Monday, November 18, 2019

Notes From the Underground

“Parasite,”film directed by Bong Joon-Ho, 2019

This comedic horror film has a large buzz going for it.  It is similar to “Get Out” and Boots Riley's "Sorry to Bother You," as the villains are all upper-class people.  Here a South Korean family in Seoul, the Kims – father, mother, older son and daughter - work at folding pizza boxes to make a living.  Their living is so sad they try to negotiate with the young pizza store manager for a higher piece rate.  The four of them live in a crowded basement apartment and none of them has any other job.  None of them has a higher education and seem clueless about how to improve their situation. They can’t even fold the boxes properly.

Class in South Korea
But the tide turns as a rich friend who teaches English to a girl from a wealthy family, the Parks, offers his job temporarily to the son, Ki-woo.  The Parks are a typical upper-middle class family – a beautiful modern house designed by a top architect; a young neurotic wife who has no skills except shopping; a bored daughter; a spoiled little boy who has the run of the house and the corporate father, smug and aloof.  He doesn’t want anyone to ‘cross any lines.’ 

The class system is very apparent, unlike most films.  The South Korean working-class and the noveau-riche upper classes have had little in common since the founding of South Korea.  So in the film we already detest the Parks and their damn house, which becomes a symbol of the difference between classes.  In one terrible scene, the Kim’s basement apartment is flooded by heavy rains, wrecking everything, and the Parks are completely oblivious to what happened to them.  The Park’s house did not get a drop and this is certainly a parable of climate change.  Even odor plays a role.  The Kim family has a stale and unpleasant ‘smell’ that is noticed by the Parks, who do not live in a moldy basement penetrated with cooking smells.  The Kims have to discuss using different soaps to hide their family identity.  So far, so good as a class –conscious film.

Eventually the whole Kim family get jobs with the Parks – the uneducated daughter as an ‘art therapist’ to the spoiled son, the unmotivated father as an excellent chauffeur, the quiet mother as a versatile, sophisticated cook.  To do this they hide their family relationship and push out the staff who already work for the Parks through clever tricks.  All of a sudden the somewhat buffoonish family is absolutely excellent at everything they do, including their deceptions.  Even not looking while driving is a skill the father has mastered.

So who are the parasites?  In Marxism, the upper-classes are parasites on the working-classes, as the latter do all the work which is then partially appropriated by the rich through profits and surplus value or interest and dividends.  But in this film it seems the workers are parasites, duping the Parks while getting prior workers fired, acting like fleas on a dog. Yet the Kims still do all the work for the Parks as part of the servant economy!  We can marvel at their sudden cleverness but at the same time they’ve shown zero class solidarity, just a desperation foisted on them by living in a capitalist system.  Dog eat dog; worker eat worker.  But they do outsmart the Parks, especially the befuddled wife.  That is the main source of the humor.    

Of course then the story takes an odd twist.  After the Park’s go on a camping trip, the Kim’s engage in a celebratory night of drunken partying in the Park’s glass and steel house.  Suddenly they are not so smart.  They do not anticipate the Park’s returning early.  They make another ‘small mistake’ by letting the former housekeeper they replaced into the house, as she has somehow forgotten some of her personal stuff in the basement.  And here it becomes not a real story of class conflict, but a tense horror show. 

I won’t describe the rest of the film except to say that it further reflects the desperation brought about by the South Korean class structure, which damages both workers and the rich into acting in abominable and bloody ways.  As an example, South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world for persons under 40.  Analysts report that their internet use has atomized the whole population. As would be predicted, in this film the Kim family end up in an even worse position, giving the notion of ‘notes from the underground’ a new meaning. The creepy last act left me thinking this film failed in its potential and went for a cheap, sensationalist ending, transitioning from believable to unbelievable and in that, pulling its final punch.    

Many other films are reviewed below from a left point of view.  Use the blog search box in the upper left with the words ‘film’ or ‘television’ or ‘movie.’  The film “Get Out” is reviewed.  Also the book "The Servant Economy."

The Kulture Kommissar
November 18, 2019

Friday, November 15, 2019

Art for Peace's Sake

Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 – Minneapolis Institute of Art through Jan 5, 2020.

This exhibition contains over 100 works by 58 artists who challenged the apolitical styles of abstract expressionism, pop and op art in the 1960s and 1970s.  They saw art as connected to social and political reality, not the simple manipulation of color and form leading only to ‘cool’ aesthetic contemplation.   This is why they focused on one of the most important issues of the day – the American war in Vietnam.  Nearly all of this art is anti-war, as most young artists opposed the war.
A paralyzed U.S. vet paints his life after the War.

