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The white-Left Part 1: The two meanings of white

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

White rage among Louis Proyect's "Marxist Scholars & Activists"

This is the time of year when accounts must be reconciled, summaries calculated, and the books closed on various chapters of the past so as to start the new year fresh. As 2016 draws to a close, I must account for my experiences with one small corner of the Left around  Louis Proyect's "Marxist Scholars & Activists" email list serve. I am documenting this history because it is a good example of the way in which white supremacist domination of the Left is blocking progress towards a much needed revolution in the United States, and has actually help put a white nationalist regime in the White House.

So who is Louis Proyect and why is it important that he calls himself a Marxist?

Karl Marx 1818-1883
Friedrich Engels 1820-1895
Louis Proyect is a Jill Stein supporter and occasional writer for counterpunch. He has also run an active Marxist email discussion list for about eighteen years. The basic critique of capitalism made by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels over a hundred years ago remains valid today and the fundamental scientific theories and methods pioneered by them still remain essential to revolutionary progress. It is precisely because of this that they have been so badly maligned, distorted and misused over the decades. I was active on this list for most of the past year and it gave me an up close look at how this election played out in at least one Marxist circle.  Frankly, the main problems with the people's revolutions in Libya and Syria is that Marxism, also known as scientific socialism, isn't guiding them. Clearly, the wisdom of Marx and Engels didn't counsel the Green Party this year either. In all cases, the reason is the same, the corruption of those who claim to be Marxists. So in the interest of rooting out this corruption with history and exposure, I offer this inside look at how the election discussion developed among one small group of Green Party Marxists.

The National Question and the Election on Marxmail

In a heated discussion thread Subject line: [Marxism] victims of Trumpette violence? Kevin Lindemann and Cathy Campo ended a reply to me with:
It is somewhat presumptuous of you to make confident assertions about the dynamic between experienced organizers and new activists in Chicago. Marilyn Katz has first-hand knowledge of it; Joe Iosbaker has first-hand knowledge of it; you don't.

I fear this thread is becoming repetitive.
To which Louis Proyect chimed in:
On 3/15/16 11:55 AM, Kevin Lindemann and Cathy Campo via Marxism wrote:
I fear this thread is becoming repetitive.
And that prompted this eloquent response from Manuel Barrera, 15 Mar:
These two replies are exactly why Clay (and I) often comment about the "Whiteness" of these kinds of discussions. How dare someone like Clay press a point when he is challenged and how convenient it becomes for White radicals to judge such responses as "repetitive" and others assenting so as, essentially, to signal "they" have ended the conversation for us. I was about to reply to Clay for what I believe were his mistaken views on issues of "localism" and the perception that he is being challenged because he has nothing to say if he isn't "there". However, the discussion is considered ended because it is "repetitive", which to any activist of color engaged in numerous political debates has always meant that "our" desire to engage in debate is subject to dismissal at the behest of Whites who simply don't [want] to hear what we have to say or consider a contrary view: especially from people of color or women.

I do not even agree with Clay on the issues in this thread, but not because I believe that his method--to disagree by metaphor or short commentary indicating a point of view--is "repetitive" or otherwise exhausting the conversation. I have more in common with Cathy's and Kevin's (glad to see that the last message from Cathy was in her own voice rather than as a "couple"). However, I am forced to come to Clay's defense because of the utter dismissive, thoroughly privileged, "entitled" attitude that "repetitive" and "yup" so drippingly convey.
Louis's reply to Manuel was:
Nonsense. I can recognize when people are repeating themselves. If there is anything I have learned after moderating Marxmail for 18 years on May first, it is that.
Manuel Barrera had boldly criticized white chauvinist practises on the Marxmail list and Louis dismissed him with the one word "Nonsense." That thread drew the interest of 21 comments to that point and continued for a couple more. After that, I pretty much stopped posting to the list until August. Louis Proyect didn't like it when I started posting again.

