Thursday, June 28, 2012

Whither Egypt today?

Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood's election victory – What does it mean?
Written by Alan Woods Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Mursi has won Egypt's presidential election with 51.73% of the vote. Ahmed Shafiq, the candidate of the military, got 48.27%, according to the election commission. However these figures should be treated with caution.

mohammed-mursiThe turnout was officially claimed to be 51.8%. However, many eyewitnesses say that the real level of participation was far lower than this. Even if we accept the official estimate, it would mean that the Muslim Brotherhood only won the support of about 25% of the electorate. Moreover, an unknown number of these votes may have come from left-wing people who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood as "the lesser evil".

Huge cheers went up from thousands gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square after the result was known. But the cheering will not last for long, for these elections revealed deep fault lines in Egyptian society.

At one point the antagonisms reached such a fevered pitch that they threatened to break into open civil war if the generals had declared their candidate as the winner. That was clearly their intention. The elections were rigged. But they realised that such a move would provoke a social explosion with unpredictable results.

Crowds had been growing in Tahrir Square all day despite the sweltering heat. They were listening to the election result announcement silently and patiently. Loudspeakers were playing a live broadcast of the election commission announcement. Some gathered round TV sets under tents. They were preparing either to celebrate or to riot.

Tension was running high. There were fears that a violent response would be sparked if the result gave victory to Shafiq. Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq both claimed victory. The generals looked into the abysm and reluctantly drew back, no doubt under pressure from Washington, which holds the purse strings.

Farouq Sultan, the spokesman of the electoral commission, delivered an interminable speech, clearly unwilling to make the announcement of the result. Then a great cheer went up in ‪Tahrir when he confirmed that ‪Mursi had won. Thousands were dancing and singing, waving Egyptian flags. Posters of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate were everywhere, as people chanted slogans through loudspeakers. The chant went up: "to the square, to the square" as people chanted "Mursi, Mursi, Allahu Akbar" and "Revolution, revolution until victory. Revolution, revolution, in all the streets of Egypt."

For a brief moment the people of Egypt felt united in an explosion of joy and relief. But this outburst of euphoria conceals deep divisions in Egyptian society and politics. For many people the electoral victory of Mursi and the Freedom and Justice Party (the political front of the Muslim Brotherhood) represented a defeat for the open agents of counterrevolution. But the nation is now polarised as never before.

"President of all the Egyptians"

The Muslim Brotherhood candidate, assuming that there are no new dirty tricks by the military, will be sworn in by the end of the month. The prime minister appointed by the military rulers, Kamal el-Ganzouri, met Mohammed Mursi on Monday to resign formally and assume caretaker duties until the new president's team is in place. Mursi has already moved into his new office in the presidential palace and begun work forming a government.

The new president declares that he is "president of all Egyptians" but the soothing announcements of Mursi are unlikely to defuse the social and political tensions. The Christian Copts fear domination by the Muslim Brotherhood. The secular revolutionaries, some of whom voted for Mursi in the mistaken belief that the Brotherhood represented the "lesser evil", are about to receive a stern lesson in political realities. Above all, the workers and peasants, whose expectations have been aroused by the Revolution, demand jobs and houses.

Mursi promises stability, freedom and prosperity, but these promises are in direct contradiction with the crisis of capitalism. Egypt's economy is in a deep slump. Unemployment is high and poverty is increasing. Homeless people are sleeping in the cemeteries. The Egyptian people will judge the success of the new government on concrete results, especially in the economic field. For the masses the Revolution is above all a question of bread, work and houses.

Samir Radwan, Egypt's finance minister just after the revolution told the BBC that the new president will have to deal with serious financial problems: "When I started my work just five days after the revolution, we had $36bn in reserves, international reserves - that's 18 months of imports. Now it's less than $15bn; it's rock bottom, really. Tourism, by any standard, has gone down tremendously, exports have gone down, unemployment is as high as 12% - that's the official figure which is understated; 42% of the population is below the poverty line."

Above all, the generals and bureaucrats of the old regime remain in charge. As a precaution, just before the election results were announced, they took the step of dissolving parliament and concentrating all the main powers in their hands. The new "democratically elected" president will be an impotent tool in the hands of the generals. The SAF, which seized power after last year's revolution, has issued a series of anti-democratic decrees:

- The justice ministry gave soldiers the right to arrest civilians for trial in military courts until the ratification of a new constitution
- A decree was issued dissolving parliament after a court ruling that the law on elections to the lower house of parliament was invalid
- The Scaf granted itself legislative powers and reinforced its role in the drafting of a permanent constitution
- Field Marshal Tantawi announced the re-establishment of a National Defence Council, putting the generals in charge of Egypt's national security policy

Thus, the elections have solved nothing.


On hearing the news of his victory, tens of thousands of cheering people in Tahrir Square, chanted: "Down with military rule!" But this correct demand found no echo in the statements of the new president-elect. In his speech on Sunday, Mursi, urged Egyptians "to strengthen our national unity" and promised an inclusive presidency.

Mursi paid tribute to the protesters who died in last year's uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak but also praised the role of Egypt's powerful armed forces. He also said he would honour international treaties. "There is no room now for the language of confrontation," he said.

This was a coded message to the generals and to Washington. Mursi is anxious to soothe their jangling nerves. In effect, he tells them: "Don't worry. You can trust us. Like you, we want to put an end to the Revolution and finish the chaos and instability that is bad for business. Only we will do this more effectively than you, not by guns and bayonets but by cunning and trickery."

The imperialists immediately sent a message back to the Muslim Brotherhood: "We understand you perfectly." The White House declared that the Egyptian election result was a "milestone in the movement to democracy". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday: "We expect to work together with the new administration on the basis of our peace treaty."

There was confusion, however, over an alleged interview quoted by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency. Fars said that Mursi planned to expand relations with Iran to "create a balance of pressure in the region", but Mursi's spokesman denied the interview had taken place. Evidently, the policy of being all things to all men had been taken a little too far in the case of accommodating both Washington and Teheran!

A Mursi spokesman, Yasser Ali, said the president's key concern was political stability. State television showed Mursi meeting on Monday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Field Marshal Tantawi, the chief of the counterrevolutionary forces, said the military would "stand by the elected, legitimate president and will cooperate with him for the stability of the country".

So here we have it. The counterrevolutionary generals and the Muslim Brotherhood are singing the same song in different keys. The generals promise to "respect" the election result and co-operate with Mursi. The latter, for his part, has promised to appoint a range of vice presidents and a cabinet of "all the talents".

These gentlemen are now haggling like merchants in the bazaar. The first point Mursi has to haggle over with the SCAF will be the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, which happened days before the presidential run-off vote. Because of the dissolution of parliament, it is not even clear where the new president will take his oath of office. This shows where the real power lies.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been seeking, not the immediate rescinding of this anti-democratic decision, but only a partial recall of parliament so that he is sworn in before MPs. But they have even retreated from this timid demand. The Mena news agency quoted a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman as saying the oath would be taken before the Supreme Constitutional Court – that is, before the very same Mubarak-appointed judges who were responsible for the dissolution of parliament and the undemocratic seizure of presidential prerogatives.

What does this mean? It means that the Muslim Brotherhood, instead of fighting for real democracy, is striving with all its might to arrive at a deal with the SCAF. Instead of fighting to uphold the results of the elections, they are willing to accept the generals' right to rule from behind the scenes. All they ask is that the generals and bureaucrats move over a little to allow them a share of the rich pickings of state power that the latter have monopolised for decades.

In other words, Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood have used the elections to haul themselves into positions of government that will enable them to haggle more effectively with the generals. All the sacrifices of the revolutionary masses in the last eighteen months are reduced to "mediation" (that is, horse-trading) between the Islamists and the SCAF on the president's powers.

The notion of a "government of national unity", that is, a government representing all classes is even hollower in Egypt than it was in Greece and Italy. When Mursi says he will be president of all Egyptians, what does that mean? How is it possible to represent the interests of the rich and the poor? How is it possible to defend the Revolution while accepting the rule of the army jackboot? How is it possible to stand for democracy while allowing the generals to dictate the rules?

The conduct of the Muslim Brotherhood is of no surprise to Marxists. Indeed, it should be of no surprise to any thinking person, especially in Egypt. Those who presented the MB as a "revolutionary force" before the elections were simply deceiving themselves and others. The leaders of the MB represent that wing of the Egyptian bourgeoisie that was hitherto excluded from political power. Its sole aim is to lean on the masses to pressurise the generals to share power with it.

These bourgeois leaders were never revolutionaries, but they cynically leaned on the revolutionary masses to carry them to power. Now they have achieved this objective they will not hesitate to detach themselves from the Revolution and join hands with the counterrevolutionary generals and imperialists to suffocate the Revolution. That is what is meant by the establishment of security and stability.

"As a businessman who engages in industrial activity, I belong in this place – even if the previous circumstances didn't allow me to participate in it." (See Ahramonline, 12 May, 2012)

These words, spoken by Khairat El-Shater, a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure and disqualified presidential candidate, were part of a speech delivered recently before members of the Egyptian Federation of Industries. El-Shater, who has substantial business interests, is typical of the bourgeois leaders of the Brotherhood. They convey very clearly both the class basis of the MB and its real aim: to be allowed to participate in the plunder of the Egyptian state, from which they were previously excluded.

El-Shater in his opening remarks let the cat out of the bag: "Investors from the Gulf countries see potential in Egypt's large market, but they need security and stability to invest... without these things you cannot conduct economic activity." This bourgeois ardently desires security and stability, as the prior condition for investment, that is, for the making of profit.

The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood is only a stage in the Revolution, which is destined to go through a whole series of stages before it is finally resolved one way or the other. The first wave has brought them to power. The second wave will dash them to pieces.

The most pressing task of the Egyptian revolutionaries is to unmask the counterrevolutionary nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and win over that section of the masses that have been misled and deceived by the Brotherhood. Instead of participating in the cynical fraud of a "government of national unity", it is necessary to step up the strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins.

