Singer Paul Robeson, new book

Paul Robeson's legacy: Proud Valley

By Tayo Aluko in Britain:

Monday, March 18, 2019

Book Review: No Way But This: In search of Paul Robeson by Jeff Sparrow

Part travelogue, part biography, this is an engrossing account of the life and times of the great singer, actor and political activist

No Way But This
by Jeff Sparrow
(Scribe, £9.99)

IN NO Way But This, Jeff Sparrow recounts a personal pilgrimage from his native Australia to places around the world Paul Robeson visited, while assessing the impact his life continues to have today.

From Sydney — where Robeson’s career ended in 1960 — Sparrow continued via Greensboro and Williamston, North Carolina, where his father had been enslaved, to Robeson’s birthplace in Princeton, New Jersey, and Harlem, New York, where he lived most of his adult life.

He travelled on to to London, where Robeson lived and visited on-and-off for several decades and Wales, where his political education began. Thence to Spain, where Robeson and his wife Essie went during the Spanish civil war and finally to Moscow, scene of many Robeson triumphs and a spectacular mental breakdown.

This is a travel diary in which Sparrow lyrically recounts conversations he had, buildings he visited, streets he walked down and landscapes he traversed in his quest to understand Robeson’s thoughts, motivations, influences and legacies.

He meets BBC Wales’s Beverley Humphreys, who had organised a Robeson exhibition, talks to school children about what he had stood for and to now-elderly black Welsh people who fondly remember being child extras in the film Proud Valley in which Robeson starred.

No Way But This

Such personal reflections make this more an exploration of Robeson’s contemporary legacy than a biography. He draws on many existing Robeson biographies to both give the facts of Robeson’s life and as his travel guides as he set off on an itinerary that would allow for some spontaneity in the midst of whatever planning he had done.

He describes narrowly avoiding being forced to view the corpse of a black activist lying in state in Harlem just because that happened to be where the person that an academic suggested he interview was going that afternoon. The subsequent conversation was about the gentrification of Harlem and of the prison-industrial system, both of which illustrate a damning lack of progress made decades after Robeson.

Sparrow also went to Siberia to visit that embodiment of the horrors many experienced under Stalin — a gulag, now a museum, in Perm. There, the guide — whose family were among Stalin’s victims — photographs Sparrow behind bars before icily noting that those who didn’t want the museum to exist and instead “will approach a time when new repressions will come.”

Sparrow finally describes a visit to the Graveyard of Fallen Heroes in Moscow. Here, wandering among toppled statues of significant players in the Soviet project, he reflects on how far the world has fallen from those ideals and how new dictators will always replace old ones unless we remain mindful of those stories that the authorities seek to suppress.

Sparrow’s book is a very effective and compelling way of introducing Robeson to readers not so interested in conventional biographies. Yet the section misleadingly described as “further reading” is actually a bibliography, listing the author’s research sources, many of which had nothing at all to do with Robeson. This is exacerbated by an absence of footnotes and a wholly unsatisfactory reference section and several factual inaccuracies in the body of the book.

Such gripes aside, I greatly enjoyed No Way But This and admire Sparrow’s use of his and others’ personal perspectives to cast new light on this towering figure, whose long shadow can be perceived almost physically everywhere he went and beyond.

Tayo Aluko is the writer and performer of Call Mr Robeson – A Life, With Songs and of Just An Ordinary Lawyer. A fuller version of his review is available at Camden New Journal.


Brazilian far-right Bolsonaro’s far-right astrological Rasputin

This music video, recorded in Russia, is Boney M – Rasputin. It is about the faith healer and power behind the throne of Czar Nicholas II, Grigori Rasputin.

So, early in the twentieth century, Nicholas II, autocrat of Russia, had a religious right quack as power behind the throne.

In this twenty-first century, in South Korea, Park Geun-hye, military dictator’s daughter and impeached president, had her very own ‘fundamentalist Christian-spiritualist’ ‘Rasputin’ religious right quack as power behind the throne.

In this twenty-first century, Donald Trump, wannabe autocrat of the USA, has a religious right quack, selling ‘eternal life’ for $1,114, as power behind the throne.

In Brazil, there are religious right quacks as well. At least one them is not just a faith healer, but also seems to be a serial child abuser.

