From Ohio to Occupy Wall Street: Caleb Maupin

Yesterday we met Caleb Maupin, who became a Communist as a fifth grader in a small Ohio town and by 2010 was a prominent rabble-rouser in Cleveland and a leading local voice in the Workers World Party (WWP).

Maupin at a 2007 WWP conference

But the big city beckoned. A year later, Maupin was living in New York, and still an active WWP member. A July 2011 piece at the website of the International Communist Youth League (Fourth International) mentions Maupin’s attendance at a recent event held by the Spartacus Youth Club at the City College of New York. Maupin, identified in the article as “a writer for Workers World newspaper, the party organ of the reformist, pro-Democratic Party outfit of the same name,” was called upon at the event by Spartacists “to defend his party’s fawning over Obama and support to Democratic city councilman Charles Barron.”

Maupin did so by accusing the Spartacists of seeking “to be an isolated sect,” pure in its ideology but barren in its impact, whereas the WWP, in his view, were out to bring together diverse Leninist forces in an authentically productive class struggle “against a common enemy.” (The conflict, interestingly, is reminiscent of that which raged for many decades between strict Protestant fundamentalists – who out of a sense of theological purity chose to keep their distance from politics – and evangelicals, such as Jerry Falwell, who allied with Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants, and others in the Republican Party in an effect to exert a degree of power in the mainstream culture.)

A 2011 Occupy Wall Street rally in New York

In New York, Maupin was involved in the 2011 planning of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and was also working, according to his profile at RT – the media empire run by the Putin regime in Russia – as “a youth organizer for the International Action Center.”

OWS at its height

Maupin turned up in a 2012 Reuters report about OWS’s first anniversary. It quoted Maupin, described as living in Queens, as follows: “A lot of media is saying that Occupy is dying down, but I think the fact that over 100 people were arrested this morning shows that Occupy is still part of the conversation.” He added: “We’ve been locked out, people my age don’t have much chance of getting a job, so we have to do something to get people’s attention.” A year later, Allison Kilkenny of The Nation took note of the second anniversary of OWS, which by this point was being described in the past tense. Again Maupin made an appearance, with Kilkenny describing him as having been “arrested during a couple Occupy Wall Street protests and participated in the original General Assemblies.”

Whitewashing Venezuela’s communes

We were so stunned by the moral inanity of Nick Miroff‘s recent Washington Post piece on Cuba, which we’ve been dicing and slicing the last couple of days, that we decided to look back through his oeuvre to see if we’d missed anything else that was equally despicable. We hit pay dirt quickly enough, in the form of an article from November 25, 2014, that was headlined – we kid you not – “On Venezuela’s communes, idyllic future is just over the rainbow.”

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Happy Venezuelan commune worker. His t-shirt reads: “Chavez, I swear I’ll vote for Maduro.”

The story behind Miroff’s piece is this: the socialists in charge of Venezuela have expropriated private farmlands and used them to form collective farms. Many of the people working on these farms don’t have any background in farming.

Sound familiar? Not, apparently, to Miroff, who managed to hunt down (or was directed by the authorities to?) Ivan Lora, a true believer in the chavista revolution and “lifelong city dweller with no farming experience” who told Miroff he was “turning his weedy hillside into a building block of Venezuelan socialism.”

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Nick Miroff

Describing Lora’s commune as part of “a far-reaching government effort to remake Venezuela into a socialist society,” Miroff wrote that the Maduro regime “aims to use communes as the central organizing feature of Venezuelan life, complete with new forms of government, public services, and socialist-minded farms and businesses that spurn the profit motive.” Commune advocates, reported Miroff, seek to make Venezuela “more wholesome and authentically democratic.” Miroff himself had this to say about the policy: “At its best, it inspires poor and once marginalized Venezuelans to work closely with their neighbors and take control of the planning, execution and fiscal oversight of community projects that improve their lives.”

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There’s one thing the communes have plenty of: propaganda.

Lots of chavista PR there, of course. As an apparent gesture toward objectivity, Miroff also presented the views of critics who charge “that the communes are evolving into a parallel state that has no basis in Venezuela’s constitution.” He briefly cited complaints about graft and quoted a sociologist who described the communes as “a mechanism for distributing government funds in exchange for political loyalty.” He also acknowledged that this new social structure was marginalizing non-socialists and people uninterested in working at communes.

venezuela_asambleacomunal7But there was no sign in Miroff’s article that he recognized just how thoroughly disturbing a development he was writing about. He didn’t interview anybody whose farm had been seized by the government to be used in this project. He passed without pause or comment right over the word expropriated, as if it were totally kosher for a government to gobble up countless acres of private farmland without due process. He didn’t so much as mention the catastrophic consequences of collective farming under Stalin, which was obviously a model for the chavistas. Why this omission? Could it be possible that Miroff was ignorant of the nightmarish history of collectivism in the Soviet Union? Or did he decide that it would be impolitic to point to the obvious link between this Venezuelan project and Stalin’s?

community.jpg_1718483346Then there was the following very curious statement. One Venezuelan commune, Miroff wrote, was designed to be “a planned central cluster of schools, clinics, workshops and stores whose main currency would be communal solidarity, not greedy profits.” Now, presumably we’re meant to understand that Miroff is just being a stenographer here, conveying the Cuban authorities’ view of their project and not his own. Still, it’s a strange way to write a sentence in what is supposed to be a news article. In any event, whether Miroff is presenting the chavitas’ view or his own, “greedy profits” is just plain terrible writing. 