All attempts to eliminate the class antagonisms in Egyptian society by talk of "national unity" will necessarily fail. The workers and peasants demand bread. The unemployed demand work. The homeless people demand houses. And the revolutionary people are demanding the immediate revocation of the sweeping new powers that the ruling generals have usurped, not deals at the top.

The workers and peasants of Egypt must now pass through the school of the Muslim Brotherhood. It will be a very harsh school, but it will teach them some important lessons. In the end, one class must win and the other lose. Either the greatest of victories or the greatest of defeats: that is the real choice before the working class and Egyptian people as a whole.

London, 26 June 2012

How a petty bourgeois views US society

This is a really loathsome and revolting display of petty bourgeois smugness and radicalness.  Most of it seems to add up to a critique which states that the US is in decline due to rampant philistinism rather than the lawful workings of capitalism. 


Counterpunch June 28, 2012
The Downward Slide
10 Sure Signs America Is in Decline

Now that it's painfully clear the U.S. is on a downward slide, the only question worth asking is when, precisely, did everything start to fall apart. At what point in time did the pendulum begin swinging the other way? Accordingly, history buffs, philosophers, and amateur intellectuals rejoice in debating this question.

Some say it was the Kennedy assassination. Others say it was Vietnam, the first war this country ever lost. Others say it was Watergate, the scandal that destroyed a president and shattered our faith in government. Still others say it was Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers, a decision that put the zap on organized labor and set loose the dogs of unbridled corporate greed.

Personally, I think it all started in 1978, when TV weather people began referring to rain as "shower activity," but that's just me.

In any event, whatever it was that launched our decline, there can be no doubt that our best days are behind us. And anyone who thinks otherwise might consider the following.

1. Estonia has stronger labor laws than the U.S. It's true. According to the OECD (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development), Estonian workers have better protection than American workers. Which raises the obvious, disturbing question: Where is Estonia?

2. Sarah Palin almost became Vice-President. Americans can take a joke as much as the next guy, but that little stunt could have backfired.

3. The movie Titanic beat out LA Confidential for the "Best Picture" Oscar in 1997. A big, splashy movie squeezes out a smaller, well-crafted, artistic gem. Quantity over quality. Style over substance. Ho-dads over surfers.

4. The U.S. now has almost twice as many suicides as homicides. In the 1970s, we were recognized as the murder capital of the industrialized West. But our murder rate has dropped precipitously. That's the good news. The bad news is that we've taken to killing ourselves instead of other people. Not an encouraging sign.

5. In 1983, the U.S. military invaded Grenada, an island nation (132 sq. miles) roughly one-fourth the size of Phoenix, Arizona. The justification for invading? It was determined that Grenada represented a threat to U.S. security.

6. In 2003, California, the most populous and, arguably, most diverse state in the union, recalled Gray Davis, a perfectly suitable governor, and replaced him with an ESL Austrian movie star whose physique was once described as a "condom stuffed with walnuts."

7. The Kardashians get better ratings than the PBS Evening News.

8. In 2002, President George W. Bush lost consciousness after choking on a pretzel. Bush's dog revived him by licking his face (something the First Lady regularly did to divert his attention from televised football). Washington survived Valley Forge, Kennedy survived PT-109, Reagan survived a gun shot. And our commander-in-chief passes out from eating a pretzel. Who can deny that our best days are behind us?

9. The United States is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Babies are fat, children are fat, adults are fat. Even American pets are becoming obese. Oddly, this national obesity epidemic coincides with increasing annual expenditures on exercise equipment and athletic apparel.

10. According to unofficial polls, 92-percent of Americans believe they have a Guardian Angel watching over them. If that's true, then these "guardians" need to step up to the plate, because we're getting our rear-ends kicked.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

The itinerary of Leopardi's thought

Sebastiano Timpanaro on Giacomo Leopardi & Materialist Pessimism

Once voluntarism and Platonist scientism (for a critique of the latter, see, in particular) 'Structuralism and its successors' below) have been rejected, the task is to go beyond the indications given by the Marxist classics, fundamental as they are, and to construct a 'theory of needs' which is not, as so often, reduced to a compromise between Marx and Freud, but which confronts on a wider basis the problem of the relation between nature and society. The accusation of 'biologism' or 'vulgar materialism' is, at this point, obvious and foreseen. If this label refers to an immediate reduction of the social to the biological and a failure to recognize the radically new contribution made by the appearance of labour and relations of production with respect to merely animal life, then I hope that these essays are already forearmed against any such error (see, in particular, pp. 63, 82, 102, 208 and 216 below). If, however, as is too frequently the case in the Western Marxism of our century, what is meant is denial of the conditioning which nature continues to exercise on man; relegation of the biological character of man to a kind of prehistoric prologue to humanity; refusal to acknowledge the relevance which certain biological data have in relation to the demand for happiness (a demand which remains fundamental to the struggle for communism); then these pages are deliberately 'vulgar materialist', From this point of view, they take as their point of departure certain hedonist and pessimistic themes which were widespread in eighteenth-century thought and which reached their highest point in Leopardi. They thus represent the continuation of a line of thinking first adumbrated in my earlier book Classicismo e illuminismo nell'Ottocento italiano.

Nor has this line of thinking—any more than what I said earlier about Maoism—reached a definitive conclusion, At the start of the fifties, it was difficult to speak of pessimism with Italian Marxists. In almost all cases, they were too full of historicist faith in human progress, and tended too much—as a consequence of their Crocean origins—to ignore the relation between man and nature. From that climate, my initial and fragmentary Marxism-Leopardism (if I may so term it for brevity's sake) contracted an original flaw from which, perhaps, it is still striving to free itself. This resulted from the juxtaposition of a historical and social optimism (communism as a now certain goal of human history, even if the price paid with Stalinism seemed even at that time excessive to many of us, despite our inability to see any alternative to Stalinism other than a social-democratic one) and a pessimism with respect to nature's oppression of man, which would continue to be a cause of unhappiness even in communist society.

Today the situation has changed. As a result of the increasingly monstrous developments of 'capitalist rationality' on the one hand, and the crisis of the world communist movement on the other, that tranquil faith in historical progress as a certain bearer of communism has vanished. Indeed, contemporary Marxism (especially through the agency of tlie thinkers of the Frankfurt school) has to a considerable degree taken on an apocalyptic hue. Certain Leopardian themes involving a critique of 'progress' and 'modern civilization' must be accorded greater attention than was done in that earlier period by Marxists. But in the face of the 'Adornian' interpretations of Leopardi which have already begun to appear and which are no doubt destined to develop further, it is necessary to recall that Leopardian pessimism, precisely because of the materialist and hedonistic basis which is most explicit in its final formulation, is immune from the Romantic and existentialist dross which gravely contaminates the thought of Horkheimer and Adorno—and even the later works of Marcuse, despite their far more political and secular character. Leopardi was able to work out for himself a complex relationship to the ideas of the Enlightenment (a relationship that involved criticizing the myth of progress, but strengthening hedonistic and materialist themes and hence refusing the Romantic restoration) which was far more correct than that in which the above-mentioned thinkers situate themselves. As far as the still crucial problem of what position to adopt vis-à-vis the Enlightenment is concerned, he is much more and much better than a precursor of the Frankfurt thinkers: indeed he helps to explain their limitations and provide a critique of them.


It is to further elucidate this problem of man's biological frailty that I consider it particularly important to study the thought of a poet and philosopher who is very little known outside Italy,[7] and who even in Italy is often more admired than understood: Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837). And while I certainly would not claim to be able to give my English and American readers, in a few words, any adequate exposition of Leopardi's thought and poetry, I must provide at least a few essential points of clarification.

European culture of the last two centuries is full of pessimists, from Scbopenliauer to Kierkegaard (and in many ways Nietzsche), from Horkheimer to Adorno; there are powerful pessimistic themes in Freud too, especially in the last phase of his thought, when Eros was joined by the death wish. If this book were to propose yet another marriage of Marxism and 'Frankfurt' pessimism, of existentialist or Freudian ancestry, it would no doubt appear far more in conformity with the present orientations of much of Western Marxism.

Why then go back to Leopardi? From a provincial and nationalistic desire to be able to say that Italy too has its pessimist, to be exhumed and inserted willy-nilly into Marxist cnlture? By no means. Leopardi's pessimism is radically different from the romantic and existentialist variety which characterizes the thinkers mentioned above (only in the case of Nietzsche shonld a certain distinction be made). These pessimists of Mitteleuropa all have an anti-materialist, anti-Enlightenment, anti-jacobin orientation; and all end up in, or at least tend towards, more or less explicitly religious positions. What is involved is for the most part a 'religion of the shadows', a mystical desire for annihilation, rather than a banal religion of consolation; but through their despair, however sincere, there peeps a faith in an 'other reality' to be attained not on this earth but in a metaphysical world.

The itinerary of Leopardi's thought—and of his poetry, which though never banally pedagogic, indeed one of the most purely lyrical in any language, was nevertheless, like that of Lucretius, born of the courage of truth, recognizing the revivifying power of illusions without ever accepting to make use of them as an escape from harsh human reality—was quite different. Leopardi too felt deeply, from the morrow of Napoleon's fall, what has been called the 'historic disappointment' which followed the collapse of Enlightenment faith in progress. However, unlike the greater part of the Italian and European bourgeois intelligentsia, he neither slipped back into religious positions nor into a 'reasonable' form of Enlightened thought, suitably castrated and purged of its subversive charge. In a first phase (roughly from 1817 to 1823) he professed a kind of secular Rousseauism: it is necessary to return to nature (and to the Greek classics, not as academic models to be imitated in scholastic fashion, but because they are closer to ns), to nature still virgin and uncorrupted.; it is necessary to struggle against a false and mortificatory civilization which identifies 'modernity' and 'popular character' with Christianity, as the Romantics did. Christianity, for Leopardi, is not genuine primitiveness, inseparable from a proclamation of man's inherent need for happiness, but barbarie, i.e. corrupted civilization, which aggregates within itself the ills of the excess of civilization which preceded it (distance from nature, mortification of hedonistic impulses) and those of ignorance and superstition. This demand for a return to nature, against a society which claims to educate the spirit while neglecting the body, Leopardi maintained to tbe end. But, first spasmodically later with increasing vigour, there developed in his thought another line, which derived not from Ronsseau but rather from the Voltaire of the Poème sur Ie désastre de Lisbonne, from the more radical of the French materialists (especially d'Holbach and Volney), and from hedonistic pessimists such as Maupertuis and Pietro Verri. Especially from 1825 on, the most intransigent materialism, the denial of any notion of providence or anthropocentrism and the refusal of all myths, 'humanistic' as well as religious, were taken by Leopardi to their ultimate conclusions. These conclusions, moreover once the joy inherent in every conquest of truth and every liberation from prejudice passed, revealed far more clearly than in Leopardi's eighteenth-century precursors their pessimistic complexion. If nature is 'good' in contrast to a repressive and ascetic education or a progress which perpetually creates new false needs in us, not natural and not necessary, it nevertheless reveals itself to be a limit on the human need for happiness. 'Physical ill', as I mentioned earlier, cannot be ascribed solely to bad social arrangements; it has its zone of autonomous and invincible reality.

