Trainwreck: The latest from Judd Apatow

By David Walsh
1 August 2015

Directed by Judd Apatow; written by Amy Schumer

Trainwreck is the latest effort from Judd Apatow, who as either producer, director or writer (or sometimes as two or more of these) is responsible, or partially responsible, for two dozen or so comedy films since the early 2000s, including Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Bridesmaids, Wanderlust, This is 40 and others. Apatow is something of a “brand name” at this point.

In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer, the stand-up comic and writer, is the psychological mess of the title. Devoted to a father (Colin Quinn), a cantankerous, hard-drinking womanizer, who put it into the heads of his two daughters at an early age that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” Amy, in her early 30s, is a hard-drinking and promiscuous journalist.

Trainwreck

Assigned by her horrid British-born editor, Dianna (a relatively unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), to do a story on a sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Haider), Amy finds herself in the uncomfortable and unexpected position of caring for someone and having someone care for her.

Amy’s sister Kim (Brie Larson) leads a more conventional suburban, middle class life, with a husband (Mike Birbiglia) and a stepson (Evan Brinkman). The sisters often quarrel, either about their father, of whom Kim strongly disapproves, or Amy’s life-style.

Aaron is something of an innocent. His life is given over to medicine, including doing volunteer work for Doctors Without Borders. Because of his profession, he is friends with various athletes, including basketball star LeBron James.

Amy responds with genuine terror to Aaron’s uncomplicated notion that since the two of them care for one another, they should go on seeing each other. She fears, as they say, “commitment” and “intimacy.” Her father’s influence is apparently to blame.

In any event, to no one’s possible surprise, Amy and Aaron come together inTrainwreck and try their hand at a relationship, get into difficulty (due to her irresponsibility and his emotional rigidity) and fall apart, and, by movie’s end, decide to give it another go.

This is not a good film. It is difficult to tell how talented Schumer (a relative of US Senator Charles Schumer, one of Wall Street’s leading mouthpieces!) may be. There are perhaps half a dozen genuinely amusing moments in the film. Schumer actually seems best at physical comedy. Her bit on a treadmill and as a cheerleader is entertaining. And there are times when her face expresses a mobility and a mischievousness that are not reflected in the script or the action.

The situations in Trainwreck are not especially interesting or comic, or moving. Strained gags, overdone bits, dull patches and clichés take the place of plot or character development for the most part. One looks at one’s watch. The conclusion could hardly be more conventional and “family values” oriented.

The film veers between a nastiness that seems unaccountable, and an occasional genuine sweetness. The latter is provided, for the most part, by Haider, who is appealing here, and LeBron James, unexpectedly. James is quite charming as a friend looking out for Aaron’s best interests, who sternly quizzes Amy, for example, about her “intentions.”

The downright meanness is not amusing, and, for the most part, makes no sense, aside from a few legitimate (but rather easy) shots at the tabloid magazine industry. Trainwreck goes out of its way to poke demeaning fun at Steven (John Cena), Amy’s muscle-bound boyfriend toward the beginning of the film, but one can never figure out why, or where the mockery is going. The sex scene between Amy and Steven is simply an embarrassment, or should be, for everyone involved.

The “Apatow Touch,” on display here, unfortunately involves painting nearly everyone on screen at certain moments as an awkward, unpleasant moron. That purpose fulfilled, the character the next time he or she appears may be portrayed in an entirely different, perhaps quite sentimental light. All too often there is no rhyme or reason other than the immediate search for cheap laughs.

The casual misanthropy and bitterness in the films churned out by the “Apatow school” are peculiar and unattractive. They seem to express the general frustrations, disappointments and self-doubt of this particular portion of the American upper middle class, which both promotes itself aggressively and fights for its place in the sun and, at the same time, has the nagging sensation that its artistic products are tawdry and trivial, and a waste of time. Nothing is worked through, nothing is entirely convincing or heartfelt, and then a program is made out of the lack of completeness and sincerity.

The critics like to refer to the “refreshing” and “truthful” character of Apatow’s films. To each his own, but only under a very narrow definition could revelations about this or that bodily function or body part be construed as ground-breakingly “truthful.” Almost everything important lies outside this film, and films like it.

There is some talent on display in Trainwreck, but until something dramatic is done about the entire approach to comedy and life, nothing much should be expected from this quarter.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/01/trai-a01.html

What is the pseudo-left?

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30 July 2015

The events in Greece over the past several months constitute a major strategic experience of the Greek working class and youth that is having a significant impact on political consciousness around the world.

The so-called “Coalition of the Radical Left” (Syriza)—despite its use of radical-sounding phraseology and its nominal opposition to austerity—has capitulated entirely to the European banks and institutions. The Syriza government is now implementing policies that will dramatically increase social inequality and turn Greece into a virtual colony of German and European imperialism.

These developments are a striking confirmation of the analysis made by the WSWS over several years, going back well before Syriza was elected in January of this year. In a resolution adopted at the Socialist Equality Party (US) Congress in July of 2012, for example, it was noted that “as soon as Syriza was faced with the possibility of coming to power, its leader Alexis Tsipras rushed to Germany to assure the banks that his party had no intention of withdrawing from the euro zone. It has sought nothing more radical than the renegotiation of the European banks’ austerity program.”

Throughout the spring of this year, the WSWS organized a series of meetings in which the nature of Syriza was analyzed and warnings were made of its plans to fully accept the austerity demands of the European banks.

In the aftermath of Syriza’s final capitulation, many readers have asked how it is that the WSWS was able to predict so precisely the course of events. This experience is a vindication of the Marxist method, which analyzes political tendencies not on the basis of what they call themselves, but on the basis of their history and program and the social interests they represent.

Over the past several years, the WSWS has developed the conception of an international political tendency that we have described as “pseudo-left,” of which Syriza is only one example.

We would like to call our readers’ attention to the analysis made by WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North in the Foreword of his newly-released book, The Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique. North includes a concise and more detailed “working definition” of the “pseudo-left” that will help provide an orientation in the struggle against the influence of these reactionary movements. He writes:

* The pseudo-left denotes political parties, organizations and theoretical/ideological tendencies which utilize populist slogans and democratic phrases to promote the socioeconomic interests of privileged and affluent strata of the middle class. Examples of such parties and tendencies include Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, and numerous offshoots of ex-Trotskyist (i.e., Pabloite) and state capitalist organizations such as the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the NSSP in Sri Lanka and the International Socialist Organization in the United States. This list could include the remnants and descendants of the “Occupy” movements influenced by anarchist and post-anarchist tendencies. Given the wide variety of petty-bourgeois pseudo-left organizations throughout the world, this is by no means a comprehensive list.

* The pseudo-left is anti-Marxist. It rejects historical materialism, embracing instead various forms of subjective idealism and philosophical irrationalism associated with existentialism, the Frankfurt School and contemporary postmodernism.

* The pseudo-left is anti-socialist, opposes class struggle, and denies the central role of the working class and the necessity of revolution in the progressive transformation of society. It counterposes supra-class populism to the independent political organization and mass mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system. The economic program of the pseudo-left is, in its essentials, pro-capitalist and nationalistic.

* The pseudo-left promotes “identity politics,” fixating on issues related to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender and sexuality in order to acquire greater influence in corporations, the colleges and universities, the higher-paying professions, the trade unions and in government and state institutions, to effect a more favorable distribution of wealth among the richest 10 percent of the population. The pseudo-left seeks greater access to, rather than the destruction of, social privilege.

* In the imperialist centers of North America, Western Europe and Australasia, the pseudo-left is generally pro-imperialist, and utilizes the slogans of “human rights” to legitimize, and even directly support, neo-colonialist military operations.

North concludes the Foreword to his new book by noting, “The analysis and exposure of the class basis, retrograde theoretical conceptions and reactionary politics of the pseudo-left are especially critical tasks confronting the Trotskyist movement in its struggle to educate the working class, free it from the influence of the petty-bourgeois movements, and establish its political independence as the central progressive and revolutionary force within modern capitalist society.”