And one of these religious right quacks, an astrologer, is now the power behind the throne of Brazil’s dictatorshop loving, wildlife hating, homophobic and racist President Jair Bolsonaro.

This 9 December 2018 video in Portuguese is called Olavo de Carvalho, o Rasputin brasileiro [The Rasputin of Brazil].

By Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly in the USA, 17 December 2018:

Jair Bolsonaro’s Guru

Olavo de Carvalho might be the most important voice in Brazil’s incoming government. And he doesn’t even live there.

The intellectual guru to Brazil’s next president lives at the end of a country road in Virginia, in a modest house with duct tape covering a crack in the front window, an American flag on the porch and a huge English mastiff named “Big Mac” standing guard.

And that’s not even the most surprising part of Olavo de Carvalho’s story.

Despite not having lived in Brazil since 2005, and liberally sprinkling his columns and speeches with references to little-known 19th century philosophers, the pipe-smoking 71-year-old has built a fervent social media following of more than 500,000 people – among them President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who prominently displayed Carvalho’s book The Minimum You Need to Know to Not Be an Idiot on his desk during his election night victory speech in October.

Carvalho’s championing of individual liberties

only for rich heterosexual males. Not for women, non-whites, LGBTQ people, leftists, etc.

and Christianity, and his combative, obscenity-laced vilification of globalism, Islam, communists and the left in general, recalls a Brazilian Sean Hannity or Steve Bannon, with a bit of the Marlboro Man mixed in. Such ideas were completely out of the mainstream in Brazil just six months ago – but novelty is precisely the core of his (and Bolsonaro’s) appeal in a country still reeling from its worst recession in a century and a series of scandals that left the previous political establishment in ruins.

The day I visited him in November, Carvalho was riding high. Bolsonaro had just named as his foreign minister Ernesto Araújo, a career diplomat whom Carvalho by all accounts single-handedly plucked from relative obscurity and recommended for the job. Araújo had on his personal blog called climate change a Marxist conspiracy and complained about the supposed “criminalization” of heterosexual intercourse, oil and red meat. “I started reading (the blog) and I said – ‘This guy is a genius! He has to be foreign minister!’” Carvalho enthused. “He understands the risk from globalism is real … he’s a Christian, and he’ll do the best he can.”

He wasn’t shy about his influence on Bolsonaro, despite the fact the two have never met in person. “Look, I think the person he listens to most is me,” he said. That struck me as an exaggeration, but a few days later, Bolsonaro would name another Carvalho pick as education minister – leaving two portfolios critical to Brazil’s future in the hands of his disciples.

During an interview that lasted almost three hours, Carvalho was charming and solicitous, despite a reputation for lashing out at journalists who challenge him, as I repeatedly did. He invited me to join him in a glass of Grand Muriel orange liqueur (I accepted, even though it was 1:30 p.m. on a Monday). He proudly showed me his collection of rifles and detailed his love for the United States, especially “rednecks”, whom he called “the best people in the world.”

In our conversation, Carvalho also justified state-sponsored mass murder in Brazil during the last dictatorship, though he later said he meant this “ironically”. He explained why he believes George Soros … and China are all part of a globalist conspiracy, compared Bolsonaro to George Washington (“They didn’t know something was impossible, so they just went and did it”) and marveled at his own fame. “This has never happened in the history of the world – a writer who had this kind of influence on the people,” he chuckled. “It could only happen in Brazil.”

Throughout his career, Carvalho has been a professional astrologer, a newspaper columnist, a teacher of philosophy …

By the late 1990s, he had embraced a mix of economic liberalism and conservative social mores familiar to anyone who has ever watched Fox News. But such ideas were utterly foreign in Brazil, which had been governed mostly by the left and center-left since the last military dictatorship ended in 1985.

“There was no conservative opposition to speak of at the time. Carvalho invented it,” said Gerald Brant, a Brazilian hedge fund executive who is close to the Bolsonaro family. In terms of influence, he compared Carvalho to William F. Buckley Jr., the premier U.S. conservative intellectual of the late 20th century.

I began my interview with Carvalho by asking him to explain his intellectual evolution, half-expecting to hear names like Buckley or Ronald Reagan. But instead, he embarked on a long monologue about the “death of high culture” in Brazil beginning in the 1960s, which he blamed mostly on the left and particularly the Workers’ Party of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was president from 2003 to 2010.

