Thursday, September 21, 2017

Every War Loves Some Healing!

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's 'Balanced' Whitewash of the American War

Ken Burns is 'America's' favorite video historian, compiling large amounts of photos, videos, quotes, sad music, period music and chosen bits of history to guide you through troubled periods in the nation's past.  In his initial Civil War documentary, he concentrated on battles and great leaders, larded it with pathos, tragedy and nostalgia, and basically ignored the political and economic issues that were at the bottom of this great conflict, like slavery.

Cherubic Nice Guy Finishes First
That was a template for his present Vietnam series on PBS - the Government Broadcasting System.  The U.S. is still enmeshed in world wide warfare, war-mongering, war profiteering and war making.  As such, the real impetus behind the government and the corporations drive to war has to be hidden.  Ken Burns is not going to undermine this continuing narrative of nationalist patriotism, heroics, nostalgia, bi-partisanship and good intentions while the U.S. collaborates, invades, drones and occupies country after country.  We need balance!

Things to watch for, according to those who have seen part or all of this deceptive and disjointed endorsement of imperialism:

1.  Liberal narrative is that Vietnam was a 'mistake' and 'national tragedy.'  Actually it was intentional and only tragic for the millions of dead and injured Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians and the thousands of dead and injured American grunts.  Not to mention the animals, plants, environment and descendants of all of these people.
2. Fabricated Gulf of Tonkin incident slides by quickly.  It is treated as if it actually happened: Quote: "retaliation for the Gulf of Tonkin."
3. Spends long time giving credence to the Domino Theory, which was used to justify the invasion of Vietnam by the U.S.
4. Implies that South Vietnam was a country forever, not an artificial creation of the French and U.S.
5. Economics is totally ignored.  For instance, the French owned nearly every valuable resource in the country, including opium.  As their replacement, U.S. companies were bound to inherit part of this bounty. Invisible.
7.  The land question is ignored, which was a large part of the reason the South Vietnamese peasants backed the Viet Minh and Viet Cong.  The only rationale given for resistance is 'nationalism.'
8.  Burns at a public meeting before the showing said the Vietnamese peasants were misguided in following the reds.
9.  Many war criminals are interviewed as experts, especially John Negroponte. Always good to give respected criminals a continuing platform.
10.  There are may 'truths' to the American war, according to Burns, which is sort of how the U.S. now does journalism and history.  Actually, the overwhelming truth of the American War was that it was a bloodbath engineered by the U.S. (and earlier the French) for imperial reasons. 
11. Japanese and French colonialism are criticized, but the words 'colonialism' or 'imperialism' never crosses the lips of the narrators in regard to the U.S.  The U.S. is the 'great exception.' 
12.  In the first 5 minutes, the narrator (Peter Coyote) says the war was 'begun in good faith.'  Don't they always start that way?
13.  "Healing" doesn't happen when the criminals run loose.  We are talking about you, Henry Kissinger.  There should be war crime tribunals, not kumbaya. But then when did the criminals of the 2008 crash go to jail either?  No rich or powerful people ever go to jail!  No problem.
14. The key war critic Daniel Ellsburg is missing from film.  One of the war critics allowed to speak apologizes.
15. Karl Marlantes, pro-war author of "Matterhorn," joins a host of former generals, CIA agents and government officials in interviews.  Marlantes repeats some fables that have been exposed, like being 'spit on' or called 'baby killer.'
16. Sponsored by Bank of America and the Koch Brothers.
17. Pro-South Vietnam 'experts' propound the idea that it was a 'civil war,' not an anti-colonial struggle in which some people collaborated with the occupiers.
18. Best parts are U.S. veteran Tim O'Brien and N.V.A. veteran Bao Ninh, who wrote "Sorrow of War," probably the greatest book on the war.  It is carried at May Day and you should come down right down and buy it.  I myself bought it on the streets of Hanoi from a crippled man.
19.  Can you say 'even-handed'?  Can you track the U.S. 'heroism' references?
20.  Tropes about evil women in Hanoi continue.  Jane Fonda, anyone?
21. Class struggle disappears.  Everyone in Vietnam is in the same class evidently.
22.  Tell me, do they even mention that the whole U.S. army and good chunks of the Navy and Air Force refused to fight by 1970-1971?  I have not read a word about that. Every form of resistance - desertions, fragging, refusals to go on patrol ... soft-peddled or rendered invisible. 


Sources:  Veterans for Peace, Counterpunch, Mekong Review, folks around May Day who have seen the series.
 
