Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 15, 2019

A Raymundo Gleyzer retrospective

Filed under: Argentina,Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:14 pm


Between Friday, February 22nd and the 28th, Anthology Film Archives will be presenting a retrospective of the films of Raymundo Gleyzer, a revolutionary born in 1941 and who died in a military prison in 1976 as one of thousands of desaparesidos. Like the myth of Sisyphus, the Latin American left seems to be perpetually condemned to being crushed by a boulder rolling back on it, just after it was pushed to the top of a mountain. For many young leftists, the sight one “pink tide” government after another being replaced by rightwing, pro-American forces is painful but this has been happening for generations.

In the early 70s, the stakes were much higher since the workers of Chile and Argentina were far more ready to seize power through a socialist revolution than has been the case more recently with temporizing governments like Lula’s. Gleyzer made films that were to the Argentine class struggle that Che Guevara’s AK-47 was to the guerrilla movements that were sweeping the continent. For putting the epochal struggle for the liberation of the South into a broader context, one that spans Simon Bolivar to today, Gleyzer’s films are essential. We should be grateful to the curators at Anthology Film Archives for scheduling this retrospective and urge my readers in the Greater New York area to make time to see his powerful body of work.

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February 14, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche (1922-2019): a political assessment

Filed under: Kevin Coogan,LaRouche,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:08 am

Lyndon LaRouche

On July 31, 2017, I posted the first of a series of five articles on Lyndon LaRouche that I recommend to my readers for an analysis of his movement’s place in American history. Unlike most people on the left, I do not regard Trump as a fascist. LaRouche, on the other hand, was a fascist and quite a dangerous one, especially in the 1970s and 80s when he networked with the KKK, had strategy meetings with the CIA, promoted Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and used violence against the left. In this earlier period, the man, who was psychologically unbalanced to say the least, did dream of becoming an American führer. When it became clear to him that this was an unattainable goal, he changed gears and became a hustler, bilking old and often rather dotty Reagan supporters out of millions of dollars. This led to his arrest in 1986 and being sentenced to 15 years for mail fraud two years later.

When he came out of prison, his fascist beliefs were maintained but toward a different end. Instead of positioning himself as someone destined to lead the United States into a new world order as was routinely stated in his television informercials, the role of his movement became one of influencing men at the top especially in those countries seen as a counterweight to the decadent Anglo-American empire.

Specifically, LaRouche and his lieutenants became propagandists for the Chinese and Russian governments, seeing them in terms familiar to those who keep track of websites like Consortium News. Since he had obviously become too frail to serve as a spokesman for his movement, his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche stepped into the breach. In 2017, she was one of the keynote speakers at a Nov. 29 conference in Zhuhai, Guangdong on International Communication and Chinese Companies Going Global.

Roger Stone schmoozing with Lyndon LaRouche 

Even in his dotage, LaRouche was still capable of giving an interview to Roger Stone in November 2016 that was a remarkable meeting of the minds but probably not much more so than Stone and Randy Credico. Stone, like much of the Trump gang, shares LaRouche’s passion for Vladimir Putin. If Trump was willing to break American laws to line up a real estate deal in Moscow, LaRouche’s ambitions were far more modest. Like Helga, he only sought to promote Russian interests worldwide as an alternative to the West.

Not long after his release from prison, he and his acolytes began promoting Putin as an old-school “development” oriented strongman of the kind that the USA sorely needed. If LaRouche’s shot at playing that role had misfired, he was happy to serve as John the Baptist to the Second Coming of Alexander Hamilton, his favorite founding father (as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s). This was destined to be a tripartite Messiah: Trump, Putin and Xi JinPing.

In June 2016, LaRouche proclaimed that the future of mankind will be determined by Putin’s creative interventions over the coming period. That’s even going further than Oliver Stone. The article that made this claim sounded like it could have been written by Pepe Escobar, Mike Whitney or Diana Johnstone. It was positively breathless over these developments:

  • Xi Jinping has just completed a brilliant strategic intervention into the Eastern and Central European region with visits to Serbia and Poland, bringing win-win development policies along the New Silk Road where Obama is attempting to provoke nuclear war;
  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is holding a Summit in Tashkent to expand the strategic and economic cooperation between Russia, China and the four Central Asian nations;
  • Indian President Modi will meet with President Xi on the sidelines of the SCO;
  • India and Pakistan will begin the process of joining the SCO at the Summit, while Iran is expected to join soon. Other nations of Southwest and Southeast Asia are SCO partners and may also join;
  • Putin will attend the SCO Summit, then proceed to Beijing for a state visit to China, to advance the two nations’ collaboration in development, space exploration, cultural exchange, and more. Plans for the Eastern Economic Forum, scheduled to take place in Vladivostok on Sept. 2-3, will be discussed. The Forum brings business and government representatives together to discuss the economic development of Russia’s Far East and the Asia-Pacific region.

As painful as it is for many on the left to come to terms with, the true goal of LaRouche’s movement was not that different from many on the left who began identifying with the Kremlin, the Chinese Communist Party, and other BRICS players in the early 2000s. This counter-hegemonic bloc solidified in the period circumscribed by the Arab Spring and Euromaidan. Articles that appeared in his movement’s press were not about recreating a Third Reich globally but only rescuing the world from Anglo-American imperialism.

If your politics begins and ends with anti-imperialism, there’s something seductive about recent vintage LaRouchism. That’s the only explanation for good people like Ray McGovern and Nomi Prins allowing themselves to be interviewed by his underlings. I suppose that it is this sort of thing that melts their hearts:

During the past centuries, the British Empire, through fraud and aggression, acquired vast territories throughout the world and maintained its domination over other nations and peoples in the various regions by keeping them pitted and engaged in conflict one against another. On the other hand, the United States which, by taking advantage of the disorder and confusion in Europe, had established its supremacy over the American continents spread its tentacles to the Pacific and to East Asia following its war with Spain.

Whoa, that’s right on as we used to say in the 1960s. Guess who said it. None other than Prime Minister Tojo in a speech to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere on November 5th 1943.

For those interested in a blow-by-blow account of the rise of Lyndon LaRouche, I recommend my articles that relied heavily on Dennis King’s great reporting. The first of my articles appear here and Dennis’s “Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism” can be read here.

We are in a strange political period. With people like Oliver Stone, Max Blumenthal and Stephen F. Cohen on the left doing everything they can to burnish the reputation of Vladimir Putin, perhaps Lyndon LaRouche might be regarded as someone who left his fascist beliefs behind him insofar as his ideas and those of the men and women who will take his place now  overlap so much with this wing of the left.

