Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 18, 2018

Ann Coulter on Syria and Gaza

Filed under: Palestine,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:07 pm

E.M. Forster: “Only Connect” (epigraph to Howard’s End)

May 17, 2018

The Markles versus the British tabloids

Filed under: television — louisproyect @ 7:30 pm

Because my wife and I are devoted fans of “Suits”, the cable TV show that Meghan Markle stars on, we have a heightened interest in the furor over her father’s photos being staged and sold to the tabloids. Since I had been thinking about writing about “Suits”, I will start off with a review of it and another pop culture cable TV show called “Impostors” that we are also addicted to with a similar theme. As I told Jeff St. Clair recently when he asked me about stuff to watch, “If you want some compelling trash, I recommend ‘Suits’. Me and my wife have been binging on it.”

“Suits” premiered in 2011 and is still going strong but without Meghan Markle for obvious reasons in the next season. You can watch the entire series on USA streaming. Despite being a non-premium cable network, its flagship series beats anything I have seen on HBO or Showtime in years.

Its title is a reference to the corporate law firm that Markle works at as a paralegal. In the very first episode, its star attorney named Harvey Spector is interviewing law school graduates from the most prestigious schools but mostly on a pro forma basis. He has no interest in hiring anybody as an assistant because he prefers working alone and does not suffer fools lightly.

The interviews are being held in a swank hotel on the very day that a bike messenger and college dropout named Mike Ross has come to deliver marijuana to a buyer on behalf of his dealer roommate who was unavailable that day. Decked out in a business suit to blend in, Ross is alarmed to see a couple of cops standing in front of the door of the buyer. As he walks past the room trying to avoid being detected, he notices that the cops begin following him down the hall. Taking it on the lam, he runs down the stairwell and keeps one step ahead of them, finally stopping on the floor where Spector is doing his interviews. Assuming that he is a lawyer like the rest, his secretary tells him to take a seat until it his turn.

We already know that Ross will be able to handle himself since he has a sideline job that supplements his bike messenger gig. With a photographic memory and a very high IQ, he taught himself law in order to take LSATs for law school applicants for a fee. So, when he sits down with Spector to be grilled, he not only answers every question but quicker than all the Harvard, Yale and Princeton graduates. Spector offers him a job on the spot and Mike begins a career as a lawyer that brings him into contact with Meghan Markle who is his love interest and eventually his wife.

The show is the best I have ever seen featuring lawyers. Even though it is fairly conventional stuff thematically with Mike trying to balance his social justice ideals with the dirtiness of corporate law, it is great writing and acting. In addition to the plots that pit his law firm against big swinging dick rivals, there is always the tension about him being found out and going to prison for fraud.

As in real life, Meghan Markle’s character is mixed race (a Black father rather than a white one like Thomas Markle.) She is a fine actress and easy to like, whatever she is about in real life. In any case, it pisses me off that she has run into the buzz saw that it is brought out when “outsiders”, especially mixed-race and American, interact with the British aristocracy and the filthy tabloid press over there.

Like “Suits”, “Impostors” is about the same kind of character as the name implies. Available from Bravo streaming, another non-premium channel, it is now in its second season and great escapist fare.

In season one, two men and a lesbian discover that a con artist named Maddie Johnson has married each one of them in turn and stolen every penny they own. One man is a Jew named Ezra Bloom who worked for his garment manufacturing father, the other is a star college quarterback named Richard who was head of a luxury car dealership and the woman is Julia Langhorne, an artist and heiress. The plots revolve around them tracking her down and eventually becoming con artists themselves in order to fund their globe-trotting woman-hunt.

In season two, the revenge-seeking trio are hot on her trail as the FBI is hot on theirs. It is all great fun and will take your mind off Donald Trump, the Middle East, climate change, etc.

Turning now to Thomas Markle, this guy was living in Mexico as a recluse. As a rather obese figure with zero social ties, the paparazzi were taking rather unflattering shots of him. Meghan’s sister Samantha then advised their dad to line up a photo agency that could show him in a more comely fashion, a request he was happy to fulfil. These photos ended up being sold to British tabloids but it is not clear that he benefited financially.

I am not into royal weddings but I am even less into the trashy British tabloids that have descended on the Markles like vultures. This hostility began two years ago when the Daily Sun took an image that appeared on “Suits” of Mike Ross and Meghan’s character in bed and framed it as if it had appeared on a porn site. Another tabloid, The Daily Mail, ran a story titled: “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed — so will he be dropping by for tea?”

As for Thomas Markle trying to personally gain from the photos, it should be pointed out that he declared bankruptcy in 2016, $30,000 in debt. If he made 100,000 pounds from the photos, as it is alleged, who gives a shit? That’s what the British royal parasites spend in a month.

Kudos to CNN for letting these bastards have it:

But why is he portrayed as a money-grabbing opportunist compared to, for example, the family of the Duchess of Cambridge? The Middletons have benefited from their connection to the monarchy. Pippa Middleton, a year after her starring role as bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding, wrote a book on how to celebrate.

Her parents have been accused of using their connections to drum up trade for their party supplies company, selling wedding-related gifts and accessories.

Sarah, the Duchess of York, has been somewhat more brazen in capitalizing on her royal connection in the more than two decades since divorcing Prince Andrew — including writing children’s books, numerous television appearances and, at one stage, a controversial diet plan. And in 2010, a tabloid newspaper made a secret video recording of her, in which she appeared to sell access to her former husband, the Duke of York.

But the tone of the criticism aimed at Mr. Markle — at least in Britain — has had a particularly vicious undertone.


The key difference between the Middletons and the Duchess of York on the one hand, and Mr. Markle on the other — apart from the latter’s relative lack of media savviness — is that the bride-to-be’s father is American.

What seems acceptable behavior from upper-middle-class Brits whose astuteness in playing up to their royal connections hides their vulgarity, is somehow deemed out of bounds for a shy, reclusive American with financial problems.

It is not that Mr. Markle is working class, but the public shaming of him over the paparazzi story reeks of classism and British snobbery. And because of that public shaming, a father might not get to walk his daughter down the aisle.


May 16, 2018

George Soros: destroyed by the monster he created

Filed under: Soros — louisproyect @ 7:17 pm

Ever since George Soros became a major donor to Bard College, I have followed his intellectual and financial trajectory. His millions not only allowed Leon Botstein to transform the school into something much more like Swarthmore than the woolly, bohemian enclave it was when I attended from 1961-1965 but to build a satellite of universities worldwide in its image embodying the Soros/Botstein ethos. This boils down to a defense of capitalism and imperialism mixed with lip-service to democracy and human rights.

One of those satellites is the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem that epitomizes Soros’s fence-straddling approach. As someone with the guts to criticize the Likud Party’s heavy-handedness alongside other liberals like Peter Beinart and the late Tony Judt, Soros put his money where his beliefs were by creating a school that would “lift up” the unfortunate Palestinians. He even was smart enough to see that Sari Nusseibeh was hired, a well-known Palestinian academic who had spent time in an Israeli prison in 1991 for opposing the first Gulf War. Despite this seemingly radical stance, he was also widely considered in Palestinian circles for being an accommodationist.

This came to a head in 2005 when the Palestinian professor’s union called for his dismissal because of his advocacy of “normalising ties with Israel” and for “serving Israeli propaganda interests”. Taking a provocative stance against BDS, Nusseibeh earned the condemnation of Awni al-Khatib, a professor of chemistry at Hebron University who said: “He (Nusseibeh) criticised the British union boycott of two Israeli universities, but he didn’t utter a word against the routine Israeli policy of closing Palestinian colleges and universities and of erecting roadblocks that prevent professors, employees and students from reaching Palestinian campuses.”

Nusseibeh resigned in 2014 after student supporters held a rally on campus commemorating Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin, Abdul Aziz Rantisi and Ibrahim Maqadmeh, all killed by Israel.

The other newsworthy Soros satellite is the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest that Viktor Orban has attempted to shut down. Demanding that the CEU establish a home base in New York in order to satisfy questionable Hungarian legal requirements, the university has been on the ropes for the past year. Although I have little use for George Soros, I have even less use (by far) for scum like Viktor Orban. Last April I ended an article on CEU with this appeal: Is it possible to oppose what George Soros stands for and simultaneously defend CEU’s right to exist in an increasingly repressive and barbaric Hungary? I would hope so. My advice is to go to the CEU support page and show your solidarity.

In addition to facing the ouster of CEU, Soros is also facing the eviction of his NGO’s in Hungary as the NY Times reported today:

Under intense political pressure and the threat of legal sanctions, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations said on Tuesday that it had become impossible to work in Hungary, whose prime minister has blamed Mr. Soros for the country’s problems, and that the foundations would move their operations to Berlin.

The foundations, which promote democracy, free expression and civil rights, have come under growing political and legal pressure from Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has stifled dissent and declared last week that “the era of liberal democracy is over.” The foundations have been a frequent target of the Hungarian government, and Mr. Orban himself has painted Mr. Soros as a shadowy figure seeking to undermine the country’s sovereignty.

Viktor Orban is basically the Donald Trump of Hungary. His animosity toward Soros is a function of nativist politics that are identical to rightwing governments and parties across Europe. Not surprisingly, his re-election last month was interpreted as a boost for Putin’s project of building the alt-right in Europe as the Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova reported:

In Russia the Kremlin celebrated Orban’s victory as its own. Senator of the Federation Council Konstantin Kosachev said on Monday that Orban’s victory showed that Hungary managed to defend its national interests in the European Union and NATO. “This [EU/NATO] line, if we slightly simplify it, means the following: We are in solidarity with our partners for as long as they do not contradict with our interests.”

If you thought that Orban was a consistent rightwing asshole going back 40 years just like Donald Trump, you’d be wrong. As it happens, he was George Soros’s Frankenstein monster who turned against his creator as Adam Lebor reported in the Intercept in 2015.

