right person to be his kid’s godfather. After the French banlieue riots, he had this to say: “Many live by dealing in drugs, or stealing. They have created their own ghettos. We have places where there are no schools, because they have set them afire and the police and firemen are attacked when they go there. Civilization is slowly evaporating from this country.”

I could be wrong but Dieudonné strikes me as the French version of Clarence Thomas or Roy Innis, the former civil rights leader who found it to his advantage to hook up with the Republican Party right. It is a bit harder to place Dieudonné politically on the French spectrum since he tends to be coy about what he stands for, but if you think that he is on the left, then you really have no idea what the left is about.

I want to conclude with what is the most important point of all. It should be obvious that charges against Dieudonné as helping to creating the conditions for anti-Semitic pogroms is utter nonsense. Jews enjoy a privileged position in the entire industrialized world and their elites are deeply embedded with the majority Christian ruling class. The people who have the most to worry are the Muslims in places like France, Spain or Italy who get beaten up or killed by skinhead mobs who are facilitated by the “mainstream” political parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front that like the KKK in the United States learned long ago to wear business suits rather than white robes.

The problem is Dieudonné’s amalgam between Zionist and Jew that is exactly the equation put forward by the Abe Foxman’s and Eli Wiesel’s of the world. With so many young Jews on the front lines supporting BDS, the tides are turning against Zionism. The goal of the left should be to deepen the divide between young Jews who understand how rotten Zionism is, not to spread the lie that being a Jew and being a Zionist is the same thing.

Dieudonné’s greatest offense is not that he is anti-Semitic; it is that he is anti-political.

January 24, 2014

Mercedes Sosa: the voice of Latin America

Filed under: Argentina,Film,music — louisproyect @ 10:43 pm

“Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America”, the title of a documentary that opens today at the Quad Cinema in NY, is no hyperbole. She was such a voice just as much as Um Khaldoun was the voice of the Arab world. The Argentinian nueva cancion legend died four years ago at the age of 74 and the film is a loving tribute made up of her performances, reminiscences by a wide range of musicians from Pablo Milanes to David Byrne, and interviews conducted with the great musician up until her death of endocrinal and respiratory ailments. After her passing, President Kirchner declared 3 days of mourning in marked contrast to the gorilla military leaders who drover her out of the country in 1979.

The idea for the film came from her son Fabián Matus who is seen in conversations with family members throughout the film who help to understand the personal fears and insecurities of a musician who had achieved immortality. Indeed, as the film nears its conclusion we learn that the greater her popularity, the more lonely she felt—so much so that bouts of depression left her feeling suicidal.

Of mestizo, French and American Indian ancestry, Sosa was born to a desperately poor family in the state of Tucumán in Argentina. Her father shoveled coal in open pit furnaces in a steel mill and died relatively young. Her social protest ballads came directly out of the experience of being oppressed.

I heard Mercedes Sosa in Carnegie Hall on October 18, 1987. Just to refresh my memory of her performance, I found the N.Y. Times review that stated:

Ms. Sosa has a full folk contralto that is especially beautiful when she dips to the bottom of her lower register. But it can also rise to express a staunch defiance. Ms. Sosa, whose pan-Latin American taste in songs has earned her the nickname ”the voice of the Americas,” performed a program that included everything from mountain folk tunes in which she accompanied herself on the drums to chromatically advanced pop ballads (Alejandro Lerner’s ”Solo le pido a Dios, or ”All I Ask of God,” was particularly wrenching) and stalwart political anthems. The spectrum of songwriters ranged from Argentine composers like Mr. Lerner, Nito Mestre, and Leon Gieco to Cuba’s Silvio Rodriguez and Brazil’s Milton Nascimiento.

In 1987 Sosa symbolized the hopes of the Latin American left as well as activists in the United States like me who were working in Nicaragua. You can see concert footage of Sosa in Nicaragua from that time that includes the remarks of ordinary Nicaraguans who went to the concert feeling that something important was happening in their country.

Nearly thirty years later, the Central American revolution remains little more than a memory. Nueva Cancion was the art form that expressed the determination of an oppressed people to take control of their economies and produce for human need rather than private profit.

While the specific forms of the struggle have changed from guerrilla warfare to the electoral front, Mercedes Sosa will be an inspiration to a new generation of artists following her example. The film ends with Sosa performing alongside René Perez, a young tattooed rapper who leads Calle 13, a Puerto Rican band that is known for its social commentary.