Many forms of art are represented in the show – photography, installations, painting, prints and posters, performance, dance, conceptual, street theater, collage, newspapers.  There are a significant number of women artists - in fact it is quite surprising how women artists hated this war.  One even made a picture she considered to be the most ‘ugly’ she could, based on GI bathroom graffiti, reflecting their anger.  Chicano, indigenous, veteran and darker-skinned artists are also represented, as are artists from other countries who moved to the U.S.  Organizations like the Chicano Moratorium, Artists and Writers Against the War in Vietnam, Black Emerging Cultural Coalition, the Artworkers Coalition and Consafo have art in this show.  

Some famous names pop up – Yoko Ono and John Lennon; Judy Chicago; Claus Oldenburg; Ed Paschke.  Reviled figures like LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, Robert McNamara, Madame Nhu and Richard Nixon are pilloried.  Napalm, defoliation, executions, blood and death are the theme of course. 

Some of the notable work:  A living room with a TV showing the day’s death count in Vietnam.  The famous “War is Over – if you want it” poster by Ono.  A swearing and angry painting by Bernstein, a feminist.  Photos of anti-war activists being arrested and photographed.  Big Daddy” – a large painting of a line-up – a KKK thug, a soldier, a cop, a butcher and ‘big Daddy’ sitting in the middle with a bulldog on his lap.  A deformed Nixon with a club-foot.  A monumental torn canvas of Vietnamese civilians hiding from U.S. soldiers.  A Medal for Johnnie” by Chapin, in which a grotesque LBJ pins a medal on a dead soldiers chest, while Hubert Humprey grins like a idiot in the background.  Mudman” – a Viet vet walks up and down 17 miles of Santa Monica boulevard dressed in red Vietnamese mud and sticks.   A massive picture of the injured, by Trevino.  A portrait of McNamara trying to make sense of the illogical.  LBJ as a Texas cowboy.  Ed Paschke’s “Tet” about the Tet Offensive in 1968.   A ‘democratic’ bomb being forced down the throat of a man. 

At the end there are some sensitive pen and ink portraits by NVA and Viet Cong artists, collected by Dinh Q Lě.  Unfortunately there are also portraits of Laotian Hmong collaborator generals, who worked with the CIA.  Their presence evidently shows pressure from the local St. Paul Hmong right-wing.  The main Plain of Jars in Laos was bombed to smithereens by U.S. aircraft, which evidently did not upset the Hmong generals hiding in the hills. 

 This show is free to veterans and their families.  It runs through January 5, 2020.

To read other reviews of art shows below, use these terms in the search box at the upper left:  “Hermitage,” “Tate,” “Street Art,” “Museum of Russian Art,” “Minneapolis Institute of Art,” “Walker Art Center,” “Desert of Forbidden Art,” “Art Basel Miami” and “Biennale Arte di Veniza.” 

The Cultural Marxist

November 15, 2019

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Cowboy Way

“This Land – How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West,” by Christopher Ketcham, 2019

Ketcham is a reporter and backpacker who knows the western U.S., especially the ‘intermountain west,’ intimately well.  He lived in Escalante, Utah for a number of years near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that was recently decimated by Trump, and so is able to tell that story. This book tracks the continued raping of the public commons and nature in the west by ranchers and their cows and the government agencies, bureaucrats and politicians in league with the ranchers.  The Utah-based Mormon religion plays a role in proclaiming that man must dominate nature, as the majority of local politicians are Mormons like Orrin Hatch - which perhaps makes Utah a theocracy!  Timber, oil and gas-fracking companies have piled in with the ranchers and are rarely denied government permits.  Added to this are the collaborationist fake ‘Green’ groups that partner with the destroyers.   It’s not a pretty picture.

Marxists have understood for years that ‘the destruction of the commons’ in England (and other countries) was part of the way capital developed and still develops – by enclosing public agricultural and forest land as private, owned by landlords.  The operative word is ‘develops.’  What many don’t realize is that this process is still going on in the West.  There is a massive amount of federal land other than our national parks in the west: millions of acres set aside as wilderness; national forests, wildlife preserves; national monuments, far more than in the east or north.  All of this is protected by a large series of environmental laws passed between 1964 and 1976 – the Endangered Species Act being one of the most important. 

As part of the private enclosure movement, the exploits of the violent Bundy rancher clan and their ‘sovereign citizen’ views are well known.  These ‘sagebrush rebels’ deny any role for the federal government in the intermountain west and even deny the existence of public land.  Ketcham actually reveals that the FBI and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service allowed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge invasion by Bundy’s militia to happen.  Not to mention the mistakes in prosecution by the US DOJ that allowed them to go free.  The Bundys are the poster-children for what is happening in the intermountain West but they are only the visible tip of the cowberg.

