Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The New Right - The White Wing

"Angry White Men,” by Michael Kimmel, 2013

If you are an angry white man, you might not be the target of this book.  What he really means is ‘angry right-wing white men’ of the U.S. but that title wouldn’t sell evidently, so he appeals to the identity crowd by misidentifying the target.  This topic was covered years ago in more accurate ways, first by Susan Faludi in 1999’s “Stiffed,” and then by people like Michael Moore in 2001’s “Stupid White Men.”  He also admits that black people of both sexes are angry and so are white women.  Even young people are angry if they stop being mellow for a second ... In fact, EVERYONE might be angry!

Fuck, I’m angry at this guy for sometimes confusing working-class, middle-class and upper-class men in his introduction and in the section on ‘class’ in the book.  I’m angry that as a result he makes blanket inferences that all white men now hate women or immigrants or blacks in his intro.  I’m angry that he can’t tell left from right populism – the thinks it is all ‘emotion.’  In fact, I’m sick of upper middle-class professorial fucks who are Democratic Party hacks and pretend to analyze things without a mention of the Democratic Party’s role in all this.  Or the role of capitalism as a whole.  Myopic sociology. 

Kimmel is another liberal guy obsessing over Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and that ‘sexy’ Sarah Palin - if he has time.  You know, just like the liberal internet sites that incredulously repeat every stupid racist/sexist/religious stupidity these guys utter.  Even though intellectually he knows that these people are just part of the American woodwork.  Here’s the deal.  Limbaugh is as essential to capitalism as air.  They’ve had guys like Limbaugh for 150 years in the U.S. - slamming foreigners, wimmin, Jews, ‘negroes,’ ‘wetbacks,’ Commies, ‘fags,’ union thugs, etc.  Same shit, different decade.  The Know-Nothings, the Klan, Father Coughlin, the John Birch Society, now the Tea Party.  Let’s go a little deeper, shall we …like who benefits?  Whose the real enemy underneath all these disguises? 

Kimmel has made a cottage industry out of looking at maleness in the U.S. – writing books like “Guyland” and Y.  He’s probably a guy who’s never turned wrenches in his life, had a working-class job, been in a fight or shot a gun. His idea of danger is watching skiing on TV.  He wears a suit to work, has a secretary and calls a doctor every time he has an ache.  HE never gets mad because his annual tenured salary is in the $200,000s.  He’s polite and kind to everyone.  So in this case, ‘anger’ is just odd.  Which is maybe why he has to study it.

OK, I got that off my chest. 

Kimmel’s book is a blend of sociology and psychology, based on interviews and internet visits regarding different right-wing men’s issues, mostly based on what he calls ‘entitled’ white anger.  Kimmel’s first chapter is on the billionaire A-males of the AM Radio dial who prey on insecure white men in the listening audience – or as Kimmel calls them ‘Angry White Men.’ (AWM).  The role of woofs like Limbaugh is to blame everyone but the rich and the capitalist system for the problems white middle-class and working-class men face.  Business bankruptcies, house foreclosures, job layoffs, inflating costs, uppity wives, lost wars and gays on TV – don’t look behind the curtain!  It’s obvious these reactionaries are as necessary to capital, in the ideological sense, as a large mental shield.  Diversion, diversion!  Kimmel understands that, and says the AWM’s should direct their anger at … the Wall Street behemoths behind it all.  OK, right.  Except that might not be so emotionally satisfying as bashing women.  Or as easy.

His next chapter is on how, since around the 1999 Columbine shootings, it is white boys that are behind the overwhelming majority of school massacres.  He shows how the majority of these white boys were physically and verbally bullied by jocks and the various conformists you find in high school, attacked as ‘nerds,’ ‘fags,’ ‘weirdos’ and small ‘wimps.’  So shooting these fucks was psychologically logical at a certain point for these boys.  Not sure there is a problem here, only a solution.  They took the macho gun culture they grew up in and threw it in the face of the bullies.  Of course, suicide and depression are much more common results of bullying.  The obvious, immediate villain is the right-wing culture in some schools – mostly in rural areas or upscale rightist suburbs – that endorse bullying of anyone who doesn’t conform to some right-wing cultural norm. 

Kimmel’s next chapters are on the ‘men’s rights’ and ‘dads’ rights’ movements, which are, of course, mostly straight white men.  This movement seems to be marginal, and not sure why he spends so much time on them.  He does agree with them on the issues of the courts being outdated on divorce and child custody, but parts ways on the rest.  Kimmel locates their birth in the ‘men’s liberation’ movement that then parted ways with mainstream feminism.  They guide frustrated men through divorce by blaming everything on ‘women’ as a sex.  If you want a useful polemic on these issues, he has one from a male feminist point of view. 

Kimmel covers the issue of the rape and violence culture in the U.S., opposing those AWM’s who think that gender violence is ‘equal.’  95% of all violence in the U.S. is carried out by men.  Women are being brutalized and killed by their husbands, exes and boyfriends every day. Everyday in the U.S. 5 women die at the hands of their intimate partners.  The U.S. has the highest rate of spousal homicide in the developed world.  45% of female homicides are by spouses and ex-spouses.   Rates in some more patriarchal cultures are even higher. He gives figures on the rates among different classes and ethnicities.  None of this is news, but it is repeatedly ‘hidden’ news.  (See commentary "Rape?  Really?," below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

The key chapter to my mind should be his on class –both middle and working class – but this chapter somewhat short-shifts the issue.  Kimmel discusses the epidemic of ‘going postal’ shootings at work sites, which target both bosses and co-workers.  In an exception, a very efficient accountant killed only the bosses who denied him a promotion – no sloppy shooting here!  He does not blame the high rates of male suicide or depression on just psychological issues, but on the rates of unemployment, foreclosure, injury, poverty and other major events, as rates always rise along with these economic factors.  Like India, hundreds of small farmers in the U.S. committed suicide in the Reagan 1985-1986 recession after experiencing 80-90,000 farm foreclosures. 
Relief for men is found in ‘media fantasies’ like the film “Fight Club,” where young men immerse themselves in ‘reel’ life in order to live out revenge or power fantasies they cannot carry out in ‘real’ life.  And perhaps move on to actual fight clubs.  Violent gaming provides an outlet for other young men.  But most do not join with others in unions or organizations to fight the corporations.  According to Kimmel, they just listen to talk radio and curse on the internet. 

Kimmel lastly interviews organized right-wingers  – from Neo-Nazi, Klan, racist skinheads, WAR, Posse Comitatus, the Church of the Creator, Christian Identity Church, Minute Men, National Alliance, Aryan Nations and the Tea Party. 9/11 threw the right into a frenzy, but Obama’s election in 2008 made them see the ‘end of time.’  There has been a 50% increase in ‘hate’ groups since 2000, per the SPLC, to 1,108.   We can see their local strength in Idaho, where a right-wing rancher wants his cattle to graze on public land for free – and backs his idea up with armed buddies.  Yet most of these organizations key spot to organize is on the web. Most of his interviews were in rural areas, small towns or decimated exurbs.  He sympathizes and then makes the white right a gender issue – which of course it is on one level. 