The publication of the Frankfurt School, Postmodernism and the Politics of the Pseudo-Left: A Marxist Critique marks a significant step toward this goal, and the volume will serve as a valuable aid in the coming struggles of the working class.

The WSWS Editorial Board

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/30/pers-j30.html

Noam Chomsky: The United States is totally isolated

The iconic philosopher on America’s broken education system and the lasting influence of the Monroe Doctrine

Noam Chomsky: The United States is totally isolated
Noam Chomsky (Credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
This article originally appeared on Jacobin.

JacobinWe’re pleased to publish another interview with Professor Noam Chomsky. In this recent conversation with Dan Falcone, a Washington DC–based high school history teacher, Chomsky builds on our last interview, discussing everything from Scott Walker to the Monroe Doctrine, from Citizens United to for-profit colleges. We hope you’ll share it widely.


I wanted to stay on the topic of education and ask you about language, terminology, and definitions in the social sciences. So for example, I’ve noticed in my curriculum that there’s a tendency to have terms with a real definition and then a code definition. Terms like foreign aid, independence movements, partition, and democracy.

Two terms that I know are of particular interest to you are anarchism and libertarianism. Could you discuss the varying definitions of those two terms, anarchism and libertarianism? Maybe the American definition versus the European, and why that’s important for education to sort out?
There’s hardly a term in social science, political discourse, academic professions, and the scholarly professions where there’s anything remotely like clear definitions. If you want a clear definition, you have to go to mathematics or parts of physics.

Definitions are basically parts of theoretical structures. A definition doesn’t mean anything unless it’s embedded in some theory of some explanatory scope. And in these areas, there really are no such theories. So the terms are in fact used very loosely. They have a strong ideological component.

Take, say, democracy. The United States, I’m sure in your school, they teach as the world’s leading democracy. It’s also a country in which about 70 percent of the population, the lower 70 percent on the income scale, are completely disenfranchised.

Their opinions have no detectable influence on the decisions of their own representatives. Which is a good reason to believe, a large reason, why a huge number of people don’t bother voting. They know that it’s a waste of time. So is that a democracy? No, not really.

And you could say the same about almost any other term. Sometimes it’s almost laughable. So for example, in 1947, the US government changed the name of the War Department. They changed it to the Defense Department — any person with a brain functioning knew that we’re not going to be involved in defense anymore. We’re going to be involved in aggression. They didn’t have to read Orwell to know that. And in fact, religiously, every time you read about the war budget, it’s called the defense budget. And defense now means war, very much as in Orwell. And pretty much across the board.

Anarchism is used for a very wide range of actions, tendencies, beliefs, and so on. There’s no settled definition of it. Those who use the term should be indicating clearly, as clearly as you can, what element in this range you’re talking about. I’ve tried to do that. Others do it. You know, anarcho-syndicalism, communitarian anarchism, anarchy in the sense of let’s get rid of everything, the old kind of primitive anarchism, many different types. And you’re not going to find a definition.

Libertarianism has a special meaning predominantly in the United States. In the United States, it means dedication to extreme forms of tyranny. They don’t call it that, but it’s basically corporate tyranny, meaning tyranny by unaccountable private concentrations of power, the worst kind of tyranny you can imagine.

It picks up from the libertarian tradition one element, namely opposition to state power. But it leaves open all other forms of — and in fact favors — other forms of coercion and domination. So it’s radically opposed to the libertarian tradition, which was opposed to the master servant relation.

Giving orders, taking orders — that’s a core of traditional anarchism, going back to classical liberalism. So it’s a special, pretty much uniquely American development and related to the unusual character of the United States in many respects.

America is to quite an unusual extent a business-run society. That’s why we have a very violent labor history. Much more so than comparable countries, and attacks on labor here were far more extreme. There are accurate libertarian elements in the United States, like protection of freedom of speech, which is probably of a standard higher than other countries. But libertarianism is designed in the United States to satisfy the needs of private power.

Actually, it’s an interesting case in connection with the media. The United States is one of the few countries that basically doesn’t have public media. I mean, theoretically, there’s NPR, but it’s a highly marginal thing and is corporate funded anyway. So there’s nothing like the BBC here. Most countries have something or other. And that was a battleground, especially when radio and television came along.

The Founding Fathers actually were in favor of different conceptions of freedom of speech. There’s a narrow conception which interprets it as being a negative right, meaning you should be free of external interference. There’s a broader conception which regards it as a positive right: you should have a right to impart and access information, hence the positive interpretation. The United Nations accepts the positive interpretation, and theoretically, the US does too.

If you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I think Article 19 says that every person must have the right to express themselves without constraint and to impart and receive information over the widest possible range. That’s the positive right.

That was a battleground in the 1930s and 1940s. Particularly right after the Second World War, there were high level commissions taking both sides. And the position that won out is what was called corporate libertarianism, meaning corporations have the right to do anything they want without any interference.

But people don’t have any rights. Like you and I don’t have the right to receive information. Technically, we can impart information if we can buy a newspaper, but the idea that you should be a public voice that people, to the extent that this society’s democratic and participatory, was eliminated in the United States. And that’s called libertarianism. Meaning mega-corporations can do what they like without interference.

IN THE EVER-GROWING FIELD OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IS WISCONSIN GOV. SCOTT WALKER. HE’S ADVOCATING LOCAL CONTROL OF SCHOOLS IN AN EFFORT TO UNDERMINE PUBLIC EDUCATION. WITH HIS ANNOUNCEMENT TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT, I’M REMINDED OF THE RECALL IN WISCONSIN A FEW YEARS AGO AND ITS RELATION TO THE CITIZENS UNITED CASE. CAN YOU DISCUSS THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE CITIZENS UNITED CASE AND THE IMPACT ON TEACHERS AND EDUCATION, AND THE OVERALL MEANING OF THAT DECISION ON THE SOCIETY?

The Citizens United decision should be considered in the context of a series of decisions, starting with Buckley v. Valeo back in the ’70s, that determined that money is a form of speech. You and I can speak in the same roughly equal loudness, but you and Bill Gates can’t speak in the same loudness in regards to money. So that was a big deal, that there can’t be any interference with the use of money, for example — funding.

Now there were restrictions in the laws on campaign funding, but they’ve been slowly eroded. Citizens United pretty much dispensed with them. There’s still some limitations but not much. So exactly what its impact was is pretty hard to judge. But it’s part of a series of decisions which have led to a situation in which, if you want to run for president, you have to have several billion dollars. And there’s only certain sources for several billion dollars. If you want to run for Congress, pretty much the same. House of Representatives, you have to have a huge campaign funded.

Technically, you could decide, “I’m going to run for president.” That’s a meaningless freedom. It doesn’t mean anything. And the effect is pretty striking. The impact of money on politics goes way back — you know, Tom Ferguson’s Golden Rule? It’s the best work on this topic; he’s a very good political scientist, and has done work, very good work, on the impact of campaign funding on both electability, but also more significantly on political decisions. And he traces it back to the nineteenth century. And the impact is quite substantial — it goes right through the New Deal and on to the present.

But now it’s in the stratosphere. That’s why 70 percent of the public is totally disenfranchised. They don’t contribute to campaign funding, so they’re out. And if you sort of go up the income/wealth scale, you can detect greater levels of influence, but it’s not really significant until you get to the very top, maybe a fraction of 1 percent or something, where decisions are basically made.

It’s not 100 percent, so you find some deviation. There are times when public opinion is powerful enough so that it does matter, but these are overwhelming tendencies. The effect on education, of course, is obvious. It means that the concentrated power of the business classes will determine educational as well as other policies. That’s why you’re getting charter schools, cutting back of funding for state colleges, the corporatization of the universities. I mean, it’s across the board.

Universities, for example, are increasingly going to a business model in which what matters is not educational attainment, but the bottom line. So if you can get temporary, cheap, dispensable labor, like adjuncts and grad students, that’s preferable to tenured faculty. And of course by other measures, it’s not that preferable, but this is a business model.