Prior reviews of books on Vietnam:  "Kill Anything That Moves," "Matterhorn," "People's History of the Vietnam War," "What It Is Like To Go To War," "Soldiers in Revolt," "In the Crossfire - Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary," "The Sympathizer."  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
September 21, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Red Vienna and the Culture of Socialism

"Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety - Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture," with Selected Writings by Julius Deutsch, edited by Gabriel Kuhn, 2017

I'll bet Austromarxism was not on the tip of your lips.  Mine either.  However, this intriguing little book came into May Day and touched on topics few talk about.  Dave Zirin, the sports lefty, should read it, as should some of the pacifist types on the left.  Even our tee-totalers will feel a bit vindicated.
The Working Class Atlas

Events in "Red Vienna" are somewhat unknown on the U.S. left, so this study helps with its extensive bibliography.  Lenin, Trotsky, Serge, Bela Kun & Ilona Duczynska all criticized the ideas and methods of the Austrian Social-Democratic Workers Party (SDAP) - Kautsky, Hilferding, Bauer, Adler and their the '2.5 International" - from a Bolshevik point of view.  Their key criticisms were brought out when the SDAP failed to stop Austrian fascism from triumphing in 1934. They called them 'all bark, no bite."  The SDAP talked left, mentioned the possible need for a dictatorship of the proletariat and tried to effect theoretical unity between Social Democrats and Communists, but none of that occurred. 

At four key moments of crisis in Austria the SDAP failed to live up to its revolutionary talk.  The first was their refusal to actively support the March 1919 council republic in next door Hungary.  Next, in July 1927, a court acquitted some fascists who had shot at an SDAP march and killed some workers.  During the mass workers protest that followed, the SDAP did not come out in a show of force to respond to the fascist threat.  Third, in March 1933 the SDAP failed to properly deploy their "Schutzbund" workers militia in the face of the suspension of the Austrian parliament by the fascists, and disappointed their own base. They followed that up in February 1934 by missing the moment and not moving fast enough to seize power in Vienna as the fascists were taking power.  This last failure, after a 3 day battle, led to the triumph of fascism in Austria.  The basic lesson learned was that 'retreat' emboldens the bourgeoisie and their fascist henchman, and at these key moments, the SDAP leadership backed down for fear of civil war.  Well, civil war came anyway. 

The German and Italian CPs did not even make the late attempt the SDAP did, so there is lots of blame to go around.  Though the CPs, including the tiny one in Austria, were key in the later partisan movements across Europe.

However the SDAP made valuable contributions in building an anti-fascist military militia, which unfortunately only went into action once.  The SDAP dominated the sports scene with working-class sports clubs. Some of their leaders crusaded against alcoholism as something which weakened the working-class, ultimately coming out against any drinking.  Karl Polyani described changes in Vienna after the 1919 election of the SDAP as unique in the socialist movement.    

MILITIA

The Republican Schutzbund was the anti-fascist militia built by the SDAP, which was drawn from party cadres, unions, the proletarian sports clubs, youth and the general working class.  It guarded meetings and demonstrations, paraded in strength, practiced military skills and was to be eventually called out in combat with fascist gangs or in defense of the working class and the destruction of republican institutions.  As was noted by the SDAP leadership, the bourgeois military is THE key prop of the capitalist order, so without an organized opposition, defeat is far more likely.  Yet due to the aforementioned hesitations of the SDAP leadership, the Schutzbund was only used once, which demoralized the Austrian working class and encouraged the fascist paramilitaries. 

There were debates within the Schutzbund as to whether it was to be a strictly military organization or should learn the skills of what has come to be called urban guerilla warfare.  The majority was in favor of traditional militarism.  Duczynska noted that this technique was sometimes more useful in controlling the working class than the enemy.  Nothing in the book indicates that the units allowed democratic votes, so they might have been purely top-down.   

CULTURE

The SDAP tried to create a working-class culture to accompany their political struggle.  After their election in Vienna they constructed large workers apartment buildings like the 'Karl Marx-Hof' to better house the class.  One writer about Red Vienna called it a "foretaste of the socialist utopia."  Public swimming pools, dental clinics in schools, maternity homes, adult education centers, lending libraries, , bookstores, publishing houses, theaters and festivals were all part of life in Red Vienna, part of an expression of Austromarxism and unknown in other cities.  It showed the role of the 'city' in socialist organizing.      

SPORTS

Of particular note, the SDAP created the Austrian 'Workers League for Sport & Body Culture,' which had hundreds of thousands of members and participated in nearly all sports. This kind of organization was not possible until workers got an 8 hour day.   This movement went international, with a series of well-attended proletarian ' Workers Olympics' that made no mention of nations and did not fly national flags, as does our present rabidly bourgeois 'Olympics.'  This was under the umbrella of the 'Socialist Workers Sport International (SWSI).'  At its peak, the SWSI had 2 million members and held 3 international Olympics. 

The sports clubs promoted health, community and strength for the average worker, not individualism, commercialism and 'records' by the pampered elite bourgeois athlete.   Participation was emphasized over passive watching of sports by fans.  One main purpose was to prepare the working class for a physical confrontation with the fascists or even the state, as flabby, weak or lazy workers would not be much good in a clash.  As part of this physical culture, the SDAP also created the 'Whersport' organization, which specialized in more military physical skills - marksmanship, martial arts, running and other disciplines related to military training.  All of this has echoes in the U.S.  - the Teamster Local 544 Union Guard, the BPP, AIM, Robert Williams and the Deacons for Defense, the JB Anti-Klan Committee, Socialist Rifle Association, Redneck Revolt - but in the U.S. they occur on a much smaller level.  So far...