Hence, no romantic and existentialist pessimism, but a materialist pessimism. Also, however contradictory the notion may at first sight appear, an 'Enlightenment' pessimism. The later Leopardi, while he did not believe that the growth of knowledge would produce a growth of happiness (and in this sense he was not and never had been an Enlightenment thinker, at least in the more narrowly defined sense of the term), was nevertheless convinced that it was necessary, against the Italian and European 'moderates', to develop a materialist and pessimistic culture for all. That it was necessary to cease 'pacifying' the masses with the opium of religion, and instead to found a common morality, based on the solidarity of all men in the struggle against nature: a struggle that is, in the final analysis, a desperate one, but which alone can make all men brothers, outside all paternalist hypocrisy and all the foolish pride of those who will not acknowledge that men 'are no more than a tiny part of the universe'.

I must make it clear that I have never sought to fabricate a Leopardi 'precursor of Marxism'. Leopardi had no clear idea of the antagonism between social classes, even to the limited extent that this was possible before Marx and Engels. His cultural ancestry as profoundly different from that of Marx: he neither had experience of English classical economics nor of Hegel and the Hegelian left; he did not even have any direct political experience. (Though the malice with which clericals and reactionaries denigrated and persecuted him and the efforts which liberals made to circumscribe his greatness by presenting him as simply an 'idyllic' poet, belated follower of a bad philosophy, show that the politically dangerous character of his thought—albeit indirect—was well understood.) Thus the point is not to seek in Leopardi what one can find much better in Marx, Engels and Leuin. It is to gain, through Leopardi, an awareness of certain aspects of the man-nature relationship which remain somewhat in the shadows in Marxism, and which nevertheless must be confronted—and confronted materialistically—if Marxism is to be not simply the replacement of one mode of production by another, but something far more ambitious: the achievement of the greatest possible degree of happiness (in the full, strong sense which this word had in the eighteenth century, when it denoted a need which, though it could never be fully satisfied, was nonetheless impossible to suppress).

Theories of human needs are once again beginning to be discussed by Marxists, and a pupil of Lukács, Agnes Heller, has recently devoted an extremely acute and moving essay, to this subject. [8] However, she still seeks a solution in a 'Westernizing', anti-materialist Marxism. Her work too, therefore, despite its merits, confirms my conviction that it is necessary to go back to Leopardi. The same can be said with respect to Freudian Marxism. This again is on the one hand too crudely biologistic, on the other too concerned to detach psychology from neuro-physiology; the pessimism of the later Freud lays emphasis mor·e on man's 'wickedness' than on his 'unhappiness'. From this point of view as well, Leopardian pessimism has its own specific characteristic: it is uncompromisingly hostile to misanthropy (apart from a few rare occasions which Leopardi soon transcends). 'My philosophy not only does not lead to misanthropy, as might appear to a superficial observer, and as many claim against it; instead, by its nature it excludes misanthropy . . . My philosophy renders nature guilty for everything and, totally exculpating men, diverts hatred—or at least lamentation—towards a higher source, towards the true origin of the ills of the living.' In this reflection of 2 January 1829 (see Zibaldone, page 4428 of the manuscript) there is contained the germ of what, in more heroic tones and with greater awareness, Leopardi will say in one of his last poems, La Ginestra. [9]

7 On knowledge of Leopardi in England, see G. Singh, Leapardi e l'Inghilterra (with an essay on the poet's fortunes in America), Florence 1969. See too the lively and intelligent book by John Whitfield, Giacomo Leopardi, Oxford 1954. Whitfield, however, though he polemicizes effectively against Croce's essay on Leopardi, totally ignores tbe 'new course' in Leopardi studies which by 1954 had already been under way for several years, with Cesare Luporini's 'Leopardi progressivo', in Filosofi vecchi e nuovi, Florence 1947, pp. 183ff., and Walter Binni's La nuova poetica leopardiana, Florence 1947. Moreover, Whitfield's 'vitalist' interpretation, although it represents an advance over tbe reduction of Leopardi to an 'idyllic' poet, nevertheless still fails to give adequate emphasis to Leopardian materialism.

8 'Theory and Practice in Function of Human Needs', originally published in Uj Iràs, Budapest, April I972; French translation in Les Temps Modernes, August-September 1974.

9 Both the section in question of the Zibaldone and La Ginestra are included in Giacomo Leopardi, Opere, Milan 1966, pp. 921-2 and 115-22.


Thus, I see materialism as a criterion for the unitary explanation of reality, and not as a prop for emotional reactions. Having said that, I must add, however, that I do not accept the definition of Leopardian pessimism—i.e. materialist pessimism, quite different from the various romantic-existentialist pessimisms which the European bourgeoisie has given birth to over the last two centuries—as an emotional disposition beyond the realm of science. As I have attempted to show elsewhere, the agreement between materialism and Leopardian pessimism has its basis in hedonism; and hedonism is the basis of all scientific systems of ethics. The problem of 'pleasure and pain', to use Pietro Verri's words,[8] is a problem that is scientific to the highest degree. That old age, sickness, etc. are causes of unhappiness for the great majority of persons afflicted with them is an objective fact, just as the suffering produced by social and political oppression is an objective fact. To cite as a counter-argument the heroic calm with which so many men have confronted suffering and death means that one has not taken into account the high price paid for the attainment of such calm. Of course, in addition to heroes there are fakirs: there are those who enjoy living on nails and there are 'social fakirs' who feel completely comfortable under the most oppressive regimes. But it still seems unwarranted to conclude that physical and social ills are a matter of 'subjective taste'.

Nor do I think that the question can be glossed over by pointing out, as Vacatello does, that Leopardi and Stendhal drew different axiological consequences from materialism. First of all, Stendhal's Weltanschauung is not at all the 'opposite' of Leopardi's; in both of them there is the same headlong rush of vitalism into pessimism, and even if the vitalism is more accentuated in Stendhal, his vision of life is just as tragic. Furthermore, the question has to be considered at an earlier stage, going back at least to the eighteenth century. One can then see that (as has already been noted) pessimistic themes were already present in Voltaire, Maupertuis,[9] Pietro Verri and other writers of the period, and that it is only because the element of struggle against the old obscurantist forces and the joy in being emancipated from religious prejudices still has the upper hand that these themes do not occupy a larger space. In Leopardi himself this element is not altogether absent: the 'bitter truth', when it is affirmed against degrading superstitions and errors, is a source of Enlightenment pride. Nonetheless, the general equilibrium has shifted in a pessimistic direction because Leopardi belongs to a different personal and cultural-political situation, which accords more space to the recognition of the unhappiness in which man flnds himself after the destruction of religious and humanistic myths. [10]

With regard to socio-political oppression, a millennial philosophical tradition (represented in ancient times primarily by Stoicism, and in more recent times by idealism) has proffered 'inner freedom' as recompense. The man of culture is always free, even if he is subject to enslavement or torture, because he lives in a world of ideas over which external restrictions have no power. Marxism represents the most decisive and coherent refutation of this consolatio philosophiae. It contends that, except in those cases where the notion of inner freedom represents an extreme defensive posture designed to hold out the prospect of a future resurgence, so-called inner freedom is a poor substitute for true freedom, which cannot exist apart from man's actual emancipation from oppressive social relationships. But this refutation, if it is correct, is also valid for 'physical ills'. One cannot rejectconsolatio philosophiae as illusory in relation to socio-political oppression and at the same time regard it as completely valid and sufficient unto itself in relarion to nature's oppression of man. In my opinion, this is the most valid aspect of Leopardian pessimism: its coherent refutation of all 'consolations', not only the crudely mythological ones provided by religion, as is obvious, but also those of an idealistic or stoical nature.

8 The reference is to Pietro Verri's Discorso sull'indole del piacere e del dolore (Discourse on the Nature of Pleasure and Pain), written in 1773: Verri (1728-97), as an enlightenment polemicist, wrote against the retrogressive nature of the family, against out-dated cultural and literary forms, and against forms of economic and administrative organization which impeded the development of a market economy; as a student of human sensations, however, he held to the less than optimistic notion that all pleasures derive simply from a sudden lessening or cessation of pain. (NLB).

9 Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759): French mathematician, known for the principle of Least Action as applied to optics. (NLB).

10 With regard to the delay in recognizing certain of the clearly pessimistic consequences of eighteenth-century materialism, see Giuseppe Paolo Samonà, G. G. Belli: la commedia romana e la commedia celeste, Florence 1969, pp. 117ff.


