Category Archives: Book Review

Guardian-Friendly Omissions

In his latest book, This Land: The Story of a Movement ((Penguin, ebook version, 2020.)), the Guardian’s Owen Jones charts the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn.

Jones depicts Corbyn as a ‘scruffy,’ (p. 8), ‘unkempt’ (p. 50), thoroughly shambolic backbench MP, ‘the most unlikely’ (p. 50) of contenders for the Labour leadership. In May 2015, Corbyn reluctantly dipped his toe in the water of the leadership contest, saying: ‘You better make fucking sure I don’t get elected’ (p. 54), only to be swept away on a tide of popular support.

As this suggests, Jones argues that while Corbyn was indeed relentlessly savaged by forces both inside and outside the Labour Party – including the ‘mainstream’ media, with ‘profound hostility’ from ‘the publicly funded, professedly impartial’ BBC (p. 68) – he was out of his depth, his team making constant, massive mistakes from which all progressives must learn. It is not at all inevitable, Jones says, that future leftist movements need suffer the same fate.

Much of this analysis is interesting and useful; Jones interviewed 170 insiders closest to the action, ‘people at the top of the Labour Party right down to grassroots activists’, who supply important insights on key events.

Jones portrays himself as someone who fundamentally agrees with much that motivated Corbyn, emphasising that his disagreement lies in tactics and strategy. But, once again, we note a remarkable pattern of omissions in the work of Jones, an ostensibly outspoken, unconstrained leftist, and by his serious misreading of the antisemitism furore that engulfed Corbyn.

Jones recognises that people loved Corbyn because, unusually for a UK politician, he was made of flesh rather than PR plastic; he told the truth:

‘While other contenders refused to give direct answers to questions, and were caught squirming between their principles and their political compromises, he spoke with immediacy – sometimes rambling, always authentic, always passionate.’ (p. 57)

Ironically, Jones does plenty of his own ‘squirming’ between ‘principles’ and ‘political compromises’ as he airbrushes out of existence facts, views and voices that are consistently and conspicuously Guardian-unfriendly. He writes:

‘Corbynism… was woven together from many disparate strands: from people who marched against the Iraq war in 2003’ to people hit by the ‘trebling of college tuition fees in 2010’ and ‘the millions more frightened by a looming climate emergency’. (p. 10)

Above all, of course, ‘Corbyn’s entire career had been devoted to foreign affairs’. (p. 29) Andrew Murray of the union, Unite commented: ‘Corbyn was very prominent in the anti-war movement.’ (p. 33)

Thus, deep popular outrage at the Iraq war is key in understanding Corbyn’s popularity. And yet, in discussing this central feature of the movement, Jones makes no mention at all of Julian Assange (or WikiLeaks), of Noam Chomsky, or John Pilger – the most important anti-war voices – exactly as he made no mention of them in his previous book, The Establishment, published in 2014.

Jones has not mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in the last twelve months. Indeed, his sole substantive mention came in April 2019.

Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015, but Jones mentions NATO’s catastrophic, 2011 war on Libya, opposed by Corbyn, once in passing, noting merely that Labour MP Chris Williamson had ‘supported the war in Libya’. (p. 251)

Jones’ previous book, The Establishment, published three years after NATO’s assault, similarly granted ‘Libya’ a single mention, noting that UK voters were ‘Weary of being dragged by their rulers into disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya…’.1. (See our discussion.)

The fact that the US-UK assault resulted in mass death, ethnic cleansing, mass displacement for millions of Libyans and the destruction of the entire country was not mentioned in either book.

Elsewhere, Jones has been more forthright. In February 2011, with NATO ‘intervention’ clearly looming, he tweeted:

‘I hope it’s game over for Gaddafi. A savage dictator once tragically embraced by me on left + lately western governments and oil companies.’2

On 20 March 2011, one day after NATO bombing had begun, like someone writing for the ‘Soaraway Sun’, Jones commented:

‘Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive.’3

Similarly, in 2012, Jones reacted to news of the killings of Syrian ministers in a bomb explosion with:

‘Adios, Assad (I hope).’4

After all, Jones tweeted, ‘this is a popular uprising, not arriving on the back of western cruise missiles, tanks and bullets’.4

As was very obvious then and indisputable now, Jones was badly mistaken.  The West, directly and via regional allies, played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had become embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’.5

As though tweeting from the NATO playbook, the same Guardian columnist now analysing the peace movement supporting Corbyn, wrote:

‘I’m promoting the overthrow of illegitimate and brutal dictatorships by their own people to establish democracies.’4

In This Land, Jones mentions Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war in famine-stricken Yemen exactly once, again in passing:

‘…Labour MPs refused to back Corbyn’s call for a UN investigation into alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen’. (p. 81)

There is no mention of the UK’s support for these crimes since 2011, no discussion of the horrors the UK has inflicted (See our discussion). The word ‘Yemen’ was unmentioned in Jones’ previous book in 2014. To his credit, he has written several Guardian pieces on the war in Yemen, the most recent in 2018.

Gaza was mentioned once, in passing, in Jones’ previous book and three times, in passing, in This Land. Our media database search found that, since he joined the Guardian in March 2014, Jones has made three substantive mentions of Gaza, in 2014 (a philosophical piece focusing on ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, with few facts about the situation in Gaza) a brief piece here, and one in 2018 (with a single paragraph on Gaza).

This Land simply ignores the Western propaganda wars on Iran and Venezuela.

Remarkably, while recognising the role of climate fears in the rise of Corbyn and discussing the UK’s ‘Climate Camp’ in the late 2000s, Jones makes no mention of Extinction Rebellion or of Greta Thunberg, both strongly supported by Corbyn, further fuelling popular support for his cause.

There is no mention of the Guardian’s lead role in destroying Corbyn; although, ironically, Jones does celebrate the fact that, ‘I wrote the first pro-Corbyn column to appear in the mainstream media: a Guardian piece’. (p. 53)

The silence is unsurprising. In 2017, Jones tweeted:

‘I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column.’6

He wasn’t joking:

‘Guardian colleagues aren’t supposed to have these public spats…’

Of his own opposition to Corbyn, in the Guardian and elsewhere, Jones writes:

‘Although I voted for him again in 2016, I had a period of disillusionment before the [June 2017] general election – something which still riles his most ardent supporters.’ (p. 14)

In fact, the ‘period of disillusionment’ was extensive and began long before the 2017 election. In July 2016, fully one year earlier, Jones wrote:

‘As Jeremy Corbyn is surrounded by cheering crowds, Labour generally, and the left specifically, are teetering on the edge of looming calamity.’

He added:

‘As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster. Many of you won’t thank me now. But what will you say when you see the exit poll at the next general election and Labour is set to be wiped out as a political force?’

Similar comments followed in February, March and April 2017. For example:

‘My passionate and sincere view is Jeremy Corbyn should stand down as soon as possible in exchange for another left-wing MP being allowed to stand on for leadership in his place: all to stop both Labour and the left imploding, which is what is currently on the cards.’7

Blaming The Victim – The Great, Fake Antisemitism Scandal

Time and again, Jones criticises the Corbyn leadership for failing to deal adequately with antisemitism claims: ‘there was no coherent strategy within the leader’s office on how to tackle claims of antisemitism’. (p. 227)

While Jones accepts that there were ‘bad-faith actors opposed to Corbyn’s policies’, his emphasis is focused elsewhere: ‘ultimately there were severe and repeated errors by the leadership, which resulted from those two characteristic failings: a lack of both strategy and emotional intelligence’. (p. 254)

Remarkably, Jones concludes that the crisis ‘need never have happened’. (p. 254)

This is nonsense. The crisis had to happen because sufficiently powerful forces within the Labour Party and Conservative Party, and across the corporate media ‘spectrum’, were determined to make it happen.

Compare Jones’ account with that of Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps. Finkelstein’s father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an interview with RT in May, Finkelstein commented:

‘Corbyn, he did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented – the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.’

He added:

‘Yeah, there’s some fringe members of Labour who, you know, play the anti-semitic [interrupted by interviewer]… I read the polls, I read the data – it hovers between six and eight per cent are hardened anti-semites in British society. It’s nothing! Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no “institutionalised” anti-semitism in the British Labour Party. There’s no threat of anti-semitism in British society. I’ve read all the data, I’ve studied it closely. It just doesn’t exist. It’s all being designed and manipulated… I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, as you know, but this is a conspiracy.’

Jones accepts that ‘the former leadership and the vast majority of Labour’s membership abhor antisemitism’, arguing that the problem lay with a ‘small minority’. (p. 254) But Jones does not cite an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found:

‘Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.’

And he does not cite a September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which found:

‘Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population… The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.’

Instead, Jones pours scorn on leftists who ‘still were in denial, claiming that the antisemitism crisis had been entirely manufactured by a media “out to get” Corbyn…’ (p. 254)

Rational commentators have always accepted that antisemitism exists within the Labour Party. The point is that making that ugly reality a ‘crisis’ specifically for Labour, rather than for other parties and other sectors of society, and above all making it a ‘crisis’ for Corbyn – reviled as a dangerous antisemite – was entirely manufactured.

Jones cites ‘the passionately anti-Corbyn editor of the Jewish Chronicle’, Stephen Pollard, who grotesquely claimed to perceive ‘nudge, nudge’ (p. 253) antisemitism in one of Corbyn’s self-evidently anti-capitalist critiques. Such outlandish claims, Jones notes, only encouraged leftists to believe the whole furore was a smear campaign:

‘It was a vicious circle, and it turned to nobody’s benefit – least of all Corbyn’s, while causing more hurt and distress to Jewish people.’ (p. 253, our emphasis)

But this is absurd. Quite obviously, the smear campaign was to the very real benefit of the political and media forces trying to crush Corbyn’s version of socialism.

The claims targeting Corbyn were fake and they depended on ignoring as non-existent a mountain of evidence indicating that Corbyn is a passionate, committed and very active anti-racist. What is so outrageous is that this was accepted by essentially everyone before Corbyn stood for the leadership in 2015. As Jones comments:

‘Anti-racism is core to Corbyn’s sense of identity. He believes, proudly, that he has fought oppression all his life, so being labelled a racist was a cause of profound personal trauma to him.’ (p. 228)

Corbyn’s chief of staff, Karie Murphy, commented on the impact of the smear campaign:

‘This was a man who was beyond broken-hearted, that, as a proud antiracist campaigner, he was being accused of racism. So he was paralysed… It wasn’t true – no one will convince me that he has an antisemitic bone in his body…’ (p. 242)

Genuine racists are not left ‘beyond broken-hearted’ by claims that they are racist. They are not ‘paralysed’ by a sense of injustice and grief.

Jones comments on Corbyn: ‘no one close to him believes for a moment that he would ever willingly associate with a Holocaust denier’. (p. 222) And Corbyn ‘could point to an extensive record opposing antisemitism and showing pro-Jewish solidarity’ (p. 221). Jones lists some of Corbyn’s efforts in this regard: helping to organise a counter-mobilisation to a demonstration by National Front fascists in the so-called Battle of Wood Green in 1977; taking part in a campaign to save a Jewish cemetery from being sold off to property developers in 1987, calling on the British government to settle Yemeni Jewish refugees in 2010.

Before the sheer intensity of propaganda caused most commentators to find truth in lies, Corbyn’s deep-rooted opposition to racism was simply unquestioned. Chris Mullin, who did not vote for Corbyn to either become or remain leader, commented:

‘I’ve always liked him as long as I’ve known him. He’s a thoroughly decent human being, almost a saintly man.’ (p. 30)

As Jones writes of Corbyn at the time he stood for the leadership in 2015:

‘Corbyn had no personal enemies. Everyone liked him. Relentlessly cheerful, endlessly generous with his opponents, he exuded integrity.’ (pp. 50-51)

Despite this, Jones says of the antisemitism crisis:

‘The damage to Corbyn’s Labour was grievous. The crisis led to months of media coverage.’ (p. 254)

In fact, the media coverage was the crisis! It was this real crisis that was the cause of the ‘crisis’. The antisemitism ‘crisis’ was just one more fabrication by an awesomely corrupt and immoral media system willing to throw, not just the kitchen sink, but – God help us! – Nazi gas chambers at Corbyn.

The key to understanding the anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was explained by Jones himself:

‘Anybody who knows anything about the British press knows that it is almost unique in the Western world for its level of commitment to aggressively defending and furthering right-wing partisan politics… the media onslaught that greeted his [Corbyn’s] leadership win in 2015 was as predictable as it was unrelentingly hostile.’ (p. 67)

Jones lists only a few of the endlessly fabricated stories used to smear Corbyn: he supposedly planned to ‘abolish’ the army, refused to bow his head on Remembrance Day, danced happily on Remembrance Day, didn’t sing the national anthem loudly enough, and so on. The London School of Economics reported in 2016:

‘the British press systematically delegitimised Jeremy Corbyn as a political leader’ through a ‘process of vilification that went beyond the normal limits of fair debate and disagreement in a democracy’. (p. 68)

Corbyn’s great anti-semitism ‘scandal’ was a non-story, a fabricated non-event, a Soviet-style propaganda smear. Sufficient numbers of people wanted it to be true because they wanted to be rid of Corbyn. Everyone else bowed their heads to avoid being subject to the same career-destroying smears.

