Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 17, 2015

The hazards of success, especially for Marxists

Filed under: celebrity — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

For Boris Kargalitsky, socialist writer and activist who founded the Popular Front for Perestroika in Moscow
Boris Yeltsin a leading member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, whose political courage has made him a leading symbol throughout the country.

The dedication found in this book:

In bourgeois society, the artist is often undermined by his or her own success. You become too big for your britches. After Woody Allen became the NY Times’s darling, they refrained from telling him that his movies were becoming crap. The same thing with Saul Bellow. After the success of “Herzog”, his editors would not dare tell him that a novel like “Mr. Sammler’s Planet” was racist tripe.

It would seem that Marxist celebrities have the same problem. Slavoj Zizek, the Elvis superstar of Marxism, writes an article for the New Statesman that is based almost exclusively on a website that has about much credibility as Infowars or Global Research. The magazine issues a retraction stating that the paragraphs drawn from the website were being deleted because they made false claims.

Tariq Ali gives a speech to an antiwar rally in London that proves England had plans to invade Syria with a “rebel army”. How does he know? Because a doddering old fool named Roland Dumas who had zero connection to the French state said so in a TV interview.

Don’t celebrities like Tariq Ali and Slavoj Zizek understand that they look like idiots when they make such outrageous claims? Don’t they care? I guess once you have reached such a hallowed status on the left, you can get away with anything—except on this blog.

Below are the concluding paragraphs of chapter two of Tariq Ali’s “Revolution from Above” that obviously reflect the dedication cited above. Trying to map the trajectory of Ali and Kagarlitsky into apologists for Putin’s wars in Syria and Ukraine respectively is much easier when you consider how they found it so easy to hoist Yeltsin on their shoulders in 1988. Perhaps if they had been more self-critical or better yet more in touch with the grass roots, Ali might have not written a book that had reached such ludicrous conclusions. The chapter ends with Ali gazing fondly on a member of Kagarlistky’s (aptly named?) Popular Front who was wearing badges of Che Guevara and “All Power to the Soviets”,  enough to close the deal for the street-fighting man.

In the year that this book came out, I was developing a different perspective on what was happening in the USSR, mostly as a result of what I was seeing in Nicaragua: a clear abandonment of the Sandinista revolution as the Kremlin pursued a new foreign policy in line with perestroika, one that saw Nicaragua as a bargaining chip. When Tecnica executive director Michael Urmann returned from a trip to the USSR to feel out the Russians over support for our initiatives in Africa, he was stunned by the response. All the economists he met with were only interested in discussing Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. Counter-revolution was in the air. In 1993, five short years after the publication of “Revolution from Above”, the call for “All Power to the Soviets” would ring hollow as Yeltsin’s tanks shelled the Russian parliament.

In 2000 Ali must have written off all that Che Guevara stuff as a youthful indiscretion since he clearly had no objection to fellow NLR editor Perry Anderson writing that “Socialism has ceased to be a widespread ideal” and that “Marxism is no longer a dominant in the culture of the Left. “ He was dismayed that the left had failed to come up with a “fluent vision of where the world is going” that could compare to the scribblings of Francis Fukuyama, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Samuel Huntington, Daniel Yergin, Edward Luttwak, and Friedman (we can’t be sure whether he was tipping his hat to Thomas or Milton since the article omitted the first names.)

Fast-forward another 12 years. It is 2012 and Marxism and socialism are on the agenda again, while Fukuyama has become so repentant about his “end of history” thesis that he writes an article in FT stating that American democracy has nothing to teach China.

If the pendulum has swung away from the 2000 defeatist mood that infected the NLR, it has not swung far enough apparently for our NLR gurus to realign with the revolutionary socialism of their youth. The enthusiasm is less over the hammer-and-sickle (or whatever icon is more appropriate for the 21st century) and much more for the Cross of St. George that Russian paramilitaries and Spetznaz wear in Ukraine and Syria.