For people who are part of René Perez’s generation in New York who are unfamiliar with Sosa, I recommend a trip down to the Quad to learn about one of the hemisphere’s most important musicians.

Syria: The Road to Geneva

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:02 pm

(A guest post by Brian S.)

Syria: The Road to Geneva

Posted by ⋅ January 20, 2014

The suspense over the holding of the Geneva II Conference on Syria appeared to have finally ended on 18 January with the decision of the principal opposition group – the Syrian National Coalition (SNCo)– to attend, but it has now re-emerged with their threat to withdraw if Iran is invited to the proceedings.

However I don’t think there is as much real uncertainty as the press coverage implies. The UN had already taken out insurance on the event by inviting a wide range of states to participate– a total of 32 (33 with Iran) – effectively turning it into an international conference on Syria, rather than a purely bilateral peace negotiation. (The first day will involve all the participating delegations in a preliminary discussion in Montreux, with bilateral negotiations mediated by Brahimi starting on the 24th in Geneva).That means that several hundred upper class flights and 5-star hotel rooms have been booked in Geneva, virtually ensuring that some sort of international deliberation on Syria will commence on 22 January.

Moreover the US and the “Friends of Syria” are putting intense pressure on the SNCo to attend, while at the same time Russia has been doing its best to woo them, given the limitations of its being betrothed to the Asad regime. The drawn-out hesitations of the SNCO are thus conditioned more by its need to reassure various forces back home than expressing any real uncertainty about its eventual participation.

So – what are the intentions of the main players at Geneva II and what, if anything can we expect to emerge from it.? And how should the international movement of Solidarity with the Syrian revolution be responding?

The Godfathers – the US and Russia

The United States and Russia share a common concern to prevent the destabilisation of a complex and inter-twined region and to contain the development of international “terrorist” forces. The US’s parochial obsession with any whiff  of “al-Qaeda (9/11 casts a long and deep shadow) has prevented it from adopting a consistent strategy towards the Syrian conflict and limited its support for the anti-Asad forces to either tokenistic light weaponry or indirect assistance via partners such as Saudi Arabia. Russia, of course, has the additional motivation of wanting to support an ally that plays an important role in preserving its influence in an important geo-strategic region and counter-balancing US global hegemony.

What this means is that both have a real interest in seeing Geneva II succeed in producing some kind of negotiated resolution of the conflict, and are more concerned with order and stability than with meeting the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people. This is reflected in the parameters for the negotiations inherited from Geneva I (see below).

full: http://magpie68.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/21/

January 22, 2014

Yarmouk, Jonathan Cook and the Baathist left

Filed under: Palestine,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

Every so often the name of a town or neighborhood in Syria becomes a symbol of left divisions over the 3-year long civil war. First there was Houla, where a massacre of local villagers opposed to the dictatorship was blamed on the rebels, fueled by bogus reporting from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Next there was Ghouta, the Damascus suburb that once again involved a massacre of rebel sympathizers—this time by sarin gas. From the low—Mint Press—to the high (or at least, one-time high)—Seymour Hersh—the effort of the Baathist left once again has been directed toward turning the victim into the criminal. The latest incident involves Yarmouk, a neighborhood of a half-million Palestinian refugees that has been reduced to the aged, the ill, and those economically incapable of moving out of range of Baathist bombs and missiles.

I was planning to write about Yarmouk at some point down the road but decided to put it on the front-burner after a storm broke out in the comments section of Mondoweiss under a couple of articles written as rebuttals to an article that appeared there in the name of the Cornell chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine. The article adopts the talking points of the Baathist left:

And fourth, we do not forget the US and Gulf role in militarizing the small bright hopeful protests which began in the spring of 2011 across Syria, snuffing out those fires of hope in a deluge of sectarianism, foreign proxies, and destruction. Nor do we forget that it was the Free Syrian Army, the brand-name for the “milder” of the Western-armed gangs which have rampaged across Syria, along with Jabhat al-Nusra and other reactionary militias which went into Yarmouk a year ago. It was their decision to enter the camp in late 2012 which led to the subsequent violence and its emptying out, with its people now in global scatter, some literally drowning in the Mediterranean.