Jones often mentions Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite Union, in This Land. McCluskey commented in the New Statesman last week on Corbyn’s press chief Seumas Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy:

‘Having given a brilliant and detailed polemic of the history of anti-Semitism, he [Jones] veers away to lay blame at the [door of] Milne and Murphy, based on a distorted view of what it was like trying to deal with the constant daily attacks.

‘When you are in a war – and be under no illusion, from day one of his leadership, Corbyn was subjected to an internal and external war – you develop methods of defence and attack that change by necessity almost on a daily, if not hourly basis.  Being in your living room, observing with a typewriter, is a damn sight easier than being in the ditches on the front line, trying to dodge bullets flying at you from all angles, especially from your own side.’

Establishment forces were out to destroy Corbyn with antisemitism, or whatever else they could think of, no matter what he did, how he replied. And it worked. The incompetence of Corbyn’s team may have made things worse, but the truth that matters is that a form of ruthless fascism arose out of British society to crush an attempt to create a more democratic politics.

Needless to say, Jones has not one word to say about the lead role of his employer, the Guardian, in the antisemitism smear campaign.

Conclusion

Why do we focus so intensely on popular progressives like Owen Jones, George Monbiot and loveable, NATO-loving loon Paul Mason?

The reason is that they breathe life into the faded dream that progressive change can be achieved by working within and for profit-maximising corporations that are precisely the cause of so many of our crises. Even the best journalists cannot tell the truth within these undemocratic systems of top-down power. As Jones freely admits, they have to compromise, to self-censor. Guardian colleagues may not be criticised! Ultimately, they have to compromise in ways that allow the state-corporate status quo to thunder on.

Our most celebrated public radicals – almost all of them made famous by corporate media – function as dissident vaccines that inoculate the public against a pandemic of authentic dissent.

Corporate media are careful to incorporate a tiny bit of progressive poison, so that we all hang around for a whole lot of propaganda-drenched news and commentary, and a perma-tsunami of unanswered corporate advertising persuading us that status consumption, status production and paper-thin concern for the problems of our world are all there is.

Ultimately, corporate dissidents are the final nail in the corporate coffin, normalising the blind, patently doomed rush to disaster called ‘business as usual.’

  1. Owen Jones, The Establishment:  And how they get away with it, Penguin, 2014, p. 275.
  2. Jones, Twitter, 20 February 2011.
  3. Jones, ‘The case against bombing Libya’, Left Futures, March 2011.
  4. Jones, Twitter, 18 July 2012.
  5. Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt, ‘Behind the sudden death of a $1 billion secret C.I.A. war in Syria’, New York Times, 2 August 2017.
  6. Jones, Twitter, 19 November 2017.
  7. Jones: ‘“I don’t enjoy protesting – I do it because the stakes are so high”’, Evening Standard, 3 February 2017.

The post Guardian-Friendly Omissions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

An Unbending Devotion to Justice, Equality, and the Well-being of All People

[She led a campaign] demanding that the National Student Association pay reparations to an affiliated student group, the National Association of Black Students. Although this and other accounts from those ‘Black Power’ years are informative, even riveting, in the end the central story line is Gwen herself through the life she exercises with dedication, principle, and an unbending devotion to justice, equality, and the well-being of all people.

— Bob Moses, Forward to My Race for Freedom

Gwendolyn Patton was a long-distance runner for the freedom of Black people and all people in the US and around the world. In the last years of her life she wrote an autobiography, My Race to Freedom: A Life in the Civil Rights Movement, that has just been published three years after her death in 2017.

I was a good friend and movement brother in the struggle for justice with Gwen. We met at a national conference in Washington, D.C. in February, 1984 that founded the National Committee for Independent Political Action. NCIPA’s main work that year was to support the Rainbow Coalition campaign of Rev. Jesse Jackson for President. Gwen became a leader of NCIPA, and for years we worked together.

One of my strongest memories of Gwen is her being at the first of 10 annual, week-long, summer Leadership Institutes of the Future Leaders Network, a project of NCIPA and New African Voices Alliance. Over the course of its life, we brought together a multi-racial mix of hundreds of teenagers to these progressive leadership training gatherings.

Gwen arrived a few days after the first one started, and it had been a rough start. We adult counselors had our hands full with some very spirited young people who had their own ideas about what should happen at the camp, not all of them positive. But the evening she arrived, Matt Jones, a former member of the SNCC Freedom Singers, was there to sing freedom songs from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As he began he brought Gwen up to sing with him, and the young people were mesmerized as Matt and Gwen told their stories of life in and sang songs from that movement. Everything turned around, and the rest of the camp was all we had wanted it to be.

This is just one of many stories that could be told about Gwen and her importance to so many people.

My Race to Freedom tells the story of Gwen’s early life in Detroit where her parents had moved from Montgomery, Alabama in 1941 as part of the “great migration” of Black people to the north. As she grew up, she spent summers in Montgomery with her extended family. Her father took a job working in a Ford factory where he became a union leader.

Gwen had a good example to learn from about organizing. “My first introduction to organizing was listening to him talk about the interplay between the workers and the bosses. I remember one riveting incident when the assembly line workers staged a slow-down after an unpopular foreman, a Pole, moved to fire a man.” Through group action, the workers had him “moved to another section of the plant.”

The bulk of the book gives many details that were of real value to me as someone who was not active in the civil rights movement but who has learned a lot about it. One particular focus of Gwen’s story is Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and what went on there as the civil rights movement of the 50s led to the emergence of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC in 1960. As the movement heated up in the South, Gwen was right there in Alabama, having moved back in 1960, doing her part as a student activist and then student body president at Tuskegee Institute to successfully move the students into active participation in that movement.

Of particular interest is Gwen’s analysis of the class differences within the Black community and how she worked to both build united, principled unity in action against Jim Crow segregation and racism among all classes, while also working to build the leadership of Black working-class people within the movement.

In 1967 Gwen moved to New York City. For the next twelve years she lived in the northeast in either NYC or Washington, DC., while also traveling throughout the country as a speaker, especially on college campuses. She worked for the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Student Mobilization Committee Against the War, Union 1199 and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. She became a teacher, first teaching at the School for Contemporary Studies in Brooklyn. She was a founder and, for several years, leader of the National Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union.

Her time up north led to her involvement with the white Left, which she did not find to be the easiest thing to do. Her analysis of her experiences with different socialist and Left groups is instructive. She ultimately ended up joining the US Communist Party despite having reservations about it.

In 1978 she decided she should return to her roots and moved back to Montgomery, Alabama. She “kept food on the table with various teaching and administrative positions at Tuskegee, Alabama State University, and Trenholm State Technical College.” She continued her progressive organizing with a number of different organizations until her death in 2017.

Thanks is due to Randall Williams, who made sure to finish the editing of Gwen’s manuscript, and NewSouth Books. My Race to Freedom is now available for the world to read and learn from. It’s well worth doing so if you’re in the progressive movement and intend to be in it for years to come.

The post An Unbending Devotion to Justice, Equality, and the Well-being of All People first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Warning of the Imminent Danger of a Kamala Harris Presidency

With the 2020 U.S. presidential election less than a month away, there is widespread speculation concerning Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s mental and physical fitness at 77 years of age if he were to defeat incumbent Donald Trump on November 3rd. The former Vice President and Senator from Delaware would surpass his opponent as the oldest to ever hold the office of the presidency if victorious, while his generally acknowledged cognitive decline has led many to question whether he is even capable of serving a single term. Given the concerns about his health, the likelihood that Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, would become his successor has put the controversial former prosecutor and California Attorney General’s own politics under scrutiny, though not to a degree sufficient with the odds she could very well become commander-in-chief in the near future. Trump himself suggested it was the hidden motivation behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent introduction of a 25th Amendment commission on removing a “mentally unfit” president to enable the replacement of an incapacitated Biden with Harris after the election. Even Saturday Night Live recently joked about Biden’s poor first debate performance as a Harris term in-the-making — but as journalist Caleb Maupin explains in his new book Kamala Harris and the Future of America: An Essay in Three Parts, the prospect of her becoming president is no laughing matter.

Maupin’s ambitious essay surpasses the redundant analysis of the vice-presidential nominee by placing her political success in a broader historical context while forewarning the unique danger of a budding Harris administration waiting in the wings. The majority of the critical examinations of Harris during the campaign have critiqued her rebranding as an outwardly “progressive” figure in stark contrast with the reality of her career as a ruthless criminal prosecutor turned establishment politician. While that is true, Maupin’s analysis takes an important step further by formulating the rise of Harris, who is the first Jamaican and South Asian-American nominee on a major party ticket, as the culmination of the U.S. left’s failures in the last several decades resulting in its present deteriorated state preoccupied with liberal identity politics. More specifically, a result of the defeats suffered by the so-called New Left of the 1960s and 70s which had long-term consequences for progressive politics in America today.

Although not a biography, Maupin does link Harris’s psychological profile, personality traits and upbringing with her political career which he parallels with the life stories of previous presidents and other political figures. Born in 1964, Harris was raised in a hub of the organized left in the Bay Area by immigrant parents who were politically active during her early childhood in Northern California. While not a communist, her estranged Jamaican-American father, Donald Harris, is a Stanford University professor and Marxian economist whose work influenced the progressive domestic reforms in his native island country during the administration of Prime Minister Michael Manley, a democratic socialist who introduced land redistribution, socialized medicine and free education until Jamaica’s neocolonization by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) decimated the Carribean nation with enormous debt, as explored in the documentary Life and Debt (2001). Young Kamala grew up attending civil rights protests in Berkeley with her parents until their bitter divorce which resulted in her Indian-American mother gaining sole custody. Maupin dares to ask — is her chosen career path as a criminal prosecutor and top legal officer disproportionately locking up black men unconsciously motivated by a vendetta against her father? Could it even explain her thinly-veiled contempt for the progressive politics she now pretends to uphold as a politician?

Maupin also argues that Harris was likely groomed for her present role as Biden’s running mate by the Clintonite wing of Democratic Party once it became apparent Hillary was not in a position to run again in 2020, citing a 2017 closed door meeting in the Hamptons with elite party donors and apparatchiks. Despite her own early exit from the primaries after a knockout blow in the debates delivered by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii who sharply criticized her record as a prosecutor, Harris was already vetted by the party leadership to be Biden’s heir apparent. For the Democratic establishment, she is the perfect choice to derail the emerging progressive faction of the party led by Bernie Sanders which champions a similar brand of the social democratic politics championed by her father. This could also hold disastrous geopolitical implications, as the world is still reeling from the four years spent ravaged by the foreign policy of Hillary Clinton’s State Department which oversaw the wholesale destruction of several nations in the global south. We can only expect the same regime change policies from Harris if she is cut from the same cloth.

Maupin then uses Harris and her Berkeley upbringing to explore the history of leftism in the United States, tracing the New Left’s ceding of leadership roles to students and marginal groups while discarding labor rights and the class struggle back to the influence of the Frankfurt School of Social Theory. The philosophical movement of intellectuals and academics associated with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, otherwise known as ‘critical theory’, put forward that both capitalist societies and Marxist-Leninist states like the Soviet Union were equally rigid “totalitarian” systems. The interdisciplinary sociological school viewed Marx’s prediction of revolutionary emancipation in the 20th century as an evident failure and rejected the historical materialism of orthodox Marxism, arguing that forces of economic change were undermined by the dominant ideology of the ruling class represented in mass media which produced false consciousness in the working class. Theorists such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse attempted to reformulate Marxism with Freudian psychoanalysis and other disciplines while critiquing mass consumer culture and modern technology.

As the impact of the Frankfurt School gave rise to the New Left in the U.S. and Western Europe, mass social movements became housed in the universities instead of the factories. This was favorable to the ruling class, as student-led counterculture revolts were much easier to control in comparison with a revolution organized by the workers. If any authentic revolutionary leaders did emerge, they were quickly neutralized. After the student protests of 1968, the New Left withdrew further to its comfort zone in the realm of ideas and out of the streets, which was perfectly alright with the powers that be since they were intellectuals who denounced Marxism-Leninism. Soon the academy would be dominated by an even more pessimistic and “anti-authoritarian” ideology, postmodernism, which rejected the value of all universal truths and grand narratives. How did this all happen?

Maupin emphasizes that the intelligentsia of the New Left were actively supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) through its clandestine Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) program during the Cold War, which sought to subvert the sympathies of liberals and the non-communist left with the Soviet Union through the covert funding of prominent literary magazines, journals, international conferences, modern art exhibitions, and other cultural activities. The objective was to promote an intellectual consensus on the Western left that the Soviet Union was to be opposed as much as capitalism and it was indisputably successful. Meanwhile, the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commissions of the 1970s exposed how in the previous decade the CIA had played an enormous role in introducing drugs to the counterculture as part of its domestic espionage against the anti-war movement in Operation Midnight Climax, a sub-program of Project MK-Ultra, where the Bay Area became a petri dish for its human experimentation. With the drug culture came the popularization of eastern mysticism and eventually, the New Age movement.

