Louis N. Proyect (1945-2021), Light Saber of Truth

Michael D. Yates (27 August 2021):

It is with great sadness that I announce my good friend, Louis Proyect, has died. He had a serious illness for some time. He died peacefully in his sleep on August 25. I will miss him greatly, and I assume you will as well. Louis was a voracious reader, and almost every day, he posted links to articles from a wide variety of sources on multiple subjects, from politics and economics to music and philosophy to physics and ecology. I am sure we have all learned a great deal from his posts. He did much in his life, through his efforts in Nicaragua and South Africa, for example, and with his voluminous writing, to push radical transformation forward. He allied himself with leftists around the world. He seemed to know just about everybody. Those who knew him personally know that he was a good human being, always willing to help a friend, no matter where in the world that person happened to be. He and his wife Mine showed me and my partner many kindnesses over the years. Goodbye, Louis. You will live on in our hearts and in our efforts to change the world.

Manuel García, Jr. (in response):

I first became aware of Louis N. Proyect in 2003, when I began writing for Swans (Gilles d’Aymery’s internet magazine), where Louis was an established presence. Over the 18 years since then we have had many exchanges (all over the internet, sadly; and all good, happily), and I learned a great deal from him. I was even able to teach him some things, mainly about science. We were both native New Yorkers, and he was very much the archetypical kind of good-hearted prickly exterior quick witted wise ass Jew that I had grown up surrounded by (and especially with one cherished college professor who hailed from Brooklyn). He had that refreshing “what’s it to ya'” attitude that doesn’t seem to cut it so well west of the Hudson River; but which can be so essential to cut through the crap when you really need to solve a problem (and my secret weapon out here in Californicate). On 10 July 2021, I read the ‘comic book’ style biography of Louis that he had posted (in several parts) on his blog, and wrote to tell him how redolent it was of the times and scenes I had grown up through. By then I had reached a point in my life where I told people outright if I appreciated them, because I didn’t want to accumulate more regrets. And I told Louis that in our exchanges on July 10 and then again in our exchanges on July 17, my last personal e-mail contact/exchange with him. Louis appreciated my gesture and said so. After that I could see from his blog that he was trying to get as much done as he could, as the phenomenon we all knew as Louis Proyect. I’ve lost a brother, older, and often “pesado,” but dearly loved. What I liked most about Louis was that he never let ideology confine his moral sense — his heart; his primal motivation was his deep moral sense of solidarity with all human beings, and his fiery outrage at the injustice of the sufferings of the humble, the weak, the exploited, the “salt of the earth.” He was a mensch.

He was absolutely correct on Syria — and Libya — neither of which the comfy doctrinaire ‘left’ herd have been able to face up to yet. Louis was a Light Saber of Truth.

Louis N. Proyect was the only leftist to publicize my article on chemical warfare in Syria (a commissioned piece, rejected, that went against the grain of herd orthodoxy). We both hate dictators regardless of their stripes.
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/07/09/chemical-warfare-in-syria-and-its-corrosiveness-beyond/

Adam Weissman (27 August 2021):

“One of the all-too-few voices on the left who challenged the lies of campists and the brutal dictators they shill for. A fierce and passionate defender of the Syrian people. He will be sorely missed.”

Link to Louis Proyect autobiography
https://louisproyect.org/2021/07/06/the-unrepentant-marxist-comic-book-final-chapter/

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’Stateless’, an Australian Television Drama about Refugee Detention

’The Trojan Women,’ a play was Euripides, was first performed in Athens 2,436 years ago at the height of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter of its men and the enslavement of its women by the Athenians earlier that year, 415 BCE.

This play focuses on four women awaiting their fates after the fall of Troy (~1,200 BCE, in northwest Turkey near the Dardanelles): Hecuba (the wife of the slain king, Priam), Cassandra (the beautiful virginal daughter of Priam and Hecuba, who was blessed and then cursed by a lustful Apollo, with having a gift of prophesy none would listen to), Andromache (the wife of the great Trojan hero, Hector, who was slain by Achilles), and Helen (the Achaean queen and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who ran off with Paris to Troy, and which elopement was the purported cause for the Achaeans’s war against Troy).

