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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Collapse of the Center, Where is the Left?

With both the Italian elections and the German effort at a so-called “Grand Coalition” in the recent news, much attention has turned to political developments in Europe. For those of us in the US, interest comes not only from the impact of European politics on our own affairs, but also from the fact that US and European trends have often traveled parallel tracks.
For example, in much of the post-war period, governance in Europe has revolved around two centrist political poles that can be roughly characterized as Christian democracy and social democracy. Insofar as both poles defend capitalism and oppose Communism, support capitalist institutions, and are content to peacefully alternate rule, they mirror the US two-party system without the stricter institutional backstops that preserve the electoral system for the Republican and Democratic Party in the US.
Certainly, the Western European political systems were nominally multi-party after the war, but the dynamics of those systems steered political developments toward the center. The far right was appropriately neutered by the discrediting of Nazism and fascism as a consequence of World War II. The revolutionary left-- the Communists-- were overtly and covertly thwarted by the Cold War, the NATO consensus. Where the Communists enjoyed formal legality, the centrist parties, the US, and the NATO allies worked hand-in-glove to deny participation in government.
While both European Christian democracy and social democracy were firmly committed to the capitalist course, social democracy wittingly served as a buffer against the attraction of a workers’ state by advocating a kind of faux-socialism, a socio-economic safety net. As an insurance policy against the ascendency of European Communist Parties, Christian democracy tempered the right’s conventional economic liberalism of minimalist government, unfettered markets, and austere budgets, grudgingly accepting social spending and a more “humane” social contract.
Frustrated with the de facto barrier against Communist parliamentary success, many European Communist Parties began a process of concessions, of shedding revolutionary principles and prospects, creating a left-social democracy dubbed “Euro Communism.” A few Parties resisted this opportunistic path.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the European socialist states proved to be a watershed for European politics and, particularly, the left. The Euro Communist left, stripped of its untenable raison d'être-- Communism without Communism-- collapsed, leaving a void to the left of social democracy. Social Democracy, in turn, cast off faux-socialism for public-private partnership under the direction of monopoly capitalism: markets, and not social policies, were to provide for the masses. And, without the threat of Communism, the right returned to its fundamental character, aggressively pressing unrestrained class politics: anti-unionism, fiscal austerity, deregulation, privatization, and chauvinism.
Without the fear of Communism, capitalism found no need for an accommodation with the working class.
In the 1990s, Continental Europe followed the path blazed in the UK and US over a decade earlier by the Thatcher/Reagan axis. Faced with shifting alignments and the 1970s failure of Old Labour/New Deal policies (specifically, the Keynesian economic framework underlying both approaches), a new consensus began to emerge in both countries.
From the mid-1980s into the next decade, the new consensus spread to nearly all major political parties and around the globe. In its essence, it was a return to Whiggism, the political, social, and economic ideology of the bourgeoisie: parliamentarism, negative rights, and the economic liberalism of minimal regulation, preference for private over public initiative, and markets as decisive of all matters and in the last instance.
Pundits are fond of labeling this development “neo-liberalism,” a statement of the obvious. But the superficiality of that term obscures the fact that the turn is more than a mere policy. In fact, it is a response to the failings of the previous consensus and it constitutes the capitalist norm when the specter of Communism does not loom large over the future.
Social democrats in the US and Europe promoted the notion of a “third way” to mask their capitulation to classical capitalism and its totalizing influence over all aspects of society, over every global nook and cranny. In fact, after the demise of the Soviet Union and its socialist neighbors, there was the one way in the US and EU.
With capitalism marching triumphantly into the twenty-first century, most of the US and European left conceded that capitalism was resilient and here to stay. An inflated memory of a kinder, gentler capitalism might be the best that could be imagined.
But the triumphant project ran aground, crashing on the rocks of economic crises. The capitalist accumulation process imploded in 2000 and, again, even more severely, in 2007-2008. “Recovery” re-established accumulation, but left millions of broken, desperate people in its wake. Inequality, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, insecurity, and alienation afflicted millions in the US and the EU (and, of course, the rest of the world). Capitalism recovered, but the people did not. For the people, the entrenched ideological options of conservatism and social democracy offered only the thin gruel of austerity.
Mesmerized by rising equity values and restored profitability, and impressed with the growing wealth and well-being of the bourgeoisie and the visible and vocal petty bourgeoisie, ruling elites labor under the illusion that all is going well. In Europe and the US, the never-changing meal of celebrity-worship, sports, anti-social social media, and other distractions nourish a false sense of security and satisfaction.
But in towns and villages, neighborhoods and suburbs, people are suffering. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictions are taking a demographic toll, unseen by high-income, physically segregated elites. As insecurities and dysfunctionality grow, millions feel a growing difference-- an often poorly expressed class difference-- between the beneficiaries of the capitalist economy and themselves, the losers.
Anger seethes.
Without the compass of a revolutionary ideology, without the vision of socialism, this anger remains unfocused, directed vaguely at government, the media, existing political parties, and, too often, convenient scapegoats.
As the anger emerges politically, it is met with elite derision, contempt, or condescension. It is seen by their “betters” as a product of the uneducated, the backward, the uncultured. As Hillary Clinton so famously put it: “the deplorables.”
The insularity of US and European elites-- divided from the masses by culture, social practices, power, status, and wealth-- leads directly to the political crisis that spawned Brexit, Trump’s election, the rise of “populist” or alternative political parties, and most decidedly, the discrediting of historically centrist parties. This last week’s desperate attempt to preserve a coalition of the center in Germany and the collapse of the center left and the shocking success of the Five Star Movement and extreme right in Italy only underscore the distance between the masses and the political parties carefully crafted by the bourgeoisie to contain the aspirations of those masses.
Behind these political developments lies a stagnant, sputtering global economy. It is apparent that segments of the ruling classes are uneasy with or reject the globalist ideology of open markets and are moving towards economic nationalism. The failure of growth to return has led many in the capitalist class to call for a change in direction: protectionism. The emergence of support for nationalism and protectionism has energized the Euro-skeptics, the extreme right, and Trump.
Of course, the other side of this political coin is the failure of the left, especially the left that is yet untainted by the stain of ineffectual social democracy. For the most part, the non-establishment left has failed to deliver a militant, persuasive message to the working people in Europe and the US. And where there is a still a credible militant Communist left, the waters have been muddied by false prophets-- for example, SYRIZA in Greece.
In many countries, the retreat from Marxism became a rout after the fall of the Soviet Union. In its place, ideologies like anarchism, utopian socialism, and cooperativism-- ideologies that had long been discredited by Marx himself-- are revived. The peculiarly North American mania for procedural democracy-- the view that justice will flow spontaneously like a natural spring when we unleash a radical version of Robert’s Rules of Order-- has returned to prominence as shown by to the now collapsed Occupy movement. And of course, left-lite liberals immerse themselves in the battles for self-identity and against “micro-aggressions” while minority identities are actually ravaged by the macro-aggressions of class war and capitalist exploitation.
In light of recent poor electoral showings, some have sought to explain the sorry state of the US and European left as a result of structural changes in capitalism. They see a new working class, the “precariat,” as superseding the traditional proletariat (even The Wall Street Journal has fancied the term). The “precariat” notion derives from the realities of a changing workplace of part-time, contract, temporary, and dispersed employment, an optimal realization of the classical liberal economic dream. This trend in employment has made organizing workers difficult, certainly more challenging than with the world of the traditional worker engaged in one lifetime or semi-lifetime job under a factory roof.
Of course, the structural changes cited are, to a great extent, the result of the failure of trade unions and political parties to defend the interests of workers against predatory capitalists. Moreover, the difficulties that these changes bring forth are obstacles to union organizing, less so to political parties. And history teaches that establishing militant political parties precedes organizing militant trade unionism. No task before the union movement today presents greater impediments than was the task of building industrial unions in the US in the 1930s. The challenge of establishing the CIO was only met, was only possible, because of the leadership and effort of Communist and socialist workers.
Needed is the return in influence of historically informed workers’ parties that draw upon the social theory of Marx and the organizational insights of Lenin (that is to say, parties that reject the backward Cold War dogma of Anything but Communism), Without the strong option of Communist or Workers’ Parties, the European and US working class will continue to face the repellent choice between decadent, rotting centrist parties and a host of new charlatan parties offering fool’s gold policies, magic elixirs, and vulnerable scapegoats. 
Only an independent, working class-oriented movement informed by Marxism-Leninism can provide a “third way” apart from the disaster of free-market globalism or the trap of economic nationalism.
The old saw that workers deserve their own party is more true today than ever-- an authentic anti-capitalist party that returns to the revolutionary legacy surrendered to opportunism and parliamentary illusions.