Far right groups have pretended to oppose farm foreclosures.  It is a failure of the left-populist farm and Democratic Party groups that they have let small farmers hang …and the right has attempted to fill the gap.  Small farmers have been intentionally crushed by agri-business and the government who works for Big Ag.  (See review of book on Big Ag, “Foodopoly." Use blog search box, upper left.)  The far right attempts to speak to the white ‘lower-middle-class’ (Kimmel’s catchall for working/middle class unity.)   Kimmel actually is describing the small businessman that is the classical basis of fascism.  (‘…independent farmers, small shopkeepers, …small-scale entrepreneurs”)  In that sense, they attempt to make a class appeal, much as Hitler did with ‘national socialism’ or as the Tea Party uses right-wing populism against the Democrats.  It works because the Democrats are also in the pocket of the corporations and long ago left working people – even unionists – as an after-thought, fit for crumbs.  

The problem with Kimmel’s various identity and sociological solutions (…’can we turn the volume down?”... he plaintively asks) is that it doesn’t fully account for the economic and political character of the society we live in.  Kimmel does call for a ‘new New Deal” but we’ve had one and it turned out like this.  A capitalist society doesn’t want people to ‘unite’ – except at the mall.  A capitalist society wants you to believe that the Democratic Party – or the Republican Party – your two and only choices – will solve all your problems.  A capitalist society wants women and blacks and Latinos to be at the bottom of things – because money is made off their unpaid and super-exploited labor every day.  And they provide excellent scapegoats!  A capitalist society is run by money, not by fairness or reason or human solidarity.  A capitalist society has to exploit the labor of white working class and even some middle-class men too.  And it even needs unemployment!  Foreclosures are part of its ordinary functioning.  Oligopoly is part of its ordinary functioning.  A capitalist society will never stop producing these right-wingers, these AWM. 

So really, Kimmel, what’s your real beef?

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
April 15, 2014 – TAX Day.  When the corporations pay less than the workers.   

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Place to Be - Mayday Books - on Utube

Talks at Mayday by Mike Gimbel

You might have read prior reviews here on books that discuss the issues of present science and materialism, specifically opposing certain idealist views on relativity, the 'new physics,' the Big Bang and idealist 'science' in general.  As part of this, Mike Gimbel's pamphlet on this issue was reviewed on January 1, 2014.  (use blog search box, upper left, to find it.)

Gimbel has posted the two digital videos from his talks at Mayday on Saturday, April 5.  The first, on 'dialectical materialism vs the new physics,' is linked to here.

Mike also gave a follow-on talk, to a bit different audience, about the basic need for left unity, which he calls a unity of 'Marxist-Leninists." It is posted here:


Posted by Karen & Jon,
April 12, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Old Normal

"Hopper Drawing:  A Painter’s Process,” Walker Art Museum, running through June 20, 2014

Occasionally the Walker (Minneapolis, US Art Museum) brings a heavy-weight show that resonates beyond the ‘post-modern art’ rubric that has isolated the Walker for so long.  This would be one of them.  Hopper is most famous for his picture, “Nighthawks,” (1942) of a lonely corner diner at midnight, peopled by 3 diners and a cook seen through glass.  It has become one of the best known American paintings, and has inspired kitsch artists, musicians and filmmakers. 

This show brings some of the New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art’s Hopper pictures and the accompanying sketches he did to prepare for them, in one show.  ‘Nighthawks’ is not here – it is on the walls at the Chicago Institute of Art, while others are at New York’s MOMA.    Yet some of the Nighthawks preparation sketches – of the back of a man, the arm of a woman, the coffee urns, the corner building (reportedly somewhere in Greenwich Village) are here.  The Whitney’s collection was willed to them by Josephine Hopper, his widow and the female subject and model for many of his paintings. 

Hopper painted from his apartment in Washington Square, in the heart of Greenwich Village, and then from his many walks and train rides around New York.  He was like a voyeur, who peeked through windows and painted what he saw.  After purchasing a car and then getting a summer house in South Truro on Cape Cod, he began to paint ‘road scenes’ made up of unexceptional woods or buildings, stark factories, hotels and gas stations, as if also shot from the window of a passing car.  He painted ordinary people, usually alone or in small groups in a vaster human landscape – a theatre worker, a man and his secretary, 3 people having a meeting in a room, a woman waiting on the stoop of a building, a naked woman looking out a window into New York.  Grasping architecture was an early skill he developed and here it envelops the people – or stands alone.  Light and shadow are prominent – sort of filmic New York noire.  Isolation and alienation are everywhere, even in the summer, even in the sunlight.  The domination of the environment is taken for granted.  Early on he painted a series of French paintings, as he visited Paris 3 times and was enthralled by French culture, but these are atypical of his later master works. 

The black and white charcoal, ink and pencil sketches show the work that went into every painting – in one work almost 50 signed preparatory sketches were done, trying to find the right overall visual structure and the details.  Hopper would also indicate what colors were going to be used in each area by writing the color on the sketch.  He didn’t do color sketches.  He also made extensive notes sometimes on the bottom of the sketch.  One sketch, in which a woman is hitting a man off a bed with a club, stands out for its violence and movement, something Hopper almost never did.  Another humorous sketch is of small cluster of people peering at paintings in a large gallery – just like the viewers peering at the small cluster of humans.  Another large painting, of a motley group of strange and classical Parisians, stands out for not being based on something he saw, but on imagination… something he returned to towards the end of his painting life.
The painting ‘Office at Night’ (1940) is one any white collar worker will understand.  We’ve all been in that café in ‘Nighthawks.’  Anyone looking out a window onto the vast built expanse of the city will understand ‘Morning Sun.’ (1952).  The bored usherette of “New York Movie,” (1939) is a person we’ve seen many times.  We might even have been that person.  The painting “Dawn in Pennsylvania” (1942 apx.) is of a factory near a railroad station in a coal town – not a house in Malibu.  We might have worked there.  We’ve driven by the non-descript woods in the painting, “Road and Trees,” (1962) many times.  “One of his paintings, “The House by the Railroad,” (1925), though not in this show, was used as a model of the house in “Psycho” and the farm house in Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven.”  - an isolated yet ornate structure in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing.  We’ve seen that too out on some rural hill.  Hopper makes the ordinary noticeable. 

Why does Hopper matter?  Hopper (1882-1967) was born to middle-class parents, was inward and conservative, interested in Freud and painted for years before his great paintings clustered in the 1940s.  Yet Hopper matters because of the emotional resonance of his painting, and especially because of his subject matter.  It is ordinary, not extraordinary.  It is normal, not meant to shock.  It is more real than reality at times, as it captures the human feelings behind visual reality.  It shows the isolation permeating capitalist life and the overwhelming constructed environment dwarfing human beings.  In a way, the humans are lost in the environments and sometimes completely absent.  It is sober, not hysterical or agitated.  He painted factories, tenements and warehouses, bridges, working people, isolated nudes, lonely houses and woods.  Part of the historical ethos of the Depression, World War II and its aftermath soaks his paintings – a kind of realistic and historical gravity that is unmistakable.  Time is present in paint and sketch.   