As it happens, the relationship between the CIA and the New Left’s intellectuals goes back to its origins. One of the most prominent idealogues of the Frankfurt School, Herbert Marcuse — often referred to as the “father of the New Left” — spent almost a full decade during the 1940s working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, and as an anti-Soviet intelligence analyst in the U.S. State Department. This was not just during wartime but continued well after WWII was over in West Germany until 1951 when Marcuse immigrated to the United States to work as a professor at universities on the east coast, the same year that the CCF was founded. However, one interesting fact that Maupin overlooks is that while Kamala Harris was growing up in Oakland in the 1960s, Marcuse relocated his teaching career out to the west coast at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where his work continued to be cited as an influence by the middle-class student activists and radicals of the counterculture as the left drifted further away from the socialist countries and the working class. The documentary The documentary Herbert’s Hippopotamus: Marcuse and Revolution in Paradise examines Marcuse’s time in Southern California in the late 60s.

Prior to his work in the OSS, in Weimar Germany the young Marcuse had been a pupil of philosopher Martin Heidegger even as his mentor infamously joined the ascendant Nazi Party, though the relationship came to an end once Marcuse’s own academic career was obstructed by the Third Reich in the early 1930s. One of the major thinkers associated with the New Left promoted by the CCF was a former lover of Heidegger’s, Hannah Arendt, who penned one of the most seminal and harmful works in equating the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany as twin pillars of authoritarianism in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In particular, Maupin takes aim at Arendt’s essay Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil where she famously observed Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann’s thoughtless conformism and ministerial disposition in his lack of remorse for his atrocities while covering his trial. Maupin interprets her notion as implicitly concluding that lurking underneath the surface of every ordinary hardworking person is a potential fascist, therefore anyone who would try to organize them for a collective cause is a threat to society. This cynical, psychoanalytic definition of fascism as rooted in what Adorno called the “authoritarian personality” replaced the Marxist economic understanding. Yet in spite of her work, Arendt controversially participated in the shameful post-war apologia and rehabilitation of Heidegger’s reputation.

Critics might say that Maupin’s diagnosis of the Western left as the manipulated brainchild of Western intelligence agencies is oversimplistic, conspiratorial or risks espousing a form of vulgar Marxism. Indeed, it is a touchy subject for those too personally connected to the artistic and intellectual milieu of the time to accept the undeniably significant role played by the CIA in subverting leftist politics, arts and culture in the second half of the twentieth century. Some on the left will inevitably try to dismiss his analysis by likening it to the right-wing canard of “cultural Marxism” spoken of by paleoconservatives simply because of the overlap in mutual subjects of criticism. Nonetheless, there is a small kernel of truth at the heart the right’s mostly fictitious narrative of Western Marxism’s control of academia but unfortunately, what they misinterpret as a plot to “subvert Western culture” was hatched at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia — not the former Soviet Union. Today’s pseudo-left which recoils working people is truly an imposter generated by the CIA’s cultural cold war program to replace actual Marxism, the real casualty of the pervasiveness of Western Marxism in universities.

Others may find Maupin’s assessment of the Frankfurt School and thinkers of the New Left to be too dismissive of their contributions. Ironically, Adorno’s worthwhile conception of “actionism” applies to the left-wing anti-intellectualism and leaderless, spontaneous voluntarism of the very movement to which the Frankfurt School gave birth and is even more relevant per Maupin’s thorough description of what he calls the “synthetic left” today. Look no further than the ‘propaganda of the deed’ which dominates Antifa and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests this year. In Thesis on Feuerbach, Karl Marx articulated the predicament of revolutionary politics in his day being restrained by the gap between thought and action, or “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” One could say the mantra of the Western left now seems to be taking action without any thought whatsoever. Or as Lenin wrote in What is to be Done?, “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”

If the idea that Kamala Harris represents an apotheosis of the New Left’s failures feels like a bit of a stretch, it is only because the examination warrants further inquiry which Maupin should continue in his work, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election. Nevertheless, in just a little over 125 pages he manages to comprehensively piece together the trajectory of the Western left from the end of WWII to what can only be described as its “stinking corpse” today, a term once used by Rosa Luxembourg to describe the treacherous Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) after it voted to support the imperialist bloodbath of WWI in 1914. Maupin’s use of Harris and the environment she grew up in as a springboard to investigate the shortcomings of the Western left generally is a formidable exploration that is desperately needed at a time where the American people are faced with the probability of enduring yet another destructive administration and no authentic left to represent it.

The post A Warning of the Imminent Danger of a Kamala Harris Presidency first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A  Model for Healthcare Reform from a Surprising Place

The issue of healthcare reform is one that is consistently identified by opinion polls as being among the most important to Americans. The United States continues to be the only fully industrialized nation that lacks a public healthcare system, a feature of modern “democracy” that is taken for granted in most developed countries. Most American proponents of healthcare reform typically cite the models utilized by Canada, Western Europe, or Australia as the most appropriate guides for the implementation of universal healthcare in the United States. However, Don Fitz, a Green Party activist, provides a comprehensive overview of a model for reform that originates from what many would consider to be a surprising place. Cuba is widely regarded by Americans as an impoverished “Third World” nation. Yet, Fitz’s Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution describes how Cuba’s approach to healthcare during the six decades since the 1959 revolution has produced rather extraordinary results.

The overview of Cuban healthcare begins with an examination of the challenges that Cuba faced immediately following the revolution. Previously, healthcare in Cuba had been almost entirely private. After the revolution, Cuba lost approximately half of its physicians with most of these becoming émigrés to the United States in search of a more lucrative place to practice medicine. Only about three thousand Cuban physicians remained and those who stayed did so out of a commitment to their profession. The methods of funding healthcare before the revolution typically relied on either fee-for-service relationships between physicians and patients or “mutuals” that functioned as a kind of private insurance system operating on a semi-cooperative basis. The very limited healthcare that was available to the poor was mostly provided by the state.

An innovative reform that was implemented following the revolution involved the creation of “polyclinics” organized on the basis of a structural framework described as “centralization/decentralization.” Under this model, small teams of healthcare professionals were assigned to serve individual communities, with each healthcare team having a collection of families under their care, usually numbering in the range of 120 to 150 family groupings, with the families including 600 to 800 persons. Clinicians would often visit patients at home. The polyclinics functioned within a centralized meta-level framework that was based on a single system of healthcare provision. The individual teams providing healthcare to particular communities were the decentralized component of the system. It was not the provision of health care that indicate decentralization but rather the ability to decide how to do it locally.

Over time, Cuban healthcare practices experienced a series of innovations. The initial community-based polyclinics eventually evolved into a system of family doctors that were able to provide personalized care in a way that included the cultivation of physician-patient and physician-community relationships. The achievements of Cuba in the area of healthcare are particularly astounding when it is considered that Cuba is an island nation with approximately the same population size as New York City. Clearly, the Cubans have been highly capable of successfully managing their own affairs in spite of the hardships the country has faced in the post-revolutionary era. The obstacles faced by Cuba have largely been due to the hostility of the United States and the Americans’ persistent attempts to undermine the achievements of the Cuban revolution.

An important aspect of Cuban healthcare has been the role of Cuba’s military doctors in providing health services to insurgent movements in Africa, a process that began when Cuba began offering support to anti-colonial resistance forces on the African continent in the 1960s. Cuban physicians involved in Africa often traveled clandestinely in order to avoid detection by Western intelligence services or those of colonial and neo-colonial governments on the continent. African resistance leaders often preferred that Cuba send black doctors so that the Cuban physicians would more easily blend in with the local population. The role of Cuban doctors in establishing healthcare services in impoverished African nations such as Angola, which was involved in an intense anti-imperialist struggle in the 1970s and 1980s, attests to the quality of the Cuban healthcare system and its exportability to other nations. Cuba faced a predictable crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union, which occurred during a time when the AIDS crisis was also presenting challenges to Cuba’s healthcare system.  Cuba responded to the economic crisis of the post-Cold War era through the implementation of changes reminiscent of those adopted by Lenin during the period of the New Economic Policy.

Aside from the interesting overview of the history of post-revolutionary Cuban healthcare provided by Fitz, the discussion of medical education in Cuba is also quite fascinating. Fitz’s examination of Cuban medical training is based in part on his daughter’s experience as a student at the ELAM, or Latin American School of Medicine. ELAM was established by the Cubans and provides opportunity for students from around the world to study medicine on the condition that ELAM graduates serve as healthcare workers in an underserved part of the world upon the completion of their studies. Such a concept could theoretically be transplanted to the US where the medical education of students could be publicly funded in return for medical service in underserved communities.

Fitz provides an interesting profile of 13 students attending ELAM and their activities, including the participation of ELAM students in disaster relief activities such as the Haitian earthquake of 2010. During the first two decades of the 21st century, Cuban healthcare has continued to face a range of challenges. For example, dengue fever and mosquito-borne illnesses are common to Cuba’s tropical environment. Fitz describes the efforts of Mariela Castro, daughter of Fidel’s brother Raul to challenge discrimination against women, gender, and sexual minorities in Cuba. He likewise describes his own participation in Cuba’s March Against Homophobia in 2012. Post-revolutionary Cuba has a regrettable history of discrimination and repression directed toward sexual preference which the nation has fortunately made bold efforts to overcome in more recent years. Cuba has continued to provide much needed assistance to African nations in response to challenges such as the Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014.

Clearly, Cuba’s achievements in the development of its healthcare system in the decades since the revolution have been remarkable. Fitz’s discussion of these achievements is not only thorough but well-documented from appropriately cited source material. The analysis of Cuban healthcare that Fitz provides is based on a synthesis of both scholarly research drawing from the relevant literature, including both English language and Spanish language sources, and the experiential research of Fitz and members of his family. If nothing else, Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution is an excellent representation of mixed method scholarship which includes painstaking documentation of the claims being made concerning the accomplishments of Cuban healthcare. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the book is the statistical data that Fitz provides for the purpose of supporting his claims.

Astonishingly, Cuba has in recent decades managed to outperform the United States in a range of critical areas pertaining to general public health. As of the early 2000s, 45% of Cuban physicians were family doctors living in the same neighborhoods as their patients. The typical patient wait time at a clinic was 15 minutes. In the year 2000, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was 6.3 per 100,000 births compared with 7.1 for the United States. By the year 2017, infant mortality in Cuba had dropped to 4.1 per 100,000 births as opposed to 5.7 for the United States. Cuba has made comparable progress regarding life expectancy. In 1960, shortly after the revolution, Cuba’s average life expectancy was 64.2 years compared to 69. 8 years in the United States. By 2016, Cuba had slightly passed the United States with an average life expectancy of 79 years compared to 78.5 years for the United States.

A reasonable standard with which a society’s healthcare system can be evaluated is the combination of infant mortality rates and life expectancy that is experienced. One of the great achievements of modern civilization is the dramatic increase in life expectancy. During the height of its empire, ancient Rome’s life expectancy was only 48 years. In many historic societies, life expectancy was only in the range of 30 years. Low life expectancy rates were partially rooted in high rates of infant mortality and deaths from childhood diseases. In many families, a third to a half of the children would not survive until adulthood. Indeed, it was during the era of rising living standards at the dawn of modernity that the status of children began to increase dramatically with practices such as infanticide, child slavery, and child labor experiencing a significant decline.

Within the context of American political discourse, American healthcare is often touted as being “the best in the world” as opposed to supposedly backward nations of the Global South or “socialist” countries supposedly hampered by the ills of bureaucratization and inefficiency. However, Don Fitz describes how Cuba has been able to provide higher quality healthcare to its citizens than the United States in spite of the fact that Cuba spends only 4 to 5 percent per individual on healthcare compared to the United States. Indeed, some of the voluminous facts that Fitz provides would be comical if they were not so tragic. For example, an average hospital stay in Cuba costs $5.49 per day as opposed to $1,944 in the United States. It has been widely documented that medical bankruptcy is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US. Fitz manages to marshal a vast range of evidence in support of his thesis that US healthcare is largely an elaborate corporate-perpetrated scam that frequently pales in comparison to Cuban healthcare, which often produces superior results at a tiny fraction of the costs.

The post A  Model for Healthcare Reform from a Surprising Place first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Cashing in on Russia’s Woes

I was always dismissed as a ‘Sov symp’ in the days of communism, attracted by the Soviet Union’s great foreign policy: anti-imperialist, ant-zionist, pro-nuclear disarmament, pro-liberation movements, etc, etc. I could never understand why lefties didn’t fall in love with the only real non-capitalist modern society. It worked, however badly. It had to be at the heart of the struggle against capitalism, imperialism.

Now I’m a ‘putinist’ according to my Canadian MP Chrystia Freeland, herself granddaughter of the leading WWII Ukrainian Hitler propagandist as Ukrainian Jews were whisked away to concentration camps and death. She was trying to insult me, as I stood with a friend and a placard ‘Hands off Venezuela’, ‘welcoming’ her constituents at a levy on a frosty but sunny afternoon in 2018. Canada had just signed on to the US conspiracy to overthrow Maduro, par for Canada’s craven course in world affairs. A bit of ‘pot calling the kettle black,’ I wanted to needle her, but refrained, anxious to leave a pro-Bolivarian soundbyte in her haughty mind.

‘Sticks and stones’, I always say. In any case, I am still a supporter of Russian foreign policy, generally following its Soviet parent. Not for any love of Putin, but because it is right. And I still remain a Sov symp, now, more for its egalitarian domestic policy, guaranteeing a first rate, free education, and quite passable universal health care, not to mention cheap housing, cheap public transport, lots of holidays. Russia, sadly, has abandoned much of that in its embrace of capitalism.

