Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 8, 2020

Bob Dylan’s $300 million dollar bash

Filed under: beatniks,capitalism,commercialism,fashion,music — louisproyect @ 8:38 pm

Well, I looked at my watch
I looked at my wrist
Punched myself in the face
With my fist
I took my potatoes
Down to be mashed
Then I made it over
To that million dollar bash
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee
It’s that million dollar bash

–Bob Dylan, “The Million Dollar Bash”

Yesterday the NY Times reported on the blockbuster deal between Bob Dylan and the Universal Music Publishing Group. They acquire ownership of his entire songwriting catalog for $300 million. It was clear that the deal would pay off for both parties. Universal would benefit from the royalties paid by other artists covering his songs and from corporations using his songs to accompany their commercials. Perhaps Universal began to salivate seeing the new Volvo ad that has Pete Seeger’s “Hard Time in the Mill” playing in the background. It depicts a young couple trying to manage the job of caring for twin boy infants, changing diapers, etc. I doubt that anybody in the market for a $40,000 car will identify much with the lyrics but, then again, I am no expert on marketing.

Every morning just at five
Gotta get up, dead or alive
It’s hard times in the mill my love
Hard times in the mill

The FolkSongIndex website provides some background on the song:

The [textile] industry’s growth was based on a vastly expanding number of women and children in the mills. In the four textile states in 1890, men formed only 35 percent of the work force, women made up 40 percent, and children between the ages of ten and fifteen made up 25 percent. A seventy-hour workweek earned about $2.50 in 1885 and slightly less in 1895. At the same time profits were phenomenal. According to historian Broadus Mitchell, “It was not unusual . . . in these years to make 30 to 70 percent profit.”

I have no idea how or why Pete Seeger’s estate would have allowed his performance to be associated with a company like Volvo that would build a factory in a right-to-work state like South Carolina. As it happens, Volvo is owned by the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. in China. Given the Chinese preference for a tame workforce, it is doubtful that a union will ever prevail at Volvo, no matter the willingness to exploit Seeger’s pro-working class song.

As for Dylan, he is not a virgin when it comes to selling out. The Times article mentioned his promiscuous past:

In 1994, Dylan let the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand — predecessor of the current giant PricewaterhouseCoopers — use Richie Havens’s rendition of his 1964 protest anthem “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in a TV spot. Fans, media commentators and even other artists reacted in horror; Time magazine wrote about the controversy with the headline “Just in Case You Hadn’t Heard — The ’60s Are Over.”

The Coopers & Lybrand spot was far from Dylan’s last commercial license: He did a prominent deal for a Victoria’s Secret TV spot in 2004, and later worked with Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi and IBM. Two years ago, he launched a high-end whiskey brand, Heaven’s Door.

Like most rich people, Dylan will undoubtedly (and his estate after he dies) make substantial contributions to the charities he favors like Amnesty International and the End Hunger Network. But what troubles people is the way that corporations exploit his reputation as a rebel in order to sell crap. Take the Victoria Secret’s ad:

Victoria’s Secret is a terrible company, allowing Jeffrey Epstein to use its credibility to carry out his crimes.

Perhaps we’ve reached the point where “cred” is only established by relying on the music of icons like Bob Dylan and Peter Seeger. Dylan, after all, will always convey rebelliousness just as Jack Kerouac still does for many undergraduates today. Even the ultimate bad boy William S. Burroughs figured out that there was money to be made from one’s reputation:

I should mention that Jack Kerouac got into the act himself:

Madison Avenue pays attention to anti-corporate iconography because it helps them market goods to the 18-30 year old consumer group. After all, unless you are an evangelical Trump voter in that sector, you too want to buy things that make you feel bold and special.

Was there any culture that was more hostile to the corporate world than the punk music scene? Take the Pogues, for example. This great Irish punk band was not only on the left politically but featured a singer named Shane MacGowan who abused alcohol and drugs. None of that got in the way with them doing a Cadillac commercial:

In 1988, Thomas Frank started a magazine called Baffler that sought to explain how capitalism was capable of co-opting the rebel. It stopped publishing in 1995, perhaps because it had become commonplace about the interaction. Frank relaunched it in 2011 as a general leftwing magazine that I subscribe to.

The original Baffler had the slogan “Commodify Your Dissent” that became the title of a collection Frank published in 1997. Have a look at an excerpt from the first chapter to get an idea of how they got to the heart of this most peculiar relationship:

Why Johnny Can’t Dissent

The public be damned! I work for my stockholders.
–William H. Vanderbilt, 1879

Break the rules. Stand apart. Keep your head. Go with your heart.
–TV commercial for Vanderbilt perfume, 1994

Capitalism is changing, obviously and drastically. From the moneyed pages of the Wall Street Journal to TV commercials for airlines and photocopiers we hear every day about the new order’s globe-spanning, cyber-accumulating ways. But our notion about what’s wrong with American life and how the figures responsible are to be confronted haven’t changed much in thirty years. Call it, for convenience, the “countercultural idea.” It holds that the paramount ailment of our society is conformity, a malady that has variously been described as over-organization, bureaucracy, homogeneity, hierarchy, logocentrism, technocracy, the Combine, the Apollonian. We all know what it is and what it does. It transforms humanity into “organization man,” into “the man in the gray flannel suit.” It is “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery,” the “incomprehensible prison” that consumes “brains and imagination.” It is artifice, starched shirts, tailfins, carefully mowed lawns, and always, always, the consciousness of impending nuclear destruction. It is a stiff, militaristic order that seeks to suppress instinct, to forbid sex and pleasure, to deny basic human impulses and individuality, to enforce through a rigid uniformity a meaningless plastic consumerism.

As this half of the countercultural idea originated during the 1950s, it is appropriate that the evils of conformity are most conveniently summarized with images of 1950s suburban correctness. You know, that land of sedate music, sexual repression, deference to authority, Red Scares, and smiling white people standing politely in line to go to church. Constantly appearing as a symbol of arch-backwardness in advertising and movies, it is an image we find easy to evoke.

The ways in which this system are to be resisted are equally well understood and agreed-upon. The Establishment demands homogeneity; we revolt by embracing diverse, individual lifestyles. It demands self-denial and rigid adherence to convention; we revolt through immediate gratification, instinct uninhibited, and liberation of the libido and the appetites. Few have put it more bluntly than Jerry Rubin did in 1970: “Amerika says: Don’t! The yippies say: Do It!” The countercultural idea is hostile to any law and every establishment. “Whenever we see a rule, we must break it,” Rubin continued. “Only by breaking rules do we discover who we are.” Above all rebellion consists of a sort of Nietzschean antinomianism, an automatic questioning of rules, a rejection of whatever social prescriptions we’ve happened to inherit. Just Do It is the whole of the law.

The patron saints of the countercultural idea are, of course, the Beats, whose frenzied style and merry alienation still maintain a powerful grip on the American imagination. Even forty years after the publication of On the Road, the works of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs remain the sine qua non of dissidence, the model for aspiring poets, rock stars, or indeed anyone who feels vaguely artistic or alienated. That frenzied sensibility of pure experience, life on the edge, immediate gratification, and total freedom from moral restraint, which the Beats first propounded back in those heady days when suddenly everyone could have their own TV and powerful V-8, has stuck with us through all the intervening years and become something of a permanent American style. Go to any poetry reading and you can see a string of junior Kerouacs go through the routine, upsetting cultural hierarchies by pushing themselves to the limit, straining for that gorgeous moment of original vice when Allen Ginsberg first read “Howl” in 1955 and the patriarchs of our fantasies recoiled in shock. The Gap may have since claimed Ginsberg and USA Today may run feature stories about the brilliance of the beloved Kerouac, but the rebel race continues today regardless, with ever-heightening shit-references calculated to scare Jesse Helms, talk about sex and smack that is supposed to bring the electricity of real life, and ever-more determined defiance of the repressive rules and mores of the American 1950s–rules and mores that by now we know only from movies.

November 13, 2019

Cardin, Halston, St. Laurent

Filed under: fashion,Film — louisproyect @ 11:51 pm

Before my wife became a tenure-track professor in the Economics and Business Department of Lehmann College/CUNY in New York (now successfully completed), she was an adjunct at the Fashion Institute of Technology, a SUNY school that was a first choice for many aspiring designers—many of whom were contestants on Project Runway.  In Project Runway, there were dozens of entrants but only one won the grand prize after weeks of contests involving, for example, making dresses out of paper shopping bags, etc. She was curious about how their work stacked up against other aspiring designers, all of whom hoped to get the first prize, $100,000 plus having a collection of their work showcased during Fashion Week in New York. My wife also enjoyed watching designer clothing being made since she is a stylish dresser unlike the women I knew from my Trotskyist days who would consider owning a Michael Kors handbag tantamount to crossing a picket line.

So what does this have to do with me? In the course of watching Project Runway, I became a devoted fan. Back in 2010, I wrote about a spin-off of the show titled “On the Road with Austin and Santino” that followed two finalists around the country designing a wardrobe for plain janes. I wrote:

The last episode…was particularly entertaining as the two men end up in Antler, Oklahoma, the self-declared deer hunting capital of the country, to design a 30th birthday gown for Alesha, a  mother of two whose wardrobe is filled with hunting camouflage outfits rather than Chanel. There are many funny and charming aspects to their intervention, but especially the way the small town locals accept them on their own cosmopolitan and homosexual terms. Austin Scarlett, the more openly gay of the two, tells Alesha at one point that he has probably worn more skirts than she has over the past year or so.

With Project Runway under my belt, I made a point of reviewing any film featuring haute couture designers, including a Karl Lagerfeld documentary, one about Valentino Garavani, and a CounterPunch review (!) of a narrative film about Yves St. Laurent.

Recently, I got my hands on three documentaries about the designers mentioned in the title of this article, including a documentary on Yves St. Laurent made by Olivier Meyrou in 2007. Titled “Celebration”, it was suppressed by his estate until now since it depicted a frail and pathetic 71-year old man in the early stages of dementia, but who was still capable of mounting one of his memorable shows.

Still alive at 96, Pierre Cardin is arguably the most important designer of the 20th century. “House of Cardin” was shown as part of the DOC NYC film festival and will likely make it into theaters sometime in 2020. For most people, including me, Cardin was only a brand name (I have his cologne, so there), but this fascinating documentary puts him into the larger context of social history.

To start with, his father was a wealthy landowner in Italy of French descent who moved back to France in 1924 because he opposed Mussolini. He apprenticed for a clothier at the age of 14 and then left home to work for a tailor in Vichy in 1939. After the war, he moved to Paris where his burgeoning career including designing the costumes for Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast”. Cocteau, an open homosexual, introduced the drop-dead handsome young Cardin to other gay film makers, including Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti with whom he had flings as the nonagenarian designer recalls with a smile.

To put Cardin into cultural context, he was a futurist in the tradition of both Italian and Russian artists of the early 20th century. His dresses and gowns employed stark geometric patterns that were a break with the frilly designs of the past favored by the bourgeoisie. These outfits on display at the Museum Pierre Cardin in Paris are typical.

In the 1960s, Cardin’s clothing was favored by the young and the rebellious who had money, of course. Once he introduced an affordable prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) line, his clothing became as popular as Levi jeans. Among the people who loved Cardin’s fashion were the Beatles who make a pitch for him here.

At one point Cardin refers to himself as a socialist designer, although I think he is going a bit overboard there. Perhaps if the capitalist class was made up primarily of homosexual dress designers, we’d be better off at least on the basis of all the films I’ve seen about this wing of the bourgeoisie. Dare I call it progressive?

Now available on Amazon Prime, “Halston” tells the story of Roy Halston Frowick, who was born in Des Moines in 1932, the son of a typical corn belt family. Like Pierre Cardin and just about every male designer I’ve seen in a documentary or on Project Runway, he showed an affinity for sewing and designing from an early age.