The three Trojan women would all be made concubines and slaves by the Achaeans (mainland Greeks), and Helen returned to Menelaus. Because the Greeks wanted to ensure there would be no surviving male heir to the Trojan throne, they took Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and Andromache and the grandson of Priam and Hecuba, up to the high parapet of Troy and tossed him down to his death on the rocks below.

In 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens, the playwrights were known as poets and called teachers, and in ’The Trojan Woman’ Euripides was desperately and dramatically striving to teach the Athenians that the horrors of the Peloponnesian War were destroying the soul of their society, and that they should find ways of extricating their city-state from the war. His vehicle to convey that larger message to the Athenians was this dramatization of the final days in the death of the Trojan city-state eight centuries earlier (if in fact it was a single real historical event), as told in Greek myths recounted by legendary poets like Homer and his many forgotten colleagues.

’Stateless’, an Australian 6-part television series that was launched in 2020, is about a refugee and ‘illegal immigrant’ detention center, and strikes me as being similar to ‘The Trojan Woman’ as a societal teaching drama. It is both a searing depiction full of human and political insights about the current refugee crisis in Australia, as well as a close analogy for similar tragic realities along the US-Mexican border, in Libya and southern Italy, in Syria and the Greek Islands; and in other places where minorities and disfavored ‘others’ live precariously without stable statehood and are internally displaced or incarcerated, as in Syria, ‘Kurdistan’, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The writers of ’Stateless’, Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko have done a magnificent job. The directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse have made an absorbing and compelling visual work (https://www.netflix.com/title/81206211).

How many refugees are there around the world? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html) states that: “At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. At [this] time 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.”

We must add that the deleterious effects of climate change — crop failures and lack of drinking water from extended droughts, and the loss of land, housing and employment due to violent weather and flooding — has also spurred refugee streams.

Those refugee streams flow out of the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes: from Africa northward across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, up from Central America and Mexico and across the Caribbean Sea to North America, southward from Eastern Asia to Australia, and from the arid interior of the Middle East westward toward the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

Americans, Europeans and Australians see these refugee streams as incoming waves of impoverished humanity comprised of dark-skinned people with cultures, mind frames and languages vastly different from their own, and thus a threat to American, European and Australian prosperity, and their existing ethnic balances, if too large an influx. We must realize that these refugee streams course back up along the gradients of wealth leading from the Global South to the Global North (and Australia), propelled by the pent up pressure of economic disparity created by over half a millennium of conquest and imperialism with over three centuries of slavery, by the White people of the north: the Europeans and the descendants of their American and other colonists.

The Australian television series ’Stateless’ is composed of a weave of four sub-plots, each about a person caught up in and then piteously twisted to the breaking point by the day-to-day reality of escalating crisis in the asylum-seeker Braxton Detention Center. All these stories are based on actual case histories. Threatened men and women become refugees and are driven to acts of desperation, they are victimized, families are torn apart, some eventually find sanctuary while many others languish indefinitely or perish. Low-level workers in the host countries looking to hang onto paychecks are shoved by higher level bureaucrats and policy-makers to go in and do the dirty work of “keeping a lid on” and also “making it look good for the public.” And the sanctimonious of all stripes on the outside are more often than not “virtue signaling” for their own ego boosts, than having any useful empathy for all the individuals mired in the toxic tangle of “the system.”

One story in ‘Stateless’ is based on the real case of Cornelia Rau, an Australian woman citizen who was emotionally disturbed at the time and who was inadvertently — and unlawfully — incarcerated by the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and held for 10 months during 2004-2005 under the country’s mandatory detention policy for refugees, until Cornelia was traced to Braxton by a relative, and correctly identified and released to a hospital.