A graduating from law school in 1987, he joined the Soros-funded Central-Eastern Europe Study Group. Many intellectuals in that period were easily seduced by the deep-pocketed billionaire. In a sense, it was like knocking down an open door since the majority of Soviet and Eastern European intellectuals and academics had become convinced that capitalism would better serve their interests. In fact, all Soros needed to do was pay for some Xerox machines as Michael Lewis reported in the New Republic:

In 1984 Soros opened his first office, in Budapest, and began all manner of subversive activities for which he is temperamentally very well-equipped. “I started by trying to create small cracks in the monolithic structure which goes under the name of communism, in the belief that in a rigid structure even a small crack can have a devastating effect,” he wrote in Opening the Soviet System. “As the cracks grew so did my efforts until they came to take up most of my time and energy.” Says Liz Lorant, who worked with Soros from the start: “It was the excitement of what we got away with [that is irreplaceable]. We got away with murder. [For example] at that time Xerox machines were under lock and key. That was the way it was. In Romania you had to register a typewriter with the police. Well, we just flooded the whole damn country with Xerox machines so that the rules became meaningless.” In short, by the time the dust settled over the Berlin Wall—boom! bust!—Soros had accumulated a highly charged portfolio of gratitude. The Great White Gods of Eastern Europe—Havel, Michnik, Kis, Haraszti—were all in his debt. So were all sorts of lesser—known, highly motivated people wending their way to high political office.

Lesser-known, highly motivated people wending their way to high political office? Those words fit Orban to a tee.

Like the big bourgeoisie of the 19th century that gained their millions through shady deals as well as outright criminality in order to create universities and think-tanks dedicated to their worldview, Soros follows suit. Unlike an Andrew Carnegie who instructed Pinkerton gunmen to open fire on strikers, Soros uses less bloody tactics like insider trading. Found guilty in 2002 and 2011, he never spent a day in jail. In other transactions, he did not break the law but certainly caused widespread suffering—enough conceivably to kill even far more people than were killed by Carnegie’s Pinkertons. In 1997, Soros’s manipulation of the Thai baht led to a financial crisis throughout Southeast Asia that while being entirely legal was criminal in its impact. Indonesian was particularly hard-hit according to a UN report that noted that the Soros-triggered crisis wiped out one-fifth of non-farm jobs, driving 40 million people, a fifth of the population, into poverty.

Digging into the history of George Soros’s philanthropy and intellectual output reveals a rather sophisticated, multifaceted approach. In an article by Nicolas Guilhot titled “Reforming the World: George Soros, Global Capitalism and the Philanthropic Management of the Social Sciences” that appeared in the May 2007 Critical Sociology, you get the definitive analysis. Since it is behind a paywall, let me provide a summary of his main arguments.

To start with, the idea of a West-East collaboration such as the CEU was not Soros’s innovation. In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation was exploring the same idea as way of seducing the Soviet bloc’s intellectuals. One think-tank, the Foundation for European Intellectual Solidarity, was spawned by the CIA-backed Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Soros avoided being connected to the CIA even though for many on the left, he is just as evil. Whatever you want to say about Soros, including the suffering he caused through the baht manipulation, I doubt that the Open Society would have ever gotten involved with waterboarding.

After narrowly escaping the Judeocide, George Soros was encouraged by his father to enroll with the London School of Economics. Failing the admission exams, he was not dissuaded. He snuck into LSE lectures over a two year period and absorbed the ideas of a school that was founded by the Fabian Society and had close ties to the Labour Party in its early days.

However, by the time Soros got there, the LSE had evolved to the right, largely under the influence of Friedrich Hayek who held roost there. Frankfurt School refugees were never considered for the faculty and headed straight to the USA where they were more welcome. Under Hayek’s stewardship, the LSE had become similar to the U. of Chicago economics department and an ideological foe of the Cambridge school that was committed to Keynesian orthodoxy. Karl Popper’s seminars were the main influence on Soros. Karl Popper was a close friend of Hayek and an ideological soulmate. Both men were traumatized by the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary upheavals of their youth and were predisposed to blame fascism and socialism equally. In a letter to Hayek in 1944, Popper stated, “I think I have learnt more from you than from any other living thinker, except perhaps Alfred Tarski.” (Tarski was a logician and mathematician.)

In a nutshell, Popper’s philosophy was anti-systemic in the same way that other Cold War philosophers and sociologists were. The ideas were similar to Daniel Bell’s “The End of Ideology” and what I heard from Heinrich Blucher at Bard College who urged us to read Albert Camus’s “The Rebel”, another anti-systemic work. Guilhot sums up the role of such ideologies:

Popper’s conception of the social sciences was perfectly in line with the strategy that the foundations were pursuing at the same moment: it made possible the normalization of the social sciences around an empirical and experimental model, and it legitimated the struggle against historicism, and therefore Marxism, thus linking this scientific project with the defense of freedom. By theorizing the idea that nothing less than the nature of social reform was at stake in the development of the social sciences, Popper provided a powerful rationale for the philanthropic management of the latter.

The Austrian school of economics resonated with Soros because it was deeply entrenched in the Austrian-Hungarian empire that for men like he and his father was a beneficent haven for freedom of thought and of enterprise. When the 20th century gave birth to warfare and economic collapse, systemic movements vied to replace the dying remnants of fin de siècle liberalism. There was no possibility of putting the genie back in the bottle. What Soros obviously does not understand is that we are living in an identical period today when the center cannot hold, as W.B. Yeats put it.

To some extent, the Austrian school understood that its economic principles rested on shaky grounds. You get a sense of that when Alan Greenspan told a congressional committee in 2008 that “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.” But instead of abandoning capitalism, Soros and like-minded liberals sought to strengthen political institutions that could help an economic system that had begun to wobble precariously on its feet.

The post-WWII mission to conjoin capitalism with strong democratic institutions based on human rights—the basic goal of the Open Society—was bound to collapse under the weight of what some call a Great Recession. Its impact on working people has been to drive some to the left and others to the far right. Soros is obviously concerned about this, even though for the time being it is being expressed as Orban’s toxic brand of reactionary populism.

To guard against such an eventuality, Soros undertook the creation of a university that would culminate in the CEU. Its goal, according to archives Guillhot gained access to at the university, was to “train the next generation of economists”. The CEU was conceived as “a high-level vocational school to train privatizers and democratizers, people who could immediately go into real life after they finished their studies and translate their knowledge into practical action”.

With this goal in mind, the CEU was established in order to create a world-class economics department that was based on the Washington Consensus. Guest speakers from the IMF and the World Bank were commonplace. Larry Summers was a regular, bring with him the expertise that helped him gain the top post at the World Bank. The World Bank created seminars on privatization and student programs on corporate governance. Its aid, including financial, was solicited when the CEU created a business school.

Guillhot describes the fashion in which free market intellectuals came off the assembly line at CEU:

The creation of a Westernized elite by philanthropic foundations that identify emerging young leaders and expose them to mainstream economic doctrines is a process that can be illustrated by following the career of a political science professor at the CEU. Prior to 1989, trained as an economist and not affiliated with the Communist Party, he worked in a research institute linked to the Hungarian reform movement. In 1988, this position qualified him to become department head in the Institute of Economic and Market Research, and then to join the Liberal Party as an advisor for economic affairs. It is among this pool of young reformers that US foundations, following a well-tried strategy, identified emerging young leaders and coached them. In this case, the benefactor was the conservative Pew Charitable Trust, which offered a six-month exchange program in the USA at Georgetown University. Seminars in political science, international relations, and economics were intertwined with selective meetings during which the fellows conferred with high-ranking politicians and advisors (such as, in his case, Ronald Reagan, Madeleine Albright, or Jeffrey Sachs), thus expanding their own international networks of contacts. Th e last two months of this fellowship were spent as an internship within an international institution – United Nations, USAID, IMF – in this case, the fellow opted for the World Bank.

It has been such elites that have created the fertile ground out of which Viktor Orban has risen. Although I reject the idea that Donald Trump can ever impose a fascist regime on the USA, there are worrying signs that Orban seeks to rule Hungary with an iron fist. He has recently stated that he has replaced a shipwrecked liberal democracy with a 21st-century Christian democracy. In 2015, Orban threatened to create work camps for immigrants and has made speeches repeatedly about preserving European identity. Right now, the world economy seems to be crawling slowly out of the crevice it fell into in 2008. But what happens if a new economic crisis, even deeper than the last, comes to pass?

As Rosa Luxemburg once said, the choice is between socialism and barbarism. You can find the phrase in the Junius Pamphlet that also describes what the USA, Hungary and other countries poised on the knife’s edge are facing:

Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it in reality. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.


May 15, 2018

A ten year Kaddish for Ann Proyect (1921-2008)

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 5:41 pm

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.

downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph

the rhythm the rhythm—and your memory in my head three years after—And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud—wept, realizing how we suffer

–Allen Ginsberg, “Kaddish”

Ten years ago, I wrote about the passing of my mother on Mother’s Day. At the time, I was overwhelmed by grief and the article reflected that. Now, a decade later, it is time to tell her story.

My mother was born in Kansas City in 1921, the daughter of a cobbler named Morris Rothstein and his wife Sarah, who used to peddle clothing from door to door in Kansas City’s Mexican-American neighborhood. Her Spanish was better than her English, mostly by necessity.

My maternal grandparents ended up in Kansas City as part of the Galveston Plan funded by Wall Street financier Jacob Schiff who helped to repatriate Polish and Russian Jews to the USA but not in areas where they were heavily represented like New York. Fearing that a surplus of Jews would antagonize the Gentiles, he sought to settle them in places where they would hardly be noticed—like Kansas City. It got the name Galveston Plan because that was the port of entry for people like my grandparents. Among the other Jews who ended up in Kansas City were the parents of actor Ed Asner and long-time Nation Magazine and New Yorker contributor Calvin Trillin who had this pithy take on Jacob Schiff:

According to Stephen Birmingham’s book Our Crowd, for instance, Jacob Schiff had displayed on his office walls two of the largest checks he ever wrote, one of them for $62,075,000. (Big k’nockerl)…Unlike Jacob Schiff, I point out, my Uncle Benny had never consorted with robber barons like E. H. Harriman (“When it comes to rapacious nineteenth-century capitalism, my family’s hands are clean”) and would have never put a framed check on his wall.