In that, his paintings pre-date abstract art, pop art and post-modernism.  You might consider him part of the U.S. ‘regionalist’ movement of Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry.   His paintings communicate more directly to most viewers, representing a reality that people are more familiar with and understand.  I.E. art for everyone, not for someone. 

And I saw it on Sunday, April 6, 2014
Red Frog
April 10, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

3% Compound Growth Or Die

"The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism” by David Harvey, 2010

Harvey is a professor that teaches in New York, and while this book at times descends into a kind of rote, sociological descriptionism, that is part of his attempt to grasp the 'enigma' of capital - an enigma that probably can't be put in one book.  He is somewhat sensitive to his role as someone only involved in the 'mental conceptions of the world' side-of-struggle, but that is common with academics, and many times true.  If you are tired of the term 'crisis' in so many leftist book titles, I guess this tic is the revenge of the angry.  Capital spans the globe, has many aspects and is always changing, like everything else.  But like trying to identify an enormous shape-shifter moving in the dark, this moloch can only be fully described after it is dead.  However, Harvey makes a good attempt here. 

Harvey’s contribution to radical theory is his emphasis on the geographic terrain of capital circulation – rents, housing debt, displacement of people from land and neighborhoods, the ‘right to the city,’ land degradation, city design, etc.  He draws from this perspective a view that wage labor in the factory and office, warehouse and mill, restaurant and shop are not the only locus of confrontation with capital.  It is in the neighborhoods, in the apartment buildings, in giant building and infrastructure projects, in the construction of the cities and the ownership of agricultural land that the battle also extends.  Surplus value, rents and interest/credit are all sectors in the circulation of capital – each contributing to control by the capitalist class, not isolated from each other.  Capital, after all, has a physical, geographic dimension, just as the working class has a home - hopefully.  Harvey feels that Marx never got around to fully describing this sphere of capital circulation, but he certainly intended to. 

This book contains a supplement to various theories of crisis.  Harvey supports the idea that the ‘falling rate of profit’ is real, but agrees with Marx that there are many offsets to it.  He describes the 3 main theories as:  1, the profit squeeze due to rising wages; 2, the falling rate of profit due to investment in fixed capital goods and 3, lack of effective demand – i.e. ‘under-consumptionism’ – due to the poverty of the population.  Oddly enough, he does not mention over-production.  Harvey introduces another kind of outlook – that there are other, numerous blocks to capital formation, and that when one problem is ‘solved,’ the problem is usually shoved on to another area.  Crises are just moved around.  Money capital can become scarce; labor in short supply or rebellious; economic sectors disproportionate; environmental limits appear; unbalanced technological versus organizational changes like oligopoly versus competition, lack of effective demand, labor indiscipline, geographic limitations and even war.  Harvey is a sort of a ‘multiplier’ and doesn’t like pat answers, so part of the book addresses these blocks to capital formation and circulation.

As part of his geographic emphasis, Harvey shows how building projects are absolutely necessary for the absorption of vast amounts of surplus capital, which jibes with Monthly Review’s position on the difficulties of burning capital in some way.  Massive infrastructure and building projects introduce ‘growth’ and a modicum of stability into the capitalist economic system, providing some outlet for capital.  Some think the massive building boom in China after the 2007 crash – 40% of all Chinese assets went into new highways, cities, airports, trains and ship ports for awhile - is one thing that stabilized the world economic system.  Of course this building boom also dialectically created massive debt, displacements, environmental damage and vacancies – which will all have consequences, perhaps leading to a massive devaluation of this fixed capital.  On a local note, that is one reason why the Minneapolis capitalists have just built 3 new stadiums for professional football, baseball and college football, with a 4th for amateur baseball on the way.  The ‘love of sports’ hides the economic imperative. 

This imperative is in Harvey’s contention that a ‘3% compound growth rate’ is necessary for capitalism to survive.  Without this level of growth, it will weaken and die.  And it will do anything to maintain this level of growth.   

This book is partly inspired by a footnote from Marx in Capital, Vol I., Chapter 15 where Marx lays out perhaps 6 ways that capital affects society.  Harvey’s response is to create a schema based on this footnote of ‘co-revolutionary’ arenas of struggle regarding capital.  They are:  1, Technology and organization forms; 2, social relations; 3, institutional and administrative arrangements; 4, production and labor processes; 5, relations to nature; 6, reproduction of daily life and the species; 7, mental conceptions of the world.  In this he draws the conclusion that centering a revolutionary movement only on labor processes will not be able to sway a complex capitalist system across continents.  He wants to combine these 7 strands into a rope to hang the capitalists with.  Harvey describes this as, not an attempt to lower the importance of the working class, but to delineate all the arenas of class struggle for that class and its allies.  He sees the revolutionary struggle as being played on a 7-layer chess board, not on a single layer one, with interactions between the levels. 

On the issue of allies, Harvey maintains that the proletariat of all collars, the precariat, the indigenous, the unemployed and debt-ridden, the small farmer or peasant, the poor, the disaffected students - all have anti-capitalist motives and, if they are not diverted by religious, nationalist or ethnic hatreds, can join in a united front against capital worldwide.  That is his dream.  It is also the dream of every left-wing revolutionary, I would think. 