TEMPERANCE

Drinking is a two-edged sword, and many times it (and its modern equivalent, drugs) demobilizes working class people.  Karl Kautsky once remarked that 'liquor, that is the enemy.'  Like the strict rules against drug and alcohol by the Black Muslims, the SDAP promoted temperance as an antidote to the rampant alcoholism found among some working class people, which only profited the bourgeois 'inn' owners in Austria.  If religion is not the opiate of the people, certainly drugs and alcohol can be.  Most socialists at this time were OK with socializing around a glass of beer or wine (Marx was a beer drinker himself) but not the SDAP leadership.  And they might have had a point, as their society was marinating in fascism at the time. 

The book ends with re-publication of some of the writings of Julius Deutsch, a former impoverished worker and military man who met Luxembourg, Kautsky, Bebel, Trotsky, Bauer and Adler in Berlin and Vienna.  Deutsch had organized an anti-war group in the Austrian military during WWI and also fought in Spain.  During the first Austrian Republic in 1918, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, he was appointed minister of defense by the Social Democrats as part of a joint government.    

May Day carries a number of Dave Zirin's books on sports.  Commentaries on anti-fascism, the NFL, the Olympics, drugs and alcohol, below.  Use blog search box, upper left with those terms. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 14, 2017

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Bloody Perestroika

'Secondhand Time - the Last of the Soviets," by Svetlana Alexievich, 2016 English Translation

Alexievich is a liberal journalist from Belarus who presently opposes Russian policy in the Ukraine, so politically she has lined up with the U.S. government.  However, she is also a professional reporter who in this book seeks out many stories about the fall of the Soviet Union, from both capital-C Communists and newly-minted businessmen, but mostly those in between.  Whatever your theoretical views about the fall of the USSR, these stories help flesh out what went wrong, or what was right.  They are organized into two dated sections, 1991 to 2001 and 2002 to 2012. 

Would You Trust Your Country to this Man?
Alexievich, through these first-person narratives, paints a picture of a de-politicized, disorganized population yearning after consumer goods and a bit of freedom, who bought into Yeltsin's abstract pleas for 'freedom' and were tricked.  Many tell stories of rushing out to back Yeltsin in his Moscow showdown in August 1991, when tanks of the tiny remnant of the bureaucracy that still backed 'actually existing socialism' attempted to stage a putsch. The Army was unsure, the 'putsch' lasted 3 days and they surrendered to a pro-capitalist strata of the nomenklatura, Yeltsin and Putin, et al.  Unlike the mass uprising that was the Bolshevik revolution, the capitalist counter-revolution could be more likened to the collapse of a rotten building, given the small amount of people involved.  It was a true putsch. 

The lack of violence also shows the class basis upon which the USSR was built - the working class majority.  Unlike our own greedy capitalist class, which will have working class soldiers fight to the end to protect their yachts and bank accounts against the majority, a government based on the majority has to collapse at some point if its supporters drop out.  Sort of like a union that faces a decertification vote because of years of malfeasance.  The massive 15 million member Communist Party rallied no one.  It's own roots were weak, as the bureaucratic cadre had robbed the actual working class of any independent agency.  The inextricable link between workers democracy and class rule had already been broken by the CP, and this led Russia and the rest of the USSR's working class into an economic abyss for 10 years and ongoing. 

Nearly all of the people in these stories rue the day they supported Yeltsin and Gaidar, as criminals, oligarchs and former nomenklatura took over everything.  Factories were bought for a song, many workers were laid off, PHD's became taxi drivers, kiosk peddlers appeared in Red Square barely making a living selling Hungarian sausage, old people begged.  The stability of the USSR collapsed.  Thugs appropriated apartments.  The majority of the bureaucracy had the head start in being the owners of the factories they once managed.  This is the root of their counter-revolutionary role, which came to final fruition after being predicted by the Left Opposition so long ago.

One thing made clear by the book is that the concentration on military defense - one official put it at 80% of the economy - robbed the population of easily-produced consumer goods like VCRs, blue jeans and decent food like salami, which is mentioned many times in the book. Housing for many was primitive or very small - barracks, dormitories, bunkers, packed communal or small apartments. While you may think that 'defense' is all about how many tanks or jets you have, a real defense is also a population that supports you, and that means not spitting on their material needs.  For instance, when the Rolling Stones played Havana in 2016, the Cuban workers state did not collapse.  Rock & roll is not 'anti-communist' except to a clueless bureaucrat.  If the Soviets had grasped this simple idea, they might have still existed, but that would mean losing control. 

Alexievich tells the stories of former CP officials who dismiss the counter-revolution as basically 'trading our souls for chewing gum and VCRs.'  She describes the brutal ethnic cleansing that broke out after the destruction of the Soviet Union against many nationalities - Armenians, Jews, Tajiks, Georgians,  Abkhazians, Azerbajanis.  There were many subsequent suicides; vicious drunken husbands beating their wives or girlfriends; people exchanging books for new toilets; the desires for a 'new Czar" or a return of Stalin by some; the oppression of poverty-stricken Tajiks by the new Russian businessmen, cops and skinheads.  