I say ‘cowberg’ because cows grazing almost for free on public land are the key force destroying western nature.  They are an invasive species.  Their hooves, their shit,  their munching, their very profitable presence is the reason ranchers and the government kill wolves, cougars, grizzlies, coyotes, buffalo, gophers, wolverines, lynx and other animals while profitably locking up wild horses.  Over the 20th century, tens of millions have been killed.  One whole federal agency, Wildlife Services, just kills animals for the ranching industry!  The delisting of grizzlies or wolves from the Endangered Species Act draws 95% opposition from the public, but goes on anyway for the benefit of the ranchers.  Science shows that top predators are necessary to reduce the numbers of deer and elk and for a healthy ecosystem, but instead they are shot. The crypto-biotic soil and the riparian creeks are damaged or destroyed, roads are built, habitats chopped up.  Desertification, deforestation, topsoil loss, species extinction – chock it up to cows.  This even though ranching in the intermountain west provides only 2% of the beef produced in the U.S. Beef itself, the SUV of foods, is unsustainable and carbon intensive anyway.  As Ketcham has found, the cowpocalypse has arrived.

Compounding this is the profitable and private ‘harvesting’ of public trees, subsidized by the Forest Service and the taxpayer.  Logging is actually right up there with coal in carbon emissions.  Trees are carbon sinks and ecologically necessary.  The massive road building, soil erosion and natural destruction that come from chopped-up habitats benefits only the likes of Boise Cascade.  Excuses that clear-cuts and ‘thinning’ are anti-fire strategies have been disproved by science – they are useful myths for the timber companies.  Fire is actually part of the natural cycle.  But as Ketcham makes very clear, science is no longer used by government agency top bureaucrats, and certainly not by the timber companies or stockmen.  Profit is the only marker.

Ketcham goes into great detail on these issues, interviewing many government and ex-government scientists, botanists and biologists, environmental activists, whistle-blowers and even one of the Bundys.  As the main philosophic argument puts it – are we ‘part’ of nature or are we ‘the lord’ of nature?  If the former, then killing nature is killing ourselves.  If the latter, the Biblical and Mormon reading of Genesis 1:27 coincides with the capitalist profit motive and the collaborationism of the fake Green groups – the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy, some local groups along with some local Sierra Club chapters.  Eco-pragmatism is a recipe for destruction but it has been embraced by big-money liberals, who one activist hilariously describes as “milquetoast, sweet, upper-middle class numbnuts.”  

They Look Innocent, don't they?
The ‘sovereign citizen’ idea claims the county is the only legal entity to be recognized – giving even the Republican idea of ‘states rights’ a run for its money.  These militia bozos carry around copies of the Constitution and cite one passage – A1,S8,C17 - they erroneously seem to think prohibits the federal government from owning land.  It does not.  Ultimately these people want to graze their cattle for free on public land while happily receiving millions in USDA government welfare monies.  You could not find better hypocrites. Western ranching actually needs to be shut down, like the plantations of old.    

Government agencies key to the intermountain west like the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services and the Park Service have been captured by the corporations and businesses they are supposed to ‘regulate.’  As such, they no longer actually follow environmental laws.  This has happened under both Republican and Democratic Party administrations.  Over-tourism and overhunting are also part of the problem.  Ketcham takes particular aim at Obama’s ‘compromises’ with the ranching and extractive industries and the policy of the fake Green groups towards collaboration and ‘multiple use.’  The latter actually get PAID by the government to ‘consult’ on environmental issues, so their cash flow is dependent on not litigating and instead having beer with the bastards. 

As a prerequisite to saving the land and animals, the leading corrupt government bureaucrats have to be removed and scientists put back in charge.  This will only happen through a political revolution in the U.S. The government we get is a function of the struggle between classes.  If a government is mostly controlled by the wealthy and corporate entities, then that means they are winning the class struggle. 

Ketcham sees value in nature itself, going into rhapsodies over myriad birdlife, fragile vegetation, the sage-brush steppe, red-rock formations, clear streams that still have healthy trout and the last remaining bits of unspoiled forest and old-growth timber.  He makes fun of the cowboy myth which covers for ecological wrecking.  He at times sounds like a ‘deep ecology’ advocate.  But he also draws links between human social survival and preserving the intermountain west.  It seems he endorses eco-sabotage when necessary.  Beyond that, what we need is a mass socialist movement that is an implacable enemy of the capitalists, their government lackeys and their rancid politicians over the continuing enclosure of the commons, in the intermountain west and everywhere else.