In Harvey’s musings, he touches on some interesting issues: 
A.  Can a global ‘super-imperialism.’ of US military, political and economic domination, after liquidating any opposition from China, Russia, Iran, and other countries, eliminate war or not? 
B.  He points out the limitations of Jared Diamond’s ‘geographic determinism’ in tracking how capitalism develops.  Diamond, while pretending to defend societies which did not develop into rapacious capitalists – ignores the class and exploitation issue completely.  Africa is poor not because of colonial or imperial exploitation, but because of the environment! 
C.  Harvey points out that ‘multiculturalism’ – which is the ideology of the ‘left’ in the Democratic Party and liberalism generally – is incapable of dealing with the class issue.  Class is the basic relation in society, ‘the foundational inequality necessary to the reproduction of capitalism’ and hence its consideration rises above simple multiculturalism, and is incomprehensible to it. 
D.  He describes the relation between capitalist growth rates and population growth rates as almost the same - hence hinting that birth control perhaps is not in the interests of the capitalist system. 
E.  He shows how labor migration is key to the flow of capital, because capital is interested in removing all barriers to its quick movement.  The easy movement of wages slaves is part of that.  “Time” under capital is only speeding up – if anyone hasn’t noticed.  Anyone who cannot keep up – who cannot work fast or stay connected – is out of luck.  This mirrors the micro-seconds of trading on Wall Street or the movement of liquid assets from Hong Kong to New York in seconds, or the executives traveling the globe by airplane.  Globalization is part of capital’s domination of space, a globalization presciently mentioned in the Communist Manifesto, which was written in 1848 with the knowledge of colonialism alone.  
F.   The suburban lifestyle was part of the geographic investment of capital made in the 1950s and now spreading across the globe.  It allowed capital to expend its capital surpluses.  Cars, freeways, single-detached houses, malls were all created on the basis of the needs of the absorption of a capital surplus.
G.  Harvey’s last book, “Rebel Cities,” focused especially on issue of the city.  Some of the issues in this book show up there, but emphasized – especially how capital destroys working-class neighborhoods through violence, removal of squatters, removal of populations in the way of vast projects, eminent domain and gentrification of neighborhoods.  All this intentional, all produced by the economic or political needs of capital. 
H.  Harvey understands the looming problems of the environment, though he hedges his bets about whether technology can deal with the problem or not – a common-enough issue with some Marxists.  He takes apart the ‘Green Revolution,’ showing how its successes also have led to failures that are coming to light now.
I.  He describes the present forces in a coherent anti-capitalist front – 1, Organizations of Indigenous people; 2, anarchist, autonomist and grassroots organizations; 3, Marxist revolutionary groups; 4, social movements fighting displacement and dispossession of common goods; 5, identity emancipation movements – women, ethnic minorities, gays and other movements for equality.   Notably he leaves out labor and small farmer organizations. 
J.  Harvey hints that it might be possible for a rapproachment between anarchism and Marxism - at least the proletarian sides.   In his text, he consistently includes mentions of proletarian anarcho-syndicalism.  Harvey understands, as do some left-wing anarchists, that some anarchists are nothing but the middle-class libertarians of the left.
K.  Lastly, he describes how Marxism or revolutionaries will have to take geographic issues into account in any replacement of class society.  From this I take it that workers councils will have to have a geographic aspect, to represent the whole class.  

(‘Rebel Cities and two books by Jared Diamond are also reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left, to find them.) 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
April 7, 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A New Socialist Movement

French Elections during a Ukrainian Frenzy before a possible Presidential Candidate

Mr. Hollande’s Holiday

The hammer came down on the Socialist Party (“SP”) of Francois Hollande on Sunday, depriving his party of many municipal governments, and the loss of thousands of jobs for Party supporters.  It was a massive repudiation of a government that did little about unemployment, but raised regressive VAT taxes.  A 38% abstention rate told the tale of a French electorate so disappointed that they stayed home.  Most were working class and former Socialist voters.  The bourgeois presses howled about the small gains made by the extreme rightist National Front (“NF”) as if this was the only story.  The real message here is the complete bankruptcy of this Euro tendency of social-democracy, which volunteers to manage French capitalism for the majority, and actually manages it for the tiny minority.  Just as the New Labour Party does in the UK, and the Socialist Party does in Spain and Greece. 

The ‘far left,’ as they are dubbed in the press, still hold more municipal seats than Marie LePen’s NF, which controls 11 small towns now.  The divided forces of the Communist Party (“PCF”), the Anti-Capitalist Party, the Green Party, the “Left Party” Lutte Ouvriere and others were the only electoral forces campaigning against capitalist austerity.  While the NF makes that part of their appeal, they blame immigrants and welfare state policies for austerity instead of the capitalist class.  The PCF actually divided the left by running on joint tickets at this particular juncture with the discredited SP in certain cities, and lost shares because of it. 

Since 1914, when they voted to participate in the bloody nightmare of World War I, the SP social-democracy has failed the working class again.  Their failures only embolden neo-fascism, as has become obvious across Europe, and now in France.  It is clear a new socialist movement has to be reborn.  Developments in the approaching Euro-elections promise the ‘far left’ more of a role, as candidates from Greece, Italy and France are poised to make large increases in the European parliament elections, reflecting widespread opposition to European capitalist austerity. 

Hollande’s reaction to this defeat?  Instead of understanding that it resulted from his coziness with capital, he nominated a more right-wing technocrat to be his new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls.  He’s a Blairite/Clintonite.  Which goes to show the SP has no clue – its real lodestar is the needs of the system, not the working class. 

Ukrainian Frenzy

The U.S. imperialists were quite upset that the tactic of ‘self-determination’ blew up in their faces, as Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation.  The capitalists are always for national rights when it comes to bloodily decimating a country they oppose – can you say Yugoslavia? – but when it comes to them - Ireland, Quebec, Scotland, anywhere else – all of a sudden national self-determination is a bad idea.  So the hypocritical and helpless rage over the ‘invasion’ of the Crimea is predictable.  It was bloodless, it was an overwhelming majority and it drove them mad.

The hostility and war-mongering has reached from Republicans to Democrats to even most ‘progressives’ – who wouldn’t know a coup if it happened next door.  It took them only a few days to line up like tin soldiers and vote whatever sanctions and monies were needed to support the EU/IMF/US coup.  You think they work this fast in the interests of the U.S. working class?  Here again we see the ostensible ‘enemies’ – the Democrats and Republicans – singing Kumbaya.  Events like this expose the vicious chorus of ‘democratic’ imperialism that saturates the American polity.  Really, these people would be laughable if they didn’t have so much money and so many guns.  They are sort of the Lanisters of the world.  The Game of Thrones continues and it’s not just a fiction story on HBO.  You are playing your part, boys.

In the wake of the decimation of the Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan, Somalia, Sudanese, Malian and Syrian states by US 'anti-terror' policies, might there be a pattern here where U.S./ EU intervention leads to bloodshed and a failed, partitioned or crippled state?  Might that even be the intention?

The neo-fascist-led Ukrainian coup is already blowing up in the Ukrainian working class’s face.  The immediate vote of the new government to make the Russian language unofficial sent an ethnic message the neo-fascists and eastern Ukrainian oligarchs love.  Ukrainian neo-fascist activity in western Ukraine has already resulted in the killings of Russian speakers there.  The Ukrainian government will now have to institute austerity over Ukrainian workers, farmers and students in order to keep the EU bribe. Ukrainian workers are being forced to take sides on language and ethnic issues, and to replace class consciousness with nationalism.  Nationalism is the last refuge of scoundrels and the drapery of fools, but it is capitalist policy world-wide.  That is, as long as you allow the international imperialists into your little nation. 

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Bernie Sanders, that’s who.  A member of the Socialist Party, and a Senator from Vermont, he is thinking of running for President against the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton.  While Sanders is of the same ostensibly socialist tendency as Francois Hollande, a good showing in the U.S. would mean something quite different than the poor showing of the French SP.  That is because of the absolute ass-backwardness of American politics.  His musings have set off a debate about the obvious role of the Democratic Party in squelching the left in the U.S.  Adolph Reed, a supporter of the defunct Labor Party, took the Democrats to task in Harpers over this, while the left-liberals at Truthdig mulled it over too.  Run, Bernie, run.  Or at least - walk.  He’s 72.