My mother had three older brothers. There was Benny who started out playing violin in big bands but became a liquor salesman after they died out in the late 40s, Joe who was an electrician and Abe who sold cars. With his income as a shoe repairman in the 1920s, Morris made enough money to buy a four bedroom house on Linwood Avenue in Kansas City, an indication of how relatively affordable housing was back then. When the Depression hit, the Rothsteins continued to pay their mortgage but could only afford meat once a week, the chicken they shared on Friday night.

My mother went to work as a secretary-typist after graduating high school for the CEO of an envelope manufacturer she revered. Like other Jews, she used to spend time at the Jewish Community Center that was part of the Reform Temple B’nai Jehudah. It was there that she became totally devoted to Irving Levitas who as education director gave classes on Jewish history.

Years later, after Irving had relocated to New York, I got to know him fairly well when I visited my mother in Woodridge. She used to have him come up to give the same kind of classes he gave in Kansas City and I would talk politics with him. Irving was a Labor Zionist and friendly to anarchism. The Levitas clan was on the left but not Marxist by any stretch of the imagination. His nephew Mitchel was the NY Times Sunday Book review editor for many years and embodied Cold War liberal politics. I am not sure of the exact family ties between Irving and Daniel Levitas but he could well be Mitchel’s son. Daniel is a long-time anti-fascist who was a board member of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights that might be described as a northern version of the SPLC but with a much more modest funding base.

Calvin Trillin wrote a brief profile on his fellow Kansas City native in an article about people who were customers of the Strand Bookstore in New York:

Levitas is a short, slight man in his sixties. A lifelong bachelor, he seems interested in luxuries only to the extent of keeping himself in cigarettes. His expenditures on books have always coincided roughly with his salary. For many years, Levitas made his living as the educational director of a Jewish temple in Kansas City, and several years ago he took the same job at Temple Emanu-El in Yonkers. He has always lectured on the side—most often to non-scholars at, say, a cultural series organized by the men’s club of a temple. “I’ve always considered myself a middleman in intellectual matters,” he has said, and his discussion of any scholarly subject is studded with “you know”s and “of course”s that may come from years of trying to explain Husserl or Spinoza or William James to businessmen without sounding patronizing. Levitas’s nephew—Mitchel Levitas, who is assistant metropolitan editor of the Times—believes that his uncle genuinely assumes that anyone he is talking to knows at least the context in which a Levitas observation about a Chinese emperor or a nineteenth-century American anarchist is made. “He has an innocent enthusiasm,” Mitchel says. “He is more than a dilettante and less than a pedant.”

Not only did he keep himself in cigarettes, he chain smoked them. He died of lung cancer in 1987 and for the last few months of his life, my mother nursed him at our upstate home.

During WWII, my grandparents opened their doors to Jewish soldiers who were used to having Friday night sabbath dinners. One of them was my father Jacob who was a mess sergeant stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. You know that scene in “The Honeymooners” when Ralph Kramden and Alice are having an argument over one thing or another? Ralph concludes the argument with these words: “You never loved me. You fell in love with my uniform.”

That pretty much describes my parents. As you can see from the photo below taken in 1947 or so, he was a handsome devil and my mom wasn’t bad-looking herself. Me in the middle, filled with existential angst.

My father had just returned from fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and hoped to return to a life of normalcy running the fruit store he inherited from grandfather Louis who operated a small empire of businesses in Woodridge.

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 11.05.25 AM

Louis Proyect on the left, a hotel builder and small business entrepreneur who also was chairman of the local Workman’s Circle and Socialist Party. Photo taken sometime in the early 40s.

Around the time I got to be 10 or so, it dawned on me that my father didn’t like me very much. He never spoke to me and when he did, he was judgmental. He would have preferred someone less bookish than me. When I was a kid, there was nothing I loved better than sitting in my bedroom pouring through the pages of the Book of Knowledge, a kid’s encyclopedia. Since my mom preferred that her kid be a good student rather than a good Little Leaguer, they tended to bicker over how he treated me as well as his patriarchal attitudes toward her. Since my mom had a mouth even bigger than mine, any customer in our fruit store who showed some kind of attitude would get told off by my mom until he banned her from the store.

My mom was not one to sit around watching TV. She was involved in the Hadassah, a woman’s Zionist organization, and the PTA. Just like she was in the store, she had a big mouth. Even out of the store, my father had to urge her from time to time not to make enemies because he didn’t want to lose customers. She also wrote a column for the local newspaper called “Woodridge Whirl” that reported on who had vacationed in Florida or whose kid had been bar mitzvahed. She also threw in wisdom she had absorbed from one of Irving’s lectures.

After my father died in 1970, she was forced to go back to work as a secretary since my father’s life insurance was a paltry sum. I guess he thought he’d live forever after coming out of the Battle of the Bulge in one piece. She worked at the Homowack Hotel in Ellenville that was still thriving at the time, mostly I suppose for its strictly kosher kitchen. When that job dried up, she went to work for a home for the developmentally disabled in South Fallsburgh, a town near Woodridge.

Since these jobs didn’t pay very much, I used to send her a monthly check to help out. This obligation made it impossible for me to go on full-time for the Socialist Workers Party so inadvertently she helped save me from going full-tilt cultist.

Although strongly self-identified as a Jew, my mother grew increasingly disaffected from the synagogue in Woodridge that was orienting more and more to the Hasidim that had begun to colonize our village. She was also upset with the attraction that eastern religions had to local kids. As the Borscht Belt hotels like the Homowack collapsed, a number became ashrams geared to New Yorkers looking for a weekend where they could eat vegetarian food, do yoga and achieve some form of spirituality that organized Judaism could not deliver.

For my mom, it was only reform Judaism that could deliver so she began attending services at the Monticello reform Temple Sholom. She really loved the place and soon began a relationship with a man named Victor Gordon whose wife had died not long after she became part of the congregation. Like my mother, Victor was no stranger to tragedy. His son was a pilot who made a living smuggling marijuana until he died in a crash.

Around the time I began bringing my wife up to Woodridge for visits in the early 2000s, my mom had become an ultra-Zionist. I tend to think that if Irving had not succumbed to cancer, he might have helped her think more clearly about Israel even if she remained a Zionist. Her views led to clashes with me and my wife but we never stopped loving her. In my last phone call with her on Mother’s Day, when she was in the ICU, she told me that she was so happy that I found my wonderful wife (even her father was named Hasan!) and could leave this life with a full heart.

Below are excerpts from the comic book I did with Harvey Pekar that will help you understand her story.

May 13, 2018

Assad or the Naked Lion

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:56 pm

via Assad or the Naked Lion

May 11, 2018

Capitalism: a Horror Movie

Filed under: Counterpunch,economics,Film — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

As part of its special series celebrating the 200thbirthday of Karl Marx between May 18-22, the Anthology Film Archives will be screening “Capitalism”, a 320-minute, six-part documentary that is both supremely intelligent and briskly entertaining, on May 20th at 3:45. Directed by Ilan Ziv, the founder of Icarus Films, it is like no other film I have ever seen about the horror we face in our daily lives that is much more frightening than slasher movies like Halloween or Friday the Thirteenth. After all, the idea of nuclear holocaust or global warming—just two of the threats we face from an economic system gone mad—are not something a plucky hero or heroine in a John Carpenter movie can stave off.

The film operates on two levels. It is both a history of how this system came into existence as well as a profile of the men who have put themselves at its service ideologically (Hayek) and those who either fought against its worst abuses (Keynes) or hoped to abolish it altogether (Marx).

Continue reading

The World Debt Crisis

Filed under: Brian A. Mitchell,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 4:13 pm


(A guest post by Brian A. Mitchell)

Some 40,000 children will die tonight in this tremendously rich and abundant world. They will die for lack of the most basic necessities such as food, clean water, health and education. Since the beginning of capitalism, how is it that the poorest peoples of this world still owe a debt of trillions of dollars to the richest? Isn’t that absolutely ridiculous when you think about it? To say nothing of murderous.

But keeping the world in debt is a deliberate policy of the rich imperialist world. Tremendous profits are made by keeping all the poor countries in debt indefinitely. The total world debt in 2017 runs to some trillions of dollars. Of course it can never be paid, but that is not the point. The point is to gain massive profits by keeping these poor countries in debt permanently. If the rich world governments’ financial institutions and banks miraculously cancelled the debt, it would immediately start to accrue because of the grossly unequal trade relations between the rich and the poor world and new debts.

What is the view of the rich world?

Who Owes Whom? Who Aids Whom? Unequal Trade, Poverty And The World Debt Crisis.


“Don’t forget, there are two hundred million of us in a world of three billion. They want what we’ve got, and we’re not going to give it to them!”

(US President Johnson.)

“Before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.”

(US Senator Hubert Humphrey, 1957.)

“There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation. One is to gain control of its people by force of arms; the other is to gain control of its economy by financial means.”

(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in the 1950s.)

“By the use of economic aid we succeeded in getting access to Iranian oil and we are now well established in the economy of that country. The strengthening of our economic position in Iran has enabled us to acquire control over her foreign policy and in particular to make her join the Bagdad Pact. At the present time the Shah would not dare even to make any changes in his cabinet without consulting our Ambassador… to step up both our political price and our military demands. …economic relations with these countries would ultimately allow us to take over key positions in the native economy.”

(From a letter from US Council on Foreign Relations member billionaire Nelson Rockefeller to President Eisenhower, January 1956.)

“Whenever the Western powers are determined to get a given vote through either the [UN] Security Council … or the General Assembly … governments are warned. If they do not behave they will not get debt relief, World Bank capital projects, easier IMF [International Monetary fund] adjustment conditionalities or urgently needed hard currency IMF credit to pay oil bills. Reduction or cut-off in bilateral aid is an additional threat.”