Indeed, Carvalho’s popularity may be derived less from what he supports, and more from what he opposes. Even at the peak of the left’s power in the late 2000s, when Brazil’s economy was booming and Lula enjoyed approval ratings near 90 percent, Carvalho never stopped his attacks on “cultural Marxism” , … which he saw as a threat to individual freedoms. “I was criticizing people who had never been criticized – untouchables, gods. Lula was a god. And he was the most ridiculous of all,” he said.

He also criticized feminism, called Barack Obama’s birth certificate a fake, and lashed out at what he deemed the Workers’ Party’s excessive coddling of the LGBT community. “I don’t believe it would have been better if my father, instead of depositing his sperm in my mother’s womb, had injected it into the rectal passage of his neighbor, from where the liquid in question would have gone into the toilet at the first opportunity,” he wrote in a 2007 newspaper column included in one of his “best of” books.

Such messages were restricted to a fervent circle of believers – until the economy began its spectacular collapse. When anti-government protests broke out in several cities in 2013, many people carried posters saying “Olavo was right”, As the country imploded further, with the eruption of the “Car Wash” scandal, the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and, finally, Lula’s imprisonment on corruption charges in April, Carvalho began to be treated as a kind of oracle – the only person who saw the apocalypse coming.

The book Bolsonaro featured on election night has sold more than 350,000 copies – a truly gargantuan sum in Brazil. But Carvalho’s fame also stems from his YouTube channel, where he sits at his desk, smokes his pipe and simply talks. I watched several hours, and was struck by the inclusive, often soothing tone: Carvalho makes his listeners feel like they’re sharing an intimate secret as he ruminates on philosophers from Plato to Eric Voegelin to Antonio Gramsci.

His wife Roxane, who came in and out during our interview, was one of his students in the 1980s. “I started listening, and I thought – ‘Wow, this exists! I’m able to understand!’” she recalled. …

A clear influence on policy

Within Brazilian conservative circles, there is debate over how much pull Carvalho really has – or should have – within the next government. Even some admirers distance themselves from what they call Carvalho’s “excesses”, and say his ideas are tempered by more pragmatic figures, especially the retired generals Bolsonaro has appointed to his cabinet.

But the influence is undeniable. As a relatively recent convert to ideas like small government, Bolsonaro seems to depend heavily on Carvalho’s ideas for guidance, as well as a degree of legitimacy with his base. His son Eduardo, a congressman, is the closest member of the family to Carvalho – the two communicate often – and has echoed many of the guru’s messages almost word for word.

For his part, Carvalho expressed a nuanced view of the president-elect. Like many Brazilians, the first thing he liked was his reputation for not being corrupt. “Even if he has a shit government, he won’t steal. That struck me as a sufficient virtue,” Carvalho said. He acknowledged Bolsonaro “doesn’t speak well” and “doesn’t have a single economic idea in his head,” but said he appreciated his tough stance on crime. Only a “true war” on drug gangs, he said, could fix a country with more than 63,000 homicides a year.

When I pointed out that shoot-first security policies have rarely produced lasting positive results in Latin America, Carvalho cited several false or highly dubious claims. He said “thousands and thousands of Islamic agents are coming in through the Amazon,” and blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for being a main source of illegal arms in Brazil (the FARC signed a peace deal in 2016). He also said many Cuban doctors working under a special program in Brazil were secret agents conspiring with local drug gangs and the landless workers’ movement.

“They’re all forming an army,” Carvalho said. “Do you think these people can be conquered through social policies?”

For foreign investment, Carvalho said Brazil should favor the United States, “because it’s a Christian people, a benevolent people.” “They could potentially steal, but they won’t steal much, eh?” he said. By contrast, he said the Chinese “always have a strategic agenda,” and that with Beijing’s aid, “communists are penetrating Latin America today with incredible force.” He also warned of an “Islamic plan for world domination”, adding “they’ve been globalists for 14 centuries.”