Red Frog
April 2, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Genre Fiction / Familiar Facts

"A Time to Kill,” by John Grisham, 1989

This was Grisham’s first book, which he couldn’t sell until someone grabbed his second – the “Pelican Brief” – and made it into a movie.  The book didn’t change, but the possibility of profits did.  Grisham lives in Oxford, Mississippi, the center of Faulkner’s fabled Yoknapatawpha County, and location of Faulkner’s later home, Rowan Oak.  Grisham is no Faulkner, but he does have a series of stories ‘round Oxford called, oddly enough, “Ford County Stories,” so he’s plumbing the gravity of place for all its worth -  similar to his inspiration.  This book also carries on bravely in a town named “Clanton” located somewhere northwest of Oxford.  With a judge named “Noose.”  Yes, a hanging judge.  The Klan makes an appearance or three in this book, which might hint at the inspiration for the town’s moniker. 

Grisham is not a stranger to humor – nor is he a stranger to making fun of lawyers, judges, the courts and all the rest, being a former lawyer himself.  He is the doyen of the ‘lawyer fiction’ genre, mostly because he’s not some ideologue for the nobility of the profession like many of the painfully dull, straight-arrows who practice it.  This book also cherishes ‘Southerness.' Which comes off as painfully stupid when it stands up for the death penalty or being a chauvinist or a bigot.  Grisham originally wrote this book in 1989 before the ‘Innocence Project’ had taken off.  Yet it didn’t take much to recognize even then that many men, especially black ones, were being killed by the State while innocent.  The cuteness of old bastards leering at young women wears thin.  As does everyone’s use of the word ‘nigger’ – this is not set in the ‘60s, mind you.  It is supposedly taken for granted in ‘80s Mississippi that the courtrooms are segregated by habit, that all voting is ethnic and that the Klan still has a base in northern Mississippi. And this is just good ‘ol boy normality - nothing to get your ‘panties’ in a twist about. Grisham portrays some close relationships between the black and white residents of Clanton – including the black sheriff, the disbarred white drunken lawyer Lucien, and his hero, the working attorney Jake Brigance. (ne brigand?) 

Jake is a young, brash, tough, small-town lawyer that fends off a crooked Memphis criminal attorney and a smug white NAACP attorney to handle his client’s case.  Black factory worker Carl Lee Hailey has killed two white bigots with an M-16 after they tied up, raped and beat his 10-year-old daughter.   Carl Lee is a Vietnam vet and, as the defense will show, ‘snapped,’ went temporarily insane, and shot the Confederate flag-waving bigots at close range on some interior Courthouse steps.  Many blacks and whites around Clanton sympathize with Carl Lee, but technically he did the deed.  Jake’s strategy is to give the jury a ‘legal’ reason to acquit or fail to find a verdict, and channel their sympathy.  Not legal – but human.  Jurors have been bought in other trials - and lying testimony sought and rendered.  Racism has been fundamental all the time.  Jake will make them see it Carl Lee’s way instead. 

Jake, on Lucien’s bad advice, hires the drunkenest psychiatrist in Mississippi to testify on Carl Lee’s behalf because they have no money for a real psychiatrist.  Jake, partial teetotaler, is driven to drink during this trial, while his beautiful hired female assistant Ellen, his old patron Lucien and his divorce attorney buddy Rex all drink every day to tame the beasts.  Lots of drinkin’ is done, and I guess that is part of the picturesque south.  The more they yell about morality, the more they drink, have illegitimate children and hurt each other evidently. 

Now the Klan arrives to take up the cause of the two dead bigots, Billy Ray and Willard.  Believe it or not, the Klan gets away with almost dynamiting Jake’s house, killing his secretary’s elderly husband, killing an informer, brutalizing Ellen, terrorizing 20 members of the jury pool and eventually burning Jake’s classic old house and car to the ground.  No FBI around.  No effective police work by the black sheriff.  No publicity. The Klan have the run of the land, it seems.  Jake keeps the Klan efforts hushed up, instead of using them to get sympathy.  That is until the black folks show up.  The Klan appear in the center of Clanton (which strongly resembles Oxford, with the southern-facing courthouse in the middle of the town square) surrounded by hundreds of angry black people who chase them out of the square.  Later a mass march by 20,000 black people from various black churches in Mississippi intimidates the Klan into hiding.  No white radicals ever appear in “Clanton” to confront the Klan, even though every appearance by the Klan during the 80s was an occasion for integrated radical groups like the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and various communist organizations to confront them too.  Which is one of the reasons why you don’t see these fuckers in public anymore.  

You know when the Klan or the Nazis show up in a book or movie that the ‘bad guy’ quota has been met. This is a tired liberal tactic, as no further in-depth work has to be done to find or create who the actual ‘bad guys’ really are.  Who benefits from the Klan? Duh.

Grisham makes fun of the leading black reverend who keeps the donations for Carl Lee instead of giving it to the family.  The preacher is forced to hand the money over to Carl Lee’s family, who have lost his factory wage and have no food.  

Judge Noose is corrupt, as he needs to be re-elected and is told if he moves the case to another county his campaign funders will cut him off.  So he stays the course and holds the trial in Clanton in the midst of an armed circus, as the National Guard has come to town.  Prosecutor Buckley wants to be governor, so he preens for the cameras, as does Jake.  The prosecutor asks for the gas chamber, so the stakes are high.  Jake’s buddies Lucien and Rex all think men will vote to acquit, but Ellen, Jake’s aide, thinks women will.  The eventual jury is all white and mostly female.  Almost everything in the trial goes against Carl Lee.  There are no blacks on the jury.  Every juror has to claim he believes in the death penalty.  The drunk psychiatrist is unmasked as someone accused of statutory rape for having sex with a 17 year old as a youth.  Carl Lee comes off apologetic on the stand.  Jake gets drunk before his closing argument.  Except for the police officer Carl Lee accidentally shot who stands up for him, the odds are stacked against him. 

However there is a massive march outside the courthouse while the jury deliberates.  This pressure helps.  And the jurors vote to acquit…led by a woman who told them to imagine if the girl raped had been white and their little daughter.  They do a blind vote on whether they would kill the guys who did it – and 12 hands go up.  And so Carl Lee is free.

This is a fast, funny, entertaining read.  The Klan comes off as unreal.  The twists and turns against Jake seem a bit contrived.  The politics are pabulum.  The South is pictured as a somewhat of a cliché.  The law becomes more exciting than it really is.  But this is genre’ fiction and he’s the master. Grisham’s non-fiction book, ‘An Innocent Man’ is one of his most gripping because it is more real - about a working class guy unjustly accused of murder.  He’s got plenty of others, so take your pick.

Red Frog
April Fool’s Day, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Spectre Haunts

"Revolutions,” Lapham’s Quarterly, Spring 2014

Lewis Lapham wrote a piece in Salon this month called “Crowd Control,” which is also the ‘preamble’ to this magazine’s issue.  In it he posed the obvious fact – though not so obvious for most – that revolution is the monster hiding behind the curtain of modern life.  The 'spectre of revolution' haunts the world.  This is what the rich fear the most, across the globe.  They do not fear the tinkerers, the moderates, the ‘reasonable’ people, the reformists.  These people pose no threat – in fact most of them are already in bed with the rulers, and it is a big bed and cozy.  And pays well too, I hear.  Perhaps 10% of the population dwells there in advanced capitalist countries.  But the other 90%?  Not so much.   This 90% is a problem for the ruling class and cause them much heartburn.  Even the recent rash of billionaires whining about being 'put upon' is a sign that their 'style' is being cramped. 