A Facebook friend has told me that Max Ajl, a graduate student in the Cornell development sociology department, wrote the statement. Since Ajl has been an ardent “anti-imperialist” for some time now, this made perfect sense. It also suggests to me why Jacobin, another enterprise he is involved with, has also published a bunch of nonsense about the Arab revolt. It is all the more puzzling in the case of Jacobin since the editorial positions are generally a lot closer to Dissent than Global Research. One imagines that Ajl has powers of persuasion that work wonders on those who are relative newcomers to Marxism.

In discussing Yarmouk, I don’t want to focus too much on refuting the particular talking points of the Baathist left, such as Syria’s right to drop barrel bombs on the neighborhood since there are “terrorists” among the civilian population—an argument recycled from the Zionist trash bin—but instead take up the broader question of whether Syrian rebels have anything in common with the Palestinians. I intend to answer an article written by Jonathan Cook that appeared on Mondoweiss and perhaps a dozen other websites titled “The false analogy of Syria and Palestine”. I didn’t bother replying to Cook when the article came out in November since I had better things to do at the time but will do so now since it is pertinent to the Yarmouk controversy.

Cook starts off by falsely accusing me of being a “diehard interventionist”, a charge that many people accept largely on the basis of my stubborn resistance to Baathist lies. In their mind, pointing out the obvious flaws in the facts and logic of a Mint Press article or Seymour Hersh’s reporting proves that I have been consulting on war plans with Samantha Powers. Since I was in the Trotskyist movement in the 1960s, when Maoists used to recycle Vishinski’s Moscow Trial accusations, such smears roll off my back like water from a duck’s.

Cook’s exercise in prolixity was prompted by an observation made in my article that was mostly about the sarin gas controversy that he totally avoided:

With his long time commitment to the Palestinian cause, [Cook] seems to have trouble understanding that those under attack in Homs or Aleppo have much in common with those living in Gaza. While he is obviously trained enough to understand and communicate the plight of one group of Arabs, another group gets short shrift because it is perceived as inimical to the interests of peace.

Let me take up Cook’s objections to analogizing Syria with Palestine one by one.

He writes:

Gaza is not like Syria because Palestinians live under a belligerent occupation, not in a unified, if failing state run by a dictator.

Any idiot understands that Syria is a unified state that emerged out of the post-WWII decolonization upheaval, unlike Palestine that was cheated out of statehood. But I was referring to cities and not states: “those under attack in Homs or Aleppo”. Right? My point was that Bashar al-Assad was using collective punishment against civilians who were “harboring terrorists”, just as the IDF did in Gaza. How could he not understand this? Well, I suppose that this goes hand in hand with labeling me an “interventionist” in the complete absence of evidence.

Now it seems that Yarmouk has joined Homs and Aleppo as a site of what the US military referred to as destroying a town in order to save it during the Vietnam War. Last week Baathist helicopters dropped barrel bombs on Yarmouk apartment buildings. This was the result:

Here’s the result of IDF bombing in Gaza:

I’ll let you decide whether my comparison is valid.

Cook adds that “external intervention” might apply to Gaza but not to Syria:

The comparison with Gaza is also unhelpful because it is possible to be in favour of external efforts to remove the occupation in Gaza without that also requiring us to be in favour of external efforts to overthrow the state apparatus in Syria.

This argument should be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for speciousness if they had such an award (given the amount of times Thomas Friedman has walked off with an award, maybe they do.) Nobody on the left is in favor of “external efforts to overthrow the state apparatus in Syria.” We are, however, in favor of internal efforts. Of course Hizbollah, Iran and Russia don’t count as “external efforts” to overthrow the “internal efforts” to overthrow the Baathists. In a bravura performance of sophistry, Cook makes the case for reinforcing Baathist rule:

Also to be addressed is the paradox that for the Syrian government to negotiate safely it needs to ensure its strength within the global system of nation-states; but with such strength it has less interest in making concessions to the rebels. This is a paradox that relates to the current world order. We may not like that order, but it is the only one that exists at the moment.

This dodgy statement is basically the negotiating position of the Syria-Iran-Russia alliance and we should make no mistake about it. “To ensure its strength within the global system of nation-states” is a formula for continued Baathist domination of its subject population as Cook admits (“it has less interest in making concessions to the rebels”). At least when you read someone like Pepe Escobar or Robert Fisk, you don’t have to put up with such circumlocutions.