With people like Xi Jinping, Putin, Modi, Bolsonaro, Orban, Trump, and Marine LePen, you are not quite in the same political universe as the 1930s. Indeed, for much of the left China is a city on the hill with its “ecological civilization”. Yes, it is bad to force a million Uyghurs into de facto concentration camps, but isn’t that compensated by its Green New Deal type reforms?

The LaRouche movement has been pretty much defanged, compared to what it was in the 1970s and 80s. Helga Zepp-LaRouche will continue to attend conferences in China and Russia while politically muddled sorts such as Nomi Prins and Ray McGovern will always accept an invitation to be interviewed. That’s not much different from Norman Finkelstein allowing himself to be named as a columnist on Ron Unz’s neo-Nazi website.

The real task is to educate the left about class politics. LaRouche’s appeal to SDS’ers at Columbia in 1968 was based on his peculiar interpretation of Karl Marx as a prophet of economic growth. In that respect, he was similar to Frank Furedi whose narrow “productivist” understanding of Marxism led him down the primrose path to Reason magazine type libertarianism.

Instead of being preoccupied about uniting the “anti-imperialist” powers like China, the left has to orient to class. Wage labor is rising up in China against the ruling party and the billionaires whose interests it defends. When Maoist students solidarize themselves with the workers, isn’t it time to find ways to connect with them rather than a government that invites Helga Zepp-LaRouche to speak at one of their conferences?

Class matters.

February 11, 2019

Among Wolves

Filed under: Film,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

In 2004, photographer Shawn Convey was traveling around Europe, including Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. He became so consumed by the aftermath of the war in Bosnia (he said that he “felt drunk with questions”) that he sold everything he owned in Chicago and moved to Bosnia in order to begin making his first film. That finally came to fruition in 2016, when “Among Wolves” began showing up at film festivals. After a week-long run in Chicago this month, the documentary is now available as VOD/DVD and well worth your while. (Check the official website tomorrow for screening info.)

It is the story of a motorcycle club called the Wolves in Livno, a town in the predominantly Croatian area of western Bosnia, just across the border from the Republic of Croatia that seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. Most of the men are veterans who fought against the Serbs but the press notes describe the club as multi-ethnic. Since the film is observational, it does not try to identify who is a Croat or a Serb but allows the men to simply go about their daily lives, which consists of menial jobs in a town plagued by unemployment, riding their bikes, and providing various humanitarian assistance to needy causes such as securing supplies for hospitals in Livno and Srebrenica, donating blood, doing repair work at an orphanage and—most importantly—attending to the needs of the wild horses that live in the spectacularly beautiful mountains near Livno.

The president of the Wolves is a middle-aged man named Lija who led a Croatian militia at the age of 20 back in 1991. He is a thoughtful and sympathetic character who provides the psychological and moral core of the film. It is clear that the Wolves provides the camaraderie that the men relied upon during the war, except in the context of what Jimmy Carter called “the moral equivalence of war”. The mountains of western Bosnia provide a stunning backdrop for the Wolves tending to the needs of the wild horses, including walking them across a road safe from traffic and toward a waterhole. Like the men, the horses were a casualty of the brutal war and by helping them regain the numbers lost to mortar attacks, mines and other weapons that horses had no investment in, the veterans heal themselves psychically as well.

While the press notes do not relate the war in Bosnia to the nativism that has gripped Europe and the USA in the recent past, I could not help but think of Donald Trump and his wall. Just as Yugoslavia was torn apart by nationalism, so is the USA descending into a febrile xenophobia that will condemn Hondurans and other people fleeing oppression into an early grave. What Lija’s bullets and those of his Serb enemies did back in 1991, so will those of drug gangs do to those turned away at the border. The blood will be on Trump’s hands this time.

Also condemned to an early grave will be the wildlife of the borderlands between Mexico and the USA if Trump’s wall is ever built. Like the wild horses, they salute no flag and are dead-set on roaming free. On December 10, 2018, the Washington Post reported on the environmental consequences of the wall:

Months later, by September, wildlife biologists and managers at Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the Interior Department, penned a list of “informal comments” on the possible impacts. In a draft letter prepared that month, career wildlife employees wrote that they were concerned the border wall would reduce “habitat connectivity” for rare ocelots and jaguarundi that roam the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley national wildlife refuges.

While some fencing already exists in the two Texas counties, officials wrote that erecting more border wall in the region may limit animals’ access to drinking water and the intermingling within the cats’ populations. If the cats’ choice of mates narrowed, it could raise the risk of inbreeding.

These experts voiced concerns about the wall “leaving terrestrial wildlife trapped behind the levee wall to drown or starve” during floods. Fish and Wildlife suggested constructing berms south of the levee to give animals a path to flee from the flood-prone river valley.

February 10, 2019

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should have answered Chuck Todd’s question about whether a socialist can be a capitalist

Filed under: DSA,socialism — louisproyect @ 10:06 pm

On Friday night, Chuck Todd interviewed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the Meet the Press Daily show on MSNBC. Like most of the people with shows on MSNBC, Todd identifies with the Democratic Party leadership and would tend to be tougher with someone like Bernie Sanders or Ocasio-Cortez than with Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. The interview has generated more than the usual buzz since Todd asked her if a democratic socialist can be a capitalist, which is an absurd question since it mixes apples and oranges. The goal was to clearly put her on the spot. A democratic socialist is a politician while a capitalist is someone who is belongs to a class defined by its relationship to the means of production. Much of the interview has the two working at cross-purposes but it is worth watching since it gets to the heart of Ocasio-Cortez’s core beliefs and implicitly those on the left who nod approvingly of her and Sanders’s self-identification as socialists.

We should start off by acknowledging that her supporters in the DSA are much further to the left and would not offer the kind of circumlocutions she puts forward if they were being interviewed. DSA websites are filled with proclamations about the need to abolish private property and produce on the basis of human need. In this sense, they are the continuation of major Social Democratic parties that always insisted on the need for a classless society even if their modus operandi was based on class-collaboration. With Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, you get something different. Their idea of socialism is Sweden under Olof Palme while Olof Palme’s idea was something much closer to the Jacobin editorial board, especially given their affinity with the Meidner Plan that hoped to gradually increase the percentage of corporate shares owned by workers until the boss was eased out. Instead, it was the Meidner plan that was eased out in Sweden.

Replying to the question about whether a socialist (I will dispense with the word democratic because socialism is based on the idea of full democracy) can be a capitalist, Ocasio-Cortez dodges the question as skillfully as Muhammad Ali dodging a punch: “Well, I think it depends on your interpretation. So there are some democratic socialist that would say absolutely not. There are other people that are democratic socialist that would say I think it’s possible.” Todd follows up by asking her “what are you?” This elicits the reply that she is for a “democratic economy”.

A democratic economy? Who would be opposed to that? Ron Paul? The Koch brothers? Barack Obama? Elizabeth Warren?

