Thursday, February 23, 2017

Another Spain?


The middle-east has become a selective nightmare of drone strikes, obvious propaganda, civilian deaths, blow-back, Islamic fascism, Saudi money, a massive refugee crisis and imperial strategy.  What can a progressive do? 

The Syrian civil war, funded by the Saudi and Qatari Wahabbists against their religious opponents, the dictatorial Alewite government of Bashar Assad, has seen any progressive content in the rebellion subsumed by the Al Nusra front and various ‘good’ jihadis.  The ‘Free” Syrian Army is now under Sunni jihadi control, while Daesh controls the other half of the rebellion.  At the present, it looks like a later version of the imperial crusade against Saadam Hussein, but this time with the U.S. letting proxies do the fighting and the religious affiliations switched.

PKK Flag
Rolling Stone has just published an article that will peak the interest of anyone interested in actual fights for socialism in the middle-east.  The article is titled “The Dudes vs. ISIS.”  In spite of the stupid title, it is straight reporting.  In Kurdish-controlled sections of northern Syria, the Kurds are carving out an egalitarian society led by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).  The YPG is mostly Kurdish, but also contains Christian Assyrians, some Arabs and a group of western leftists. It is led by a former Marxist-Leninist, Abdullah ┼Écalan, who has now become a supporter of the writings of the anarchist Murray Bookchin.  THIS is unique.      

The Kurdish people have been denied national self-determination and are now trying to achieve it in the form of “Rojava,” in a multi-sided fight with Daesh and sometimes with the Turkish military, with little help from the purely nationalist Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq.  Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq and Syria and have been denied national independence since the colonialists drew the boundaries of the middle-east.  According to the article, they have liberated an area the size of Massachusetts of 4 million people, and are instituting a secular, social-democratic government run by peoples assemblies, which protects the rights of women, advocates ecological sustainability and limits capital.  This is unlike almost anything else in the middle-east – which is for the most part a bastion of theocracy, the bazaar, military dictatorships and failing states.
Rojava in northern Syria
Young anarchists, communists and independent leftists from European countries like Italy, Britain and Spain and also from the U.S. have been traveling there, some to the socialist-controlled city of Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, and then on into Rojava to take up arms. Since Spain and perhaps some deserters in Vietnam or volunteers with the Sandinistas, this is one of the rare instances of American leftists who have no love for bourgeois pacifism to be able to directly fight for what they think is a socialistic society.  The internationals in Rojava formed a sniper group, then their own company, but are still far below the numbers of internationals that went to Spain to fight the fascist Franco.  Some 60,000 went to fight in that war.  The article in Rolling Stone personally profiles some of the young men, mostly disaffected with their lives under U.S. capitalism.  Some have been killed, some have returned a number of times, some are still there. But the number of internationals in Rojava may grow. 

Daesh is afraid of women fighters and both the YPJ and now the Yazidi religious minority have women under arms.  According to the article, presently the YPG is moving on Raqqa on the Euphrates in northern Syria, along with other forces.  Raqqa is the ostensible capital of Daesh’s brutal ‘caliphate.’ 

Three cautionary points here.  One, the U.S. government can prosecute anyone who goes to fight for groups the U.S. might deem ‘terrorist.” The PKK is still declared a ‘terrorist’ organization because of U.S. anti-communism and Turkish pressure.  The Feds have used this law to jail Somali teens who traveled to link up with the Islamic fundamentalist El Shaabab in Somalia.   They could use it to prosecute those who go to fight for Rojava if they change policy.  Two, the U.S. government has military embedded with Kurdish forces besieging Raqqa.  However, those advisors can be withdrawn at a moments notice, as leftist Kurds are only being backed because they are actually effective against the anti-working class elements in Daesh. Once the reactionary Turkish government and the U.S. decide the Kurds are dispensable - boom!  Three, Raqqa, while having some Kurdish civilians living there, might be a trap to exhaust the YPJ/YPG and the PKK in a bloodbath, with other factions pick up the pieces. 

Nevertheless, the article is an eye-opener and shakes the view that the middle-east is a hopeless ‘mess’ of bad possibilities. This opening in the middle east is based on the collapse of the colonialist 'state' system imposed by the West.  It also reflects the weakness and decline of the U.S. military and government, which has failed time after time to impose their will on the middle-east and in places like Afghanistan. Support Kurdish independence and socialism.  Support Rojava.

Red Frog
February 23, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017


"Ways of Seeing,” by David Berger, 1972

This classic on art was written by Berger, a Marxist who died in 2016.  It is inspired by Walter Benjamin and a bit by Levi-Strauss.  The book came out of a video series on BBC.  It combines text with black and white pictures of older paintings between the Renaissance and up to Impressionism, with some chapters made up of only pictures.  As Berger points out, the eye came before the word.
A hunting we shall go ... what wonderful brush strokes!
As you might expect when a Marxist looks at art, the impression is far different than the standard formalist criticism of a bourgeois art critic.  Berger’s essay hits on things you might have thought during your last gallery visit or non-visit, but ones which you never clearly formulated as legitimate ideas. 

For instance, Berger looks at a picture by Frans Hals, an aged, penniless and almost homeless painter, doing portraits of the ruling burghers of Haarlem, Holland.  The rich people portrayed are somewhat ugly, drunk or creepy.  However, the bourgeois art critic only discusses the ‘play of light and shadow,’ not the possible class hostility the painter might have felt. Berger looks at the plethora of paintings of things – still lifes or land holdings for instance – which actually parade the ownership of these things.  In the past, the elite had walls covered with oil paintings, by this method attempting to absorb the things in the images into their literal woodwork.  