At the college level, there’s a huge growth of these private colleges, most of which are total scams. They’re not private, they get maybe 80–90 percent of their funding from the federal government through Pell Grants and other things. And they’re very profitable. So during the recession, they stayed extremely profitable. All their corporate profits went down, but their stock stayed high.

They have a huge drop-out rate, enormous. Corinthian Colleges, one of the biggest for-profits, just had a big scandal. They made promises that they’d recruit deprived populations. So they’ll heavily recruit in, say, black areas, with all kind of inducements to what you can become if you take on a huge debt and go here. Kids end up with an enormous debt and very few of them even graduate. It’s just a major scam. And meanwhile, the community colleges, which can serve these communities, they’re being cut back.

And that’s very natural in a business-run society. After all, business is interested in profit and power; not a big surprise. And so therefore why have public education, when you can use it as a way to profit? It’s very much like the health care system. Why is the United States about the only country without any national health — without any meaningful national health care? Well, it’s the same thing. It’s extremely inefficient, very costly, and very bad for the patient, about twice the per capita costs of comparable countries, with some of the worst outcomes.

I don’t know if you’ve tried to get health insurance, but it’s an unbelievable process. My wife just did it, and we spent days trying to get on the computer networks, which don’t work, and then you call the office and then you wait for an hour and finally you get somebody that doesn’t know what you’re talking about and if you do it, it fails. And we finally had to end up after days of this, going to an office, a physical office out in the suburbs, a small office, where you can actually talk to a human being, and then figure it out in five minutes.

Alright, that saves money for the government and the insurance companies, but it costs money to the consumer. And in fact, that’s not counted, so economists, for ideological reasons, don’t count costs to users. Like if you think there’s an error on your bank statement, say, and you call the bank, you don’t get somebody to talk to. You get a menu, a recorded menu, and then comes a whole routine, and then maybe if you’re patient, minutes later, you get somebody to talk to. Saves the bank a lot of money, so it’s called very efficient, but that’s because they don’t count the cost to you, and the cost to you is multiplied over the number of consumers — so it’s enormous.

If you added those costs, the business would be extremely inefficient. But for ideological reasons you don’t count the cost to people, you just count the cost to business. And even with that, it’s highly inefficient. All of these — it’s not because people want it. People have favored national health care for decades. But it doesn’t matter. What the people want is essentially irrelevant.

Education is simply part of it. So sure, when Scott Walker talks about going down to the local level, it’s put in the framework of, “I’m for the common man.” What he means is that at the local level, businesses can have a lot more power than they can at the state level or at the federal level. They have plenty of power at the higher levels, but if it’s a local school board, the local real-estate people determine what happens. There’s as little resistance as you can possibly get down at the lower levels. It would be different if it was a democratic country where people were organized, but they’re not. You know, they’re atomized.

That’s why the right wing is in favor of what they call states’ rights. It’s a lot easier to take over a state than the federal government. Pretty easy to take over the federal government too, but a lot easier when you get to the state level.

And all of this is veiled in nice, appealing terminology about we’ve got to favor the little guy and send freedom back to the people and take it away from power, but it means exactly the opposite — just like libertarianism.

DO YOU SEE A LOT OF PROPAGANDA EFFORTS IN TERMS OF UNDERMINING TEACHERS, MAYBE IN REGARDS TO PENSIONS OR JOB SECURITY, TO HAVE “NEIGHBOR TURNING AGAINST NEIGHBOR”?

It’s unbelievable. In fact, what Walker did, or his advisers, was pretty clever. They unionized the teachers, firemen, policemen, and people in the public sector who had benefits. And what they concealed, and what you know, is the fact that the benefits are paid for by the recipients. So you pay for the benefits by lowering your wages. That’s part of the union contract. You defer payment and take a slightly lower wage and get a pension. But that’s suppressed.

So the propaganda which was directed at the workers in the private sector said, “Look at these guys. They’re getting all kinds of benefits and pensions, security, and you’re being thrown out of your job.” Which is true. They were being thrown out of their jobs. And of course the unions had already been beaten down to almost nothing in the private sector. And this propaganda was able to mobilize working people against people in the public sector. It was effective propaganda. I mean, a total scam, but effective.

It’s pretty interesting to see it work in detail. You get a lot of insight. So you remember in 2008, when the whole economy was crashing, we could have gone into a huge depression, mostly because of the banks and their corruption and so on. But there was one huge insurance company, AIG, the biggest international insurance company, which was collapsing. If they would have collapsed, they would have brought down with them Goldman Sachs and a whole bunch of big investment firms, so the government wouldn’t let them collapse.

So they were bailed out, a huge bailout. And it was really malfeasance, if not criminality, on their part that led to all of this, but they were bailed out, and Timothy Geithner had to keep the economy going. Right after that, right at that time, the executives of AIG got huge bonuses. That really didn’t look good, so there was some publicity about it, bad publicity. But Larry Summers, the former secretary of treasury, a big economist, said, you have to honor the contracts. And the contract said that these guys have to get a bonus.

Right at that same time, the state of Illinois was going bankrupt, it claimed. And so they had to stop paying pensions to teachers. Well, you didn’t have to honor that contract. So yeah, for the gangsters at AIG who practically brought the economy down, you got to honor that contract, because they got to get their multimillion dollar stock options. But for the teachers who already paid for the pensions, you don’t have to honor that one.

And that’s the way the country runs. That’s what a business-run society looks like in case after case. And it’s all consistent and perfectly sensible and understandable.

SHIFTING TO A FOREIGN POLICY QUESTION, I REMEMBER RECALLING BEING GIVEN THE TRADITIONAL ACCOUNT OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE AS A YOUNG STUDENT OF HISTORY, AND IN MY FORMATIVE YEARS, HEGEMONIC TERMS OR IMPERIALISTIC PHRASEOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM WASN’T COMMON. IT WAS EXCLUDED FROM MY HISTORY INTRODUCTION ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.

ANYWAY, A LITTLE WHILE BACK, SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY ANNOUNCED THAT “THE ERA OF THE MONROE DOCTRINE IS OVER.” IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN JUST RHETORIC, AND RECENTLY VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN ANNOUNCED THAT A $1 BILLION AID PACKAGE WOULD BE DELIVERED TO CENTRAL AMERICA.

THAT PROMPTED SEVERAL SCHOLARS LIKE ADRIENNE PINE, AN ACADEMIC FROM AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, TO EXPRESS CONCERNS — HER AREA OF EXPERTISE IS HONDURAS AND GUATEMALA, AND SHE WAS ARGUING THAT THIS “AID PACKAGING” WOULD GO TO CORRUPT GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN THOSE COUNTRIES AND IT WOULD DO LITTLE TO ENHANCE DEMOCRACY OR HELP PEOPLE.

Well, this whole story is quite interesting. The meaning of the Monroe Doctrine, we were taught, was to protect the country from European imperialism. And that’s perfectly defensive. But the actual meaning was stated very clearly by Secretary of State Lansing, Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state. It’s a wonderful example of an accurate description — he presented a memorandum to President Wilson in which he said, here’s the real meaning of the Monroe Doctrine.

He said the Monroe Doctrine was established in our interest. The interests of other countries were an incident, not an end. So it’s entirely for our interest. But Wilson, a great exponent of self-determination, said he thought this argument was “unanswerable,” but it would be impolitic to make it public. That’s the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine. And it is. It’s exactly the way it’s been used.

This is supposed to be our hemisphere. Everybody else stay out. We didn’t have the power to implement it in 1823, but it was understood how it would work. John Quincy Adams, the great grand strategist and the intellectual author of Manifest Destiny, explained in the accredited — I think he probably wrote the Monroe Doctrine when he was secretary of state — he explained it was really directed at Cuba.

Cuba was the first foreign policy objective for the US. We wanted to take over Cuba. And the Monroe Doctrine was supposed to keep the British out. And it was discussed, and they understood that they couldn’t do it because Britain was too powerful.