After moving to New York in 1957, he became the head milliner (hat designer) at Bergdorf-Goodman where he became friends with Andy Warhol, a window-dresser at the time. Later on they would reunite as Studio 54 regulars in the 60s. Halston, who had dropped the first and last name, became famous for designing the cloth dress and hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband’s inauguration in sharp contrast to the mink coats other wives were wearing. Like Pierre Cardin, Halston had an aversion to haute bourgeois pretensions.

Once he gained fame for his hat designs, he went out on his own and became one of America’s most popular dress and gown designers. If Cardin was influenced by futurism, Halston made his mark by designing clothing that women felt comfortable in, almost like sleepwear. Often made out of a single piece of cloth, they never made a woman feel constricted. They were almost like the gowns of Greek and Roman antiquity. Here’s some examples:


Like Cardin, Halston wanted to reach as many customers as possible. Partly to make more money but also because he was no elitist. He made a deal with J.C. Penny for a ready-to-wear line that appalled Bergdof-Goodman’s management so much that they dropped his upscale line from their store. Cardin went through a similar experience. In 1959, he was expelled from the Chambre Syndicale for launching a ready-to-wear collection for the Printemps department store, but was soon reinstated.

In the 1960s, as his fame grew, his company was made offers that he couldn’t refuse. The Halston name and his business were purchased by Norton Simon, Inc and then by Esmark Inc. He was under enormous pressure to pump out designs for the sake of their bottom line but he grew frustrated by corporate interference. They were looking for someone more along the lines of those who made their mass marketing products,  but it was impossible for Halston to abandon the imperious stance of a star designer, all the more so since he had a major cocaine habit.

Finally, Esmark got fed up with him and changed the locks in his office in 1984 so that only those vetted by them could gain entrance. He could not even start a new business in his own name since Esmark had a lock on it as well.

Just four years after he was fired from Esmark, he learned that he had HIV and moved out to San Francisco to live with his brother. Until his death in 1990, he remained reclusive and was at least able to reunite with a family who loved him without qualifications.

Just acquired by KimStim, a leading-edge film distributor based in Brooklyn, “Celebration” will likely be available as DVD or VOD before very long. (Check their website for information).

We hear very few words from Yves St. Laurent in this cinéma vérité film but plenty from his one-time companion and business partner Pierre Bergé who functions pretty much as his care-giver in this poignant 74-minute documentary. At one point, he works with St. Laurent to prepare for the delivery of a speech thanking industry figures for one of his many awards. Bergé reminds him to stand up straight and to smile. For the entire film, we see a grim-looking St. Laurent who almost always had a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Since his fingers tremble, that’s probably easier for him.

The film is not so much about the fashion business as the other two films. Rather, it documents the ravages of old age and fading glory. My suggestion is to watch in in tandem with the narrative I reviewed for CounterPunch. While it was also painful for its depiction of how the French military made Yves St. Laurent suffer as a draftee during the French-Algerian War, it also shows his creative prowess that made him legendary in fashion circles. Like “Halston”, it is for rent on Amazon Prime.


August 6, 2019

How the German Communist Party adapted to nationalism in the early 1920s

Filed under: fashion,Germany,Werner Angress — louisproyect @ 4:36 pm

Karl Radek

In my follow-up commentary on the El Paso killer’s manifesto, someone took issue to my pointing out that the German Communist Party adapted to ultraright nationalist ideology in the early 1920s. I had called attention to Karl Radek’s eulogy to Albert Schlageter, a member of the Freikorps—the rightwing militia that killed Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Additionally, I referred to a speech by Ruth Fischer that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric, designed to appeal to fascists in a mass meeting.

In comment #7 at https://louisproyect.org/2019/08/04/understanding-the-el-paso-killers-manifesto-in-context/#comments, he wrote:

Radek was never a “National Bolshevik”. In the early 20’s his views reflected the official policy of the Communist International, which he represented in Germany.

When I responded that his comment omitted any reference to Ruth Fischer’s anti-Semitic demagogy, he dismissed her as having nothing to do with Radek in another comment: “Ruth Fischer was always a ultra-left windbag.”

The problem, however, is that Karl Radek and Ruth Fischer had a history together. As Comintern emissary, Radek endorsed the policies of the ultraleft leadership that had been responsible for the 1921 March Action–a complete fiasco. Two years later, a new leadership had replaced Fischer but a new tendency had developed that was just as misguided as the earlier ultraleft adventurism—an adaptation to German nationalism that historian Werner Angress calls the “Schlageter Line” in chapter 11 of “Stillborn Revolution: the Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923”. Developed during the United Front period, a correction of the earlier ultraleft strategy, it hoped to exploit the nationalism that was gestating in Germany during the 1920s as a result of the Allies punishing treaty.

Angress describes Radek’s initiative as follows:

It was Radek who gave real impetus to Communist attempts in Germany to win sympathizers, if not allies, from the political Right, especially from the nationalist-minded lower middle class. The occasion arose when the enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International met for a regular session in Moscow from June 12 to 23, 1923. During the first four days of the session, Radek spoke no less than three times, and in each of his speeches touched on the problem of nationalism in Germany. None of the ideas which Radek advanced were startling. In essence, and with a semantic virtuosity of which he was a past master, he merely repeated the main points of a policy which the German Communists had followed for months. His fine distinction between “national” and “revolutionary-national” interests may have puzzled his audience, but his meaning was actually quite clear: to smite Poincare at the Ruhr was the demand of the hour for the German proletariat. The German bourgeoisie, from pure self-interest, had initially held the same objective, and to this end had fostered a wave of extreme patriotism. But the bourgeoisie was ready to capitulate to France, at the expense of the German working class. It therefore fell to the latter to rally the masses to the defense of the nation, and in this endeavor the KPD had to lead the way. Once the masses, including the misled segments of the petty bourgeoisie, now still in the nationalist camp, came to realize that their interests were better represented by the proletariat than by the “corrupt capitalist classes,” the moment would arrive when the old order would be overthrown and replaced by a workers’ government. That such a government would then be in a position to conclude a firm and binding alliance with Soviet Russia went without saying.

Later on Angress described the political impact of Radek’s “turn”:

Radek’s speech was the cue for the KPD to embark upon a nationalist propaganda campaign, which at the time aroused much attention but netted the party few, if any, tangible advantages. The most sensational aspect of the Schlageter line was that it provided the public for a few weeks with the unprecedented spectacle of nationalist and Communist writers engaged in a series of intellectual exchanges on the feasibility of political cooperation between Right and Left.

The civilized tone which marked the exchange of ideas on the Schlageter line among the literati of both camps was generally absent from the party’s street-corner debates. The “man on the street” was rarely susceptible to lofty ideas, the nature of which contrasted with his own concepts of what a nationalist and a Communist had or had not in common. This was as true for the “Fascists,” whom the party tried to convert, as it was for the Communist rank and file who were more accustomed to exchanging bullets with the Fascists than to engaging them in public discussions.” Nevertheless, the street-corner approach was tried, at first especially with the academic youth. Oratorically gifted Communist functionaries ventured into such hostile strongholds of nationalism as university campuses and student eating-houses to do missionary work. Early in July a Comrade Schneider, KPD member from Hannover, addressed students at Gottingen University, or, as the Rote Fahne put it, penetrated the sticky atmosphere of the small universities. He spoke on the subject: “For What Did Schlageter Die?” The same topic was used as a basis for discussion at Jena, and toward the middle of the month in Berlin as well.” There the party distributed handbills in various restaurants, frequented mostly by students, with this announcement:

Wednesday, July 25, 1923, 7 P.M.

Auditorium of the Dorotheenstadtisches Realgymnasium


AGENDA: “For What Did Schlageter Die? Communism, Fascism, and the Political Decision of the Students.” Speaker: Comrade Ruth Fischer

Students: Gain an understanding of the ways of the revolutionary fight for freedom. We want to point out especially to our völkischen opponents that unlimited opportunities for discussion will be maintained.”

According to the report of the Rote Fahne, the discussion at this particular gathering lasted several hours without leading to any incidents. Ruth Fischer stated that “the giant, who is going to liberate Germany, is here. . . . The giant is the German proletariat, to which you belong, and with which you should align yourselves.” This was greeted, so the paper says, with “loud applause.” Then the meeting broke up, and the opposing groups separated “not exactly conciliated, but with a feeling of mutual respect.” The Social Democratic organ, Vörwarts, threw an interesting sidelight on this particular performance of Comrade Ruth Fischer. Quoting an eye-witness account, the paper claimed that the Communist speaker appealed openly to the anti-Semitic sentiments of her audience.

“Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class [Klassenkampfer], even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts. . . . But . . . how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klöckner? .. . Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the volkische side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.”

Anti-Semitic remarks, innuendos rather than open expressions, occasionally cropped up during this period in the Communist press. Thus the Rote Fahne printed on August 7 a little item on “Stresemann’s Jewish Kommerzienrate” (councilors of commerce, a title conferred on distinguished financiers), in which the paper drew attention to the fact that such prominent Social Democrats as Friedrich Stampfer, the editor of Vorwarts, Carl Severing and Hermann Muller were closely connected with these Jewish capitalists. Although the Communists tried on the whole to stay clear of the anti-Semitic issue, they could not always avoid it, especially when it was raised by nationalist hecklers during joint discussion meetings. This was clearly demonstrated in the case of Hermann Remmele, who on August 2 addressed a mixed audience of Communists and National Socialists in Stuttgart. When he told his listeners that anti-Semitism was an age-old device which those in power employed to distract the attention of the blind and ignorant masses from the real causes of their misery, he was interrupted by shouts of contradiction from the floor.

Remmele continued: “How such anti-Semitism arises I can easily understand. One merely needs to go down to the Stuttgart cattle market in order to see how the cattle dealers, most of whom belong to Jewry, buy up cattle at any price, while the Stuttgart butchers have to go home again, empty-handed, because they just don’t have enough money to buy cattle. (`Quite right!’ from the Fascists.)”

A little later in his speech, Remmele again touched on this subject, and again with the apparent purpose of appeasing the audience in order to put his own point across: “You, the Fascists, now say [that you want] to fight the Jewish finance capital. All right. Go ahead! Agreed! (Stormy applause from the Fascists.) But you must not forget one thing, industrial capital! (Interjections from the Fascists: ‘We fight that too!’) For finance capital is really nothing else but industrial capital.”

How eager the party was to use any expedient to reach some common ground with the nationalists was evident from another public debate in which Remmele participated on August 10. Besides Remmele, one speaker each from the National Socialists and the Social Democrats had been invited by the Communists to participate in the discussion. The SPD, however, turned down an invitation. In his eagerness to win the sympathies of the Nazis, Remmele made a number of statements which were in flagrant violation of the party’s official united front policy. Thus he told his 8,000 listeners that he considered an alliance with the National Socialists less objectionable than one with the Social Democrats, and then added that the Communists would even be willing to cooperate with the murderers of Liebknecht and Luxemburg.

Aside from engaging in literary debates and holding joint meetings with nationalists, the party concentrated in the summer of 1923 on winning converts among the Reichswehr and the police forces throughout Germany. Two different avenues of approach were used for making inroads into these organizations. One was designed for officers, either active or retired, and another for enlisted men.

Early in August, the Social Democratic newspaper Vorwarts published a “Blueprint for the Solicitation [Gewinnung] of Officers,” copies of which had been found on two Communists arrested by the police. The blueprint outlined various means of establishing contact with officers, such as propaganda literature and the use of Communist officers or ex-officers as intermediaries, and also specified the manner of properly addressing men of military rank. The instructions stressed that ideological differences should be minimized in the arguments used by party members, and common interests should be emphasized, for instance, mutual hostility to France and the German republic. Furthermore, promises of high army positions “after the revolution” were to be given to prospective collaborators.

