Thursday, November 21, 2013

Punching Counterpunch

At Louis Proyect's suggestion, I have added Counterpunch to the list of journals I regularly cover. They are now listed on This Blog's Beat blogroll. The narrowly defined Trotskyist papers already in my stable are not keeping me busy. Counterpunch provides a lot of material, and it certainly does come well-recommended.

To inaugurate this new effort I more or less randomly picked three articles from the November 15th Weekend Edition. I hope they are reasonably typical. I am pleased to note that they are mostly short--often shorter than my posts. This is a pleasant surprise coming from Marxists. Second, they are not relentlessly academic, which means they're not boring. And finally, Counterpunch casts a longer shadow than The Militant or Socialist Action. There's more to talk about.

The first article is by Chris Gilbert, entitled Refrigerator Wars In Venezuela. Mr. Gilbert is identified as a professor of political science at the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela. Unlike the Chavismo sycophants at US universities, this guy at least gets paid for it. He reports on the Venezuelan government's forced sale of televisions and refrigerators, using the military to occupy stores and to distribute the goods at very low prices.
The core decision is to limit the markup on certain products imported with subsidized dollars. Importers in Venezuela bring in goods with cheap dollars that they obtain through the state – dollars that come from the petroleum rent. They then mark up the goods 200% to 1000%. The government’s idea is to limit the markup to 30%. For this reason, state institutions such as INDEPABIS are now revising these importers’ books, while the army maintains order.
Why are there "cheap" dollars in Venezuela to begin with? If there was no black market in dollars, none of this would have happened. Supposedly the excess dollars come from oil sales, which have been rapidly declining as the government continues to defer maintenance. Megan McArdle suggests that Venezuela is descending into hyperinflation. Chavez and Maduro both graduated from the top of the class at the Zimbabwe School of Economics.

One thing is certain: no new refrigerators or television sets will be arriving in Venezuela any time soon.

The second article is entitled The Takedown of the Silk Road Drug Market, by Ryan Calhoun. Silk Road, for those of you who live clean lives, was (until the Feds busted it) a very successful, on-line market for illegal drugs. I followed it because it used bitcoin as its payment medium, and I've been interested in bitcoin. (This video argues that the take down of Silk Road is good for the currency. I agree.)

Mr. Calhoun is more interested in the drugs than the bitcoin, and from the article he sounds like an avid customer of Silk Road. Now I'm vaguely libertarian in my views about legalization (no strong opinions really), but I don't have much respect for people who actually use drugs. After all, I'm an alum of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)--the drug discipline is the best thing they ever did for me. I put drug users and casino patrons in the same category--losers.

Mr. Calhoun admits to being a loser in another respect--he's a PhD student at the University at Buffalo. That stunningly useless endeavor marks him as unemployable for any productive profession. So Mr. Calhoun models the conservative archetype of what a liberal looks like--somebody who wants us to bail him out of all the bad decisions he's made in life. We'll have to pay for his so-called "education," the welfare benefits he'll need because he can't earn a living, and then his medical care because of drug-induced health problems. What a guy!

Most interesting is the article by Ann Garrison, entitled Why is DRC “Negotiating” With M23, Not Rwanda and Uganda? It is an interview with Jean-Mobert N'Senga, a Congolese partisan in the recent defeat of M23, a guerrilla proxy for the Ugandan and Rwandan governments.

When I was living in Uganda in 1996, President Yoweri Museveni (he's still president) announced an inspiring dream to build a highway from Kisangani to the sea. That would make it possible to transport people and freight from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean, via Kampala to the Congo river port at Kisangani. From there one could travel by ship to Kinshasa, and thence by the 200-mile long road that circumvents Livingstone Falls to the Atlantic Ocean port of Matadi. The economic opportunities this would unlock are enormous--such a road would hugely enhance the standard of living for millions of people.

So the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries invaded Eastern Congo ostensibly to make that happen. But rather than build the road to Kisangani, instead the two had a falling out and destroyed the town in their battle for control.

It all derives from the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Whether motivated by revenge or paranoia, Rwandan Tutsi guerrillas emptied out Congo villages, chased the residents to the ends of the earth, and when they finally caught up with them massacred them all. The other side engaged in similar cruelty--five million Congolese died. You can read all about it in the horrifyingly depressing book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters.

Thanks to Ann Garrison, Mr. N'Senga gives one side of the story. It's worth reading.

So how does Counterpunch stack up? As a fellow SWP veteran, I can see why Mr. Proyect likes it. He rightly dings the Party for its brittle sectarianism, compared to which Counterpunch is a breath of fresh air. But the magazine has also lost some of the good things about traditional Trotskyism, namely efforts at intellectual consistency and self-discipline.

The Militant, for example, sees the world through its Theory of Everything, otherwise known as Marxism-Leninism. Now it's an unreasonably narrow and wrong theory, but it does enforce rigor. They can't just spout off at the mouth. Counterpunch, meanwhile, publishes a Bolivarian brown-noser and an anarchist druggie in the same issue, deluding themselves that these people are somehow on the same page.

On the other hand, The Militant has almost nothing to say about Congo. That's because events there don't fit into the Grand Synthesis, and are therefore best left ignored. At most they will complain about US or UN intervention, blaming the problem on "imperialists." So Counterpunch does us all a favor by reporting on Africa. It is a more eclectic, interesting, and informative read. But it is not in any way recognizable as Trotskyist.

The lack of both intellectual and personal discipline means that Counterpunch fades into feel-good Leftism. Trotskyists will correctly accuse it of not being serious. Both my Trotskyist friends and Counterpunch advocate free unicorns for all, but Trotskyists imagine that they have a practical way of accomplishing that.

As for me, I'm against poverty. I strongly support the highway to Kisangani. Mr. Museveni has let me down big time. This opinion puts me at odds with pro-poverty Leftists of all stripes--none of the publications I cover will support the road. They'd all find some excuse to oppose it--environmentalism, oppression, imperialism, or whatever gobbledy-gook term you can think of. That's why I'm a Republican.

Down With Poverty!

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