Berger discusses the invention of the camera and art reproductions, and how they change and subvert the nature of oil-painted originals.  Timelessness disappeared because of them.  Berger looks at advertising (which he somehow calls ‘publicity’) and illustrates how it tries to borrow from classic art to give itself some inherent quality, which it absolutely lacks.  Berger has a chart which shows that the majority of people think present art museums most closely resemble churches, and second, libraries - which should explain why they are sometimes depopulated.  Berger has another that shows the more education you have, except in Holland, the more you visit art museums - showing the class nature of art museums.  He slyly describes how the words in the explanation next to a painting change the painting.  Berger feels that landscape painters actually led the way in technical changes in oil painting. 

Look What We Have to Eat!
Pornography or the ‘pin-up’  - the woman as beautiful object - definitely originated from oil painting. Berger describes two kinds of oil paintings of nakedness.  The first being the most common:  the nude – the object woman, where male desire becomes fantasy.  The second is more rare, the naked - the real woman, where the woman remains herself.  Countless nudes dot the museums of Europe and the U.S., with virtually no comment.

Here are some of the more leftist quotes from Berger:
  • Art critics I:  “A privileged minority is retrospectively inventing a history to justify the role of the ruling classes.” 
  • Museums I:  “The work of art is enveloped in an atmosphere of entirely bogus religiosity.” 
  • The art market:  “The market price is said to be a reflection of its spiritual value.”
  • Sophisticated culture experts and painting catalogues: “They are declared art when their line of descent can be certified.”
  • The promotion of old art:  “…makes art seem noble and hierarchies seem thrilling.”
  • Art critics II:  “Clerks of the nostalgia of a ruling class in decline.” 
  • Old art:  “The art of the past no longer exists as it once did, its authority is lost.”  This thought might occur to you upon seeing your 200th Italian Madonna and child.
  • Oil painting I:  “Oil painting did to appearances what capitalism did to social relations…  It reduced everything to the equality of objects.” 
  • Museums II:  “Visitors to art museums are often overwhelmed by the number of works on display…such a reaction is altogether reasonable.”  Berger points out that everything is jumbled together on purpose.
  • Portraits:  “…equality must be made inconceivable.”  The formality of a portrait creates a distance based on class. 
  • Gold leaf in paint or on frames:  Exactly.
  • Classic paintings:  “…a certain moral value was ascribed to the study of the classics.” 
  • “Genre” pictures:  Berger points out that the 'low-lifes' in most of these hack pictures always look happy.
  • Marxists:  “We are accused of being obsessed by property.  The truth is the other way around.  It is the society and culture in question which is so obsessed.” 
  • Advertising I:  It functioned during the cold war as the ‘visible sign of the ‘Free’ World.” 
  • Oil painting II:  “Oil painting, before it was anything else, was a celebration of private property.” 
  • Advertising II:  “Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.” 
  • Advertising III:  “The working self envies the consuming self.”
  • Advertising IV:  A paraphrase:  The hope to acquire becomes the lone satisfaction under the culture of capitalism.  
If you realize the present art world is pricey, constipated and barely living, you might like this book.

Other books or commentaries on art reviewed below:  9.5 Thesis on Art,” “All Art is Propaganda,” “Art is Dead,” “Desert of Forbidden Art,” “Women in Soviet Art.”

Red Frog
February 17, 2017

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Short Reviews of Thin Books

“The Worker Elite: Notes on the Labor Aristocracy,” by bromma; “Night Shift,” by Ron Kolm


“Worker Elite” is a book probably written by an anarcho-syndicalist.  ‘bromma,’ a former Canadian/Quebecois unionist, attempts to draw a class line between more privileged workers and less privileged workers, indicating that the former become traitors to ‘revolution.’  While giving valuable data and drawing accurate material lines even within poor countries and internal communities, he ultimately fails in his thesis.  That is because revolution is not the only working class goal.  To even get to that point, a series of transitional demands would have to be achieved.

Understanding that wealth and income play a role in consciousness and behavior is not a secret to any materialist.  No news here.  It is one of the great problems that socialists have in advanced and complex capitalist countries, in any class society, an issue that capital creates due to its strategy not to immiserate everyone.  

Here bromma uses that understanding to make a hash of class categories.  He blurs the lines or disappears the contradictions between union bureaucrats and union members; workers in the global “south” and workers in the global ‘north; the actual middle class and the actual working class; white-collar workers and blue-collar workers.  Essentially, drawing a 'class line' within the working class seems to be somewhat sectarian!  I couldn’t even find a reference to any white worker in north America who wasn’t privileged economically.  There is so much blurring, you ultimately have to guess who he’s talking about in much of the book.

'Privileged' workers on the Midnight Shift
His main fire is aimed at union workers in the global north and privileged workers in the global south.  bromma calls them ‘middle class’ – thereby identifying their own possible self-consciousness with their actual class reality.  He doesn’t like the term ‘labor aristocracy’ which has been used in the past, and substitutes the term ‘worker elite,’ widening it to include all unionists, not just highly skilled workers.   His main material tool is an economic category called ‘purchasing power parity’ (PPP).  Bromma has useful though somewhat dated statistics comparing workers world-wide.  He established a PPP of around $10,000-$15,000 as the threshold of his middle-class category.  Autoworkers worldwide are especially in his sights, due to their higher incomes such as in Mexico or South Korea.