Another instance of this campaign was a circular letter which a “Group of Communist Officers of Germany” [Gruppe kommunistischer Offiziere Deutschlands] sent to officers in the Reichswehr and the police. This eight-page communication, adorned with quotations from Clausewitz and Trotsky, contrasted the Communist struggle against the Entente with the attitude of the “Social Democratic traitors.” The party membership was portrayed as constituting the “most splendid human material among the German working class.” Eighty percent of the KPD, claimed the letter, were former soldiers. The circular then depicted the future national liberation movement as an extensive guerilla war which would follow in the wake of a proletarian revolution. To make the latter acceptable to members of the officers’ corps, the letter invoked Oswald Spengler as a means of affirming that “Prussianism is Socialism,” and claimed that the system of councils (Rätesystem) was by no means an alien institution but a “Prussian idea, based on the concepts of elite, co-responsibility, and esprit de corps among colleagues [Kollegialität].”

It is doubtful that the KPD had any illusions as to the effectiveness of its ambitious recruiting drive. However, one retired officer from Munich, a world war veteran by the name of Hans von Hentig, responded to the Communist efforts with a letter to the Rote Fahne, which appeared under the heading “Worker and Soldier.” Herr von Hentig lamented Germany’s present condition, and the demoralizing effects of political and economic chaos on the population, in particular on the educated youth. After the enigmatic statement that “petty-bourgeois masses and intellectual strata [Schichten] will soon exist only as displays in museums,” he wrote that “. . the working class, . . . [especially] Communism, shall know that hundreds of veteran frontline officers, who really put Germany über alles, will march by its [Communism’s] side through every social upheaval, through every political change, unmindful of their own treasured concepts, im gleichen Schritt und Tritt, once the drum has sounded the call to battle.”

The propaganda approach to the non-commissioned personnel of the Reichswehr and the police forces was similar to that applied to the officers. The same methods of dissemination were used, personal contacts and the illicit distribution of leaflets, pamphlets, and newspapers. The emphasis, however, was different. The material designed for the soldiers and policemen concentrated on what the Communists assumed were perennial grievances among the lower ranks in every military or paramilitary organization. Soldiers were encouraged to report to the party any incidents of ill-treatment by superiors. They were reminded of the privileges which the officers enjoyed over the men, and in some instances were encouraged to disobey unpopular orders en masse. Similar instructions were deposited in the hallways of police headquarters, though here the party faced some very thorny problems. The policemen were those agents of the “bourgeois” state with whom the Communists collided most frequently. The party press referred to them usually as “henchmen of capitalism,” or applied other, equally unflattering terms to them. On the other hand, most policemen, unlike the majority of Reichswehr soldiers, were city-bred and normally lived on a modest, lower middle-class level. For this reason the party leadership encouraged the Communist rank and file in the summer of 1923 to fraternize with the guardians of the law, and to persuade them that they were, after all, merely exploited proletarians in uniform.

The efforts to win sympathizers among the lower echelons of Reichswehr and police forces proved on the whole as unsuccessful as did those to convert the officers. This was not surprising. Reichswehr soldiers were very carefully selected. The military authorities took great care to concentrate the recruiting drives primarily in the traditionally conservative rural regions of Germany, and as a rule excluded from the army Jews, Socialists, Communists, or even men of outspoken democratic leanings. In addition, the soldiers were not conscripts but volunteers, career men who generally had nothing but contempt for the Communist “rabble.” The police forces, especially the hand-picked and strictly disciplined Prussian police, were equally immune to Communist propaganda.

September 17, 2018

Rodents of Unusual Size; Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco

Filed under: Ecology,fashion,Film — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

At first blush, the two documentaries “Rodents of Unusual Size” and “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco” seem to have very little in common. The first is about the introduction of nutrias from Argentina into Louisiana in the 1930s, an invasive species that has wreaked havoc on the wetlands on the southern coast. The second is about a charismatic fashion illustrator who was part of the wild party scenes at places like Max’s Kansas City in New York and Club Sept in Paris in the 1970s. But what they have in common is the fashion industry and social history with fascinating glimpses into Cajun country and the cultural underground that swirled around figures such as Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfeld and models like Grace Jones. It turns out that the nutria were introduced in order to launch a native fur industry in Depression-wracked America while Antonio Lopez was a product of the subculture of a fashion industry deeply influenced by the 1960s radicalization that unlike Depression-era has left profound markers on race, gender and sexuality. As distant as the labor struggles of the 30s seem today, the 1960s remains relevant 50 years after its passing as symbolized by the endless controversies over “diversity”.

In 1938, E.A. McIlhenny, whose Tabasco sauce is a key ingredient of Bloody Marys, started a nutria farm on Avery Island, Louisiana near his factory. For reasons unknown, he decided to release them into the wild where they began to proliferate. For the next 30 years or so, they had no big environmental impact comparable to the introduction of rabbits into Australia, another invasive species.

This was because they were a plentiful and cheap alternative to mink, chinchilla, ermine and other furs that wealthy women could afford. Trappers poured into the wetlands and bagged dozens per day, which were turned into coats in New York’s garment industry. For the wives of the men working in garment factories making mink coats, it was only nutria or muskrat that their wives could show off in Catskill hotels.

PETA changed all that when activists began to throw red paint on fur coats, not distinguishing between a 2,000 dollar mink coat and a 200 dollar nutria. This led to a collapse of the trapping industry and a mammoth expansion of the nutria population that led to vegetation being consumed to the point that swamps were turned into deserts. Under assault already from oil and gas exploration, the nutrias were destroying the natural obstacles to flooding that devastated New Orleans in 2005.

One of the victims of Hurricane Katrina was a septuagenarian fisherman whose 5 bedroom house near the shoreline was destroyed by flooding. Ironically, his part-time work trapping and shooting nutria has helped him to rebuild.

“Rodents of an Unusual Size” provides insights into the Cajun world that has had a remarkable talent for survival going back into the 19th century. We hear one man liken the local hunters to the beasts they are killing for bounty money. They feel a duty to thin their numbers in the interests of environmentalism even though they have an admiration for an animal that has become part of the local culture, to the point where sports teams use mascots resembling the 20-pound, orange-fanged rodents.

The film is currently playing at the Laemmle in Los Angeles and will open at the IFC Center in New York on October 23rd. Consult http://www.rodentsofunusualsize.tv/screenings.html for screenings elsewhere.

Now playing at the IFC in New York, “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco” chronicles the life and times of a Puerto Rican artist who worked for Vogue Magazine and other glossy periodicals. I say the word artist advisedly since he was as much of a visionary as Andy Warhol who not only greatly admired Lopez’s work but began as a commercial artist just like him.

For those of you who were born after 1975 or so, the film might come as a surprise since it reveals the porousness between a milieu largely considered decadent and what veterans of the 1960s, like me, were all about.

Lopez was not political in an obvious way but he was the first to begin using African-American models who became part of his entourage, including Grace Jones. He was also the first to push the envelope in terms of how women were represented in his drawings. Instead of being stiff and mannequin-like, they were bold and defiant. Grace Jones represented that aesthetic perfectly.

Lopez was also a gay icon who like his good friends Karl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent were open about their sexuality. Lopez, who had the faun-like appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp, loved being the center of attention and was adored by men and women alike.

He died of AIDS in 1987, although the film only mentions that close to the end. Instead, it is an affirmation of a life lived to the fullest and a testament to the spirit of the time where rebelliousness was reflected in both campus sit-ins and fashion shoots for Vogue.

February 22, 2018

How Ukraine’s neo-Nazis came to oppose NATO and the European Union

Filed under: fashion,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 11:17 pm

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 6.15.31 PM A conference that unites Russian and Ukrainian fascists

Putin’s propagandists, including Boris Kagarlitsky, Roger Annis, Stephen F. Cohen and Daniel Lazare, would have you believe that Washington is using Ukrainian fascists as a battering ram against Russia. The overall strategy is to encroach militarily through NATO while using the EU to weaken Russia economically. Euromaidan was a conspiracy to further these aims, especially in light of the protests being triggered by Yanukovych’s refusal to join the EU. The next step would be for Ukraine to join NATO using the excuse that it had to protect itself against Russian designs on its territory, with Crimea and Donetsk being the prelude to further advances. Of course, everybody on the left must understand at this point that Russia had the right to protect its territorial integrity just as JFK did back in 1963 by demanding the removal of missiles from Cuba.

Of the three principal fascist organizations in Ukraine—Svoboda, Pravy Sektor and the Azov Battalion—the last of the three is the most clearly neo-Nazi. Russia Insider, whose editor Charles Bausman blames the Jews for being America’s worst warmongers, published an article titled “Media Ignore 20,000 Nazis Marching in Kiev, Obsess Over Charlottesville” on October 30, 2017. It states “Ukrainian Nationalists are being used as useful idiots in an ancient plan to divide and conquer Russia, starting with the destruction of Russia’s birthplace – Kiev. Western powers have been trying to do this since before the Austrian Empire.”

The organizers of the protest were the National Corps and the Pravy Sektor, both of which are banned in Russia. Most people are familiar with Pravy Sektor but what was the innocuous sounding National Corps? It turns out that this is a political party formed by Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov Battalion that earned a reputation for being little more than a death squad in the Donetsk Republic. Just look at its insignia to get an idea of how closely tied to neo-Nazism it is:

Given this nefarious history, you’d have to believe that the National Corps would be gung-ho for NATO and the EU. Well, maybe not. In an article titled “The Frightening Far-Right Militia That’s Marching in Ukraine’s Streets, Promising to Bring ‘Order’”, the Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova reported:

Biletsky’s party, the National Corps, is against Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO. He says he thinks the EU wouldn’t let Ukraine join, and that he is “not a fan of NATO.” Among other things, both demand Western European democratic standards for membership.

While not neo-Nazi, the nationalist Aidar Battalion (now disbanded), which Amnesty International accused of “using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, agrees with Biletsky, as its former leader Serhiy Melnychuk made clear in a Huffington Post interview:

I am against Ukraine’s potential accession to NATO. I think that Ukraine should pursue common military objectives with NATO, like counter-terrorism. Ukraine’s official position right now is to become a member of NATO, which violates the Budapest memorandum’s calls for Ukrainian neutrality. We want to have some of the benefits associated with closer integration with Europe, like a visa free regime, but we should resist becoming part of the NATO security bloc. Instead, Ukraine can lead a new system of collective security, which will include all neutral countries.

These developments should not be that surprising. Despite their hatred of Russia, the far right in Ukraine has plenty in common with pro-Russian fascist organizations spreading up all over Europe. Anton Shekhovtsov, the author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir tweeted about a conference in Germany shown above that seeks “a strong Europe that protects and promotes its peoples, their cultures and their idiosyncrasies. The Occident, with its millennia of history, is the foundation on which the Europe of the future is built.”

Among the guest organizations is the Russian Imperial Movement, a right-wing political group united around reverence for the Russian Empire, the czar and Russian Orthodoxy.

And guess who is a guest speaker. None other than Olena Semenyaka from Ukraine who is speaking on “Beyond the ‘Wall of Time’: Ernst Jünger and Martin Heidegger on the New Metaphysics”. I am sure you know who Martin Heidegger is but Ernst Jünger might not ring a bell. He was not a Nazi but had beliefs that dovetailed with theirs. Wikipedia states that he criticized the Weimar Republic, stating that he “hated democracy like the plague.” He portrayed war as a mystical experience that revealed the nature of existence. Jünger considered total military mobilization as the life-blood of Germany. Nice.

And who is this Olena Semenyaka? She was the press representative of the Azov Battalion who was asked in an interview whether Euromaidan was about joining the EU. Her answer:

It should be stressed that the Maidan protests were not “pro-EU” per se. Although, before the beginning of war with Russia, a big percentage of Ukrainian citizens idealized the EU as an embodiment of civilization and higher living standards, the failed EU association agreement, which was probably not even Yanukovych’s fault, was only a trigger for expressing a wider public discontent with his regime in general. Of course, ignorance and the work of the mass media and international funds, above all, are to blame for the uncritical and unconditional support for the EU that still may be found among Ukrainian citizens. But experience has had a sobering effect on them as well, The EU’s friendly relations with Putin and the Russian Federation, in spite of sanctions, its disapproval of nationalism and demands for the federalization of Ukraine, which under current conditions means nothing but separatism, the lack of real political and military aid, and more, have led to growing disillusionment with the EU.