(Erskine Childers, adviser to UN Secretary General.)

About three hundred and fifty mostly US major monopolies and their foreign subsidiaries now own or control much of the world’s economic output. At least ten US transnational monopolies each has more dollar assets than, say, Britain or Japan; some of them, like Standard Oil or General Motors – many times over. Now consider the fact that Third World debts to the West – some $900 billion at 1985 figures – amount to thousands of times the dollar assets of each of these ten US monopolies and you will have some grasp of the nature of imperialism. It means that the advanced capitalist countries own the poor countries and their economic output in perpetuum.

What plans does the US have for all of us in this world?


“The Plan is for the United States to rule the world. … it is ultimately a story of domination. It calls for the United States to maintain its overwhelming superiority and prevent new rivals from rising up to challenge it on the world stage. It calls for dominion over friends and enemies alike. It says not that the United States must be more powerful, or most powerful, but that it must be absolutely powerful.”

(US Vice President Dick Cheney, June 2002.)

This is economic warfare, more permanently devastating than cluster bombs or cruise missiles.

By the 1970s the “underdeveloped” countries’ foreign debts already ran to some $5 billion. It is now in the trillions. The cost of servicing these ‘debts’ was some $54 thousand million a year, interest which “grew” at the rate of 21% in the 1970s alone. By 2016 it was many times that figure.

In the Philippines in 1972, 1 peso was worth 15 US cents, in 1985 it was less than 5 cents. Its foreign debt in 1985 was 11 times it was in 1972: from $2.3 billion to $25 billion. In 1960 a ton of coffee could buy 37.3 tons of fertiliser, in 1982 it could buy only 15.8 tons – less than half, with the same amount of coffee as in 1960. In 1959, 6 tons of jute could buy a truck, in 1982 it took 26 tons of jute to buy the same truck.

In the 1980s, Brazil had the biggest overall debt. But Panama, with a population of two million and a foreign debt to the mega-rich transnationals of $4.5 billion, had the largest per-capita debt in the world. This meant that each child in Panama was born owing foreign rich world banks some $2,250, an amount the average Panamanian could never earn in a lifetime, which was the 45 years average or less for such poor countries. In 1984 Mexico was using 72% of its oil just to pay the interest on its debt, which continues to increase year by year.


According to 1986 US Food and Agricultural Organisation figures, over 42,000,000, people, half of them children, die every year from hunger or hunger related illnesses. These peoples are not at war with the imperialist nations. Their crime is that they have ‘traded’ with the US, British, West European, Japanese and other capitalist transnational monopolies.
“Our so-called foreign aid program, which is not really foreign aid because it isn’t to foreigners but aid to us, is an indispensable factor in carrying out our foreign policy.”

(US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in a rare moment of honesty, October 25 1956.)

“We get a five to one return on investment in Africa… We’re not aiding Africa by sending them aid. Africa’s aiding us.”

(US Representative to the United Nations Andrew Young, February 1995.)

“Wherever possible we should try to shape our aid programme to fit more appropriately the pattern of our trade and investment interests in different countries.”

(British Foreign Office, January 26 1968.)

Other types of loans or aid are, for example. so-called green or agricultural dollars, which are “invested” in highly profitable agri-business – agricultural and food contracts, with the subsidiaries of rich countries’ corporations who often own not only much of the agricultural land, but often the transport, packaging, processing and shipping of food resources in the poor countries.

Whatever the rich world’s relations with these countries, whether it is in trade, aid or loans, the rich nations profit enormously and the poor continue to suffer poverty, hunger and death.


“This is a huge, colossal battle against imperialism, because what we are proposing is that the enormous, unpayable debt of the Third World be repudiated… it isn’t $700 billion; it’s more like $900 billion, and, in 20 years we’ll have to pay $3 trillion, that is, $3 million million. They want to take $3 trillion from this hungry, starving to death world in 20 years, … This is the battle for the lives and future of 4 billion poor and hungry people. … You practically have to kill the people to force them to make the sacrifices required to pay that debt.”

(Fidel Castro, to Latin American Federation of Journalists, July 6 1985.)

“The huge effort of the past two years resulted in an export surplus of a billion dollars a month. Yet this money served only to pay the interest on the debt. … When we borrowed, interest rates were 4 per cent; they’re 8 per cent now and at one point they even went as high as 21 per cent. …these loans were contracted by the military, mostly for military ends – $40 billion were swallowed by six nuclear plants, none of which is working today. The people are now expected to pay off these debts in low salaries and hunger. But we have already reimbursed the debt, considering the interest paid. We must stop giving the blood and the misery of our people to pay the First World.”

(Archbishop of Sao Paulo Brazil, Cardinal Paulo Arns, 1985.)

Millions of children in this “free market” world of capitalism wake up every day of their short lives with no clean water to drink, nothing to eat and no school to go to. And when they get ill, through the lack of clean water, food and education, there is no hospital for them, no doctor or medicines to make them well, and they die in their millions every year.

Always a leading spokesman for the too many poor nations of this world, Fidel Castro asks:

“What sort of world will we hand over to our children? What sort of life lies ahead for those five billion mouths that we will have to feed in our underdeveloped world, those five billion bodies that have to be clothed, shod and sheltered, those five billion minds that will strive for knowledge, those five billion human beings that will struggle for a decent life, worthy of the human condition. What will their quality of life be like? The Executive Director of UNICEF has said that in 1981 the life of a child would be worth less than $100. If such a sum were judiciously spent on every one of the five hundred million poorest children of the world, it would cover basic health assistance, elementary education, care during pregnancy and dietary improvement, and would ensure hygienic conditions and a water supply. In practice it has turned out too high a price for the world community. That is why, in 1981, every two seconds a child paid that price with its life.”

(Fidel Castro, Speech at the 7th Non Aligned Summit, New Delhi, 1983.)

At the Latin American and Caribbean foreign debt conference of 1985 in Havana, Carlos Serrate of Bolivia remarked:
“Either we free ourselves of the foreign debt burden, acquired without benefit to us or solution to our problems, or we doom three-quarters of humankind to a future without hope… millions of human beings who, along with a right to be born, have an obligation to pay… This means the debt is devouring humankind, devouring peoples and nation states that no matter what they do… find the debt grows and is, therefore, absolutely unpayable.”

(Carlos Serrate, Bolivian delegate, Latin American and Caribbean foreign debt conference, Havana, Cuba, 1985)

It is global finance capital, in the guise of self proclaimed ‘benign’ financial institutions such as the World Bank, the Bank of International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the Trilateral Commission, all of which are owned and controlled by the US except the BIS, and the wealthy G-whatever group of countries, all of which have the combined economic and therefore political power which continues to devastate the poor countries comprising some 80 percent of humanity who suffer constant poverty, starvation and death.

But there’s the United Nations to ensure fairness isn’t there?

The United Nations, dominated and controlled as it is by the rich world, especially the US, is but a paper tiger which despite its fine words, policies and directives, has almost no political or economic power.

“The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”

(US Ambassador to the UN, Senator Daniel Moynihan.)

“There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is an international community that can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the US, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along …”

(US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton.)

“When large scale or high risk operations are contemplated and American engagement is necessary, we will be unlikely to accept UN leadership. Rather we will ordinarily rely on our own resources or those of a regional alliance – such as NATO – or an appropriate coalition – such as that assembled during Operation Desert Storm.”

(US Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright)

“It would be some time before I fully realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy. Power is enough.”

(Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.)

“A world government can intervene militarily in the internal affairs of any nation when it disapproves of their activities.”

(UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.)

“One hundred nations in the UN have not agreed with us on just about everything that’s come before them where we’re involved, and it didn’t upset my breakfast at all.”

(US President Reagan, New York Times, November 4 1983.)

“America’s foreign policy is now being run by the International Monetary Fund. When the President decides to go to war, he no longer needs a declaration of war from congress.”

(US Secretary of Labour Robert Reich, January 7 1999.)

“What the Trilateral Commission intends is to create a worldwide economic power superior to the political governments of the nation states involved. As managers and creators of the system, they will rule the future.”

(U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, 1964, in his book “With No Apologies.”)

Another World Bank “gift” is toxic waste:

The worst kind of ‘economic logic’ of the US occurred in one of the world’s most serious disasters. Due to severe safety inefficiencies, in December 1984, the US owned Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India smothered the whole area with poisonous gas, causing some 15,000 deaths, including very many children and residents in the area, also many thousands of immediate and long term disablements and permanent illnesses, trees and animals in the wider areas also died.

“I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”

(Chief US economist for the World Bank Lawrence Summers, December 1991.)

The US Has Always Seen Latin America and the Caribbean As Its Own Back Yard.

When we buy a banana, orange or other fruit, we usually buy it from one of two major US owned transnational fruit companies or their foreign subsidiaries. Typical companies are United Fruit of America and General Fruit of America. These companies and their often disguised foreign subsidiaries frequently own or control most of the fruit production, but also the land, railroads, ports, banking and finance and major infrastructure of the Latin and Central American and Caribbean regions, much of Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa and much of the Middle East.


“I am against any interference in the internal affairs of the Latin American countries. But under certain conditions I consider exceptions possible.”

(US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.)

These ‘exceptions’ seem to occur quite frequently. Just a few are listed here:

In 1916 the US landed troops in the Dominican Republic and occupied till 1924. And in 1965 the US overthrew a progressive government there. US troops occupied Cuba in 1898-1902, 1906-1909, and 1917-1923. The 1901 Cuban constitution, written by the US, gave the US the right of intervention. After earlier interventions, the US further practised this “right” at Playa Giron (the Bay of Pigs) against Fidel Castro in 1961, and was defeated.