It covers an endless war and terrorism from Chechnya; unhappy soldiers returned from Afghanistan; kitchen conversations that ended after 1991; the present obsession with money and the passing of the 'Sovak' citizen; the enduring memories of the penal colonies, torture, deaths and arrests of Stalin's time that hover over everyone; the Russian love of suffering; the nostalgic security of life in the USSR; anti-Soviet 'democrats' getting rich; the unity of 'all peoples' given over to violent nationalism after the counter-revolution; the failures of Gorbachev; the enduring life of the countryside, no matter who is in power; the haunting sweetness of Victory Day and Yuri Gagarin; the suicide of Akhromeyev after the fall of the USSR; veterans of World War II committing suicide because of the counter-revolution; Russian anti-Semitism; the passions of rich Russian yuppie women; the many dreams of escaping Russia; the enduring romance of prisoners in the culture and on and on.

Alexievich has chosen mostly tragic and depressing stories.  Perhaps that is what makes up mainstream Russian life, but I think it is an authorial choice to illustrate certain issues.  For instance, a former camp guard tells a story of needing massages of his trigger finger, as he was getting carpel tunnel after shooting so many people in the head 'back in the day.'

Yeah, sad ass stuff.

Prior reviews of books on the USSR:  Alexievich's own "The Unwomanly Face of War." Also: "How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin," "Russian Fates and Lost Alternatives," "Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism," "Absurdistan," "Reinventing Collapse" and others.

Red Frog
September 9, 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tyrion the Liberal

Game of Thrones – Season 7
The wine drinking has disappeared, and so has the sex except for an odd act of one person lying on top of another.  As you can see, there are many aspects to Game of Thrones, but what is most interesting is it's political ramifications.  I don’t just see this as just a historical fantasy, but as a commentary on the present.  This is not unusual, as GoT has seeped into the general culture.  JRRR Martin was not devoid of politics and certainly his views infused his books and the beginning chapters of this HBO series.   Martin became anti-war during Vietnam and thinks imperial domination is an abomination.  That is why it is called ‘game’ of thrones, which belittles the whole process of imperial rule.

The Lannisters Always Pay their Debts...
So the basic question for this season is:  Who thinks they can make a deal with Cersei Lannister?  Cersei is certainly the Mad Queen at this point, a medieval fascist intent on maintaining her rule over the Iron Throne and her imagined ‘7 kingdoms’ no matter what.  This in the context of a stagnant medieval economy that has lasted far beyond anything in real human history.  She is a climate denialist of the first order regarding the fact that “winter is coming” and the Night King with it.  She is an intimate of the Iron Bank, which will lend money to anyone for any purpose, as long as interest is paid.  She personifies a Westerosi  nationalist who thunders against the invading hordes of ‘foreigners’ represented by the Unsullied and the Dothraki.  As Bronn and Jaime comment, the Unsullied are an army of dickless men, not ‘real’ men.  They might even be gay!  Does this all sound familiar?  

The deal with the Iron Bank for an army of 20,000 mercenaries – the Golden Company – is built on stolen Tyrell money that the Lannisters seized through military conquest.  Cersei’s brutal ally, Euron Greyjoy, will ferry the Golden Company from Essos to Westeros in his bid to become King, allegedly with Cersei.  However, one of the recent absurd fact problems in GoT is that this money is never seen getting to King’s Landing - a place which may also just be the Hunger Games capital of Londonium.  Was it the paltry sum of gold in Bronn’s saddle-bag on a horse that was probably incinerated by a dragon while rescuing Jaime?  Was it in the train of wagons incinerated by 3 dragons?  Did it arrive in King’s Landing by an invisible boat?  No. 

Let’s assume the money exists though somehow, because the script writers do.  That is all Cersei has now.  Money.  The Iron Bank?  The City and Wall Street! And with money comes power.  With which you can buy military power, much as the U.S. has the biggest army in world history, funded by their imperial system of economic domination.  And even many mercenaries, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Or the use of Blackwater, now XE, a close partner with the Defense Department and Donald Trump.  No reference to Blackwater Bay, but you never know...

JRRR Martin, in an interview, commented that the dragons were the equivalent of nuclear weapons.  Anyone who has ‘dragons’ holds an ace in the war of thrones for domination of the ‘world.’  No wonder Kim Jong-Un doesn’t want to go the way of Libya’s Gaddafi , and so keeps his ‘ace.’  The biggest nuclear arsenal in the world is held by the U.S.  And now the nuclear threat again hangs over the whole world, both in North Korea but now even in the crusade against Russia, because of our mad King and our mad military and their bi-partisan allies.  You see, the problem is nuclear proliferation, as now even the ‘Night King’ has one too.  Witness the collateral damage of dragons burning sheepherders or eating livestock.  This is no different than the radioactive pollution from Hanford or Seabrook, not to mention Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Nagasaki or Fukushima.

This leads one to wonder – is the ‘breaker of chains’ the U.S.?  Certainly, but only if hypocrisy is taken as reality.  This is where the analogy breaks down.  Unless Daenerys does incinerate Kings Landing and its million citizens in frustration over Cersei’s betrayal, Daenerys is not the U.S. quite yet.  The U.S. is a maintainer of chains, wage labor, wage slavery, literal slavery and is attempting to sit on the imperial iron throne.  The U.S. is King's Landing.