With respect to Warren, Ocasio-Cortez offers another circumlocution: “So … in some ways whether it’s you’re coming from say Elizabeth Warren’s perspective where she says, you know she says things like I’m a capitalist but we need to have hard rules for the game.” What the hell? Why can’t Ocasio-Cortez just come out and state her economic views directly and clearly? Why drag Warren into the discussion?

About the best you can hope for is what she says in reply to Todd’s question about whether the private sector can do some things better than the public sector:

Yes, I think there’s a lot of things. There’s a lot of consumer goods where the private sector works. And by the way, I think it’s important to delineate that just because you’re in the private sector doesn’t — you can be in the private sector and be a democratically socialist business.

Worker cooperatives are a perfect example of that. It’s not about government takeover, it’s about how much do workers have a say in your business. Do you have workers on the board? Do workers enjoy a decent amount of the wealth that they are creating.

Or is the majority of these profits going to shareholders while you’re paying a worker $15 an hour to live in a New York City apartment. And to that too me is a the difference. It’s not that public — the public sector is democratically socialist and the private sector is not. It’s really about a more nuance understanding of how our economy should work.

Well, there is no doubt that the “private sector” can often produce consumer goods better than the public sector. Just look at the crappy clothes Russians had to put up with in the 1960s. Everybody knows that they backed perestroika in order to get a pair of Levi’s even if today’s Levi’s are garbage. But what does this have to do with the crisis we are living through? Capitalism is degrading the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat. At the rate things are going, the only wildlife left 50 years from now will be pigeons, squirrels and rats.

Predictably, Ocasio-Cortez refers to cooperatives as an example of a “democratically socialist business”. While nobody would minimize the importance of the Brooklyn food co-op or the co-ops that flourished in my hometown of Woodridge, NY that PM described as a “utopia in the Catskills”, they are essentially marginal enterprises. Yes, you can get a good deal on a 50-pound bag of potatoes in Brooklyn and grain to feed your chickens as the Communist poultry farmers did in Woodridge but we are dealing with monstrous capitalist predators like ExxonMobil, Boeing, Dow, General Electric (until it goes bankrupt), Walmart, and American Airlines that will continue to destroy the possibility of humanity’s future into the twenty-second century at the rate things are going. Would adding ExxonMobil workers to the board of directors make any difference? Absolutely not. Most of them probably identify much more with Rex Tillerson rather than Bernie Sanders.

She is much more concerned with people working in the service industries whose plight she suffered when she was working as a waitress in a taqueria. However, we need to figure out a way to reach the vast majority of workers who have the social power to become a new ruling class. The median household income in the USA in 2017 was $61,372. Most people who hold down jobs in auto factories or oil refineries are doing much better than that.

The problem for us is convincing ordinary workers that their interests and that of the ruling class are opposed. While there is little likelihood that the millions of factory workers in the USA are ready to join the DSA, let alone a revolutionary organization, the primary goal of socialists is to draw clear class lines that will help to raise consciousness. Certainly, the speeches given by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez about the “billionaire class” help to draw such lines but what’s sorely missing is a clear and precise diagnosis of the underlying cause of a wide variety of ills that are hard to miss nowadays, from the opioid epidemic to the flooding that ravaged Houston in 2017. American families are becoming increasingly vulnerable to socio-economic dislocations that having nothing to do with minimum wage or whether ExxonMobil refinery workers in Houston are on the board of directors or not. In fact, many of them were probably living in those houses that were devastated by the flood.

If I were a guest on Chuck Todd’s show, and he asked me if a socialist could be a capitalist, I would have answered this way:

Chuck, of course a socialist can be a capitalist. Karl Marx’s partner Friedrich Engels owned a textile mill. But the real question facing the American people is whether we need socialism. I maintain that we do based on the following considerations.

Everything you use, everything you eat or wear, your car, your housing — you didn’t make any of these things. We don’t produce these things as individuals. We produce socially. We have a division of work in the United States, and in the whole world for that matter. People in one part of the world make things which people in another part of the world use.

But, even though we produce socially, through co-operation, we don’t own the means of production socially. And this affects all the basic decisions made in this society about what we produce. These decisions are not made on the basis of what people need, but on the basis of what makes a profit.

Take the question of hunger. There are people going hungry all over the world, and the US government recently reported that there are a lot of people going hungry right here in the United States. And yet, because of the profit system, the US government is now paying some farmers not to farm. Farmers don’t make their decisions by saying: “We need a lot of corn in the US, so I’m going to plant a lot of corn.” They never say that. They say: “How much money am I going to make if I plant corn?” Did you know that if decisions were not made on this basis, then the US alone would have the potential to feed the whole world? The economic potential is there.

I’ll give you another example of how the potential for meeting human needs is destroyed because of the profit system. Say you are a capitalist, and you’re about to build a factory. Do you say: “I’ll build it where it’s nice, where there are trees and fresh air, and where the workers will have nice homes and will be able to go mountain climbing or hunting or swimming?” No, that’s not the way you think. You say: “Well, where’s my market, where are my raw materials coming in, how can I make the most profit?” And this means you might build the factory where you will pump even more poison into the air.

(The italicized paragraphs above are From Peter Camejo’s “How to Make a Revolution in the United States” from 1969).


February 8, 2019

Separated at birth

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 7:05 pm

Tor Johnson: Played a zombie in Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space”


Matthew Whitaker: Donald Trump’s acting Attorney General and a genuine zombie

Eugene V. Debs: a Graphic Biography

Filed under: Counterpunch — louisproyect @ 6:22 pm

For reasons that might be obvious, there has been a resurgence of interest in Eugene V. Debs in recent years. With the USA returning to a new Gilded Age, there is naturally a tendency to see how earlier generations confronted plutocrats like John D. Rockefeller Jr. and the politicians he consorted with.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. lived in the penthouse of 740 Park Avenue, the city’s most expensive real estate. His 34-room apartment now belongs to Stephen Schwarzman, the head of Blackstone and a close friend and adviser to Donald Trump, who is notorious for the vulgar ostentation of his birthday parties. He celebrated his 70thin 2017 by throwing a party that cost 9 million dollars. It featured strolling camels and was capped off by Gwen Stefani singing “Happy Birthday” to the plutocrat whose asset-stripping operation of nursing homes in England led to the death of 19 patients suffering from dementia.

In 1914, John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the strategist behind the Colorado National Guard and Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency assault on the Ludlow miners that left 21 people dead, including the wives and children of the miners. Although Woodrow Wilson appeared to disassociate himself from the murderous attack, he and the Presidents who preceded him were opposed to the right of workers to form trade unions. As I pointed out in a review of Chad Pearson’s “Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement”, a President’s “neutral” stance was just a ploy to allow the boss to have his way after the fashion of FDR’s “a plague on both your houses” during the Little Steel Strike.