The US still has an illegal base on Cuban soil at Guantanamo. In 1914 the US landed marines in Haiti and occupied till 1934. In 1954 the US overthrew the progressive government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, reversed its social policies of land reform and agriculture. US troops occupied Nicaragua in 1912-1925, and 1926-1933 when they set up Somoza’s National Guard which murdered Augusto Sandino (hence the Sandinistas).

The US crushed a popular uprising in Puerto Rico in 1950. The US also overthrew the popular government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in the 1950s, when it attempted nationalisations of oil and land. In the 1960s the US and Britain overthrew the progressive and popular government of Cheddi Jagan in Guiana. The US overthrew the popular and democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973 and installed the dictatorship of Pinochet, which immediately murdered many thousands and reversed popular policies. And the above incomplete list was added to by the US invasion and continuing occupation of Grenada in 1983.


“Intervention is justified as a policy of the United States whenever its citizens and capital is at stake.”

(US Secretary of State Elihu Root, 1908.)

“Intervention is justified wherever it becomes necessary to guarantee the United States’ capital and markets.”

(US President Taft, 1912.)

“We do control the destinies of Central America… Until now Central America has always understood that governments which we recognise and support stay in power, while those we do not recognise and support fail.”

(US Under Secretary of State Robert Olds, 1927.)

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a nation go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

(US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, referring to Chile under popular elected leader Salvador Allende.)

Two such Latin American examples are outlined briefly below.

Cheap Fruit From Nicaragua.

With US connivance and full support, the popular Nicaraguan leader Augusto Sandino was murdered in 1934 by the National Guard of US preferred dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia (“Tacho”), a former employee of the US Rockefeller Foundation.


“That guy may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

(US President Roosevelt, on an earlier Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.)

In 1956, with further US support, another dictator Luis Somoza was put in power. Anastasio II “Tachito”
(Little Tacho) became head of the National Guard and became President in 1967.

“Now that’s the kind of anti-communist we like to see down there.”

(US President Nixon, on another Nicaraguan dictator Luis Somoza, British television documentary, November 15 1983.)

The popular Sandinista revolution and support for the FSLN obtained power in Managua in 1979 and was spreading to the rest of the country with socialist policies such as, land distribution and cooperative farming, health, education and literacy. The influence of Cuba and Nicaragua spreading to other Latin American countries such as El Salvador frightened the US out of its wits.

“The United States could never permit another Nicaragua, even if preventing it meant employing the most reprehensible means.”

(Zbigniew Brzezinski, June 1980.)

The CIA perpetrated the mining of the Nicaraguan port of Corinto. And with the power of its armaments and media support for opposition groups instigated a take-over by the Chamorra government of middle class business, property and land owners.

Cheap Fruit From Guatemala.

One way or another, if the peoples of these countries dare to take over what is rightfully theirs, the US will soon intervene to get it back for US owners and shareholders. At one time Guatemala was virtually controlled by the US United Fruit Company. Now other US transnational companies have moved in.

President Jacobo Arbenz, elected in 1952 with 72 percent of the votes (that’s a bigger majority than any British Parliament or the US government), instituted land reform which involved taking over land owned by the US United Fruit company, with compensation at a valuation United Fruit itself had made for tax purposes: $600,000. United Fruit rejected this and the US Government on behalf of United Fruit claimed $16,000,000 from Guatemala. The US invaded Guatemala in 1954 and Arbenz was overthrown and land was restored to the United Fruit company. Dulles called it “a new and glorious chapter to the already great tradition of the American States.” Justification for the invasion, as usual, was “international communism.”

A year before the invasion Eisenhower had said:

“Any nation’s right to a form of government and economic system of its own choosing is inalienable… Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.”

(US President Eisenhower, April 16 1953.)

The day after the invasion the Guatemalan Government urged the UN Security Council to be convened to deal with the events, but was turned down by the President of the Security Council Henry Cabot Lodge – who I’ll introduce you to below.

Nobody’s saying it was and inside job, but Walter Bedell Smith, Director of the CIA before Dulles, became President of the United Fruit corporation after Arbenz was overthrown; Secretary of State John Dulles had been legal advisor to the United Fruit corporation; his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles was President of the United Fruit corporation; Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs John Moors Cabot was a large shareholder of United Fruit; and that already mentioned unbiased US statesman, Henry Cabot Lodge, US Ambassador to UN and President of UN Security Council was on the board of directors of United Fruit.

Cheap Tin and Tungsten From Vietnam.

Vietnam asks:

“…I saw the helicopters… Americans moving towards our village… we sat there huddled together… American appeared at the entrance… fired point blank at grandmother Toan. She sank slowly to the floor… grenade… I crawled out… bodies of my sister, little brother, uncle Duc, cousin Thu and her baby… Americans… mutilated bodies with bayonets… baby in convulsions… I hid… heard uncle Huong’s voice… I asked him “is anyone else alive?” “No little one, everyone’s killed.” Please, tell me why were they all killed?”

(Twelve year old Vo Thi Lien, sole survivor of the US Son My massacre
(My Lai on US military maps) March 16 1969.)

US President Eisenhower had already answered Vo Thi’s question when she was only four years old:
“Let us suppose we lose Indochina. The tin and tungsten that we so greatly value from that area would cease coming. We are voting for the cheapest way that we can to prevent the occurrence of something that would be of a most terrible significance to the United States of America, our security, our power and ability to get certain things we need from the riches of the Indochinese territory and from Southeast Asia.”

(US President Eisenhower, justifying US aid to France’s war against Vietnam, Aug 4 1953.)

“It is rich in many raw materials such as tin, oil, rubber and iron ore… This area has great strategic value.”

(US Secretary of State Dulles referring to Vietnam, March 29 1954.)

“One of the world’s richest areas is open to the winner of Indo-China. That’s behind the growing US concern… tin, rubber, rice, key strategic raw materials are what the war is really about. The US sees it as a place to hold – at any cost.”

(US News and World Report, April 4 1954.)

“Geographically, Vietnam stands at the hub of a vast area of the world… He who holds or has influence in Vietnam can affect the future of the Philippines and Formosa [now Taiwan] to the East, Thailand and Burma with their huge rice surpluses to the West, and Malaysia and Indonesia with their rubber, ore and tin to the South… large store-houses of wealth and population can be influenced and undermined.”

(Former US Ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, Boston Sunday Globe, Feb 28 1965.)

The US war against Vietnam was another war of capitalist domination of the world’s cheap labour and raw materials. The overt fighting has ceased, but the war in terms of economic cost will continue for many generations, such as chemical poisoning of the land and fisheries by the US Dioxin defoliant and children and farmers still being killed by explosives in the soil.

To date, not one cent of the $3.25 billion 1973 Paris Agreement agreed by the US has been paid to Vietnam. Four years later, in 1977, Vietnam had to start paying some $145 million of US aid debts of the former US puppet government of South Vietnam demanded by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other US global financial institutions.
“Well, the damage was mutual… We owe them nothing.”

(US President Carter, on Vietnam, 1978.)

“United States policy is exactly to squeeze Vietnam… If Vietnam suffers economic hardships, I think that is just great.”

(US National Security Council representative Roger Sullivan,, April 1980.)

But We Give Them Aid, We Gave Them… Built Them…

Most people seem to think that Western so-called ‘aid’ is free. Every dollar of this ‘aid’ invested in the 1970s in ‘underdeveloped’ countries returned some 4.2 dollars to multinational corporations in this ‘charitable’ capitalist world. In Red Nose Week 1999, for every pound so generously donated, some £4.8 came back to Britain from those poor countries in profits and debts.

Crucial to any useful understanding of poverty is to understand that capital, to continue to make profits for its owners, must continually grab ever larger amounts of ever cheaper labour and raw materials from the poor countries, which should be using their raw materials for themselves, if there’s any left.

We who are also unwitting victims, who nevertheless share in the benefits of such a system; will solve no problems by feeling guilty and giving charity. The hungry people do not require that of us. What they require of us is control of a government that will control this ridiculously wealthy socio-economic system which perpetrates this economic crime, this system which exploits and makes mere appendages of capital of us all.

May 8, 2018

Steve Ellner, Syria, and the “leftist utopians”

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 4:50 pm

Steve Ellner

On today’s ZNet, there is an article by Steve Ellner titled “Support for Governments Under Imperialist Siege” that begins:

A recent post of mine on the situation in Syria (http://steveellnersblog.blogspot.com/2018/04/in-conflict-in-syria-there-doesnt-seem.html) led to some interesting and critical comments coming both from those who felt I was too hard on Assad and Russia and those who felt I was letting them off the hook. The position I presented reflects my view of the current situation worldwide. As is often the case, the issue of Syria has to be placed in a broader, in this case global, context. Contextualization is fundamental for the achievement of an objective analysis and evaluation of the Syrian government and others that confront U.S.-promoted intervention, put forward an anti-imperialist discourse, and (in some cases) raise socialist banners, such as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Libya under Gaddafi.

As far as I know, there were no “critical comments” on his blog about letting Assad and Russia off the hook, where this ZNet post originated, nor on Twitter. In fact, it is very likely that the only critical comments to ever appear were mine on Facebook where he invited comments on the first article titled “Regarding the Conflict In Syria, There Doesn’t Seem to Be Any Good Guys”. I started off by calling it unadulterated horseshit and when he insisted that I offer some constructive criticisms, I warned about the usefulness of categories like “Good Guys” or “Bad Guys” and provided a link to something I wrote on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution.

In the next day or so, a thread developed with me responding to the toxic Assadist arguments of British economist Alan Freeman and Stansfield Smith, a former Marxmail subscriber and self-styled Cuban revolution supporter who made the same kinds of points you can read in Telesur or Granma most days. After seven years of writing about Syria, I have grown weary of dealing with such people and unfriended Ellner. I had toyed with the idea of writing a critique of his first article but decided I had better things to do. But since his follow-up article is almost certainly a response to what I told him on FB, I decided to answer him now.