But the cosmic background against which Engels projected his vision of human history put other limits as well on the concept of progress. In all forms of materialism there is a fundamental contrast between an Enlightenment thrust, confident that every emancipation from myth and dogma, every triumph of truth, is in itself a contribution to our greater happiness, and the emergence of pessimistic themes that are the inevitable result of a de-mythologized view of the human condition. As long as a group of intellectuals is organically linked to a class on the rise and is engaged in a struggle against the humiliating and oppressive old prejudices, the former characteristic prevails and materialism is seen as essentially a liberating philosophy. If, however, the struggle bogs down, either as a result of historical 'disillusionment' or simply because of the onset of a phase of relative social stability, the second characteristic comes to the fore, at times completely effacing the former, at times (as in the case of Leopardi) coexisting with it in a delicate balance. The positivist era saw satisfied materialists like Büchner and Mo1eschott in the bourgeois camp. But it also saw a resurgence of pessimism, which tended towards nostalgic religiosity among the less lucid minds and towards a coherently pessimistic conception of reality among the more lucid (although never so lucid as to be able to overcome their class origins). This coherent pessimism represented a single, unchanging vision of the 'human condition' which was inspired by the insurmountable physical-biological limitations of man as well as by historically transient social relations. Carducci and Pascoli [46] on the one hand, and Verga [47] on the other, represent the most obvious examples in Italian literature of the two kinds of pessimistic reaction. But it would be easy enough to confirm the phenomenon on a broader scale, not solely Italian or merely literary. Indeed, among the impulses that gave rise to the idealist resurgence at the end of the nineteenth century, one has to number also this bewilderment produced by a pessimism which was unable to resume and elaborate on the 'struggling' path shown by Leopardi in the Ginestra and therefore had to either fall back on some form of religion or else 'flee forward' towards irrationalist activism. In the writings of Croce and Gentile neo-idealism is repeatedly represented as a new religion destined to overcome the dismay caused by positivist materialism. On the other hand, this immanentist religion—which did away with crude myths of transcendence and only called for the capacity to negate one's own 'empirical ego' and experience immortality in so far as one identified with a supraindividual Spirit—appeared in turn to many to be too barren, and was not forceful enough to prevent many relapses into the old mythological religions and many flights of blind activism.

46 Giovanni Pascoli (1855S-1912): Italian poet, whose lyrical, melancholic verse tended to succumb to a pantheistic and nationalistic mysticism. (NLB).

47 Giovanni Verga (1840-1922): Italian novelist; while his works reflected a melancholic view of life, at the same time they depicted the sufferings of the poor with stark realism (verismo). His I malavoglia (1881) was the inspiration for Luchino Visconti's famous neo-realist film La terra trema (1948). (NLB).


SOURCE: Timpanaro, Sebastiano. On Materialism, translated by Lawrence Garner. London: NLB, 1975.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finally got the news

Survey shows Obama's global popularity declining
By Sunil Freeman
June 27, 2012

President Obama's international popularity has declined sharply, due largely to opposition to U.S. drone attacks which have killed hundreds of civilians. The findings come in 2012 Pew Global Attitudes, a report released June 13. In 17 of 20 countries surveyed more than half the respondents opposed U.S. drone attacks in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.

A report released with the survey data noted, "There remains a widespread perception that the United States acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries." Obama's approval rating, 25 percent, was particularly low in predominantly Muslim countries. A 2004 study commissioned by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reached similar conclusions: "Muslims do not 'hate our freedoms,' but rather they hate our policies."

Drone policies were not the only issue driving Obama's low global popularity. In a 2009 survey 56 percent thought he would take significant steps to lessen climate change. The 2012 survey shows that just 22 percent say he has done so.

Content may be reprinted with credit to

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Andrew Sarris has died

Film critic Andrew Sarris 1928-2012: An appreciation
Andrew Sarris and American filmmaking
By David Walsh
26 June 2012

The World Socialist Web Site is reposting here an article originally published on July 1, 1998. See also the accompanying interview with Andrew Sarris, also from 1998, with a new introduction following his death June 20.

* * *

A review of "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet": The American Talking Film, History & Memory, 1927-1949, by Andrew Sarris, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.

I have been reading film critic Andrew Sarris on and off for the past 30 years. I consider him the most interesting and perceptive writer on American films over that period.

Sarris wrote for Film Culture in the 1950s and 1960s and now writes for the New York Observer. He is best known, however, and deservedly so, for his work as film critic on the Village Voice, the liberal-radical New York City weekly newspaper, in the 1960s and 1970s. His two major books from that period—the groundbreaking The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 and Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema 1955-1969, a collection of more than 100 reviews and essays—remain my favorites among his works.

Sarris was identified for many years, by admirers and detractors alike, as the leading American proponent of the so-called "auteur theory," first formulated by then-critic and later filmmaker François Truffaut in the French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma in 1954. Sarris first used the term in an article published in Film Culture in 1962. According to this conception of film history, the director's personal vision has been the principal "authorial" element in the best films up to the present time and, therefore, the study of the working out of this vision over the course of an individual filmmaker's career becomes a central task of cinema scholarship.

Sarris's work is distinctive for a number of reasons. More consistently than any previous critic, in the US at least, he turned his attention to what is known as "Hollywood cinema" and treated it systematically and with intellectual seriousness. He had the advantage, of course, of actually knowing what he was talking about, having seen thousands of American films. As he noted in his preface to The American Cinema, "To put it bluntly, many alleged authorities on film disguise their ignorance of the American cinema as a form of intellectual snobbery."

Perhaps Sarris's most remarkable accomplishment has been to avoid so many of the simplistic or fashionable approaches to the subject at hand. He has been able, for the most part, to treat the material objectively, i.e., to separate out the truthful and insightful work that was carried out by remarkable artists at the major film studios from the crass, commercial integument—with all its loaded associations. He has not succumbed either to the temptation to turn the study of Hollywood movies into an exercise in "camp" or nostalgia, nor has he, by and large, inflated out of proportion the significance of the work he has been considering. At his best he takes a remarkably sober and fair-minded, though passionate, look at an extremely complex aesthetic and social phenomenon.

A new work

"You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet": The American Talking Film, History & Memory, 1927-1949 is Sarris's new work, his first major publishing effort since Politics and Cinema in 1978. It contains essays of varying lengths on studios, film genres, a host of directors and performers, and a number of brief excursions into what the author calls "Guilty Pleasures"—films or film personalities he ought to be able to resist, but can't.

A reader experiences his own "guilty pleasures" in taking up Sarris's book. Probably no one writing today possesses his knowledge of the subject and takes such pleasure in discussing it. I take on faith Sarris's judgments on a whole range of issues. When he writes, in his discussion of the various studios, that "Movie for movie, Warners was the most reliable source of entertainment through the thirties and forties, even though it was clearly the most budget-conscious of them all," I wouldn't venture to argue.

He goes on, delightfully and, I think, essentially correctly, "What we remember most fondly not only about Warners movies but about Hollywood movies in general are not the endings prescribed by the Hays Office and the mealy-mouthed moguls, but the beginnings and middles, during which all sorts of wickedly subversive mischief could be indulged. Yet from the world-weary showgirl incarnate in Joan Blondell to the delinquents represented by the Dead End Kids, Warners movies more than those from any other studio walked mostly on the shady side of the street."

Likewise, I am content to accept at least as a useful guideline Sarris's disclosure that his favorite Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie "would be a composite: the first half of Top Hat —with Irving Berlin's 'Top Hat, White Tie and Tails,' 'Isn't This a Lovely Day To Be Caught in the Rain?,' and 'Cheek to Cheek'—and the second half of Swing Time—with Jerome Kern's 'The Way You Look Tonight,' 'A Fine Romance,' and 'Never Gonna Dance.' This to say that Top Hat starts enchantingly and ends conventionally, and Swing Time starts lethargically and ends ecstatically."

In his discussion of screwball comedies, a genre that flourished briefly between the mid-1930s and the end of the decade, although the author makes some points I don't agree with and would like to return to, he observes reasonably enough that none of the "sociological critics," Sarris's favorite bête noires, have pointed to the significance of the strict enforcement of the studios' self-imposed Production Code, which banned the realistic depiction of sexual behavior, in 1934.

The author writes: "What then is the source of 'frustration' [that these critics had taken note of] in the screwball comedies? I would suggest that this frustration arises inevitably from a situation in which the censors have removed the sex from sex comedies. Here we have all these beautiful people with nothing to do. Let us invent some substitutes for sex."

The Pantheon

Not surprisingly, for a critic who believes strongly in the centrality of directorial vision, a discussion of the film careers, up to 1949, of 21 filmmakers makes up the bulk of the new book. In The American Cinema, published three decades ago, Sarris placed 14 directors in his Pantheon Directors: Charles Chaplin, Robert Flaherty, John Ford, D.W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Max Ophuls, Jean Renoir, Josef von Sternberg and Orson Welles.

Sarris returns to 11 of those directors—Flaherty is presumably excused from this book as a maker of documentaries, a category of filmmaking that holds little interest for its author; the German Murnau and the Frenchman Renoir did not make their primary contributions to American filmmaking. I don't know that Sarris has that much to say that is radically new about the remaining members of his pantheon, but the analysis remains of considerable interest.

Of Griffith, for example, he writes: "His art had become so deceptively simple by the time of Abraham Lincoln (1930) that most critics assumed that he was in a state of stylistic decline.... Yet today the rough-and-tumble directness and episodic structure of Lincoln looks amazingly appropriate for its slyly rambling subject and protagonist. Walter Huston's Lincoln is no mere wax work, but a living, breathing, chortling projection of Griffith himself in all his cantankerous individuality doing battle with an industry about to drive him from the screen forever."

In the essay on Welles, Sarris advances the view that The Magnificent Ambersons, and not Citizen Kane, is the director's masterpiece. After noting that the former film was "a complete disaster at the box office," he goes on: "Its abiding unpopularity with the Hollywood mass audience is, however, a proof of its transcendent importance in the coming of age of America. Even in Kane, but especially in Ambersons, the young, brash Orson Welles had imparted to American movies a long overdue intimation of the mortal limits and disillusioning shortcomings of the American Dream. He dared to suggest that even Americans became old and embittered as the inexorable forces of family, capitalism and 'progress' trampled them."

It should be noted, and Sarris freely acknowledges it, that a certain proportion of the material in the new book has been imported in fairly large chunks from previous writings, either The American Cinema, various reviews and articles over the years, or, in the case of Ford and Sternberg, the books he wrote about them. On the one hand, his ability to reprint critical opinions more than 30 years old in some instances speaks to the remarkable perspicacity of many of those earlier comments; on the other, it suggests to me not so much "laziness," as Sarris tends to see it, as a certain stagnation of thought in the culture as a whole and, in his own work, problems of perspective and purposefulness. This is a point worth returning to.