Freeland, like Catherine Belton, was Financial Times correspondent in Moscow in the 1990s, a close friend of the Bill Browder whose financial shenanigans in Moscow led to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, banning Russians deemed undesirable from the US. Like Browder, Freeland too cashed in on Russia’s woes, with Sale of the Century (2000) about Russia’s journey from communism to capitalism, and Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012).

Freeland had the curious dilemma of being Canada’s foreign minister (2017-19) while being banned from Canada’s northern Russian neighbour, thanks to her very loud pillorying of Putin. When asked if this wasn’t a problem, she dismissed the ban as ‘something for Moscow to deal with.’ Have I got this right? As Arctic sovereignty rears its contentious head, Canada’s inability to work with its main contender is not a problem? Where the only interaction of leaders is Trudeau and Freeland name-calling Putin at international gatherings?

Communist (sorry, Russian) conspiracies

Belton’s tome, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, is being touted as ‘the definitive account of the rise of Putin and Putinism’, according to Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic. All these strident critics of Putin, Catherine, Chrystia and Anne, are, well, women-in-a-man’s-world. Putin’s appeal is definitely not to feminists. His image is of a macho man, silent and serious, crafty and intelligent. The story line is: KGB man appears from nowhere, bashes the Chechens, exiles and/or assassinates his foes, redistributes the country’s resources to his KGB friends, creating a new patriotic elite, meanwhile, spending millions to subvert the West. Vladimir Putin has presided over the country and its resources like a tsar, bolstered by a cadre of friendly oligarchs and secret service agents. ‘Very dangerous’ in the words of Freeland.

Although the writing style, seeing everything through conspiratorial eyes, with Russia always the bad guy, is irksome, there are interesting themes and juicy gossip:

*Under Andropov, the KGB was already working with the black market in anticipation of loosening control, and allowing creation of a genuine market (the ‘luch’ (light) program). Of course, the KGB wanted to keep control of cash flows. If that indeed was Andropov’s plan, was it bad, as Belton implies? It sure beats letting a handful of men steal the nation’s wealth and spirit it abroad, as Yeltsin did in the 1990s.

Andropov died just months after Gorbachev arrived in Moscow, prematurely thrusting him into sole leadership, without Andropov’s skills and knowledge, or his caution. Instead of a Russian transition, Russians got a free-for-all by wannabe westernerizers, Chubais, Khodorkovsky et al, with neoliberal American advisers. By then, there was no authority to rein in the greed. Russia was gutted.

*Putin’s mentor was Leningrader and reformer Anatolii Sobchak. Belton suggests Yeltsin orchestrated Sobchak’s defeat as mayor in 1996, as Sobchak was too charismatic (and intelligent). That brought Putin to Moscow and the KGB orchestrated his rise to keep control. Primakov and Luzhkov, supported by the Communists, were jockeying to take over from Yeltsin.

A telling anecdote Belton relates (if true) is how Putin spirited Sobchak out of the country to avoid investigations which might have landed him in jail. When Yelstin heard of this, he was impressed at his loyalty, clearly with his own family in mind, and promoted Putin to head the FSB and finally prime minister in 1999.

When Sobchak heard this (so the story goes), he said: Don’t frighten me! Sobchak’s only public criticism of the post-Soviet KGB (and Putin) was an article charging them with complicity in murder of an official, Manevich, involving the Petersburg port (where Putin was supposedly involved in drug smuggling). And then he died ‘mysteriously’ a month before Putin’s inauguration as president in 2000.

*The next step in Belton’s conspiratorial take is the explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999, culminating in Putin beating out Primakov in an orchestrated coup. (Did the KGB blow up Russians to make a strongman KGB more palatable?)

How much of this scenario is fact is hard to tell, but the upshot is that Russia lives with a West not much different from Soviet days. Yes, the KGB was formed by a Cold War mentality and connections. Whose fault was that? Under Putin, Russia has been rebuilt as the Soviet Union with capitalism, crony capitalism. Andropov’s vision of a controlled transition to a more open economy, with socialism still the guiding force, was not to be. There is not ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not Putin’s fault.

Salvaging something

New banks that popped up overnight had been able to manipulate the ‘loans for shares’ scheme to obtain shares in firms with strong potential as collateral for loans to the state. This was how Khodorkovsky got a 78% share of ownership in Yukos. In a few years, most of Russia’s wealth was funneled into a dozen hands. It was too late to close the barn door, but at least Putin slowed the hemorrhaging and created a functioning state.

With his presidential mandate, Putin immediately went after the oligarchs. He summoned them for regular meetings, warned them of ‘fishing in muddy waters’, that it was ‘no use blaming the mirror’ [because you’re ugly].

We have a category of people who have become billionaires overnight. The state appointed them billionaires. It simply gave out a huge amount of property, practically for free. Then they got the idea that ‘the gods themselves slept on their heads,’ that everything was permitted to them.1

‘Privatization didn’t create legitimate property,’ Khodorkovsky’s ex-lawyer told Belton in 2018. You don’t own it, Putin warned them, but merely can use it under the government’s scrutiny. At the same time, Putin promised not to reverse 1990s privatizations. Bad cop, good cop.

Khodorkovsky gets special attention. How from 2003 on, Khodorkovsky started to push a political agenda, aiming for control by financing the Communists, Yabloko and Union of Right forces at the same time, trying to appeal to both left and right against Putin, planning to run for president 2008. Essentially privatizing politics. He started a youth movement and made a public display of charity.

But what Russia needed was not charity from a slick snake-oil salesman, but tax revenue, and to make sure that oil remained in Russian hands. When Khodorkovsky planned to give majority ownership of Yukos to ExxonMobil and/or ChevronTexaco in 2003, that crossed Putin’s red line and Kh lost his ill-gotten wealth, landing in prison in 2005. At the end of 2014 (after a pardon by Putin), he was still worth about $500 million. In 2015, he moved to London.

Khodorkovsky would be the exception that proves the rule about respecting the ’90s fire sale. Belton tsk-tsks that the husband of Kh’s judge was ‘driven to a Subaru salesroom and told to choose a vehicle for himself.’ That Putin was merely creating a new set of oligarchs from among his friends, the siloviki (the ‘powers’). Yes, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. At least the new boss is under the control of the country’s government.

Neo-tsarism

Belton compares Putin’s regime to that of Tsar Nicholas I, who reigned from 1825 to 1855. Putin directly copies the state doctrine of ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality’ of Nicholas I. Khodorovsky was even sent to Krasnokamensk in Siberia, where Decembrists were sent two centuries ago by Nicholas. The tsar suppressed the westernizers of the day, fans of Napoleon, whom, remember Russia had just defeated. Shades of treason. But Russian soldiers liked what they saw in Europe, where there was much greater freedom of speech and no serfdom. Eventually Nicholas’s son Alexander II built on that legacy.

Putin is a big fan of Russian history, and compares his rule to that of all his predecessors. But Tsar Nicholas was not faced with such hostility from Europe, at least till the end of his 30-year reign, with the Crimean War. After it was over, relations went back to normal. The Crimean War was all about asserting Britain as the world empire. In the ‘great game’ of the time, Russia grudgingly accepted that, and soon Tsar Nicholas II and his cousin King George V were leading their nations into WWI together.

To stretch the analogy, the US is the world empire today and expects Russia to toe the line. But there are no monarchs to paper over the cracks. The great game today is not a simple replay, except that the 19th century version ended in world wars, and the current game is already one of economic war and an accelerating arms race. In both cases, Russia was/is trying to develop peacefully, never under anyone’s thumb, making it Belton’s foe not so much for Putin’s ruthlessness and corruption, but for his temerity to defy the US empire.

Putin is more like Stalin in his drive to defend the motherland against very real enemies, his ruthlessness and zeal to modernize Russia and ensure a strong state. In a telling show of force shortly after his election as president in 2000, he first lectured the oligarchs about their fishing in muddy waters, then ‘invited’ them to Stalin’s dacha for an informal party, dressed in jeans and t-shirt.

Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev did not have the same fear of the West as Stalin and Putin. But that’s not Putin’s fault. (And they were deceived as it turns out.) Belton’s warped interpretations of things ignore the very real threat posed by the West, not just in Soviet times, but even more so today, eager to further dismember a weakened Russia and force it to accept US hegemony.

As for the oligarchs, Belton even denies they are genuine oligarchs: ‘Russia has no oligarchs, only wealthy servants of Putin and his FSB.’ (But maybe they like the restrictions, as Putin promises them not only security, but a renewed Russia.)

Belton rightly notes the big moment for Putin was the Munich security conference 2007, where Putin shocked—and impressed—the world by telling truth to power, charging that the US imperial project was back in full force. This is a world of one master, one sovereign. And this in the end is ruinous not just for everyone in the system, but for the sovereign itself. For it will destroy the sovereign from the inside. The world is changing rapidly. Belton dismisses this now legendary attack on US pretense, instead, accusing Putin of reviving the Cold War.

Interference!

And what of the claims of Russian meddling in foreign governments? Belton points to Putin’s ‘suggestion’ to Abramovich to buy the Chelsea football club, that this helped clinch the World Cup in 2018, relying on a corrupt FIFA. All the Russian wealth circulating in Britain allowed Putin to manipulate British politics. Oh really?

Was it Putin’s fault that Trump spent so much time with rich pals and pretty women in Moscow, even hosting the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 in Krasnogorsk? Belton attributes Trump’s isolationism (his pre-election call to withdraw troops from Japan and the Persian Gulf) to Russia. No. Just common sense. Like a broken clock, Trump occasionally gets it right.

And the wikileaks of 2016, even if courtesy of Russia, merely showed Washington as corrupt and cynical. Interesting that both Donald Jr and Biden Jr (to their peril) were also attracted to ‘wild east’.

But no. For Applebaum, ‘in 2016, Putin finally hit the jackpot: His operatives helped elect an American president with long-standing Russian links who would not only sow chaos, but systematically undermine America’s alliances, erode American influence, and even, in the spring of 2020, render the American federal government dysfunctional, damaging the reputation of both the U.S. and democracy more broadly.’ So it’s Putin who is causing all of America’s woes! That explains everything.

And Ukraine. Russia was eyeing Ukraine from the Orange Revolution in 2005 on, encouraging instability in a plan to ‘rebuild the empire’, to dominate Ukraine and seize Crimea. So it was Russia that set off the 2014 Maidan riots, not the many western-backed NGOS and Ukraine’s budding fascist movement (cheered on by the likes of Freeland, Belton and Applebaum)?

And then Russia turned around and blamed the US! ‘Without any proof Russia claimed the US was behind the protests that buffeted Yanukovich’s regime.’ Belton describes the ‘deep paranoia that haunted Putin and his men since the days of the Orange Revolution in 2004.’ At the same time, ‘Russia was seeking to sow division in the West.’

Why would Russia want to cripple neighbour Ukraine? Only the distant US has benefited by the tragedy there, selling more arms, harassing Russia. The US has a long tradition of fighting its battles far away. Out of sight, out of mind.

In Georgia, Putin ‘had long ago laid a trap for Saakashvili’, so when Saakashvili invaded south Ossetia in 2008, Russia was once again the culprit. ‘These aggressions’ are Putin’s doing.

Clamping down on western-backed NGOS from the ‘white revolution’ in 2011 on is condemned as downright unfair. Putin: They do not represent the state. You have many individuals, Soros for example, worth billions, and they are meddling everywhere. He didn’t need to mention US interference to ensure Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996, or Clinton’s work with dissidents in 2011 (‘Human rights is part of who we are’) to undermine the Russian presidential election in 2012.

Belton grudgingly admits Putin was blessed by high oil prices in the 2000s, and that he used his new control over oil to revive the state and amass foreign reserves to prevent another 1997 meltdown. Then reasserted Russia’s traditional regional hegemony. That accounts for his renewed popularity. But she sees this all negatively. Tell that to the Russians (wherever they find themselves).

For Belton, Russia is everything bad, and it’s Putin’s fault. At best a throw-back to autocrat Nicholas I. Where are Peter the Great or Catherine the Great as inspirations for Putin? Belton portrays Russia as a dictatorship riddled with corruption. But isn’t that the US too? Oh, I forgot, they have elections every 4 year and change the puppet on top. At least Putin more or less controls things, without needing to look over his shoulder for the puppet master.

All Belton’s umbrage merely confirms my impression of Putin — he is a tsar, a ‘great’ one but like all tsars, he takes a big chunk for himself and his circle. That’s what tsars do. And his critics generally have a hard life, though smart ones prosper.

As for alt history, Belton makes two telling points, quoting first a once-close aide to Putin, Sergei Pugachev: Yes, Primakov and the communists ‘would have been better.’ And Berezovsky: It is dangerous to give the KGB the reins of power. They ‘enter a vicious circle,’ doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. In short, Putin’s legacy may end up as a repeat of the Soviet decline due to a rigid autocracy.

The West royally screwed Russia when it was down in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If they’d played along with Gorby, everyone would be better off, maybe realizing a bit of Andropov’s vision. The bottom line: Putin saved Russia. It’s that simple.

Now if only he can prepare a successor. So far he’s not in the mood. But then Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great (not to mention Lenin and Stalin) were not much better at that. If Putin rests on his laurels, then he (or a weak successor) could end up in the same corner that Lukashenko has painted himself into.