In the more recent article, there is possible reference to me as a “leftist utopian”:

“Leftist utopianism” takes an all-or-nothing approach. It thus refrains from attempting to determine the relative seriousness of the errors of progressive governments, and ends up condemning all of them as sell-outs. Such an intransigent position is excessive. Thus, for instance, criticism of the populist policies of progressive governments that go overboard in providing handouts to non-privileged groups cannot be given the same weight as the privatization of strategic sectors of the economy carried out by the right.

If you’ve read my article on “Nicaraguan Contradictions”, you’ll realize that there is nothing “all-or-nothing” about my approach. I argued for taking a dialectical approach to the Ortega government that includes recognizing the benefits it has provided to poor campesinos. In comparing Ortega to Juan Perón, I hoped to convince my readers that left caudillos can make the same kind of difference to the working class that social democratic governments in Europe have made. Perhaps Ellner had Dan La Botz in mind whose “socialism from below” politics and obvious affinity with Samuel Farber are totally different from mine as my defense of the Bolivarian revolution should make clear.

But nobody from the ISO or New Politics offered comments on Ellner’s defense of Assad that appeared in his first article, only me. Let me now turn to that article but not before stating at the outset that Ellner appears to have very little background on Syria or the Middle East. He certainly is a highly-regarded expert on Latin America—and deservedly so—but in the 7 years he has been blogging, the only time he has referred to Syria has been mostly to warn about Trump and Hillary Clinton’s saber-rattling. Except for that, you can read this blithely unaware post from September 26, 2014:

At this point does anybody doubt that ISIS has the resources and willpower and is ruthless and deceptive enough to have used chemical weapons in Syria last year and then blame the Assad government? The United States came close to bombing Syria after accusing the Assad government of employing chemical weapons. Why doesn’t the corporate media revisit that incident in light of what we now know about ISIS? Conclusion: If you want critical analysis, you’re not going to get it from the corporate media.

Since he was obviously referring to the East Ghouta sarin gas attack in 2013 that supposedly crossed Obama’s red line, wasn’t he aware that ISIS had no presence to speak of in the agricultural belt surrounding Damascus? ISIS had a foothold in the north of Syria in places like Palmyra and Raqqa but had been driven out of the south by the FSA and other militias who saw them as Assad’s accomplices. Furthermore, if ISIS had sarin gas, why hadn’t these used it to repel the Shiite militias in Iraq or Assad’s? It is one thing for Ellner to pose insipid questions but it is another for him to not invest in the 15 minutes it would have taken to get up to speed on them before embarrassing himself on his blog.

Returning to the article titled “Regarding the Conflict In Syria, There Doesn’t Seem to Be Any Good Guys”, it starts with an attack on Ramah Kudaimi who had appeared on Democracy Now shortly after Donald Trump had ordered a missile strike on four buildings involved with chemical weapons R&D after the chlorine gas attack on Douma on April seventh.

Because Kudami focused more on Assad’s war crimes than Trump’s show of force (that was preceded by a phone call to the Kremlin and that cost not a single life), Ellner deduced that this meant that “her argument was a cover for support for greater U.S. intervention in order to topple the reviled Assad regime.” Why? It seemed that “Her basic point was that one-shot airstrikes are not enough.” Here is what she actually said:

Once in a while, as Trump did last year, as then Trump did this year, they’ll bomb a regime target—really an empty airfield, an empty chemical weapons factory—and then say, “See, we want Assad gone.” And yet, again and again, their actions have proven that, in fact, they want regime preservation.

Well, isn’t that obvious? Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg that he had no interest in regime change and just before the Douma chemical attack, Trump had cut off all military aid to the rebels. He followed that up this month with cutting off all aid to the White Helmets. So, instead of recognizing the facts that are staring him in the face if not tweaking his nose, Ellner warns darkly about regime change. I suppose this is the direct result of reading Telesur propaganda for 7 years and studiously avoiding anything written by the Syrian or Arab left. When you are fed a steady diet of lies, naturally you will repeat them especially since everybody knows that the Venezuelans and the Cubans are really “Good Guys” in all this.

Ellner is irked that the “commercial media” does not refer to the Islamic Front in Douma as “Bad Guys”, thus implicitly making you feel that if you were clued into their evil, mustache-twirling character, you might have seen the need to subdue them by any means necessary even if it entailed the collateral damage of civilians succumbing to chlorine gas. Too bad that Americans and Brits rely on the warmongering commercial media that a philosopher-king like Steve Ellner can easily debunk:

Typical of the disarray of the anti-Assad forces, the Islamic Front has spurned ties with other rebel organizations grouped in the Syrian National Coalition. Furthermore, the trajectory of the Islamic Front is characterized by extreme factionalism. In addition, Islamic Front leaders have articulated Sunni extremism and abhorrence for Shiites (who they call “Zoroastrians”!) and opposition to democracy. The commercial media tends to gloss over these details.”

In fact, the Islamic Front has been pilloried over and over again in the commercial media, including the Guardian that has the reputation of being the most fiercely committed to regime change. In a December 25, 2015 article, it referred to one of its leaders in the same terms as Ellner:

Alloush’s early propaganda videos were overtly sectarian, urging the expulsion of Shias and Alawites from Damascus. Assad belongs to the Alawite minority, which is nominally part of Shia Islam, and who are considered heretics by Sunni extremists. He was also opposed to the Islamic State terror group, and lost many fighters in battles against the militants.

CNN, another commercial media regime change advocate, made identical points on December 12, 2013, citing Aron Lund, an expert on the various jihadist groups who regarded the Islamic Front as “hardline Islamists influenced by the Salafi school of thought. They want a theocratic state, and are opposed to secularism and Western-style democracy — although they’ve said they can imagine having some sort of elections in a framework of Sharia law.”

In fact, nobody I consider a co-thinker is “for” the Islamic Front. Even the people who are supposedly the worst warmongers like John Kerry saw them as legitimate targets of American bombing.

Ellner concludes this tendentious article with a call for the left to support democracy in Syria but oppose the withdrawal of Russian bombers and foreign fighters from Iran (and implicitly Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan as well.) But isn’t it this intervention that helps to preserve the Baathist dictatorship? How could Ellner not understand this?

I will be briefer with Ellner’s follow-up article that makes an amalgam of Venezuela, Cuba, Libya and Syria as putting forward an “anti-imperialist discourse” and raising “socialist banners”. Yes, we should never forget those beautiful socialist banners held aloft by Bashar al-Assad, whose cousin Rami Makhlouf controls half the nation’s wealth and hides his profits in Panamanian banks. Isn’t Ellner aware of this? I would have thought that someone who writes scholarly articles referring to permanent revolution in Venezuela would have had a more rigorous approach to these questions but when it comes to the Arab world and North Africa, nothing much surprises me after 7 years of foolishness from journalists and academics alike.

Primary to Ellner’s distinction between Russia and China on one side and the USA and its partners on the other is that the BRICS powerhouses are not imperialist, thus making their intervention kosher as opposed to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003:

But the fact of the matter is that neither of these two countries behaves like the pre-World War I European powers described by Lenin, nor like the U.S. since 1946. Neither Russia nor China has military bases scattered throughout the world and both have provided political and economic support for progressive governments such as Venezuela. Furthermore, China’s and Russia’s bilateral economic deals may favor their own interests but do not attach strings fostering dependence, as in the case of the IMF, World Bank and Washington.

Actually, Lenin referred to Czarist Russia as imperialist even though it had not a single military base outside its borders and was decidedly third-rate economically compared to Great Britain. I dealt with the question of Russia as imperialist in 2014 and see no reason to take Ellner seriously on this matter, especially since he doesn’t bother to supply any data. A serious scholar like Michael Roberts makes sure to back up his arguments but apparently Ellner views his blog as a place for idle musing.

As for Lenin, this is what he wrote:

Have the socialists of France and Belgium not shown the same kind of treachery? They are excellent at exposing German imperialism, but, unfortunately they are amazingly purblind with regard to British, French, and particularly the barbarous Russian imperialism. They fail to see the disgraceful fact that, for decades on end, the French bourgeoisie have been paying out thousands of millions for the hire of the Black-Hundred gangs of Russian tsarism, and that the latter has been crushing the non-Russian majority in our country, robbing Poland, oppressing the Great Russian workers and peasants, and so on.

—The European War and International Socialism, 1914

If Lenin was alive today, I am sure he would have regarded the Russian aerial bombardment of East Aleppo last year as being just as barbarous.

Ellner takes the “ultra-pragmatists” to task as well. This is the Vanessa Beeley/Max Blumenthal/ANSWER coalition wing of the Assadist left that insists that the rest of the left “should refrain from leveling criticism of any nature at progressive governments under siege.”

All that is well and good but what is “progressive” about Syria? That is what Ellner must address. Just because Syria is ruled by something called the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party, it does not mean that it has much in common with Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. People like Ellner really need to brush up a bit on the political economy of Syria. There are vast amounts of literature on the topic but obviously outside of his comfort zone. I recommend the two-volume “Syria: from Reform to Revolt”, edited by Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl, that I cited extensively in my article on the economic roots of the Syrian revolution. I also recommend Michael Karadjis’s blog “Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis” that is distinguished by its careful, scholarly approach. I particularly recommend his take on the situation in East Ghouta titled “Ghouta: Issues Behind the Apocalypse: Armed and civil rebellion, Class and Islam” written in March. I also recommend Omar Hassan’s article “The origins of the criminal Assad dynasty” that appeared in the Marxist Left Review last summer, a journal published by Socialist Alternative in Australia. It debunks the idea that there is something “anti-imperialist” about Syria.

Finally, I recommend Tony McKenna’s article in the latest edition of the International Socialist Review, the ISO’s journal. Titled “Revolution and counterrevolution in Syria”, it is the most comprehensive article that will help you get your bearings on a topic that is so poorly understood by the left, including Steve Ellner. Like Ellner, McKenna discusses the two poles of opinion on Syria but one much more rooted in the history of the Marxist left rather than dubious distinctions between utopian/pragmatist or—even worse—good versus bad:

The issue of the Syrian revolution offers up the single most important challenge to the radical and revolutionary Left in many decades. It has provided a test for Marxist thinkers and activists that we have not known the like of since Soviet tanks rolled in to crush the workers’ and students’ councils which emerged in the context of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. And there is a level of parity between these two revolutions in the way the radical Left has responded to both.