Revolution is sometimes the only idea that gives people hope that something can actually change.  Living in a society totally dominated by the rich, who boss the class around every day, or leave many to rot in unemployment or poverty - for life?  And a state armed to the teeth standing behind them.  And no way this would ever change.  Sort of like being in a locked room with no exit. Sanity requires real ‘hope’ – and revolution is the ultimate hope of oppressed peoples.

It has been noted that Marxism is beginning to be taken seriously once again by ex-liberals and radical intellectuals after its ‘death’ due to the collapse of the USSR.  A premature death, evidently.  Marxism provides the best description of capitalism, and that is its initial attraction  Compounding this is the collapse of traditional liberalism – tracked in books like 2006’s “The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual,” by Eric Lott and 2010’s “Death of the Liberal Class,’ by Chris Hedges.  (reviewed below, use blog search box.)  Harpers recently featured an article, “Nothing Left,” by Adolph Reed, criticizing how the Democratic Party has limited the agenda of the left.  These are not typical conservative sources slamming liberals, but ex-liberal and intellectual analyses that track the confluence of ‘liberalism’ with corporate Amerika .  Liberalism is Marxism’s main enemy at this time on the so-called ‘left’ in the U.S.  Of course, many liberals don’t even know they actually aren’t on the left.  Call them thick.  In European countries actual Marxism’s enemy is social-democracy.  Social-democracy too has been implicated in the rise of neo-liberalism – in fact is another face for it, the Euro face.

What is so interesting is that Lapham dedicates a whole volume to various revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries writing on that subject.  They are pro-revolution, anti-revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, half-revolutionary and sometimes lost in place.  Lapham edited Harpers in the ‘80s, his family is San Francisco aristocracy and he’s a Yalie – so he is a bit of a class traitor.  But he’s mostly an aesthete of revolution – appreciating it for its edgy nature, and not from any commitment to the working class.  Trotsky, Ho Chi Minh, Rosa Luxemburg, Che Guevara, Emma Goldman, Subcomandante Marcos, Toussaint L’Overture, Karl & Friedrich, Mao Tse-Tung, Prodhon, David Graeber, Nachaev and Victor Serge are some of the open leftists in this heavy-paper collection, while people like Dostoevsky, Freud, Lord Byron, Jefferson, Vaclev Havel, Joan Didion, Albert Camus and a host of others write about the subject from their esoteric vantage points. Even Hitler gets a word in, so a magazine titled 'Revolutions' evidently can't tell revolution from its opposite. 

What Lapham has done here is shine a spotlight on a subject that the bourgeois press distorts or hides.  As one of the included charts shows, ‘political’ uprisings and rebellions have increased in the world to the point where the 20th Century saw a huge increase in revolts.  His chart stops at 2000, but events certainly didn’t.  By using these charts – others include scientific and technological ‘revolutions - he is referencing the ‘power law’ discovered in complexity and chaos theory.  I.e. every event happens, but in a mathematical relation to other events in its field – the larger, the less frequent, but still – occurring.  And if revolutions, revolts and rebellions become more frequent in various localities across the globe?  Quantity can turn into quality.  Well, that suggests that we are approaching … world revolution of some type.  This is what makes our billionaires and oligarchs sleepless. 

However, as we know, overthrowing a government is not necessarily progressive. Revolution is not another name for any political turmoil or overthrow, though its used in that way by the corporate press. The IMF/EU/US coup in Ukraine is an example of a revolt that will replace one ruler with another.  The overthrow of Morsi in Egypt by the Egyptian military, an event ok’d by the U.S., returns Egypt for the most part to the status quo. These two are political revolts based primarily on pro-European Ukrainian nationalism and Egyptian capitalist class power. But the underlying reality – and I think the real cause for these overthrows – is the economic and social decay of the capitalist systems underlying each country.  Any charting of these events must indicate in which direction they go in response to these economic crises – backwards or forwards – or perhaps sideways, containing both aspects. Yet both usher in totally new political conditions.

Social revolution is the deepest form of revolution, and charts like this normally don’t distinguish ‘depth’ in this sense.  At least not yet. 

Lapham is a clever and well-read fellow who loves his words perhaps more than anything else.  So being witty is essential.  He also desires to show off how erudite he is, which has to account for some of the selections in this volume.  His preamble, ‘Crowd Control” borrows from Marx by way of Thomas Frank and the Baffler on the ‘commodification of rebellion.’  Essentially, capital will sell you your rebellion for the price of a tattoo or a Che T-shirt.  So can the revolution be bought?  He never answers that question, but seems pessimistic.  He thinks most social rebellion in the U.S. is some kind of cultural lark, echoing Tom Wolfe.  He is attracted to isolated liberal intellectuals like Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, but plays fair with Marx and Engels.  Because he has too at this point. While hostile to Marxism, he can no longer ignore it.

The edition is loaded with full color illustrations, is built on quality paper and contains many articles about social, political, intellectual and technocratic revolutions and revolts past and present that you probably have never read.  Some are direct, some not.  It makes its rather steep price worth it.  But whether you read it or not – be aware.  Something is happening here, and you might know what it is, Mr. Jones.  The sensitive radar antennae of the radical intellectuals is quivering.

Red Frog
March 28, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Deaths of a Salesman

"Coming Up for Air,” George Orwell, 1939

This book, one of Orwell’s least known, shows that obscurity can’t fade Orwell’s writing and ideas.  Even in a ‘lesser’ work, the man shines through.  George, also the name of the lead character, is an ordinary ‘everyman’ that perhaps thinks a bit too much.  He’s an overweight salesman that used to be young, and then work and marriage happened.  Oh, and that first big war, which he mostly and thankfully spent in Cornwall.  He’s all for little boys killing frogs and fishing and all that, yet afraid to holiday without his wife.  He’ll talk anyone into anything, as he’s in traveling sales.  But sometimes he thinks another war is coming.  And he’s right.  Machine guns in the windows.  And cruel men. 

Written in the period between “Homage to Catalonia” and ‘Animal Farm,’ this book captures the period in Britain between the two wars, when the small, rural England of Tolkein and Orwell was dozed over into suburban clots of housing and hurry.  War, industry and the Depression changed all that.  The formally quiet banks of the Thames now throng with ice cream salesman, garbage and screaming children.  The fish pools are filled with rusted cans.  The old house is unrecognizable.  Nothing to do but drink in fake drawing rooms.