The Night King seems to represent the advance of world-historic barbarism.  How did the Night King get the bomb?  Well, that is where liberalism comes in.  Tyrion is a beloved character - a drinker, lover, wit, an intellectual of sorts.  Another ‘half-man’ like so many damaged men in this tale – but a real one in character, more so than many taller men.  However, Tyrion, as Daenerys has noted, lately gives very bad advice.  His odd fretting over Daenerys’ death.   His idea to capture Casterly Rock by the Unsullied fell into a diversion, which Daenerys corrected by attacking and destroying the Lannister and Tully army.  His worst recent idea was to capture a White Walker’s wight and show it to Cersei, who would then suddenly ‘see the light’ and send her armies north to fight alongside Daenerys, Jon Snow and the rest.  

Of course anyone looking at their internet phone constantly might also be a zombie.  Or those worker-bee drones that work without thinking.  You can extrapolate this…

Tyrion is the expression of the liberalism of the male HBO showrunners, but also of liberal principals in general.  He is humane, but also ‘humane’ sometimes to the point of betrayal.  His idea to allow slavery in Meereen and Essos in Season 6 after it had been militarily defeated was a stunning example of trying to make a deal with the devil.  He argued against the former slaves on this issue, Missandei & Grey Worm, who knew a deal with the slavers was a terrible idea.  It would be like Lincoln deciding that, after winning the Civil War, the South could still have slavery or that Jim Crow was a good compromise.
 
Now Tyrion again wants to make a deal with a fascist and a climate denier, his sister, and thinks that will work.  And so the fateful and idiotic machinery goes into action, of capturing a zombie wight, having a bogus peace parley and losing a dragon to nuclear proliferation.  That dragon then melts Hadrian’s ice Wall at Eastwatch, which otherwise would have provided an effective barrier against the White Walkers for some time, at least until the ocean shore froze over. Tyrion was instrumental in this. The real Hadrian’s Wall was supposed to protect England from the ‘freemen’ - Scotsmen and Norsemen.  But the Wildlings are now south of the Wall, as freemen in league with the King of the North and survival. 

After showing the wight to Cersei, she publicly agrees to send her armies north.  And she is lying of course, which is not unpredictable.  Even Jaime leaves her at this point after she almost kills him.  So much for negotiating with medieval fascists.  So do we negotiate with climate deniers?  With fascists?  With virulent opponents?  Tyrion does, though we don't know all that transpired, and this might indicate something else is going on.  But the real answer is obvious.  Time for Arya to put on Lord Baelish’s face and have an audience with the Mad Queen. 

So what is this “Night King” that humanity must unite against?  Why is he framed in the phrase “Winter is Coming” all the time, as if he and some turn in nature were the same?   Because snow storms do rage as he approaches.   I see ‘winter is coming’ to be the inversion of ‘summer is coming’ – meaning global climate change.  Not a stretch at all.  Jon Snow is always arguing with people who have killed each other that they need to unite against this greater danger.   He’s the only one consistently doing it, which is why he is the actual leader here – not all the limited players concentrating on their little thrones, even the Mother of Dragons. 

Now you might even interpret this as an argument for a working military and political unity of the left against the present rightist threat in the U.S. or the capitalist class in general.   The need for a U.S. Left Front or Anti-Capitalist Front, even among those who are in historical currents that have killed each other! The Internationalist Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action, Socialist Appeal, Redneck Revolt, Socialist Party, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Workers World Party, Industrial Workers of the World, Democratic Socialists of America, the Socialist Gun Club, Black Agenda Report, the Communist Party, etc. – a bunch of Trotskyists, Stalinists, anarcho-syndicalists, Maoist, Marxists, radicals, left populists and social democrats.    

These are all real organizations, just like the Wildlings or the imaginary Brotherhood Without Banners, who have rejected kings and queens and defend the ‘smallfolk’ – who want to ‘break the wheel.”  But they need to unite to have any impact, ala Jon Snow.  The Hound is one of their number, one of the few who has turned on the rich.  The show-runners certainly will not question the idea of a 'good' queen or a 'good' king, as this is the basis on which they probably plan on ending this series...even thought JRR Martin was against the idea of 'good kings.'

Am I blurring fact and alleged fiction?  You bet…

Will the real groups unite?  Or like Cersei Lannister, only use a united front to further their own ends?  Ah, yes, we know how that works … because history and Game of Thrones has told us so.

The real message from Tyrion’s liberal mistakes or relation to the Lannisters (remember his class and family background...) is that liberalism is treacherous in the present period.  We need a revolutionary attitude to adequately cope with reality, be it fictional or real as real can be.  After all, giving police grenade launchers and armored vehicles seem to be 'The Mountain' in actual fact.

Hillary Clinton just compared her self to Cersei Lannister in her recent book.  This is the problem with people who are so out of touch they assume a pop citation will prove their 'groundedness.'  But there is much truth in it nevertheless.  Prior discussions of the TV series Game of Thrones” and other dystopian films, below.