Eugene V. Debs, who received six percent of the popular vote as a Socialist in 1912, was never neutral. In a September 4, 1915 article in the Appeal to Reason, the voice of the Socialist Party, he eulogized Louis Tikas, a Greek immigrant who led the Ludlow strikers and who was felled by three bullets during the massacre:

Louis Tikas made Ludlow holy as Jesus Christ made Calvary!

He was the loyal leader of the persecuted colony ; the trusted keeper of the tented village. He was loved by every man, woman and child, and feared only by the fanged wolves and hyenas that threatened to ravage the flock.

Strong as a giant yet gentle as a child; utterly fearless yet without bravado, this great and loving soul cast his lot with the exiled slaves of the pits and kept his vigil over the defenseless women and children of the village as a loving mother might over the fledglings of her brood.

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February 7, 2019

A Woman at War

Filed under: Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 10:21 pm

As the DVD’s I received from Hollywood studio publicists for our December NYFCO awards meeting gather dust on my bookshelf (including “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Sister Brothers”, and “First Man”), I am finally getting back to the kind of films I cherish. At the risk of sounding like those reviewers who fawn over the likes of “A Star is Born”, I will start off this review by stating that “A Woman at War” is a brilliant work with a keen understanding of the central crisis of our age, namely the looming extinction of life on earth, including homo sapiens. Like “First Reformed”, and just as powerfully, it is the story of an ecoterrorist willing to sacrifice everything, including her own life, to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of the system. I refer to Edward Abbey’s great novel since the lead character of “A Woman at War” has much in common with his protagonists. They want to preserve the natural resources and beauty of the American Southwest while Halla is just as intent on preserving Iceland’s austerely beautiful biosphere while striking a blow against Rio Tinto, a corporation that is widely criticized for its mining operations that degrade nature and wage laborers alike.

Despite Iceland’s tiny population (338,349), it has a film industry that puts Hollywood to shame. Given the preoccupations of “A Woman at War”, it is clear that director Benedikt Erlingsson is attuned to the political sensibility of the majority of its population that has a much better grasp of world affairs than Americans, liberal or conservative. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the USA would be much better off if we were dissolved and the Icelanders were elected to take our place.

A major difference between “First Reformed” and “A Woman at War” is the kind of action its protagonists choose. As Father Toller, Ethan Hawke dons a suicide belt with the intention of blowing himself up and everybody else who is attending a ceremony in honor of his landmark church’s anniversary. He has lost a reason for living and is anxious to take out with him the owner of a factory that has been despoiling the local soil, air and water.

In the brilliant opening scene of “A Woman at War”, we see the 49-year old protagonist, a woman named Halla, putting a powerline out of commission. It feeds an aluminum factory that is a joint venture of Iceland’s government, the Chinese, and Rio Tinto. Erlingsson has the guts to call out Rio Tinto, even though it is not a player in Iceland. By contrast, Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” features a totally fictional corporation.

Halla uses a powerful hunting bow to launch a steel cable up and over the power lines that will land on the other side of the pylon. After donning thick rubber gloves, she brings the steel cable into contact with the power lines in order to create a short circuit that cuts off power to the aluminum factory. At the risk of sounding like the typical hype-purveying reviewer, this is about as exciting a five minutes I have spent watching a movie in the past 5 years or so.

Halla is getting set to escalate her attacks on the plant when she receives word that a four-year old girl living in a Donetsk orphanage is available for an adoption that she applied for years ago. Before going off to Ukraine to pick her up, Halla is determined to go ahead with the mother of all monkey-wrench operations, even if threatens her becoming a new mother. As a fallback, she will rely on her twin sister, a yoga instructor who has also applied to become an adoptive mother and who has no idea of her sister’s clandestine activism.

It takes a great deal of nerve and artistic acumen to successfully portray such a woman as a heroine. Erlingsson has succeeded beyond all expectations. Your worry (at least mine and my readers, I would think) is that she fails to disable the factory permanently and is prevented from retrieving the girl from the orphanage. The suspense is considerable and the film’s conclusion will leave you melting into your seat.

Let me conclude with the director’s statement in the press notes. Given his political insights and his brilliance as a filmmaker, it is obvious that “A Woman at War” that opens in New York City on March 1 at the IFC Center and Landmark at 57 West theaters is one that you cannot afford to miss:

To me it seems evident that Nature’s rights should be strongly protected in all constitutions and defended by local and international laws. We need to collectively realize that untouched nature has an intrinsic right and necessity to exist, regardless of our human needs or our economic system.

I can for example imagine a more rational system in which ‘we humans’, if we wanted to spoil or use unblemished Nature for our own needs, we would need to go through a process, maybe something like a trial, in order to be allowed to do that.

These issues are really about the common good and the long-term interests of our existence as a whole. Just like the ability to take a person’s freedom away and keep them inside a prison for life. So I think now is the right time to look at this kind of approach.

Add to this the strange paradox in some of our societies, the “State”, which in democratic countries is an instrument created by the people for the people, can be so easily manipulated by special interests and against what’s obviously the common welfare. When we look at the big, existential environmental challenge we face, and what has been happening, this becomes crystal clear.

February 5, 2019

The dark night of the soulless bourgeoisie

Filed under: capitalist pig — louisproyect @ 8:10 pm

Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781

Hardly a week goes by without some billionaire sounding as if he was a French aristocrat whose name has been encoded into the scarf that Madame Defarge is knitting in Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities”. It is as if the election of an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez means that the guillotine blade is being sharpened just for them.

The first and most visible of these panic-stricken plutocrats was Howard Schultz who decided to run as an independent in 2020 because the Democrats were too far to the left. One of them is Elizabeth Warren who once asked him for a campaign contribution. He refused, telling MSNBC that “she believes in programs that will lead to a level of socialism in America.” Warren is on record as opposing socialism, whatever that means to her. Her preference is for a “capitalism with serious rules”. If you Google “Starbucks” and “false advertising”, you get 192,000 hits. Judges keep ruling in Schultz’s favor when civil suits are brought against his corporation. One of these judges, who cleared Starbucks of skimping on ingredients, also cleared the cops of using excessive violence against student protesters in 2011 at U. Cal, Berkeley. Imagine that. So the idea seems to be that it is not so much socialism he is worried about but an end to “capitalism with rules that favor the rich”, which has been its modus operandi for the past 500 years or so.

Michael Bloomberg, who has personal wealth in excess of 47 billion dollars (15 times that of Schultz), is also considering running for President in 2020 but as a Democrat, unlike Schultz. But like Schultz, he is kept up at night cowering under his blanket from the bogeyman Elizabeth Warren. With regard to her wealth tax, he told reporters: “We need a healthy economy, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our system. If you want to look at a system that’s non-capitalistic, just take a look at what was once, perhaps, the wealthiest country in the world, and today people are starving to death. It’s called Venezuela.”