But Adams explained that over time, Britain would become weaker, and the United States would become more powerful, and over time, he said, “Cuba will fall into our hands by the laws of political gravitation, the way an apple falls from the tree.” Which is exactly what happened through the nineteenth century when relations of power shifted, the United States became more powerful and was able to kick Britain out of one place after another.

In 1898, the United States invaded Cuba. The pretext was to liberate Cuba. In fact it was to conquer Cuba and prevent it from liberating itself from Spain, which it in fact was about to do. And then comes the Platt Amendment, and Guantanamo and all the rest of the story.

That’s the Monroe Doctrine. Why is it changing? It’s changing because Latin America has liberated itself. The United States is practically being kicked out of the hemisphere. That’s extremely important. For the last roughly fifteen years and for the first time in its history, the Latin American countries have begun to integrate slightly to free themselves from imperial control to face internal problems, and if you look at the hemispheric conferences, the United States is increasingly isolated.

At the Santiago conference in 2012, the OAS conference, it never reached any decisions because they have to be reached by consensus, and the US and Canada blocked every decision. The major ones were on Cuba. Everybody wanted it admitted, but the US and Canada refused. And the other was drugs. The other countries want to end this crazy US drug war which is destroying them, and the US and Canada refused.

Well, there was another conference coming up in Panama, just a couple months ago. And Obama recognized‚ or an adviser recognized, that unless he did something, the US would simply be kicked out of the hemisphere. So they moved towards normalization of relationswith Cuba. And here, it’s presented as a wonderful benign gesture, bringing Cuba out of its isolation.

Fact is, the United States is totally isolated. In the world, it’s completely isolated. The votes in the UN on the embargo are like 180–2, the United States and Israel. And in the hemisphere, it was on the verge of being tossed out. So they make the gestures that are silly — they have to say those sort of things, or end up being thrown out of the hemisphere.

And we can’t intervene at the previous levels — there’s plenty of intervention, but not at the level before. As for giving money toHonduras and Guatemala, it means giving money to murderers ruling governments that were installed by US power. The Honduras government was thrown out by military coup in 2009. This is Obama now. And they were a military government, ran a kind of a fake election, which almost nobody recognized except the United States, and it’s become a horror chamber.

If you take a look at the immigrants coming across the border, you’ll notice most of them are from Honduras. Why? Because Honduras, thanks to Obama, is a horror chamber. They’re giving money to Honduras, this military regime which has probably the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. Guatemala has been a horror story ever since 1954, when the US went in.

So that’s the history, but not the sanitized history.

 

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements.

 

http://www.salon.com/2015/07/29/noam_chomsky_the_united_states_is_totally_isolated_partner/?source=newsletter

The dark side of American politics

hillary-clinton-winking-AP-640x480

29 July 2015

An “Editor’s Note” published on page two of Tuesday’s New York Times confirms that the supposed “newspaper of record” in the United States served as the instrument for a politically-motivated dirty trick directed at the presidential campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Last Thursday’s online edition of the Times, and its Friday print edition, claimed that the inspectors general of the State Department and the intelligence agencies had requested a “criminal investigation” into whether Clinton “mishandled sensitive government information” in the private email account through which she carried out communications during her four years at the State Department.

The front-page report, under a three-column headline, touched off a media firestorm over the weekend, with suggestions that the launching of a criminal probe into Clinton’s email practices could doom her campaign. The issue dominated the Sunday talk shows on all the television networks and was virtually the sole topic of discussion on ultra-right talk radio and Fox News.

In the Tuesday “Editor’s Note,” the Times admitted that its account was false. There was no request for a “criminal investigation,” or for an inquiry into Clinton’s own conduct. Instead, the request was a “security referral” into “whether sensitive government information was mishandled” in a handful of emails that passed through Clinton’s mail server. There was no allegation of potentially criminal conduct and no specific reference to Clinton’s personal role.

However, although the Times maintained that the July 23-July 24 article “was based on multiple high-level government sources,” the newspaper did not report which of these sources supplied the false information about Clinton. This is certainly a relevant and newsworthy issue: either key Obama aides, or top officials of the Justice Department, State Department or intelligence agencies, have leaked a report targeting the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. The two scenarios are not, of course, mutually exclusive, given Obama’s intimate ties with the intelligence apparatus.

If Obama loyalists were the source, that would suggest subterranean divisions within the Democratic Party wing of the political establishment. That this may be the case is reinforced by Obama’s public musing, during his ongoing trip to Africa, that if it were not for the constitutional prohibition, he could run for and win a third term in the White House, a clear suggestion that he finds the current Democratic presidential field lacking.

If Justice, State or CIA/NSA officials were the source of the leak, this would indicate significant opposition within the apparatus of the state itself either to Clinton’s campaign in particular, or to the prospect of any Democrat succeeding Obama in the White House. This would be even more important to report to the American people, since it would constitute a deliberate—and illegal—intervention into the US elections by agencies and officials who are accustomed to manipulating the political process in countries around the world.

The record of the Times over the last two decades reinforces the likelihood of the second scenario, in which Friday’s article was a deliberate provocation emanating from the intelligence agencies. Again and again, from the fabrications of Judith Miller about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to more recent charges of Syrian government gas attacks, Russian missiles shooting down a Malaysian jetliner and Chinese military hackers invading US government computer systems, the Times has been a conduit for entirely unsubstantiated claims, emanating from undisclosed sources, that promote the interests of sections of the military-intelligence apparatus.

The Times gives no accounting of the source of the attack on the Clinton campaign because it is not an independent publication in any genuine sense, but rather the house organ of factions within the US financial and political elite and military/intelligence establishment that use its pages to manipulate public opinion in support of their desired policies.

The bogus report of a Clinton “criminal referral” is only one of a series of incidents that suggest that the 2016 presidential campaign is becoming the focal point for an extraordinary escalation of political tensions within the US ruling elite.

In the past week alone, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, positioning himself as the most right-wing of the Republican presidential hopefuls, publicly denounced Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a liar. One of Cruz’s rivals for the Christian fundamentalist bloc, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, blasted the six-nation nuclear agreement with Iran, claiming that President Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

These statements follow a series of increasingly provocative and bigoted comments by billionaire Donald Trump targeting the 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain and many of Trump’s 2016 rivals. Trump currently leads opinion polls of likely Republican primary voters and has held the largest rallies of any of the Republican candidates.

What these episodes suggest is that the underlying social conflicts within the United States are beginning to overload a political system that is rotted through and through. The two officially recognized political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are controlled by corporate interests and increasingly removed from the real concerns of the great mass of the American people.

There is mounting discontent over protracted economic slump, declining living standards and ever-deepening social inequality. Neither capitalist party has anything genuine to offer to working people. Both are seeking to divert and channel the rising social anger, the Democrats through the “left” demagogy of Bernie Sanders, the Republicans through increasingly vitriolic attacks on scapegoats such as immigrant workers.

It is impossible to predict, more than 15 months before Election Day, how the deepening crisis of American imperialism, and of world capitalism as a whole, will be reflected through the medium of the US presidential election campaign. Suffice it to say that there will be twists and turns and sudden political shocks, foreshadowing the entry of the American working class into mass struggles against the capitalist system.

Patrick Martin

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/29/pers-j29.html

Post Capitalism

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Jonathan Taplin on Jul 25

The British journalist Paul Mason published a provocative except from his new book Postcapitalism in the Guardian last week. His theory is that the sharing economy is ushering in a new age.

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed — not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

Second, information is corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly. That is because markets are based on scarcity while information is abundant. The system’s defence mechanism is to form monopolies — the giant tech companies — on a scale not seen in the past 200 years, yet they cannot last. By building business models and share valuations based on the capture and privatisation of all socially produced information, such firms are constructing a fragile corporate edifice at odds with the most basic need of humanity, which is to use ideas freely.

Third, we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy. The biggest information product in the world — Wikipedia — is made by volunteers for free, abolishing the encyclopedia business and depriving the advertising industry of an estimated $3bn a year in revenue.