As capital is driving more workers into a less privileged position world-wide, the great task will be to unite the struggles of all workers across economic strata. Given the complexity of class structures in most countries, this is not an easy task.  Given union membership in the U.S. is at a serious low, that should bring joy to bromma’s heart.  But change is certainly made harder by an analysis that turns possible allies into the ‘enemy.’ Revolutions do not come until the bulk of the working class agrees, and that cannot be changed by aiming your main fire at the wrong people. 


“Night Shift’ is a book of straight-forward short stories, only one of which concerns actually working a night shift in a plastics factory.  That is disappointing, as night-shift workers face peculiar and nasty problems.  Most of them are vignettes about working crappy jobs in bookstores, non-profits or the plastics factory, or writing a crappy book.  Kolm’s experiences led to problems with marriages and relationships.  I worked in a plastics factory for 2 days and left due to the toxic environment.  I still ride by small plastic’s factories that now employ mostly Latino labor and on a warm summer morning the factory doors are open and you can smell the fumes.  Kolm, after his night shift, literally stunk so bad his wife told him to sleep on the couch. It was a dangerous and toxic environment. Why he didn’t leave is beyond me.  Kolm mentions drugs a lot, so that might have been part of it. 

Kolm is one of a group of working-class writers that cover the de-politicized and seamy side of working-class life in the U.S., people like Bukowski and Palahniuk.  As a writer, his first foray into literature along the lines of a middle-class academic provides a certain amount of humor.  His attempt to combine Joyce, Ben Johnson, Swift, Beckett and Celine caused a wordy wreck.  It became ‘the worst book he ever read.’ These stories are the kind of things you might hear at a ‘reading’ session in the back of a bar.  I have a severe allergy to short stories but if you like them, this might work for you.

Other fiction/non-fiction about factory life mentioned below:  Factory Days,”Night Shift” (by David Macaray this time); “Shop Class as Soulcraft.”

And I bought them at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
February 11, 2017

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Non-Fictional Fiction

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Life, Death & Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” by Katherine Boo, 2012

This book reads like a luminous and intense fiction story written by someone who has had much contact with the working underclass of Mumbai.  What astonishes is that at the end of the book, the author tells you that it is based on 4 years of interviews with slum dwellers in an actual squatter neighborhood called Annawadi near the Mumbai airport in India, and a review of 3 thousand public records that related to these squatters.  All the events and people are real, including the use of their real names.  The period is from 2007-2010, during which even this little community is impacted by Wall Street’s 2008 mortgage crash.

Recyclers from Annawadi
So this is some kind of new form of ‘fiction’ – not historical so much as sociological / political non-fiction fiction!  Because of course Boo cannot create all thoughts and dialog from research. 

The fluffy title “Beautiful Forevers” comes from an advertising slogan about floor tile posted on the tall wall to the airport, behind which Annawadi lies.  A bit of irony, as there are no beautiful forevers there.

The book tells the tale of a few Muslim families living in a majority Hindu slum, peopled by rural migrants from various parts of northern India.  A septic pond sits near the slum.  Water is shared by everyone from a single pipe.  Toilets are sorts of outhouses.  The living quarters are made of loose bricks, plywood, bamboo, tarpaulins, corrugated metal and whatever people can find to cover themselves.  After the 2008 economic crash and a subsequent Islamic terror attack on downtown Mumbai, fewer tourists came through the airport and so times got harder.

One of the main occupations is collecting valuable garbage from the near-by airport – cups, cans, metal, plastic – anything that can be resold.  Some get temp jobs as waiters or baggage boys.  Others run scams based on fake schools or non-existent ‘anti-poverty’ or women’s organizations to get international aid – money which is then divied-up among the powerful.  Bribery demands from everyone in authority – police, coroners, investigators, government clerks, lawyers, politicians – are constant.  Many voters are disenfranchised and never get to vote.  The conservative Shiv Sena and the neo-liberal Congress Party take turns basically buying votes from the slum.  Some boys become thieves.  The girls fear being sent back through arranged marriages to brutal men in backward villages, as they actually have more freedom in the slum.  Suicide by drinking rat poison or anonymous murder of scavenger boys occurs on a regular basis.  Plans to bulldoze the slum and build malls or other upscale buildings hover over Annawadi the whole time. 

The key plot here is a fight between two families in which a women lights herself on fire, and her death is blamed on a Muslim family.  Three members of that family are arrested and thrown in jail, and into the hands of the absurd and crumbling Indian ‘justice’ system where they await their fate.

The ‘modern’ people - the ‘over-city’, the foreign airport tourists, the Mumbai wealthy - all weigh on the denizens of Annawadi.  Even these slum people now think in the new setting of neo-liberalism they may escape their conditions by working hard, getting a bit of education, by copying or making friends with the better-off.  None of it happens.

Boo captures their individual humanity in the midst of this trapped situation.  But instead of uniting politically as a class or group, she shows how they fight among themselves, jealous of any financial success, attempting some individual financial trick that will catapult them out of the slum.  In the process they are unable to conceive of any bigger force than their own individual families. As the stories show, oppression oppresses – something those who romanticize poverty forget on a regular basis.  It does not always make people stronger, but instead can destroy them bit by bit. 

Other books related to India reviewed below:  Capitalism:  A Ghost Story,” “Annihilation of Caste,” “Field Notes on Democracy,” “The God Market,” “Garbageland,” “Southern Insurgency,” “Walking With The Comrades,” Tropic of Chaos,” “Story of My Assassins,” and “Last Man in the Tower.”    

Red Frog
February 5, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Stick it the Man!