I doubt that Bloomberg ever read Karl Marx but anybody who has concluded that there was socialism in Venezuela must have been reading Jacobin rather than V. 1 of Capital.

I worked on a project to automate the branch office of Salomon Brothers in London for Bloomberg back in 1975. When a co-worker learned that I was assigned to the project, she gave me a sour face. What’s wrong, I asked? She basically described the kind of person #MeToo would have protested back then if it had existed. On the trading floor at Salomon, there was a Latina secretary who used to deliver coffee to the traders. My co-worker, an African-American woman named Barrie, told me that as the secretary made her way across the floor,  he would yell out “Look at the tits on that broad” or words to that effect. Last September, the Atlantic reported on “‘I’d Do Her’: Mike Bloomberg and the Underbelly of #MeToo” that makes clear nothing has changed with him:

From 1996 to 1997, four women filed sexual-harassment or discrimination suits against Bloomberg the company. One of the suits included the following allegation: When Sekiko Sakai Garrison, a sales representative at the company, told Mike Bloomberg she was pregnant, he replied, “Kill it!” (Bloomberg went on, she alleged, to mutter, “Great, No. 16”—a reference, her complaint said, to the 16 women at the company who were then pregnant.) To these allegations, Garrison added another one: Even prior to her pregnancy, she claimed, Bloomberg had antagonized her by making disparaging comments about her appearance and sexual desirability. “What, is the guy dumb and blind?” he is alleged to have said upon seeing her wearing an engagement ring. “What the hell is he marrying you for?”

Moving right along, we get someone whose personal wealth is a paltry two billion dollars. That’s Howard Marks, the CEO of Oaktree Capital, a company that made billions investing in “distressed properties” a decade ago. What is that, you ask? That’s the foreclosed houses that Steve Mnuchin profited from as well.

Marks made the news recently for publishing a memo to his clients about the danger posed by “socialism”, which you can read here. It seems that he has had trouble sleeping at night after reading a number of articles covering the rising popularity of socialism. One of them was written by the New Yorker’s editor David Remnick, who was well-known for spending most of the 1980s calling for the overturn of Soviet Communism. Of course, the USSR was not “communist” or “socialist” but a transitional society that was midway between capitalism and socialism. Apparently, Remnick is okay with “democratic socialism” since it boils down to the kind of welfare state found in Scandinavia in the 1960s and continued until recently when the money began to run out. Marks cites this passage from Remnick’s article:

In 2016, the Institute of Politics, at Harvard’s Kennedy School, polled people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, and discovered that support for capitalism was surprisingly low. Fifty-one per cent of the cohort rejected capitalism; thirty-three per cent supported socialism. A later edition of the survey found that fifty-one per cent were “fearful about the future,” while only about twenty per cent were hopeful.

Maybe that fifty-one per cent worried about the future should get into the distressed properties racket. It worked out well for Marks, after all. He describes the post-WWII reality that began to collapse under the neoliberalism promoted by Democrats and Republicans:

As I see it, for the 60 years immediately following World War II, much of the world enjoyed a rising tide of prosperity that lifted all boats.  That made nearly everyone economically content and thus happy with capitalism and free-market solutions.  Even though some people did better than others, most did quite well.  Living standards rose and the incidence of poverty declined.  Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher celebrated the efficacy of free markets, and the world agreed.

Those expecting a utopian transformation from the billionaire will be sorely disappointed:

Capitalism is an imperfect economic system, because differential performance in the pursuit of economic success – as well as luck – results in there being (a) some people who are less successful as well as some who are more and (b) a few who are glaringly successful.  Obviously I’m someone who has profited from capitalism, so my views could be dismissed as hopelessly biased.

Yes, Mr. Marks, you are hopelessly biased. By the way, although with a Jewish background like the German revolutionary with a similar name, his parents raised him as a Christian Scientist, a faith they adopted in the 1930s.

In 2012, Marks moved into a 52-million dollar apartment in 740 Park Avenue, the most exclusive building in New York City. It is a sprawling two story affair with 30 rooms, including two libraries, eight bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, six terraces and a dining room. Not content with the place, he spent millions renovating it—thus creating a “living hell” for his fellow billionaires who lived beneath him as reported in Vanity Fair, a magazine that would disappear overnight if Warren’s wealth tax was ever passed.

The address 740 Park has, indeed, turned into a war zone for the .001 percent. The Tangs claim in the suit that they’ve been trapped in a world of deafening noise, irrepressible disruption, destruction to their own apartment, and great distress soon after Marks embarked on a massive renovation in 2012. Worse, perhaps, they feel their concerns have been ignored by Marks and the co-op board.

Though the building requires work take place between the hours of 8:30 A.M. and 5 P.M., and only between May and September, when many dwellers are presumably in Southampton, the suit alleges that Marks’s workers start as early as 6 A.M. and the project has gone on without interruption for four years, without regard to the time restrictions. “Miranda Tang [the wife of semiconductor magnate Hamburg Tang] has been abruptly awoken almost every morning before 9 a.m. by the sounds of heavy machinery, banging, crashing, hammering, and drilling, which shook her out of bed and prevented her from being able to rest and sleep peacefully in any bedroom,” the suit says. She has even tried going back to sleep in other bedrooms in her duplex, to no avail. The noise is just too loud.

Howard Marks’s apartment at 740 Park Avenue

But that’s not the fanciest pad in the building. That belongs to Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone whose personal wealth is $13.3 billion. He has 34 rooms on the top two floors in a penthouse apartment that used to belong to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Schwarzman, like the three other men above, was a Jew ethnically and from a middle-class family. He shared their ostentatiousness but to the point of abnormal psychology. This is not a tendency peculiar to my brethren. Just look at the life-style of John D. Rockefeller, who was the son of an impoverished snake oil medicine salesman in the 19th century. I guess it is a function of being nouveaux riche.

Stephen Schwarzman and his pal Donald Trump

Schwarzman is notorious for the birthday parties he throws for himself. His seventieth, celebrated two years ago this month, came on the heels of Donald Trump’s demagogic attacks on Wall Street in the prior year’s election. Schwarzman and Trump are good friends, rather unsurprisingly. Both are grifters with a huge appetite for self-aggrandizement. The NY Times reported on the party:

Partygoers feasted on short ribs, while two camels wandered along a stretch of sand and a gondolier propelled his craft across the pool. Guests were treated to a 12-minute fireworks display that could be seen across Lake Worth Lagoon. To top off the evening at what is just one of the multibillionaire’s many homes, Gwen Stefani sang “Happy Birthday to You” before taking a quick twirl with the birthday boy around a dance floor constructed inside a two-story tent where acrobats shimmied and jumped.