All of these ideas clash with long-held principles of Brazilian foreign policy, which is traditionally skeptical of Washington and cultivates ties with the developing world. But in the weeks after my visit, there were signs Carvalho’s agenda was gaining traction. Bolsonaro took steps to force the Cuban doctors to leave Brazil, and move Brazil’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. A policy paper leaked in which Araújo, the new foreign minister, proposed an “alliance of the three biggest Christian nations: Brazil, the U.S. and Russia.” And during a visit to Washington on behalf of his father, Eduardo Bolsonaro donned a “Trump 2020” hat and pledged to “support policies to stop Iran.”

Turning back the clock

As our interview drew to a close, I shared my biggest concern about Bolsonaro: that his government could trample democratic institutions and cause the deaths of numerous innocent people. I cited Bolsonaro’s frequent lament that the “biggest error” of Brazil’s 1964-85 dictatorship had been “to torture (people) instead of killing them.”

Carvalho chuckled. “You know, sometimes I think that way.”

“Oh, Olavo, please”, I said.

He took a puff from his pipe. “We see all the misery those guys created. Look – how many communists were there in Brazil back then? 20,000? You kill 20,000 people back then, and you’d have saved 70,000 Brazilians a year.”

The implication was that, by eliminating leftists in the 1960s, Brazil might have been governed by more virtuous people who would have never allowed murder rates to reach their current level. … We argued about this for a few minutes until I said that as an American who loves Brazil, I didn’t want to see its government engaged in mass murder.

“The Americans are idealistic people with good hearts,” he replied. “They believe other peoples are the same. Well, let me tell you something: Outside of (this country), there are just filhos de puta [sons of whores]”.

I must have looked upset, because Carvalho shifted his focus and said Bolsonaro would only depart from a democratic path “if he’s very poorly advised.” Instead, he said he would encourage Bolsonaro to “take one problem at a time,” focus on combating crime during his first year, delegate in areas like the economy that he doesn’t really understand, and tell people: “It’s been 70 years of mistakes, and I can’t fix everything in one day.”

New Zealand Islamophobic terror and worldwide fascism

This 18 March 2019 AFP news agency video says about itself:

New Zealand students gather in front of the al-Noor mosque in Christchurch to pay tribute to victims of the attack on two mosques during which 50 worshippers were killed.

By Tom Peters in New Zealand:

The New Zealand terrorist attack and the international danger of fascism

18 March 2019

The death toll from last Friday’s fascist terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was revised upward to 50 over the weekend. The youngest person killed was a three-year-old boy. Thirty-four people remained in hospital on Sunday, with 12 in a critical condition, including a severely injured four-year-old girl.

People throughout the world are horrified by the cold-blooded, racist massacre, which targeted defenceless Muslim men, women and children while they were praying. Tens of thousands of people joined vigils over the weekend in New Zealand and internationally to show solidarity with the victims and their families and to defend Muslims, immigrants and refugees.

New Zealand police are now saying that Australian-born, 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant was the only gunman and had no assistance from others. He has appeared in court on murder charges. Authorities in both New Zealand and Australia claim that he at no time came to the attention of either the intelligence agencies or the police, and was therefore not under any form of monitoring.

This attempt to portray Tarrant as a disturbed “lone wolf”, and especially the claim that he was “off the radar,” is simply not credible. The 74-page manifesto issued by Tarrant makes clear that he prepared and carried out the terrorist atrocity on behalf of an international network of fascists and white supremacists, with whom he had openly collaborated for several years.

Tarrant’s manifesto is a modern-day Mein Kampf. It combines calls for genocidal violence and civil war to force non-European “invaders” from Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand—including all people of Muslim, Jewish, African, Asian and Roma background—with pathological hatred of socialism. It is steeped in the white racist and ultra-nationalist nostrums of “blood and soil” that animated Nazism and other fascist movements in the 1920s and 1930s.

The gunman wrote that he had “donated to many nationalist groups and… interacted with many more.” Since 2012, he has visited Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, France, the UK, Spain, Turkey, Pakistan and even North Korea, as well as returning to Australia and traveling to New Zealand.

He claims he decided to turn to terrorism during a two-month tour of Europe in 2017 and following the defeat of the far-right National Front in the French election. Tarrant contacted the so-called Knights Templar, an organisation allegedly linked to Norwegian fascist mass murderer Anders Breivik, and asserts that he received its “blessing” for the Christchurch attack. He was active on ultra-right social media and blogs and joined a gun club not long after arriving in New Zealand. He declared that he chose New Zealand as the country to stage his attack in order to demonstrate that “nowhere in the world was safe” for “non-whites”.