George lectures on the real estate scams run by the building societies that put everyone in deep debt.  Yes, he’s got his 5 square meters of green surrounded by wall.  He cringes while nasty bosses yell at shop girls.  He recalls how his father’s small business was destroyed by a large chain store.  He makes fun of the Marxists who harangue over Hitler, but then perhaps thinks them right.  Though he’s no smarty-pants and proud of it.  Yet George even got into a period of reading – and covered all the good tales.  Orwell fills the books with boyish stereotypes, which either reflect Orwell or George.  Of course George is also a bit Orwell.  The man hates his wife, but can’t think of leaving her, as she’s become part of the woodwork.  So he takes her verbal punishments.  George is also probably the first person in literature that I can remember to discuss how red-faced fat people are abused. 

‘Coming up for air’ is the phrase that George thinks of when he decides to play hooky from his job and wife, and revisit the old hometown that he hasn’t seen in 20 years.  Lower Binfield, somewhere near the upper Thames.  He talks to his old pastor, but doesn’t identify himself.  He talks to his first girlfriend in the guise of buying a pipe, and she doesn’t recognize him.  She is so ugly he is astonished. He enters his dad’s old seed shop, which is now a tea & cake parlor.  He tries to fish – the only thing he ever really enjoyed – and finally scoffs at himself for such childish pursuits.

Thomas Wolf said of Asheville, North Carolina that ‘you can’t go home.’  And indeed you can’t.  George discovers the same. A quiet, human book, with a strong touch of nostalgia for a lost world.  He’s the ‘new’ man of Britain, a white collar bloke with a broken-down car.  And inside him, a quiet critique of British capitalism.  

(Review of "All Art is Propaganda" also by Orwell, below.)

And I bought it in Mayday Books excellent used/marked down section
Red Frog
March 25, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

Misery in Capitalist Nigeria

"Famished Road,” by Ben Okri, 1991

Nigeria in 1991 was not a pretty place.  Nothing has changed since 1991 – it has probably  just gotten worse.  It is run by a kleptocratic and violent military junta; riven by ethnic and religious bloodshed, dominated by a cursed extraction economy, with international oil companies sitting at the top of this cruel pile.  Who says literature cannot be a part of real life?  This book is.

This nightmarish novel combines the hallucinations and dreams of a ‘spirit child’ with the experiences of an actual child in a run-down slum in capitalist Nigeria.  The trees are being cut down around his shack village, the forest is disappearing.  Roads are being built that might swallow everyone whole.  The ghetto inhabitants are ruled over by landlords and bar owners and political thugs.  The bar owner, Madame Koto, becomes swollen with wealth and power.   The child sees the crippled and warped emotional spirits that hover over these poverty-stricken and brutalized labouring people.   His name is Azaro – or “Lazarus”- for he is only temporarily human.  He has chosen to live with the humans, though his dead spirit friends want him back.  He is abducted by spirits and real villains again and again, both friendly and hostile.  He gets lost in the unceasing movement of the city.  He is chased by monsters through city and forest.  His mother sells trinkets, and is kicked out of the bazaar.  His father carries heavy concrete sacks at the city garage area.  His father brutalizes his mother and he out of frustration with his life.  They all live together in a leaking shack in the compound, barely able to pay their rent.  The spirits provide the emotional signage for the terrible destruction meted out to the poor.  Azaro has thrown his lot in with the humans, and pays the price. 

Only once do the inhabitants take revenge as a group.  They take it upon the politicians of the ‘Party of the Rich’ when they offer spoiled milk to the hungry – a milk that makes everyone vomit.  They promise plenty, then dole out poison.  Quite symbolic.  The people burn the politicians’ van, beat their thugs and chase the landlord and politician out of the neighbourhood.  And the people get their picture in the paper for doing this, the first time ever.  And so the thugs come back, chasing photographer Jeremiah, who took pictures of the rebellion.  The thugs haunt the streets with threats of revenge.  This is the atmosphere of “violence and war’ that permeates Nigeria. 

Azaro’s father, known as “Dad,” a tough pugilist who can finish several men with his fists, decides to get out of this grinding poverty by becoming a ‘politician.’  Although he doesn’t quite know what that means.  Dad becomes a supporter of the Party of the Poor until he understands they are lying too.  He fights thugs from the Party of the Rich and also various magical thugs - and defeats them all, though at great cost to his own body.  But each beating makes him see the weakness of the Nigerian people when faced with such political terrors.  Each beating makes him wiser.  Dad becomes the prophet that no one listens to, except his wife and son. 

Okri presents a circular view of life and also a progressive view, and these war quietly in the book’s background.  Will the future be brighter or the same?  He makes the case that the ‘beautiful misery’ of human life is worth it, in a sort of humanist paen.  Well, certainly, most are not about to commit suicide.  But this affirmation swims in a sea of misery and combat, of blood, palm wine and dream visions, and is exposed as a bit weak for all that. 

This is a hard book to read, emotionally. The number of grotesque images multiplies like the flies that inhabit the town, like the rats under the floorboards.  It is a style that might be called ‘magical realism’ except that reality overwhelms the ‘magic’ and the magic reinforces the reality.  Aestheticizing poverty and misery is difficult, and perhaps Gabriel Marquez can do it - because he didn’t really try.  His book, “100 years of Solitude” does not really focus on tragic shanty-town life.  But Okri cannot ignore poverty, and that is a good thing.  This is, to me, a straight-ahead depiction of life in Nigeria for the majority.  Whatever stylistic methods Okri might use from prior African writing - like the bush literature of Amos Tutola - his intention is clearly not to romanticize or veil reality.  As hard as it is at times for readers to separate the spirit language from the real language, they all ultimately flow together into one emotional wallop.

(This book, which was a winner of the Booker Prize, was mentioned in "Monsterology," reviewed below.)

Red Frog
March 21, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Rock the Kasbah

Morocco – Class is in Session!

Marrakesh, the party town, is supposedly the top tourist site in Africa.  Rabat is the old imperial capital of the country, and is still the quieter seat of government.  Fes has a large ancient medina that you could get lost in for days.  Casablanca is the Moroccan version of Marseille – all business and work.  And Ricks’ Café still exists there!  What is not to like? 

Going to another country is an immersive education, and Morocco is no different.  Of course, what you learn might not be on the curriculum.  A colony of the French for many years, a benevolent capitalist monarchy at present, a Muslim country not suffering from inter-Islamic warfare or the worst of intolerance.  The Turks never got there, which is why there is no crescent on their flag, just a green star on a red background, changed by the French. Before that it was plain red.  It was relayed to us that Sultan Mohammed V, the first king of the newly independent nation, greeted the Nazis with a yellow star on his jilaba.  Sephardic Jews have a long history in this nation, but they were attacked after the 1948 war, and the overwhelming majority left for Israel after the Israeli wars.   Some allege that the Mossad organized the attacks to herd Jewish people into Israel.   There are now almost 1 million Moroccan Jews living in Israel.  Their old quarters, the ‘mellah,’ still remain in the older parts of Marrakesh and Fes. 