The cost? A person familiar with the planning who was not authorized by the host to speak on the record estimated it at between $7 million and $9 million.

The guests had cocktails in the entry hall before moving on to the dining area, where later they ate cake sculpted in the shape of a Chinese temple with a dragon curled around the edges of the roof, according to one guest. The day after the celebration, some 150 people attended a private lunch hosted by Mr. Schwarzman.

And what about the camels? Mr. Fulk estimated they cost $1,500 apiece. “We’ve had a few camels at parties, too,” he said with a laugh.

Many of the guests at Mr. Schwarzman’s party were affiliated with the new White House, among them Mr. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and his cabinet picks Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross and Elaine Chao, according to Bloomberg. The Schwarzmans sat together at their table with David Koch, the businessman and supporter of conservative causes, who sat to the left of Mr. Schwarzman’s wife, Christine Hearst Schwarzman. Ivanka Trump was seated to Mr. Schwarzman’s right.

On January 23rd, Schwarzman was interviewed by Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business channel network. She asked him about the political environment. What did he think of “these new ideas and this new focus by younger generations of socialism? I mean, you’ve got Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez coming out, talking about a 70 percent tax rate which of course would be double where we are right now in terms of the highest earners. We know that the highest earners already pay 80 percent of the tax. But your reaction to some of this new focus that we’re seeing from the Democrats on socialism?”

Like all these other plutocrats, he said that “those kinds of economies” have not worked out well. “As you go further out, towards communism, as you move further left, that’s resulted in failing almost everywhere economically.”

You get a good idea of how Blackstone exploits “capitalism with rules that benefit the wealthy” from how it operated in Great Britain, taking advantage of the neoliberalism that prevailed under Conservative and New Labour alike.

In the late 1990s, “care homes” underwent privatization in England. These were basically old-age homes that had formerly been part of the National Health System but were eating a large part of a dwindling budget. As is commonly understood, most health care costs are associated with the elderly. The largest company trying to profit over the nursing home business was Southern Cross that had been formed in 1996 by one John Moreton, a man who had made a fortune in North Sea oil investments at a young age. Just the kind of background needed for caring for dementia patients.

Six years later Southern Cross was sold to Blackstone for £162 million. Blackstone then aggressively began acquiring other care home properties in order to corner the market, a typical move by private capital firms. When the financial crisis hit in 2009, England was affected. As the income of many families decreased sharply, the ability to put an elderly family member in a care home decreased accordingly. This meant that dwindling occupancy rates reduced the revenue stream. So, Blackstone decided to defer 30 percent of its rent on its nursing homes for three months to stay in business.

Corners were cut everywhere to keep Southern Cross profitable, particularly in the care for the elderly that was their objective. Surely, Schwarzman was anxious to keep the money flowing in. There were those birthday parties that had to be paid for.

In 2011, the Orchid View care home in Copthorne, West Sussex was the subject of an investigation after 19 elderly patients died as a likely result of neglect and ill-treatment. Specializing in care for dementia patients, institutionalized abuse developed in a perfect storm combining underfunding and the routine indifference to marginalized patients. The BBC reported on Orchid View in 2013, long after Blackstone had walked away from its asset-stripping operation:

Andrea Sutcliffe, the CQC’s chief inspector of adult social care, said she had ordered a “root-and-branch review” of the organisation’s actions in relation to Orchid View.

While summing up, Ms Schofield said she had found that medical documents for resident Jean Halfpenny, 77, were falsified and that she was given too much of the blood-thinning drug warfarin.

Home manager Meera Reed had earlier denied ordering staff to shred documents and filling in new forms to cover up the overdose.

Continuing, the coroner said that another resident was found naked and in pain with his catheter twisted, while a family member found staff eating toast and drinking tea with their feet up.

This fucking bum Stephen Schwarzman was one of the billionaires attending the Davos World Economic Forum this year. He addressed the oncoming revolution in artificial intelligence that will wipe out as much of 40 percent of jobs. His answer to this, as he told Maria Bartiromo, was to donate to MIT where advanced technology could help create jobs for those lucky enough to survive the cuts. The rest be damned.

Clearly, Schwarzman was aware of the growing anger directed against him all these other bastards. Bloomberg News, the company owned by Schwarzman’s fellow plutocrat, reported on the jubilant mood there, ten years after the Great Recession had supposedly given way to a “great economy” as Schwarzman’s pal Donald Trump would put it.

Billionaire success was difficult to envisage a decade ago, when the gathering was marked by fear, anger and bitterness.

“Everyone I spoke to says it’s the grimmest Davos they’ve ever been to,” academic Kenneth Rogoff said at the 2009 meeting. “The mood has been very depressed.”

However, there were dark clouds on the horizon. The article concluded on this note:

Even as the meeting’s reports and agendas have repeatedly flagged inequality as one of the chief risks to a stable society, the global economy’s bifurcation has only quickened.

“The financial crisis was the kind of event that shakes things out, but it didn’t happen 10 years ago,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of ‘Winner Takes All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.’ “The same rigging that caused the crisis ensured the losses were socialized.”

For those with minimal or no assets, it’s been a more challenging decade. Wages have stagnated and while equity markets have risen, fewer U.S. adults are invested in the stock market than in 2009. Compensation for chief executive officers in America’s largest firms is now 312 times the annual average pay of the typical worker, compared with about 200 times in 2009, 58 times in 1989 and 20 times in 1965, according to a 2018 report by the Economic Policy Institute.

In the middle of the night, people like Schwarzman, Marks, Schultz and Bloomberg must wake up with their silk pajamas drenched in sweat. They must be aware of what is going on in France. The Yellow Vests are the result of their French counterparts pushing too far. As is generally the case under capitalism, a pre-revolutionary period is ushered in by the utter indifference to suffering by the ruling class. When told that the masses lacked bread, Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake”. When Wilbur Ross was told that government workers could not pay their rent during last month’s shutdown, he asked why they couldn’t take out a loan. Isn’t it time for Madame Defarge to take up knitting again?


February 3, 2019

What can the left learn from Vito Marcantonio’s career in Congress?

Filed under: electoral strategy,Jacobin,third parties — louisproyect @ 7:33 pm

Last August, I wrote a piece for CounterPunch titled “Young Marxist Intellectuals and the Democratic Party” that called attention to how impressive scholarship is being used to sustain a reformist agenda:

The “democratic socialist” movement spawned by Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign has led to an interesting development. Highly educated and self-described socialists in the academy have written erudite articles making the Marxist case for voting Democratic. Even if they are wrong, I am impressed with the scholarly prowess deployed on behalf of obvious casuistry.