Since the 1930’s when Lord Keynes worried about a future in which we would have so much leisure time that we might not be able to create enough poets to fill our evening hours. So of course I am skeptical as most of my friends are working longer hours than 10 years ago when their every waking hour wasn’t harried by smartphones chirping.

But I do believe that Mason’s point, about the potential of Open Source technology to break up the “fragile corporate edifice” constructed by the tech monopolies that I have written about, is real. Consider the edifice that was Microsoft’s Windows operating system in 1998 when the Justice Department brought its anti-trust action. Since that time two Open Source software systems, Linux and Apache have made huge inroads into the corporate and Web server business. Both systems were constructed by hundreds of thousands of man hours of free labor contributed by geeks interested in improving the software and sharing their improvements with a large community for free. So in that sense, Mason is right that this is a post capitalist construct.

But here is the current problem with the sharing economy. It tends towards a winner take all economy.

Whether Uber ends up buying Lyft is yet to be determined, but my guess is that market will look like markets dominated by AirBnb, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Google. As Susie Cagle recently pointed out:

While technology has provided underlying infrastructure to spark and support new peer-to-peer network behavior, it hasn’t really changed anything about how those networks are built and owned. For example, we now have the tools and ability to disrupt the taxi industry by allowing collectives of drivers to reach customers directly — but instead, we have Lyft and Uber, multibillion dollar companies that neither offer benefits to their drivers, nor truly give them the opportunity to run their own independent businesses.

Likewise, we have the tools and ability to build collectively owned messaging and social platforms — but instead, we have Twitter and Facebook, which mediate what users can see from other users and collect personal data to better tailor advertising sales.

My concerns relate to the media and entertainment industry that we study at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. And in that world the possibility of using the Open Source model to build a new kind of Digital Distribution Cooperative seems very possible.

Ask yourself this question: why should YouTube take 55% of the ad revenue from a Beyonce (or any other artist) video when all they provide is the platform?

They provide no production money, no marketing support and their ad engine runs lights out on algorithms.

Imagine in today’s music business a distribution cooperative that would run something like the coops that farmer’s use (think Sunkist for orange growers). Here is how they are described.

Many marketing cooperatives operate through “pooling.” The member delivers his product to the association, which pools it with products of like grade and quality delivered by other members. After doing whatever processing is necessary, the co-op sells the products at the best price it can get and returns to the members their share of total proceeds, less marketing expenses.

In our model (much like the early days of the United Artists film distribution company formed in the 1920’s by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W.Griffith) the producers of music would upload their new tunes to the coop servers, do their own social marketing and probably end up getting back 85–90% of the revenues rather the 45% they get from YouTube. The coop could rent cloud space from Amazon Web Services just like Netflix and Spotify do.

All of this is possible because in the world of entertainment the artist is the brand. No one ever suggested to you, “let’s go to a Paramount movie tonight.” It is possible that we are entering a post capitalist age, but it cannot exist as long as the sharing economy is dominated by a few monopolists. Perhaps some bold experiments on the part of music artists could point the way towards a truly innovative way of using technology for the good of the artist rather than for her exploitation.

https://medium.com/@jonathantaplin/post-capitalism-f8d687d19c3

Samuel Kassow’s “Who Will Write Our History?”

By Clara Weiss
25 July 2015

Who Will Write Our History? Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto, by Samuel Kassow, Indiana University Press 2009, 523 pages.

It is rather unusual for a book to be reviewed several years after its first appearance. However, Samuel Kassow’s Who Will Write Our History?, which first appeared in 2007, is a major work of historical scholarship that should be welcomed by readers of the WSWS. Kassow’s history of the Oyneg Shabes underground archive in the Warsaw Ghetto combines remarkable objectivity with a deep compassion for the tragic fate of Warsaw’s Jewry during World War II.

“Who will write our history”, © Indiana University Press

The Oyneg Shabes [Joyful Sabbath] was the largest underground archive in Nazi-occupied Poland. It was set up by a group of Jewish teachers, writers, rabbis and historians under the guidance of the Jewish-Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum. Between the beginning of the war and the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, the Oyneg Shabes collected thousands of documents on the Nazi persecution of Polish Jewry. It gathered diaries and essays, conducted thousands of interviews with prisoners of the ghetto and collected several surveys about the composition of the ghetto population. Of the three hidden caches of the archive, only two could be found after the war.

Nevertheless, the 6,000 documents (comprising between 25,000 and 30,000 pieces of paper) to this day remain the single most important documentary basis for any historical study of the annihilation of Polish Jewry. As of yet, very little of it has been published, and most of it only in Hebrew, Polish or Yiddish.

Hersh and Bluma Wasser, surviving members of Oyneg Shabes, with a portion of the secret archive © The Ghetto Fighters Museum Israel

In Who Will Write Our History?, Samuel Kassow, professor of history at Trinity College, Connecticut, presents not only the history of the archive and some of its key documents, but also tries to outline the cultural climate and political convictions of the pre-war period that underlay the heroic efforts of the Oyneg Shabes during the war.

Ringelblum and the Left Poalei Tsiyon

Emanuel Ringelblum was born in 1900 to an impoverished Jewish family in the Galician town of Buchach, then part of the Habsburg Empire (today it forms part of Ukraine). Since Jews in Galicia, unlike in the Russian Empire, enjoyed access to higher education (they were restrained only by their financial means), Galicia was home to a relatively well-educated Jewish intelligentsia that was at the same time fervently nationalistic. After the foundation of the Second Polish Republic, Ringelblum left Galicia for the new Polish capital, Warsaw, to study history.

Emanuel Ringelblum

The Warsaw of the 1920s was a politically tumultuous city and home to Europe’s largest Jewish community. Here, Ringelblum emerged as an important figure of working class politics and historiography in inter-war Poland. In a detailed, objective and complex chapter, Kassow describes the left-wing Jewish politics that shaped Ringelblum’s outlook as a historian.

With its large Jewish population—which included not only the most oppressed layers of the working class, but also many different petty-bourgeois layers—Poland became the center of a variety of Jewish political organizations.

Next to the Bund, which split from both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in 1903, the most significant Jewish organization was the Poalei Tsiyon. The party was founded in the early 1900s. Its chief ideological influence was the Labor Zionist Ber Borochov. Attacking the Bolsheviks’ position on the Jewish question, Borochov argued that the Jewish proletariat needed its own nation-state in order both to conduct the class struggle against the bourgeoisie and to fight national oppression.

After the seizure of power by the working class in October 1917, the Bolshevik government for the first time granted full civil rights to a substantial part of Eastern European Jewry. (See also: Anti-Semitism and the Russian Revolution). In response to these developments, the Poalei Tsiyon split into a left and a right wing in 1920. (Borochov himself had turned against the revolution before his early death in December 1917.) The right wing opposed the Revolution and was oriented toward gathering support from British imperialism for the foundation of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine. In Palestine, the Right Poalei Tsiyon became the basis for David Ben-Gurion’s Ahdut HaAvoda (Labor Unity), the predecessor of the Israeli Labor Party, which played a major role in the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948.

By contrast, the Left Poalei Tsiyon (LPZ), whose own members in Russia supported the Bolsheviks in the Civil War, defended the Soviet Union and advocated world revolution. The LPZ’s claim to admission to the Third International (Comintern) was rejected by Lenin, however, as the party refused to break with the ideology of Ber Borochov. The Left Poalei Tsiyon continued to support the foundation of a Jewish nation state in Palestine, albeit on a “socialist basis.” Central to the organization’s political and cultural work was its emphasis on the significance of Yiddish culture, based on the language of the impoverished Jewish masses of Eastern Europe.

Overall, the LPZ stood significantly to the left of the better known and larger Bund, which opposed the seizure of power by the working class in 1917 and continued to work within the Second International. Many members of the LPZ and its youth organization, Yugnt (Youth), defected to the Communist Party of Poland in the late 1920s and early 30s, and both organizations often worked together closely.