Red Frog
August 30, 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Anti-Fascist People's War

"The Unwomanly Face of War - an Oral History of Women in World War II," by Svetlana Alexievich, 1985, translated into English, 2017

More than a one million Russian girls and women fought in World War II, defending the USSR from the German/Axis invasion.  This is the greatest military mobilization of women in history and reflective of its character in the USSR as a 'peoples war.'  For all the bourgeois feminists in the U.S. who celebrate the strides that U.S. women have recently made in the U.S. army, these stories show who was first.  Alexievich tells the personal, emotional memories of these women, be they nurses, snipers, partisans, underground fighters, pilots, signal-women, communication operators, corps-women, railway workers, engineers, anti-aircraft officers, doctors, truck drivers, tank mechanics, cooks, washers, sappers or front-line troops.  One woman sniper killed 75 Germans.  No position was closed to females.

The Motherland Incarnate
Alexievich is not a socialist or communist but she is a journalist who specializes in oral histories.  She won the 2015 Nobel prize for this kind of work.  These brutal, sad or wonderful stories are told from the unique point of view of mostly older women reflecting on their lost, youthful lives in the war.  The book took 26 years to compile, so the book covers a very broad range of women and time.  These kind of emotional and personal tales have been ignored in the broad canvas of 'history unfolding,' or whatever you want to call the traditional view of war - the movement of armies, the actions of generals, the technology of death.  But through them you can see what it was really like for the Soviet citizen in the midst of this horror.

A few reflections, as there are hundreds of interviews here.  Memory is obviously a tricky thing, made up of emotions, choices and impacts, not some linear, perfect process.  Alexievich recognizes this and understands that memory creates itself.  

Leaving Home:  Many stories start with the traumatic moment they hear that the war has started.  Girls in school, at home, shopping.  Most want to immediately volunteer, even if they were only 15.  The too young girls are so persistent they talk their way into some position in the army or sneak into the services on the back of a truck. Older Komosol girls (youth section of the CP) are taken immediately.  Many volunteer and whole trainloads of girls headed to the Front.  These girls would not think of leaving the defense of the 'Motherland' to just men and boys.  Dying for the cause was taught in school as was the equality between girls and boys. 

Clothes:  Clothes were a big issue for the girls and women.  The Soviet Army had no real clothes for women initially, especially in the small sizes of teenage girls.  So the boots are too big, the pants billowing, the shirts hang, the underwear is bulky men's underwear and there are no supplied bras.  Menstruation is difficult. Clothing even changed the way the women walked.  Only after two years of war women's underwear begins to be supplied to the army.

Love:  Some girls found husbands or lovers in the armed forces.  They watched them die.  They formed life-long bonds.  They got crushes on men that disappeared.  For many, this was their first love, as they were very young.  For some, their last.    

Children:  Some women had to leave their children behind, with relatives, with neighbors.  Some even took them into the war - with the partisans in the forests, in military units.  One women actually drowned her baby because it was crying while her partisan unit was hiding in swamp waters.  When the women returned to their homes, they were sometimes unrecognized by the children they had to leave behind.  One woman arrived back home on a horse, with a short haircut, a side-arm and military clothes.  Who is she, the child wondered?

Stalin:  For some women, Stalin, the War and the Victory were closely identified and this emotional connection continued throughout their lives. For others, some of whom lost Communist or peasant brothers or fathers to the prison camps, Stalin was a failure who left the USSR totally unprepared for a German assault, losing millions of Soviet soldiers to death or capture in a month; who jailed and shot the majority of experienced Red Army generals in 1937; who imprisoned innocent Soviet soldiers or partisans after they had been captured by the Germans. These are the most political sections and indicate that the war was won, not because of Stalin, but sometimes in spite of him.  The May 9 'Victory" was a victory for the whole Russian people, a true victory of 'peoples war.'   

Blood:  Nearly all the girls and women in these stories did not know how they would behave under fire or bombardment or with injuries or around death - like any new soldier would.  Nearly all managed to get through the first hellish experiences.  However, some clearly had PTSD.   One woman smelled blood almost everywhere, which made her sick to her stomach.  One could not have anything red in her house.  For the nurses and corps-women, blood soaked their clothes constantly, dried and stiff, and they had to get used to it.

Kindness:  The officers and men of the Soviet Army treated the women with kindness and tried to protect and help them.  Sexual assaults were very rare, at least in these pages.  Commanders acted like good fathers in many instances. The girls, who hated the Germans, nevertheless found themselves helping and feeding the German wounded. 

The Germans:  The German Wehrmacht killed prisoners and civilians, sometimes using kerosene to burn a village church or school filled with people.  The Germans killed and sometimes mutilated all captured women.  Contrary to this, the Soviet Army rules did not allow German prisoners to be killed, nor German civilians - though there were rapes.  There is no 'equivalency' between the two sides, as the bourgeois press likes to pretend.

Hair & Makeup:  Women had to cut their hair - not even braids were allowed, so some sneakily attempted to let it grow, curl it, dye and comb it.   They created on-site make-up.  Other military women felt that they had to wait until the war was over to become 'womanly' again, as it was disloyal to do it while in the war.

Roles:  Women were in every branch of the service, even in the navy, which had a superstition against women on ships.  Girls and women formed the legendary 'Night Witches," which flew small, old planes just above the treetops by sight, in the night.  They held positions in various parts of the armed forces, from private to officer, and led men in a good number of instances. 

