Archive for the ‘Intellectuals’ Category

Ghassan Kanafani

by As’ad AbuKhalil

In the early 1970s, three Palestinian intellectuals – Ghassan Kanafani, Majed Abu Sharar and Kamal Nasser – collaborated to form the Palestine Liberation Organization’s information office.

Within a decade, Israeli terrorists managed to kill all three – Kanafani in 1972, Nasser in 1973 and Abu Sharar in 1981.

The Zionist movement has never bothered to distinguish in its killing campaigns between civilians and military targets: in fact, on many occasions the Israeli government (or even the Zionist movement before the establishment of the occupation state) targeted civilians on purpose to create terror among the population. Presumably, Israel wanted to kill Kanafani and silence his voice. Yet the plan did not work as intended.

Forty-five years this month since his assassination, Kanafani’s presence is (more…)

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Anwar Shaikh, Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016, £35.99; reviewed by Michael Roberts

Anwar Shaikh is one of the world’s leading economists who draws on Karl Marx and the classical economists (“political economy”, if you like). He has taught at New York’s New School for Social Research for more than 30 years, and authored three books and six dozen articles.1 This is his most ambitious work. As Shaikh says, it is an attempt to derive economic theory from the real world and then apply it to real problems. He applies the categories and theory of classical economics to all the major economic issues, including those that are supposed to be the province of mainstream economics, like supply and
demand, relative prices in goods and
services, interest rates, financial asset prices and technological change.

A classical approach

Shaikh says that his approach “is very different from both orthodox economics and the dominant heterodox tradition”.2 It is the classical approach as opposed to the neoclassical one. In other words, he rejects the approach that starts from “perfect firms, perfect individuals, perfect knowledge, perfectly selfish behaviour, rational expectations, etc” and then (more…)

downloadby The Spark

Before electronic computers, and multifunctioning calculators, there were human computers. Black and white women mathematicians were tasked with turning numbers into meaningful data for NASA. Their calculations made possible many ground-breaking missions. These calculations, done by hand, with pencil and paper, often took more than a week to complete, filling six to eight notebooks with data and formulas.

Hidden Figures follows three black women “computers”: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – and their work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in the ‘60s.

All three of these women were brilliant mathematicians living and working in segregated and sexist Virginia. The film gives a sense of the indignities and humiliations these women endured. At one point Katherine Johnson is sent to a new department to calculate the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s space flight. The men – all white – were not (more…)

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by O’Shay Muir                                    

In Adam Curtis’ new documentary film, Hypernormalisation, he describes the spirit of our time as one in which people have lost faith in the political status-quo. Due to this loss of faith, popular demagogues like newly-elected US president Donald Trump have come to fill the void (Curtis, 2016). Curtis argues that political figures like Trump are the creation of the cultural logic of modern consumer societies (2016). Deformed chimeras that have escaped the control of the sorcerers who created them.

Curtis argues that from the 1970s onwards, the worsening economic and political conditions of many western nations resulted in a retreat into fantasy for both the right and the left (2016). Not wanting to, or unable to, comprehend the social complexities of the time, the right opted for the fantasy that the logic of the market could solve the crisis (Curtis, 2016). This faith in the market was combined with the belief that technological progress in the field of information and communications was giving rise to a new form of capitalism. This new capitalism was believed to be free from the limitations of material production and able to avoid speculative risk through the advance of information technologies.

Illusions on left and right

The hope that the right placed in their economic models and the advances in information and communication technologies led to the fantasy that the world was entering a stage of capitalism freed from the periodic crises of the past (Curtis, 2016). The left on the other hand, disheartened by their inability to create revolutionary social change during the upheavals of the late 1960s and 1970s, retreated into self-made fantasies of creating revolutionary social change from outside economic and universal political struggle (Curtis, 2016). Instead they increasingly turned to creating new communities and identities outside the cultural and political mainstream (Curtis, 2016). Militant political agitation was replaced with artistic expression and universal emancipatory politics was replaced with supporting the isolated struggles of marginalised groups while fetishizing the alienation of such groups from one another in a positive light.

For both the right and the left this created a bizarre fantasy world, where both sides could convince themselves that what they were doing was (more…)

images-2by Sarah Black

Art critic, novelist, writer and academic John Berger died last week, aged 90. Amid the media accolades, Suzanne Moore writes an opinion piece for The Guardian entitled ‘I do not recognise the stereotype of John Berger as a dour Marxist – his work embodied hope’. Though the headline is provocative, Moore’s piece does remember the man as kind, interested and warm.

Berger originally trained as a painter at the Chelsea School of Art, but stopped painting in the late 40s, as the post-war images-1nuclear threat seemed to him to render his work trivial. Instead he threw his energies into writing. He managed to enrage the art and media establishment by his pro-Soviet stance, as well as his criticism of big figures in the art world, such as Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (whose work he felt further mystified art). Berger wrote extensively throughout his career – not just criticism, but fiction and other non-fiction works. In 1972 he won the Man Booker prize for his novel, G. His 1975 book, The seventh man, focuses on the plight of the urban poor.