Given the extraordinary impoverishment of substantial sections of Jewish workers and intellectuals and the growing anti-Semitism under the regime of Józef Piłsudski in Poland, both left-wing organizations enjoyed significant support. The Bund and the LPZ oversaw impressive networks of newspapers, ran their own schools and were active in numerous self-help organizations and trade unions. As Kassow points out:

For a young person who lived in a cellar in Lodz’s impoverished Balut or Warsaw’s Smocza Street, groups like the Bund and the LPZ were far more than mere political parties. They represented a road to self-respect and human dignity, a way to strive for ‘something better.’ (p. 35)

However, the LPZ politically did not survive the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. Kassow only hints at the impact of the changing nationality policies in the Soviet Union; the Moscow Trials; the murder by Moscow of the entire leadership and most of the membership of the Polish Communist Party, whom Stalin suspected of sympathizing with his main political opponent, Leon Trotsky; and then the dissolution of the Polish Communist Party by Stalin in 1938. One could add to this list the anti-Semitism that was used by the Stalinist bureaucracy in its struggle against the Left Opposition from the mid-1920s onward. Facing a deep political and financial crisis that began in the early 1930s, the LPZ rejoined the World Zionist Congress in 1937, on the eve of World War II.

Ringelblum became a member of the Poalei Tsiyon shortly before the party split, and then joined the left faction. He remained within the party until the end of his life. During the 1920s and 30s, Ringelblum played a leading role in the party’s youth organization, Yugnt, and focused much of his work on the education of poor Jewish youth in the LPZ’s Ovnt kursn far arbiter (Evening classes for workers).

As Warsaw was gradually replacing St. Petersburg as the center of Eastern European Jewish scholarship, Ringelblum, along with historians such as Isaac Schiper and Bela Mandelsberg, founded the Yunger Historiker Krayz (Young Historians’ Circle). Influenced by both Marxism and Zionism, these historians emphasized that historical research was a weapon in the national struggle for emancipation of the Jewish people and for combatting the growing anti-Semitism in inter-war Poland.

Emanuel Ringelblum with his son Uri in the 1930s, © Yad Vashem

Ringelblum stressed the significance of zamling (collecting material). In his opinion, the study of history had to be a collective project, engaging as many people as possible. In fact, the Jewish historians were so poor and politically isolated that they relied to a great extent on the Polish-Jewish community in order to continue their work. Ringelblum also worked as a community organizer in collaboration with the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish relief organization headquartered in the United States, trying to help impoverished Polish Jews who came under increasing political and economic pressure during the 1930s.

The Oyneg Shabes in the Warsaw Ghetto

Ringelblum’s convictions as a politician and a historian underlay much of his work during the war, when Poland, with its Jewish population of over 3 million, became the main site of the annihilation of European Jewry.

In November 1940, the Nazis established the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of its kind in Eastern Europe. Over 400,000 people (around 30 percent of the city’s population) were crowded into just 1.3 square miles (2.4 percent of the city of Warsaw). The meager food rations (184 calories per day) forced the great majority of the population to starve. Typhus and other diseases spread under conditions of extreme overcrowding and a lack of hygienic facilities. An estimated 80 percent of the many children in the ghetto were poor. By July 1942, before the beginning of the Great Deportation, around 100,000 people had died of hunger and disease.

To ameliorate the deplorable conditions and poverty, numerous political and social activists founded the so-called Aleynhilf (Self-Help). The different political parties that supported the Aleynhilf set up their own soup kitchens, many of which became sites of the ghetto’s underground press. The Aleynhilfsoon also came to play a major role in the house committees that had initially been formed spontaneously. Ringelblum was a leading figure in the Aleynhilfand, under the cover of the self-help organization, established the Oyneg Shabes in early 1941. (The term Oyneg Shabes means Joyful Sabbath in old Hebrew; the name signifies that in the beginning, the staff always met on the Sabbath.)

The Oyneg Shabes consisted of some 60 members with very different professional, political and personal backgrounds. Kassow introduces some of the outstanding representatives of the Oyneg Shabes in brief biographical sketches. They included the important Yiddish writer Gustawa Jarecka (1908–1943); the teacher Abrahm Lewin (1893–1943), like Ringelblum a member of the LPZ; the businessman and Yiddishist Shmuel Winter (1891–1943); Yitzhak Giterman (1889–1943), a left-wing Zionist and head of the Joint Distribution Committee in Poland; the writer and journalist Peretz Opoczynski (d. 1942); as well as the economists Menakhem Linder (1911–1942) and Jerzy Winkler (d. 1942). Only three members of the Oyneg Shabes were to survive the war.

In late 1942, Ringelblum wrote about the staff of the Oyneg Shabes:

Each member of the Oyneg Shabes knew that his effort and pain, his hard work and toil, his taking constant risks with the dangerous work of moving material from one place to another—that this was done in the name of a high ideal.… The Oyneg Shabes was a brotherhood, an order of brothers who wrote on their flag: readiness to sacrifice, mutual loyalty, and service to [Jewish society]. (quoted, p. 145)

Abraham Lewin with his daughter Ora before the war. Both were murdered in early 1943, © Yad Vashem

The staff of the archive collected thousands of documents about the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Striving to present as complete a picture of Jewish society in the Ghetto as possible, they investigated, among other things, the role of smuggling for the economy of the ghetto and of Poland. They also organized essay contests to gather material about the destruction of shtetls (traditional small Jewish villages) by the Nazis and on Polish-Jewish relations during the war.

The economist Menakhem Mendel Kon (1881–1943), also a member of the archive, wrote:

I consider it a sacred duty for everyone, whether proficient or not, to write down everything he has seen or heard from others about what the Germans have done.… It must all be recorded without a single fact left out. And when the time comes—as it surely will—let the world read and know what the murderers have done. When the mourners write about this time, this will be their most important material. When those who will avenge us will come to settle accounts, they will be able to rely on [our writings]. (quoted, p. 154)

Another major motif for the work of the archive was to preserve documents of Jewish life and resistance, and the legacy of the Jewish intellectual elite. As Kassow notes:

Only twenty-five years separated the birth of modern secular school systems in Hebrew and Yiddish from the Nazi onslaught. Yet this short period had produced a new intelligentsia of East European Jewish writers, teachers, economists, and journalists—an intelligentsia cut down so quickly, exterminated so totally, that Ringelblum feared that it would be totally forgotten. (p. 366)

Basing himself on the work of the Oyneg Shabes, Kassow paints a complex picture of Ghetto society with its massive social inequality and different political tendencies. He analyzes different positions on the Judenrat (Jewish Councils), as well as the behavior of the Jewish policemen and the population’s attitude toward them.

Kassow also describes the different moods within the ghetto’s population by providing numerous quotations from diaries and other testimonies. Witnessing the stunning brutality and barbarity of the Nazis—whom Abraham Lewin aptly called “twentieth century Huns”—many inhabitants of the Ghetto became deeply demoralized and pessimistic. In light of this unprecedented break-down of civilization, they started questioning the viability of the values and convictions of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

Ringelblum, too, struggled not to succumb to despair. Like many, failing to understand the impact of Stalinism in the 1920s and 30s, he struggled to comprehend the total collapse of the German working class in the 1930s. However, despite relapses into despair, Ringelblum until the end retained faith in the world revolution and human progress. In a conversation with Hersh Wasser, one of the three survivors of the archive’s staff, Ringelblum stated:

I do not see our work as a separate project, as something that includes only Jews, that is only about Jews, and that will interest only Jews. My whole being rebels against that. I cannot agree with such an approach, as a Jew, as a socialist, or as a historian. Given the daunting complexity of social processes, where everything is interdependent, it would make no sense to see ourselves in isolation. Jewish suffering and Jewish liberation and redemption are part and parcel of the general calamity [umglik] and the universal drive to throw off the hated [Nazi] yoke. We have to regard ourselves as participants in a universal [almenshlekher] attempt to construct a solid structure of objective documentation that will work for the good of mankind. Let us hope that the bricks and cement of our experience and our understanding will be able to provide a foundation. (quoted p. 387)

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Nazi regime escalated its anti-Jewish policies throughout Eastern Europe. In early 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Łódz Ghetto to the death facility Chełmno. Soon, major deportations started in Kraków. Shtetl after shtetl was wiped out and its population murdered. The scale of the Nazi murder of Jews was difficult to comprehend even for Ringelblum, who had access to much information from all across Europe.