Greg Godels

Friday, February 23, 2018

Patriotic Paranoia

.....  I find the view… that prevails today in large portions of our governmental and journalistic establishments so extreme, so subjective, so far removed from what any sober scrutiny of external reality would reveal, that it is not only ineffective, but dangerous as a guide to political action.
This endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another… country; this routine exaggeration of... military capabilities...: this monotonous misrepresentation of the nature and the attitudes of another... people...; ...this reckless application of the double standard to the judgment of…[their] conduct and our own, this failure to recognize, finally, the commonality of many of their problems and ours...: and the corresponding tendency to view all aspects of the relationship in terms of a supposed total and irreconcilable conflict of concerns and of aims;  these, I believe, are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power...
And we shall not be able to turn these things around as they should be turned, on the plane of military and nuclear rivalry, until we learn to correct these childish distortions... If we insist on demonizing these… leaders -- on viewing them as total and incorrigible enemies, consumed only with their fear and hatred of us and dedicated to nothing other than our destruction -- that, in the end, is the way we shall assuredly have them, if for no other reason than that our view of them allows for nothing else, either for them or just us.
The above, edited-for-clarity quote comes to me courtesy of a thoughtful friend, E. Martin Schotz, and is taken from George Kennan’s 1982 book, The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age. Kennan is widely recognized as one of the architects of the Cold War. His post-World War II writing on the supposed Soviet threat spurred the US policy of containment. Some thirty-five years after he helped spark a wasteful arms race that threatened to destroy the world, Kennan had the powerful second thoughts reflected above.
I purposefully excised the references to the Soviet Union in the Kennan quote with the hope that others might see how unerringly Kennan’s words capture US foreign policy today towards our newly contrived “enemies.” Without much imagination, one could credibly substitute the names of countries that have been anointed “incorrigible enemies” of the US in recent years: Cuba, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Russia, China, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Unfortunately, despite George F. Kennan’s never-too-late regrets, the arrogance of empire remains a deeply embedded disposition of US ruling elites. The frequent and persistent wars of aggression underscore the Marxist-Leninist thesis that a reach for dominance over all rivals or those daring to show independence is an essential, inescapable feature of mature capitalism.
If we take seriously Marx, paraphrasing Hegel, asserting that history repeats “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, then we must believe that we live in times of frightening absurdity. The irresponsible demonizing of Milosevic, Saddam, Gaddafi, or al-Assad has tragically sacrificed well over a million lives to US and NATO aggression, but the painting of Russia, DPRK, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) as absolute evil today reaches previously unimaginable levels of madness and danger.
Last week’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian entities only underlines the vacuity of the Mueller investigation. Over nine months of probing, interviewing, and developing evidence has produced (1) an  admission of lying to the FBI by General Flynn, an indictment based on his efforts on behalf of Israel (and not Russia), (2) an indictment of Rick Gates, a lobbyist, fundraiser, and political operative accused of working unregistered for a previous Ukrainian government, (3) an indictment of a bigger fish, Paul Manafort, who for four decades represented any and every shady international character with the wherewithal to pay his fees. He, too, was accused of failure to register, laundering money, and making false statements, practices that occupied him for his whole career, (4) a guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, a bit player with an ego far larger than his résumé, who habitually met with any contact that he could impress that he was a “player,” (5) an indictment of and guilty plea of Richard Pinedo, an internet hustler who stole identities (any connection to Russia was “unwitting”), and most recently, (6) the guilty plea of Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who earned a brief imprisonment by lying to the FBI about the date of his last meeting with Gates, placing it in mid-August instead of September.
For a fishing expedition, the taxpayer-funded Mueller excursion has landed few trophies. Until last week’s indictment, it was hard to find anything importantly connecting Russia, the Russian government, or the highest levels of the Trump administration. No doubt the paucity of connections or evidence of “collusion” spawned the latest indictments.
But even assuming that there is evidence forthcoming to back up the latest Russian indictments (they are, of course, merely formal charges unless prosecuted), it is more than curious that there is no direct claim of linkage either to the Russian government or to the Trump presidency. Instead, we have a charge that a wealthy, well connected caterer has established an organization dedicated to injecting information onto social media and, in a few cases, staging modest political events in the US. This, surely, is a far cry from the primary mission of the Special Counsel: to establish “any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.…”
Judging by last Friday’s indictments, one might be inclined to view the machinations of Concord Catering, the Internet Research Agency, Concord Management and Consulting, and their alleged mastermind, should the charges be true, as very much akin to the private operations of the intrusive NGOs funded by billionaires George Soros or Bill Gates in numerous countries. In all cases, wealthy individuals use their resources to change the direction of target countries in ways that conflict with the current leadership.
As weak as the Mueller investigation has been, it continues to stimulate a hungry news media bent upon demonizing Russia. And there are plenty of pundits and opinion-makers ready to accommodate.
One of the most ridiculous “contributors” to the RussiaGate fiasco is Harvard Law professor, Laurence Tribe. A liberal icon with academic and policy gravitas, Tribe claimed, according to Glenn Greenwald, that Russian President Putin may have been responsible for the death of an important, conspiracy-related person in a recent airliner crash in Russia. Tribe never bothered to verify that said “victim” was on the flight. He wasn’t. But never mind.
Thanks to the RussiaGate hysteria, the FBI and CIA now enjoy more credibility than at any time since the heyday of Joe McCarthy. The Pew poll reports that, for the first time, Democrats now have more confidence in these illiberal institutions than do Republicans.
Both the Washington Post and NPR have found their own FBI expert in the person of a three-year veteran of the agency, Asha Ranappa. Now serving as a lecturer at Yale University, her articulate, confident voice and intoxicating earnestness make one forget that a very brief tour as an agent hardly constitutes expertise on the history and workings of the FBI any more than my three high school years selling shoes in a department store make me an expert on the shoe industry. Nevertheless, the attractive Ranappa is the darling of the networks, even Comedy Central. She’s not above discussing with an interviewer that she was voted “America’s hottest female law school dean.”
In a Washington Post op-ed published earlier this month (and in a more recent NPR interview), Ranappa enthusiastically defends the FBI against the highly publicized Nunes memo. She rests the argument on a tissue of weasel phrases-- “would have,” “could include,” “would probably have,” “suggests that” and so forth-- that amount to a “just-so” story and not a robust defense of the FBI. She emphasizes the fact that FISA warrants are difficult for the FBI to acquire and renew. They are not. Out of 35,529 FISA requests for electronic surveillance from 1979 to 2013 only 12 have been denied! Unless one zealously believes that the FBI never oversteps its bounds, this speaks poorly for the scrutiny of a secret process by a secret court and Ranappa’s faith in the process.