The year 1956 provoked a fissure in the radical Left, with many of the old Communist parties of Europe cleaving to the party line and supporting the forces of the USSR. The irony that the Soviet Union was actually murdering the forms of popular, working-class democracy—the soviets—on which it was founded was lost on much of the higher levels of the party bureaucracy, which received both funding and direction from Moscow. But towing the Stalinist line was about more than just material gain and position. The Stalinist bureaucracy had arisen out of the ashes of the proletarian revolution in Russia—and reached its ghastly fruition in a period of revolutionary retreat more broadly. Revolutionary outbreaks of the working class in Germany, Hungary, Italy, and China had all been crushed (sometimes with the active collusion of the Stalinist state), and in the wake of this there lingered a pervasive sense of despair.

The palliative was provided, somewhat perversely, by the existence of the Stalinist state itself. Though it had murdered much of the original Bolshevik vanguard, though it treated the Russian working class with the utmost brutality, it nevertheless decked itself out in the colors and idiom of the proletarian revolution. It presented itself to the world not as a bureaucratic aberration whose power was premised on the wreckage of the worker’s democracy, but as a lonely and fateful entity carrying forth the proletarian flame at a time of the most abiding darkness.

In the aftermath of World War II such a sense of things was heightened. The successful establishment of a genuine worker’s democracy was not forthcoming, and in its absence many communist radicals clung to the image of the non-capitalist USSR as the next best thing, as a challenge to Western hegemony, and the true carrier of the communist tradition. Even Trotsky—who had maintained a lonely and noble opposition to Stalinism for which he would pay with his life—had developed a theoretical justification that would support such a perspective. He and his followers argued that—as Stalinism abolished capitalist social relations in countries by invading them and placing Stalinist bureaucracies at their helm—what the USSR was in fact doing was forming new workers’ states albeit in a “deformed” guise.

If one had to give a brief explanation of Stalinism’s ideological pull then, one could do worse than say it was first and foremost a council of despair—the conviction that socialism could be imposed by an external power from above in a period when the living, breathing possibility of a revolution awakening from below was felt to be either negligible or nonexistent. Of course this was a delusion that worked against the grain of the most fundamental dictum of all Marxist thought—“the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes.”

But what was perhaps even more problematic was that the Left—large sections of which had spent many years orientating themselves toward Stalinism as a form of pseudo salvation from above—was increasingly not equipped to attend to revolutionary upheavals when they did break out from below. So when the USSR suppressed the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Communist Party of Great Britain along with a large swathe of Marxists and communist activists, applauded Moscow.

At the same time, however, from this rump—ossified by tradition—a key element began to break away. There were mass resignations and expulsions. Those Trotskyist groups, usually miniscule, maintained their noble opposition to Stalinism and decried the events of Hungary. More broadly, a “new left” began to cohere, one that tended to operate in terms of a more humanistic, anti-Stalinist vision of Marxism. Many such figures gathered around the journal New Left Review. In the 1960s, as these elements began to develop new theoretical perspectives, it must have seemed like a kind of springtime on the left, an airing out of all the dusty, accumulated dogma of ages, the chance to breathe in a new, fresher air.

Decades later, it is notable, with regards to Syria, how depressingly monotone the current Left seems to sound. Almost across the board, its leading figures seem united in the conviction that, though the Assad regime itself is not an unqualifiedly good thing, it nevertheless represents the most progressive force on the ground and is preferable to its adversaries. Slavoj Žižek, for instance, argues that the opposition shows “no signs of a broad emancipatory-democratic coalition, just a complex network of religious and ethnic alliances,” and that any secular resistance has been “more or less drowned in the mess of fundamentalist Islamist groups.”50

Tariq Ali draws the inevitable conclusion51 from such a perspective—“If you want to fight ISIS, you should be going in and fighting alongside Russia and alongside Assad.”52 Ali is a serious Marxist thinker—part and parcel of that new left of the sixties, which emerged very much in opposition to Stalinism and its emissaries in the European communist parties. In addition, Ali has also been an excellent chronicler of the development of Islamophobia in the context of the ongoing Western military interventions in the Middle East over the course of the last fifteen years.

And yet, one can’t help but feel the logic that underpins his analysis of the Syrian upheaval has both Stalinist and Islamophobic connotations—albeit that he remains oblivious to them. It has Islamophobic connotations in as much as it helps blur the shades of differentiation within the opposition into a single tone of uniform extremism—all those who fight under the banner of Islam are understood as ISIS-influenced combatants or their ilk. And once one has established this—has understood that the forces from below are irredeemably incapable of rising toward more progressive forms of social organization and social struggle—then the door is open to a Stalinist-like logic, an inevitable and fatalistic last resort. The despair that comes from faithlessness in popular power is neatly amended by the masochistic desire for an external force to step into the breach and impose some form of order from above. Enter stage left—Assad and his Iranian and Russian cronies.


May 7, 2018

Diana Johnstone’s attack on Tony McKenna

Filed under: Red-Brown alliance,Stalinism,Syria — louisproyect @ 8:24 pm

Beware the dreaded Leon Bronstein

As you might expect, Diana Johnstone starts her Consortium News attack on Tony McKenna’s ISR article about Syria in a way that makes you think she has either not understood what she was reading because of declining intellectual powers or because, having understood it, mischievously misrepresented it.

She objects to Tony’s framing of the term “ideological lynchpin” in the following paragraph:

Much has been made of Western imperial support for the rebels in the early years of the revolution. This has, in fact, been an ideological lynchpin of first the Iranian and then the Russian military interventions as they took the side of the Assad government. Such interventions were framed in the spirit of anticolonial rhetoric in which Iran and Russia purported to come to the aid of a beleaguered state very much at the mercy of a rapacious Western imperialism that was seeking to carve the country up according to the appetites of the US government and the International Monetary Fund.

She tut-tuts Tony for failing to represent the “ideological” justifications of the Iranian and Russian regimes accurately that never said anything about imperialism. Their purpose was merely to defeat Islamic, Wahhabi extremism, not fend off the Rothschild Bank and other greedy Western financiers.

However, if you read Tony’s article as it was intended, it was obvious he was referring to people like John Wight, Mike Whitney and Stephen Gowans who have spent the last seven years trying to make Assad look like Syria’s Fidel Castro, fending off a Bay of Pigs type invasion. You see the words “rapacious Western imperialism” in the paragraph above? It is repeated later in the article and should have been enough to even tip off even the semi-conscious Ms. Johnstone who he was talking about: “Many, on the Communist left in particular, saw these invasions as being part of the last bastion of resistance to the imperial power projected by the United States and the heartlands of global capitalism, and so they failed to recognize that Stalin’s military takeovers represented a form of rapacious imperialism in its own right.” [emphasis added]

For Johnstone, the Saudi/Israeli/American proxy war was all about helping Israel destroy one of its main enemies in the Middle East. As a key player in the “Axis of Resistance”, keeping Assad in power was a sine qua non. She writes, “There are a few alternative hypotheses to Western motives – oil pipelines, imperialist atavism, desire to arouse Islamist extremism to weaken Russia (the Brzezinski gambit) – but none are as coherent as the organic alliance between Israel and the United States, and its NATO sidekicks.”

You sometimes have to wonder whether Johnstone and people like her read anything out of their comfort zone. To start with, the Baathists collaborated with the Zionists to smash Palestinian resistance during the Lebanese Civil War. Tal al-Zaatar, a refugee camp with over 50,000 Palestinian refugees, was besieged by Lebanese fascist militias backed by Hafez al-Assad over a two-month period. The Syrian military and its Phalangist allies machine-gunned refugee columns during civilian evacuation. Others were killed by grenades and knives, and numerous cases of rape followed the fall of the camp on August 12, 1976.

As the civil war in Lebanon dragged on, Syria finally decided to back a faction in the PLO in 1983 that would oust Yasir Arafat and replace him with someone more compliant to Baathist interests. Guess who backed Hafez al-Assad in this operation? None other than Muammar Gaddafi. In recounting Syria’s machinations, Michael Karadjis cites an Israeli official who was close to Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir:

Direct Syrian control of the PLO will be beneficial to us for a number of reasons. … our experience has shown that Syria can keep a firm hand on the Palestinian terrorists if it is in their interests to do so. Despite the fierce rhetoric from Damascus, there has been no attack against us from the Golan Heights for 10 years (Christopher Walker, ‘Israel welcomes prospect of Syrian-controlled PLO’, The Australian, November 11, 1983).

Obviously, the most “rejectionist” wing of the Palestinian movement would laugh at the notion that Syrian rebels were agents of the West acting on behalf of Israel. In February 2012, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya made clear where he stood. “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Even when Hamas came under intense pressure from Iran to support Assad, it stubbornly spoke out against the kind of criminality that people like Diana Johnstone defends. When Russian and Syrian jets were bombing hospitals, Hamas issued a statement that said: “We are following with great pain what is happening in Aleppo and the horrific massacres, murders and genocide its people are going through, and condemn it entirely.”

Johnstone’s article concludes with a broadside against Trotskyism in terms that should be familiar. It is identical to the arguments I have heard from Stephen Gowans and even Johnstone’s occasional writing partner, the physicist Jean Bricmont. Basically, it boils down to justifying strongmen like Stalin or the various nationalist politicians that the Kremlin supported during the Cold War, including the Assads, Gaddafi, et al. She writes:

Socialism or communism was above all a rallying cry meaning independence and “modernization” – which is indeed what the Bolshevik revolution turned out to be. If the Bolshevik revolution turned Stalinist, maybe it was in part because a strong repressive leader was the only way to save “the revolution” from its internal and external enemies. There is no evidence that, had he defeated Stalin, Trotsky would have been more tender-hearted.