On the basis of material forwarded to the Polish underground by the Oyneg Shabes, the BBC broadcasted in late May 1942 one of the first major news accounts of the evolving genocide. Soon thereafter, on July 22, 1942, the Great Deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto began. Within months, most of the ghetto’s population was rounded up, brought to the notoriousUmschlagplatz and deported to Treblinka, where they were all gassed. The Oyneg Shabes analyzed the impact of the Great Deportation in a break-down of the ghetto’s population by sex and age from November 1942. It found that 99 percent of the children between the ages of one and nine and almost 88 percent of the population over 50 had been murdered. Before the deportation there had been 51,458 children. By November 1942 there were only 498. In total, an estimated 265,000 Warsaw Jews were murdered between July 22 and September 21, 1942.

Warsaw Jews at the Umschlagplatz during the Great Deportation, © Yad Vashem

The archival material hitherto collected was buried in three milk cans in the first weeks of the Great Deportation. Several staff members, including Abraham Lewin and Peretz Opoczynski, nevertheless continued writing their diaries, even as their own families were at least in part sent to their death in Treblinka.

After the deportations, the mood within the ghetto changed dramatically. With almost everyone having lost much of their family, there were not only marked signs of social disintegration but also an increasing determination to offer resistance to the Nazi murderers. Many of the Oyneg Shabes members were involved in the preparations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943. In its Polish and Yiddish bulletins (Wiadomości and Miteylungen) the Oyneg Shabes warned Polish Jewry about its impending annihilation, calling upon the Jews to fight against the occupiers.

In response to the uprising, which was spearheaded by 200 youths, the Nazis set the ghetto on fire and razed it to the ground. Ringelblum and his family managed to escape before the destruction of the ghetto and eventually found refuge in a bunker (Krysia), where a Polish professor Wolski hid them along with over 30 other Jews. In March of 1944, the hide-out was discovered by the Germans (presumably because Wolski’s girlfriend betrayed him). Wolski himself and several of his family members were shot. Ringelblum was most likely tortured by the Gestapo and then taken to the ruins of the Ghetto with his family and other prisoners. When offered a way out of Poland by the Yiddish writer Yekhiel Hirschhaut without his son and wife, he refused. A few days later, Ringelblum was shot together with his family, Hirschhaut and all other prisoners in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto.

A patrol of SS men during the uprising marching through the burning Ghetto

Even in the last months of his life, Ringelblum continued his work. Kassow highlights the enormous achievement of Ringelblum’s essay on Polish-Jewish relations. Although written under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, the essay is impressively objective—Ringelblum’s credo was to write “sine ira et studio” (without hate and zealousness)—and remains one of the most important works on this subject. It tackles questions such as the anti-Jewish pogroms by sections of the Polish population that were not to be raised by historians after 1945 for many decades.

Samuel Kassow deserves great credit for bringing the history of the Oyneg Shabes and several of its towering figures to the attention of a broader, international audience. Meticulously researched and consistently objective in its account, Who Will Write Our History? is an important scholarly achievement.

One of its chief merits consists in the detailed description of the political and intellectual culture in pre-war Poland that shaped Ringelblum’s concern for historical truth. In contrast to the embittered anti-Communism among historians of 20th century Poland in particular, Kassow takes a serious and objective approach toward the politics and ideology of the Left Poalei Tsiyon and its members. If anything, one might object that Kassow’s account puts too little emphasis on the devastating impact of Stalinism on the labor movement in Poland.

While Kassow himself clearly sees Ringelblum’s orientation toward Marxism to be his greatest weakness as a historian, this book shows that it was largely the impact of Marxism and the Russian Revolution that inspired the impressive objectivity, honesty and also the optimism which marked Ringelblum’s work.

That it took more than six decades for the first comprehensive history of the Oyneg Shabes to be written and published says a lot about the political and intellectual climate following the re-stabilization of capitalism after the defeat of the German Reich in 1945. (One might also mention that, to this day, little original research into the Holocaust in Poland has been put forward by non-Jewish German historians.) Emanuel Ringelblum, in particular, has gained far too little attention from scholars and among a broader readership, both in Poland and internationally.

Upon its publication in 2007, the book met with well-deserved critical acclaim. Indiana University Press and its main editor, Janet Rabinowitch, are to be credited with producing a meticulously edited work. By now, it has been translated into several languages, including German and French. Moreover, a film based on the book is currently being planned. The volume’s success shows that the subject matter and the manner of its presentation are striking a deep chord.

Who Will Write Our History? stands out all the more in an ideological climate where, under the impact of post-modernism, the rejection of historical truth and the study of history as a science are all too prevalent.

Asked about the main message of his work, Samuel Kassow stated in a radio interview from 2009:

I think the legacy [of the Oyneg Shabes and Ringelblum] is that in times of disaster one can resist not only with guns but also with paper and with pen. Ringelblum and many other Jews understood that if the Germans would win the war, they would determine how the Jews would be remembered, that they would control the sources, they would control the memory and the image. Jews in the Ghetto, historians in the Ghetto, even if they understood that they would probably not survive … still believed it was important to leave time capsules, to leave sources, so that posterity would remember Polish Jewry, its last chapter, on the basis of Jewish sources. The real message is that history is important. It’s important to conserve documents, it’s important to conserve a record. It’s not just for antiquarians, it’s not just for librarians, but it’s really about the future of an entire people. And on a more general level, it instills a healthy respect for preserving the sense of the past.

It speaks to the great legacy of the Oyneg Shabes that, on the basis of their work, Kassow was able to bring to life in his book political and intellectual traditions and figures that fascism sought to obliterate. On many levels, Who Will Write Our History? is one of the most significant history books of recent years and deserves the broadest possible readership.

An introduction into some of the material from Oyneg Shabes is provided online by Yad Vashem.

Works by Emanuel Ringelblum published in English:

Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, Ibooks 2006.
Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War, Northwestern University Press 1992.

The diary by the Oyneg Shabes member Abraham Lewin, covering the months April 1942 to January 1943, is also available in English:

A Cup of Tears. A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto, ed. by Antony Polonsky, Basic Backwell 1989.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/25/kass-j25.html

 

R.W. Fassbinder at 70: the German filmmaker’s life on display in Berlin

By Hiram Lee
23 July 2015

German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982) was born seventy years ago this May. To honor the anniversary, a number of events have been held in Berlin.

An exhibition on display at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum until the end of August, entitled Fassbinder Now, features several artifacts from the director’s personal archives. Annekatrin Hendel’s new documentary, simply calledFassbinder, has been shown in cinemas and on German television.

Throughout July and August, Berlin’s Arsenal cinema is screening some of Fassbinder’s classic films, including three of his best works—Effie Briest(1974), Fox and His Friends (1975) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979).Fassbinder’s plays, or plays based on his films, have recently been staged at the Deutsches and Gorki Theaters.

A serious appraisal of Fassbinder’s work on the occasion of his seventieth birthday would have been most welcome. Unfortunately, the exhibition in Berlin and Hendel’s documentary do not by and large rise to that level.

©Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, Berlin

While it has certain worthwhile features, the Fassbinder Now [Fassbinder—JETZT] exhibition is a mostly superficial affair. Curators have culled a number of items from Fassbinder’s personal archives, though some of the materials chosen for inclusion are puzzling.

It is difficult to imagine why anyone should be especially interested in seeing a pinball machine once owned by the director, or his bicycle for that matter. This is not an appraisal of Fassbinder the artist, but a presentation of Fassbinder as icon or celebrity. One is even invited to take a seat on the director’s sofa.

