Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lumberjack Blues

"Sometimes a Great Notion,” by Ken Kesey, 1963

This is a swamp bear of a book.  Wrestling its 700+ pages is like an endurance race that you lose at your peril.  Ken Kesey has an identity that mostly doesn’t involve this book.  He’s a Merry Prankster, an LSD aficionado; the author of the rebel book ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which became a film starring Jack Nicholson; a high beatnik, then a high hippie.  This book proves conclusively that he was also a very good writer, although you might argue with his political slant and lack of editing.  It was the only large book he wrote.

Ken Kesey - Master of Ceremonies
Some people call this a book about a union strike struggle, which is true up to a point. It is immersed in the Oregon woods – creeks, rivers, plants, flowers, animals, sky and mountains, where the salt means the clear, just back of the Oregon coast near Eugene.  A sometimes turbulent river, the Wakonda Auga, eats away at the family land.  The rain in September, October and November never seems to stop falling and it provides a constant presence.  The forests surround the central rambling family house like a prison.  This family house is located across a river, symbolically alone, so no car can drive up to it. The geese, the bears, the wildcats, the hunting dogs all cohabit this still wild woods. 

It is also a meditation on masculinity and the tiring clash between education and ‘rugged individualism.’  The educated buffoon with certain kinds of college intelligence versus the ignorant buffoons who have a great grasp of material reality.  As if these were the only cultural poles available.  It centers on a description of that classic “American type” – the independent male small businessman and his primitive role as a ruler of his family.  In this case, daddy Henry.  Tiring because, in 2017, this trope is still with us – the ranch owner ethos, the right-wing, self-centered, ‘tough’ guy owner -oil driller, logger, contractor, trucking company honcho.  Yes, right-wingers are human beings with personalities and successes.  However, practical and mechanical skills like motors, wood-working, hunting, fishing, motorcycles, guns, mechanical skills, animals, even drinking - are not exclusive to small businessmen.  The depictions in this book becomes a political stereotype that flatters this class of male profiteers. 

It is the early 1960s in the U.S.  Kesey’s plot centers around a family of loggers, the Stamper clan, led by old-man Henry. They are the ones who live in that isolated homestead.  Henry is a garrulous old-timer who seems to epitomize the stand-up pioneer of the past.  The Stampers decide to work for a logging company while the Timber-worker’s Union is out on strike against it. You got it, the whole closely-related bunch of Stamper woodsmen are scabs.  Union men play a role in the book and historically, this union was led by Wobblies and later Communists until they were purged, but a Wobbly echo remains in the person of the local's president, Floyd Evenwrite.  The out of work and on-strike loggers dominate the town and bars.  So the Stamper’s are not favorites in the nearby town of Wakonda, as they are strike-breakers.  But this predictably does not bother them.

It is written in a modernist style, full of well-written dialog, where past and present mix, scenes transpose themselves sentence by sentence, first person changes hands, internal meditations intrude, and gradually the book becomes a somewhat magical attempt at telling a story.  In a way, the style is difficult and confusing and why the book is a mud-wrestling match.  The book is not a straight-on depiction of class struggle, which is never its intention, but more of a group of interior monologues dripping in nature. Actual tree cutting work is depicted in several chapters, which gives you a physical feel for the work if you've never done it yourself.  But the capitalist logging company is invisible, and instead the psychology of various individuals dominates.

Kesey himself grew up in Oregon and went to Stanford, so this book reflects his own life.  One of the two main characters in this book, Leland Stamper, is Henry's son.  He leaves his paterfamilias-dominated family with his unhappy upscale mother and moves back to the East coast where she was from.  He could be a Kesey stand-in.  There Lee attends Harvard and reluctantly returns, after a failed suicide attempt, to help the family business during the strike.  And perhaps prove he's a real man.  This cultural class difference lies at the base of the conflict in the book. Lee flirts with madness and perhaps thinks returning home will straighten his psychology and also allow him to extract some revenge for his bullying treatment as a young bookish boy – which made him an absolute stranger to this hard-drinking, yahoo-thinking bunch.