Also, I have to add that, although Yanukovych is believed to have been a puppet of Putin, he, in no way, can be considered “anti-Western” or “anti-EU.” As in Russia’s case, the anti-Western rhetoric is only a disguise for selling out the country to the West while claiming to “raise it from the ashes.” All high-ranking Ukrainian officials, the same as the Russians, keep their funds in Western banks while their children study abroad, so confrontation with the West is just a populist fiction. The reality is with the struggle for territories, like the Ukrainian Crimea, and resources.

It was Yanukovych’s regime that initiated Euro-integration, and during his rule the Berkut riot police, which tried to disperse the “pro-Western” Maidan, also protected the first gay parade held in the Ukraine that was attended by the Mayor of Munich. So, the mass pro-EU sympathies expressed during Maidan can be better interpreted as the first attempt of Ukrainians to escape from the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.

Fleeing the “the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.” Who can argue with that? Sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Boris Kagarlitsky might have written, or Ernst Röhm for that matter if he were alive today.

August 23, 2017

A “New Dawn” for Fascism: the Rise of the Anti-Establishment Capitalists  

Filed under: Counterpunch,fashion — louisproyect @ 2:19 pm

(I got to know Michael Barker, the author of this article, when we were both focused on exposing “humanitarian interventions” in Yugoslavia. At the time, much of what I wrote dovetailed with the sort of article found on DissidentVoice, Information Clearing House, et al.

I veered sharply from this outlook after Putin invaded Chechnya and lost track of Michael Barker, who I had a great deal of respect and even affection for at the time. After earning a PhD, he decided to turn his back on academia since he saw it as a corrupt arm of the capitalist system despite liberal pretensions.

Out of the blue, he has written an article that is both politically powerful and deeply researched. This is one of the most important articles you will read in CounterPunch in this or any other year.)

A “New Dawn” for Fascism: the Rise of the Anti-Establishment Capitalists  

Photo by Mark Dixon | CC BY 2.0

The world rests on a precipice. On the one hand is institutionalized exploitation and imperialist violence. The well-being of humanity continues to be severely hampered by the priorities of a small unstable capitalist class, who would prefer that the rest of us – those who must engage in a daily struggle to purchase the essentials for living (like food and a roof over our heads) – remain unorganized as a cohesive class. And on the other hand, there are those who believe that the fundamental class division between the rulers and the workers is both intolerable and unsustainable, and so seek to participate in and organize mass movements for social change that will bring an end to the domination of one class of people over another.

In the face of the continued resistance of ordinary people, in recent decades global elites have unfortunately forced through a number of regressive counter-reforms upon society, which have served to undermine the ability of our class to collectively fight back. These losses have as much to do with the failures of leadership shown by organizations of the working-class as they do with any concerted planning on behalf of elites. Yet in lieu of the current existence of mass democratic working-class organizations in most of the world, problematic and conspiratorial, but ostensibly anti-establishment, ideas have been able to sometimes temporarily supplant class-based analyses about how and why social change happens. This essay therefore seeks to problematize some of these wrong-minded ideas with a special reference to revolutionary uprisings in Russia and the Ukraine.

To the eternal consternation of those elites who would prefer to deny us our basic class solidarity, and critically, knowledge of our class’ victories, revolutions are a mainstay of humanity’s emancipatory history.  Indeed, popular mass-based uprisings occur all the time, and can take place where they are least expected – as demonstrated by the two successful revolutions that took place one hundred years ago in the poor and materially deprived country that was Russia. But despite the unanticipated nature of the two Russian revolutions of 1917, the democratic and socialist advances made in Russia did much to boost working-class confidence worldwide; think for example of the momentous Seattle General Strike of 1919, or moreover, how close a mass working-class movement came to subsequently organising a successful revolution in Germany.

Nevertheless making a revolution is the not the solution for all ills, as one prominent historian of the Russian revolution put it: “To overthrow the old power is one thing; to take the power in one’s own bands is another.” And ultimately for revolutions to truly serve the needs of the working-class they must succeed in wresting power from the ruling class. Hence although it is true that over the past century many revolutions have taken place, the majority of these uprisings have only succeeded in transferring power from one segment of the ruling elite to another. The ruling-class “may win the power in a revolution not because it is revolutionary,” but because it “has in its possession property, education, the press, a network of strategic positions”. By way of contrast: “Deprived in the nature of things of all social advantages,” an insurrectionary movement of the working-class “can count only on its numbers, its solidarity,” and the degree to which it is organised and ready to assume power during a revolutionary struggle.

The fact that many previous revolutions have failed to deliver democratic control of our lives – with power all too often falling back into the hands of the super-rich – does not mean that such failures were somehow pre-ordained. And it certainly does not imply political collusion between revolutionary leaders and the forces of reaction. But this does not stop the sections of the ruling class from leaping on these failures in order to suit their own nefarious ends. Indeed, now that many people are looking for alternatives to the current corrupt political establishment, a resurgent coalition of neo-fascists and other assorted critics of Western imperialism are striving to take full advantage of the ongoing global economic crisis. They do this by identifying themselves as the genuine critics of the global ruling-class and by misidentifying socialists and revolutionaries as the real enemy of the working-class. In such opportunist and reactionary narratives of social change, genuine revolutionary leaders and popular uprisings are portrayed as unwitting tools of the ruling class elites. So now, as ever, we should be conscious of what are enemies are doing in plain sight, as the stakes have never been higher.

Working-Class Power in the Russian Revolution

When democratically organized bodies of the working-class are unable to provide a fighting leadership within any given popular uprising, leadership still exists, but it falls elsewhere, that is, outside of the democratic control of ordinary workers. This is precisely what happened during the initial February revolution in Russia 1917. This initial Revolution did act to oust the despotic Tsar, but only to allow another unrepresentative and undemocratic elite to take over the reins of the country. But with the new Provisional Government that came to power being unwilling to cede power to the majority of Russians, the subsequent October Revolution succeeded where the former failed in enabling a mass movement of the working-class to assume power. Revolutionary working-class leadership was provided by the democratic forces of the Bolshevik Party, a force which in later years was tragically misled and debased by Stalin and his admirers.

The ruling-class, wherever they may lie, have never been disinterested with the outcomes of revolutionary struggles. In February 1917, elites across the world welcomed the new trusted rulers of Russia. This can be contrasted with their subsequent dismay in October, when international elites felt compelled to mobilize their armies to back the displaced Russian ruling class in their long and bloody civil war against socialism. It was this protracted crisis and the failure of similar revolutions to spread elsewhere that helped pave the way for Stalin’s eventual seizure of power. Moreover, it was Stalin’s undemocratic reign as the leader of the Communist Party that served to mislead the global forces of the working-class and ultimately undermine people’s faith in the power of socialist ideas to change society for the better. This is not to say that socialists and workers did not continue to fight for a genuine workers democracy and the removal of Stalinist toxin that dominated communist politics. Here some of the most notable individuals in organising against the Stalinist counter-revolution were those forces organized around Leon Trotsky — one of the principal leaders of the October Revolution.

Although at present no large and influential revolutionary party is based in Russia, germinal forms of such organizations do exist and their members, like other independent trade unionists, continue to suffer repression at the hands of Putin’s capitalist state. Putin’s elite, just like other ruling cliques elsewhere, like to portray those seeking revolutionary change as dangerous enemies of the people, whose democratic activities must be ruthlessly crushed. Following the template of the 1917 Revolution elites and their supporters do their best to smear socialist activists as dupes or willing agents of foreign imperial powers. This was the strategy deployed against the members of the Bolshevik Party both prior to and after the October Revolution, and fittingly enough it is the same ridiculous lie that is told about the leaders of the revolution to this day.

Wall Street’s Bolshevik Conspiracy?

Today the main proponents of the fabrication that the Bolsheviks were merely tools of Western imperialists are right-wing conspiracy theorists, many of whom like to refer to themselves as either libertarians or apolitical. One of the most famous texts expounding this timeless deceit is Anthony C. Sutton’s Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution (1974), a book whose “research” has now been given a new breath of life by Professor Richard Spence’s more sophisticated but equally conspiratorial book Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925 (2017). But despite being an apparent specialist in modern espionage and the occult, Spence, like many more run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorists, has an unhealthy propensity for treating declassfited files released by ill-informed intelligence agencies at face-value. Spence however is no marginal scholar as in 2010 he worked as a research fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and has been interviewed the Russian television channel NTV as a so-called specialist on “Trotsky’s American Connections” for an upcoming documentary on the Russian Revolution. In addition he remains a regular contributor to the popular pro-Putin conspiracy magazine, New Dawn.

For those who simply don’t have the time to keep up with the latest extraterrestrial elite machinations and the New World Order’s genocidal plots, you should know that New Dawn is a big-hitter in the field, with bimonthly issues over-brimming with ‘adverts’ for alternative medicine boosted by all manner of quasi-fascist nonsense.[1] The latest issue of this bloated magazine leads with the article “Putin takes on the U.S. Deep State” (July/August), with the author of this piece being former InfoWars editor, Patrick Henningsen. Most notably the only politician listed on New Dawn’s roll-call of endorsers for their verbose tosh is the neo-fascist, Alexandre Dugin, who they correctly identify as the “leader of International Eurasian Movement.” As Dugin’s endorsement explains: “New Dawn magazine is one of the best sources of realistic information on the state of things in our world as it nears its inevitable and predicted end.”

Here the connection between the delusions promoted by New Dawnand the mystifying work of people like Professor Spence is the utility of their ideas to the powerful, more specifically in helping to undermine the legitimacy of revolutionary socialism. Certainly the liberal (globalist) elites that New Dawn and their writers obsess about do engage in anti-democratic activities. But New Dawn’s paranoid ramblings about the actions of these allegedly all-powerful elites is far removed from the sober Marxist class-analysis that is necessary to understand how such elites profit from capitalism (and sometimes from fascism). But what else would you expect from a magazine that includes well-known fascists like Dr Kerry Bolton upon its roster of regular writers. Focusing on Bolton for a moment, he cites as authorities for his own pro-Putin conspiracies the work of Antony C. Sutton and Richard Spence, and asserts that Stalin was correct in his belief that both Trotsky and his followers “were agents of foreign capital and foreign powers” seeking to promote capitalism!?

Bolton points to the fact that a handful of leading Trotskyist intellectuals went on to work hand-in-hand with the CIA as further proof that Marxists were always working for Wall Street. What Bolton fails to mention is that these intellectuals all renounced their belief in Marxism in order to become well paid and respected conservatives. Moreover in the early days of their new-found careers as turncoats these former Marxists simply joined forces with the longstanding conservative leadership of the AFL-CIO, who right from the early days of the Russian Revolution had been open in their opposition to Bolshevism and to union democracy more generally. Bolton is therefore only correct when he says that neoconservative activists eventually went on to help create the US Government’s interventionist and imperialist National Endowment for Democracy (NED), but only in the early 1980s. Bringing his conspiracy up-to-date, elsewhere Bolton draws a direct connect between “international capital” and individuals like George Soros and groups like the NED, with regards their continuing role in “fomenting revolutions”. As he goes on to explain for an article published with the neo-fascist/Traditionalist publisher Counter-Currents (an outlet which  popularizes the nazi mysticism of “Hitler’s Priestess” Savitri Devi):

“The primary factor that was behind the bankers’ support for the Bolsheviks whether from London, New York, Stockholm, or Berlin, was to open up the underdeveloped resources of Russia to the world market, just as in our own day George Soros, the money speculator, funds the so-called ‘color revolutions’ to bring about ‘regime change’ that facilitates the opening up of resources to global exploitation. Hence there can no longer be any doubt that international capital a plays a major role in fomenting revolutions…”

Putin’s Ukraine

In the November 2014 issue of New Dawn the magazine featured another article authored by Bolton titled “The great conspiracy against Russia: what is really behind the campaign against Putin?” His purile rant began with considerable gusto:

“When the war-drums start beating in Washington against a state or statesman, one is entitled to wonder what transgression might have been made against the ‘New World Order’. Over the past few decades we have seen one nation after another succumb to either financial blandishments, or when those fail, long-planned, well-funded ‘spontaneous’ colour revolutions, and as a last resort bombs. The states of the ex-Soviet bloc largely succumbed to ‘colour revolutions’ orchestrated by the Soros network, aligned with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID and a host of other funds and NGOs.”