More interesting is the collection of home video cassettes that once belonged to the filmmaker. These include the works of Douglas Sirk, of course, whose influence on Fassbinder is often noted. But his library also contained a large number of major and minor films from Orson Welles, Michael Curtiz, Howard Hawks and several other of cinema’s greatest storytellers. Fassbinder was well versed in the works of classic Hollywood and European cinema, as his own efforts demonstrate.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1970 ©Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Foto: Peter Gauhe

Most significant is the large selection of Fassbinder’s shooting scripts, handwritten notes and other working materials on view. For all the attention paid to his private life, Fassbinder appears to have spent most of his time working. He was a tremendously prolific artist, creating 41 feature films as well as numerous works for the stage during his short life.

Included in the collection are materials from his epic-length adaptation for television of Alfred Döblin’s classic novel Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), a work that held a lifelong fascination for Fassbinder, and his notes toward a film about Rosa Luxemburg, which he was preparing near the end of his life. A version of her life story would ultimately be filmed by Margarethe von Trotta, one of Fassbinder’s early collaborators, in 1986.

While such materials are worth seeing, the museum provides little context for them and offers generally poor introductions to the different pieces shown.

Tom Geens, You’re the Stranger Here, 2009 ©BFI & FILM4

Regrettably, several of the exhibition’s rooms are given over to works by contemporary artists said to follow in Fassbinder’s footsteps. You’re the Stranger Here (2009), a short film by Belgian filmmaker Tom Geens, is a nasty piece of work, in which a middle class family is victimized by an unstoppable military dictator who rapes and murders at will. There is no escape, not even an attempt is made. The film has far more in common with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s severely demoralized 1975 film Salo than it does with any of Fassbinder’s work.

A 2005 video installation by Maryam Jafri entitled Costume Party depicts a room of partygoers who adopt the dress of various social types and perform the roles associated with them. The implication is that we are all complicit in the social order and conform to this or that role, taking part in our own oppression or that of another. Apparently there are no innocent parties.

To the extent that these artists were influenced by Fassbinder at all, they have gravitated toward whatever was weakest or most pessimistic and cynical in his work. What was a limitation for Fassbinder has become a priority for them.

There is, more generally, an attempt on the part of certain middle class critics and admirers of Fassbinder to over-emphasize the director’s sexuality and play up the treatment of sexual orientation and “personal identity” in his films. The social content of his best work and his hostility to capitalism and opportunism are obscured in the process.

Hendel’s documentary Fassbinder is the summer’s other major tribute to the director. While it is a more sympathetic film than the tabloid documentaryFassbinder: To Love Without Demands (Christian Braad Thomsen), which debuted at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, both works tend to gossip about Fassbinder’s sex life and do what they can to confirm his reputation as cinema’s enfant terrible in a leather jacket (the jacket too is on display at Martin-Gropius-Bau). There is something unseemly about watching Fassbinder’s former friends and collaborators badmouth him in these documentaries, giving voice to petty jealousies and other personal grievances.

If Fassbinder only paved the way for second-rate artists and abused many of his collaborators in the process, why should anyone pay attention to him today?

Character assassination aside, Fassbinder made one of the more remarkable contributions to film in the second half of the twentieth century. One can see powerfully dramatized in his work the consequences of sacrificing one’s principles to careerism, status and the pursuit of wealth or friends in high places. With often painful accuracy, he describes the debasement of human relationships under conditions in which success is defined by those very pursuits.

Among the film clips on view in the Fassbinder Now exhibition is the devastating scene from The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971) in which the status-obsessed middle class family of a fruit peddler, now that he appears to be taking a step up the social ladder, finally permit themselves to speak openly to this black sheep of the family. One by one, the family members freely—and with relief—admit how they had hated and been embarrassed by his manner of making a living. The fruit peddler suffers in silence. It is a deeply affecting sequence. There are many more such examples to be found throughout Fassbinder’s work, especially in the films made between 1969 and 1976.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michael Ballhaus on the set of Beware of a Holy Whore, 1970-71 ©Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Foto: Peter Gauhe

During his career, Fassbinder tackled virtually every period in German history from the late nineteenth century onward. There was the minor aristocracy of the late 1800s in Effie Briest, the Weimar Republic in Berlin Alexanderplatz(1980), fascism and the Second World War in Lili Marleen (1981), the postwar period and the “economic miracle” of The Marriage of Maria Braun and radical terrorism of the 1970s in The Third Generation (1979).

Two films about anti-immigrant chauvinism—Katzelmacher (1969) and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)—appear even more relevant today than at the time of their release.

Fassbinder saw a thread of continuity running through German history. In film historian Thomas Elsaesser’s Fassbinder’s Germany: History, Identity, Subject(1996), one finds the following comment in which the director spoke about his film Lili Marleen: “[It] is my first attempt to make a film about the Third Reich. And I will certainly be making other films about the Third Reich. But that’s another subject, just as the Weimar Republic is another subject. This cycle will also be continued. Maybe at the end, a total picture will emerge of the German bourgeoisie since 1848 … I think, there is a logic in all this. Just as I think that the Third Reich wasn’t just an accident, a regrettable lapse of history, as it is so often portrayed. The Third Reich does have a sort of logic, as well as what carried over from the Third Reich to the Federal Republic and the GDR.”

However, an interest in history is not the same thing as understanding it. Of course, the Third Reich was not an accident, but neither was it the inevitable and “organic” outcome of German history. The horrors of Hitlerism were only made possible by the historic betrayal of the working class by Social Democracy and Stalinism in the years 1914 to 1933, in the course of which numerous opportunities to overthrow German capitalism and prevent the barbarism of Nazism presented themselves.

The concrete problem of the crisis of working class leadership in the 20th century—above all, the life-and-death conflict between Stalinism and Trotskyism—was largely a closed book to Fassbinder and other radicalized intellectuals and artists in Germany in the 1980s. Many settled for a relatively lazy, semi-anarchist bohemianism and consoled themselves with the thought that the critical political questions of the previous half-century were “old hat” or solely the concern of “Old Leftists.” And they paid a high price as a consequence.

Another remark featured in Elsaesser’s Fassbinder’s Germany is telling. “Freud sometimes seems more important than Marx,” says Fassbinder. “The changing of productive relations in society and the exploration of interpersonal communication must be achieved in parallel fashion … I find that psychoanalysis from childhood on should be the right of every citizen.”

This sort of Freudianized Marxism, associated with the Frankfurt School, held sway over the student protest movement of the late 1960s, which played a prominent political role in Fassbinder’s formative years.

Through this body of thought, many of his generation were directed away from the most vital questions of class society and directed instead toward individual psychology, sexuality and consumerism. According to the co-founders of the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer and Adorno, capitalist society had developed powerful mechanisms to integrate the broad masses of the population into their own oppression. One of the products of this political-intellectual process in Germany today is the pro-imperialist Green Party.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, 1972 ©Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation, Berlin

It is interesting to note that Fassbinder’s film The Bitters Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) was subtitled “A medical history” and not, for example, “A social history.” Effie Briest carried the cumbersome subtitle: “Many people who are aware of their own capabilities and needs just acquiesce to the prevailing system in their thoughts and deeds, thereby confirm and reinforce it.”

This was a demoralized perspective, an outlook that emerged following the trauma of fascism and the Second World War and the brutal crimes of Stalinism, taking root under conditions in which German capitalism was able temporarily to restore its equilibrium after the war.

Fassbinder’s best films evinced a real sympathy for ordinary people, but only rarely did he demonstrate any great confidence in them. Toward the end of his career, in the last years of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, he churned out one story after another in which individuals compromise themselves, conspire with reactionary elements and are destroyed in the process. Something in him had been fatally worn down. He died, tragically, in 1982 from a drug overdose. He was only 37 years old.

A critical appreciation of Fassbinder’s work on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of his birth, taking up the significant strengths and weaknesses in his work and placing them in the appropriate context, would be of great value. This is not to be found in the Fassbinder Now exhibition or in the recent documentaries of his life.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/07/23/fass-j23.html