Berger’s warmth comes across in his most well-known work,Ways of seeing. Unlike contemporary programmes of the time, this 1972 BBC four-part series of films-turned-essays was not presented by a stuffy old man in an art gallery with a suit and a pipe. Filmed in an electronics workshop, Berger, sporting an Aztec-patterned shirt, talks to the viewers at home in a laid-back, conversational manner – the aesthetics of the production have a dynamism that transcends the very 1970s look. Berger places advertising images next to still lifes and soft porn beside nudes, in order to make the viewer interrogate the image, the artist and the subject. His aim was to demystify western European painting from its holy status (where criticism’s purpose was to help us pray) and instead find a different way of (more…)

The article below first appeared in the Living section of revolution magazine (#6, May-June 1998), a print predecessor to this site.  The original article appeared under the title “Meddling in generics”.

downloadBeneath Gattaca’s serene exterior lie the clichés of the nervous nineties, argues Andrew Welch

The most striking aspect of Gattaca is its serene nineties style.  Every shot has obviously been carefully planned and the locations carefully chosen.  Newcomer Andrew Niccol has crafted a pleasantly non-commercial film – obviously not cynically constructed from the usual marketing analyses and box office recipes.  Niccol has written an excellent screenplay, with strong dialogue, balanced pace and, as a director, he displays an eye for period style.

Where it likely appealed to the corporate cinema machine is in its highly-marketable treatment of contemporary nervousness about genetic technology.

As far as its science fiction credentials go it is a sign of the times that there has been no doubt that this is one of the greats.  One reviewer gushed, barely able to contain himself: “with Gattaca we’ve finally discovered our generation’s 2001 – a film so boldly important, so vastly intelligent and so beautifully rendered that it will likely revolutionise the sci-fi genre like Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam, Niccol dares to elevate the sci-fi realm to poetry.”

Yet behind this outwardly quite captivating film are a number of (more…)

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Barbara Gregorich and Phil Passen were members of the US Socialist Workers Party from 1965-72, and key figures in the Proletarian Orientation tendency within the SWP and then in the Class Struggle League 1972-74.  While maintaining their anti-capitalist views, Barbara became a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and Phil  is a musician on the hammered dulcimer.  In the interview below they talk about growing up in 1950s America, the winds of change of the 1960s, their politicisation and activity in that era, their involvement in the US SWP an how and why they began questioning its politics and organisational methods, how they came to a parting of the ways with it, their subsequent political activity, the decline of the left and the fate of the original new social movements of that era, and their assessment of politics in the United States today.

Philip Ferguson: Could you tell me a bit about your backgrounds?  What was it like growing up in the States in the 1950s and early 1960s?

Barbara Gregorich: I grew up in a small town in Ohio. My mother and father worked in my uncle’s bar as bar tenders until I was ten, then my father worked as a millwright in a steel mill and my mother worked at home. One of my uncles had a dairy farm less than half a mile from our house, and I spent much of my time there, with my cousins. I loved being outdoors and helping with milking and other farm chores. After I graduated from high school I attended Kent State University, which was maybe 35 miles away. I graduated with a degree in American Literature and also one in American History. I received an MA degree from the University of Wisconsin, in Literature, and I did post graduate work at Harvard, in the History of American Civilization.

I worked as an Instructor of English at Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College while living in Cleveland, Ohio. Then Phil and I moved to Boston and I worked as a typesetter, first for a small job shop, then at the Boston Globe. We moved to Chicago, Illinois, and I worked as a typesetter for the Chicago Tribune, then as a postal letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office. I had always wanted to be either a baseball player or a writer. Baseball is closed to women, so I became a writer. In 1979 I went freelance,  which I’ve been to this day.

download (3)What it was like growing up in the States during the 1950s and 1960s is an interesting question, because of course one doesn’t think, “I’m growing up in the ’50s . . . and now I’ve transitioned to the ’60s!” But a person is definitely aware of the characteristics of the decade he/she grows up in, if not at the moment, then in retrospect, or in contrast to the next decade. Living in the 1950s, I was aware that I didn’t like many things about society. I hated fashion, especially as it applied to girls and women. I hated petticoats and crinolines, the latter “required” for the felted poodle skirts fashion of my junior-high years. I hated popcorn socks and pencil skirts and I refused to put my hair in curlers: torture!

What I wanted to wear was t-shirts and jeans, clothes I could function in. I also wondered why my fellow students flocked to and embraced each fashion that came along.  I can’t say that I was aware of politics when in junior and senior high, but standing in the early 1960s and looking back on the 1950s, I felt that it was a very conservative, unquestioning decade, and I was glad to be out of it.

Compared to the ’50s, the 1960s were a blast a fresh air, with people my age questioning what was right and wrong in society, and acting to make changes.

download (2)Phil Passen: I grew up in a small town in Michigan. My father, whose father had been a bricklayer who died from a fall on the job, owned a children’s clothing store in Monroe, Michigan, a small town between Detroit and Toledo. My mother’s parents had died when she was an infant, and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. I don’t know what their class background was, but I assume skilled workers or lower petty-bourgeois. My parents declared bankruptcy in 1960, and lost the store and our house primarily because of medical expenses for my mom’s various illnesses. I remember that this was the first time I thought about anything political, even though I didn’t realize at the time that it was a political question. But I wondered how medical expenses could be so great that they could cost people something they had worked so very hard for. My father was an Eisenhower Republican, and my mother was a Stevenson Democrat, and none of that made any sense to me.

passncon2I remember a palpable difference between the ’50s and ’60s. At some point early in the ’60s I realized that the stodgy, uninteresting, unexciting coat-and -tie atmosphere of the ’50s was gone — replaced by rock and roll, the Beatles and Stones, Bob Dylan, beats, greasers, art films, and an air of excitement. Hard to explain, but I remember feeling the change very strongly. And in the background, at least for me, but something I was very conscious of, was the Civil Rights Movement. I knew something was different.

Phil F: What made you first begin to question the existing state of things?

Phil P: Unquestionably, (more…)