Following close to Putin’s now-official propaganda line, Bolton fumes against the imperialist interventions of the NED undertaken in the Ukraine and their allegedly manufacturing of endless popular uprisings. But in reality it should be obvious that the sizable financial support provided to civil society groups by US elites does not allow them to manufacture revolutionary discontent out of thin air; it only allows them to promote their own capitalist interests in their ongoing attempts to forestall genuinely radical, dare I say, revolutionary socialist change. Yes, the US will do everything in their power to encourage new capitalist governments that are more likely to prioritize friendly relations with them, but so too would Russia.

So in the Ukraine, as elsewhere, Putin intervenes as an imperialist power-broker to promote his own countries’ capitalist foreign policy objectives, while the US does the same. Neither, however, have the best interest of the working-class at heart, and so both governments and their contributions to the “East-West tug-of-war” deserve our criticism. This is not, however, how other political commentators see matters, and perhaps in part because of the lack of an influential working class political alternative (which still needs working on), some misguided people end up following the crude logic that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Bolton breaks from such motivations only because he chooses to support Putin because it serves his own personal agenda – even though, it should be said, Putin himself is no fascist.

Regime Change Inc. and the New World Order

A further intriguing example of similar reactionary thinking vis-a-visthe dynamics of social change is provided in the work of F. William Engdahl, who in 2004 republished his 1992 book A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order with the left-wing publisher Pluto Press. Prior to Pluto’s not so inspired decision to publish this book, Engdahl had spent decades working as an editor for Lyndon LaRouche’s conspiracy network (at least until 1997), and his book merely recycled many LaRouchite narratives including that the 1960s counterculture New Age movement was a manufactured CIA-backed “project.” To be more specific, according to Engdahl the creation of the hippie movement had been overseen by the “Anglo-American liberal establishment” which was then used in conjunction with another “weapon” of the elite, the creation of a “manipulated ‘race war’”.  As part of this fictional elite-orchestrated process of social change Engdahl went on to add more details to his heady conspiracy, noting that: “The May 1968 student riots in France, were the result of the vested London and New York financial interests in the one G-10 nation which continued to defy their mandate.” In a brief comment he then explained his idiotic belief that…

“modern Anglo-American liberalism bore a curious similarity to the Leninist concept of a ‘vanguard party,’ which imposed a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the name of some future ideal of society. Both models were based on deception of the broader populace.”

Since publishing his first book Engdahl has continued his prolific publishing record by writing for New Age neo-fascist magazines like New Dawn. Building upon his credentials as an oil historian he now publicises his conversion to the latest right-wing conspiracy craze that asserts that oil is actually limitless and not actually a fossil fuel (in this Engdahl consciously drew upon Stalinist research carried out by Russian and Ukrainian scientists in the 1950s). Engdahl’s ability to read conspiracies into any subject are truly second to none: a couple of years ago he chose to misinterpret medical research that actually highlighted progress in the struggle to fight cancer in order to write an article asserting that scientific evidence proved that chemotherapy, not cancer, is the real killer!

Engdahl it seems is a man with a special mission, and in recent years he has served on the advisory boards of two neo-fascist journals that were published in Italy (Geopolitica which was edited by a leading member of Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement, and Eurasia, Rivista di Studi Geopolitici which was published and edited by Italian Nazi-Maoist Claudio Mutti)Engdahl is also a regular contributor (like Dr Bolton) to the articles and videos produced by the neo-fascist Russian think tank Katehon – a group funded by billionaire philanthropist Konstantin Malofeev (see later) whose work is overseen by the close Dugin-ally and homegrown Ukrainan esoteric fascist, Leonid Savin. In line with this political orientation, Engdahl additionally writes and acts as an advisor for Veterans Today, an organization that, in the name of opposing warmongering, does yeoman’s service to popularizing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.[2]

Engdahl’s railing against the globalist conspiracy was fully evident in his 2009 book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Herein Engdahl focuses on the historic activities of liberal philanthropy and the NED in creating what he calls synthetic movements for ‘non-violent change.’ This book was well-received in certain Russian military circles, and was cited approvingly by fellow Katehon contributor Andrew Korybko in his 2015 book Hybrid Wars: The IndirecAdaptive Approach To Regime Changewhich Korybko was able publish while he was a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. Korybko is also privileged enough to be able to espouse his views to a global audience through his work as a journalist for Sputnik International. However, although people like Engdahl and Korybko do great work at popularizing disempowering theories, arguably the most effective proponent of the conspiracy surrounding the activities of the NED in Eurasia was undertaken by Putin’s former chief PR strategist, Gleb Pavlovsky.

Gleb Pavlovsky’s unique role in helping develop a reactive strategy to foreign “democracy” promoters like the NED has been referred to as “Putin’s Preventive Counter-Revolution” by Robert Horvath. He argues that his strategy was born of the regimes anxiety in the wake of the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia, which marked “the first of the new wave of democratic revolutions in the post-Soviet space”. Pavlovsky is subsequently credited with having been the “mastermind of the Putin regime’s response” to these NED/Soros-backed democratic interventions. Moreover, Horvath adds a personal aside to this tale, observing that because Pavlovsky had served as “an advisor to the [Viktor] Yanukovych camp in the Ukrainian presidential election [in 2004], he had experienced the ‘Orange Revolution’ as a personal defeat.” Hence Pavlovsky’s went on to play a critical role in encouraging Putin to respond with a more thoroughgoing embrace of a conspiratorial interpretation of social uprisings.

No doubt taking hope from such conspiracies, Putin, during the 2007 Russian election, delivered his “most venomous tirade against the enemy within” for “counting ‘upon the support of foreign foundations and governments and not the support of their own people’. The following week these foreign enemies were then the focus of Arkadii Mamontov’s powerful conspiracy documentary Barkhat.ru (velvet.ru), which, as Horvath explained, “vilified leading opposition activists involved in the Other Russia coalition.” In this documentary F. William Engdahl found his voice yet again as the sole foreign expert to legitimate this open display of state propaganda. Echoing the aforementioned conspiracies surrounding the foreign funding of the Bolshevik Revolution, Mamontov maligned the anti-Putin political activism undertaken by the libertarian Russian-Croatian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, explaining to his viewers that Kasparov had “returned from America, like his colleague Trotsky once did”.

Bigotry in the Service of Tsardom

Perhaps styling himself after Fox News’ own once-powerful conspirator, Bill O’Reilly, Mamontov never misses a chance to launch vicious tirades against western liberalism. Mamontov thus puts his weekly sermons on the major national TV channel, Rossiya 1, to full use in the service of Putin’s anti-liberal brand of authoritarianism. In many ways the content of these Orwellian hate shows might be seen as an attempt to emulate Stalin’s famous show trials, allowing Mamontov and his conspirators to publicly try and convict all those guilty of tainting Russian patriotism. Just as Stalin persecuted Trotsky’s supporters as fascists (the enemy within), to Mamontov all critics of Putin (whether liberal or socialist) are fascist as far as he is concerned. That said, it is the alleged perversion and decadence of the West that features as Mamontov’s number one target, with one of his most vile contributions to date being his 2015 documentary Sodom, which is nothing other than a relentless attack on homosexuality. Keen to utilize ‘independent’ western critics to attack America’s latest so-called export, Sodom features the notorious anti-gay Christian activist Scott Lively, who in addition to being the author of bile-filled book The Pink Swastika, famously advised the Ugandan government on their notorious anti-homosexual legislation. Lively later went on to closely replicate Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill by working with Brian Brown to help the Russia state draft their own hateful Anti-Gay Laws. Notably, only last year Brian Brown went on to be elected president of the World Congress on Families – an international far-right coalition which has been correctly described as “one of the major driving forces behind the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism.” Joining arms with American funders, conservative Russian elites also played a central role in founding the World Congress on Families; and one billionaire who is to the fore of currently funding the Congresses activities is the loyal Putin-supporter, Konstantin Malofeev.

Much like the amazing Octopus-like reach of the Koch Brothers in America, Malofeev, as a devout extremist philanthropist, not only acts the president of his own neo-fascist think tank, Katehon, but has also founded his own his own Russian Orthodox TV channel with none other than Dugin sitting at its editorial helm. Another of Malofofeev’s explicitly elitist pet ambitions is to ensure that a new patriotic cadre is ready to rule Russia when (as he hopes) the Eurasian movement comes to complete domination of the state apparatus. To undertake this task Malofofeev created St Basil the Great School, which as he explained “in an interview with the Guardian, is meant to function as ‘an Orthodox Eton’, which will prepare the new elite for a future Russian monarchy.”

The fond memories that Russian oligarchs maintain for the alleged glory days of the pre-1917 reign of the Tsar are reactionary in the extreme, which, when combined with the mainstream media’s demonization of revolutionary social movements, has troubling consequences for the potential future growth of working-class struggle. Indeed the level of misunderstanding of Russia’s most significant political historical event is perplexing to anyone who has studied Russian history. One such liberal Bolshevik expert is Professor Alexander Rabinowitch, who, reflecting upon his recent visits to Russia explained how he

“…was struck by the absolutely crazy questions I was being asked: Was there a February Revolution? Is it true that everything was great in Russia in February, and it was the Generals or the Masons or the intelligentsia that caused the Revolution? And this to some extent is being encouraged, the idea that the Empire – that Imperial Russia was strong and that is where Russia’s future lies – I think that is being encouraged by the [Putin] regime, which really cannot just ignore the Revolution, and so it is helping fund serious scholarly conferences [which Rabinowitch attends], but at a popular level that’s not what is happening, and crazy things are being published and crazy things are being said, and these lead to crazy questions…. I certainly get that as I read about popular thought in newspapers.”

Again one popularizer of such nonsense is F. William Engdahl who wrote in 2015 in the journal of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences that:

“Contrary to the mythology that passes for history at western universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton or Harvard, Russia in the years leading to outbreak of World War I was on the path to become a towering prosperous economic nation, something especially not welcome in London.”

This gobbledygook leads Engdahl to his latest conspiratorial revelation: “Wall Street and the City of London financed Leon Trotsky, Lenin, and the Bolshevik Revolution essentially as they did Boris Yeltsin after 1990, to open up Russia for looting and balkanization by favored western companies.”

Propagating Conspiracies and New Eurasianism

Contemplating the nature of the Russian media’s relentless misrepresentation of the colored revolutions as simply “organized and paid for by the Americans,” one mainstream commentator writing for The Atlantic earlier this year observed: “Now, we see the same kinds of theories pop up in state media portrayals of the Revolutions of 1917.” But strictly speaking this is not really a new development as evidenced by the putrid outpouring of the likes of Engdahl and Spence. But such false flag right-wing propaganda is not limited to journalists and academics, as Putin’s former key advisor, Gleb Pavlovsky, as mentioned earlier, also played a critical role in spreading such misinformation within Russian society. Pavlovsky was aided in this task through his role as the host of a news show (between 2005 and 2008) that was aired on RTV  – a Russian television channel that has been owned by natural gas giant Gazprom since 2001.