Louis Proyect and the Green Party

Louis Proyect saw the election as an opportunity to build the Green Party and didn't think the Left should concern itself with the outcome because it wouldn't make any difference who won. Just days after Trump was nominated he posted this to his blog:
For many on the left, politics has become personality-driven as if our vote in November will have any major impact on what the ruling class decides to do about wars, the economy, killer cops, global warming or any of the other major problems facing us. In the final analysis, the state is the executive committee of the ruling class and will remains so as long as capitalism exists.
If Trump is elected, we have to mobilize to stop him in his tracks. The same thing goes for Hillary Clinton. As the economic situation continues to favor the billionaires they represent, we will have the opportunity to get across a radical message in a way that we haven’t since the 1930s. Let’s not waste that opportunity on ill-conceived maneuvering in the two-party system that needs to be abolished with the capitalist system it stands upon.
Like many in the Green Party Left, he saw no significant differences between the two evils, but he directed this critical fire against Clinton far more than Trump, probably because he assumed Clinton would win and he was just bringing forward the artillery he expected to be using against her after the election. That he fully expected Clinton to win was revealed by comments he made on the Marxmail list as early as June when he replied to Max:
I will buy you a bottle of Johnny Walker Black if Trump gets elected.
Ironically, he also posted this very prophetic warning from Micheal Albert, ZNET, 27 June 2016:
"What I should say is, yes, a large turnout for the Greens (and perhaps the abstention vote, too) can help inspire and even develop an organized, sustained opposition. But, to accumulate Green votes or abstentions and have Trump win would undo any benefits of the dissident tally under a mountain of debits due to Trump wielding state power. If we have lots of Green votes and lots of abstentions, but we get Trump in the Oval Office, we have not achieved the best possible outcome we could. More, nothing about wanting to develop a powerful, organized, sustained, left opposition is inconsistent with wanting Clinton to win the election itself. In fact, wanting Trump to lose is one aspect of wanting the most powerful left after the election."
Louis Proyect's three word rebuttal was: "what a jackass," and he poo-pooed talk of Trump's support for Putin:
If Trump truly was in bed with Putin, there would be a Trump Tower in Moscow by now, if not several.
And made fun of any suggestion we should support Clinton just to stop Trump:
So we need a popular front against Trump with Clinton standing in for FDR. Tragedy... Farce...

The National Question in August

5 August 2016, one of the few non-white members of this list, Joaquin Bustelo, left a very critical comment, all of which is quoted below:
So, like, I decided to drop in on one of my old haunts, the Marxism List. Lots of posts about Syria, so I decided to do a little research with the CTRL-F key combo.

Posts containing the word Syria since Aug. 1: 10

Posts containing the word Latino or Hispanic or Mexican or undocumented: 1, but actually that was the one I just sent so it doesn't really count because I sent it precisely because as far as this list is concerned, it looked like we'd met the same fate as Columbus's fourth ship: not only had we fallen off the edge, but everyone pretended we never even existed.

So make it:

Syria 10
Spics 0

And you can go back in the list archives and your count for Syria will keep rising, and your count for beaners won't.

Except for that one excerpt from an article about how dare a greaser spic like Lin Manuel Miranda not just play Alexander Hamilton, but conceive and write the whole damn musical about the man.

Maybe I'll write something more about that, generally on the theme of, scratch a liberal and find a pig. But for now I'm done.

Amith R.G. responded sarcastically:

How are we doing
Fortunately, Manuel Barrera called him to account:
Amith, check the bourgeois national chauvinism. Joaquín is Puerto Rican, I am Chicano, there are a few White guys playing pretend "Mexicans" on this list and, you know, Cuba is full of Cubans. Such racist epithets only expose your backwardness and render anything you say insupportable.
Amith replied that he was just trying to increase the search count for Manuel, as if that was his real complaint.