“Captain Fantastic,” film directed by Matt Ross, 2016

This is a film that was excoriated by some mainstream film reviewers – Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian calling it “fatuous and tiresome,” “phoney-baloney,’ and ‘cult-like,’ while the leading character was a contradictory ‘pro-Buddhist’ atheist and ‘pompous and preposterous.’  One-star!!
Are You On the Bus?
On the other hand, if you are not a fan of what is left of mainstream culture, it is pretty funny.  Viggo Mortensen (a Hollywood leftie) plays the father, Ben Cash.  He is taking care of 6 kids of various ages in the Oregon or Washington woods the old hippie way.  They raise their own vegetables, kill their own meat, play their own music, study their own curriculum and learn skills like rock-wall climbing.  Into this isolated Eden intrudes a problem.  Their depressed mother, who had left them to go to live in Arizona near her mother and father, commits suicide.  This subject becomes the plot of the whole film.  The family decides – against the wishes of the woman’s father who blames the daughter’s depression and suicide on Ben – to go to the funeral anyway.  One of Ben’s kids agrees with the grandfather, so there are more problems in paradise. 

And so the family embarks on their visit to that other planet – the U.S. of A.  All of them are atheists, so they fool a cop who stops their bus ‘Steve” by singing religious songs.  They visit a roadside cafe offering pop, hamburgers and fries.  Ben the dad says they are leaving because there is no real food on the menu.  They ultimately rob a store (…) to make their own dinner over a campfire.  Instead of Christmas, they celebrate “Noam Chomsky” day, and dad hands out high-quality knives as presents.  Ben parades his nudity at one point and discusses sex frankly.  Being physically fit themselves, the children are stunned by how many fat people there are in the U.S.A. 

Arriving at a relatives’ house in the suburbs, the children drink wine in front of their kids during dinner, to the dismay of the relatives.  They actually tell the truth about the death to the relatives’ kids too, instead of lying about it.  At one point, when questioned about his home-schooling, Ben brings his 8-year old daughter down and compares her knowledge of the Bill of Rights to the relatives’ older children.  This somewhat tactless behavior is apologized for, but funny nevertheless.  They make fun of the massive stores and feel discomfort in the gigantic house the grandparents live in. They are intent on an atheist cremation, per their mother’s wishes, while the grandfather wants a church and casket burial.  They disrupt the funeral service, to which the father was not invited.

Early in the film, the 18 year-old son Bodevan at one point announces that he was a Trotskyist and is now a Maoist.   Ben responds by telling him, “Stay away from Marxism!” When do you hear that kind of dialog?!  I won’t tell you the rest, but ultimately their anarchist ‘deep ecology’ cultural politics do not split the family, in spite of Ben’s risk-taking with his children.  The son, Bodevan, goes off to travel in Namibia instead of accepting college offers from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth that his mother helped him apply for.

Ben is supposedly ‘Captain Fantastic’ - but the real problem here is whether families like this actually exist.  The ghost of hippiedom haunts Republican and Democrat Amerika in the form of real people and real policies to this day.  We all know this.  But whether ‘deep ecology’ families live in idyllic settings right now is up for grabs.  Certainly the resonance of the film comes from the fact that actual people are doing many of the things this family does.  The director himself grew up in somewhat similar circumstances, raised by his mother.  As to the climbing scene, the leading rock climber in the U.S. took his 6-year old up a mountain in real life. Yet ultimately its ‘factuality’ is not the real point of the film – it is a polemic of sorts against right-wing capitalist culture. I did not see it as a film pretending to be about a real family, as Bradshaw did.

The film ends by one of the young girls telling Bodevan as he’s leaving for Namibia, “Power to the People!” and “Stick it to the Man!”  The funny part is that these slogans are still on-target 50 years later.  And yet no film made in the present day ever says them.  That must be why Mr. Bradshaw really went nuts.

Other posts on hippies below:  The Hippies Were Right,” several commentaries on the “Grateful Dead,” a “Hippie Modernism” museum show and a book review:  Daydream Sunset.”

Red Frog
January 29, 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ride the Elephant Or the Pony?

Will the Left Continue Business as Usual?

Over half a million protesters in D.C.  Hundreds of thousands in Chicago, LA & New York and many other U.S. cities.  On Friday, 6,000 protesters led by a coalition of leftist forces demonstrated in Minneapolis. In St. Paul between 50,000 and 90,000 came out on Saturday in a somewhat vague parade - the biggest demonstration in Minnesota history.  Many, especially women, have spoken.

What do they have to be afraid of?
Obviously something has changed, and it is not just another Republican administration coming into office.  The gloves are off.  The mask over capital has dropped. The facade of ‘reasonableness,’ compromise, bi-partisanship and process is done, even if this is not apparent to the majority of the Democratic Party bureaucrats and politicians or the corporate media.  These people now and in the past have been collaborators, and in a war, what happens to collaborators?

As they have done a dozens of times before, the corporate politicians will attempt to lead this struggle into their normal channels.  Democratic politicians tried to hop on these protests as if they were some kind of vanguard.  Vote for us!  Organize for 2020!  Don’t have a class view!  Let’s unite against Trump and think about nothing else!  When actually the Democrats 'foamed the runway' for the Trump Zeppelin to land.  The failures of Obama and Clinton in regard to the working class led to this.

What is the Left going to do in this new situation?  I mean the real Left, not the professional strata of middle-class progressives who are allies of capital.  Will the Left do the same old thing they have been doing for years?  Which has gotten us into a position of being a minor irritant on a national scale?  Probably, as the cynics like to say. 