Corporate networking events like the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum also play an important role in laundering the latest conspiracy theories amongst the Russian power elite. Last year, for example, Engdahl was featured on an all-star panel sponsored by energy giant Rusal that was titled “The Russian Economic Growth Agenda.” Speaking alongside Engdahl on this prestigious line-up was one of Putin’s primary economic advisors, Sergey Glaziev, who also sits on the advisory board of the right-wing think tank, Katehon. Glaziev likewise maintains his own close connections to Engdahl’s former boss, Lyndon LaRouche, whose shadowy conspiracy network published the English translation of Glaziev’s book in 1999 as Genocide: Russia and the New World Order.

These ominous links between LaRouche’s reactionary conspiracy network and Russian elites have been well-documented elsewhere, but needless to say LaRouchites often feature as “experts” on Russian television, particularly on Russia Today. LaRouche and his co-conspirators are even counted as close allies of one of Dugin’s key ideological supporters, Natalya Vitrenko, who is the leader of the misnamed Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. Following in Stalin’s footsteps Vitrenko, with no hint of irony, regularly refers to her democratic opponents as fascists, just as LaRouche himself does. (Note: LaRouche has good form in supporting authoritarian leaders; a good example being the ideological aid his network bestowed upon the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines during the peoples revolution of 1986.)

But while LaRouche with his endless supply of “alternative facts” has certainly provided further fuel for the explosion of conspiracy theories in Russia, the proselytizing of other homegrown intellectuals should be considered more important. This is especially the case with the reactionary neo-Eurasian ideas that have taken root within Putin’s increasingly authoritarian regime; a dark influence that reared its head during Putin’s annual address to the federal assembly in December 2012 when the president reminded his disciples of the contemporary relevance of the ideas of the late Lev Gumilyov’s (1912-1992). Gumilyov was a vehemently anti-Marxist theorist of the fledgling Eurasian movement who, amongst his other bizarre beliefs, was incensed that the Bolshevik Revolution had embodied “alien” western and Jewish values. It was Gumilyov’s intellectual legacy that has been rehashed and updated by both Dugin (who describes Gumilyov as his most important Russian mentor) and by a once-prominent professor at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Philosophy, Aleksandr Panarin (1940–2003).  Although Dugin is best-known as the intellectual guru for the Eurasian movement, Panarin’s primary contribution to this developing paradigm was to insert the esoteric and fascist ideas of the philosophical leader of the French New Right, Alain de Benoist.

Postmodern Confusion in France and Beyond

The French New Right as it turns out first began their rise to influence around the activism of Alain de Benoist in the wake of the revolutionary uprising of May 1968, with their new collective organizational form being the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (GRECE). Realizing that old-style fascism was discredited amongst the broader public, GRECE sought to promote themselves as anti-elitist but neither Left nor Right (neither socialism or capitalism), and they quickly went about popularizing their conspiratorial mishmash of fascist and occult ideas.

A useful book that provides details about the origins and influences exerted by GRECE and their global followers is Tamir Bar-On’s Where Have All The Fascists Gone? (2007), in which the author emphasizes that 1978 stood out as a “breakthrough year for GRECE in terms of receiving larger access to the mainstream public.” This was because a “number of important GRECE figures, including Alain de Benoist, began to write regular articles that year in the right-wing Le Figaro Magazine.” This however was no accidental flash-in-the-pan, as the editor of the popular Le Figaro Magazine, Louis Pauwels, had previously “written in the revolutionary right’s Cahiers universitairesin the 1960s.” Moreover, although overlooked by Bar-On, in 1960 Pauwels had coauthored the irrationalist, Romantic treatise known as Les matin des magiciens, which later made its 1964 debut in America as Morning of the Magicians. And given the long-standing cross-overbetween neo-fascist and occult/new age theories it is very pertinent that Pauwels book had been credited with “the distinction of launching a revival of interest in the occult in the 1960s and 1970s…” Clearly other objective historical conditions also played a major role in driving people away from class-based analyses of society, but the historical role played by ultra-right-wing occultists like Pauwels should not be overlooked. After all it is by examining the lives of people like Pauwels and his co-thinkers that we might begin to understand why both mystical and neo-fascist ideas have been able to make something of a resurgence among the public in recent decades.

Here the theories of the French New Right actually overlap somewhat with the debilitating postmodern ideas that were popularised by French intellectuals in the wake the 1968 revolution in France — not just their commitment to provide an alternative to Marxism. This worrying phenomenon was highlighted in the 2004 book New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe which was written by the right-wing postmodernist Michael O’Meara, an individual who presently works alongside fellow neo-fascists Kerry Bolton and Leonid Savin at the Athens-based Academy of Social and Political Research. Of relevance here, O’Meara’s personal biography sheds further light on the relationship on the intellectual upheavals in some parts of the so-called Left, as in 1999, writing under his former pen-name, Michael Torigian, O’Meara published a left-wing book titled Every Factory a Fortress: The French Labor Movement in the Age of Ford and Hitler. But then just a few months later O’Meara clarified his recent embrace of Alain de Benoist’s right-wing ideas in an article published in the controversial journal, Telos, which was titled “The philosophical foundations of the French New Right.”

Here it is important to acknowledge that the broader ideological slide from left-wing hostility to Marxism to right-wing hostility to Marxism was, in its own unique way, pioneered by Telos in the post 1968 period. Established in May 1968 by disillusioned left-wing academics, Telos set out on a search for an alternative to Marxism in order (ostensibly) to help emancipate the working-class. The new ideas Telos then unearthed arguably did a great service in enabling the development of post-Marxist ‘left-wing’ alternatives, most famously postmodernism. In the early 1990s Telos’ ever-expanding search for new theories eventually led their editors into an unfortunate embrace of the French New Right. As Boris Frankel’s observed in his prescient article “Confronting neo-liberal regimes: the post-Marxist embrace of populism and realpolitik” (New Left Review,  December 1997), it is vital that the “upsurge of right-wing populist movements in OECD countries” and “Telos’ theoretical cultivation of ‘postmodern populism’” should not be overlooked in coming to terms with history. On this I couldn’t agree more.

Final Thoughts/Hopes

The hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution is now upon us, and one of the most remarkable events in human history should provide inspiration and hope to billions of people. At present the world and its inhabitants stand at a critical juncture. Capitalism is once again demonstrating its inability to provide for the needs of the majority of people, and as every day passes, our inhumane system is driving even more people into poverty. Socialist alternatives to capitalism are not only possible but they are now supremely attainable: technological advances must be harnessed, not to oppress and surveil us, but to free us all from the daily grind of working life.

The eventual deformation of the Russian Revolution should be considered one of history’s major tragedies, and the Revolution’s gross distortion under the anti-democratic influence of Stalin and his apparatchiks must never be repeated. This is why Leon Trotsky and his supporters dedicated their lives to exposing all the dangerous betrayals of the working-class that took place under the misleadership of the Stalinist Communist Party, while also committing themselves to the ongoing struggle for a socialist future where ordinary people have full democratic control over workplaces and their lives. For undertaking such a struggle for justice, socialists and particularly Trotskyists have been relentlessly demonized by all capitalist institutions, by Stalin’s heirs, and by conspiracy theorists and their neo-fascists friends.

The Russian Revolution was a genuine democratic uprising of the working-class against their rulers which is precisely why it has always been so maligned by its ideological enemies. The Revolution was most certainly not orchestrated by Wall Street elites – in the same way that other popular revolutions that continue to shake the world are not the pet projects of Wall Street. Nevertheless it is true that when revolutions are deprived of a democratic leadership that is willing and ready to overthrow capitalism and bring about a socialist transformation of society, such revolutions will most likely only succeed in exchanging one set of undemocratic elites with another. This may give some form of respite to ordinary people, especially when they manage to replace capitalist dictatorships with capitalist democracies, but at the end of the day under the continued domination of capitalist misrule profits will always trump human need.

Of course there are many real reasons why people become disillusioned with the tiring fight for a fairer society, and it doesn’t help when the working-class are repeatedly let down or betrayed by the promises of their so-called political leaders. And all the while we should be aware that all sorts of fascists and right-wing populists are presently ready and waiting to take advantage of popular discontent if we fail to organize our class effectively on a global scale. Learning from this, socialists must therefore continue to lead by example and fight for every reform we can possibly wring from the ruling-class, while simultaneously making the case for why it will be necessary to ditch capitalism once and for all if we are to secure any lasting gains for our class. A socialist revolution is possible, as the centenary of the events in 1917 should remind us, now we just need to organize to make it happen.


[1] For details on the connections between fascists and the new age movement see, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (2002), p.292. I have written about this in my series of articles that critically scrutinized the reactionary spiritual conspiracies woven by David Icke; see part III “Ruling-Class Aliens” (Swans Commentary, July 28, 2014) for Icke’s use of anti-Semite conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russian Revolution.

[2] To read more about how LaRouche and Engdahl’s conspiracies have been popularized on mainstream TV, see Michael Wolraich’s Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (2010). In recent years Engdahl’s books have been published by the so-called “Progress Press” which excitedly republished LaRouche’s “underground classic” Dope Inc.: Britain’s Opium War against the United States. Furthermore, Engdahl’s 2009 book Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century directly draws up the conspiracies of Antony C. Sutton, refers to the “remarkable work of the 19th and early 20thCentury German writer, Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West” (a book popular in fascist circles), and uncritically cites the “research” of famed fascist anti-Semite Eustace Mullins. At present Engdahl is counted as a regular contributor to the online journal “New Eastern Outlook” which is published by the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Other well-known conspiracy theorists who write for this publication include Tony Cartalucci and Andre Vltchek.

More articles by:

Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017).

April 24, 2015

The Political Economy of Fashion

Filed under: fashion,Film,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 4:43 pm
The True Costs of an Aesthetic

The Political Economy of Fashion


Perhaps there is no better example of Karl Marx’s “fetishism of commodities” than the clothes we buy. Since “Capital” refers almost continuously to the textile industry that was the lynchpin of the burgeoning capitalist system, this makes perfect sense. As Sven Beckert, the author of the highly acclaimed “Empire of Cotton”, put it in aChronicle of Higher Education article in December, 2014, the raw material and the manufacturing system it fed were midwives to a global system that continues to punish the workers who reamain its captives:

Just as cotton, and with it slavery, became key to the U.S. economy, it also moved to the center of the world economy and its most consequential transformations: the creation of a globally interconnected economy, the Industrial Revolution, the rapid spread of capitalist social relations in many parts of the world, and the Great Divergence—the moment when a few parts of the world became quite suddenly much richer than every other part. The humble fiber, transformed into yarn and cloth, stood at the center of the emergence of the industrial capitalism that is so familiar to us today. Our modern world originates in the cotton factories, cotton ports, and cotton plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Not very much has changed since Karl Marx wrote about the textile industry except the geography. In the 1840s it was the factories of Birmingham, England and the cotton plantations of the slave states that were connected. Today it is China and India that are the largest producers of cotton, while the textile mills are no longer in the countries that were in the vanguard of capitalist development. They have relocated to places like Cambodia and Bangladesh, the places that director Andrew Morgan visited in the course of making “The True Cost”, a documentary that opens on May 30 (see http://truecostmovie.com/ for screening information).

If not a documentary, the 2014 biopic “Yves Saint Laurent” is a very truthful account of the 20th century’s most famous high fashion designer. Now available on Netflix and opening as well at the Film Forum in New York on June 25th, the film is well written and acted, and is a good complement to the aforementioned documentaries.

As someone who owned a YSL suit many years ago, and who has a bottle of cologne with his imprint even now, I suppose I can be considered partial to the subject. So be it.

Thanks to this film, I have a much better idea of the man than the one I had when I would glance at his name in a gossip column where he was so ubiquitous in the 70s and 80s, cheek by jowl with Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and other beautiful people.