Because the Turks never got there, because Jews were numerous for many years, because there was and still is a strong European influence (being so close to Spain) and because the indigenous Amazigh people (Berbers to you) are now 40% of the population, Morocco never became a typical Islamic nation.  Women wear hijabs – or they don’t, if they don’t want to.  French is the country’s second language, and the primary language in many newspapers, politics and in education.  Food is Moroccan – tangine stews, fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, couscous, meze salads, avocado smoothies – and also French - patisseries, breads and other culinary influences.  Kif (a form of hashish) is one of their illegal yet profitable major exports, directly through Tangiers to Spain and the rest of Europe.  It is an overwhelmingly agricultural country, whose northern quarter is like the Imperial Valley of California – not desert at all.  The people are for the most part laid-back.  What is not to like? 

I’m not a tour director, so I’ll put on my Marxist X-Ray specs and see.  Tour directors are not allowed to actually tell you the whole story, but I will.  Journey into the labyrinth of the northern souks of Marrakesh, just above the famous rock and roll of the Djemaa-el-Fna square.  Look at all the young men sitting in front of their endless stalls – selling very little.  Look at all the young men sitting in the endless cafes of every city, sipping mint tea and strong coffees, chatting with their friends.  Look at the all the young and old men standing around their rural towns, or any town, with nothing to do.  Look at all the young men doing marginal selling jobs, as touts, dealers, stall minders, salesmen, haphazard cabbies and guides – or nothing at all.  Unemployment is supposedly 9.5% but that figure is as unreliable as our own jiggered unemployment rates.  The precariat is certainly visible.  The bazaar-based peti-bourgeois ‘businessman’ is everywhere.  Where is the proletariat?  To the tourist, they are mostly hidden.  Yet who makes all this stuff?  They are many times female. 

Take the blowhard selling rugs.  “Men sell and women work,” is his slogan.  She smiles behind the loom.  She has no choice.  The mosque has separations between the women and the men, with the women relegated to the upstairs or the back, so as not to ‘tempt’ the men before god.  And what about the women?   Are they not tempted, looking down on so many men and their imam?  Perhaps not.

There are few women in the cafes.  They are mostly hidden at tourist hotels drinking tea with a friend, where they wear no hijab.  Yet there are almost none in the public cafes.  They are in the grocery stores and at home, cooking, taking care of the children, cleaning the home while Mohammad smokes and drinks tea.  I saw women on scooters, going somewhere.  But not hanging out.  Perhaps the cafes need to be integrated? 

The pushy rug man has too many rugs, which he never sells, yet he does not come down in price.  The quiet wholesaler admits he has too many rugs –stacks to the ceiling.  Overproduction is the term.  The stalls are full of crap that never gets sold, that sits for years.  Chinese, Moroccan, from anywhere.  Not that this is that different from so many small businesses all over the world, even in the U.S.  Too many rugs, not enough money.  Traditional designs that no one wants.  Too much stuff, in an economy that only has one point - to turn out more and more commodities, to commodify everything in sight.  It is wasting the talents of millions of unemployed Moroccans. 

The term ‘Islamic Art’ is an oxymoron – a contradiction that screams static.  Traditional ‘Islamic” designs on pottery and rugs are made up of mathematical designs, completely symmetrical floral patterns, absent any human face or figure, or representation of reality – except the ‘hand of Fatima.’ Fatima was Muhammed’s favorite wife. He had several wives, just like the Mormons and the Christian prophets too, and she alone seems to have made the grade because she first … bore him a son.  Right on, Fatima, a son.  Static design sends a message that the world does not change.  It is circular.  It repeats.  It is not dialectical.  It cannot vary.  Nor is it human even.  It can be done with a protractor, by machine.  Yet it is mostly done by hand.

The Amazigh, by contrast, have some freedom in their designs, in their arts.  They are a darker people from the desert and mountains who used to rule Morocco, and then adopted Allah.  They are poorer as a strata, do much of the manual and hand agricultural labor, and were called “Berbers.” The term is a derivative of the word ‘barbarian’ – i.e. Berber is an insult.   Amazigh are oppressed in most nations in North Africa, but in Morocco they are treated better than most, perhaps due to their numbers.  However, their language and autonomy are still at issue, and the Moroccan left makes that a cause. 

Muhammed was a businessman.  The religion of Islam seems to be based on the rule of a pre-capitalist trading / merchant strata that united tribes and seized power in what became Saudi Arabia.  He was not a carpenter.  Nor did he get crucified – he destroyed pagan idols instead.  To this day, Islam is not a proletarian ideology but one of the medinas – the shop areas – the small businessman.  Yet as the 5 calls to prayer a day (!!!) are sung out by the muezzin, very few head to the omnipresent minarets or plopp on clean rugs to pray.  Minarets are scattered around the city and in Marrakesh no building is allowed to be higher than the tallest mosque's minaret.  At one pottery factory where about 20 worked only two workers headed to the prayer room.  Just like the U.S., the number that actually show up at church is a minority of the ‘god’ believing.  I heard muezzin at 4 in the morning, which should give you an indication of why any working person trying to get a good nights sleep might question this practice. 

Morocco is ruled by a paternalistic king – Mohammed VI - who has palaces in 4 ‘royal’ cities.  He’s married to an educated woman.  He is installing a massive solar array in the desert that will provide much electricity to the country.  The government is banning plastic bags as a curse.  Morocco borrowed some ‘mixed economy’ ideas from the French and their own history.  Phosphates – which are the most valuable export – are owned by the government, not private individuals or corporations.  The largest cell-phone company is a third-owned by the government.  People cannot be evicted easily if they cannot pay for new lodgings – it can take years to remove them.  Oil is public property if discovered, as are other minerals and ground substances. 

Yet privatization is also proceeding apace.  The main freeways are toll roads owned by private companies, which got help building them with public funds.  Morocco advertises itself as a great ‘off-shoring’ destination for European corporations – a sweatshop at their doorstep so to speak.  Capital rules the country through the king. 

The king is the ultimate ruler over the constituent assembly, the military, foreign policy, and also a ‘commander of the faithful’ – which means he is a direct descendent of the ‘prophet Muhammed.’  Right.  A socialist coalition was influential from 1998 until 2002, but still the King held ultimate power.  Communists were heavily repressed in the 1970s – under King Hassan II thousands of militants were given 10-year sentences, while others were disappeared.  People pretend that all present arrests are of fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, but the government also arrests leftists demanding real democracy.  Morocco still rules over their very own colonial possession – the Southwest Sahara and the Sahrawi people.  The Moroccan Army defeated the Polasario Liberation Front in the Southwest Sahara many years ago and continue their military presence there.  Morocco is not a democracy, as much as the King wants tourists and his best friends Clinton and Obama to believe it.  Many radicals in the kingdom make that point.  The apologists say that Moroccans are ‘not ready’ for democracy. King George might have said the same about the American rabble.  Yet they have many parties and a parliament.  I think it is the King that is not ‘ready' for democracy.

Pardon Americans for being stunned, but the U.S. got rid of kings 250 years ago.  Very few nations have them anymore – they are sort of like the crazy uncle in the closet. 

Down with Kings and Money!
Salaam Alaikum!

Red Frog
March 17, 2014