The Far Side of Paradise

In addition to those members of the American Cinema's pantheon, Sarris discusses in his new book a number of the filmmakers he included in his second-highest category 30 years ago, The Far Side Of Paradise, and who were active in the time period in question, 1927-1949—King Vidor, Preston Sturges, Leo McCarey, George Cukor, Frank Capra, George Stevens, Frank Borzage; and one each from two other groupings, Expressive Esoterica (John Stahl) and Make Way For The Clowns! (Harold Lloyd).

I am pleased by Sarris's comment that King Vidor, whom I believe he undervalued three decades ago, has risen in his estimation "over the decades.... In retrospect, Vidor's vitality seems ageless, and his emotionally volcanic images are especially appropriate for partings and reunions, and for the visual opposition of individuals to masses."

In his comments about George Cukor, Sarris explains that a recent biography of the director could not have been published during his lifetime "because of its eye-opening description of an elegantly gay life flourishing amid an industry quaking in fear of the self-appointed media guardians of virtue, morality, conformity, and decency."

He takes Katharine Hepburn to task for her insensitive remark, in a 1983 autobiography, that Cukor had not been "macho" enough to direct her and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year in 1942. He rightfully observes: "It is a singularly unfortunate comment, the reader might think, to make about one's movie mentor, who, along with the producer David O. Selznick, virtually molded Ms. Hepburn in A Bill of Divorcement (1932), and who later directed her in nine of her most felicitous performances, among them Adam's Rib and The Philadelphia Story."

The most "radical" change of opinion that the critic owns up to in his new book concerns Billy Wilder ( Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, etc.) In The American Cinema Sarris had been quite harsh in his assessment, describing Wilder as "too cynical to believe in his own cynicism," and noting that even "his best films ... are marred by the director's penchant for gross caricature, especially with peripheral characters."

He now feels that he "grossly under-rated Billy Wilder, perhaps more so than any other American director." He asserts that the director's "apparent cynicism was the only way he could make his raging romanticism palatable." This smacks to me a little of sophistry—the same could be said, with differing degrees of truthfulness, about virtually any genuine cynic. I also found Sarris's comments about a conversation with Wilder, even taking into account the desire to make a thorough mea culpa, a bit sycophantic ("Time had not dimmed the mischievous wit in his eye, or dulled the razor-sharp wit"!). In any event, it would annoy Sarris, but I find the discussion of Wilder something of a tempest in a teapot. I suspect he underrated him in 1968 and is guilty of overrating him now. I tend to prefer Sarris's writing in what he calls his "polemical period."

The section Actors and Actresses ought more properly to be called Actresses and Actors, for the author's heart certainly tends to lie in discussions of the screen appearances and appearance of female stars, a tendency that continues unabated in the final chapter, Guilty Pleasures. (In the 1960s, Sarris once reported, when asked to define the cinema in three words, he replied with "more delirium than discretion: 'Girls! Girls! Girls!'") The chapter begins with a quote from the British critic Kenneth Tynan about Greta Garbo, "What, when drunk, one sees in other women, one sees in Garbo sober," and proceeds from there. I'm not complaining about his predilections, just taking note.

Sarris writes feelingly about Garbo, Bette Davis, Margaret Sullavan, Ingrid Bergman, Irene Dunne, Myrna Loy, Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, Carole Lombard and Vivien Leigh, and "guilty pleasures" Louise Brooks, Mary Astor, Anne Baxter and Wanda Hendrix.

The biography of Stanwyck, born in Brooklyn in 1907, who dropped out of school to work in a department store in Flatbush at 15, danced in a chorus line, and at 19 starred on Broadway, "reads like one of the plebeian sob stories they used to make into movies in the twenties and thirties," Sarris notes. The extraordinary moments she generated in her best films "did not arise from Stanwyck's saving herself for the projects in which she believed, but rather from a lifetime of playing every scene to the hilt, and giving every role everything she had, down to her toes and back to the earliest yearnings of Ruby Stevens from Brooklyn."

Of character actress Mary Astor, he writes, "Timing is almost everything in acting careers, and Mary Astor kept perfect time for about five or six years when she was still young enough to suggest with ever so slightly ironic a smile the joys of sex, and yet old enough and experienced enough to perceive the trickery and deception involved in the chase."


The book has much to recommend it as a collection of informed and generally well argued opinions—whether one agrees with them all or not—about filmmaking, individual films and the changing attitudes toward films and filmmaking. It teaches, it moves, it delights.

It also dissatisfies, and dissatisfies a good deal. First, I continue to have difficulties after all these years with certain stylistic tendencies, or what seem to be merely stylistic tendencies. I've never been fond of Sarris's addiction to alliteration, punning and such, nor to his occasional descent into facetiousness. He occasionally forgets that there is a difference between unpretentiousness and unseriousness, and that the latter unnecessarily calls into question some of the important points he has to make.

Nor am I fond of his tendency at times to substitute the journalistic phrase for a concrete answer to an aesthetic problem. Justifying this as the triumph of "feeling over thought," or "magic over logic," doesn't get anyone very far. As Sarris noted in our conversation, his writing tends toward a "rhetorical flow." On occasion it appears, in fact, as though his conclusions flow from the needs of the rhetoric and not from the logic of the material or the evidence on the screen. One draws the slightly worrying conclusion in such cases that the author is prepared to sacrifice precision of assessment, to round off a judgment for the sake of a subjectively striking or pungent conclusion.

More significantly, one is continually disturbed when reading the new book by the sense that, to use Sarris's phrase, it doesn't cohere, it doesn't entirely flow. There is something formless about the book. It is precisely a collection of insights, more or less interesting, but not amounting to an argument of any particular kind except, I suppose, that the history of the American cinema is fascinating and that "it never seems to yield up all its meanings and beauties and associations the first time around." This doesn't seem to me adequate three decades after The American Cinema.

In his introduction Sarris asserts that in writing a history of the American sound film, "one can never finish; one can only stop. After many years I have decided to stop.... I could work until the next millennium ... but my marvelously patient editor has urged me to cease and desist, and I do so with a sense of relief." This is an oddly dispirited way to begin a book.

In a certain sense the problem Sarris refers to arises in the study of any complex historical process—every event or process is connected to every other, and every moment or deed acts upon and is acted upon by every other moment or deed. There is no absolute beginning or end to any history. But surely the purpose of writing a history is to sort out the essential from the inessential on the basis of a coherent perspective, a perspective which is in part derived from or at least deepened by the study itself.

"Methodologies of the moment"

The introduction, in fact, amounts to an argument against the possibility of any perspective independent of the films themselves. "Movies can be shown to pass beyond the parameters of any methodology of the moment, be it sociology or semiotics, technology or stylistics, dramatic narrative or symbolic iconography." Of course they can, but what does that prove? That these methodologies are inadequate, or that any methodology will be inadequate? One is simply left by this conception with one's nose placed directly against the screen, prohibited from looking up or down, right or left. There is no reason to believe that immersion by itself will yield entirely positive results.

If a specter has haunted Sarris throughout his career, it certainly has been Marxism. One cannot go very far in any of his works without encountering jabs or pokes at "Marxists," "the Left," "the sociological critic," etc. "The Left critic" is invariably involved in some retrograde activity, generally underestimating or misevaluating an artist dear to Sarris's heart.

The irony, of course, one hastens to add, is that Sarris, in my view, has usually been correct in these one-sided aesthetic polemics and the "Left critic"—who, although unnamed, is unfortunately far from imaginary—usually wrong. However, what constitutes this "Left" that he has been invoking throughout much of his career, and which is by now something of a straw man? Either the discredited Stalinist "Left" or the quasi-Stalinist New Left and those of its ideological adherents who are still around. These trends are hostile to Marxism as an objectively truthful and liberating ideology and hostile to (and threatened by) aesthetic value in art.

In the new work the "sociological critic" is at it again, and again, in the immediate sense, Sarris is correct against him. But it seems to me he draws unwarranted conclusions from that fact.

After citing a passage from Hollywood in the Thirties by John Baxter, which paints a picture of New Year's Eve 1929, including the plays and films then available, from the simplistic point of view that the Wall Street crash several months before had immediately ushered in an entirely new period, Sarris comments that the paragraphs "reflect the irresistible temptation of many film historians to correlate sociological history with movie history." He goes on to remark that the Crash did not produce an instant economic disaster and that "the Depression that followed the Crash took a relatively long time to take full hold." Furthermore, his research indicates, "One could go on and on through the entire roster of 1930 releases in a vain search for the cutting edge that snipped off the twenties from the thirties."

This is undoubtedly true and so are his assertions that "film history can never be synchronized with so-called real history," and that "to demand instant topicality of the cinema is to reduce the medium to a news broadcast. One would never expect such haste from a supposedly serious and reflective art-form." I couldn't agree more. This entirely concurs with the dialectical conclusions reached by genuine Marxists, in particular Leon Trotsky, and serious artists who considered these problems, such as Oscar Wilde and André Breton. The latter, while a collaborator and supporter of Trotsky, wrote, "We confidently deny that the art of a period might consist of the pure and simple imitation of its surface manifestations."

But what does Sarris draw from these correct and important points? Not very much, unfortunately. He leaves the thought hanging in midair. Apparently one is to conclude that because "the manifest content of a period," in Breton's words, is not expressed directly in art, and because a properly nuanced perspective is difficult to develop, there might not be any connection at all between art and its historical period and that perhaps one can never arrive at an objectively truthful perspective.

The Depression and the Production Code

Again pointing to the apparent absence of films in the 1930s reflective of Depression conditions, Sarris comments, "Actually, many of the changes between decades for movies had more to do with the coming of sound and the tightening of censorship than with worldwide economic convulsions." In the section on screwball comedies, Sarris sounds a similar theme, noting that "The big turning point in movies between 1933 and 1934 can be attributed less to the emergence of the New Deal than to the resurgence of the censors."

By the spring of 1933, 15 million people were out of work; between 1929 and 1933 the gross national product fell 29 percent; between 1929 and 1932 net farm income fell by two-thirds. To suggest that such a period, in which millions were thrown into misery, many reduced to near-starvation in some rural areas, would find no natural and instinctive reflection in artistic work seems to me a symptom of the sort of present-day "complacency" to which Sarris refers in our conversation. After all, the Depression was not a mere topical event, but a crisis that threatened the social order. Millions of people were shaken by the events, whether they were still employed, still in business, or not.