From chapter two of “Revolution from Above”:

Yuri Karyakin, a well-known Soviet writer, who together with Yegor Yakovlev and Lev Karpinsky served on the Central Committee apparatus during the Khrushchev era and was sent into exile, expressed his anger at the apparatus. He had started off by denouncing the way in which Stalinism and the Western Left had transformed the thought of Marx and Lenin into a religion. I expressed agreement, although it soon became clear that the dogmas of the Brezhnev period had made Karyakin deeply cynical about socialism. He spoke angrily about the corrupt apparatchiks, but nonetheless like many others his hopes were rekindled by Gorbachev. His judgement on the Conference was clearcut: ‘It was Yeltsin who fought Ligachev all the way. He’s totally honest and he has polarised politics. For me he’s worth more than almost all of them put together.’

The resolutions passed at the Conference represented an important advance, but unless there are some concrete results the rise in political consciousness could begin to falter. The spectre which haunts the party masses who back the reforms is of their leader as a prisoner of the apparatus. A number of people referred to this possibility, of political consciousness starting to fall back, although it is far more likely that if the obstruction continues Gorbachev will indeed either appeal over the heads of the bureaucracy and win, or lose and resign. The verdict on the Nineteenth Party conference, perhaps, could be expressed in a simple formula: one step forward, two steps sideways.

This was the view of many participants, as well as the mood of many workers listening to report-backs from the Conference. At the Slava Factory in Moscow, which has a workforce of over 12,000, the factory delegate was cheered as he reported Yeltsin’s speech. The delegate from Sverdlovsk, Volkov, had been reprimanded by the Party Secretary for his speech defending Yeltsin. When Volkov returned to Sverdlovsk he was treated as a local hero, and given a prime time half-hour slot on the local television station where he further elaborated on his speech. When he reported back to his factory he was greeted by a standing ovation. The workers were extremely angry at the action of the local party secretary who reprimanded him, and that same night dozens of them went to the offices of the Party secretary: in thick black paint on the road outside they left behind an extremely rude message. The next morning the slogan was the talk of the town. Since the workers had used a very special paint it was not possible to remove it by normal methods. At mid-day the patch of road outside the Secretary’s office was given a fresh coating of tar and re-surfaced to the great amusement of the passers by. The secretary in question was subsequently transferred to the Diplomatic Service!

The unofficial groups immediately began a signature campaign on the streets in support of Yeltsin and demanding his return to the Politburo. In Sverdlovsk, Sakhalin, Omsk, thousands of signatures were collected. In Moscow, Andrei Babushkin, a young student from Moscow University and an activist of the Popular. Front went out into the streets. He was beginning to collect hundreds of signatures when the militia arrested him. He was kept in prison for five days. When I met him at a Popular front press conference in July 1988 he was totally unrepentant. He had not been mistreated at all. The food in prison was just like that in the Young Pioneer camps and `in the prison van I talked to the militia members about Yeltsin. They saw the petition and most of them said they agreed with me. They, too, were on the side of Boris Nicolaevich.’ Babushkin and his young Komsomol friends were planning on returning to the streets again. His shirt was adorned with two badges: one was an image of Che Guevara, the other was a badge in Russian which bore the inscription: ‘ALL POWER TO THE SOVIETS!’


February 9, 2014

Maureen Orth’s reporting on the Allen-Farrow controversy

Filed under: celebrity,crime,sexual abuse — louisproyect @ 9:26 pm


Maureen Orth

The main purpose of this article is to take a close look at Maureen Orth’s reporting on the Allen-Farrow controversy but I want to preface that with some comments on three of the principals, all of whom I find utterly reprehensible without even taking the sex abuse matter under consideration.

To start with, I found Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi disgusting. His infamous defense of his behavior—”The heart wants what it wants”—comes from an Emily Dickinson letter that was meant to explain why she writes poetry and had nothing to do with an unchecked libido. At the time I scratched my head and wondered why a powerful and charismatic actor and director would cheat on his long-time companion and get involved not only with someone who was young enough to be his daughter but also the daughter of that very woman he was about to dump. It reminded me that the “talking cure” was not only unscientific but a waste of money.

This is not to speak of his crappy films that ur-sectarian but often very sharp film critic David Walsh once described in these terms, prompted by the apparently awful Whatever Works:

We have made the point before: it is impossible to detach Woody Allen’s decline, notwithstanding its individual twists and turns, from the general fate of considerable numbers of quasi-cultured, semi-bohemian, once-liberal, upper middle class New Yorkers in particular.