The latest example just showed up in a December 20, 2018 Jacobin article titled “New York’s Last Socialist Congressperson” that is a eulogy to Vito Marcantonio, a Congressman from East Harlem’s district from 1935 to 1951, who author Benjamin Serby, a doctoral student at prestigious Columbia University, quite rightly compares to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Unquestionably, these politicians push the envelope of leftist politics and make the prospect of using the Democratic Party for social change plausible. As such, they extend the life of the longest-functioning capitalist party in the world and thus forestall the possibility of a radical party to the left confronting the bourgeoisie at the ballot box and in the streets.

Are Marcantonio and Ocasio-Cortez part of some conspiracy to co-opt the left? I don’t think so. Basically, they are operating in the framework of pragmatism, the guiding philosophy of American liberalism that has been around since the days of John Dewey and that was turbocharged by the Communist Party in the 1930s. If Marcantonio and his friends in the CPUSA and the labor bureaucracy were not so intent on backing FDR and strangling attempts to build a Labor Party in the cradle, who knows what might have happened?

To derail third party efforts, it is most effective to have people operating within its ranks as a Trojan Horse. Nominally, acting on behalf of a radical alternative to the Democratic Party, they conspire to prevent it. The most recent example was the Demogreen leaders of the Green Party, including Medea Benjamin, pushing for the nomination of an obscure figure named David Cobb in 2004 rather than Ralph Nader. They were traumatized by the election of George W. Bush in 2000 that many of their liberal co-thinkers blamed on Ralph Nader and wouldn’t allow that to happen again. David Cobb can be accused of many things but draining votes is not one of them.

Like most Columbia students, an institution that sets a high bar for scholarship, Serby has done quite a bit of research to prepare this article. We learn that Marcantonio was arrested in 1936 for his role in leading a demonstration of fifteen thousand unemployed workers against cuts to the Works Progress Administration. Impressive research there.

Based on Serby’s account, you can say that Marcantonio’s entire career was stellar. Obviously, if you are going to maintain the illusion that the Democratic Party can be an instrument of social change, especially when many workers were revolutionary-minded, you have to demonstrate your class struggle credibility on a consistent basis. That was not only true of Marcantonio. It was also true of the Communist Party that could be found in the forefront of civil rights struggles, organizing drives for the CIO and rally the people against fascism (except of course during  the Nonaggression Pact.)

The vanguard role of the CP was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helped to win significant reforms, especially the right to have a trade union but on the other, it propped up a capitalist party that would use its authority on the left to launch an imperialist war, sabotage the Little Steel Strike, throw Japanese-Americans into concentration camps, and keep a lid on the civil rights movement.

Like Eric Blanc, Benjamin Serby sees electoral politics on a pragmatic/tactical basis rather than a Marxist/class basis. In December 2017, Blanc defended the “dirty break” on Jacobin, an article defending the idea that socialists can exploit the Democratic or Republican party primaries to spread revolutionary ideas and even win office.

Serby sees Marcantonio’s career as validating this theory, without mentioning Blanc’s name. It is clear that the two brilliant doctoral students have the same agenda ideologically. I don’t want to sound cynical but having a Ph.D. and being capable of talking out of both sides of your mouth is not to be minimized from a career-development standpoint. I mean, after all, who wouldn’t prefer to write for a prestigious JSTOR journal or the Nation rather than some obscure WordPress blog?

Serby writes:

Marc’s Republican affiliation cost him his congressional seat in 1936, as the Democratic Party swept national elections. It proved to be a temporary setback. Two years later, he exploited a New York election law that permitted candidates to “cross-file” on multiple ballot lines, and ran in the Republican, Democratic, and American Labor Party (ALP) primaries.

After winning the GOP and ALP races, he trounced his Democratic opponent in the general election, 18,802 to 12,375. By delivering almost nine thousand of those votes, the ALP, a labor-backed party founded by socialist New Dealers, established itself as a force capable of tipping important elections. Within two years, Marc was the leader of its Manhattan branch and its sole representative in Congress.

By 1942, Marcantonio was winning all three party primaries handily, leading critics to charge that he was “a one-man political machine with an all-party organization.” In fact, he had no “machine” that dispensed patronage or political favors. Instead, his campaign relied on the voluntary commitment of a coalition of liberals, socialists, and communists — and on the support of organized labor.

American Labor Party? What’s wrong with that? If Marcantonio ended up as its legislator in Congress, doesn’t that mean he broke from the Democratic Party? How can any party with Labor in its name and backed by “organized labor” not be the kind of thing we need today? Unless you are an unrepentant Marxist dinosaur like me.

Let’s take a closer look at the American Labor Party to understand its role in the electoral system.

The American Labor Party (ALP) was spawned by Labor’s Non-Partisan League (LNPL) in 1936, a group that also came into existence in that year in order to ensure FDR’s re-election. It was the brainchild of John L. Lewis, the head of the CIO and the United Mine Workers union. He was assisted by Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union and  George L. Berry of the printer’s union.

Arguably, Hillman was the real political strategist for the ALP based on his years of exposure to Marxist in-fighting. He was a member of an underground Marxist study circle in Lithuania when he was 16 years old and then moved on to join the Bund, the Jewish socialist group. After moving to the USA, he became a trade union activist and like many of his generation became an enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet Union in the early 20s that drew him to the CP. When Hillman decided to support Robert La Follette’s presidential campaign in1924, he earned the wrath of the CP that saw La Follette as a capitalist politician and nothing more. (I argue that his campaign was worth supporting here).

Any sympathy for the idea of a radical party was long-gone by the time that Hillman became a powerful bureaucrat in the 1930s. But doesn’t that sound antithetical to the formation of a Labor Party? Maybe not. Like Medea Benjamin, Hillman was clever enough to undermine the formation of a third party while paying lip-service to it.

In an invaluable article for the September-October 2002 International Socialist Review, Sharon Smith describes the complicated pirouette that Hillman executed, one that would have landed Nijinsky on his ass.

In 1936, support for a farmer-labor party was massive in the USA. Not only did 21 percent of those polled by Gallup back such a formation, existing farmer-labor parties were winning elections in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Smith writes: “Inside the labor movement, this sentiment was even stronger, with locals from the auto, electrical, and garment workers’ unions voting in favor of a labor party. At both the AFL and various CIO conventions in 1935, resolutions in support of forming a labor party were put forward, which garnered considerable support.”

Worried that Norman Thomas’s Socialist Party campaign would “rob” votes from FDR in the same way that Medea Benjamin worried that Nader’s might rob them from John Kerry in 2004, Hillman went on the offensive. By putting FDR’s name on the American Labor Party, many workers might be conned into believing that they were voting in their own class interests. You get the same thing today with the Working Families Party in New York that despite its name routinely puts Democratic Party candidates on its ballot line, including our vicious anti-union governor Andrew Cuomo last year.