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Carlos Garcia Rawlins

But the most striking thing of all about Miroff’s article was that it appeared three months after Reuters issued a terrific, detailed exposé of the whole racket. Venezuelan stringer Carlos Garcia Rawlins’s article described the commune system as having “lax financial controls” and concluded that “exactly how much money passes through this system, who gets it and how it’s used are largely a mystery.” Citing charges that Venezuelan authorities are “using the system to finance its base while bypassing opposition mayors,” he noted that during the previous three years the federal government had given more money to the communes than to the country’s municipal governments. He did real reporting, crunched numbers, provided ample, vivid evidence of official malfeasance. And what did Miroff do, when he came along three months later and wrote about the same time? He didn’t so much as mention Garcia Rawlins’ findings – because he was too busy transcribing chavista PR.

The Washington Post, folks! The Washington Post!

Gerhard Schröder, Putin’s €250,000 pal

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Schröder and Putin – a special friendship

Among the surprisingly many members of the Western European political elite who’ve been remarkably steadfast in their, um, understanding for even the most brutal conduct by Vladimir Putin, one of the staunchest has been Gerhard Schröder, who served as chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005. Schröder, as it happens, sits on the board of Russia’s Gazprom, the giant government-owned natural-gas company, and is a longtime personal chum of the Kremlin thug (whom he’s called a “flawless democrat”). Putin once turned up at Schröder’s home in Hanover “with a Russian choir to celebrate his birthday.” Schröder has described Putin as having “a very close relationship to Germany” – noting that in the 1980s Putin was a KGB spy stationed in East Germany. (As we all know, of course, that’s the best way to develop a “very close relationship.”)  

Gerhard-Schroeder_2895463cAnd what a friend Schröder has been! When Putin invaded Ukraine, Schröder was quick to defend his buddy: Putin, he argued, was simply trying to keep Russia strong and on par with the U.S. Who could criticize that worthy goal? Putin, Schröder further explained was justly worried about “being encircled” – as if there were even the remotest possibility of a military incursion into Russia from Ukraine or Poland or one of the Baltic states. Schröder also made the point that Ukraine is “culturally divided,” with some Ukrainians identifying more with the West, others looking to Russia – so hey, why not let Putin seize some of the pro-Russian part of the country?

schroeder-wird-65_fullviewAt least Schröder acknowledged that the invasion constituted a clear violation of international law – but he hastened to add that the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia also violated international law. Never mind that Putin’s action was an aggressive, unprovoked land grab by a brutal dictator, and NATO’s bombing was a humanitarian effort to save the lives of people who were being targeted by a genocidal dictator.

Germany’s current chancellor, Angela Merkel, was outraged by Schröder’s support for Putin’s assault on Ukraine. Roland Nelles of Der Spiegel wasn’t impressed either. When Schröder celebrated his 70th birthday with Putin in April of last year – hot on the heels of the Crimea invasion – Nelles accused him of “making a mockery of Berlin’s foreign policy.” Yes, the two guys are pals. But still, wrote Nelles,

russland-praesident-wladimir-putin-und-altkanzler-gerhard-schroederSchröder ought to know better. If the former German chancellor believes he can continue his friendship as if nothing has happened, it’s a mistake. Schröder’s own center-left Social Democratic Party is currently the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which is frantically trying to prevent his friend Vladimir from carrying out the policies of a power-drunk hegemon in Eastern Europe. In difficult times like these, a former German leader should, at least publicly, keep a safe distance from Putin….as Germany’s former leader, he is still obliged to maintain a statesman-like responsibility for his country.

Thomas Holl of Frankfurter Allgemeine agreed. Reacting to photographs of Schröder hugging Putin, he called them “macabre.”

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The hug

One interesting detail about that 70th birthday party. It was hosted by Nord Stream AG, a Gazprom subsidiary that operates a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Guess who’s the chairman of Nord Stream’s advisory board, raking in €250,000 a year from the Russian government? None other than Gerhard Schröder. In fact, he took the job only weeks after his party lost the 2005 parliamentary elections, forcing him to hand over the chancellorship to Merkel. “Opponents,” recalled Reuters, “said the haste with which he took up the job was unseemly and the link to Russian interests too direct for a former chancellor.” In any event, the fundamental fact about Schröder now seems clear. As Bundestag member Manuel Sarrazi puts it, he’s “spreading the Kremlin’s propaganda” and is “now a paid spokesman for Russia.”