Intellectually unprepared for complex social problems, culturally shallow, ego-driven and a bit (or more than a bit) lazy, exclusively oriented toward the Democratic Party and other institutions of order, distant from or hostile toward broad layers of the population, inheriting family wealth or enriching themselves in the stock market and real estate boom…for a good many, the accumulated consequences of the past several decades have not been attractive.

Turning now to Mia Farrow and the wretched Ronan Farrow (who like me is a Bard College graduate), the two have staked out a position for “humanitarian interventions” in places like Darfur and Rwanda. I wrote about the two lovely people back in April 2008 and called attention to Ronan’s op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that complained about the U.N. Human Rights Council’s votes to condemn Israel. He blamed the presence of “dictatorships” like Cuba for the votes that resulted in nothing more than verbal protests. Meanwhile, the U.S. uses its veto in the far more powerful Security Council to block any serious measures against the Zionist state.

I also found Mia Farrow’s habit for adopting third world kids as if they were pets disgusting. Apparently she got the idea for “saving” Asian kids during an antiwar protest in the 60s. It was her way of compensating for what the USA was doing in Vietnam. I acted on an entirely different impulse and dedicated myself to destroying the system that made such wars possible.

In an essay for Humanity titled On ‘Humanitarian; Adoption (Madonna in Malawi), Kerry Bystrom puts the obsessive adopting habits of Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Mia Farrow into context:

Transnational adoption—at least from a certain point of view—literalizes a traditional vision of humanitarianism associated with child care, in which white Americans “save” and symbolically mother nonwhite or non-Western people portrayed as unable to attend to their own basic needs. In the United States, this hierarchical, patriarchal, and racially coded vision of humanitarianism was historically tied to appeals from political figures and media celebrities on behalf of “worthy” causes….The crumbling of boundaries between public and private matches the collapse of perceived distance between celebrity and ordinary life, as the popularity of reality TV and YouTube attest. In such a situation, representations of Madonna’s very public adoptions of two African children provide a useful window onto the impact of celebrity activism on the wider “ethos of humanitarianism.”

Turning now to Maureen Orth’s journalism, it is necessary to begin by stating that she is basically creating grocery store checkout tabloids for the carriage trade. Vanity Fair is a magazine that caters to a celebrity-obsessed but educated middle-class. Most of the articles are fawning tributes to loathsome individuals like Nancy Reagan but they are not so nearly as titillating as the junk Maureen Orth turns out. She always makes the news with exposes of Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and Woody Allen—those megastars whose bedroom sins and peccadillos make waiting for your doctor or dentist almost worth it.

Like The National Enquirer, Orth does not quite make things up. She just understands the fine art of innuendo. Of course, there are times when she gets her facts wrong. Given that Michael Jackson was quite weird to begin with, one wonders why Orth felt the need to gild the lily. For example, in one article she stated that Jackson got a Japanese youth named Richard Matsuura drunk—something he denied to reporter Mike Taibbi (the father of Matt). Vanity Fair was forced to issue a retraction. She also reported that Jackson had participated in a ritual blood bath to put a voodoo spell on Steven Spielberg. According to Ms. Orth, Jackson ordered hundreds of cows to be sacrificed for the ritual. Wow, that’s interesting.

I understand that most people are ready to believe the worst about Michael Jackson simply on the basis of his overall weirdness, but there is at least one person who was troubled by the ganging-up on him in the bourgeois press. Identifying Maureen Orth as one of his prime assailants, Ishmael Reed wrote an article for Counterpunch in 2009 titled The Persecution of Michael Jackson that is worth considering. Reed writes:

G. Q. s Mary  Fisher accused her colleagues of lazy journalism of the sort that defamed Jackson in life and in death. Maureen Orth from Vanity Fair didn’t read Mary Fisher’s findings.  She was on the Chris Matthews Show accusing Jackson of “serious felonies” involving pedophilia.  Another reporter who seemed to nullify the 2005 Jackson jury’s decision was “Morning Joe’s” adjunct bimbo, Courtney Hazlett.  She said that there would be no pilgrimage to Neverland as there was to Graceland, because “bad things happened at Neverland.” We are led to believe that Presley and his entourage spent their days at Graceland drinking milk and reading each other passages from the scriptures.