How I got banned from Marxmail

I joined Marxmail in April 2012 at Louis Proyect's invitation after he discovered my writings on Libya and Syria and saw that my views closely aligned this his, then. But even then, I found this Marxist group less than comradely. One of my first posts about Libya drew this comment:
Perhaps Claiborne has confused it with Sesame Street?
Four years later, when I suggested that black people saw very good reasons for supporting Hillary Clinton as a less evil alternative to Donald Trump, Louis Proyect replied, pointing to her husband's record:
So Clinton is "better" for Blacks. Well, she says so. Does it matter that her husband put an end to Aid to Families with Dependent Children that according to researchers reduced the average life span of a mother by a half a year? Probably not since the Black church, the Black political class, Black celebrities, every white liberal and most Black radicals are in agreement that she is "better" than Trump.
In my response, I summed up my basic stand on the election in one paragraph. This was 10 August 2016:
The problem is, that while Hillary Clinton may be just another Democrat, Donald Trump is the leader of a while supremacist movement of birthers and more that has hijacked the Republican party. While it is true that Hillary Clinton, like Barack Obama, supports the fundamental policies that support the white supremacist system, Donald Trump represents a much more aggressive form of white supremacy and if he is elected, it will be almost exclusively by white voters who supported this campaign that is making white chauvinism its center piece. These are critical realities of election year 2016 in the United States that Jill Stein's campaign is seeking to obscure in its very dangerous claim that it really doesn't matter if Donald Trump becomes our next POTUS
This drew the response from Louis Proyect that explains why I quoted Joaquin extensively above. In fact, I had to look it up to understand his reference below. It also contained his first threat to ban me from the list:
I don't need this demagogic race-baiting bullshit from either Clay or Joaquin. The next time I get even a whisper of it from them or anybody else, I will begin unsubbing people. After 18 years of moderating Marxmail, I have learned to figure out when people are tired of the list.
I will vote for Hillary Clinton on the same day I will hail the Chinese bureaucrats.
I replied:
Louis, Just to be clear. If Trump would win because Clinton was one vote short, would you still refuse to vote for her?
To which Louis Proyect responded:
I don't deal in hypotheticals. More to the point, I am for a left party in the USA.
Finally, isn't it time to recognize that the Trump campaign is toast? The numbers are devastating.
Another reason he so strongly opposed Hillary Clinton is that she was one of 75 senators that voted to give President George Bush the authorization to use military force in Iraq 13 years ago:
As senator, Hillary Clinton voted for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan that has led to a million deaths. Whatever faults there are in Jill Stein's position on Syria, it is only a position. I would never back a candidate for president who voted for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Clay, of course, is entitled to his own opinion.
Jill Stein and most of the Green Party Left base their claim that Hillary Clinton is warmonger first and foremost on her support for the armed protection of civilians in Libya and Syria, but Louis Proyect is "plagued" by relative clarity on those questions, so he is condemned to use this relatively feeble argument to call her a warmonger.

Then Carl G. Estabrook chimed in as to why Trump was really the lesser evil:
Clinton is both a neoliberal (more inequality) and a neocon (more war); Trump isn’t.
On 1 Sept, Louis Proyect again stated his strong opposition to Clinton:
I would rather be waterboarded than vote for Hillary Clinton.
And a few days later he tried to end all discussion on this political mailing list of a presidential election still more than two months away:
This thread on whether or not to vote for Clinton has reached the saturation point. People, including me, are repeating themselves. We may come back to it at some point but I want to close the discussion on it for the time being.
But when I called Black Agenda Report pro-Trump, after it published "Trump Way to the Left of Clinton on Foreign Policy – In Fact, He’s Damn Near Anti-Empire," Louis Proyect came back with:
Yeah, well, BAR is as "pro-Trump" as me, Jill Stein, and anybody else who doesn't want to join the Hillary Clinton express. If you want to use Marxist language to make this bogus argument even slightly credible, you need to say that we are "objectively pro-Trump". When you throw in "objectively", it gives you the necessary wiggle room.
Look again at the BAR headline, and by all means, read the article, for example:
“Trump has rejected the whole gamut of U.S. imperial war rationales, from FDR straight through to the present.”

If the Bernie Sanders campaign has propelled the word “socialism” – if not its actual meaning – into common, benign American usage, Donald Trump may have done the world an even greater service, by calling into question the very pillars of U.S. imperial policy: the NATO alliance; the U.S. nuclear “umbrella”;...
No wiggle room is necessary.

Mid-September Louis Proyect posted a piece "written on FB by [his] old friend from Bard College Richard Greener" titled "The presidential horse race" that claimed all the polling that showed a tight race were bogus. It ended:
When the totals are in and Hillary Clinton is easily elected you will not hear one word from the “pretend journalists” on TV about how badly they missed the results.
I only recall this because central to this so-called Marxist Green Party strategy was the faulty conclusion that Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in, so beating up on her could do no harm, and because now Louis Proyect is saying that he never expressed an opinion as to who he expected to win. The next day he posted another piece about the election to the list Hillary Clinton Takes Aim at Voters Drifting Toward Third Party, but after I replied:
a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump
That is the bottom line in this election
Glenn Kissack remembered the new rules:
This is really getting repetitive. I got it the first time, the tenth time, the twentieth time: Vote for Hillary.

Weren’t we supposed to refrain from debating this?
To which Louis Proyect replied:
I should have said something about this. I decided that I couldn't impose a ban on "lesser evil" voting for Clinton because it is impossible to block discussion of the 2016 elections since they are just too dominant in the news and analysis on the left to ignore. I certainly resent Clay making the same points over and over again but at least we can assume that after November 2nd, he'll move on to other matters.
November 2nd? Did he know something about that date that I'm unaware of, or was he just confused about when the election he wanted to ban from discussion was actually taking place? As we shall see, he couldn't wait until November 8th, or even November 2nd to silence me on his list.