Other reviews on this topic, use blog search box upper left with these terms: "Born Under a Bad Sky," "Red State Rebels," "Vanishing Face of Gaia," "Manny's Steakhouse," "Archaic Thanksgiving," "The Emotional Lives of Animals," "Green is the New Red," "Good News," "Hayduke Lives," "The Monkey Wrench Gang." (Last three by Edward Abbey.)

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
November 11, 2019

Friday, November 8, 2019

Comrade Jeff Miller

Comrade Jeff Miller 
Jeffrey Mayer Miller, a founder of the New Unionists which later became the New Union Party (NUP), died in Minneapolis on October 15 of complications from leukemia.  He was 72 and had been an apartment resident of the Ebenezer Park Tower, a senior living center.  He was a private person and in his later years kept to himself, living an austere life while dealing with health issues.
Miller's 1984 Campaign for U.S. Senate

Miller married Gudrun, the daughter of Karl Heck, a Socialist Labor Party (SLP) stalwart in St. Paul.  Heck later worked against Miller and helped push him out of the SLP in 1977.  Jeff and Gudrun had a child, Jennifer, who still lives in St. Paul, though she has not been located yet.  Jennifer was named after Jennifer Marx.  Jeff’s grandparents were from Lithuania while Jeff was born in Minneapolis.

The New Unionists started as ‘section Minneapolis’ within the Daniel DeLeonist SLP.  The SLP had a very authoritarian internal structure according to members of the New Unionists - one factor that led to their resignation from the SLP in August 1977.  As an example, the SLP actually forbade members from talking to leftists from other currents.  The SLP is now inactive.  Their paper “The People” is no longer published and their website has nothing on it to indicate recent activity except an address in California.

The NUP was consolidated in 1980 with some comrades from other cities.  It held discussions and forums, tabled, marched in the local May Day parade, ran in elections, had an office in the Twin Cities and representatives in other U.S. cities.  It put out a monthly paper, “The New Unionist.”  Like the SLP, its politics were a based on those of Daniel DeLeon, an early American Marxist who advocated ‘socialist industrial unionism,’ and ‘one big union.’ The organization had a heavy emphasis on labor issues and believed in a peaceful transition to socialism.  Jeff worked with local comrades Earl Balfour, Tom Dooley, George Kane, Dick Taylor, Craig Palmer, Kathy Kleckner, Jane Christian, Lila and Bo Holmdahl, Michael Jefferis, Brian McNeil  and Bill Comiskey.  Comrades from other cities were Connie Furdik, Joann Forman and Rado Mijanovich. Later some of these people participated in the “Working Democracy” study group that met at the NUP offices in Minneapolis and later at May Day Books.

Miller was the editor of The New Unionist and wrote many of the unsigned articles in it. According to some, he understood Marxism better than anyone in the organization and was able to popularize and explain it.  He was passionate about the subject and could be an inspirational speaker.  He was even generous with fools in discussions.  Miller specialized in Marxist economics, especially teaching Marx’s “Value, Price and Profit” and “Wage-Labour and Capital” and the works of DeLeon, specifically “What Means This Strike?” and “The Burning Question of Trade Unionism.”  He also taught “The Communist Manifesto.”

To layout the monthly paper Miller worked on a compositor typewriter, then an Apple computer.  The paper never went on-line. He held the NUP together and did most of the work and so was elected time and time again as editor. Tom Dooley was the local distributor of the paper with Craig Palmer doing a good bit of the legwork.  An almost full selection of The New Unionist is located at the U.W. Madison periodicals library, which has a massive cache of left-wing materials from various organizations.

The NUP was founded in 1977 and lasted until 2005, a long time for a relatively small group.  In that year the paper was closed and all efforts were put into electing Miller to the U.S. Senate under a “Campaign for a Working Democracy.”  The campaign materials did not mention socialism but instead concentrated on labor issues due to the bad connotations of the word ‘socialism’ at the time.  Miller was not comfortable with DeLeonism being relegated to a side issue in Working Democracy.  According to Michael Jefferis, the end of the NUP ended a large part of his life.

As part of his frugal and Spartan lifestyle, he slept in the office as part of his ‘payment’ as NUP editor.  He had a pickup truck and lawnmower early on, and sometimes earned money through lawn jobs and temp work.  He refused to accept a used car or other gifts from comrades, as he did not believe in consumerism. Jeff liked opera and classical music and oddly, followed the Minnesota Vikings.  He watched news programs like Al Jazeera and spent a lot of time visiting the library for books and music, as he could not afford otherwise.

Red Frog, with contributions from Craig Palmer, Dick Taylor, Michael Jefferis and George Kane.