On the thin basis of the Nunes memo, Ranappa stops a “could have” short of accusing Carter Page-- a target of FBI surveillance-- with being a Russian spy: “...the memo suggests that the Trump campaign could have had an active Russian spy working as a foreign policy adviser.” [my italics] No one but Ranappa has gone beyond collusion to lodge such a serious charge. In better times, without new evidence, this would surely be grounds for libel.
These are not better times.
Of course, the trusted FBI, working diligently with Mueller and feeding gossip to the mainstream press, failed abysmally to find and thwart the 19-year-old mass murderer in Parkland, Florida, despite multiple alerts from private citizens and a Facebook threat with the perpetrator identified by name! It never dawns on the pundits in the monopoly corporate media that these devastating, catastrophic errors suggest a more universal incompetence.
This failure did not deter NPR from offering the following inflammatory headline: “As An American Tragedy Unfolds, Russian Agents Sow Discord Online.” The source for NPR’s sensational story accusing “agents” of “sowing discord” over the Parkland shootings is a well-financed website dubbed Hamilton 68. As Julian Assange points out, H68 is less a watchdog over Russian propaganda than itself a source of propaganda. Its leaders and advisors are veteran Cold Warriors and intimates of the US national security apparatus, less-than-independent, less-than-objective monitors. Curiously, the identified ‘Russian agents’ that they monitor are the state-supported news and entertainment agencies that Russia has established internationally. They are only “agents” because the US government has insisted that RT, Sputnik, and others now register as such. Supposedly, the same logic would apply to NPR-- itself a government-supported news and entertainment agency. ‘Agents’ are lurking everywhere!
But the reigning award for Russia-baiting must go to former Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, who has maintained that two years ago he overheard Vladimir Putin discuss grandiose plans to create a Greater Russia hacked out of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. When it was demonstrated that he could not possibly have overheard any such comments, he backed off and claimed that he had overheard a friend who had overheard… The ensuing kerfuffle forced his resignation.
Finian Cunningham reminds us that former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski also claimed that he personally overheard Putin express similar expansionist plans in 2008. He, too, was forced to retract, labeling his claim as a “surreal joke” (Sikorski is the spouse of the rabidly anti-Soviet, anti-Communist Washington Post pundit and Cold Warrior, Anne Applebaum).
And now (2-20-18, Code Red for America), The New York Times resident village idiot, Thomas Friedman, weighs in with a host of hyperbole: Russia presents “the biggest threat to our democracy today,” “ undermine the very core of our democracy,” “ poison American politics.” In his servile mind, “Our FBI, CIA, and NSA, working with the special counsel, have done us amazingly proud.”
Is it war that Friedman wants? He asks that “we bring together our intelligence and military experts to mount an effective offense against Mr. Putin-- the best defense of all.”
Russiaphobia and Putin-fever continue to reach absurd levels.
China and the DPRK
The PRC is also a target for hysterical patriot paranoia. FBI Director Christopher Wray, addressing the Senate Intelligence Committee, explained: "One of the things we're trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat on their end, and I think it's going to take a whole-of-society response by us." With this tortured “whole-of-society” explanation, the Director and his staff see danger from Chinese students, visitors, scholars, businesspeople, athletes, and entertainers-- all would-be “collectors.”
Presumably, US students, scholars, businesspeople, athletes, and entertainers (the “whole-of-society”) should be vigilant and active against the Chinese threat. Another step towards a vigilante society.
Predictably, The Washington Post picked up on this bizarre forewarning with an op-ed from the breathless Josh Rogin. Rogin expands the Chinese machinations into a “massive foreign influence campaign” (China is Infiltrating US Colleges, 2-19-18). Quoting the deranged Marco Rubio, Rogin sees a nefarious plot to implant a pro-China bias in innocent, vulnerable students and faculty in the Chinese university-affiliated Confucius Institutes. Established as a language proficiency and cultural link to US higher education, Rogin and his friends see a conspiracy lurking behind this innocuous facade.
Rogin offers a curious and contradictory defense of campus free speech: “Confucius Institutes must… yield full control over curriculum to their American hosts and pledge not to involve themselves in issues of academic freedom for American or Chinese students.”
Protecting “academic freedom” by denying it!
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is no newcomer to demonization. It has long been on the US and EU lists of “evil” actors despite neither owning foreign military bases nor pursuing any overt aggression. More than any other country, DPRK foreign policy revolves around the simple demand that they be left alone. The only official corollary to their isolationism is the goal of Korean unification.
Nonetheless, the US and some of its allies have been picking a fight with DPRK for several decades. As tensions mounted, the DPRK made overtures to the new Moon government of the Republic of Korea, including several highly publicized, well-received gestures surrounding the Winter Olympics.
A promise of peaceful, rational discourse was met with a feverish mania in US ruling circles and with their media servants. The Washington Post called the demure DPRK visitor to the games, Kim Yo-jong, “the Korean Ivanka Trump,” a witless comparison that serious people should find embarrassing.
Justin Peters, writing in Slate, gives the DPRK cheerleaders a proper smart-ass thrashing: “Why did the cheerleaders make the trip? Because North Korea is an oppressive totalitarian state that hopes to use every facet of its involvement in the Pyeongchang Games for propaganda purposes. The objective is to project strength, confidence, and unanimity, in the process extending the influence and stability of the Kim regime.”  He offers his explanation for their prowess: “I suppose it is easy to mastermind mosaics on a large scale if participation is compulsory and missing your cue carries a hideous punishment, but, still, impressive stuff...To be clear, the cheerleaders’ enthusiasm is likely compulsory and the cheerleaders themselves are surely being monitored ceaselessly by state minders during their stay in Pyeongchang.”
Not to be outdone, The Guardian gave a slightly different spin: “At the end of each row, older male minders sat still for the entire game, a reminder that despite appearances, these women were also prisoners of one of the most brutal regimes in the world.” (Check out the video supplied by The Guardian and see if you can find the elusive “male minders.”)
But The Independent deviates from this slave/prisoner narrative. The cheerleaders are not intimidated into their cheerful performances, they are “picked for having the right ‘ideology.’ They are closely vetted to ensure that they’ll properly represent North Korea both at home and abroad, according to local reports, through a process that checks whether they’re related to Japanese sympathisers or defectors.”
Clearly, the corporate media do not know what to do with the DPRK cheerleaders-- The New York Post headline exclaimed: Kim impersonator a hit with North Korean cheerleaders, while the infamous Washington Free Beacon headline disagrees: North Korean Cheerleaders Were Not Impressed by Kim Jong Un Impersonator. Skye News thought the cheerleaders were ”appalled” and Reuters saw them as “caught off guard.”
Like the media lapdogs who, generations ago, demeaned any spark of humanity exhibited by Soviet citizens, today’s patriotic “journalists” stamp out any hint of human sentiment or empathy towards the “enemies” anointed by the imperialist state.
As the US empire recognizes its decline, it engages in more and more desperate means to shore up the sinking credibility of its institutions. The compliant media, two political parties that can only agree on manufactured enemies, and even a spineless left, join in conjuring evil spirits in need of an exorcist. Unfortunately, we live in a world of destructive, devastating weapons that threaten the very existence of the planet. As George Kennan’s belated apology reminds us, the folly of demonizing, fostering manufactured enemies, fear-mongering, and bear-baiting court disaster. We are well along that destructive path.
One can only hope that wiser heads will emerge and call for a retreat from this course.