  1. Putin quoted in the New York Times, October 5, 2003.

The post Cashing in on Russia’s Woes first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Abdullah Öcalan on the Sociology of Freedom

The primary goal of politics in the environment and in the institutions of bourgeois democracy is, above all, to hold power. Power, on the other hand, is about getting a share from the monopolies. Obviously, this cannot be the objective of democratic politics. Even if democratic politics are to operate within the institutions of power (e.g., the government), their fundamental task remains the same. This task is not to seize a share of the monopolies but to arrive at and implement decisions that serve the vital interests of society as a whole.

— Abdullah Öcalan, The Sociology of Freedom, p. 190

As we enter the final month of the absolutely central, historic task of removing Trump and many of his accomplices in government from power, there is value to stepping back and taking a much longer view of our overall tasks for those of us who consider ourselves to be revolutionaries, in the best sense of the word.

Abdullah Öcalan’s book, The Sociology of Freedom, published this year by PM Press, is very helpful in that regard.

I knew little about Öcalan before reading this book. I do know about the Rovaja revolution which he helped to inspire, the remarkable, women-led, autonomous region created in northeastern Syria just below Turkey’s southern border. For almost a decade they have built this new society in the most difficult of circumstances, dealing with Turkey’s and ISIS’s efforts to wipe them out, so far unsuccessfully. Their fighting abilities are a primary reason ISIS has been seriously set back in that part of the world.

Wikipedia says this about Rovajan society: “Supporters of [Rojava] state that the events constitute a social revolution with a prominent role played by women both on the battlefield and within the newly formed political system, as well as the implementation of democratic confederalism, a form of libertarian socialism that emphasizes decentralization, gender equality and the need for local governance through semi-direct democracy.”

Öcalan was a hands-on leader in the struggle for Kurdish liberation from the late 70s until 1999 when he was captured by the Turkish government, with CIA assistance. He was a founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist organization. He has been in prison since 1999, but he has been able to write and get published a number of books, of which The Sociology of Freedom is his latest.

In prison, Öcalan continued to develop his political thinking. He no longer considers himself a Marxist-Leninist, writing at one point: “Marxist political economy needs to critically examine itself. With its collapse and self-dissolution after 70 years, real socialism taught us that searching for socialism in the area of bourgeois profit and an alleged commitment to socialism that lacks courageous self-criticism provides a very valuable and unreciprocated service to the capitalist system. How right Lenin and others were when they said, ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” (p. 187)

What are the main ideas in this book?

-p. 22: “We must develop constructs of democratic civilization, take successful steps in developing the ecological and feminist characteristics of society, creating a functional art of democratic politics, and building a democratic civil society. Democratic society provides the most favorable ground for harmonizing individual and collective freedoms, something that has become particularly clear in the aftermath of the individualist (savage liberalism) and collectivist (pharaoh socialism) models that brought about such terrible destruction in the twentieth century.”

-p. 49: “Wholesale concepts like class and state can blur reality. Monopoly plays a clearer role—it is the exploitative and oppressive enterprise. The class and state formation behind it are of derivative value; they are secondary births.”

p. 53: “Social morality and politics received their very first fatal blows [5,000 years ago] at the hands of this monopoly problem. Slavery and servitude came to be accepted as the natural regime. The enslavement of women, which has become the most far-reaching life problem, has roots dating back to this primitive hierarchical period. Regimes with dominant male gods were built, as if to take revenge on the Neolithic sacred mother society and matriarchal society.”

p. 73: “The fundamental characteristics that have marked the central civilization from its very beginning and determined its character have remained essentially unchanged for five thousand years.”

p. 103: “Let’s remember that the environmental links are the result of millions of years of evolution. The general destruction of the last five thousand years, the last two hundred in particular, has broken thousands of these evolutionary links in record time. We are witnessing the beginning of a chain reaction that threatens a final breakdown.”

p. 119: “It was the bourgeois class character that made it possible to annihilate a people or a community because of its descent, race, or religion. Societycide, however, is worse. It occurs in two ways. First, it imposes its nation-state ideology and the institutionalization of power as militarism and war penetrating all of the nooks and crannies of society. This is an all-out war on society carried out by power amalgamated with the state. The bourgeoisie knows full well from experience that there is no other way for it to rule society.”

p. 166: “A very important development [thousands of years ago] was the replacement of the ‘deities of nature’—which signified the sincere, equitable, and living relationship of nature with the mother-goddess culture and all of the clans and tribes—with the servant-god duality (essentially the slave and master class structure) expressed strictly through the domination of mythological male gods who are the creators of the land, the sky, and the sea.”

p. 186: “Neither excessive individual ownership nor state property ownership are consistent with democratic civilization. Social nature stipulates that the economy is in the hands of the communities. Democracy is especially essential for economy. In this sense, the economy is neither the base nor the superstructure. It is more realistic to interpret it as society’s most fundamental democratic action.”

p. 190: “The primary objective of political struggle, which is to say, democratic politics, is the formation of a democratic society and finding the best approach to common affairs through discussion and decision-making within this framework.”

p. 219: “Democratic confederalism leaves no room for hegemony of any sort, particularly ideological hegemony. While the principle of hegemony is active in all classical civilizations, democratic civilizations and democratic modernity do not tolerate hegemonic powers and their ideologies. Collective management of social affairs requires mutual understanding, respect for different proposals, and commitment to democratic decision-making.”

p. 241: “It is particularly important to note that a method of changing society can only be considered legitimate if it increases moral and political social level. Any totalitarian and authoritarian method will decrease this moral and political social level and cannot be accepted as legitimate regardless of the consequences.”

p. 247: “The occurrence of class division itself was by no means progress or development; it was, on the contrary, social regression and decline. Morally, it was not a good but a bad development. To claim that division into classes is an inevitable stage in progress and to present this as a Marxist assertion in particular is one of the biggest mistakes made in the struggle for freedom.”

p. 254: “The only way out of this contradiction is to build a functioning economy of eco-communities. Thousands of eco-communities could, depending on circumstances, organize themselves into an economic unit. The formation of eco-communities in agriculture is one of the most fundamental economic principles of democratic modernity. Similar eco-communities could also be formed in the cities, according to the nature of each city, in the form of not-for-profit units of an optimal size that are designed to eliminate unemployment and poverty.”

p. 357-358: “Freedom, equality, and democracy are only possible through the discussion, decision-making, and action of a society with its own conscience and intellectual power and cannot be achieved through any form of social engineering. In these rebuilding efforts there can be both those who choose a revolutionary approach and those who pursue reforms. It is all valuable work. Those opposing the system have no other choice but to develop their own system of understanding and practice.”

p. 364: “Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ anti-capitalism and the related analysis in Marx’s Capital could have contributed to the social sciences. However, by limiting the sources of their departure and system of opposition to anti-capitalism [Glick: and, for example, not anti-sexism and anti–ecological destruction] they left all the structures of the system without defense against capitalist modernity. Anarchists, who have a more meaningful analysis of power, have, however, left the political sphere virtually empty. European social scientists of both political wings struggled with systemic problems rather than exploring social nature.”

p. 371: “The idea of the democratic nation offers solutions from the level of very small national communities to a world encompassing nation. At the same time, it is an extremely valuable option for peace. With its eco-industrial element and its productive use of industry within society, it lays the groundwork for solutions to serious social problems, including unemployment, poverty, and hunger and for ending industrialism’s war on the environment and establishing peace between society and the environment. Democratic communality offers each unit and individual in society the option of being a moral and political society, thus representing the most radical peaceful approach. What is clear is that the more democratic modernity develops as a system, the greater the likelihood that we will arrive at a dignified peace.”

Öcalan is an original thinker. Some have compared him to Antonio Gramsci, no doubt in part because some of Gramsci’s most impactful writings were written while he was imprisoned by the fascist government in Italy in the late 20’s and 30’s, dying prematurely at the age of 46 as a result.

In all honesty, I found the process of reading Öcalan’s writing to sometimes be hard work. However, eventually, after pages of deep, intellectual, sometimes repetitive, sometimes abstract writing, he would come up with concise and clear nuggets and then page after page of brilliant, understandable, if sometimes challenging, content.

There are things Öcalan said that I don’t agree with, or that would need discussion and exploration to fully understand. But I do know that what is happening in Rojava is extremely important to the whole world, and that Öcalan has something, probably a lot, to do with that reality. This alone is reason to take what he says seriously. His broad-ranging understanding and vision provide hope at a difficult time, without question.

The post Abdullah Öcalan on the Sociology of Freedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The New Global Medicine

Don Fitz’s new book Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution was going to press at Monthly Review in early spring, as the pandemic was ramping up, so he had just barely enough time to slip in a postscript teasingly titled, “How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19.” The postscript puts an exclamation mark on the medical history of Cuba that Fitz takes us through in the 240 compelling pages that come before. Based on that history, one would have expected Cuba to take early, decisive actions to stem the pandemic, and Fitz says that’s exactly what happened.

The government quickly converted school-uniform factories to manufacture medical masks. They sacrificed their crucial tourism industry in order to bar all non-resident travel. They locked down hot spots, ensuring that their residents were well provisioned and that medically vulnerable people were checked frequently. They did plenty of testing and contact tracing. Medical students walked through all neighborhoods regularly, checking in on residents. All of this, Fitz writes, was no more than what Cubans would have expected of their nation in a time of such danger. He adds, “The Cuban people would not tolerate the head of the country ignoring medical advice, spouting nonsensical statements, and determining policy based on what would be most profitable for corporations.” Indeed, their pandemic response is only the latest of countless ways in which the Cuban medical system has proven superior to the US system.

The medical system that Cuba’s revolutionaries inherited from the old regime—more like a non-system—was a mess. Millions of Cubans, disproportionately rural and Black, has no access to health care at all. In the 1960s, the government began building a national system of outpatient polyclinics (policlínicos integrales) designed, in Fitz’s words, to “unify preventive and curative medicine” in communities. Each polyclinic was staffed, at a minimum, with “a general practice physician, nurse, pediatrician, OB/GYN, and social workers.” The polyclinics provided a single point of entry for each patient. They were highly successful, Fitz says, because they were established not in isolation but in the context of other developments: Cuba’s famously successful literacy campaign, land reform, improved farm incomes, improved diets, pensions, improved water supplies, schools, and housing, along with others. Having status within the national system equal to that of the country’s major hospitals, polyclinics had a high degree of independence. In the mid-1970s, the polyclinics began doing health risk assessments, incorporated specialist care, and made house calls a major part of the system. A decade later, single doctor-nurse teams began establishing small neighborhood consultarios, each tied to a polyclinic.

Internationally, Cuba’s health professionals are most well-known for their numerous, extensive missions to provide medical care and training in underserved or war-torn regions. The international work began in 1962 with a mission to Algeria, followed by other African nations, but it really ramped up with Cuba’s involvement in the Angola war that began in 1975 and dragged on into the 1980s. Fitz provides a richly detailed story of Cuban troops’ support for the Angolans’ fight against U.S.- and apartheid South Africa-supported rebels backed by South African mercenaries. The number of Cuban fighters in Angola reached a peak of 36,000 in 1976. Between 1975 and 1991, Cuba also sent more than 43,000 aid workers; among them, the number of Cuban medical workers in the country at any given time was as high as 800. Fitz relates some fascinating personal stories of doctors who served in the country, some of them for years. Cuban medical missions remained in Angola until 1991.

The Angola mission is the most celebrated, but Cuba’s service to Africa was far more widespread. Fitz list two dozen of the continent’s countries who collectively hosted tens of thousands of Cuban aid missions, primarily medical. They spanned the continent and the alphabet, from Benin to Guinea-Bissau to Mali to Uganda to Zambia. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cuban doctors also went to serve the revolutions in Nicaragua and Grenada. In the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, the Cuban government flew in 25,000 victims, mostly children, for treatment. In all, 164,000 medical professionals have served in 154 countries. Cuba provided medical teams in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which hit Central America in 1999, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and other disasters. They assembled a team to go to the US after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but George W. Bush rejected the offer.

Fitz relates the Cuban medical system’s long struggle with HIV/AIDS. The disease had become serious on the island by 1986, but its cause still mysterious enough that the health system began sending AIDS patients to be quarantined in a network of sanitoria previously established for patients with highly infective diseases. Most of the quarantined were soldiers returning from Africa, so there was little notice within Cuba. The United States, always on the lookout for a club to beat Castro with, denounced Cuba for abusing the human rights of gay men. In fact, the majority of infected troops were heterosexual. The quarantine was lifted in 1989, once the disease became better understood. Cuba eventually made good progress on AIDS. The medical journal The Lancet declared Cuba’s AIDS program “among the most effective in the world.” But Cuba’s enemies continued to throw out the anti-gay trope, Fitz believes, “to distract attention from the fact that Cuba had implemented a program to combat HIV/AIDS that was better than most countries’, and, in particular, superior to US efforts.”

Fitz discusses how the collapse of the Soviet Union—which, combined with the continuing US embargo, ushered in the severe economic stresses of Cuba’s “Special Period” —placed an unprecedented burden on the superior health-care system the country had built up over three decades. The most serious health problems were a deeply inadequate food supply and shortages of drugs and medical equipment. Despite fiscal strains, writes Fitz, no hospitals were closed during the Special Period, and all regions, even in the countryside, had access to medical care. He also presents a table showing that infant mortality continued its longstanding, steady decrease through the hard years of the 1990s, and that since 2000, Cuba’s infant mortality rate has been significantly lower than that of the United States. Also in this period, the country’s huge increase in urban and small-scale food production was widely celebrated.