November 8, 2019

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Identity Front Against the 1%

Bernie Sanders and Ilhan Omar at Williams Arena, U of M Campus, 11/3/2019

Bernie Sanders brought his presidential campaign to Minneapolis on Sunday after receiving the endorsement of Ihan Omar, the local Congressional representative.  This so-called ‘odd couple’ clasped hands and raised them high after Omar’s introduction of Sanders.  As Sanders pointed out later, both were immigrants or the child of immigrants from impoverished minority backgrounds, events which shaped their lives.
Sanders, Omar at U of Minnesota, Williams Arena
The crowd, estimated by the press at 10,000, was mostly young and light-skinned.  The main first tier was full, as was the basket-ball floor, which had a standing-room only crowd.  Somali-Americans did not come out in force.  Local rapper Brother Ali and the New Power Generation of Prince fame warmed up the crowd musically, especially with a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Stand Up For Your Rights.”  A local organizer of students at the U spoke first, condemning the servitude of debt brought on by over-priced colleges and massive student loans.  Sanders’ national Co-Chair Nina Turner spoke next in a fiery speech, highlighting the need for an all-encompassing ‘movement’ for universal goals.  Keith Ellison, now attorney general for Minnesota after leaving national politics, commented on Sanders and Ellison walking picket-lines together.  He started the chant for “Not me, us!” which was theme of the rally.  He endorsed Sanders in 2016.

Then Ilhan Omar spoke.  At rallies like this, political speeches express many generalities punctuated by crowd cheering, so that without a deeper understanding, speeches ‘can’ sound the same.  So nuance is important.  In that context Omar made some very left-wing statements that surprised me.  She said that “workers all over the world have the same interests.”  She said the real need is to build “a mass movement of the working class.”  She decried ‘Western imperialism’ and got huge crowd support for that comment.  As a Marxist who lived through the radical movements of the 1970s, this all sounded a bit familiar! 

I might quote from “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan:  “Somethin’s happenin’ here and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”

At the same time, her comments about ‘genocide’ were garbled and, given her bland ‘present’ vote on Armenian genocide, contradictory. 

Sanders came on next with his wife, who he introduced as the next ‘First Lady.’  After making continued genuflections to Prince, Paul Wellstone and Omar’s time in a refugee camp in Kenya, he spoke repeatedly of uniting every ‘identity’ in a joint struggle to defeat the 1%.  Then he launched into the rest of his 40 minute speech hitting every single favorite left and liberal theme in existence.  This included the partly transitional ideas of the ‘Green New Deal,’ ‘Medicare for All’ and ‘Free College,’ through ending the incarceration state and the inequitable legal system, supporting labor, down to legalizing marijuana, ending cash bail and supporting abortion rights through his picks to the Supreme Court.  Hey, even gentrification got a mention!  Like everyone else, he heavily emphasized moving from ‘single-issueism’ and multiple ‘movements,’ as the main slogan of the rally was ‘Not me, us!”

Huge military spending was only mentioned once.  Endless wars were not mentioned.  “America” was repeatedly invoked, even to the point where he almost said that he would “make America great again.”  This gave a sheen of social-patriotism to the event, though his unstated international positions are to the left of nearly all the other Democratic Party rabble – ah, contenders - except perhaps Gabbard. So we’ll never know if the crowd would have given him ’cheer lines’ for anti-militarist foreign policy positions.  I think they would have. 

Sanders and the rest of the speakers repeatedly emphasized that only ‘movements’ change things.  And indeed they are right.  The question is, what kind of unitary movement brings significant change, not just the same ‘nibbling around the edges,’ as Sanders himself put it?  There was no mention of a mass 3rd Party or a labor or populist party.  There wasn't even a mention of democratic-socialist organizations within the Democratic Party like DSA or the Working Families Party” or even Our Revolution.  In other words, how do you actually cohere various single-issue movements into one?  The implication is that this is done by supporting the Sanders campaign.  That is the real message.  He has said he would be ‘the organizer in chief’ not the ‘commander in chief’ if elected, so it would continue after the election. 

The problem with that is that Sanders will endorse whatever Democrat wins at the brokered Convention, as he’s already proved.  ‘That’ will hobble any movement he’s generated, even if ‘Sanders-lite’ Warren gets on the ticket.  In the unlikely event that Sanders wins at the Convention - with the whole capitalist establishment against him! – only support by millions of workers would guarantee that as president he is not totally blocked, impeached or killed. 