Physical Tasks:  Young, small women hauled wounded men by crawling with them on their backs through mud, over earth, time and time again.  One woman hauled 481 wounded soldiers from under fire. Rifles taller than they.  Endless heavy basins of dirty water to wash clothes in.  Heavy artillery shells.  Digging deep anti-tank ditches.  Building bridges.  Constant hunger and stress, which turned one young women's hair grey at 19.

Coming Home:  Women that did not go into the Soviet army slurred the military women as 'whores' and 'unwomanly' and attempted to cut them off from male relationships when they returned home.  Nothing is left in many of the villages they return to.  Many men are dead and the female ex-soldiers must begin the heavy work of harvesting, plowing, planting alone, or with young children.  Women later became a much larger part of the Soviet working class that labored outside the home.

The Soviet experience in WWII is somewhat of a mystery to the majority of people in the U.S., who think the U.S. played the main role in beating the Axis at "D-day" with their 'Band of  Brothers."  Au contraire.  These stories range geographically from villages to Stalingrad to Leningrad to Berlin.  After the war, the role of women in the USSR rose because of their war-time experiences, not just as "Rosie the Riveter" but as "Rosa the Soldier." These remembrances give 'women's liberation' a whole new meaning - perhaps one middle-class U.S. feminists are not used to.      

Prior reviews on women in the USSR:  "Women in Soviet Art," "Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope."  Use blog search box, upper left. 

Red Frog
August 26,2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Do Not Trifle With a Tamil Tiger

"Deephan," film by Jacque Audiard, 2015

This is a Diaspora film.  This time the displaced ones are Tamils from Sri Lanka.  It starts after the 26-year guerilla campaign in Sri Lanka has been won by the majority ethnic Sinahalese government in 2009.  This occurs after a mass slaughter of  the ethnic Tamil minority.  Deephan / Sidvahasan is a former Tamil Tiger whose wife and children have been killed.  His unit is decimated and he's forced into a refugee camp.  To get out of the camp, he gets the passport of a dead man, finds an unattached woman, Yalini, who finds an orphan girl, Illayaal, and they claim to be a real family.  They are allowed passage to France, where he becomes the caretaker of a large apartment building in one of the working-class ring suburbs of Paris, which are full of immigrants from various countries.

Deephan - Street Peddler & Maintenance Man & ...
The apartment blocks are dominated by armed criminals, mostly drug-dealers.  They are Arab, African, French.  But they let Deephan quietly do his efficient work on the buildings - fixing, cleaning, maintenance.  His alleged daughter Illayaal goes to a nearby school and works on learning French.  His alleged wife Yalini, who has a bad temper, sits around until he convinces her to work for a paralyzed man in one of the buildings, Mr. Habib.   She is an excellent cook but gets a crush on Mr. Habib's son, who is a criminal wearing an ankle monitor.

They face all the problems of immigrants in a totally new place.   Language is a main burden, though Illayaal begins learning French quite well.  Deepan has trouble understanding and fitting in with the cultural customs, like French humor.  Illayaal tries to make friends with school children who are hostile to strangers.  Earning a living is a big hurdle, though the French find Deephan and then Yalini a job quickly and they pay far more than in Sri Lanka.  Deepan & Yalini both try to escape their past, which can be difficult.  The Tamil guerilla leadership in Paris want Deephan to continue working for the cause, but he can't face it anymore.  They have to lie to the authorities about their background, as Deephan has to hide being a former Tamil Tiger.  And keeping their odd 'family' together - probably the hardest.  In the final case, putting up with violence that reminds them too much of Sri Lanka, as especially Yalini goes into panic mode immediately.

The thugs in the buildings have a shootout one day and Yalini loses it and runs to the train station, abandoning Deephan and Illayaal to get to London, where she has a cousin.  Deephan forces her back to the apartment, as he is beginning to feel that they are a real family.  Her leaving might also endanger their immigrant status.   From then on, Deephan puts his former military skills to use in combating the criminal element, who have not dealt with a guerilla soldier before - dark and inconspicuous as he is.

The film has an unrealistic but very happy ending.  Part of it is that the artificially constructed family becomes a real family by living through this misery. This film puts you in the position of being in immigrant, which is its main strength.  It again reflects the massive dislocations that primitive capitalist ethnic politics and poverty bring to society.   

Other reviews on Diaspora issues:  "Lipstick Jihad." 

Red Frog
August 21, 2017

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Missing Ideology of Liberalism

"The Political Beliefs of Americans - A Study of Public Opinion," by Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril, 1967

Recent articles by Paul Rosenberg in Alternet and Salon drew my attention to this 1967 book. The book is an analysis of surveys taken in 1964 by Gallup Poll. Its focus is on what they take to be a contradiction between strongly liberal responses to issues they consider “operational” and conservative responses to another set of “ideological” issues. As an example: to a question about federal responsibility for reducing unemployment. 75% agreed that it was responsible while 18% disagreed. On the other hand, to a question about whether any able-bodied person who wants to work can find a job and earn a living, 76% agree and just 21% disagreed.