The November 1992 article titled Mia’s Story is aptly titled, I suppose. She starts off by referring to a psychotherapist named Susan Coates who had been treating Woody Allen for “inappropriate” conduct with Dylan. In the next sentence, Orth adds that “He could not seem to keep his hands off her.”

If you take the trouble to do a little research on Coates, you will discover that she testified under oath that she “never observed him acting in a sexual way toward her.” She also stated that she warned Woody Allen that she feared for his safety because of threats made by Mia Farrow. What’s more, in an evaluation of Dylan she conducted in 1990 she found the girl easily “taken over by fantasy” when asked to describe something as simple as an apple tree. That’s according to the March 30, 1993 New York Times. Somehow all this failed to be reflected in Orth’s article.

Citing Coates once again:

“I felt it was a really dangerous situation,” she said, explaining she told Mr. Allen that he should not visit Ms. Farrow and her children at their country home because Ms. Farrow remained so distraught. “In my clinical evaluation, this was a place where protection was needed.”

Right. Just the sort of situation that would lead to Woody Allen sexually molesting Dylan as the entire household was looking dagger eyes at him.

The article, like the one about Michael Jackson, refers constantly to “several sources” that, for example, confided to her that Woody Allen, clad only in his underwear, would take Dylan to bed with him and “entwine his body around hers”. So who are these sources? Mia Farrow and one of her adopted children? That’s the problem with this kind of unnamed sources reporting. There is no way to verify it. Usually when I run into this sort of thing, it is in the context of debunking some bullshit about Syria, like Seymour Hersh’s article that cast doubt on Baathist use of sarin gas. Who told him that Bashar was not to blame? Some CIA veteran? Great. It might have been Ray McGovern for all I know.

The article is filled with this sort of gasp-inducing incidents, like Woody Allen rubbing his finger in the cracks of Dylan’s buttocks as he applied suntan lotion. Of course, with such a tawdry record you’d have to ask why Mia Farrow ever gave her approval to Dylan being adopted by Woody Allen.

After several pages of building up to the grand climax, Orth gets around to the infamous trip to the attic that took place on August 5th 1992. My problem is that this incident occurred six months after Mia Farrow discovered Soon-Yi’s nude photos in Woody Allen’s apartment. Prior to that discovery, not a single report of sexual abuse had been reported. Of course, Orth tries to create the impression that it had been ongoing for years, at least as long as you believer her “several sources”. All I can say is that if Mia Farrow saw Woody Allen sticking his fingers in Dylan’s buttocks, she exercised supremely poor judgment in writing an affidavit in favor of him becoming her adoptive father.

While Maureen Orth is best known for writing scandal-mongering pieces such as this, we would be remiss if we failed to mention her other specialty, which is third word trouble spots.

In a March 2002 Counterpunch article, Alexander Cockburn and Jeff St. Clair called attention to Maureen Orth’s Vanity Fair article on Afghanistan’s Deadly Habit that blames the Taliban for the growth of the opium industry. They wonder why she failed to mention the CIA’s possible role in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Orth has a thing about America’s enemies plotting to weaken our glorious nation through illegal drug exports. In November 2008, she wrote a piece for Vanity Fair titled Inside Colombia’s Hostage War that reads like a Colombian government press release. The article is a spittle-flecked tirade against the FARC. Ms. Orth has had a long-standing interest in Colombia after having served there as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1964 to 1966.

She quotes President Uribe: “If not for illicit drugs we would have defeated these groups long ago.” Just as was the case with her article on Afghanistan, she puts the blame exclusively on America’s enemies. Anybody who has studied Colombia understands that Uribe’s government, as those before his, were far more responsible for the drug trade than the FARC that only taxed small coca farmers.

A cursory search on the Internet would reveal Uribe’s hand caught in the cookie jar:

WASHINGTON — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, one of the Bush administration’s most steadfast allies in South America, was allegedly a “close personal friend” of slain drug lord Pablo Escobar and worked for his Medellin cartel, according to a newly released U.S. military intelligence report.

The 1991 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency describes Uribe, then a rising star in Colombian politics, as “dedicated to collaboration” with the Medellin cartel, at the time the world’s richest criminal organization and the source of most of the cocaine imported into the U.S.