So Sanders and his legislative supporters ‘become’ the movement on an actual organizational basis.  The ‘left’ of the Democratic Party becomes the organizing center.  For Sanders, this has taken the form of the Our Revolution (OR) group within the Democrats, which has brought even garden-variety Democrats under its wing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth metro areas.  OR does not have a solid political program or a real class angle and is submerged in ‘process’ issues.  Yet the leadership of the Democratic Party is extremely hostile to Sanders anyway, so their place in the party is tenuous.  Right now the leadership is maneuvering against AOC, Tlaib and Omar, as well as many others, trying to find the right centrist politician to run against left dissidents. 

What is not understood by Sanders is that the Democratic Party is run by a wing of the same ‘billionaires and multi-millionaires’ that Sanders thunders against.  This control has only hardened over the past 40 years.  Labor unions have been turned into handmaids by the corporatists that run the party.  While his ‘Trojan Horse’ strategy seems reasonable given the extreme conservatism of U.S. politics, it has failed time and time again in the end.  Ultimately any real movement will have to break from the Democrats if it wants actual change, not just removing Trump from the White House.  Which in itself only guarantees another Trump.

Red Frog
November 5, 2019

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Politics in Culture

“Mayans M.C.”, “Rebellion” and “Official Secrets”- 2 Political TV Series and a Political Movie

Mayans M.C.” is about a mostly Latino motorcycle gang in the made-up town of Santo Padre, California near the Mexican border.  It is a spin-off from the simple blood and guts series, “Sons of Anarchy,” though the Sons occasionally still appear.  What is different is that the Mayans eventually form an alliance with Mexican social revolutionaries trying to change the corrupt capitalist Mexican system.  Their main enemy is the U.S. government in the form of creepy U.S. Assistant Attorney Potter, whose mission is to squelch any rebellion in Mexico.  Potter uses every means at his disposal, including violent mercenaries to try to get his way.  Whether a criminal M.C. would actually unite with left-wing rebels is debatable of course.  The great Edward James Olmos gets a role as the father of two key Mayan gang members.  Also, motorcycles! (

''Mayans' on Motorcycles
“Rebellion (and Resistance) is the story of 2 phases of the Irish national revolution – the 1916 Easter Rising and the later 1920 successful fight for partial independence against the British.  It is possible there will be a 3rd phase, based on the Irish civil war over leaving the northern 6 counties to Britain. The key character is Jimmy Mahon, who is with James Connolly at the GPO; then a shooter and eventual head of intelligence for the IRA in its battle with ruthless British General Winter in the national fight; then a key ally of Michael Collins in the coming civil war.  The series weaves personal and political together, highlighting the murky world of loyalties and betrayals, of secrets and lies.  As such an overall view of the rebellion is not very clear.  It chooses to highlight the large role of women in the struggle, which is usually ignored. (RTE – Netflix)

“Offical Secrets:  (Spoiler) An accurate docu-drama film based on events in Britain prior to the U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq in 2003.  It features whistle-blower Katherine Gun, who worked at GCHQ listening in on surveillance Chinese conversations for the British government.  The spies at GCHQ get an e-mail from a U.S. NSA officer asking them to eavesdrop and spy on members of the U.N. security council to find information that might make these countries vote for war.  Gun is young and against the war, though she cannot admit it to her bosses.  She spirits the memo to a friend in the massive anti-war movement, who get it to a reporter at the Observer newspaper. The Observer waffles over whether it is a real memo, but investigation shows it is probably real.  They publish and Gun admits her role.  Ultimately the British government refuses to prosecute her based on the official ‘Secrets Act’ because the trial would expose the illegality of Blair and Bush’s criminal war.  Gun is played by Kiera Knightley.  (Riverview Theater)

Other reviews on these topics below, use blog search box, upper left with these terms:  
Ireland:  "Abortion Referendum in Ireland," "The Immortal Irishman," "Plough and the Stars," "James Connolly," "Jimmy's Hall," "1916 Rebellion Walking Tour," "The Irish Literary Trail," 
Mexico:  "Drug War Capitalism," "NAFTA 2," "Frida Kahlo," "Viva Zapata," "The Lacuna," "Sicario," "Pancho Villa Underground Railroad." 
Iraq War:  "The Yellow Birds," "Armed Madhouse," "The Management of Savagery," "What is the War on Terror," "Blow Back to Iraq," "Libertarian Atheism," "The Left and Islamic Literalism,"   

The Cultural Marxist
October 31, 2019
All Hallows Eve

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fighting Fascism

“Panzer Destroyer:  Memoirs of a Red Army Tank Commander” By Vasiliy Krysov, 2010