Louis Proyect began October by implying that if the Green Party was mostly white, the problem wasn't with them, and restating his absolute revulsion at the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton:
The CPUSA had a very mixed record on Black liberation. While being on the front lines of the civil rights movement, it was hostile to Black nationalism--accusing Malcolm X of dividing the working class, etc. It also propagandized for supporting Democrats just like Clay is doing now.

If the Greens have a mostly white membership, it is not because of its program. For example, Jill Stein favors reparations for slavery as opposed to Hillary Clinton supporter Adolph Reed, who despite his brief membership in the Trotskyist movement, argues that the call for reparations will divide the working class.
supporting the Democratic Party candidates in 2016 would make me feel irreparably damaged. Clay of course is entitled to his own opinions.
Presumably now with the alternative Trump presidency, he doesn't feel so bad.

On 4 October, the English language Middle East website Muftah published Louis Proyect's The Green Party and Syria, in which he attempts to defend Jill Stein.
Less than four hours after I announced plans on his list to submit this response to Muftah, Louis Proyect invited me to unsubscribe myself, warning:
Clay, the next time you make this kind of outrageous amalgam between Marxmail subscribers like me who back Jill Stein and fascism, I will unsub you. Once upon a time you were a constructive member of the list.
He was referring to this statement I'd made in an earlier post in which I pointed to the "chauvinist attacks" on the Libyan revolution being promoted within the Green Party attacks on Clinton, and said:
Louis may embrace his new friends but I stand by my defense of the Libyan revolution...Its no accident that US Greens turn out to be big supporters of fascism worldwide.
Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka are the US Green Party standard bearers, and they both support Assad and speak well of Putin. Both of those leaders are fascists, so the facts are undeniable, but speaking truth to power usual results in a penalty. Six minutes after he warned me against stating such "outrageous" facts, he went ahead and unsubscribed me before I could post anything else to the list, saying:
Just after posting this [the public chastisement and warning - Clay], I realized that there is no point retaining Clay Claiborne on Marxmail and unsubbed him. 3 months of his provocations were tolerated by me because he hadn't caused problems in the past.
FYI 3 months ago, I started causing problems by penning responses like this:
The failure of the [White] Left on racism is not to be mocked. It is a tragedy and the main problem holding back world revolution.
Maybe, the point of not unsubbing me immediate after warning me could have been standing by his "warning" as if it was his word. It would seem a Proyect "warning" has something in common with a Putin "ceasefire." The problem is corruption on the Left.

After I had been banned, and couldn't respond, the Greens felt free to pile on like this from Thomas F Barton:
The labeling of US Greens as "big supporters of fascism" is slander, of the kind pioneered by the Stalinist filth who denounced the followers of Trotsky as agents of Hitler. The stench and methodology are no different.
and Mark Lause:
A simpler explanation than Stalinism is that it's simply a variation of the stupidities the Clinton camp peddles ...there's no way to have a rational discourse when the contest is about proving the strength of your feelings with a willingness to be irrational.
Well, allusions to "filth" and "stench"; "stupidity" and "irrationality" have been central psychological underpinnings of the white supremacist characterization of black people since they first brought us here on slave ships, and I've been kicked out of better places than that.

Louis Proyect's defense of Jill Stein's betrayal of the Syrian people is weak, and he has no response to my rebuttal except to try to shut me up where he can. Its his list so he can play dictator, but his banning me from it just provides one more example of why the corrupt US Left remains small, white and ineffective.