Los Angeles Times, August 02, 2004

The article also reveals Orth as a Hugo Chavez-basher on a par with any op-ed writer for the Wall Street Journal:

Chávez, the fiery leftist autocrat who hates the United States and has designs on ruling the whole northern region of Latin America, has always been tight with the FARC, which is officially designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. But just how closely Chávez and the FARC were aligned was not clear until last March, when an amazing trove of intelligence came into the hands of the Colombian government. After the Colombian Army went one mile into Ecuador to raid the camp of senior FARC commander Raúl Reyes, killing him and 33 other people and wounding 190 more, it seized three laptops, two hard drives, and two memory sticks, which together contained 8,736 Microsoft Word documents, 211 PowerPoint presentations, and 2,468 other documents.

For those who need to be convinced that the “revelations” contained in these computers had to be taken with a wheelbarrow full of salt, I would recommend Greg Palast’s article dated May 16, 2008 that appeared on Tomdispatch.com.

Do you believe this?

In early March Colombia invaded Ecuador, killed a guerrilla chief in the jungle, opened his laptop – and what did the Colombians find? A message to Hugo Chavez that he sent the FARC guerrillas $300 million – which they’re using to obtain uranium to make a dirty bomb!

That’s what George Bush tells us. And he got that from his buddy, the strange right-wing President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe.

So: After the fact, Colombia justifies its attempt to provoke a border war as a way to stop the threat of WMDs! Uh, where have we heard that before?

The US press snorted up this line about Chavez’ $300 million to “terrorists” quicker than the young Bush inhaling Colombia’s powdered export.

What the US press did not do is look at the evidence, the email in the magic laptop. (Presumably, the FARC leader’s last words were, “Listen, my password is ….”)

I read them. (You can read them here) While you can read it all in español, here is, in translation, the one and only mention of the alleged $300 million from Chavez:

“… With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call “dossier,” efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo [slang term for ‘cripple’], which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Ángel, and the cripple Ernesto.”

Got that? Where is Hugo? Where’s 300 million? And 300 what? Indeed, in context, the note is all about the hostage exchange with the FARC that Chavez was working on at the time (December 23, 2007) at the request of the Colombian government.

Indeed, the entire remainder of the email is all about the mechanism of the hostage exchange. Here’s the next line:

“To receive the three freed ones, Chavez proposes three options: Plan A. Do it to via of a ‘humanitarian caravan’; one that will involve Venezuela, France, the Vatican[?], Switzerland, European Union, democrats [civil society], Argentina, Red Cross, etc.”

As to the 300, I must note that the FARC’s previous prisoner exchange involved 300 prisoners. Is that what the ‘300’ refers to? ¿Quien sabe? Unlike Uribe, Bush and the US press, I won’t guess or make up a phastasmogoric story about Chavez mailing checks to the jungle.

I’ve lost track of how many Facebook friends who have taken Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow and Dylan Farrow’s word as the gospel truth. They see Woody Allen as no different than the Catholic priests who prey on young boys and girls or Roman Polanski who actually confessed to sexual assault. (Of course, Mia Farrow was happy to defend Polanski in another lesser-known incident.)

I try to see things on a case-by-case basis. The charges made against Woody Allen do not make sense to me, even if Maureen Orth had never written a single word. But that so many of my friends and comrades have automatically assumed that this grocery store checkout counter tabloid reporter for the carriage trade and imperialist mouthpiece is credible really bothers me. Maureen Orth is a symbol of everything that is bad about the bourgeois press. She was married to Tim Russert, the long-time host of Meet the Press who pretended to be a tough interviewer, all the time understanding his class affinities with those he was grilling. In an obvious case of nepotism, their lunkhead son Luke landed a job with NBC.

She has found the ideal roost for her crappy reporting. “Vanity Fair” is a perfect symbol of a degenerated American political culture. It flatters the rich and the powerful at the same time it occasionally sacrifices one or another of its members in good standing to sell copies of the magazine. All in all, there is an element of commercial exploitation in all this that reeks to high heaven. The Times relishes the visits to its website as people look for the latest dirt, while Ronan Farrow’s name is bandied about in a way that can only create interest in his MSNBC show that is likely to be as much of a drag as all the rest of this fetid altar to the Obama White House.

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