Another sub-plot focuses on an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban, being cheated and robbed by criminal human traffickers in Pakistan, being separated while attempting to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia in rickety boats, with the survivors eventually finding each other at Braxton. But the effort of the Afghani father to gain entry visas for his surviving family proves to be a very heartbreaking and essentially impossible effort. Despite some commendable humanitarian impulses by Australian workers tasked with maintaining the day-to-day operations of the center, and of some right-minded procedures embedded in the immigration policy, that policy is nevertheless largely fueled by a great deal of officially mandated bigotry and prejudice.

The conflict between offering a welcoming humanitarian response to the desperation of the trapped refugees terrified of being deported back to certain death, and the politically motivated mandates from the central government to maintain this bureaucratic structure for continuing exclusion, and without arousing public attention to it, is personified by the story of the woman appointed as the new director of the center. She is emotionally torn apart by the inherent cruelty of the job, and her political expendability to the remote higher-ups.

The last of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ centers on a local rural freelance mechanic who seeks to leave precarity behind and support his young family with a steady paycheck earned working as a ‘prison’ guard at the detention center — though he is instructed that it is a refugee center and not a prison since its residents, despite having no freedom of motion, have not been placed there for the commission of crimes. This individual is a good-hearted fellow who quickly comes under unrelenting strain because of his repulsion at the cruelty toward unruly refugees by a sadistic guard, and because of the numerous requirements for him to perform rough enforcement actions on people exhibiting outbursts of anger, fear and madness. Both the emotional and physical traumas sustained in doing his job while trying to thread the needle between the frayed edges of UNHCR compassionate supervision of a precarious population, and the barbed razor sharp edges of bureaucratically enforced nationalism, nearly deaden his heart and rip apart his family.

Each of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ is populated with many supporting characters who enrich the presentation, and the entire ensemble presents the full spectrum of human experiences that take place in the turbulent focal point of mixing-nonmixing between Australian society and Asian refugees at the Braxton Detention Center.

The ultimate solution to the world’s refugee crisis is so far out of view: ending all wars to establish a lasting world peace, and ensuring intelligent economic development up to decent standards everywhere so that people can remain in their countries with their families experiencing physical and economic security and good health down through the generations. Achieving these conditions would obviate the need for anyone to become a refugee and seek foreign asylum.

Yes, this is idealistic (naïvely so?, impossibly?), like wanting equitable worldwide cooperation to stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so as to tamp down the acceleration of global warming. But neither of these ideals is intrinsically impossible to actualize, and that is why the continuation of the refugee and climate crises are such tragedies: they are fundamentally unnecessary sorrows, open and festering wounds on the body of humanity.

What we have today is a compounded system of exploitation through tiered victimhood, a system commanded by über capitalists and nationalistic warlords living luxuriant lives, and served by hierarchical cascades of lower level petty boss bureaucrats, their functionaries, and in turn their laborers and armed enforcers. This system is so abhorrent that Nature itself has abandoned us, and is trying to burn us off the land and wash us away into the seas and oceans we have thoughtlessly poisoned with our wastes. An added cruelty to this accelerating rejection of humanity by Nature is that those who are suffering now, and first, and will suffer the most from the increasing hostility of Earth’s climatic conditions to human life are the people of the Global South (the Third World), the regions from which today’s refugee streams emerge, the poorest of Earth’s people, those who lead the most precarious lives, and those who contributed the least to the creation of the global climate crisis.

Coda: a Meditation on ’Stateless’

Must I have a stone heart to preserve a sane mind in a world of pure suffering I am luckily insulated from — for now? How does one combat compassion fatigue and empathy burnout? Does one sink into survivor’s guilt for blamelessly being born lucky?; for living in a bubble of comfort, freedom and justice that is much rarer than one had previously imagined?; and that seems to be diminishing by national policy out of view of its lucky inhabitants confident in their unawareness? But of those lucky people who do become aware, how do they survive and stay human without deadening their souls? We have become a race of monomaniacal blind cyclopses raging about our freedoms because we cannot conceive of anything beyond our own frustrated infantile selfishness. Becoming aware of the sufferings of others is the first step in the very long journey of personal redemption. That journey has many perils, and no one completes it unscathed.