Over the past decade, Fitz has done much on-the-ground reporting on Cuba’s medical education system, led by its Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), and here he provides a detailed history of the system and its achievements, enlivened by extensive firsthand interviews with faculty and profiles of more than a dozen medical students.

A chapter comparing the US and Cuban medical systems features some eye-popping cost numbers: hospital stay, $1900 in US and $5 in Cuba; hernia surgery, $12,000 in US and $14 in Cuba; hip fracture, $14,000 in US and $72 in Cuba. In 2018, when the US was spending $8300 per person per year on medical care, Cuba was spending a little over $400. Fitz points out the reasons the US medical economy is so broken: insurance for profit, not health; overdiagnosis, overtreatment, over-prescribing of drugs, and overpricing; treatments that create problems requiring more treatment; the excessive salaries received by doctors and administrators; and excess profits going to owners and investors. The result: a health-care system that achieves worse performance than a highly effective one that costs 5 percent as much.

Finally, Fitz lists ten lessons to be drawn from the Cuban health-care experience, writing that “They form the basis of what I call the New Global Medicine.” Among those lessons are that health care need not be dependent on costly technology; doctors must live in the communities where they work; the medical system must be evolving and unique to each community; international medical aid must be adapted to the political climate of the host country; doctors must put healing above personal wealth; and “the new global medicine is a microcosm of how a few thousand revolutionaries can change the world.”

As the question of how to fix the US health care system resurges in the coming year, before the Covid-19 has yet passed and before new medical emergencies arise, Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution should be read as widely as possible—by lawmakers and their staffs, yes, but more importantly, by those of us who elect those lawmakers.

The post The New Global Medicine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Neverending Holocausts of the Neoliberal Order

Biochemist, writer, humanitarian activist, and artist, Gideon Polya has had a selection of his essays gathered into a compendium titled US-Imposed Post-9/11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide (Korsgaard Publishing, 2020). The compendium is important because it brings to the forefront, for anyone who cares an iota for peace and social justice, the horrible crimes of the “mendacious and politically dominant neoliberal One Percenters” wreaking holocausts and genocides. Polya draws a distinction between the two in that while both involve a massive number of killings, genocides are carried out with an “intent to destroy.” For me, these two are synonymous and interchangeable because, where it concerns militarism, who ever heard of an unintentional holocaust? When the fatalities become so huge, it must be that the killers are aware of what they are doing; ergo, there is intent in the killings.1

Polya does not write in euphemistic niceties. He speaks straight to the matter and sees it as crucial to honesty, and such honesty is needed to bring to an end the holocausts. Accordingly, he is highly critical of the state and corporate media for lies of commission and lies of omission. The latter he considers more insidious because what is unstated cannot be refuted. Effectively, the state and corporate media is complicit in the history of genocides up to today.

The genocides are many. Some are arcane and while enormous, many people will never have heard of them; e.g., the Bengali Holocaust where, from 1943 to 1945, 6-7 million Indians perished under the auspices of the racist genocidaire Winston Churchill, and the WWII Chinese holocaust whereby Japanese invaders put 35 million Chinese to death.

Polya examines the genocides in separate chapters from Bengal to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, India, and of the Rohingya forced out of Myanmar — and many more in the text. A superfluity of the genocides are targeted at Muslims. Genocides are not merely carried out through warring and physical violence. Polya also addresses the opiate holocaust, the air pollution holocaust, and the climate genocide. Polya also finds that the International Criminal Court is complicit as a bystander to genocides, describing it as “a cowardly, racist, degenerate and look-the-other-way organization… a holocaust-ignoring and genocide-ignoring organization…” (p 143)

Polya addresses global avoidable mortality: “The post-1950 excess mortality has been 1.3 billion for the World, 1.2 billion for the non-European World and 0.6 billion for the Muslim World…” (p 10) Polya does not shirk from criticizing his home country of genocide in the millenial homeland of Aborigines (“Australia — a nation that has exterminated all but 50 of 250 Indigenous languages and Aboriginal nations, with the rest at great risk” [p 32]) and abroad, along with much of the West. The author identifies the lead war criminal as “the Zionist-backed US War on Muslims (aka the US War on Terror)…” (p 19)

Readers are informed that the United States, which was born out of a genocide against Indigenous nations, has invaded 70 countries since independence in 1776. The current US-waged genocide against Muslims, argues the professor, is rooted in the US false flag of 9-11. In Iraq, this led to 1.5 million violent deaths and another 0.8 million avoidable deaths from war-imposed deprivation. Polya calculates 34 million avoidable deaths in 20 countries post-9-11.

Throughout the book, Polya provides and explains statistics and footnotes (unfortunately, there is no index) to the wars, killings, and excess mortality in country after country. The statistics provide a revealing and necessary lens on imperialist insouciance to the lives of Others. At times the presentation of stats is irksome because of over-repetition, as is the excessive iteration of the Genocide Convention. Editing would have helped to eliminate repetitive reading of parts of the book.

By encouraging the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan, the US has unleashed addiction around the world, even in the US. Polya charged, “Presidents Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been the worst drug pushers in history since Great Britain’s Queen Victoria …” (p 127) Iran, which shares a long border with Afghanistan, has been particularly burdened by the opium trade. Yet it is responsible for 75% of the world’s opium seizures and 25% of the world’s morphine and heroin seizures. (p 126) Nonetheless, the US-imposed opiate holocaust has killed 33,000 Iranians and 5.2 million worldwide. (p 123)

Although the genocides are US-imposed, the Jewish/Celtic Australian author takes a harsh aim at his home country and the Jewish state. He writes of “the ongoing Aboriginal genocide in which some two million Indigenous Australians have died untimely deaths…” (p 233) In 1778, there were 350-759 different Aboriginal tribes whereas only 150 survive today with all except 20 endangered. (p 233)

The author decries “the ethnic cleansing of 90% of Palestine by a nuclear terrorist, racist Zionist-run, genocidally racist, democracy-by-genocide Apartheid Israel.” (p 340)

Polya notes Jewish-assisted genocide extends beyond killing Palestinians. “Apartheid Israel is intimately involved in Aung San Suu Kyi-led Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide … the Maya Indian Genocide in Guatemala, the Sri-Lankan Tamil Genocide, the South Sudan Civil War, the Syrian Genocide, the Iraqi Genocide and the ongoing, endless Muslim Holocaust and Muslim Genocide.” (p 247)

Polya is scathing in his denunciation of Zionism: “Zionism is egregious, genocidal racism and racist Zionists and all their supporters should be sidelined from public life, as have other racists such as neo-Nazis, Nazis, Apartheiders and the Klu Klux Klan.” (p 248)

And, holy genocidal complicity Batman, the US taxpayers have bankrolled Israel to the tune of $40 trillion in today’s dollars! (p 302)

Polya offers solutions, among them enacting BDS, exposing journalists who omit genocides, a 4% annual global wealth tax that would wipe out avoidable deaths globally, mandatory inclusion of externalities in the pricing of goods and services, and replacing neoliberalism with social humanism. Neoliberalism, writes Polya, is a “ruthless ideology … ultimately responsible for the carnage of the ongoing, 21st century Muslim Holocaust and Muslim Genocide …” (p 356)

People genuinely in support of a world of peace and social justice should be informed of the horrendous crimes humans commit against other humans. Read US-Imposed Post-9/11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide and become informed. Readers may be skeptical of the numbers that Polya presents and the methodology, but the killings are real.

Informed people must speak out about the evil, racist criminality of destroying swaths of humans. Polya exhorts readers: “Silence kills and silence is complicity.”

  1. Thus, while Polya differentiates, I will use either of the terms, holocaust and genocide, interchangeably in this review.

The post The Neverending Holocausts of the Neoliberal Order first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How the Middle Half Lives

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

— William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us”, 1807

To Hell with the Middle Class!

Oh, wait. They’re already there. At least that’s what David Roedeger argues in his new book The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History. There is no there there worth saving. Fuck it.

What is it even? One minute it’s this, another minute it’s that.  Did you ever notice, all couched up on the sofa, watching Titanic that there’s all kinds of  talk of the upper classes in the upper berths and the lower classes in the lower earths, blueblood English atop and Derry brogues below, but there’s no sign or mention of the middle class. It’s like there isn’t one on the ship. Unless it was supposed to be hungry artist Leo and slumming romancer Kate coming and coming together, all compromised midship.

Or, maybe the middle class is, like, Dylan sitting at home watching the movie, inspired to write a song about it, that doesn’t mention the 1% or the 99% or any percent of class at all.  Fuck, he doesn’t even mention the iceberg. Or maybe the middle class is the viewer, the disappearing act between, a kind of choral commentator on the real action, a buffer between the Haves and Nots, sinking in the Corinthian leather sofa bought on credit at a 22% interest rate, while some generic ship-of-state sinks into the nameless sea.

Roedeger has a go at the whole lot.  He unpacks history to interrogate the baggage carried.  He brings in pollsters and shysters and the Bushes and Clintons and Obamas to make sense of how the term ‘middle class’ is used to con people into voting. He consults surveys, the Fortune in men’s eyes as they view their post-war future lifestyles.  He talks about old-timey working class types, the butler and milkmaid and the milkman who ran off with your mother (haben sie liebfraumilch?).  He gives us Marx snarks, amorphous masses and shape-shifting shibboleths, anodynes and literary anecdotes, Trump’s deplorables and other basket cases, and hints at the revolution ahead when we let the middle class go fall, fell, fallen. Fuck it, let’s face reality together.

Roedeger is a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He has a long history of critical thinking and compelling articulation about race and class politics in America.  His previous studies include Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All and The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. What makes Black and White is not so black and white. The Sinking Middle Class is an Introduction on the language of politics and an Afterword on the White Working Class sandwiched around chapters on the political Uses, Pretenses, Problems and Miseries of the Middle Class. As Roedeger writes, “Each is meant to be short enough to read in three or four coffee breaks.”

Roedeger’s first consideration in The Sinking Middle Class is to consider the language itself.  Where did the term come from?  What are some of the assumptions that come with its dissemination?  Who’s in charge of its meaning and placement within the social narrative of class history.  Roedeger writes,

The term itself found little use until the last ninety years and not commonly until the Cold War…The strata we might retrospectively call the middle class of the nineteenth century (farmers, free professionals, and shopkeepers) differed utterly from those of twentieth (clerks, salespeople, employed professionals, and managers).

As we become more and more entwined in electricity and speed of light communications it can be difficult to ‘remember’ the slower, black and white ways of the pre-Internet.

We can intuitively recall a stratiated class structure — poor, lower middle class, upper middle class, and rich, with degrees of leaching into the contiguous class. One knew he belonged to the lower middle class (if he thought about it at all consciously) when he couldn’t afford to send his talented kid to Groton School, but wasn’t struggling too much to put a roof over the family and lay out three squares on the table for the family.  But, says Roedeger,

Over the last thirty years self-serving, vague, and often empty political rhetoric regarding saving the “middle class” has provided the language for rightward political motion finding its way even into unions. Put forward first by the Democrats, it has debased how we understand social divisions in the United States and sidelined meaningful discussions of justice in both class and racial terms.

Somewhere along the line upper middle class on down got grouped as one body  — for political purposes, but it’s a fatuous grouping.

You might see it as a way of forcing bloc-voting; a lazy way of approaching the social. economic and moral issues of the day — by trivializing nuance and difference (even as the same old class exclusions applied).  And we use the news to deliver these messages, led to believe the ads are objective and balanced bits of information. Roedeger lays into this McLuhan effect.  Writes Roedeger,

The US writer Waldo Frank [writes] in The Re-Discovery of America that “THE NEWS IS A TOY”—that is, a seemingly wonderful novelty and one immediately requiring replacement by a new wonder…the “news item” is overwhelmingly the sound bite of alleged political news, and that “anodyne” must now be in boldface….

I’m reminded of a scene from Boston Legal where the toyfulness of news, and the media in general, is unpacked in the courtroom.

So news, as anodyne, becomes part of the political packaging, part of the show, to be taken, ultimately, as no more serious than the campaign promises.  A surreal onslaught, every four years, on the delicate balance between our ears called consciousness, an ecosystem every bit as precious as rainforest. There are laugh tracks, practiced ponderments, tearful moments of William Hurt layer peelings of imagined empathy.  But we persist in believing the news, even when they refuse to tell us what we need to know. Roedeger writes,

Many of us desire those electoral news items, desperately wanting to be seen as the first to know them, and count that as being engaged in politics … even radicals follow the example of TV pundits in relying on the most quickly available voting data to construct simplistic definitions of class that have little to do with social relations.

Even radicals, and Roedeger’s not being snarky or ironical. Shit happens.

Michael Dukakis getting bushwhacked by Bernard Shaw, the latter asking him what he’d do if his wife, Kitty, was raped by Willie “Furlough” Horton becomes laugh track roast material fit for Comedy Central. One recalls this moment of “live” TV (future generations only get this moment and none of the debate, where Dukakis excelled), and Roedeger briefly references the moment, a moment racially charged, a Black man asking what a white man of power would do to a Black man If — an impossible question to answer, and we clapped with gleeful little schadenfreude hands as one of the few promising poli’s careers went down the ‘terlit’ (as Archie Bunker would say) and his wife returned to heavy drinking. Maybe that was the silver lining to the moment: Kitty was spared four years of journos clinking her ice cubes (real or imagined).