In the Winter 1979-1980 Radical History Review, there’s an article titled “Picket Line & Ballot Box: The Forgotten Legacy of the Labor Party Movement, 1932-1936”. Co-authored by Eric Leif Davin and Staughton Lynd, it gives you a compelling insight into the machinations that helped destroy the possibility of a labor party challenge to FDR. (Contact me for a copy since it is behind a paywall.)

Using the ground-level case study of labor party activism in Berlin, New Hampshire, the authors show how Hillman subverted its spread elsewhere. Berlin was basically a company town ruled by Brown Paper. To fight back against wage cuts and layoffs in 1932, the workers started the Coos County Workers club with 150 members. Within a year, the figure rose to 1500. As it happens, many of these workers were French Canadians originally and had the fighting spirit of the Yellow Vests.

In 1934, the Workers Club entered politics by forming a Labor Party made up of workers rather than bureaucrats. It swept into municipal office, winning office for all but one of its candidates. Among its first acts was to raise teacher’s pay by 50 percent. That’s what workers power can do. It also helped dairy farmers organize into a co-op to help them get better prices for their milk.

In trying to become part of a broader movement, they reached out to the Socialist Party. Norman Thomas came to town to speak at a rally that was the culmination of a massive parade. From the podium, Thomas said that their efforts were a “model for us all”. Instead of affiliating with the Socialists, the workers formed a state-wide farmer-labor party like the ones in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Announcing “its immediate goal” of increasing taxes on higher incomes and opposing a sales tax in New Hampshire, they began planning for the state elections in 1936. The Mayor of Berlin, Arthur Bergeron, was a forceful advocate of working class demands and a firm believer in independent political action.

The authors describe how Labor’s Non-Partisan League undermined their efforts:

In New Hampshire, a statewide convention of labor party forces was held in Concord on July 26. Among the participants was David Randlett, president of the Concord Central Labor Union and first vice president of the state AF of L. Beforehand, Randlett wrote Arthur Bergeron, “I have always been interested in a Labor Party, but I haven’t as yet seen the time when the opportunity was right.” At the convention he repeated this sentiment but agreed to serve on the Platform Committee. Then, a short time later, he resigned from the Farmer-Labor Party and went to work for the Non-Partisan League. In the course of the ensuing campaign, he spoke out strongly in opposition to the Farmer-Labor effort.

Bergeron, on the other hand, remained true to the cause, and in September was chosen by the Farmer-Labor Party to be its candidate for governor, In accepting his nomination, Bergeron declared, “The major parties are bankrupt for ideas, leaders and platforms. We shouldn’t put too much faith or hope in President Roosevelt. Due to circumstances in the country and state, the time is ripe for a third party movement.” Not that he expected instant success. “There’s no use insulting our intelligence in thinking that I’ll be the next Governor of New Hampshire,” he went on, “but we will poll more than three percent of the total vote for Governor and make ourselves a duly constituted party.” And he vowed to make “relief, relief from the high cost of living on the one hand and relief from unemployment on the other” a major issue in his campaign.

Even the modest goal of attracting three percent of the state’s electorate proved beyond reach. Norman Thomas returned to Berlin to endorse Bergeron’s candidacy, but organized labor offered no support. The annual convention of the New Hampshire AF of L in September defeated a resolution to endorse the Farmer-Labor Party on the grounds “that it was not time as yet.” National leaders of the CIO, as we have seen, gave priority to the President’s reelection, not local insurgency efforts.

In the end, Bergeron garnered less than two thousand votes statewide, approximately one percent of the ballots cast for governor. Berlin, his stronghold, gave him seven-tenths of his total. But even there, said the Reporter, “Not a single Farmer-Labor candidate survived the Democratic avalanche . . . to gain election to even a minor ward office.”

For nearly another decade the Farmer-Labor Party would dominate Berlin municipal politics. Bergeron was reelected mayor in 1937 and Aime Tondreau won as a Labor candidate for the same office from 1939 to 1943. (Legassie [a labor militant] lost in 1938.) But the hope of generating an effective statewide, much less national, movement for an independent workers’ party was crushed in Berlin, as elsewhere, by the Roosevelt landslide of 1936.

February 1, 2019

The best films of 2018

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 3:47 pm


Up until a few years ago—I really can’t say exactly when—all of the “art-house” movies I reviewed for CounterPunch or my blog were out of the reach of most readers unless you lived in New York or other cities where theaters like the Film Forum or the Laemmle could be found. Some eventually made their way to art-house versions of Netflix like Fandor or Mubi but they entailed a monthly subscription fee.

Despite my hostility to Jeff Bezos and everything he stands for, Amazon Prime Video is a reliable outlet for such films. So is iTunes, Starz, Hulu and other VOD venues that have helped to keep art-house cinema alive. Along with the digital camera, another breakthrough benefiting independent film makers, such venues ensure that an envelope-pushing film shown at an art-house will have a good shot at reaching a broader audience. As I did last year, I worked my way through the films I reviewed in 2018 to determine which are now available on Amazon (and likely other VOD sites) in order to come up with my decidedly non-Hollywood recommendations.

I should state, however, that the best film of 2018 listed below is a Hollywood film: Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed”. Rumor has it, however, that the film will be snubbed at next month’s Academy Awards because Schrader Tweeted that he would like to work with the disgraced Kevin Spacey. It is worth mentioning that Ethan Hawke, who played the tortured minister in Schrader’s film, has addressed these issues in a Vanity Fair article titled “Ethan Hawke: “There’s a Whole Generation That’s on Trial Right Now” that is in keeping with the actor’s shrewd understanding of the film industry. I particularly liked this quip:

The real problem, Hawke says, is concepts like the best-popular-film Oscar, which would have detracted from awards season’s true goal: to boost the signal on under-seen, artistically challenging films. “There already is a popular Oscar. It’s such a dumb thing to say. The popular Oscar is called the box office,” he said. “They’re mad they don’t get prizes. You know, well—guess what, dude? Your car is your prize. Those of us who don’t have a car need a prize.”

As for the films that will walk away with a wheelbarrow of Oscars, I found that most were unbearable to watch. After 15 minutes, I ejected the following from my DVD player: “The Favourite”, “A Star is Born”, and “Crazy Rich Asians”. Of course, I haven’t gotten around to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “First Man” yet.

Below are my recommended films. Since the idea of rating anything is abhorrent to me in the first place, they appear in alphabetical order. I will excerpt from my review and provide a link to the original. As stated before, the list was culled from Amazon Prime Video but if your hatred for Jeff Bezos understandably keeps you from spending a few dollars there, you can try iTunes, et al. (Not that Apple is any bargain, either.)

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