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Samurai Rx for Libya

After WW2 (1945) the Allies occupied Germany till 1949, when both the Federal Republic (West Germany) and the Democratic Republic (East Germany) were set up as a result of the breakdown of cooperation between the NATO powers and the Soviet Union (Stalin). The Allied occupiers oversaw the running of Germany (in four major sectors: British, French, Russian, US), and the de-nazification programs, and war crimes trials. Allied troops remained in West Germany until 1955, their numbers being reduced over time, and after that mainly US troops remained in US (a.k.a. NATO) bases (till today).

The US (Allied) occupation of Japan after WW2 lasted from 1945 to 1952. The U.S. governance of occupied Japan transformed the entire form of government (to a parliamentary democracy), and in conjunction with other Allies (British, Indian, French, Australian, Nationalist Chinese, Philippine) war crimes tribunals (of Japanese militarists) were held in Manila. The U.S. kept bases in Japan (to this day), and as the Korean War had started in 1950, the U.S. pumped huge amounts of money into Japan as its platform from which to launch attacks on the Korean peninsula, which US spending kick-started the rapid growth of the Japanese economy.

Germany (West, until 1990 when it reunified with East) and Japan were thus tied economically and militarily to the US-led world capitalist system (the “First World”). There was never a post 1945 Nazi insurgency, nor a post 1945 Imperialist Japanese insurgency, nor a spawning of such international “terrorist” groups.

The NATO (“Allied”) occupation of Libya lasted only 11 days, occurring between Gaddafi’s death on 20 October 2011, and 31 October 2011. During the Libyan Civil War, the Gaddafi regime relied mainly on mercenary troops (largely Sahelian Africans, but also Western mercenaries and technicians), and Gaddafi was bent on mass murder of the pro-democracy Arab Spring inspired activists who opposed his regime, which opposition was favored by most of the Libyan population. [This paragraph has been revised, as prompted by Robert Pearsall in a comment, below.]

The new Libyan government had asked the NATO-UN forces to stay till the end of 2011 (two months), to help it stabilize the country. But, the NATO powers did not wish to invest the time, money and troops/people-power (with the possibilities of some casualties) for that purpose. The broken Libya of today, with mass trafficking of African refugees (by today’s “Barbary Pirates”) towards Mediterranean Europe; and Islamist militia-terrorist bases and training camps, is the result.

What the NATO powers did regarding Libya is equivalent to an unwise patient with an infection who stops taking his full course of prescribed antibiotics after three days, when he’s feeling “good,” instead of the full week or two, and the infection is not eradicated but comes back and is worse because it has mutated to become resistant to the original antibiotics it was suppressed with.

The idea of R2P, “responsibility to protect,” is correct; those with the power (military might) to prevent a dictator from enacting a mass atrocity crime should do so as an act of solidarity with all of humanity, otherwise they share in the guilt of the atrocity as a sin of omission. But, in committing to such action one should do it right, completely, not on the cheap. The goal is not simply the downfall of a dictator and mass murderer, but the transformation of and unity with a whole population. Selfishness is not a good long-term defense. As “Kambei Shimada” said in Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”: “This is the nature of war: by protecting others, you save yourself.”

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No Regrets On Libya

Non-interventionists who regret the outcome of the Libyan Civil War continue to seek some type of moral consolation for their support of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship by trying to shame the supporters of the UN-NATO intervention (on the side of the Libyan rebels) by posting editorials of complaint about the Libyan Civil War’s aftermath of political unruliness and frequent lawlessness.

My article is a response to those regrets and complaints. This article is not intended to convince anyone to change their opinion on the Libyan Civil War, since that is impossible. It merely states what I think. The article was written on October 14, and submitted for publication the same day.

No Regrets On Libya
4 November 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci74.html

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