I don’t usually review books like this, but as a personal tale of the WWII tank battles from Stalingrad to Kursk to Kiev and into Poland and Germany, it is unequalled.  Krysov was wounded four times, had a number of T-34s or SU-85 motorized guns destroyed under him and had so many narrow escapes it is hard to believe he survived.  He used his excellent tactical skills to beat the odds, sensing the best plans of attack or defense.   His small SU-85 mobile gun group at one point destroyed 8 Tiger tanks, the most formidable Nazi tank.  Leading only two motorized guns he wrecked a whole German regiment and their vehicles on a road, laying waste over many kilometers.   At one point his self-propelled gun rampaged through the German rear for a few days.  He details the difficult attacks on heavily-fortified hill 197.2 near Kovel, Poland. His aggressiveness and skills led him to overrun German positions and trenches time and time again.
The Russian Army at its base was highly-competent, with young and skilled tankers being able to repair tanks quickly, sight targets on the run, help their comrades, dig pits for the tanks and endure cold, hunger and sleeplessness, staying steady in the heat of dangerous combat.  Krysov attempts to refrain from comments about the headquarters’ officers who drank too much, had ‘campaign wives,’ luxurious conditions and never saw real combat - but sometimes he can’t help himself.  Some half-assed Communist Party ‘political’ officers shared these characteristics.  Krysov was decorated three times and supposedly drafted into the CP for a particularly heroic action, but he never received a party card.  Decorations were related to politics and friendliness with key officers, so he received far fewer than he should have.

The book details a war of villages, where small-scale tank battles tell the tale.  It starts in July 1941 at the Chelyabinsk Tank School east of Stalingrad, where Krysov learned to work T-34s and KV1 tanks, sometimes learning on a tractor.  It lasts until May 1945, when the destruction of the 3rd Reich found Krysov’s unit in Konigsberg, now Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, after its difficult seizure.  Krysov could not keep notes on pain of arrest, so he put the stories together through his memories, research in military archives, repeated unit reunions with his surviving comrades and trips to the actual battlefields.  He recalls the warm support for the Red Army from peasants in Russian and Ukrainian villages - and even in Poland.  He notes limited combat with Vlasovites (Russians who joined the Wehrmacht) and Banderists (allies of Hitler in Ukraine.)  He also comments on regrettable rapes in Germany, one of which he investigated for the prosecutors. 

Tactically Krysov used zig-zag driving tactics at full speed to approach German emplacements and occupied villages before firing his guns.  The Red Army engaged in surprise night attacks on a semi-regular basis with much success.  He had frequent duals with ‘Fritz’s’ Leopard Mark IV, Panther and Tiger tanks using his low-slung SU-85 tank destroyer, even though his SU-85 was outgunned by the Tigers and outclassed by the thick armor of the Panthers.  There are a number of difficult river crossings mentioned, including one where the tankers stopped-up holes in the vehicles so water could not get in while fording a river.  During combat, many Soviet soldiers died, and Krysov details the brutal losses among his comrades, a few of which were due to command mistakes.

The WWII tank battles in Russia and eastern Europe were probably the greatest the world will ever see – certainly larger than Al Alamein or Tobruk or anything Patton was ever involved in, like the Battle of the Bulge. After all, the main focus of WWII in the European theater was the Soviet Union. But this memoir is more than that.  It is the human side in the field, of a tank commander who wanted to defeat the fascists and repeatedly returned to the Eastern Front to do just that. 

Some day we might have to follow his example.

Other reviews on the subject of WWII below, use blog search box, upper left:  “Life and Fate” (Grossman); “The Unwomanly Face of War” (Alexievich); “Enemy at the Gates.”

Thanks to Bro Rod,
Red Frog
October 28, 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Nothing to Lose But Their Value Chains

“Value Chains – the New Economic Imperialism” by Intan Suwandi, 2019

This book promises more than it delivers, while repeating itself constantly.  Nevertheless I’ll highlight its main points.  Suwandi, an Indonesian Marxist, attempts to give an empirical basis to the Marxist view that imperialism still exists and is going strong.  He counters political geographer David Harvey on this question, as Harvey thinks the ‘global south’ has reversed the process, so imperialism is no longer a viable concept for him.  By doing that Harvey fails the most widespread geography test of all.

Suwandi does not really deal with the military, debt, financial (currency), political (SAP), monetary (dollar), environmental, raw material, infrastructure or ‘legal’ (local and WTO) aspects of imperialism.  He keys in on the labor exploitation question.  Suwandi’s main points, some of which are obvious:

    1.     Oligopolies and multi-nationals use two methods of expropriating labor value from the global south:  global value/supply/commodity chains and subcontractor-based ‘arm’s length contracting.’ (Nike and Apple for instance.) 80% of world trade in 2012 was connected to these types.  57% was ‘arms length’ alone.