Despite his sybaritic appearance, Yves Saint Laurent was a tortured soul through most of his life, especially in 1960 when he was drafted into the French army that was then trying to suppress a revolution in Algeria, Saint Laurent’s place of birth in Oran, 1936. Singled out as a gay man, he was tormented in basic training so much so that he ended up in a mental hospital where he received electroshock treatments. It is the trauma he suffered here that was likely responsible for the alcoholism and drug addiction that haunted him until death.

read full article

October 29, 2013

The decline and fall of Levi-Strauss

Filed under: economics,fashion — louisproyect @ 3:26 pm

No, I am not talking about the French anthropologist who applied structuralism to indigenous societies. Rather it is the blue jean company that has fallen upon hard times, much to my dismay. I imagine that after posting this and the one on Barneys yesterday, this will be the last I have to say on the rag trade for some time to come.

After going from a 34 waist to a 31, I have had to replace my trousers some of which were over 10 years old including a pair of Levi’s 501 blue jeans. I have had a pair of such jeans going back to 1961 in my freshman year at Bard College when upperclassmen advised me that they were “cool”. They have a button fly and shrink a size or two after the first washing. The material was like stiff and heavy canvas when it first came off the shelf but softened and faded most pleasingly after about a dozen cycles through the washing machine.

Unfortunately the 501 jeans Levi-Strauss sells today have nothing in common with my original pair except the name. The material is thinner and cheap looking. They are also prewashed. The upside is that you don’t have to worry about shrinkage. The downside is that they look like crap.

If you go to Amazon.com, you will find the “most helpful critical review” of the Levi’s 501 jeans:

Real 501’s are made of 14 oz canvas-like material. These “Iconic Rigid” jeans are made of some sleazy, much lighter material that takes on a carefully contrived set of wrinkles to make them look like they’d been worn to bed soaking wet and dried out overnight. If you want real 501’s stay away from these. I sent mine back right away.


Before revealing how this state of affairs came to be, a look at the roots of this garment manufacturer would be useful.

Levi Strauss (the first name is generally a last name in Jewry, it means a member of a priestly caste) was a German Jew who launched his blue jean company in 1853 out of San Francisco. The jeans were actually pioneered by a Latvian Jewish tailor named Jacob Davis who purchased denim from Levi Strauss. When the miners and other hardscrabble men who bought pants from Davis kept coming back to have them patched, he came up with the idea of reinforcing them with copper rivets at the points of maximum stress like the pockets corners. As is often the case in design, functionality and beauty are joined at the hip.

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Although they started out as work clothes like the Carhartt brand, they became a fashion statement in the 30s and 40s with the growing popularity of dude ranches. The look became popular in Hollywood films, with James Dean in “Giant” being representative.

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As well as Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”.

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By the time I got to Bard College, Levi jeans had become popular among the early 60s hipsters—most of whom were strongly influenced stylistically by the beat generation. Bob Dylan wore Levi’s.

Screen shot 2013-10-29 at 10.49.54 AMRapidly approaching my 69th birthday, I suppose I seem a bit foolish trying to dress in the same style I had adopted in 1961 but then again I remain attached inexplicably to the habits of my youth, including Marxism. It looks like I will be wed to Marxism for as long as I live but unfortunately the Levi 501 jeans will go by the wayside.

So what happened? This article puts it altogether:

The Guardian, Sunday 3 June 2007
Story of the blues
By Hadley Freeman

Levi’s was the original denim brand. In 1873, Jacob Davis, a tailor, hooked up with Levi Strauss to create a special pair of trousers for a woodcutter that were strong enough to hold in his bloated stomach. But things have come a long way since then and many industry observers say Levi’s has failed to keep pace.

Since 1996, the company’s sales have been dropping fast. It has lost billions of dollars in sales, closed dozens of factories and laid off nearly half of its workforce because, competitors say, it failed to take advantage of the change in the denim market when jeans shifted from being seen as a work garment to a style statement. Jonny Sorensen, the chief executive of Von Dutch, one of the denim brands Levi’s is suing, told the New York Times: “[Levi’s] missed the boat. Now they want to make a lot of noise and scare people away.”

Calvin Klein introduced the concept of designer denim back in 1978, and Helmut Lang upped the ante two decades later by giving his jeans designer prices. But it wasn’t until the late 90s, with the emergence of Earl jeans from California, that the denim craze truly took hold. This label shifted people’s perceptions of jeans: no longer were they chunky workman wear but a sexy item that showed off a woman’s figure. In Earl’s first year, it had a turnover of $600,000. In its second, sales rose to $10m. In 2001 the company was sold for roughly $86m. “A woman now needs a different pair for every occasion, just like shoes: some days you want a sexy pair, other days you want to be more relaxed and slouchy,” says Suzanne Pendlebury, womenswear buyer for Harvey Nichols.

But the emphasis here is on “new”: jeans are not what they once were – baggy, frumpy, clumpy – and the mid-priced classic brands, such as Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler, have struggled in the new marketplace. They have been squeezed out between, on the one hand, the flashier designer brands and, on the other, the cheap ranges offered in supermarkets and on the high street. Topshop’s Baxter jeans, for example, sell 18,000 pairs a week. Both the top and the bottom ends of the market have focused on denim’s new fashion-based image. Lee and Wrangler, on the other hand, have struggled with stagnating sales. Last year, Levi’s ended an eight-year fall in sales but it is still trying to recoup its losses from its period of what Onda describes as “steep decline” in the late 1990s.

Full: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/jun/04/fashion.retail

Levi-Strauss’s collapse raises all sorts of interesting questions about the commodity. Here is a product that underwent no significant changes since its birth around 150 years ago. It began to die in the marketplace as soon as people like Calvin Klein began to market blue jeans as a fashion item rather than a workaday garment (even though it did have its own esthetic.)

To what extent are there real benefits in style changes? Also, what was the role of such a “proletarian”, no-frills garment in destabilizing societies that were based on the rejection of commodity fetishism? The Levi-Strauss website recounts the role of their product in the Cold War:

Back (Then) in the U.S.S.R.


Russia – part of the former Soviet Union – is a fairly new market for Levi’s® jeans, but the company and the brand actually visited that country more than fifty years ago.

In 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to increase cultural contact between the two countries in order to ease tensions between the Cold War rivals.  The agreement stated that exhibits are “an effective means of developing mutual understanding,” and both nations agreed to host exhibitions from the other country. In 1959 the United States Information Agency coordinated the American National Exhibition which was sent to Moscow. Vice President Richard Nixon opened the Exhibition on July 25. (Remember the Kitchen Debate?)

Included in the displays of American culture, science, and technology was a good- sized booth created by Levi Strauss & Co., filled with displays of 501® jeans and Western-themed advertising. Staffers wore jeans and cowboy shirts, and 501® jeans were also worn by entertainers hired to treat the crowds to some down home American music.

Although jeans were frowned upon by Soviet officials as symbols of decadence and western imperialism, the products on display had to be replaced almost daily. Why? As explained then by the international press service R&F Features, “Eager Soviet visitors handled – and occasionally helped themselves to – display samples of the all-American denim pants.”

Levi’s® jeans were a coveted, but forbidden capitalist item in the Soviet Union for the next thirty years. Then, when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Russian citizens could buy “real” (not black market) Levi’s® jeans for the very first time.

The LS&CO. Archives has a letter from one such happy customer, a woman named Larisa Popik, who wrote us in August of 1991:

A man hasn’t very much happy minutes in his life, but every happy moment remains in his memory for a long time. I’m not the fanatic of clothes, but the buying of Levi’s jeans (501) is one of such moments in  my life.  I’m 24, but while wearing your jeans I feel myself like a 15-years-school-girl, I feel myself like a graceful, slender and beautiful girl. 

Thank you very much for such comfortable, soft, light and nice jeans. Good luck to your kind and necessary business!

So, Levi 501 jeans—a vanguard fighter for capitalist restoration—now falls victim to the very process it seemed contrary to.

Maybe there’s hope for Levi’s in filling a niche for those wealthy enough to purchase jeans that perhaps allude to their birth in a place totally the opposite of where they are sold now: Barneys.

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October 28, 2013

Barneys bigotry

Filed under: economics,fashion — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 1.04.51 PM

Published by billionaire Mort Zuckerman, a diehard member of the Israel lobby, the New York Daily News has been evolving into a fairly hard-hitting “anti-racist” publication, to use the term that has come under close scrutiny in the recent past by people such as Adolph Reed. If you go to their website, you will see for example an item on the disgusting Trayvon Martin “costume” worn at a Florida Halloween party. Juan Gonzalez, Amy Goodman’s co-host at Democracy Now, has been writing a column at the News for years now. So, in general, this is a paper that is more liberal in some ways than the NY Times that has not had an African-American op-ed columnist since Bob Herbert left some years ago. Charles Blow does have a column that appears on Saturday but it is fairly narrowly focused on polling and demographics.

The News broke the story on a young Black man being racially profiled by Barneys, the upscale clothing store that I used to patronize in the 1980s when I worked on Wall Street.

The clothing store Barneys purports to cater to a certain class of person, one so chic and so monied as to be eager to spend $280 on a pair of jeans or $2,850 on a skimpy woman’s “bicolor jacket.”

Apparently, in Barneys’ view, this class of person did not extend to a young, black New York City male who took a flier on buying a $300 Ferragamo belt. Trayon Christian says store security had him busted by the NYPD.

Christian is a 19-year-old New York College of Technology engineering student who lives in Queens. He has a work-study job that deposits his pay directly into a Chase bank account.

After picking out the belt, he offered his Chase debit card for payment. This was a transaction of a kind that happens thousands of times a day at Barneys’ Madison Ave. flagship emporium.

Without incident, the trendy from neighborhoods like the upper East Side make their picks and flash their cards as if this is where they belong . But not Christian, who has filed suit charging that Barneys concluded, based on skin color, that his money was stolen.

Christian says that, after presenting his debit card, he complied with a request for identification, completed the purchase and walked out, only to be stopped by plainclothes NYPD cops, who said that Barneys had called, accusing him of using a fake card.

In Christian’s telling, he was handcuffed and spent two hours in the 19th Precinct stationhouse while cops verified that he was who he said he was and that the money was his to spend.

The incident has had ramifications in a city polarized around the question of racial profiling. Bill de Blasio, certain to be the next mayor, has called for the abolition of “stop and frisk”, a practice that targets Blacks and Latinos disproportionately.

It has put Jay Z, the rapper businessman, on the spot:

Jay-Z — under increasing pressure to back out of a collaboration with the luxury store Barneys New York after it was accused of racially profiling two black customers — said Saturday he’s being unfairly “demonized” for just waiting to hear all of the facts.

The rap mogul made his first statement about the controversy in a posting on his website. He has come under fire for remaining silent as news surfaced this week that two young black people said they were profiled by Barneys after they purchased expensive items from their Manhattan store.

My last big-ticket purchase at Barneys was a 700-dollar Armani suit that I bought just a few months before losing my job at Goldman Sachs in 1988. It, along with my Paul Stuart suits, went to a thrift shop about a year after I began working at Columbia University. Don’t ask me why I wasted my money on such commodities. Temporary insanity, I guess.

The story of Barneys’s transformation over the years is one that is very much connected to those taking place in New York City generally, as it has become much more of a FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) center as well as a haven first for Eurotrash and more recently for the offspring of Russian oligarchs and oil sheikhs.

The store is named after Barney Pressman, a Jew who launched it in 1923 at 7th avenue and 17th street with the $500 he got from hocking his wife’s engagement ring. He got started in what New Yorkers call the rag trade working in his father’s clothing store, pressing trousers 3 cents a pair.

Early on, Barneys catered to less than wealthy men who wanted to buy a prestigious brand like Hickey-Freeman or Oxxford that were bought wholesale at odd lots and auctions. Often the customer would ask for the Barneys label to be removed so as to leave open where the suit was purchased. At the time Saks 5th Avenue had a lot more clout than Barneys.

In the 1960s the store was transformed into a snooty boutique under the stewardship of Fred Pressman, the owner’s son. As prosperity became generalized in the long postwar expansion, New Yorkers had more money to burn. Barneys’s original location expanded to five floors and a new store was launched on 61st and Madison, both catering to women as well as men. After Fred Pressman retired, his sons Gene and Robert took over and targeted the rich and the infamous even more. If you’ve seen Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street”, you’ll get a good idea of what the typical Barneys wardrobe looked like.