This cheapening and potentially toxic blend of shallow politics and Madison Avenue massaging was, says Roedeger, turned into an art form by consultant and pollster Stanley Greenberg working the Clinton campaign in 1992. Greenberg helped turn Macomb County into a Middle Class Melting Pot America by the careful gathering of data points and manipulation of their results.  Writes Roedeger:

Greenberg theorized a middle class roughly interchangeable with an alleged white working class—their votes available for the mining in countless electoral campaigns. In the process, he made a suburban, almost entirely white Michigan county seem to be the key to all “progressive” possibility.

As Macomb goes, so goes the nation, was the meme and theme. Another ad, with toothpaste.

Roedeger writes that Greenberg referred to his own “working class” background, starting out a white Jewish family living in an all-Black D.C. neighborhood and then migrating to “middle class” Silver Spring, as some kind of street cred he gave himself for “understanding” these categories more fluently than others.  But, notes Roedeger,

Sympathizing with Macomb County’s suburban workers was nominally available as a result of his own suburban upbringing, but his capacity for understanding them owed more to academic study and political experience than acknowledged personal affinity.

One could argue that such ‘owing to’ is also a valid critique of Marxist scholars among the hoi polloi: They don’t always live the misery, like Studs Terkel, say; often, the best they can do, over crullers and coffee, is sympathize with the Plight.

Roedeger notes that in his book, Politics and Poverty, Greenber offers up to the “migrating lower class” what Roedeger calls three “Goldilock” scenarios of movement, choices with  limited and pre-assigned values.  He clarifies by saying:

They could have remained “indifferent and uninvolved” where politics was concerned; they could have “become power brokers . . . tinkering and bargaining for their share;” or, they could have refused to “tinker” and instead entered a radical “confrontation with history.”

Most people chose middle course, writes Roedeger, between what really amounted to “a pair of Manichean choices.”

Woven into the fabric of this “Macomb-over” was the cheery “progressive” rhetoric of Stanley Greenberg’s 1995 book, Middle Class Dreams, a collection of stories of people’s everyday lives. A book about how every half, half lived, who wasn’t rich, and so was placed somewhere in the continuum of Middle Class struggles.  These struggles and tales of weal woe were captured in the film, The War Room (1993). “Greenberg’s stories of Macomb County mix personal triumph and national salvation promiscuously.” writes Roedeger. But read critically, he goes on, “They illuminate how issues of race, class, and power came to be effaced even by those most claiming credit for discussing them electorally in the neoliberal United States.”  Massaged and manipulated. Still, for all his savvy, Greenberg is at a loss to later explain how Trump happened.

Roedeger explains how this magical kabuki show helped Republicans later attract “Reagan Democrats” and he points to Pete Hamill’s late-60s article, “The Revolt Of The White Lower Middle Class,” in New York that “portentously” spoke to the rising unaddressed tension “the working class, trade union, white, beleaguered, ignored, presumptively male figure who turned from New Deal loyalties to vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 elections.”  These said-samers would later graduate to basket case ‘deplorables.’ A more recent article on this topic is offered up by Joan Williams in a Harvard Business Review article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” that Roedeger unpacks.

This mishmash of ‘folk’ became the subject of a new “technique” called, familiarly now, focus groups, “gathering … people associated demographically and often interviewing them collectively for an extended period, an expensive practice that had previously been used more by Republicans (indeed, the Focus group technique became the Hero of the 1996 Russian election when American consultants — and the Clinton administration — were rushed in to rescue Yeltsin’s campaign: at least, that’s what we were told.). But says Roedeger, this snapshot of Macomb County, as  described by Clinton and Greenberg, was actually “an exaggeration, a caricature of America.”  We’ve been caricatures ever since. He adds, “Nothing in the setup of the research and little in MCD reflected the integrated workplaces and unions in which many in Macomb also existed.” And questions of race were not addressed at all. What racism? The Clinton appeal to assuaging white anxiety backfired, and Hillary, argues Roedeger, “paid in 2016 for the race-saturated pro-incarceration rhetoric—Black youth as ‘superpredators’—she and her husband had traded on in appealing to Macomb County’s middle-class dreams in the 1990s.”

Barack Obama also got caught up (willingly) in the lampoon of political demographics.  He “deftly liquidated the issue of how a country with such astronomical rates of poverty could be almost all middle class. He defined the middle class as “not only folks who are currently [in] the middle class, but also people who aspire to be in the middle class.”  Aspire to be. Hope and Change.  Bit this begins to get us into Nora Zeale Hurston country.  She once explained how ‘folks’ came to be possessed by the sympathetic power of voodoo:  If you want to understand voodoo: believe.  It really is like the ol’ tush-grabbing Bush once said of Reaganomics — voodoo, and the Press is there to church us. It’s a plutocracy, where the 1% witch doctor gets to stick it to the 99% Middle Class for fun and exercise of power.

Sanders and Clinton weren’t much better than Obama and Romney, Roedeger says, in determining what constitutes Middle Class, “ballparking “below $250,000” annual family income as the benchmark of middle-class membership, though limiting its use to details of tax policy.”  Ironically, it seems, then, that by the time You-Know-Who became president, quite a few million people were just plain tired of the political-demographic bullshit.  He writes:

Trump presented himself as a modern political leader uniquely unmoved by pretending affinity with the middle class. He bragged repeatedly of his 1 percent status.Overemphasizing his self-made success and deemphasizing his debts, he courted being seen as filthy rich.

He didn’t pretend to be ‘one of us’ and it greatly helped his cause.

Later, Roedeger contrasts such focus groups with surveys taken by Fortune magazine before, during and after WWII.  Of special interest to him is Fortune’s 1942 survey that asks a series of class-bound questions, including identification and expectations.  He takes issue with “Fortune’s assertion that a startling four-fifths of a nation barely off the skids claimed to be middle class has meant its survey is still cited even today” and “It exulted that the nation remained impervious to the formation of ;any self-conscious proletariat such as a Marxist would wish for.’” Roedeger notes, however, Fortune’s playfulness in suggesting that “one American in four favored socialism, with another 35 percent reporting having ‘an open mind’ on the issue.”  It’s an interesting snapshot of our culture, and well worth a perusal. Here.

But for all his linguistic grappling with the definition, trends and usefulness of the term ‘Middle Class,’ and American Exceptionalism (to which it’s linked), Roedeger saves his best for demolishing its presumed allure. It’s a miserable place to be.  He lets Marx throw a haymaker, warming up with the reminder that

The precise term “American exceptionalism” came much later and amidst rich irony. One recent account has it originating from Stalin, who in 1929 was searching for a name for a heresy within the world Communist movement he dominated.

But, actually, says Roedeger, Marx tells us that the “middle classes” will propogate and that they exist to consume “the surplus bounty produced in the factories by workers,” leading to a Keeping Up with the Joneses, financed by credit debt, leading to a life of  “falling and fear of falling,” such as that described by Barbara Ehrenreich in Fear of Falling. Today’s debt slaves.  The New Middle Class.

Misery is the picture Roedeger paints.  He brings in literary figures to illustrate, such as Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” the law clerk who “prefers not to” do anymore work, who fades in toiling, losing himself, wasting away. (Not mentioned by Roedeger, but apropos, is Melville’s own misery as he toiled as a clerk to support his writing and saw his time and energy and talent waste away. This is something Tillie Olsen picks up on in “Ways of Being Silent,” her fine essay in Harper’s October 1965 issue, almost suggesting Moby Dick was an obsession with writing itself.). Roedeger emphasizes that “If we see the middle class as a plight as well as a perch, we can understand something of why many workers see themselves simultaneously as middle class, working class, and living impossible lives.”

He sees misery in the cube, “the tomb where a majority of office workers spend much of their lives,” as detailed in Nikil Saval’s Cubed. Willy Loman and The Death of A Salesman are brought in to express the tragedy of a culture consumed with buying and selling, in a transactional existence, an “embourgeoisement” nobody can fathom.  “Loman’s fall and death—a suicide after a series of failed attempts—come not at once but over a lifetime of misery,” Roedeger tells us. He writes, “Much of the misery of the middle class fits well within narratives of sudden descent in material terms,” and one recalls how the just before the Towers fell into freefall their middles sagged, and suddenly even images of 9/11 takes on the almost taunting, half-baked truths of memes.

The Sinking Middle Class offers few specific solutions (typical of the Left these days), but it is a good read that points to the vacuity of our central premises regarding what it means to be American and, presumably, Middle Class — at least until the next Credit Report comes rolling with the news of our demise, or, much to our delighted surprise, an opportunity to have our credit limit raised. The book was written before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and it would be interesting to know what Roedeger’s response would be to its near certain revolutionary impact on American Exceptionalism.

Corona may be a blessing in disguise, bringing about an end to commerce as usual, a freefall of a class designation not worth saving, and a revolution nobody can do anything about in an America beset with so many vectors of turmoil that starting over may be the only viable answer.

With any luck, a solar flare will knock out our grids, so that we can get back to the business of being human, face-to-face.

The post How the Middle Half Lives first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Oliver Stone’s Search for the Rosy-Fingered Dawn

Like the wandering and rascally Odysseus upon whom he models his life, Oliver Stone is “double-minded” in the most profound and illuminating ways.  The title of his fantastic new memoir is a case in point.  “One of the first basic lessons in filming,” he writes, “is chasing the light.  Without it, you have nothing – no exposure that can be seen; even what you see with your naked eye needs to be shaped and enhanced by the light.”

For as a true artist living out a marriage between his writing and his filmmaking, his father and his mother, the warrior and the peacemaker, the domesticated and wild man, he has chosen a title that has a double meaning that is subtly woven like a thread through this labyrinthine tale. It takes the reader from his childhood through his service in Vietnam and his struggles as a writer and filmmaker up to 1987 and his great success with his powerful autobiographical film, Platoon, for which he received Oscars for Best Film and Best Director, among others.

Driven by a youthful urge to escape his internal demons first brought on by his mismatched parents’ divorce when he was fifteen, Stone dropped out of Yale, his father’s alma mater, where he had enrolled to fulfill his stockbroker father’s dream. He accepted an offer from a Catholic Church group to teach English-speaking high school students in Chalon, a suburb of Saigon, which he did for six months before traveling around southeast Asia.  Back in Saigon, he joined the merchant marine and worked his way back to the states cleaning boilers, the lowest and dirtiest job on the ship.  After a storm-tossed 37 days journey, he was cured of his desire to go to sea, a romantic fascination he had acquired from literature.  The lesson: Books are not life, nor are movies – they are ways to shape and illuminate it.

Back in the states he threw himself into writing, his first love and the place where his “anxieties could be relieved” and where he felt he could confirm his independent existence separate from his parents.  Through writing he could control his story. He wrote a novel called, A Child’s Night Dream.

He reentered Yale but only lasted a few months since his heart was not in the placid life of academia, having already had a taste of the wandering life.  He then quit Yale for good, to his father’s great disappointment. Lou Stone thought Oliver might turn into a “bum,” a painful refrain in this memoir.  This twisted parental inculcation of shame and fear cast a deep shadow on Oliver’s soul and became one of the ghosts that he spent years trying to outrun by becoming a workaholic desperate for success. His novel was subsequently rejected and he fell into a deep depression and self-loathing.

Suicidal at nineteen, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in Vietnam to expiate his guilt, shame, and self-loathing, thinking that perhaps God would take his life for him.

“Odysseus thought he would return home when he left Ithaca,” he writes, “I wasn’t sure of anything…”

It was in Vietnam on January 1-2, 1968, after a terrifying night battle along the Cambodia border where his unit was in a hot zone interdicting North Vietnamese Army troops coming through Laos and Cambodia toward Saigon, when he experienced a profound light experience very different from the type he would later chase while making films.

The battle raged throughout the dark jungle night where confusion and terror reigned.  It was impossible to hear or see, and although 25 Americans and 400 North Vietnamese were killed, Stone “hadn’t seen a single one of them [Vietnamese],” although he performed bravely. Here is his brilliantly disturbing and revealing description of what ensued.

Full daylight revealed charred bodies, dusty napalm, and gray trees.  Men who died grimacing, in frozen positions, some of them still standing or kneeling in rigor mortis, white chemical death on their faces.  Dead, so dead.  Some covered with white ash, some burned black.  Their expressions, if they could still be seen, were overtaken with anguish or horror.  How do you die like this?  Charging forward in a hailstorm of death into these bombs and artillery.  Why? Were you terrified, or were you jacked out of your fucking mind?  What kind of death did you achieve?  It was frightening to contemplate, and yet, I wasn’t scared.  It was exciting.  It was as if I passed from this world and was somewhere where the light was being specially displayed to me in a preview of another life.  Soldiers might say it was hell, but I saw it as divine; the closest man would ever come to the Holy Spirit was to witness and survive this great, destructive energy.  [emphasis added by author]

So after fifty years in another life, the survivor remembers in that odd mixture that memory is, a shaping force that relies on the light of experience to enhance the existential marriage of hope lost and found, fact and fiction joined to find the truth of an epiphany.  He continues:

No person should ever have to witness so much death.  I really was too young to understand, and thus I erased much of it, remembering it in this strange way as a stunningly beautiful night full of fireworks, in which I hadn’t seen a single enemy, been fired on, or fired at anyone.  It’d been like a dream through which I ‘d walked unharmed, grateful of course, but numb and puzzled by it all.  It reminded me of passages in Homer of gods and goddesses coming down from Mount Olympus to the bloody battlefields at Troy to help their favorites, wrapping a mist or cloak around them and winging them to safety.