Caligula Prepares to Rule
What is apparent to everyone is that unity is needed.  But a unity with the Democratic Party apparatus, the graveyard of progressives, is fatal. This has been proved in the past.  It is the role of the actual Left to create an alternative pole of attraction.  Can they do it?

From history, certain U.S. left groups ride high for a short while, but cannot make the turn to a mass organization.  They mostly exist as a 'kernel' of knowledge, skills and organization, but the seed never sprouts.  Some groups remain stuck on one tactic, like marches.  Nor am I talking about short-lived ‘united fronts’ for one event, such as happened on Friday, though these are a start.  A real united front lasts longer than a day.

Two attempts at ‘unity’ have been made in the recent past.  Sanders is the most obvious example of an attempt to create a ‘progressive’ faction “Tea” Party in the Democrats. (‘Occupy the Democrats’ is their fantasy.)  Riffing on this, smaller forces around the Communist Party and their periphery and their splits are calling for left ‘unity’ - including the Democrats as part of their strategy.   DSA is a prime mover in this as well, given they have had a 50+ year policy of deep entry into the Democrats.  This reflects outfits linked to the Working Families Party in New York, which endorses Democrats regularly but claims to be independent.  

However, as the re-election of Pelosi and Schumer and the coming defeat of Ellison have shown, this is not in the cards.  The reason is the capitalist controllers of the Democratic Party cannot afford to lose to some kind of ‘democratic socialist’ strain, which would be like mixing oil and water.  This is unlike the Tea-Party, which was a pro-small business strata in a large-business controlled Republican Party, essentially mixing thicker oil with thinner oil.  They are not equivalent struggles, class-wise.  No more than Trump or Pence are really enemies.

The other example was a meeting in Chicago last year of Socialist Alternative, the Green Party, the International Socialists, Black Agenda Report and others to form some kind of ‘left block’ independent of the Democrats.   The middle-class Green Party has recently adopted ‘eco-socialism’ according to reports, so this is a significant move to the left.  Something like this effort is what we need as far as unity, but now obviously on a far larger scale. 

I’m not exactly sure how a formation will come about – whether unity among left groups and publications can lead to unity among broader anti-capitalist forces, leading to unity with some unions, community groups and indigenous tribes to form a broad anti-capitalist class front.  But this coming together is the only thing that will create a pole of attraction.  Otherwise this movement will get co-opted again by the liberal corporate Democrats. (Again!). McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Obama … all paths to the graveyard of real change, and doorways to the ultra-right.

This process has to start with the most conscious forces and people on the left.

Anti-capitalist groups and socialist groups need to come together to develop a 10-15 point program that covers broad interests.  They need to block together in a permanent united front, still allowing for organizational freedom within the block.  They should embrace both legal and illegal tactics, electoral and non-electoral methods, allowing work in unions, workplaces, community organizations, cooperatives, the streets – anywhere possible.  They need to put aside certain personality conflicts, small group mentalities, cynicism and sectarianism – a tall order!  “Single issue” organizations need to re-evaluate how their issue is connected to every other left issue.   

A permanent block can become a pole of attraction drawing more and more organizations and members into a larger and larger force – something the left has not had since the 1930s and 1940s.  It can challenge the pro-capitalist attitudes of some community organizations.  It can suck working class voters out of identifying with the Democrats and Republicans and bring allegiance by unions.  A mass-based labor/populist party may come about as the result of these efforts, but at this time most unions are still in the camp of the Democrats.  Even in the 1960s and 1970s organizations could not unite to oppose the capitalist system.  Yet without nation-wide and even international weight, you cannot beat these people.  So the question is, do you want to beat these people?

Actually, capital is in worse shape now than it was in that period.  The planet is in worse shape.  “Democracy” is showing that it is not.  A ‘modern’ corporate state that takes off the mask in such a vicious way shows its own fragility.  The corporate overlords are actually weaker than they appear.  A world-wide endgame is even visible over the horizon – an endgame that can go one of two ways – to barbarism or to what some people call socialism, but not the kind of socialism that has been seen in the past. 

‘Workers of the world unite’ is not just a slogan for other people. If you think your group or single struggle is sufficient, look at history.  Until it is combined with millions of people, it won’t suffice, as most of us know.  It certainly hasn’t so far.  

P.S. - Counterpunch had an article on the large march in D.C. on Saturday by a European leftist feminist.  Not sure it's true but it certainly captures the culture of part of the event.  The truth will be in the organizational results of the event.  She said that:  "The pussy hat symbolises the desire to be political without actually engaging in anything political whatsoever."  

Red Frog
January 28, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Revolutionary Humanism

"Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism,” by David Harvey, 2014

Every contradiction doesn’t end in crisis or a final crisis, but the more contradictions an economic system has, the more chances for failure, just as a sick man with 3 or 17 diseases is in trouble.  Harvey here wants to concentrate on economic issues, but that still leaves much room for elaboration.  He names 3 different levels of contradiction that capital is subject to – 7 foundational; 7 that move around and 3 that are dangerous and perhaps fatal.  If this seems unnecessarily complicated and perhaps unfocused, Harvey’s response would be that society is far more complicated now than it was in the past, so lets not ‘dumb it down.’  Radicals cannot win through simplicity, he argues.