If all of this did go “under the radar” of security agencies around the world, Tarrant’s manifesto provides one explanation as to how. He boasted that fascist groups are deeply integrated into the state apparatus, the military and the police. He wrote: “The total number of people in these organisations is in the millions… but disproportionately employed in military services and law enforcement. Unsurprisingly ethno-nationalists and nationalists seek employment in areas that serve their nations and community.” [Emphasis added]. Tarrant estimated that “hundreds of thousands” of European soldiers and police belong to “nationalist groups.”

The Christchurch attack—and the conceptions that inspired it—must be taken as a deadly warning by the international working class and progressive sections of the middle class. It is the product of the deliberate cultivation, at the highest levels of the capitalist state in country after country, of the most extreme right-wing nationalism. As the working class internationally comes forward in a mass, resurgence of class struggle against unprecedented levels of social inequality and the danger of war, the ruling class is once again, as it did in the 1920s and 1930s, seeking to use fascist forces to divide, intimidate and suppress the opposition to the bankruptcy of capitalism and the nation-state system.

Political parties and individuals espousing views that are not far from those of Brenton Tarrant can be found in the governments and parliaments of every European country, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and in the US Congress and White House.

In Germany, Merkel’s coalition government has adopted the policies of the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which sits on the opposition benches of the German parliament. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer lined up behind a neo-Nazi demonstration in Chemnitz last September, saying he would have marched alongside the fascists if he had not been a minister. The then-president of the German secret service, Hans-Georg Maassen, likewise defended the Chemnitz mob and denied its blatant anti-immigrant and fascist character.

Chemnitz NPD banner during racist riots, AFP photo

This photo shows a banner during the Chemnitz racist riots. A banner of the JN, the youth branch of the NPD neonazi party. It demands deportation of foreigners.

A secret right-wing terrorist network has been exposed within the German armed forces, with hundreds of members. The network, whose members have been protected by the judicial system, had detailed plans to murder prominent figures in the government and attack Jewish and Muslim organisations.

In the US, both the Democrats and Republicans have sought to scapegoat immigrants for the social crisis in America. They both use racial politics in an effort to divide the working class.

President Trump, whom Tarrant described as “a symbol of renewed white identity”, has sought to nurture a fascist constituency. In a message of solidarity to his fascist base, Trump told reporters after the Christchurch attack that he did not consider “white nationalism” a threat. Two days before the New Zealand massacre, he made a clear threat to mobilise his supporters in the military, police and thuggish groups like “Bikers for Trump” against his opponents, telling Breitbart News that they were “tougher” than the “left”.

This followed the arrest in February of fascist US Coast Guard officer and Trump supporter Christopher Paul Hasson, who planned to kill prominent African-American and Jewish individuals and members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

In the weeks leading up to the Christchurch attack, a campaign of slander was unleashed against left-wing critics of the Israeli government’s brutal treatment of Palestinians. … This campaign echoes the witch-hunt accusing UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and hundreds of Labour members of “anti-Semitism”, which is aimed at delegitimising and purging left-wing opposition to British imperialism.

In Australia and New Zealand, where politicians are making hypocritical statements condemning racism and violence, the establishment has, since 2001, demonised Muslim refugees as a threat and potential terrorist fifth column, and blamed immigration for every social problem.

The New Zealand First Party, which controls the ministerial portfolios of defence and foreign affairs in the Labour Party-led coalition government, has repeatedly demanded measures to stop “mass immigration” from Muslim and Asian countries—using language not very different from that used by Tarrant and other right-wing extremists.

The barbaric attack in Christchurch underscores the warning made by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) in its January 3, 2019 statement: The Strategy of the International Working Class and the Political Fight Against Capitalist Reaction in 2019. While fascism is not yet a mass movement, it is receiving support from sections of the ruling class, the state and the establishment media.

Extreme right-wing organisations, the statement noted, have been allowed to “exploit demagogically the frustration and anger felt by the broad mass of the population.” It stressed: “All historical experience—and, in particular, the events of the 1930s—demonstrates that the fight against fascism can be developed only on the basis of the independent mobilization of the working class against capitalism.”

Vigil for Christchurch, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, photo @NidaRotterdam

This photo shows a vigil for Christchurch, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.