These passages appear early in the book, and I quote them not just to point out the dual nature of the book’s title – only something a truly creative writer would conceive – but because the dual theme of chasing and being chased by the light is central to Oliver’s life story.  It is a tale of a split-soul, the twice wounded warrior who receives a Bronze Star for heroism but who hates war and journeys to get back home where he can rest with his family by the hearth and feel at peace, and the wild, restless, tormented free pirate sailing for adventure and new discoveries. Of course getting back home is no simple matter, especially when you left because home had set the conflict in your heart in the first place, as it did for Stone.

Home is a country as much as a family, and this personal tale is also a guidebook through modern American history, a country riven since the 1960s. A country that’s been feeding on lies that had “infected everything, and I was still numb from it.  Because I’d basically never woken up.”

But there are epiphanies along the way that wake Stone up, intuitions, hunches, risks he takes, and there are luminescent passages throughout this book to crack open the reader’s consciousness to a second reality. Chasing the Light is not a superficial trip down memory lane like so many memoirs by famous people; Stone is a wonderful writer, and as with his films, he takes you deep to places you may wish to avoid but are essential for true sanity. The great thing about this memoir is his passion for truth and life that courses through its pages. He seizes the reader by the throat and shouts: Consciousness! Wake up! Don’t let sleep and forgetfulness make you into one of the living-dead! A lesson he learned fortuitously at NYU when he took a course in classical drama and his professor, Tim Leahy, raged about the fate of Odysseus and how he was the only one of his crew to get back home because he dared to keep his eyes and ears open to both the dark and light forces whirling all around him. He refused “LETHE” – sleep and forgetfulness.

But as the fates decreed, when the desperately poor warrior Stone came back from Vietnam to NYC and was still struggling to find his way back to a true home he couldn’t envision, writing to make sense of his life, he encountered his Calypso, as did Odysseus along his wandering journey to get home to Ithaca. Her name was Najwa Sarkis, an older Lebanese woman who worked at the United Nations. They fell together and for five years Najwa gave Oliver shelter from the storm in her apartment in the East 50s. The sex was passionate and the living conditions in Calypso’s cave comfortable, and although they married at her insistence, it was like his parents’ marriage, built on a lie. “I can’t say the marriage, from my side,” he writes, “was built on love, but rather on comfort and caring for each other.” Tempted to stay by the thought of comfort, as Odysseus was by the promise of immortality, Stone finally admits the truth to Najwa and himself, packs his bags and leaves “his goddess.” He knew he wasn’t home yet and had to risk much more to try to get there. “The flaw was that I hadn’t grown into my own man. This I knew in my gut – that I hadn’t yet been successful as a writer because I’d failed to complete the journey I started when I went to Vietnam.” So Odysseus heads to the uptown subway with his two suitcases.

Vietnam haunts him. He starts to write what eventually will become the script for Platoon, using Odysseus as his template and example of conscious behavior to expose all the lies of the Vietnam war and the insidious hypocrisy of American life. As in Tennyson’s poem about the older Odysseus, still wanting “to seek, to find, and not to yield,” the memoirist, himself now not young, says, “In my seventy-plus years from 1946 to now, the chorus of fear-mongering bullshit has never ceased – only grown louder. The joke is on us. Ha Ha Ha.”

Throughout this book, Stone is very hard on himself as well as the country:

I had my story, I realized. I was no hero. I slept on my consciousness. My whole country, our society had. But at the least – If I could tell the truth of what I’d seen – it was better than…what? Nothing – the void of a meaningless war and waste of life while our society was stuffing it’s ears with wax. Odysseus, lashing himself to his mast to preserve his sanity, had insisted on hearing the Sirens, and remembering it. Whereas I was honored for my service to my country, the truth was I soiled myself when I could’ve resisted, exiled myself, gone to jail for it like the Berrigans, the Spocks, and some 200,000 others. I was young, yes, and I can say that I didn’t know better, that I was part of the unconsciousness of my country.

He tells us he didn’t wake up until he was nearly thirty-years-old – in 1976.

Ever since he has devoted his life to the art of waking up his fellow Americans through writing and filmmaking, which he had the great good fortune to learn at NYU film school from that other passionate New York filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, who was his professor. Scorsese shone a light on Oliver after he had made a short film without dialogue called Last Year in Vietnam. It was shown to the class, a tough group of critics, but before anyone had spoken, Scorsese said, “Well – this is a filmmaker.” It was an epiphany that Stone says he will never forget. A pure gift that set him on his way to eventually make his great films.

But the journey was hard and took years to complete.

Stone’s mother, Jacqueline Pauline Cézarine Goddet, and his father, Louis Stone (born Abraham Louis Silverstein), were married in Paris as World War II ended. He was an U.S. Army officer and she, a “peasant” French girl, were mismatched from the start. They “made possibly the greatest mistake of their lives – to which I owe my existence,” he tells us. Oliver became very close to his French grandparents, especially his Mémé. As he was struggling to write successful screenplays and break into filmmaking, his beloved grandmother dies and he goes to France for her funeral. There is a scene in this memoir – I almost said movie – where he arrives alone in a suburb of Paris where she is laid out in her musty apartment in an old apartment building. He felt the dead were calling to him from the past – Vietnam, France. So much death, so many lies, betrayals. He writes:

I thought about how Odysseus went to the Underworld to find Tiresias for a prophecy about when and how he’d return home to Ithaca.  And once in the Underworld, he recognized his mother, Anticlea, who, like the other shades, had come to him to slake herself at the pool of sheep’s blood he had sacrificed to get there.

For Oliver, his Mémé was like a mother to him, and with her forty-year marriage to her beloved Pépé who had predeceased her, was a symbol of what family life should be all about, the family Oliver had lost and desperately wished for. Home as love and commitment. “Without a family, we one and all suffer,” he says.

In less than four pages, his description of this encounter with his grandmother illuminates the heart of this memoir and is an exquisite example of a great artist at work. An artist who uses words to touch your soul, heart-breaking, tender, and hopeful in turns, far different from the often-popular image of Stone. I would buy this book for these four pages alone. Listen:

I drew up my chair closer to be with her, like we’d been when I was young, cuddled in her big bed as she told me the stories of the wolves in Paris who’d come down the chimneys to snatch the children who’d been bad…There was the silence of ‘la mort,’ and then the October light began to drop.  No one else knocked or visited.  Just me.  And you, Mémé – and that something listening between us.  Not long ago I’d been twenty-three.  You were so happy when I’d returned in one piece from over there.  I’d tried to pay my debt to society.  We all have one, we don’t only live for ourselves.  But I still felt uneasy and Mémé did too.  What did Vietnam have to do with saving our civilization when it only made the world more callous?  You never asked me for an explanation.  Three wars in your life time…I’d done nothing.  I’d achieved nothing.  Therefore I was nothing…I was crying but didn’t know I was until I felt the tears.  I hadn’t cried in so any years – I was a hard boy.  I had to be, I felt, to survive.  I was raised to believe men don’t cry.  But this time it feels fresh, like a rain.  But who am I crying to?  Not you, Mémé – you’re not the one judging me.  You never have.  Is it my self I’m crying to?  My self, but who was that?  I could not see myself.  I was ugly, hiding.  I could cry myself dry with self-pity.  All this pain, so much pain.  Yes, I feel it now- feel sorry for myself, it’s okay- so raw, all my lies, my embarrassment naked for the dead to see, naked to the whole world!  No one loves me, no one will ever love me. Because I can’t love anyone – except you, Mémé, and you’re gone now.  Can I…can I learn to love?  How can I start?  By just being kind like you were?  Can I be kind – to myself?  n my mind, I heard Mémé reply: ‘Try – you’re a man now.  You’re no longer seventeen sitting on the sidelines of your life, judging. You’ve seen this world, tasted its tears.  Now’s the time to recognize this, Oliver, Oliver, Oliver’ – my name, invoked three times to rouse myself, to wake myself from this long slumber. Do something with your life, I demanded, all this energy bottled up for years, hopeless dreaming and writing, no excuse, you can do better.  Stop fucking around…Mémé continued speaking to me so gently. That soft voice: ‘Mon chéri, mon p’tit Oliverre, te fais pas de soucis pour rien…Fais ta vie. Fais ce que tu veux faire.  C’est tout ce quil y a.  Je t’embrasse, je t’adore.’ (My darling, my little Oliver, don’t be miserable for nothing…Make you life. Do what you have to do. That’s all there is.  embrace you, I adore you.) …The other shades were approaching now, smelling the blood, so many young men groaning…faces distorted in death.  There was whispering, many voices. ‘Stone, hey man, don’t forget me!  Where you goin’?  Gimme some!  Hey, tell my girl you saw me, will ya?  Remember me, will ya?  You got a joint?’  Mémé wanted me to go – quickly, before it was too late. I couldn’t hear, but it clear what the shades were saying: We, the dead, are telling you – your lifespan is short.  Make of it everything you can.  Before you’re one of us.  I rose and kissed Mémé’s face one last time…” Au revoir, ma belle Mémé. And I walked out – as she looked away and began slaking her thirst with the others…I walked the silent streets to the Metro. Like in a dreamscape, there were no living people. Maybe that’s the reason we die.  It makes us want to live again.

Oliver does exactly that. Reborn, determined, he returns to the U.S. and makes his life by making the illuminating movies that have made his reputation. He does the opposite of what his father advised him. “People don’t want to know the truth,” his father told him. “Reality is too tough.  They go to the movies to get away from all that.” He knew his “very nature was unacceptable to the fantasy world of moviegoers,” but he wasn’t home yet and pushes on, getting in lots of trouble for telling truths people don’t want to hear, except perhaps the dead.

But making those films was far from smooth sailing. It was another form of warfare, treacherous, filled with betrayals, drugs, Hollywood a place where you had to watch your back. Just when the battle seemed over and you had won, another rocket would explode at your feet, throwing you for a loop. It would take another toll on Stone. So often, when he would think his screenplay or deal to direct a film was secured – that the stone he had rolled to the top of the hill was set – back it would roll. He would find that often what seemed to be up was down and that when he thought he was at the top, he was soon on the bottom. The years that followed were a roller coaster ride.

He writes truthfully about his need to quell his anxiety with a host of drugs that fueled his days and nights and led to addiction, his guilt and confusion, his partying like his glamorous party-loving mother, who “was there for me, and yet she wasn’t; it was more like she was on display.” He tells us how he was always running from something, writing, hustling, trying to justify himself as he traveled toward a home called success, the bitch-goddess Success, the pipe dream nurtured in Hollywood.

In numerous chapters, a reader fascinated with the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, from the screenplay through directing, financing, casting, editing, distributing, etc., will delight in his detailed description of the movie game. Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, Platoon are explored in depth.  If you want to know about Al Pacino, Charlie Sheen, Michael Cimino, James Woods, Dino De Laurentiis, the wild Richard Boyle, et al., it’s all here.  The good, bad, and the ugly. Gossip or insights, call it what you will.  It’s all interesting.

Stone writes about his second wife, Elizabeth, the joy that the birth of their son, his first child, Sean, brought him, the conflicts that developed as he’s torn between home life and the mad pursuit of filmmaking, “even if it’s leading you off a cliff.” He wrote in his diary:

What have I become?  A Macbeth of workaholics.  I’ve worked straight 17 years, two scripts a year, etc., and what has it brought me?  Never been able to relax, but must.  I’m always running like a mad rabbit down an Alice in Wonderland hole, always getting bigger or smaller and never knowing what will happen next.

By the end of the book, Oliver, now forty-years-old in 1987, is on the top of the world when he wins Oscars for Platoon, and although he revels in this victory, something continues to eat at him, as if he hadn’t really reached Ithaca, but was still on the journey. “So I’d come to this moment in time,” he writes. “Success was a beautiful goddess, yes, but was I being seduced by this vindication, this proving myself to my father; was it the acceptance, the power? What did I really believe?”

The double-minded rascal was still alive and at sea, despite saying that, “And truthfully, I don’t think I’d ever been happier.” He had finally achieved great film success, had a lovely wife and child, a garden, his books, a pool to jump in. Tranquility.

No. He tells us:

Mine was a free man’s life, without a home, really, except for the wenches in the local ports, like Sabatini’s Captain Blood, who ‘was born with a gift for laughter and the sense that the world was mad.’  Thus it remains a split in my soul – the home, the hearth, and then out into the wind with your crew – Odysseus’s ‘I am become a name.’  Could this be?  Could I live two different lives?  Like those hard men I’d worked with in the merchant marine twenty years before – six months on land, six at sea; unsettled, eccentric men who remained free in their souls yet tormented.  In the next years, I’d live out this split in my nature to the fullest.

The reader will have to await a sequel to Chasing the Light to see if Odysseus ever finds his way to his true home.

In the meantime, Charlie Sheen’s words at the end of Platoon will have to suffice:

Those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and meaning to this life.