Like most of the analysis proffered by the Baathist left, Cook’s article has the musty odor of having been written during the mass hysteria around Obama’s “red line” bluff:

Syria is caught in a power game, with the US and Saudi Arabia trying to keep Iran and its ally Syria weak on one side, and Iran desperately trying to keep its few remaining allies, among them Syria, as strong as possible in its battle against efforts by Israel and the west to undermine its sovereign integrity. Ignoring this as the main framework for understanding what is happening in Syria inevitably leads to erroneous analysis and faulty solutions.

As I pointed out in the months immediately following the Ghouta massacre, American imperialism had zero interest in “regime change” and would likely do nothing more than fire off some missiles and then resort to the status quo ante. But even I could not have predicted the turn against all the rebels that coincided with the thaw with Iran. It has been Syria and Iran that the USA wants to keep strong, rather than weak. President Rouhani has made it very clear that Iran is open to Western business, a ploy adopted by al-Assad (and Qaddafi) years ago and one that leads to mass discontent so powerful as to unleash a revolution.

They deserve each other

Filed under: Pekar — louisproyect @ 12:24 pm

Joyce Brabner

They deserve each other:

[Joyce] Brabner is also returning to her social justice roots, reuniting with Alan Moore on a series of 13 comics that neither will talk much about. But Moore says he enjoys working with Brabner again because she “avoids cheap dramatics and empty stylistic flourishes in [favor] of the keenly judged placement of words and images.”

Cleveland Magazine, September 2013

Alan Moore

Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.


Galley-Wag, a character in Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”

A 1920s Golliwog perfume bottle

January 20, 2014

The Wayland Rudd Collection: the Red and the Black

Filed under: african-american,art,ussr — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

Wayland Rudd

For a number of years now, Russian émigré artist Yevgeniy Fiks has been examining the cultural legacy of the USSR, both within its borders and in the U.S. Although politically to the left, Fiks is no simple dispenser of Soviet nostalgia as is prominently on display in the Back to USSR restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. (But if you ever find yourself there, don’t miss the Red Snapper. It is to die for.)

No, Fiks’s interest is in revealing the contradictions of being a Communist, if I might be indulged in using a bit of Marxist/Hegelian jargon. In his last show at the Winkleman Gallery on far West 27th Street, an area that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, he focused in on the Red/Gay hysteria of the 1950s when being a Commie and a “fag” was deemed inimical to American values. As anybody familiar with the Soviet Union can attest, gays had it just as bad. Despite the early Soviet Union’s openness to different forms of sexual identity, Stalin’s counter-revolution included a law enacted in 1933 that made homosexuality punishable by a 5-year prison term.

In November 2012, I conducted an interview with Fiks that my readers would find most interesting, I’m sure. He covers his various projects, including portraits of CP’ers in the USA as well as his rather witty experiment in donating copies of Lenin’s essay on imperialism to major American corporation’s libraries.

I also invite you to check out Fiks’s website where he describes his esthetic in these terms:

My work is inspired by the collapse of the Soviet bloc, which led me to the realization of the necessity to reexamine the Soviet experience in the context of the history of the Left, including that of the international Communist movement. My work is a reaction to the collective amnesia within the post-Soviet space over the last decade, on the one hand, and the repression of the histories of the American Left in the US, on the other.

I’ve been interested in discovering and reflecting on repressed micro-historical narratives that highlight the complex relationships between social histories of the West and Russia in the 20th century. Having grown up and having been educated in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, my work is about coming to terms with the Soviet experience by carving out a space for critique both without and within the Soviet experience. Having lived in New York since 1994, I’m particularly interested in the history of the American Communist movement and the way it manifests itself in the present-day United States.

My work has been influenced by the writings of Susan Buck-Morss about discovering sites of the “post-Soviet condition” in today’s US and the effects of the Cold War on present-day American society and culture, and I am interested in the activist use of that legacy.

His latest installment in this ongoing project that I had the good fortune to attend on Friday evening–once again at the Winkleman Gallery–is devoted to the experience of African-Americans in the former Soviet Union. The key figure that unites the visual art on display is émigré Black actor Wayland Rudd, who moved to Russia in 1932 to escape American racism. He became an icon in the USSR, with a fame that rivaled Paul Robeson’s. On display in the gallery are a number of works that might not have an obvious relationship to Rudd but that invite meditation on the underlying tensions between Black identity and official Communism.