Greg Godels

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Scandalize my Name…

For the owners, publishers, and editors of the The New York Review of Books anti-Communism is still alive. The periodical occupies a unique, indispensable role in fostering and sustaining Cold War myths and legends.

The New York Review of Books has embraced rabid anti-Communism since its opportunistic birth in the midst of a newspaper strike. Founded by a cabal of virulent anti-Communists with identifiable links to the CIA through The Paris Review and the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, NYRB maintains the posture of the popular intellectual journal for academics, high-brow book clubbers, and coffee shop leftists for over half a century. Seldom would an issue go by without an earnest petition signed by intellectual celebrities pointing to human rights concerns in some far-off land that was coincidentally (perhaps?) also in the crosshairs of the US State Department. To be sure, the NYRB would muster a measure of indignation over the most egregious US adventures, particularly when they threatened to blemish the US image as the New Jerusalem.

Even with the Cold War behind us, the NYRB maintains an active stable of virulent anti-Soviet writers, partly to hustle its back list of Cold War classics and obscure “dissident” scribblers, partly to pre-empt any serious anti-capitalist thought that might emerge shorn of Red-dread.

Paul Robeson on Trial

In a recent essay/book review (The Emperor Robeson, 2-08-18), the NYRB brought its Red-chopping hatchet to the legacy of Paul Robeson in a piece transparently ill-motivated and poisonous.

Paul Robeson was nothing if not an exceptional, courageous political figure who galvanized US racial and political affairs in mid-century. Yet NYRB assigned Simon Callow, a UK theater personality, to the writing task despite the fact that he reveals in an interview cited in Wikipedia that “I'm not really an activist, although I am aware that there are some political acts one can do that actually make a difference…” And his essay bears out this confession along with his embarrassing ignorance of US history and the dynamics of US politics.