If the Depression did not find full-blown expression in studio films, and it did not, I don't believe this can merely be attributed to the inadequacy or inappropriateness of art as a means of reflecting social life. Doesn't the fact suggest, first of all, that the films of the 1930s were something less than the spontaneous reflection of artistic or popular thought, as Sarris seems to imply, but the highly mediated products of corporate entities, themselves under close government scrutiny, which might not be enthusiastic sponsors of films about harsh economic or social conditions?

This is not meant as a condemnation of the best filmmakers of the day, who continued to make many extraordinary and, within quite definite limits, highly truthful films, but merely to underscore the very contradictory circumstances within which they worked. In my view, Sarris cuts himself off from probing the matter sufficiently because of a political bias. (In any event, I think he seriously underestimates the degree to which economic and political life shaped the mentality and "feel" of 1930s films. To note, "There were plenty of poor folks in the twenties [in films], and plenty of wild parties in the thirties," hardly grasps the contradictions at work. What is not shown is often at least as telling as what is.)

As to the relation between the Depression and the Production Code, I believe Sarris largely misses the point. One can only draw his conclusions by entirely leaving out of account the explosive political and social conditions prevailing in the US by 1934. While it is true that there was no immediate upheaval in response to the devastation, by 1932 there were clear signs of incipient revolt: The Ford Hunger March and the mass funeral for its victims in March, the "Bonus March" in the summer, strikes by farmers and sharecroppers. Resistance reached a new level by 1934 with the outbreak of three widely-supported strikes, led by left-wing Socialists, Trotskyists and Communist Party members—the Toledo Auto-Lite strike, Minneapolis truck drivers' and San Francisco dock workers' strikes—which signaled the emergence of a potentially insurrectionary working class movement. Sit-down strikes began in late 1936 and involved some 400,000 workers the following year. (They even managed to find a weak echo in Hollywood, in Tay Garnett's Stand-In, for example.) The rapid development of the CIO movement, embracing hundreds of thousands of industrial workers, was a further expression of this reality, as well as the efforts of the pro-Roosevelt labor bureaucracy to discipline and render it harmless.

It seems to me that any objective examination of the decision to strictly enforce the Production Code as of July 1, 1934 would have to take those facts into account. To suggest that its imposition had nothing to do with wider events and concerns—i.e., a general and legitimate nervousness within the ruling class about the breakdown of all sorts of moral and social taboos and the more far-reaching consequences of such a breakdown—seems to me inordinately narrow. Or, to put it more bluntly, the imposition of the Production Code was precisely one of the means by which the film industry and its overseers made certain that the realities of the Depression would not find reflection on screen. (No, while the Code banned depiction of all sorts of sexual and antisocial behavior, it did not ban inciting class hatred and exposing social ills. Did it need to?)

If there is no connection whatsoever, after all, between a film and social life, then what is its essential content? Even if one accepts, as anyone serious about aesthetics must, that the most significant art concerns itself with the more enduring features of human life and not simply topicalities, the historically-conditioned form of those features is not a matter of indifference. Films are not made, for example, about "Love," they are made about love between particular individuals to whom romance, sex and a variety of other matters mean something quite specific. The artist is not a disembodied, unbounded spirit hovering over the ages, and art "cannot have at its disposal any other material except that which is given to it by the world of three dimensions and by the narrower world of class society." (Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution)

In my view, the resistance that Sarris puts up against the "sociological critics" and the Stalinist Left had a positive content at one point. It directed him toward a study of the material on its own terms and toward its intrinsic beauty and power. I think this has now worn thin. The rejection of false and mechanically imposed perspectives cannot in and of itself eternally serve as a perspective. Sarris strikes one as somewhat rudderless in his critical work today. (A certain discouragement with the course of political life has also, I suspect, taken its toll.) One of the forms this takes in his new book is an occasional tendency toward a strained and high-flown lyricism; there are too many abstract paeans to the sweet mysteries of life (and love) for my taste. In his criticism in the Observer it takes the form of a tendency to approve of too much of what he reviews, in my opinion, in the name of the magic of the cinema.

Whatever I consider to be its shortcomings, " You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" is essential reading for anyone serious about film history and cultural history generally. Any objections I raise against Sarris's work need to be viewed in the context of an overall insistence that one cannot even seriously approach American cinema without working over and through his critical writings.

Books by Andrew Sarris:

The Films of Josef von Sternberg (1966)
Interviews with Film Directors (1967)
The Film (1968)
The American Cinema, Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (1968)
Film 68/69 (with Hollis Alpert) (1969)
Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema 1955-1969 (1970)
The Primal Screen: Essays on Film and Related Subjects (1972)
The John Ford Movie Industry (1975) Politics and Cinema (1975)
St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia (editor) (1997)

The Groundhog Day of US electoral politics: the CPUSA and the 2012 elections

Gone are the days when "Greek drama" meant an 8AM Comparative Literature lecture by Franklin Proaño on Oedipus [as I used to pronounce it: Oedipidus], or a mild summer morning in bed with a salacious novel by Mary Renault or Gore Vidal.

In addition to today's "Greek drama" we have the quadrennial U.S. melodrama of bourgeois presidential elections.  Or perhaps I should describe them as capitalist Wall Street elections: contests to see which candidate of one of two ruling class parties will grab the big brass ring.

For communists a capitalist election can be significant for several reasons.  It offers a kind of social x-ray of relations between all classes in society.  It offers a wider field of permissible political discussion with coworkers and prospective subscribers to the communist press.  It also offers a chance for communists to run their own electoral campaigns, where we promote our program to meet the world economic crisis and working class immiseration.

Sadly, a closeted skeleton of the working class vanguard is that some communists and communist organizations support candidates of the class enemy in elections.  This has always been one of the "Seven Deadly Sins" for Marxists, a particularly malignant type of capitalist class influence in ranks.

Typical for decades in the United States of this tendency in the Communist Party USA, a latter-day Frankenstein creation stitched together from labor union opportunist, middle class reformers, pacifists who oppose all wars until they are endorsed by the United Nations; identity politicians; liberal-left postmarxists; and myriad assorted race-baiters, semi-syndicalism romantics, and ancient leftovers who thought Deng Xiaoping had a few good ideas, and who possess first editions of Virgin Lands by Leonid Brezhnev, purchased on the date of publication.

These are the senior citizens who show up for Dennis Kucinich, admire the cinema of Michael Moore, and think the DPRK should mind its manners instead of its independence.  Their idea of revolutionary socialist literature is a novel by Barbara Kingsolver or the latest op-ed piece by Robert Reich or Paul Krugman.  Oh, and they think the Republican Party is to the right of the German-American Bund.

In presidential election years the CPUSA spends most of its time trying to corral radicals and activists skeptical of voting in general and voting for Democrats in particular.  This is usually accomplished by promoting the idea that electing Republicans means Tea Party fascism is just around the corner.  After all, who wouldn't prefer Obama's drone kill lists to the NSDAP? 

Now, by "corral" I don't simply mean preventing skeptics from bolting, abstaining, or voting for a Jill Stein or a Ralph Nader.  I mean putting skeptics to work, convincing them to willingly canvass for votes for the best of all possible candidates.  In other words, the ward-healing Boss Tweed routine redux

An laundry list of US revisionist talking points

All these unfortunate methods are on display in a recent CPUSA online article by John Case entitled "The danger of a Romney election." 

Case begins with with a generally politically correct Marxist summation of the moment:

The latest jobs figures show that the persistent warnings against austerity by Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and other top economists continue to come true with Cassandra-like vengeance. Hopes of recovery aroused by winter bumps in private hiring have been dashed again. This seems to have happened every summer since the 2008 crash.

Private sector revised job figures show an average of less than 90,000 per month since January - less than what is needed to accommodate increases in the workforce. Unemployment officially inched back up to 8.2 percent.

Workforce participation rates are still at all time lows. Statistical anomalies created by the warm weather induced error into earlier reports; reduced exports and a slowdown in manufacturing aggravated it. Uncertainty about Europe and gasoline did not help and constitute a grave risk for U.S. markets, according to the latest statements from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Result? The underlying horror story of mass unemployment and underemployment, public layoffs and assaults on economic, labor and civil rights, on vital services, on health and education continues to unfold. Extremist agitation on the ultra-right, an anti-science movement, racism and nativist groups all threaten a heightened atmosphere of violence, intimidation and repression.

The respect and credence Case shows toward Keynesian and empiricist liberal economists like Krugman and Stiglitz exemplifies the CPUSA's desire to treat and be treated seriously by liberal remnants [one is almost tempted to call them liberal revenants], washed- up movementarians in academia, some portions of the non-know-nothing labor leadership, and the Democratic Party.

The really sinister nub or revisionist reasoning begins with the following paragraph, one sentence in length:

If Republicans, with complacency from Blue Dog Democrats, take the White House and/or the Senate in November, the situation will become a lot worse.

Worse for whom, Comrade Case?  Is it not a fact that the last three Democrats in the White House were, in all essential features, Blue Dogs?  Whether a particular president happened to be from the South was and is today secondary to a shared program and shared actions; Blue Doggery is the only bourgeois politics that exists today in any party: austerity, foreclosure, union-busting, attacks on democratic rights, and a gluttonous series of was abroad.

A glass of hoc

The anxiety Case and his party feel on behalf of the electoral prospects to their president  is clearly exemplified in this but of history the author uses:

Do not forget the repressive consequences of the 1968 Nixon victory over a divided Democratic Party. The defeat of the recall of anti-labor Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin will embolden the right further. The vote was close, however, and on the plus side two of the recalled Wisconsin state senators who helped gut Wisconsin workers' rights to collectively bargain stayed recalled and Democrats took control of the state senate.

It takes a lot of confidence in the opportunism and/or historical ignorance of party members and party press readers for Case to refer to the "repressive consequences"  of Nixon's 1968 electoral victory.  Let is ask Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, the NLF, MLK, and Che Guevara about the non-repressive salad days pre-Nixon.  What's that?  All dead?  Are you sure?