The exhibition is crowned by Fiks’s 200 plus collection of Soviet posters, etc. that deal in one way or another with the image of Black people. They range from the heroic to at least one piece of advertising that evokes the Aunt Jemima picture of old.

To be sure, whatever racial stereotyping existed during the worst days of Stalinism, there was nothing to match the naked bigotry on display in a post-Soviet world:

Financial Times (London,England)
June 14, 2003 Saturday

Black in the USSR Xenophobia is on the increase in Russia, propelled by groups of violent extremists. Their victims, says Hugh Barnes, range from embassy elite to a few hundred black students, marooned when the collapse of the Soviet system cut off their financial support

Vladimir Putin raises a glass to a packed hall of distinguished guests and foreign academics, mostly from developing countries, nearly all black. They are graduates of Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University, now renamed Friendship University. Founded in 1970 at the height of the cold war to educate students from Africa and Asia, the university was named in honour of the Congolese leader assassinated by the CIA, and it was designed to inculcate its graduates with the values of Soviet socialism. The Russian President makes a toast to higher education – “a great tradition always open to talented young people, independent of class, wealth, religion or ethnic origin”. There is applause. “I want to repeat: in Russia, dear friends, you are always the most welcome guests.” More, rapturous, applause.

Outside the hall, in the main plaza of the university, a gang of 20 skinheads attempts to mount the latest in a series of racist attacks. Similar attacks have, in the past, resulted in murders. On this occasion, only the presence of a reinforced security cordon to protect the visiting dignitaries (rather than the university’s remaining black students) foils the attempt to wreak havoc. Inside the Friendship University all is official friendship. The incidents outside are not commented on, now or afterwards.

Yet Russia is suffering from a rise in xenophobia. The Russian leader has warned of “inflammatory slogans and fascist and nationalist symbols, which threaten human rights and lead to pogroms and people being beaten up and killed”. Most of those who are being beaten up and killed are the students at Friendship University and elsewhere, marooned when the collapse of the Soviet system cut off their financial support. But others are the kind of people who applauded the president in the hall: visiting dignitaries and diplomats.

By targeting the embassy elite, the swastika-emblazoned thugs have spread concern through the ranks of foreign envoys living in Moscow. A Madagascan, a Kenyan and a Malian diplomat were set upon by racists last year, and skinheads attacked the wife of South Africa’s ambassador as she was shopping in an upscale neighbourhood, burning her with cigarettes.

Wayland Rudd’s decision to move to the USSR was completely understandable given the terrible oppression Black people faced in Jim Crow days. You can read Black autoworker Robert Robinson’s “Black on Red: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union” to get another glimpse into the émigré experience. The Wikipedia article on Robinson refers to others who made the journey:

He described acquaintances in the Soviet Union: Henry Smith, a journalist; Wayland Rudd, an actor; Robert Ross, a Soviet propagandist from Montana; Henry Scott, a dancer from New York City; Coretta Arle-Titz, actress and music professor; John Sutton, an agronomist; George Tynes, also an agronomist; and Lovett Whiteman, an English teacher. He noted meeting in the 1930s the American writers Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson, who had traveled to the Soviet Union.

One of the works on display in the gallery was a book by artist Suzanne Broughel that collected the statements of participating artists in the show, including Yevgeniy Fiks who commented on his own experience as an émigré. In Russia, he was a Jew but in the U.S. he was a Russian.

In a brief chat with Yevgeniy at the show, I mentioned to him that I saw all sorts of contradictions involving Jews, Communists and Blacks growing up in Woodridge, New York—a village that the leftist newspaper PM described as a working-class Utopia in 1947. In the late 1950s there was a thriving group of leftists that included both Communists and American Labor Party activists that was spearheading an organizing drive of mostly Black workers in Woodridge’s plantation-like commercial steam laundry that served local hotels. So popular was the left in my village that even my father held a brief membership in the American Labor Party. But whatever messages the party was propagating on Black-white equality were lost on my father who was always sure to unload spotted fruit to the “schvartzes”, as he put it.

I am not sure of the status of this documentary-in-progress but it will surely add to the body of knowledge about the Red-Black connection once it is completed:

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