Callow begins his essay seemingly determined to prove his inadequacy to the task: “When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson was much in evidence… His name was haloed with the sort of respect accorded to few performers…” He then goes on at some length, heaping praise on Robeson. Then suddenly at “some point in the 1960s, he faded from our view…”

Whether Callow’s impressions are reflective of the UK experience is irrelevant. Surely, the important truth, the relevant fact, is that in Robeson’s country-- the US-- he was, throughout that time, a veritable non-person, the victim of a merciless witch hunt. To fail to acknowledge the fact that Robeson and his work were virtually unknown, were erased by the thought police, underscores Callow’s unfitness to discuss Robeson’s career. Indeed, members of the crowd that sought, at that time, to put lipstick on the ugly pig of racism and anti-Communism were soon to found the NYRB.

To say, as Callow does, that before the Cold War Robeson was “...lionized on both sides of the Atlantic...” is to display an unbelievable ignorance of the racial divide in the US. Robeson’s unequalled command of and success at multiple disciplines failed to spare him the indignities and inequalities that befell all African Americans in that era of US apartheid.

As for the post-World War II Red-scare, Callow simply ignores it as if it never occurred. Never mind the harassment, the surveillance, the denied careers, the confiscated passports, and the HUAC subpoenas that Robeson, like thousands of others, suffered from a hysterical, vicious anti-Communist witch hunt. For Callow, Robeson’s problems spring from a meeting granted by then President Truman in which Robeson had the audacity to make demands on his government. “From that moment on…” Callow tells us, “...the government moved to discredit Robeson at every turn…”

What a deft, nimble way to skirt the suffocating, life-denying effects of an entire era of unbridled racism and anti-Communism.

And, from Callow’s myopic perspective, Robeson’s campaign for peace and Cold War sanity resulted in “...universal approbation turned overnight into nearly universal condemnation.” For Callow, standing for peace against the tide of mindless conformity and mass panic is not the mark of courage and integrity, but a tragic career move.

In contrast to Paul Robeson’s life-long defiance of unjust power, Callow attributes a different approach to Robeson’s father, William: “But the lesson was clear: the only way out of poverty and humiliation was hard, hard work-- working harder than any white man would have to, to achieve a comparable result.” One waits futilely to read that this reality is precisely what son, Paul, was trying to correct.

Like so many of today’s belated, measured “admirers” of Paul Robeson, Callow cannot resist delving into Robeson’s sexual proclivities, an interest which bears relevance that frankly escapes me. Similarly, Callow raises the matter of Robeson’s mental health and his withdrawal from public life.

Rather than considering the toll that decades of selfless struggle and tenacious resistance might have taken on Robeson’s body and mind, as it did countless other victims of the Red Scare, Callow contrives different explanations. “Robeson, it is clear, knew that his dream was just that: that the reality was otherwise. But he had to maintain his faith, otherwise what else was there?” So, for Callow, Robeson’s bad faith was responsible for mental issues and ill health. It was not a medical condition, the emotional stress of racism, or the repression of his political views that explain his decline. Instead, it was the consequences of bad politics.

Paraphrasing the author of a book on Robeson that Callow favors, he speculates that Robeson’s physical and mental decline “may have directly stemmed from the desperate requests from Robeson’s Russian friends to help them get out of the nightmarish world they found themselves in.” We are asked to believe that a man who resisted every temptation of success, defied the racial insults of his time, and steadfastly defended his commitment to socialism was brought to his knees by anti-Soviet media rumors? Certainly, there is no evidence for this outlandish claim.

Again, using author Jeff Sparrow (No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson) as his mouthpiece, Callow reveals his “problem” with Robeson: “...Robeson’s endorsement of Stalin and Stalin’s successors, his refusal to acknowledge what had been done in Stalin’s name, is the tragedy of his life.” In other words, like Budd Schulberg’s fictional snitch in On the Waterfront, if Robeson had only denounced his class, ratted on his friends, and bent to authority, he could have been a “contender” for the respect of liberals and the blessings of bourgeois success. But since he didn’t, his life was “a pitiful spectacle.”

Thankfully, there are still many who draw inspiration from the “pitiful spectacle” of Paul Robeson’s extraordinary life.

One Who Does

As if misunderstanding Robeson were not enough, Callow attacks a prominent scholar who does understand Robeson’s legacy. In contrast with his fawning review of the Sparrow book (“as different as chalk and cheese”), Callow demeans the contribution of one of the most gifted and thorough chroniclers of the page in history that included the life of Robeson. As a historian, Gerald Horne’s prodigious work stretches across books on such politically engaged Robeson contemporaries as WEB DuBois, Ben Davis, Ferdinand Smith, William Patterson, Shirley Graham DuBois, and John Howard Lawson. His writings explore the blacklist and The Civil Rights Congress, both keys to understanding Robeson and his time. In most cases, they represent the definitive histories of the subject.

But Callow prefers the shallow Sparrow account that substitutes the overused literary devices of “in search of../searching for...” to mask its limited scholarly ambition.

Callow is baffled by Horne’s Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary. Horne’s insistence that Robeson was a ‘revolutionary’ makes Callow apoplectic (“ after page…”). But if Robeson was not an authentic, modern US revolutionary, then who was?

Callow cannot find a “clear picture of Robeson’s personality” in the Horne account, a conclusion that probably should not trouble Horne who seems more interested in history rather than psychology.

Callow’s sensibilities are especially offended by Horne’s depiction of the odious Winston Churchill, the man many believe to share responsibility for the WWI blood bath at Gallipoli and the two million deaths in the Bengal famine of 1943. It seems that Horne’s words for the short, chubby, Champagne and Cognac-loving prima donna-- “pudgy, cigar-chomping, alcohol-guzzling Tory” -- struck Callow’s ears as “vulgar.”

But Callow spews his own venomous insults: Horne’s book lacks “...articulate analysis, his account is numbing and bewildering in equal measure, like being addressed from a dysfunctional megaphone…”

Horne’s concluding endorsement of the relevance of Marx and Engels famous slogan-- Workers of the World, Unite! --really brings Callow’s rancor to a boil: “I’m sorry to break it to Mr. Horne, but he doesn’t. And it isn’t.”