As someone interested in the year 1968 and all its ramifications I also take exception to the hand-me-down bourgeois political science notion that Nixon defeated a "divided" Democratic Party.  Have even pseudo-Marxists lost so much of their class clarify?  1968 was a signal year for 68ers and a growing rank of detractors [many of whom started out as defenders of that Annus mirabilis of protest politics].  This was the year internationally that  bourgeois legitimacy, consensus, and normality began collapsing under weight of colonial rebellion, Black struggle, and anti-war mobilization. The old and spoiled "unity" of the Democratic Party pre-1968, seen in retrospect, was an episodic and temporary pragmatic brotherhood of U.S. reformists, ward healers, pork barrel straw bosses, civil libertarians, and Jim Crow lynchers.  Once the glue of post-war spoils based on the American Century and Stalinist peoples' frontism dried and broke-up, the Democratic Party of the years 1877-1968 could not survive.  The remnant we have with us today was reconstituted on a far smaller base to meet the crisis of 1972-1976: a scrap consecrated to the DLC's later vision of neoliberal electoral viability.

The most shameless and friendless group of opportunists and fakers in US political history, the AFL-CIO leadership, remained in the contemporary Democratic Party by virtue of a self-misunderstanding that they remained respected and continued tailing the same old lesser-evil.

Defeats, and more to come

The CPUSA summation of labor's defeat in Wisconsin is used by Case to double-down on voting for Democrats as the unassailable solution to all wars and crises facing the US working class today. They cannot offer an alternative course toward independent labor action because their whole rationale for existence is corking that bottle.

Being on the enemy's chosen field of combat - whether in Wisconsin or nationally - during an election year raises questions of the most basic strategy, questions the CPUSA cannot honestly or consciously acknowledge, much less willingly seek to overcome.    Their approach to loathsome and squalid characters like AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka is indicative; Trumka is the kind of labor leader who makes U.S. Marxists look back nostalgically on the old Samuel Gompers sacre du printemps.

Later than we think

Today the right wing's Achilles' heel is that it has no solution to the depression. Its economic program - like Romney's - is a fraud.

Here Comrade Case is incorrect.  What he calls the right wing [and communists call the U.S. capitalist ruling class] does indeed have a solution to their crisis.  Four decades of union-busting, social austerity, and law and order [all rationalized, defended, and rammed down our throats at each conjuncture by the Democrats, the CPUSA, and its broad left-liberal and protest milieu] have prepared the ground very well for this solution.  Such trends can only continue, provided John Case and his comrades continue acting as Judas goats in the working class: leading us into ambush undefended, unequipped, and unorganized.

The word for such behavior is treason.

The real fifth column

Defeats, fascism, and wars imposed on the working class throughout the twentieth century came as bitter fruit of such misleadership. 

In the 1920s and 1930s in Italy, Germany, and Spain, workers and other exploited producers were without communist leadership and consequently their fight for power was crushed. The petty bourgeoisie, seeing that the working class was incapable of a successful fight for power to resolve explosive and devastating economic crises, plumped for capitalist solutions prosecuted by the anti-labor militias of of fascism.

Today we are again entering the preparatory period for such events. If a mass communist party is not constructed in the United States in time to converge with ascending spontaneous labor and social struggles, a barbaric capitalist renaissance will begin.

The mare's nest

Case empties the the bottle down to the dregs thus:

Re-electing Obama is not sufficient to bring economic recovery or even relief to our people. Only a different class configuration in political power can do necessary minimum reforms to give us a chance. But re-electing Obama is absolutely essential. Now is not the time for hand washing the complexities and tactics away - or failing to triage the most critical questions from those that are less critical. We cannot win everything at once!

This can serve as the perfect summation for the kind of "Don't worry about doing something today to move our struggle ahead: just acknowledge and triage the complexities and leave the maneuvering to the grown-ups."

Judging from the tone of Case's final paragraph, disputes about his party's course in the face of bailouts, the Arab spring, OWS, Libya, NDAA. debt ceilings, drone kill lists and the whole anti-democratic and war-mongering course of the U.S .ruling class as exemplified by Obama's administration, is causing rank and file party friction.

In today's CPUSA division of labor, Case is charged with laying out the Bierstadt -scale visions of opportunism's 2012 get-rich-quick fantasy for the ranks.  Others come along in the watches of the night with the leather sap.  Their job is to marginalize and discourage those who cannot be won to forthrightly cheering Obama-Biden. 
Those who cannot be isolated in silence and inactivity find themselves expelled for non-payment of dues.  Checks are returned uncashed.

Marxism has proven equal to analyzing, prescribing, and predicting in relation to all the crises, struggles, and defeats of the five years' crisis.  Marxism is not a Panglossian amen-corner for the existing, profoundly disorganized and retarded level of consciousness and practical efforts at fight-back of labor today in any part of the world, much less the United States.  Resolving the impasse flowing from labor's subordination to capitalist political perspectives is a the central axis of political work for our movement in the U.S. today.

Wall Street's bipartisan program must be, can only be, countered and defeated by independent labor political action on the basis of a revolutionary socialist and internationalist program.  All the vote gathering in the world, all the devils'-deals and dishonest movementarianism of the last hundred years has only gone to verify this reality again and again.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Slavoj Žižek on The Avengers (2012)

I have come to realize after doing a lot more reading of SZ a few weeks ago that he simply does not know much about Marxism. Not his fault, having grown up under Titoism, but he does have a habit of going on to make statements about it and in its name anyway.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A trap for the unwary; or: DREAMs considered as wishful thinking

"Workers World Commentary" piece from the June 28 issue.  I couldn't find it on the website, or their RSS Feed on my Google Reader, so I did a cut and paste from the WW pdf itself, which can be found here.

Obama reacts to immigration struggle
By Teresa Gutierrez

President Barack Obama made
a significant announcement about
immigration policy on June 15.
Obama announced that he had
signed a deferred deportation act
that could allow tens of thousands
of undocumented youth to remain
in the U.S. without fear of deportation
and grant them the right
to apply for work permits. The
policy could provide relief from
deportation for approximately
800,000 young immigrants.

According to a Department of
Homeland Security fact sheet, in
order to be eligible for deferred action
from deportation, individuals
• Have come to the U.S. before the age
of 16;
• Have resided continuously in the U.S.
prior to June 15 and be present in the
U.S. on this date;
• Currently be in school, have graduated
from high school, have a GED certificate
or have been honorably discharged
from the Coast Guard or U.S. armed
• Have not been convicted of "a felony
offense, a significant misdemeanor offense,
multiple misdemeanor offenses,
or otherwise pose a threat to national
security or public safety"; and
• Not be above the age of 30.

What led to this announcement?

Obama's action was a result of the
struggle of the Dreamers, the thousands
of undocumented youth who have for
more than 10 years been organizing to get
the DREAM Act passed. This piece of federal
legislation would provide legalization
for children who had come to the U.S. before
they were 15 and met other criteria.

The Dreamers have boldly and bravely
come out as "undocumented and unafraid."
They have held rallies and demonstrations,
participated in sit-ins and
chained themselves to offices, held mock
graduation ceremonies, and made great
sacrifices to get the attention of the government
as well as the immigrant rights

Although Obama's announcement
brought instant reaction from the right
wing about granting "amnesty" to the undocumented,
immigrant rights activists
were cautious about the announcement.

Many pointed out that other announcements
favorable to the undocumented,
such as last year's statement about the
use of "prosecutorial discretion," have
not really been implemented. In fact,
immigrant groups say that
only about 1 percent of cases
were closed as a result of
such discretion.

And it is an election year.
Many are quick to question
the motives behind the announcement.

The New York State
Youth Leadership Council
declared in a press release:
"Until Obama signs
an actual executive order
promptly halting the deportation
of all undocumented
youth, youth across
the nation will continue to
occupy offices demanding
that President Obama sign
the order. The Prosecutorial
Discretion recommendation unfortunately
served as a huge disappointment
to us. For too long, undocumented youth
have served as pawns in partisan political
games." (, June 15)

The right wing, Glenn Beck and many
Republicans immediately used President
Obama's announcement to ratchet up
the anti-immigrant rhetoric. During the
news conference where Obama made his
announcement, a conservative blogger
was allowed to heckle Obama, shouting,
"What about jobs for Americans?"

This is the ultimate hypocrisy, as the
far-right is using the dire unemployment
crisis as a demagogic excuse to divide
workers. Despite the right-wing rhetoric,
Obama's announcement does not mean
legalization for the 800,000 young people
who could be affected.

A statement issued by the May 1 Coalition
for Worker & Immigrant Rights of
New York reads: "The over 14 million undocumented people in this country have
earned legalization. It is U.S. foreign and
economic policy to begin with that is the
main cause of forced migration from Latin
America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa.
And this announcement comes as we
await the outcome of the Supreme Court
ruling on Arizona's SB1070, which is racial
profiling on steroids. A favorable ruling
[for the undocumented] is not expected;
that decision would result in driving
the undocumented further underground
open to more extreme exploitation such
as massive wage theft."

The statement continues: "The president's
announcement also comes as the
militarization of the U.S./Mexican border
continues, resulting in more deaths
at the border. And our youth continue
to be targeted, including deaths such as
that of Trayvon Martin and Anastacio
Hernandez-Reyes." (To get a copy of the
statement or to find out more about the
coalition, visit

The slogan "Si se puede" (Yes, we can)
became a national rallying cry in 2006
as a result of the massive upsurge of immigrants
marching for their rights. "Si se
puede" continues to be a demand today. It
should be matched with "The struggle continues"
(La lucha continua) as immigrants
and their supporters are determined to
win not only legalization for all the undocumented,
but all workers' rights — not just
for the youth looking to get into college,
but also for every day laborer, domestic
worker or construction worker around the
country. Clearly a massive people's power
movement that unites all workers in a fight
for their lives is urgently needed.

Gutierrez is the co-coordinator
of the May 1 Coalition for Worker
& Immigrant Rights of New York.

An opposite take by the Stalinist Progressive Labor Party:

Obama's Immigration Fraud: Backdoor Draft of Latino Youth?