Pre-Election Witch Hunt

6 November 2016 after Jeff Meisner wrote :
It is sickening to see much of the American left playing out the anti-Clinton theme as if they can't figure out that this is the way you increase the vote for the (near-) fascist Trump. After all, no one has much nice to say about either viable candidate, so the way you support the one is by trashing the other so they will lose the "unpopularity contest" that the US election has become.
Amith R. G responded:
Also, if I remember correctly Clay was banned for reducing anti-Clinton sentiment to Trump apologetics. How about some equal treatment? God knows the list would lose nothing.
The point is simple: focusing on Trump's disgusting record has in fact been used to obscure Hillary Clinton's warmongering
7 November 2016 after Jeff posted a link to my piece in Muftah, with the comment:
Personally I don't think the Stein campaign is of great importance, but this piece also takes on broader questions of Syria and the (Western) left, and the way principles can be so easily compromised.
Louis Proyect responded:
Jeff, I have no idea of what your connection to Marxism is but when you speak of principles, there is none more sacrosanct that refusing to vote for bourgeois parties.
and told him to read V.I. Lenin on the Cadets. These Marxist scholars think words written by Lenin over a hundred years ago decide the important questions of this election when Lenin himself was only addressing this struggle of his times, not writing a bible for all revolutions. To this Jeff responded:
I'm glad you used the word "sacrosanct" rather than "well thought through in relation to the immediate context." Indeed, if you had asked me in previous years I would have used your exact formulation. Now I would change the "sacrosanct" principle to refusing to SUPPORT bourgeois parties. People should vote against Trump in order to stop what could be a fascist take-over (a danger that also exists if he loses the vote), and Clinton should absolutely NOT be supported. Marxists should tell the truth about her, and also the truth about Trump, neither of which deserves support, and then choose the best voting TACTIC. Just saying that they are both pro-capitalist could be a repeat of the ultraleft Stalinist tact in 1933 where Hitler was just another bourgeois politician, in fact one that would be easier to defeat subsequently. Right.
He then went on to suggest that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, the vocal Bernie supporters on the Marxist list would have voted for him. Addressing only Jeff's comment about Hitler, Louis responded:
You need to read Leon Trotsky on the rise of fascism in Germany. I can't waste bandwidth explaining the ABC's to you but you at least need to be more familiar with Marxism on such matters before embarrassing yourself.
If there is one annoying thing about most revolutionaries of all stripes it is that they are always trying to recruit you, but not these Marxist Scholars, if you're not quite their cup of tea, they want to drive you away. Other list members threw in some more quotes from Marx they thought settled the matter of what to do today, but when someone remembered that Karl Marx supported Abraham Lincoln, writing to him:
We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.
David Walters went ballistic:
It is absolutely historically GROTESQUE to compare voting for Abraham Lincoln to Hillary Clinton. Are you stark raving mad, Thomas?
The day before the election was a busy one on Marxmail. Ken Hiebert wrote:
A vote for Clinton is not only a wasted vote for the status quo, it is a vote against the Green Party’s challenge to the two-party system of corporate rule.
Then added:
In order to vote for the lesser danger, you need to establish who is the lesser danger.
Gary MacLennan posted his opinion from afar:
I argued with all the power I could that in no shape or form should we buy into any variation of the lesser of two evils rubbish. [That for me is 'sacrosanct'btw]. If I lived in the States I would vote Stein, if I could. Otherwise I would abstain and loudly at that.
Mark Lause writes that the real question
is whether the party has actually built anything out of this campaign?
and then says about "voting for the lesser danger":
It's the nature of the beast that this is a fruitless exercise.

Post-election recover

Two days after the election Louis Proyect recommended Bob Buzzanco on the Trump Victory on his blog, which made it sound something like a proletariat win:
Donald Trump was opposed, vigorously, by Wall Street, by the media, by the ruling class, by other mega-billionaires like Cuban, Buffett, Gates. And he won. In a very fucked-up and dysfunctional way, it means democracy won out. The people beat the oligarchy.
Never mind the pesky facts like the Dow Jones soared to over 19,000 with small cap stocks up 11% between 11/8 and 11/22, so Wall St. wasn't too unhappy. Newsbusters reported that Trump got "1,773 minutes of evening news airtime during the first eight months of the year, far ahead of Clinton’s 1,020 minutes of coverage." Hr had plenty of billionaires behind him and has since brought many more on board. "The people beat the oligarchy"? Well, we will see about that.

When I reminded Louis Proyect of his prediction in a tweet:
He commented on the list he had banned me from:
Clay is funny. He tweeted about me predicting a Clinton victory as if I had any real idea of who would win. The only thing I brought to the table was a hostility to bourgeois parties that I learned in the Trotskyist movement in the 1960s
Checking Marxmail readonly online one last time just before publishing this I can see little has changed. Louis Proyect certainly has a unique way of building Marxist unity. 1 December 2016  he replied to a comrade who had criticized a piece on a website with which Louis Proyect is associated:
I wonder what you were writing 50 years ago that was so brilliant. North Star is trying to relate to young radicals not people like you who probably put their teeth in a jar before going to sleep at night.
So-called Leftists like these are controlling the institutions revolutionaries should be fighting from. This is why they must be dislodged and a new Left built.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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