We surely know which side of the barricades Simon Callow has chosen.

The Legacy

The legacy of Paul Robeson has been maintained for the four decades since his death by his comrades and allies of the left, principally the Communist left. Most of those who worked and fought alongside of him have also passed away. Yet a small, but dedicated group of a few academics and more political activists have continued to tell his story and defend his values against a torrent of hostility or a wall of silence. Through the decades, he has been forced out of the mainstream-- the history books and popular culture.

Of course, he was not alone in suffering anonymity for his Communist politics. Another giant who was brought down by Cold War Lilliputians, denigrated by hollow mediocrities, was African American Communist, Claudia Jones. Until recently, her powerful thinking on race, women’s rights, and socialism could only be found by those willing to search dusty corners of used book stores.

Perhaps no one promised to live and further Robeson’s legacy than the young writer Lorraine Hansberry, celebrated before her tragic death for her popular play, A Raisin in the Sun. Her work with Robeson and WEB DuBois on the paper, Freedom, brought her politics further in line with theirs: militant anti-racist, anti-imperialist, pro-socialist, Communist.

Forgotten by those who wish to portray her as a mere cultural critic, she famously called out Robert Kennedy’s elitist, patronizing posture in a meeting with Black civil rights leaders as enthusiastically recalled by James Baldwin.

Ignored by those who would like to see her as simply another civil rights reformer, her speech at a Monthly Review fundraiser, shortly before her death, resounds with revolutionary fervor:

If the present Negro revolt is to turn into a revolution, become sophisticated in the most advanced ideas abroad in the world, a leadership which will have had exposure to the great ideas and movements of our time, a Negro leadership which can throw off the blindness of parochialism and bathe the aspirations of the Negro people in the realism of the twentieth century, a leadership which has no illusion about the nature of our oppression and will no longer hesitate to condemn, not only the results of that oppression, but also the true and inescapable cause of it—which of course is the present organization of American society.

Today, there is a renewed interest in Robeson, Claudia Jones, and Lorraine Hansberry. Articles, books, and documentaries are appearing or are in the works. Some are offering ‘new’ perspectives on the lives of these extraordinary people, exploring aspects of their lives that show that their humanity perhaps reached further than previously thought. Yes, they were Communists, but they were not just Communists. Indeed, they belong to the world.

However, it would be a great tragedy if they were denied their conviction that capitalism-- the present organization of American society, in Hansberry’s words-- represented the foundation of other oppressions. It would be criminally dishonest if there were no acknowledgement that they were made enemies of the state precisely because they embraced socialism. For an African American, in racist, Cold War mid-century USA, the decision to embrace Communism was not taken lightly or frivolously. Robeson, Jones, and Hansberry knew exactly what that commitment meant to the forces of repression. And they risked it. They should be looked upon as people’s champions for their courage.

New researchers are welcome to explore other dimensions of the lives of these unbending fighters for social justice. But their authentic legacies are needed now more than ever.

Greg Godels

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

No Confidence!

The big losers in the recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist confidence polling (January 08-10-2018) are Congress, the two parties, and the media. Based on the poll, most people in the US have “not very much” or “no confidence” in the legislative body, corporate news and entertainment, or the Democratic or Republican parties. In fact, over two-thirds of those surveyed lack confidence in the media and nearly three-fourths show little or no confidence in Congress!

In light of these numbers, one can only wonder when the pitchforks are coming out. Clearly, dissatisfaction with major US institutions extends very broadly. Yet these results are not new. Nearly a decade ago, a similar Gallup poll showed that only 11% of respondents had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in 2014 showed that both parties earned a decidedly more negative than a positive image. That same poll put the approval rate for Congress at 12%.

Those pundits and political operatives who discount the depth of dissatisfaction and disregard the festering anger in the US are doomed to misread the meaning of past and most-recent elections. The mainstream media mock Trump’s “fake news” charges while blithely ignoring the negative sentiments of the population toward the news industry. Don’t media elites see that “lack of confidence” is, in fact, a scathing indictment of their own collective performance in delivering the truth?

Failure to recognize the widespread disdain for core US political institutions hinders the understanding that Trumpism is not merely a malignant political alternative, but the consequence of a long history of malignant political alternatives; Trump isn't the cause of the problem, he's the result of the problem. As much as Trump disgusts with his vulgarity, he openly expresses thoughts shared by other powerful people who voice them only behind the walls of their mansions or private clubs. As much as Trump attacks the living standards of working people and degrades their safety net, he stands at the end of a relentless, unrelieved half-century of assault on the gains won in the New Deal era. As much as Trump has embraced belligerence and aggression in his foreign policy, he has only belatedly and somewhat reluctantly fallen in line with the imperialist agenda crafted and executed by his predecessors in the post-Soviet era.

He has Defense Secretary ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis to remind him of the agenda. The Wall Street Journal tells us (January 19, 2018) that Trump recently proposed to call off joint ROK/US military exercises as a pacifying gesture to Kim Jung Un. Mattis stepped in and purportedly flattered him with “Your instincts are absolutely correct,” while cajoling him into betraying those same instincts and going forward with the exercises. Incredibly, Mattis is the figure that many liberals cite as the restraining force in the Trump White House.

Making America Great Again” is the mark of an empire facing increasingly effective threats from imperialist rivals as well as anti-imperialist resistance. While the dream of a Pax Americana imposed on the world is now discredited, Trumpism clings to the illusion that robust, blustery nationalism is the answer to an increasingly fruitless globalism.

Last year, in his lengthy, candid valedictory interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic magazine, one will find many hints of Obama’s lost confidence in the aggressive reordering of the world that he inherited and that was represented in his administration by Clinton, Rice, Power, and Rhodes. Mattis and General Kelly play that same role of sabre-rattlers and war-instigators in the Trump administration despite the popular caricature of them as wise counsel to a wild man.