Count 'Em!
For instance, the prime contradiction that many Marxists focus on – between capital and labor – he includes as one among 7 ‘foundational’ ones.  What is subsequently missing from his analysis is the role the working class plays in withdrawing its labor as a form of fundamental power, or as the source of all use values.  (In addition, his idea of the working class is limited to factory workers…)  Nearly every person works most of their life, so ‘labor’ becomes central to anyone’s life experience.  However, as Harvey points out, debt, money, technology, markets, private property, the state, the division of labor, nature, growth, alienation and uneven geographic development all play roles.  Labor (and nature) produce surplus value, and can be considered as the ‘foundation’ of ANY profits.  But capitalists also gouge the working class when they go home from work through mortgages, fees, taxes, interest, apartment rents, monopoly prices and other methods of accrual in the circulation of capital. These subtleties are Harvey’s main contribution. 

Harvey calls himself a ‘revolutionary humanist’ while citing Marx frequently, so he is essentially attempting to separate himself from any identification with ‘socialism’ as a term, perhaps due to its past associations.  He advocates an ‘anti-capitalist’ movement at present and scatters suggestions throughout the book about how to resist.

This book is especially useful to any autodidact for a broad analysis of capital.  It is not written in a congested academic style, so is somewhat easy to read.  I am not going to list every contradiction, but I am going to indicate some of Harvey’s better (or worse) insights:

  1. Money will have to be gradually eliminated in a post-capitalist society, which will happen as more and more values are socialized and exchange becomes based on sharing or potlach. He suggests a quasi-monetary form of money that ‘disappears’ after a certain time… as numbers in a bank account for instance.
  2. Money is now created out of thin air by the central banks, as a form of fictitious capital, which shows the central role of the state in the present maintenance of capital.  This is part of its two main roles under capital, the other being the application of force.
  3. ‘Intellectual property’ is at present key to capital’s attempt to privatize everything, including DNA, seeds, human and animal life, ideas etc.
  4. Neither full centralization nor decentralization will be optimal for a post-capitalist society.  Certain functions will have to lean to one or the other.  Under capital, sometimes decentralization allows centralized control.
  5. Harvey thinks that if you could remove the control of money from the state, then its monopoly over violence would also be weakened or ended.  This idea suggests a peaceful transition to post-capitalism.
  6. Illegal activities – drugs, slavery, guns & sex trafficking, tax evasion, theft, usury, corruption, fraud and price fixing, Ponzi schemes or market manipulation – are all integral to the functioning of capital, yet are not included in official statistics or theory.  “Dispossession” is at the heart of capital, no matter its method.
  7. “Between equal rights, force decides.”  - Marx.
  8. Workers self-management, communes, nationalization, co-operatives ultimately fail because they are still embedded in the web of capital’s contradictions.
  9. Capital must circulate or die – which is why the present speed of circulation has increased, especially given its technological and world-wide reach.  “Fast fashion,” tech ‘upgrades,’ commodity fetishes, planned obsolescence and disposability are all essential to capital.  Excessive amounts of ‘fixed’ capital (buildings, highways, ports, stadiums) threaten this circulation, which is why they have to be destroyed or replaced frequently.
  10. Harvey spends a lot of time on the need for local workers to be paid ‘well’ so they can buy goods.  Credit has been a substitute for many years.  However, he ignores the imperial project, which markets itself to a world-wide middle class instead.
  11. Technological innovation is part of the ‘creative destruction’ implicit in capital – though different classes are subject to the two sides of this equation.  Robotization - and computers are really robots - is a weapon in the class struggle, increasing the pace of labor and unemployment.  Robots and tech improvements will never increase overall employment under capital - only the reverse.
  12. Harvey does not believe that military conflicts arise out of capital’s contradictions. (!)  He does not explain why wars happen.
  13. ‘Competition’ is the central liberal economic myth about capital.  Monopoly / oligopoly is foundational to actual capital. 
  14. De-centralized, ‘local’ focus and tactics by anti-capitalists have left the ‘macro level almost bare of oppositional powers.’ The essential organizational and political weakness of the U.S. Left is here revealed.
  15. Capital creates its own environment and space and over-accumulation funds the perpetual re-organization of production of environments.  Harvey points out that capital moves its failings around so as not to make them obvious.  Can you say Detroit and Sheffield?  The urban ‘spectacle’ is its replacement.
  16. Advanced capital in general will support multiculturalism as long as it does not threaten labor control and basic class inequality. 
  17. Living off non-productive capital (financialization) will ultimately lead to a severe crisis of the system.
  18. Education and free time beyond a certain level for the masses of people threatens capital.  “The ‘human capital’ theory … is certainly one of the weirdest widely accepted economic ideas that could be imagined.” 
  19. Everyday life is being monetized as household labor is being replaced by market-based transactions.
  20. One of capital’s greatest tricks is to get people to create content on the internet for free, then monetize their work.  Funny stuff, folks…
  21. “Compound growth” is impossible under capital.  Harvey sees this as key to capital’s ultimate crisis, although he thinks no crisis is inevitable and that human action is key.  Capital can postpone this crisis with ‘disaster capitalism,’ wars or depressions and further privatization of the public and personal spheres.
  22. ‘Conscience laundering’ is another name for the application of charity, or the personal effect of the ‘charity-industrial’ complex, ala Bill Gates and company.
  23. Harvey vacillates over whether nature is in such straights as to be a threat to capital.  He seems to be very vague on the effects of global warming.
  24. Harvey thinks that human alienation from capital will ultimately prod people to revolt and perhaps overthrow this system.  This alienation is increasing across the globe, especially among younger people.
Again, another long list, but my purpose here is not so much to write some elegant summation, but to provide specifics that can be used in debates on the Left about the future of capital. 

Other books by Harvey reviewed below:  Rebel Cities” and “The Enigma of Capital.  There are many other reviews on books about capitalism. Use search box, upper left.