Friday, June 22, 2012 at 8:11AM

Obama's recent order, Deferred Action, to delay some deportations of undocumented immigrants (see back page) constitutes a classic capitalist Big Lie. (The Big Lie refers to Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic and anti-communist propaganda technique based on the idea that "the great masses will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.")

This is an attack on workers masquerading as a benefit. It comes from the president who has deported more than 1.4 million workers, more than any administration in U.S. history. According to the bosses' top liberal mouthpiece, the New York Times (6/17/12), Obama is bringing "joy and relief" to undocumented Latino workers by delaying deportations for a small minority.

In reality, however, the edict has several anti-working class aims. These include re-electing war-maker Obama, sustaining racist, low-wage exploitation, and fostering "government-as-savior" patriotism, particularly encouraging military service among Latino youth.

The fact that the new policy targets only 800,000 of the 12 million workers that the bosses label "illegal" exposes Obama's resolve to keep squeezing super-profits from the masses of undocumented workers. Farm work, the main destination of those without papers, pays workers at less than half the rate of other industries. Obama's "kindness" relegates these mainly Latino workers to rock-bottom pay and wretched living conditions under the unrelieved threat of deportation.

The Times shamelessly praises Obama's opportunist immigration ploy to lure Latino workers to the polls as "a play for a key voting bloc in the states that will decide whether he gets another term" (6/16/12). The Times speaks for the dominant, imperialist faction of the U.S. ruling class's finance capitalists who yearn for four more years of Obama as invader/assassin-in-chief. He has been proven to be willing and ready to spill workers' blood to confront challenges to U.S. imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iran, Russia and China.

Obama, Most Militarily Aggressive U.S. President

On April 29, the Times gave space to Peter Bergen, director of the finance-capital-backed New America Foundation, which supplies many foreign policy advisors to Obama's reelection campaign. Bergen hailed Obama as "one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades." Republican Mitt Romney, on the other hand, poses potential problems for a ruling class that requires ever-wider wars. His proposed platform of "military build-up amid tax cuts" may prove unworkable.

Obama's immigration move stands to aid U.S. imperialism's long-range plans by encouraging enlistment. On June 16, the Times editorialized that Obama has effectively revived the Dream Act, "a bill in Congress to give legal status to young immigrants who go to college or serve in the military....It is well past time to make a more sensible and humane immigration policy the law of the land." Obama's new order applies only to under-31-year-olds, and only to those "qualified" at that. It is a backdoor hunt for cannon fodder.

Further, as the Times editorialized (9/20/2010) about Latino youth, "The Defense Department, at least, understands their value." Laws moving these young people into the military "is one of its official goals for helping to maintain 'a mission-ready, all-volunteer force.'"

Meanwhile, the rulers' racist practices, like New York's stop-and-frisk policy and state anti-immigrant laws that encourage racial profiling, produce arrest records that would disqualify — and deport — the very same Latino youth whose Obama's edict would supposedly free.

Most dangerous of all is Obama's attempt to obscure the reality of class antagonism. As worldwide imperialist rivalry intensifies, U.S. rulers need greater all-class unity in support of overseas wars and a domestic police state, both of which run directly against workers' interests. So Obama & Co. trot out the myth that government can serve and protect our class.

Obama Using Latino Workers As An Election Ploy

The Times hopes that Obama's latest trick will lead millions of Latino workers to look to him as a compassionate savior: "It sent a clear signal to fast-growing Hispanic populations in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and other states that he understood their frustration at his lack of progress so far in addressing problems with the immigration system and reducing the number of deportations" (6/16/12). Obama seeks their votes in these key battleground states to put him over the top in November's election.

Gary Hart, a leading pro-Obama strategist for U.S. imperialists, co-authored the revealing Hart-Rudman reports commissioned by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Those reports foresaw the 9/11 attacks in stating that an attack on the U.S. homeland would transform popular post-Vietnam anti-war opposition into support for the rulers' new imperialist adventures. But the ruling class overestimated 9/11's potential to "galvanize the nation" into patriotic fervor for drawn-out wars that would create a consolidated, fascist state apparatus.

Hart-Rudman led to the the creation of Homeland  Security which spread fear and anti-Muslim racism. It also helped acceptance of the Big Lie of weapons of mass destruction and of the invasion of Iraq. 

At the time, Hart underestimated workers' growing disillusionment with capitalist political leaders and wars as the workers became more and more improverished. He hopes Obama can reverse the trend. On the eve of Obama's immigration announcement, Hart wrote:

For more than four decades most Americans identified the Democratic Party with a social contract and safety net, equality of justice and opportunity, and progressive — yes, even liberal — causes....But beginning dramatically in the 1970s things changed. Things being: globalization and foreign competition; the decline of the manufacturing base; petroleum-producing nations controlling the price of oil; and the unsustainable costs of cold war military engagements and deployments....The Democratic response…cost the party its identity.... A well-motivated Democratic president now struggles to move the nation forward against a conservative tide that emerged in the policy vacuum created by Democratic failure to adapt (NYT, 6/15/12).

President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal won him working-class support for World War II. Civil rights laws helped Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson win support for genocidal war in Vietnam, though the war eventually turned workers against U.S. rulers. As November approaches and the capitalists' profit scramble sharpens into regional (Syria and Iran) and global (Russia and China) wars, watch out for more double-edged "blessings" from Obama.

Don't Fall for U.S. Rulers' Big Lies

We must win workers to learn from this history of ruling-class ploys and help them to resist being sucked into imperialist wars that kill our working-class sisters and brothers worldwide. We must lead them to support these workers' struggles against global capitalist exploitation.

Progressive Labor Party has long championed immigrant workers' battles against racist super-exploitation, from window manufacturing workers in Chicago to garment workers and aerospace parts workers in Los Angeles to farm workers in California's San Joaquin Valley. We must step up such class struggle and unite immigrant workers with black, Asian, white and all Latino workers in all the mass organizations in which we participate.

Multi-racial unity is essential to organizing a communist revolution that will destroy the bosses and their profit system which sucks the blood of our class. Then we can create a society run by and for the working class, producers of all value, which will be shared according to need. That is PLP's goal. Join us.

And a Trotskyist view:

Obama's cynical gesture to immigrant youth
18 June 2012

President Obama on Friday announced a new policy under which the Department of Homeland Security will carry out on an interim basis a more lenient deportation regime against undocumented young people who were brought to the United States by their parents.

The announcement was both cynical and self-serving, aimed at boosting the stock of the Democratic Party in the 2012 elections without seriously addressing the fundamental issue of democratic rights for undocumented workers and their families. Coming amid worsening job figures, it was part of an attempt by the Obama administration to change the subject from the economic devastation facing millions of Americans.

The new directive applies to undocumented immigrants who were under 16 when they came to the United States and who meet other specific conditions: they must be enrolled in school or graduated from high school, or honorably discharged from the military, and they must have no criminal record, even misdemeanors. Those who meet these requirements will be allowed on a case-by-case basis to register with the government to avoid deportation and obtain a work permit. Ultimately, only 800,000 of the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the US are expected to qualify.

The announcement produced scenes of rejoicing in some immigrant neighborhoods, but workers and young people must beware of the false posture of the administration. This supposed boon to young immigrants has the potential to become a Trojan horse.

To receive the two-year relief from the threat of deportation, young undocumented immigrants must register with the Department of Homeland Security, effectively declaring themselves to be "illegal" and making them easier targets if and when a new directive comes from the White House, either from Obama himself or from his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, should Romney win the November election.

Once registered, immigrants still have no path to citizenship and their legal status is only temporary. Even if there is no immediate double-cross, the condition of the newly registered would represent only the regularization of their status as an exploited underclass. Obama is declaring these immigrant youth good enough to work for the minimum wage or less, but not entitled to basic democratic rights, let alone full citizenship.

In the course of his 2008 election campaign, Obama fostered hopes among immigrant workers and youth of a more humane immigration policy. Once in office, however, his administration has driven immigration enforcement to new heights of brutality. By 2011, the Department of Homeland Security was deporting 400,000 immigrants a year, an all-time record. Since Obama entered the White House, his administration has deported an estimated 1.2 million immigrants.

In his statement Friday, Obama claimed that he changed the policy because, "It's the right thing to do." To encourage illusions that he was willing to fight for comprehensive reform, he called it "a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief." This couldn't be farther from the truth.

On immigration, as on countless other issues, Obama dropped his election promises and pursued a policy just as right-wing as that of the Bush administration, if not even more reactionary. In 2008, Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote, but polls now show that 59 percent of Hispanic voters disapprove of the administration's merciless deportation policy.

Thus, after three years of devoting massive federal resources to enforcing immigration laws and deporting undocumented workers, Obama has now dusted off his "moral" compass and declared his sympathy for undocumented immigrant youth. Where was this sympathy before June 15, 2012? The executive order Obama announced that day could have been issued on January 20, 2009, when he took office.

The order to temporarily halt certain types of deportation is one of a series of actions, like Obama's supposed "evolving" position in support of gay marriage, in which the White House has made a conveniently timed embrace of a policy appealing to part of the electoral base of the Democratic Party in an effort to disguise its consistently reactionary and anti-working-class record.

For their part, the Republicans have pandered openly to racist and anti-immigrant bigotry. During the Republican primary campaign, Romney and his rivals denounced any lessening of the repression of immigrants and sought to outdo each other in demanding higher and longer fences along the US-Mexico border.

In fact, there are no significant or principled differences between the two big business parties on the question of immigration. Both uphold the persecution of immigrants and oppose any extension of democratic and citizenship rights. Both parties do the bidding of the financial aristocracy, which profits financially from the super-exploitation of immigrant workers and profits politically from dividing the working class along ethnic and language lines.

The Socialist Equality Party upholds the principle of the international unity of the working class. The working class is the only social force whose interests are not tied to the maintenance of national borders. We reject the "America First" chauvinism of the Democrats, Republicans and trade unions. We call for full democratic rights for all undocumented workers, including citizenship for those who want it. Workers must have the right to live and work in whatever country they choose, without discrimination or persecution.

David Brown and Patrick Martin