With Trump, the missionary mask, so long a feature of US imperialism, is cast off. The “humanitarian, human rights” pose used so skillfully by Clinton and Obama’s war makers is of little interest to Trump and his consort. Any renegade thoughts Trump may have of exercising his self-proclaimed “deal” skills or imagined “charm” in negotiating with rivals are quickly squashed by the two pillars of militarism (Mattis and Kelly) within the Trump administration.

In better times, one could count on a sizeable segment of activist liberals to stand with the anti-imperialist left against US militarism and aggression. But, today, they have been mesmerized by a phantasmagoric anti-Russia campaign framed to distract attention away from real issues and the chronically flawed democratic process.

Apart from the demonstrated thinness of liberal principles, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll explains exactly why RussiaGate could gain traction despite a lack of evidence. Behind the hysteria are two institutions that retain a great deal of misplaced confidence with the public: the FBI and the military. And behind that confidence is a glorifying and romanticizing of the two in popular culture, especially since the onset of the Mission Impossible-like War on Terror. Network and cable television feature drama of attractive, upright, and diligent FBI agents standing between the US public and chaos, night after night. Similarly, the military enjoys a heroic stature nourished by the media, the entertainment industry, and the chicken-hawk elites whose children never see the enlistment office.

Glenn Greenwald clarifies the self-deception lurking behind this cult of self-righteousness, while speaking in Santa Fe recently: “Every time Trump says or does something that is xenophobic, or bigoted, or militaristic, or threatening, people always say, ‘This is not what America is about,’... I always react to that by saying, ‘It’s not?’”

The RussiaGate mania is now runaway paranoia, perfectly suited to turn the populace from its real problems. Democratic Party operatives have crossed over to insanity, detecting Russia behind the announced candidacy of Chelsea Manning for US Senate. Neera Tanden, prominent head of the Center for American Progress, smelled a Kremlin plot behind Manning running against a corporate Democratic Senator. It may be a long wait for the soft left and the identity Democrats to render support to the heroic Manning. But then they wouldn’t comprehend the real heroism of serving jail time for exposing US war atrocities.

Emboldened by its success in fabricating RussiaGate from nothing, the FBI has turned its scrutiny on the People's Republic of China. Our intrepid spy hunters are casting their vigilance on Rupert Murdoch’s ex-trophy wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, a prominent DC socialite. According to “sources” friendly to The Wall Street Journal, Ms Murdoch lobbied for a Chinese garden funded by the PRC at the National Arboretum. The FBI explained that the Arboretum was less than 5 miles from the White House and the Capitol. And, if that were not enough, the plan included a 70-foot tower that the FBI feared might be used for surveillance!

As if the Chinese could not rent a room in a six- or seven-story building in downtown DC to further their nefarious plot without spending $100 million on a Chinese garden.

So, we have a prominent figure who might have lobbied for a project that might have served PRC intelligence purposes by constructing a 70-foot tower that might have a surveillance purpose. But this twisted conspiracy tale goes further-- Ms Murdoch socialized with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner! The FBI has a picture of them together! Of course, that is the point of this inane exercise: meddling in US politics. Let’s see if deranged liberals buy this, too.

And we have the NBC story that reports that a CIA agent who retired in 2007 has been arrested for collaborating with the PRC. But there is a hitch: “U.S. officials told NBC News they don't believe Lee ever will be charged as a spy, in part because they don't have all the proof they might need, and in part because they would not want to air the evidence they do have in a public courtroom.” A careful read of the NBC article might lead one to believe that the CIA is embarrassed because their PRC counterparts broke the secret communication system that the CIA used to communicate with their covert agents. One might further surmise that Jerry Chun Shing Lee is the patsy for this failure. But the uncritical, trusting media report the damaging charge even though sources admit that “...they don't have all the proof they might need…” A fine example of a responsible press in the age of Trump!

As the US empire undergoes further and further stress, more and more dysfunction, the search for scapegoats and distractions will only intensify, and the barbarism of apocalyptical conflict will grow even more probable.

It is not enough to take a small step or two back from the brink, as liberals and the compromised left would like. Delivering a world two steps from catastrophe is a feckless award to future generations.

An angry, disappointed public that has lost confidence in its institutions is searching for a new, more promising road forward. Isn’t it the time to bring the promise of democracy and social justice embedded in socialism before the US public?

Greg Godels

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking Back

The year 2017 was not entirely a bad one in the US. We learned that, despite the fact that we have no serious, mass party for socialism, millions of US citizens have a favorable, positive view of socialism. Actually, we first learned that fact from a Gallup poll in mid-2016. To the surprise of many and the alarm of others, Gallup found that over half of 18-29 year olds had a favorable view of socialism. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll discovered a year later that over half of every age group thought that “To help people, government should do more.” This result is perhaps an even more significant finding since it provides some meaning to what people want when they endorse socialism, as well as what they want even with their fear of the word “socialism.” In that poll, nearly two-thirds of 18-29 year olds agreed with the statement.

The fact that interest in “socialism” is growing dramatically though there is no mass socialist or communist party is a paradoxical reflection on US political life (though not only that of the US). Part of the reason for this paradox, of course, is the enormous effort that US elites, corporations, academic institutions, security services, media, and politicians have made to intensely demonize all but the most benign expressions of socialist thought and organization.

But much blame must be shared by our own left, which has been shattered into a thousand sects, cults, and tendencies and cowed into submission from fear of red-baiting. The Cold War anti-Communist mentality remains deeply embedded in the generations that preceded the more open-minded millennials. Anything-but-Communism (ABC) constitutes an attitude that promotes “respectable” socialisms like utopian cooperatives, socialism through the backdoor of the Democratic Party, trickle-down socialism, armchair academic socialism, socialism of the soul, and a host of socialisms that dissolve into tepid reformism or socialism over the horizon. No wonder the ruling class sleeps well at night.

Death to the NFL!

Another change that came into sharp relief in 2017 was the persistent loss of fan support for professional football. In 2016, TV viewership dropped by 8%. And last year, TV numbers dropped another 9.7%, a precipitous two-year decline!

Given that professional football represents almost everything that is wrong with the US and combines all of the elements, from other sports, that are socially harmful, I would like to think that the NFL decline is inversely proportional to the growth of interest in socialism.