And for those of you who like to watch:  Harvey talking about this book on YouTube:

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
January 22, 2017

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What they Never Talk about on MLK Day:

“Orders to Kill – The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by William F. Pepper, foreword by Dexter Scott King, 1995 (a reprise)

This book cracks the case of the assassination of Martin Luther King, which mainstream reporters have never bothered to do.  It is the powerful result of a 20-year legal search for information and facts carried out by Pepper, James Earl Ray’s defense attorney.  It names the assassin – who is now dead and was a sergeant of the Memphis police department, a sharp-shooter named Earl Clark.

The Truth About the Assassination
Pepper describes how the secret services set up Ray as the assassin – luring Ray to Memphis for a gun deal, then renting a hotel room for him across from the Lorraine Motel, then dropping a bag with a decoy weapon on the street outside.  The CIA contact was called "Raul" and got Ray cars, money, a pass out of Canada, and the gun.  And like the Kennedy assassination, a gun that had no relation to the one that killed King.  How the real murder rifle was stashed at a coffee shop, Jim’s Grill, across from the Lorraine Motel and picked up by Clark, who went out the back door.  This restaurant was owned by Loyd Jowers, who was later a defendant in the civil case and testified to this on TV.  How King’s room was mysteriously changed to the second floor of the Lorraine for a better shot, from a protected internal room.   

How King was also triangulated by military sharpshooters and police on two high buildings around the motel as described by participants, in case the first shooter missed. Military photographers were present on a water tower, but their photos were never made public. This evidence further confirms the role of the deep-state in ordering King’s execution.  Witnesses describe someone in the row of bushes in the empty lot across from the Lorraine – a direct shot and the perfect place for the main shooter.  How this key hedge behind which Clark stood was cut down the day after the murder to make the official story work better.  Branches were also cleared that blocked the view from the ostensible shooter Ray's high window in the flophouse hotel at the end of the block.  How they tried to get Ray to escape from prison so he could be shot and stop proclaiming his innocence as a patsy.

A civil jury acquitted Ray of the crime, but the award was ignored by the U.S. propaganda apparatus.  The King family believes that Ray never shot King, and they have also been ignored.  Multiple witnesses in this book admit to being part of the conspiracy or knowing who shot King, or heard someone giving orders to do the shooting.  CIA/NSA people were caught in a photo coming down off the wall across from the motel – the location from which Earl Clark shot King.  At the Lorraine Hotel balcony, a military intelligence officer was kneeling over King a minute after the shooting checking his pulse.  Some shooters and conspirators were tied to the mob of Carlos Marcello – the same pattern that was used in the Kennedy assassinations.  One contract offered to the Mob to do the shooting was put out by the FBI.  Essentially this was the same MO and personnel (Raul was seen in Dallas) as the hits on the Kennedy brothers by the same security/military faction inside the government.  The hand of the deep state that still rules. 

Assassination is the chosen method of the death squads trained by the U.S. in Latin America, Africa, and as we can see here, even in the U.S. It is used against leftists primarily, but any opponent of the U.S. At present U.S. JSOC commandos carry out extra-judicial assassinations in many countries across the globe.  

King was killed because he had become a larger threat – adding opposition to the Vietnam War and capitalism and support for strikers to his anti-racist and anti-Jim Crow methods.  He was no cuddly ‘father’ who wanted everyone to shout kumbaya about ‘dreams,’ as the U.S. propaganda system declares to this day.  The FBI under Hoover considered him a Communist; most newspapers denounced him; Johnson himself played a double-game and after the Vietnam comments, opposed him.  He was marked for death, as he himself knew.  Ray himself had no grudge against King.  It wasn’t some racist cracker who killed him, it was the racist cracker capitalist system. 

This post is based on an earlier post from January 20, 2015.

Other reviews below re: assassination:  The Strange Death of Paul Wellstone,' "They Killed the Our President”  and "The Devils Chessboard."

A new book by Pepper has just come out.  Here is an excellent review:

Rare copies of "Order To Kill" book are still at Mayday - I think.  Get them while you can.

Red Frog
January 15, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What’s In a Name?

"Anthropocene or Capitalocene? – Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism,” edited by Jason W. Moore, 2016

This book makes a good argument for Marxists and environmentalists to call the present bio-historical period the Capitalocene, not the Anthropocene. This would be a replacement for the Holocene, the name of the prior geologic period.  The Anthropocene has been embraced by the majority of scientists and even some Marxists, and is soon to be official.  Essentially the argument is that it is capitalism which has created a rift in the natural structure of the world, not generic humans or ‘human nature.’  The latter description (anthro Latin for ‘human’) leads to putting the onus on the Promethean ‘human,’ not a specific form of production.  This leads to a solution of either the deep-ecology perspective - returning to some neo-primitive hunter-gatherer world - or to reckless geo-engineering or insufficient tech fixes, all favored by pro-capitalist scientists and governments.  Or complacency, as ‘its only human – nothing you can do here.’ 

What Is the Anthropocene Hiding?
As James Hansen noted in the current issue of ‘Rolling Stone,’ even the pro-capitalist environmentalist Al Gore thinks the global warming question is well on the way to being solved.  This in spite of the fact that there have been almost indistinguishable differences between carbon production under U.S. Democratic or Republican administrations. After all, under it capital remains the same.