On August 29, 1993, the NY Times Sunday Magazine had a 5000 word article on the store’s ambitions. Like cocaine, Studio 54, and Madonna, it was an icon of the period as reporter Steve Lohr indicated:

Much of retailing, it is said, boils down to understanding life styles and spotting trends. Over the years, Gene Pressman has certainly done plenty of field research. He is by nature a participant, trying what was hip and trendy ever since Woodstock in 1969. “I got so wasted,” he recalled fondly. “And wasn’t the music great?” Later, he sampled Manhattan night life, knew the Andy Warhol crowd, took in the scene of Studio 54 and the like.

He lives in Bugsy Siegel’s former house, a Tudor mansion in Westchester County, overlooking Long Island Sound, which he redid to accommodate a 14,000-bottle wine cellar and a garage with vintage cars. Guests, also clearly a carefully edited selection, get tours past the ’62 Aston Martin in the garage and the expensive wines in the cellar. Gene is married these days with two children. He drives fast, but the rest of his fast-lane life may simply be a fond memory.

Though he’s wealthy and surrounds himself with expensive toys, he clings to his version of 60’s counterculture values. He pulls his white shirt away from his neck to show that it is monogrammed, but on the inside. “How about that for reverse snobbery?” he says.

In order to build their empire in New York as well as stores in other countries enjoying a booming economy, the Pressman’s partnered with Isetan, a Japanese department store also catering to the rich.

Like the Japanese economy, Barneys expanded too fast and too much on a mountain of debt, thus leading to bankruptcy in 1996. In 1999 a book by Joshua Levine titled “The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys: A Family Tale of Chutzpah, Glory and Greed “ was published by William Morrow. If the title evokes Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, this review in the New York Observer will explain why:

Some years ago, a friend took her 14-year-old son to the 17th Street Barneys to buy a birthday gift for his style-conscious grandfather. Dressed in full New York private school uniform (frayed baggy jeans, ripped T-shirt), my friend’s son seemed to have come from a different fashion planet; here the aliens were buying and selling silk socks that, judging by their price, must have been produced by worms specially selected and properly compensated for outspinning their grubbier brothers. For a while, the boy was mystified, and put off. But eventually he succumbed to the lure of the buttery loafers, the ties arrayed in bright rainbows, like elegant wearable candy; he fell for the seductive chemistry of luxury, snobbery and taste. As they left, he turned around, and promised the expensive, attractive things, “I’ll be back!” When I asked my friend how this made her feel, she said, “As if I’d personally introduced him to the Devil.”

The most entertaining and upsetting sections document the sheer wastefulness, misguidedness and mismanagement that went into the construction of the catastrophically expensive–$267 million–Madison Avenue Barneys, the Pressmans’ monument to themselves: “‘The Pressmans kept saying they wanted this to be the most beautiful store in the world,’ says one of the top architects on the project … ‘We did a whole boutique [lined] with goatskin … I was arguing that you could do this in a faux finish, and you might spend an eighth of the price. The response was, like, why use faux goatskin when you could use real goatskin?’”

Why? Presumably, so all that expensive fabulousness could be osmotically absorbed by the sales staff, who would then feel righteously entitled to give Barneys’ customers the maximum amount of attitude. The arrogance and oily-hip demeanor of the salespeople eventually became a liability for the store, as shoppers began to wonder why they were sneered at so contemptuously when they handed over their credit card to pay for, say, the Rei Kawakubo bump dress that for a small fortune could make a woman look like she had tumors growing on her ass.

Like other wonders of the world (the Pyramids, for example), the building took its toll not only in money but in human life. One worker fell off a scaffolding, the other tumbled down an empty elevator shaft–a death that, Mr. Levine suggests, may have been connected to a dispute over the profitable disposition of the scrap metal that the construction site was generating. But unlike the slave laborers who built the Pyramids, these workers expected to get paid, a modest expectation often at odds with the Pressmans’ increasingly precarious financial situation. Creditors resorted to scrawling nasty graffiti on the unfinished building and (as they grew more impatient) making death threats against their employers, tactics the Pressmans countered by beefing up store security.

Reading The Rise and Fall of Barneys means wading through the details of the bad business decisions that brought the Pressmans low; some people love this sort of thing, which I find about as exciting as watching a stranger balance his checkbook. And at times I couldn’t help wishing that Mr. Levine had gained access to the family. To know what makes the Pressmans tick might be like channeling the Pharaohs, or Louis XIV. Nonetheless, Joshua Levine has done a serviceable and entertaining job of explaining why, when my friend’s son makes his long-promised return to the pretty ties and shoes of the Chelsea Barneys, the store he remembers will be long gone–and he’ll find himself in Loehmann’s.

March 30, 2012

Three documentaries of note

Filed under: beatniks,Ecology,fashion,Film — louisproyect @ 6:13 pm

Reviewed below:

–“Beat Hotel”

–“God Save My Shoes”

–“Surviving Progress”

In catching up with AMC TV’s terrific “Mad Men” series (Season Five began last Sunday), I was watching an episode from Season Two the other night. Peter Campbell, a copywriter from a very Waspy family, went to a doctor with his wife to find out why they were having trouble procreating. Set in 1962, it was natural for the doctor to ask Campbell in his one-on-one discussion with him: “Do you really want to have a child?” Campbell replied vociferously, “How can you ask such a question? Everybody wants to have children.”

As part of its ongoing attempt to reflect different aspects of American society, the show depicts the burgeoning counter-culture—even including the bearded hipster copywriter named Paul Kinsey.

As I watched the exchange between the doctor and Peter Campbell, I could not help but think of the opening lines of one of my favorite poems from the early 60s, Gregory Corso’s “Marriage”:

Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don’t take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It’s beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky-

When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where’s the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap-
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?

For countless numbers of young people, Corso’s poem symbolized an alternative path for living in America by one’s own rules. Instead of buying into the suburban utopia with its split-level houses and two-car garages, we would make life into an adventure—smoking dope, hanging out in Lower East Side tenements listening to Charlie Parker records, working as clerks in bookstores, and trying to finish a novel or that next poem.

Just two nights after watching the “Mad Men” episode I had the exquisite pleasure of watching what might just be the best documentary on the beat generation, a film titled “The Beat Hotel” that opens at the Cinema Village in NY this evening.

Like the Chelsea Hotel in NY in the 1960s and 70s, the fleabag, no-name hotel at 9 rue Git le Coeur in Paris became a beacon for cultural rebels during the 1950s. Three of its leading denizens were the aforementioned Gregory Corso, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg who shared his tiny room with Peter Orlovsky.

The film relies heavily on the photographs of Harold Chapman who lived there as well. Chapman also supplies invaluable recollections of what life was like in the hotel, including fascinating details about its seediness. There was only one bathroom on each floor, each featuring a “Turkish” (or squat) toilet that evoked those Gahan Wilson cartoons from an old New Yorker Magazine.

“Beat Hotel” also includes some absolutely fantastic animation based on the paintings of Elliot Rudie who also lived there. Like Chapman, Rudie has plenty of great anecdotes about hanging out with Burroughs and the gang.

The hotel was owned and run by Madam Rachou who was sympathetic to political as well as cultural rebels. During the Algerian war of independence, she provided a haven for leftists being pursued by the French cops.

In contrast to the opulent but spiritually bereft environment of “Mad Men”, “The Beat Hotel” was a fertile oasis that brought great pleasure to the men possessed by a vision of a better world, even if it was not based on any kind of economic or political program. Allen Ginsberg, who put in some time as a copywriter himself, put it this way in “Howl”:

who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,

Now, 57 years later after this poem was written, young people not that different than me continue to look to the beat generation as an inspiration. They, and people of any other age, should go see “Beat Hotel” to get an idea of how it all got started.

Also opening tonight at the Quad Cinema in NY is “God Save My Shoes”, a fascinating examination of women’s high heels. For those who have read my posts on Sex and the City, both the television show and the universally despised part 2 movie (except for me and WBAI’s resident Marxist film critic Prairie Miller), this review should come as no great surprise. As Karl Marx once said—quoting Roman playwright Terrence—”Nothing human is alien to me”. The same goes for me, including high-heel shoes.

Despite the film’s nod to Sex and the City as having inspired the explosion of sales in high-heels over the past decade or so, it has as much in common with a Modern Language Association convention as it does with pop culture. It interviews Manolo Blahnik, the shoe designer whose beautiful but largely unwearable commodities were favored—if not fetishized—by lead character Carrie Bradshaw. Indeed, the documentary shows outtakes from several fashion shows as runway models trip over their own feet bedecked in 5 inch heel shoes. A similar scene takes place in Sex and the City when Carrie tries modeling as a PR stunt.

Shoe designers like Blahnik are artists in their own right, even if their work might have the effect of confining women just as feet-binding and corsets did in an earlier age, as observed by Valerie Steele, the curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum (a school where my wife has taught political science classes for over 5 years.) In addition to Steele, we hear from Elizabeth Semmelhack, the curator of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, whose grasp of the history, the esthetics, and psychological and social implications of high heels is just as penetrating.

The academic experts allow for the possibility that such shoes empower women insofar as they raise their wearers to the same height as men. At the same time they fret over the obvious health hazards and their sexual objectification of women. This contradiction, of course, is at the heart of the film’s message and makes it such compelling viewing.

In keeping with the “Mad Men”/”Beat Hotel” times-are-changing motif expressed above, it occurs to me that the high-heels fad among young women is related in some ways to the almost universal tendency for African-American women to straighten their hair using toxic chemicals as pointed out in Chris Rock’s fascinating “Good Hair”. If the 60s was all about being “natural”, the late 70s onwards is much more about appearance—a repeat of the awful fifties in many ways. Let’s hope that the financial crisis might have a useful side-effect just as the 1930s Great Depression did, namely an impulse toward reexamining what the “good life” is all about.

On April 6th, a week from tomorrow, “Surviving Progress” opens at the Cinema Village in NY, the same locale as “The Beat Hotel”. This documentary can best be described as a look at the same phenomenon covered in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, the tendency of civilizations to destroy themselves over time through unwise economic and environmental practices—but without Diamond’s crappy politics. Probably the first and best overview of this tendency was stated by Frederick Engels in “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man”:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries … Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

Unlike Diamond, directors Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks make the link between the capitalist economic system (even though they refrain from using the term) and environmental despoliation. In answering the question why the Amazon rainforest keeps getting chopped down even as it threatens to undermine humanity’s future, they call on left economist Michael Hudson who explains that Brazil was simply acting on the suggestion made by the IMF to pay off debts through the rapid and extensive use of agricultural exports. The general thrust of the film is to put the blame on the international financial system for a possible extinction of life as we know it. What makes this all the more interesting is Martin Scorsese’s role as executive director. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the great artist of personal crime is beginning to understand that the biggest problem is corporate crime.

“Surviving Progress” has a stellar cast of academics like Michael Hudson (Stephen Hawking among them) and people in the political arena charged with the duty of saving the planet from predatory financial interests. Among them is Marina Silva, a Brazilian senator who was formerly Minister of the Environment, who is shown in the Amazon at a logging factory and at the small towns that house the desperately poor loggers and farmers encroaching on the forest. They plead their case, stating that if the Amazon is the lungs of the north, it is also the heart of the Brazilian poor. Without an Amazon to exploit, there is no future for them.

While the film does not get into alternative ways of economic development, it is fairly obvious that the future of the planet can only be guaranteed through the elimination of private property and the profit motive. As Hollywood fictional films continue their sorry descent into the cesspool, we can at least be assuaged by the determination of courageous directors like Mattieu Roy and Harold Crooks to tell the truth without worrying about whether their film will be the next blockbuster. For intellectual and political stimulation, and as well as to respond positively to an imperative to make such documentaries worth making, I urge you to put “Surviving Progress” on your calendar.

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