Saturday, June 14, 2014

Reel Bad Arab REDS

REDS, directed and starring Warren Beatty as Communist journalist Jack Reed and Diane Keaton as collaborator/spouse Louise Bryant, is not a film about Palestinians and Israelis, most because the film ends as the British Mandatory period is commencing and the Zionist inroads into Palestine were still in their relatively adolescent stages.
However, in reviewing Jack Shaheen's REEL BAD ARABS, I find some entries I categorically disagree with, most specifically, REDS.  Shaheen is understandably disturbed by what appears to be a rather demeaning stereotype of Arabs who misconstrue the Bolshevik's call for solidarity as a signal for worldwide jihad.  However, the scene is much more complex than this.  Following the offending scene, Reed is left enraged because Zinoviev (played here by Jerzy Kosiński) not only admits to the editorializing but also asserts the Party's right to change Reed's work.  The scene is ended abruptly when White Army troops attack the train these Russians are traveling on, but not before it is made clear that the entire scene of Muslims calling for jihad was a staged farce foisted on all by Zinoviev.
There are two points of history to acknowledge here, one tangible, the other theoretical.  In the real history of the Soviet Union, it is true that the Bolsheviks were always, with limited success, trying to make inroads into the Muslim borderlands to the East.  Indeed, when Beatty began his film production, the USSR had just sent tanks into Afganistan to fight a war against the US-funded mujahideen led by Usama bin Ladin for the very same reasons that Zinoviev and Reed were sent on a missionary tour by the Party.  Control of the Muslim borderlands was a major element of strategic Soviet military and economic goals because the warm water ports and oil fields were extremely appealing to state planners.  So for the film to portray the Soviets consciously duping and exploiting the Muslim religion for material gain is not derogatory as much as highlighting the growing dubious nature of the regime Reed himself has come to doubt by the film's conclusion.
As for theoretical, there are tangible passages in Lenin and Stalin about the role of third world national emancipation struggles in the context of the overall Bolshevik program.
The same must be said of the revolutionary character of national movements in general. The unquestionably revolutionary character of the vast majority of national movements is as relative and peculiar as is the possible revolutionary character of certain particular national movements. The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such "desperate" democrats and "Socialists," "revolutionaries" and republicans...during the imperialist war [World War I] was a reactionary struggle, for its results was the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory, of imperialism. For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptians merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of Egyptian national movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism; whereas the struggle that the British "Labour" Government is waging to preserve Egypt's dependent position is for the same reason a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of the government, despite the fact that they are "for" socialism. There is no need to mention the national movement in other, larger, colonial and dependent countries, such as India and China, every step of which along the road to liberation, even if it runs counter to the demands of formal democracy, is a steam-hammer blow at imperialism, i.e., is undoubtedly a revolutionary step. -Stalin, FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM, Chapter 6: The National Question
Of course, the underlying question is how seriously Stalin took such principles.  Lenin and Trotsky undoubtably did believe in these ideas as a serious route to revolutionary upsurge, but they also saw the fate of their revolution as negative should it never bloom into both the East and Western European nations like Germany and England, as was the case.  And with Trotsky, whose vision of the Permanent Revolution bordered on utopian in its own right, the proscriptions for the religious leadership were indeed much more violent than those of the gradualist Stalin, whose two-stage model of Socialism in One Country ultimately triumphed.
My point here, of course, is to discuss the fact that this moment is not instance of bigotry against Arabs, it is a portrayal of why and how the Bolsheviks utilized blatant stereotypes of Muslims in Russia so to try to curry favor and hegemony.

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