This book itself was probably constructed as a ‘call for papers.’  If you know a bit of how academics work, they submit papers they have usually already written, attempting to fit it into the new theme.  This sometimes results in submissions that have little to do with the topic, sometimes hilariously.  The first two essays in this book actually focus on humans as the main source of the problem.  The first is a jeremiad against the term ‘anthro,’ basically supporting anarchist/deep ecology environmental politics, with only a tiny caveat rejecting that position.  The second is a lyrical, impressionistic name-dropping riff that mentions capitalism only once, yet claiming the term ‘capitalocene’ for herself.

Moore’s essay gets to the heart of the matter, tracing the history of how capitalism has severely reshaped the environment since the birth of ‘merchant’ capital in the 1500s. Massive deforestation across Europe, mass profit-based agriculture like sugar plantations, crude mining (Potosi, Peru), using humans like animals, animal exterminations – all got their start in that period.  Coal and industrialism were not the actual beginning points, only later qualitative developments.  He focuses on the term ‘cheap nature’ to describe the profitable uses of nature by capital, which is never ‘costed’ in any private accounting balance sheet.  Marx pointed out in 1875 in the ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’ that labor AND nature are the sources of all wealth, something that capitalism still has not grasped in the year 2017 – and never will.  The era of cheap nature is coming to an end and with it, a severe restriction of capitalist profits based on cheap nature.  This is part of the reason for economic stagnation in the productive sphere.  Moore also attacks Cartesian (and religious) mind/body dualism as an idealist ideological tool that allowed nature to be treated as something separate from humans.  In addition, Moore supplements Marx’s focus on the exploitation of wage labor by adding the exploitation of unpaid work (slavery and women at home) and unpaid nature (cheap nature.)

The 4th essay by Justin O’Brien attempts to introduce the term “Necrocene” (necro, Latin for ‘death’) as the name of the present period, due to the deadly effects of capitalist ‘growth’ and profit demands on planetary systems. It is not ‘creative destruction’ – it is plain destruction. This name seems somewhat diversionary, but perhaps serves only as an emphasis.  O’Brien details the long-running extinction of animal and plant life, the destruction of forests and pollution of rivers; the killing of people through slave and virtual slave labor; the introduction of radioactive particles into the very fabric of cells – though not also mentioning plastics, chemicals, pesticides and drugs that get in our bodies through the water supply. He details how the ‘evolutionism’ of Darwin and early bourgeois scientists had to take into account revolutionary ‘breaks’ in the fossil records, as discovered by Cuvier.  So by the 1970s there was a natural sciences consensus that capitalism’s managerial skills could not control planetary-wide negative-values.  In essence, the natural ‘debt’ was and is unpayable at this point, and slow, evolutionary change is not on the agenda. 

The 5th essay by Elmar Altvater is another short argument against technological ‘fixes’ like geo-engineering, similar to that found more extensively in Naomi Klein’s book, “This Changes Everything.”  He points out that the ‘fix’ resembles the ‘problem,’ as Einstein once remarked.  Capital is not merely an economic or social process, but re-shapes geography to do its bidding as well.  Engels pointed out in 1883 in the “Dialectics of Nature” that natural and social processes are a ‘dialectical totality.’  Hence, capital’s effect on nature is a unitary subject, as is its proposed ‘solutions.’ Beware.

This essay looks more at the final culmination of the Capitalocene – global warming - though overall global warming receives scant attention in this collection.  As I said in prior reviews and essays, humans on a world scale may be able to live on the basis of the living standards and some of the technology of the 1940s in the U.S.  Interestingly, scientists agree the rising line of global warming starts about 1940 as well, at the beginning of WWII.  The description of the Capitalocene by Moore and Altvater have it starting in the 1500s.  Moore does not detail the qualitative change of global warming that occurred later.  Anthropocene adherents date it’s beginnings to 1800, based on the steam engine or coal – i.e. a technology-based argument.

Altvater points out that nature and human life do not work in the same way as capital, so the rift between the two only grows.  The dialectical conclusion is that one or the other must die.  Nature and capital are at loggerheads; labor and capital are at loggerheads.  He elucidates that even if external costs were internalized in private accounting systems, many costs to the environment cannot be priced. This is why a ‘carbon tax’ as proffered by Hansen / / Gore is insufficient.   

The 6th essay by Hartley starts by listing the 5 major flaws in the theories of the Anthropocene as advanced by capitalist-oriented scientists:  It is exclusively human-centered; it is technology-centered; it is historically determined, positivist and apolitical, i.e. ignoring labor and capital. Hartley explores each one of these, based on Moore’s essay and his own inputs, especially concentrating on the role of racist and sexist capitalist culture.  His use of culture is valuable as an analysis of capital but seems a bit off-base in relation to the main issue, as if an earlier essay was grafted onto a newer introduction. 

The last essay by Parenti concentrates on the role of the capitalist state in responding to ‘weather’ emergencies. This reflects the fact that the national territorial state will need to respond to the Capitalocene to protect its corporations and businesses, which seems to be a given.  He declares that the state is an ‘inherently environmental entity.’  How this explains imperialist un-‘territoriality’ as embodied in hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world, international drone strikes, surveillance satellites, the internet, the U.N, the U.S. Air Force and Navy, world-wide imperialist production and mining site or JSOC assassination squads is not addressed.  Not sure again what this has to do with the main issue unless you are absolutely unaware of the relation between capital and its state. Again, another essay grafted onto the main topic. 

All together a partially-useful collection that makes a point all leftists should hear.  

Relevant reviews that directly relate to this subject matter below:  The Sixth Extinction,”This Changes Everything,” “Ubiquity,” “Reason in Revolt,” & “Collapse.” 

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
January 8, 2017