The NFL transmits violence and bullying to our youth. It celebrates the victory of power over weakness, without any respect for compassion, pity, fair play, or empathy. The business-posing-as-a-sport pillages municipal and regional coffers for stadia and amenities while paying little or no taxes. The teams glorify militarism and the cult of the hero. The owners are super wealthy, including a nasty group of right-wing racists. And Black gladiators risk limb and life to fill the owners’ coffers.

It’s no wonder that no other country shows a serious interest in an NFL franchise.

Of course, we must credit the disgusting blacklisting of Colin Kaepernick for some of the decline in interest.

Let’s hope that a similar disconnect from Dr. Phil, celebrity-worship, British royalty, and zombies will bring further interest in socialism in 2018.

2017 was not Pro-Life

For the first time since the early 1960s (before Medicare and Medicaid), life expectancy in the US dropped for two consecutive years. The head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention attributes the drop to the increase in opioid use, a phenomenon that correlates pretty closely with desperation, poverty, and alienation.

A year ago, when The New York Times reported the 2016 decrease, its sources were puzzled. Yes, they saw the increase in deaths from opioid abuse, but eight out of the top ten causes of death were also up, as was the infant mortality rate. The Times discovered a more revealing datum, a finding that cut to the heart of the matter: a Brookings Institute study found that a man in the lowest 10% of incomes born in 1950 will live fourteen years less than his counterpart with earnings in the top 10%.


Clearly, the Obama jewel, the ACA, has done less than nothing to address this great cause of premature death.

And yet the chief battle of 2017 was a semi-successful struggle waged by the leaders of Labor, the Democratic Party, and a host of “progressive” organizations to save this bloated, corporate-friendly, drug company-sponsored, bureaucratically bewildering sham of a healthcare program.

How far we have fallen!

Deplore the Deplorables

Certainly 2017, like the run-up to the 2016 election, was the climax of willful blindness to the plight of vast numbers of the working class and the working poor in the small towns and cities outside of the major metropolises. Hillary Clinton famously stubbed her presumptive Presidential toe on this neglect when she characterized the group as “deplorables.” For petty bourgeois liberals, a best-selling book gave sustenance to their elitist contempt for the decimated working class in the US heartland. Venture capitalist J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of his early years, hit the top of The New York Times best-seller list in both 2016 and 2017. Vance, telling a modern-day Horatio Alger story, titillated the burghers with his tales of abuse, failed character, and backwardness. Vance paints the deplorables as, indeed, deplorable.

A Fordham University professor published a scholarly rejoinder to Hillbilly Elegy at the end of 2017. Based on extensive research and historical backgrounding, Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia tells a story of capitalist exploitation, neglect, and political chicanery that refutes the blame-the-victim anecdotes of Vance. Author Steven Stoll offers context and nuance, compassion and respect, where Vance projects arrogant contempt. Given its unlikely appeal to jaded liberals, Ramp Hollow will likely not make the best-sellers list.

...the First Time as Tragedy, the Second Time as Farce

It is impossible to leave 2017 without reflecting on the new Red-less “Red Scare.” The old Red scare was a mid-century ruling class reign of terror in response to the Soviet victory over fascism and its painfully won respect with the world’s millions. The perceived threat of socialism ascendant brought a hysterical panic in the bastions of capitalism. A tragic, ruthless clampdown followed.

The farcical RussiaGate of 2017 reignites the old Russia fears, but this time against a capitalist rival. The perpetrators of this giant scam count on the public’s faulty memory and mass confusion of a Cold War adversary with the current government of Russia. To any disinterested follower of recent Russian history, Russia looks like a junior version of the US, with similar great power aspirations, hopes of imperial penetration of new markets, and rampant militarism. History teaches, for those not contemptuous of history, that these tendencies are features of every developed capitalist state. Similarly, Russian “democracy” more and more resembles its US counterpart which is dominated by wealthy, powerful elites and sustained by a gutless, fawning media.

We can, however, rejoice that Russian interests often conflict with the most belligerent, arrogant policies of US elites (Syria, for example) in ways that neutralize or forestall US aggression. But only a fool would mistake checking the US internationally with embodying the cause of anti-imperialism.

But vilifying Russia is useful. For US ruling elites, portraying Russia as an enemy prepares the public for confrontations to come. Much as the Maine debacle of 1898 set the stage in the US for a war for Spain’s colonies, the endless tales of Russian intrigue and mischief justify the saber-rattling and aggressive sanctions that follow.

The Democratic Party and the media eagerly join this project for their own purposes. RussiaGate has revitalized cable news and breathed life back into the print media and the news services. Sensationalized stories and fear-mongering are the stock-in-trade of the modern entertainment-oriented monopoly media.

Of course, RussiaGate is tailor-made for a political party suffering huge electoral setbacks despite overwhelming resources, especially if it can link its loss to external factors like Russian interference. The Democrats-- ideologically hollow-- have pulled every trick to link Russia to the sitting Republican President, Donald Trump. Unwilling to project a peoples’ program, the Democrats intend to win the 2018 interim elections by simply attacking Trump and his vaporous Russia connections. For the Democrats, Trump’s propensity towards arrogance, outrageousness, and lies is the gift that keeps on giving. They plan to run on Trump and Trump alone, nothing substantial.  

While most people find their living standards stagnant or sinking, and while climate change, rising inequality, racism, and foreign killing go ignored in the corporate media, the RussiaGate theatrics dominate the news.

RussiaGate does serve as a reminder of the thinness of liberal commitment to ‘liberal’ values. In the Red Scare era, liberal devotion to the Bill of Rights collapsed like a house of cards in the face of the McCarthyite onslaught. Today, liberals are leading the charge in an assault on fair play, due process, and the rules of evidence. Innuendo, anonymous sources, and hearsay form the tissue that supports the daily Russia insanity. And the glorification of the odious-- the FBI, CIA, and NSA-- is shameless.

The fact that the celebrated Mueller investigation has produced nothing substantial beyond an obvious fact-- Israel meddles in our elections-- should calm the unhinged. But it doesn’t. The Democrats need both Trump and Russia at least until the November elections.

May we all survive 2018!

Greg Godels