Countries that are deeply divided ideologically and ethnically, such as Syria, are not likely to be “modernized” without a strong ruler.

Actually, this is the same analysis put forward by Kremlinologist Adam Ulam who analogized the USSR with the bourgeois revolutions that carried out primitive accumulation in order to incubate modern capitalist states. It fetishizes hydroelectric dams, subway systems, superhighways, military prowess, et al as the chief accomplishments of the USSR—barely understanding that this is the same criteria by which you can judge both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt as well.

If you are familiar with Lenin’s writings, you’d understand that this was the last thing on his mind just before his death. Nine months he succumbed to a stroke, he wrote an article titled “On Cooperation” that projected the most humane, logical and socialist path forward for the USSR:

At present we have to realize that the cooperatives system is a social system we must now give more than ordinary assistance, and we must actually give that assistance. But it must be it assistance in the real sense of the word, i.e., it will not be enough to interpret it to mean assistance for any kind of cooperative trade; by assistance we must mean aid to cooperative trade in which really large masses of the population actually take part. It is certainly a correct form of assistance to give a bonus to peasants who take part in cooperative trade; but the whole point is to verify the nature of this participation, to verify the awareness behind it, and to verify its quality. Strictly speaking, when a cooperator goes to a village and opens a cooperative store, the people take no part in this whenever; but at the same time guided by their own interests they will hasten to try to take part in it.

Furthermore, he understood that the biggest threat to the development of socialism around this time was Stalin’s bureaucratic tendencies that culminated in the forced collectivization. Written just a couple of months before “On Cooperation”, Lenin called for the removal of Stalin as General Secretary in a letter to the CP Congress. Primarily, this was motivated by Stalin’s treatment of the Georgian Republic that was typical of Great Russian chauvinism even if Stalin was from Georgia himself. Lenin wrote:

I think it is unnecessary to explain this to Bolsheviks, to Communists, in greater detail. And I think that in the present instance, as far as the Georgian nation is concerned, we have a typical case in which a genuinely proletarian attitude makes profound caution, thoughtfulness and a readiness to compromise a matter of necessity for us. The Georgian [Stalin] who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; “offended” nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and the violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest- to the violation of that equality by their proletarian comrades.

Like the Cold War liberals, Johnstone views Stalin as the natural outcome of the Russian Revolution. Despite Lenin’s insistence that peasant cooperatives be organized on a voluntary basis and the need to oppose national chauvinism, she champions the very behavior that would have gotten Stalin deposed in 1923.

Johnstone is mesmerized by modernizing industrialization and by the value of strong men carrying it out even though it has zero to do with the original vision of Karl Marx whose 200th birthday we celebrated 2 days ago. She certainly would have backed Stalin against the Georgians in 1923 just as she supports Putin against Ukraine today.

Like a lot of people who were radicalized in the 60s, Johnstone developed a reverence for Stalinist strong men as a way of overcompensating for LBJ, Nixon, et al. Totally alienated by American society, she became infatuated with men like Assad, Putin, Gaddafi and anybody else who was pilloried in the bourgeois press. Like the fraternity boys who kept posters of Ronald Reagan chopping wood on dorm room walls, her heart flutters for Vladimir Putin and anybody else who embodies her romantic idealization of men and women on horseback.

This would include Marine Le Pen, the ultraright Islamophobe that she described once as “basically on the left”. When people came out to protest Donald Trump’s viciously racist immigration crackdown, Johnstone described them with as much malice as Ann Coulter: “Whatever they think or feel, the largely youthful anti-Trump protesters in the streets create an image of hedonistic consumer society’s spoiled brats who throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want.”

Most people with their head screwed on right understand that Le Pen is a nativist just like all the other scum that are rising to the surface in Europe, from Viktor Orban in Hungary to Nigel Farage in England. In 2017, Johnstone decided that the real issue in the French election was national sovereignty and who better to defend it than Marine Le Pen? After all, Johnstone states that “Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion.” Oh, how nice. This politician said that if she was elected, she’d stop all immigration to France.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that Johnstone’s article appeared in The UNZ Review as well as Consortium News except there it had a most revealing subtitle: “Obsessed with Stalin, the disciples of Leon Bronstein see betrayed revolutions everywhere”. Leon Bronstein? What the fuck? Is Johnstone okay with that? Now, if it was me, I wouldn’t allow UNZ to publish anything I wrote, especially since Ron Unz, the guy who runs it, is a disgusting rightwing pig. In 2016, he wrote an article titled “American Pravda: The KKK and Mass Racial Killings” that posed the question why there was so much attention paid to lynchings when Communism was responsible for the death of millions. He also took exception to a string of racist cop killings by pointing out that the victims were “bad guys”. He describes Trayvon Martin as a “violent young thug” and Michael Brown as “a gigantic, thuggish criminal”.

There is something sad about these journalists who made their reputation in the 60s and 70s and who are now hell-bent on destroying it, even if unintentionally. There is something compulsive about the behavior as if such self-destructiveness stems from some deep psychological need to be connected to vicious criminals like Assad. In the 1930s, much of the left flocked to Stalin like a moth to a flame. Today we see much of the left lining up with Putin and Assad from the same sort of political abnormal psychology. Tony McKenna’s article was a useful corrective to the cesspool of lies these sorts of people bathe in. The fact that Johnstone took the trouble to attack it just confirms its value.

May 6, 2018

The birds, the bees, and Holden Caulfield

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 9:28 pm

In “Catcher in the Rye”, one sign of Holden Caulfield’s looming nervous breakdown is his worries over the ducks in Central Park:

The funny thing is, though, I was sort of thinking of something else while I shot the bull. I live in New York, and I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go. I was wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over. I wondered if some guy came in a truck and took them away to a zoo or something. Or if they just flew away.

The title of the novel stems from Holden’s misreading of Robert Burns’s “Comin’ Through the Rye”. He sees himself as protector of children playing in a huge rye field near a cliff. If he can’t catch children as they come to the edge, they will die. In my mind, his worries over the ducks and the children amount to the same thing.

Those who don’t care about the ducks and the children are “phonies” in Holden’s world, including a girl named Sally who is much more comfortable with 50s values than him. When she goes out on a date with Holden, he asks her to blow off the city and come live in a cabin with him, like Henry David Thoreau. He said that would be a lot better than becoming typical New Yorkers who “are working in some office, making a lot of dough, and riding to work in cabs and Madison Avenue buses, and reading newspapers…”

For people my age, the novel connected deeply in the same way that “On the Road” did. Holden Caulfield, Jack Kerouac and even James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause” rejected the “straight” world. Holden even dreams about moving to someplace in the Southwest and getting a job as a gas station attendant. Getting back to nature in the 1950s was equivalent to being connected to the ducks that Holden worried about. Leave everything behind and move to Vermont where such birds can be found, as well as the bees and the bats.

65 years later, Holden might have found out that there was no place to go to since Mother Nature was in danger of being destroyed just like those kids in the rye field. They are being destroyed by the “phonies”, especially those whose class interests the White House defends.

Starting with the seabirds, there are signs that they are headed toward extinction because of overfishing and climate change as the Guardian reported on December 12, 2017. The numbers of kittiwakes have fallen by up to 90 percent because overfishing and changes in the Pacific and north Atlantic caused by climate change have affected the availability of sand eels which black-legged kittiwakes feed on during the breeding season.

The black-legged kittiwake

If it isn’t climate change and overfishing, seabirds have to contend with plastic that kills millions of marine bird species each year. The albatross is particularly vulnerable since they use their beak to skim the surface, picking plastic up along the way. Up to 98 percent of the albatross that have been studied have plastic debris in their gut. Once ingested, it can obstruct the digestive tract and can puncture internal organs.

Dead albatross with plastic in its gut

If civilization needs plastic, it also needs electric lights that are used in urban centers at night to show off skyscrapers to the public. The allure of beams and bulbs can be a death sentence for migratory birds when they reach metropolises like New York. Drawn by the light, they collide into buildings at an alarming rate. Between 100 million and 1 billion birds crash into buildings across North America every year with some deaths caused by reflective windows during the day and others by bright lights at night.

Finally, there is industrial farming that is based on commodity production. In both Europe and the USA, monoculture cash crops such as soybeans, corn and wheat require extensive use of pesticides to kill the insects that birds feed on. In 2013, the Guardian reported on the drastic decline of birds in England, the country where industrial farming was born. “Numbers of the farmland-dwelling grey partridge have halved since 1995, while the turtle dove has declined by 95%. The yellow wagtail, which inhabits farm and wetland, has declined by 45% over the same period.” The deaths are not only a result of insects being reduced but also by birds feeding on crops that have been sprayed by a type of chemical known as neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are also responsible for bees dying off. Derived from nicotine (what else would you expect), they have a tendency to show up in pollen besides the cash crops they are used to protect. You can find the residue in clover and wildflowers nearby the cash crop fields, especially corn.

I suppose people like Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt could give less of a shit whether an albatross lives or dies but the extinction of honey bees is a direct threat to our ability to reproduce as a species. More than two-thirds of key crops require naturally occurring pollinators such as the honeybee. This includes coffee, cacao, and many fruits and vegetables. It will also have an impact on drinking water since a disappearance of trees will inhibit the retention ofmwater. Some scientists worry that homo sapiens can become extinct within a few hundred years if honeybees go extinct.

Why should I worry about extinction? At my age, I am facing my personal extinction before very long. I guess it is some kind of neurotic obsession thinking about how we are going to last another three hundred years let alone the billion years that will usher in an expanding sun that will evaporate all the water on earth and kill every single living thing. That doesn’t take into account an asteroid hitting earth long before that and doing a number on us like it did to the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

Like Holden Caulfield, I fret over the kids near the cliff and the ducks. If we could at least manage our resources intelligently, we’d have an outside chance of surviving. But with people like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in charge of an irrational system, rationality does not go very far.

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