The Subterranean Socialist
The “operational” questions in the surveys were mostly about federal funding for a variety of social programs while the “ideological” questions covered a range of generally conservative beliefs. Free and Cantril find that, as a whole, Americans tend to be operationally liberal and ideologically conservative. “This discrepancy is so marked as to be almost schizoid.” (p.33). They peg a national figure of 23% for those who cross the political road rather than holding to either position consistently. This segment increases among those with a grade school education (28%), the very poor (30%), and in the southern states that went for Goldwater in 1964 (41%).

Writing at the nadir of Republican Party fortunes they have little trouble
identifying the trap that the GOP was in, their base enthusiastically supported conservative rhetoric but was significantly less happy about cuts to the social programs that were the province of the Democrats. We can still recognize a reflection of this dilemma in their failure to replace the Affordable Care Act.  However popular with their voters is the rallying cry of repeal and replace, they choke on the reality of mass support for universal health care. Fifty years down the road we have a changed political landscape - although it can be argued that there is still something of the same mismatch today.  I'm not going to attempt an update the book's findings but instead take a look at its theoretical weakness.

What can we, discerning working class readers, get out of such a book? First, we'll have to untangle some of what it presents as its historical background. Their overview of the evolution of the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' is brief and not misleading, up to a point. The U.S. political system professes belief in “liberal” principles which we will venture to summarize in our own way here as protecting private property against the prerogatives of the state. And, of course, the larger the property the greater the protection.

“By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the doctrines of
liberalism, as further developed by such men as Spencer and Sumner,
were being used for exactly the opposite purpose: namely, by
“conservatives” to defend a new status quo. By this time, particularly
after the civil war, the business class was in the saddle and was fearful
that, with the extension of suffrage, governments would prove too
sensitive to the needs of the people and adopt dangerous working-class reforms.” (p.4).

In effect, liberalism becomes conservatism, in outline but not inaccurate. But what is this reborn liberalism which they see as emerging in the 20th century? Here is where I think we need to pull them up short, by the roots:
“As a practical matter, the new style liberals increasingly recognized the need for governmental action to protect the underprivileged. … They supported compulsory education, unemployment and old-age insurance, minimum wages...”
They are talking about Roosevelt, Wilson & FDR...
“However, neither Roosevelt nor those who followed him ever evolved a coherent philosophy of liberalism (new style) to rationalize the programs they supported.”
And so the authors were “unable to unearth a sufficiently coherent body of
ideological doctrine commonly accepted by the public to ask questions about "liberalism's new style.”

I think, looking back 50 years to when this was written, we can supply the
missing element to their analysis. In fact, it should not have been difficult 50 or even 100 years before this was written to see what they left out. All
of these liberal programs were the result of demands made by the working
class and were expressed by its own political program, socialism. “Liberalism (new style)” arose from and continues to be the accommodation to those demands, but which preserves the existing relations of production.
If we look at the survey results with this in mind we cannot be faulted for
seeing in the majority support for social programs, for what they call
operational liberalism, evidence of an abiding, if not fully conscious,
working-class support for a socialist political agenda.

The survey reports class self-identification of the respondents as follows:
Propertied class 5%
Middle class 37%
Working class 53%
Don't know 5%
The percentage of liberals (operational) rises from 40% in the propertied
class to 57% in the middle class and 74% in the working class. (p. 18)

While the responses to the operational questions have certainly undergone
shifts since 1964, as on the ideological side of the survey the questions are antique. As a snapshot of American political opinion of the period the book is rich and fascinating and I can recommend it on that basis alone. Among the subjects covered by the survey: foreign affairs, race, politics of the father, aspirations & fears, prejudices, and so on. But a solid analysis of the material would require a more extensive study of the period than I can perform. That won't stop me from making a sample observation.

Let's take one that I'm sure won't surprise many of us:
“Statement: The relief rolls are loaded with chiselers and people who just
don't want to work”
Agree 66%
Disagree 23%
Don't know 11% (p. 27)
While this response holds up across the classes I'm not sure we can assume that the workers who agree with the statement always have in mind chiselers who are among the poor or, with this opinion, they are asserting support for the social status quo.

“The working class in every country lives its own life, makes its own
experiences, seeking always to create forms and realize values which
may originate directly from its organic opposition to official society, but are shaped by its experiences in cooperative labor. Nowhere is this more marked than in the United States where the raucous rowdyism of
Republicans and Democrats obscures and drowns out the mass search for a way of life; not a new way but simply a way, the famous
'American Way' being strictly an export commodity. Quite often, the
reaction is for the time being merely negative, but none the less
indicative of the future” Facing Reality – C.L.R. James & Grace C.
Lee

Some additional nuggets:
 Q. There is a definite trend toward socialism in this country.
Agree 46%
Disagree 30%
Don't know 32%

Quotes in the book:
“It might sound funny, but they've got a good thing over in Sweden.
You're protected from the cradle to the grave. Not that I'm a socialist or anything like that, but it would be a good thing for the U.S. to follow." (an automobile worker in Michigan)

“I don't understand a lot about the Communists, but I sure fear them.” (a retired woman living in Tennessee)

“The way the Negroes are making trouble, they pretty soon will get on
top of the whites. We may even have a Negro President.” (a retired man living in Michigan)

Barry Link, August 20, 2017