     2.     The key metric to look at is ‘average unit labor cost’ when estimating super-exploitation, unequal exchange or uneven development.

     3.     The two main aspects of average unit labor costs are productivity and wages.

     4.     The ‘southern’ countries with the top employment in global value chains originating in the global north are China, India and Indonesia.    In 2013 39.2% of labor employment in China and 16.8% in India were for exports to the U.S.  85% of China’s ‘high tech’ exports are ‘links’ in global supply chains.  U.S. firm GM itself has 20,000 suppliers world-wide.

     5.     Firms in the global south supplying multi-nationals headquartered in the global north are subservient to and dependent on those larger and more powerful firms.  They are not really independent and must rely on ‘flexibility’ and ‘leanness’ to obey whatever requests are made.  In Suwandi’s investigation of two Indonesian contract firms, the multi-nationals they work with can dictate sub-contractors, costs, technology, quality, sales issues and even wages, as these companies demand full ‘transparency’ on the part of their suppliers.  ‘Problems’ are the responsibility of the supplier, not the core multi-national. 

6.     As a result of international control, local workers are dealing with a far-away headquarters in Silicon Valley or Hamburg, not just their local bosses.  Strikes, unions, minimum wage and unjust limits to overtime (due to low pay) were issues in Indonesia.

7.     Technology, especially information technology, has made world-wide control more possible by multi-national oligopolies.

8.     ‘Global labor arbitrage’ references the method by which multi-nationals look for the cheapest and most productive labor possible, mostly found in the global south.  For instance, garment companies pay 1-3% of the final clothing price back to southern labor.

9.     Foreign direct investment (FDI) by core multi-nationals in the global south has increased dramatically.  In Indonesia it went from $83M in 1970 to $30.54B in 2017.  In 2018 core FDI investment in the global south was 58% of all investment.

10.  The greatest concentration of productive workers are now in the global south – 541 million to 145 million in the core countries in 2010. 

11.   Core multi-nationals use peripheral global production for export back to the core, but also as a way to penetrate large local markets.

12.   Taylorism is alive and well in the global south.  Deskilling is part of the effort to lower labor costs.  However, Suwandi does not add that computerization has modernized ‘Taylorism’ to be even more precise.  It could be called ‘Gatesism’ now!

13.   While capital has ultimate flexibility to move about the world, human labor is restricted by immigration laws.

14.    International ‘monopolies’ (really oligopolies) have made price-cutting and price competition mostly obsolete.  On this level, competition is a figment of free market ideology, not fact.

15.    Average hourly compensation differences between the US/ UK/ Germany/ Japan on the one hand and Mexico/ Indonesia/ China/ India are huge, with India having the cheapest labor.  This accounts for vast differences in average unit labor costs.  For instance, the average profit rate for the iPhone 4 was 59% in 2010.  1.8% of the final cost went to assembly costs in China.  And you wonder why Apple executives and stockholders are rich?
Suwandi does not address the issues of computerization, robots or AI directly, so the inference is that all jobs lost in the global north are due to the transfer of labor to the global south. Kim Moody and others have noted that local technology is actually one of the other main drivers for unemployment and low pay in the global north.  Suwandi doesn't deal with super-exploitation issues within the global north – i.e. ethnic or regional super-exploitation.  He treats China as an exception to the rule while assuming China is capitalist, and not a mixed economy dominated by certain levels of planning and a dominant deformed workers' state.  That might explain his ‘exception.’
2014 Strike in Indonesia - 1 Million Go Out

This is generally a helpful book, especially for those not familiar with this topic.  However, Suwandi does not have enough economic statistics to ‘prove’ the level of profit coming from cheap labor in the global south, though the inferences are direct.  As he points out, corporate GDP figures hide profits and labor by allocating all gains to the country where the corporation is legally located, its ‘home’ - though some authors have been able to reveal them.  “Arms Length Contracting” profit flows are entirely invisible in standard economic statistics.  So in a way, international capital attempts to statistically launder their profitability by hiding the true value of value chains.  This is why Marx called labor exploitation “the hidden abode of production.”

Other reviews on this topic below, (some referenced in the book), use blog search box upper left:  “The City” (Norfield); “The Endless Crisis”(McChesney); “Can the Working Class Change the World?(Yates); “American Theocracy”(Phillips); “Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,””The Law of WorldWide Value”  and “The Long Revolution of the Global South”(all by Amin); “The Open Veins of Latin America”(Galeano); “Secret History of the American Empire”(Perkins); “American Exceptionalism and American Innocence”(Haiphong); “Drug War Capitalism”(Paley); "Bali."

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

October 24, 2019