Old boss Henry has another son - like-minded and tough Hank - a younger ‘chip off the old block.’  Hank marries a slim blonde woman, Vivian, from Colorado while on a motorcycle ride.  She becomes somewhat unhappy living in the homestead, as she’s a reader and this isolates her a bit, even while she performs all the duties of a virtual pioneer wife - cooking, cleaning, milking the cow, attending to the children, being available for sex.  In this book her actual thoughts are almost invisible until the very end, unlike most of the men involved.  Hank is the older brother that tormented Lee as a young boy and jealousy erupts, as Leland's plan is to steal Vivian to get back at Hank.  The struggle of the brothers dominates the book and Vivian plays the dithering prize until the very end when she eventually stands up for herself.
 
Young Hank Stamper is a real hero.  He is the all-time high school football and wrestling champ, never loses, always considerate, achieving physical feats of endurance, impervious to pain and bad weather, tough as nails, hard working to a fault, relies on himself, loves his wife but not too much.  It is his and his father's arrogance that they can get the scab logging job done alone in the cold wind and pouring rain - with only 3 men - that results in tragedy, a tragedy that Hank barely notices.  But the book basically has you rooting for his 'heroic' success, against Lee's stupid plan or the inept but numerous unionists. 

Kesey depicts the majority of the population of Wakonda as fools of different sorts.  Drunks, weaklings, people with secrets, some crazy, blowhards, thugs, false friends, stupid kids - quite a bunch.

The attempts by the union to shut down the Stampers are marked by ridicule and failure.  Their one-day picket line is disrupted by a drunken prostitute.  Their attempt to send the scab logs downriver ends with them falling in the drink themselves and being rescued by none other than Hank.  Their attempts to isolate the Stampers for the most part fail, especially a planned beating in the local bar, which Hank wins.  A plot to pretend to buyout the Stampers never comes to fruition. An attempt to burn the log mill results in Hank breaking an agreement and trying to get logs to the company anyway.  Only the somewhat bureaucratic union rep from California, a smooth, cultured man, thinks he can wait the Stampers out, and he succeeds. This gives you an idea of Kesey's attitude towards unionism, which was apparently somewhat hostile.  Not every hipster is a friend...no matter how 'hip' they seem.

If you want a taste of coastal Oregon, circa the early 1960s, this book will give it to you. 

Kerouac's "Dharma Bums" reviewed below.

And I got it at the library!
Red Frog
October 17, 2017       

Monday, October 9, 2017

Wake Me When Its Over

"Blade Runner - 2049" directed by Denis Villeneuve, 2017

You may ask yourself, "Why a sequel?"  The original 'Blade Runner' film was hugely influential to a whole generation of dystopian film.  After sitting through this overly long film, you may have the answer.  The story is not enough to hold up the heralded wide-screen visuals, which are being carried by a tiny narrative that collapses at the end, dead.  Like some hollow Star Wars film that has at its heart a tired Harrison Ford, a wooden Ryan Gosling and an android-human baby - all surrounded by debris, rain and neon, you wonder.  Is that all there is? 

Flying Cars in Dystopia
And by crikey there is a lot to work with here.  We have killer drones, virtual girlfriends, slave androids, an underground rebel movement, environmental collapse, constant rain, radioactive wastelands, a fascistic LAPD intent on genetic homogeneity, sexual exploitation circa the early 1970s, a one-man police hit squad, terrible humans, a dominant Wallace Corporation and human-android cross-breeding.  It sounds like now!  This complex of problems is actually the real message of the film.  It is a goddamn warning.

But to its creators, memory issues and human identity take center stage.  Is the blade runner "K" - a Kafkesque name if there ever was one - a replicant android or a human - or both? No.  Yes?  No?  Yes?  No...  At one point you go, who cares, as they are almost identical to the viewer.  (Humaness is a political construct...)  The key issue for the LAPD is to destroy any idea that replicant slaves and humans can interact, thus preserving human dominance, while the Wallace Corporation wants to breed replicants and humans for more slaves.  The other key issue is memory - does K have real memories or are they implanted in his virtual brain?  Yes, the Big One, is reality real?  Even this film is an attempt to 'implant' memories into the viewer.  As you navigate this film's wrecked or run-down Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas, you might also later wonder, 'did it happen?' 

The movie is based on Philip Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," which was reviewed below. The book was different than the first film, but the mood carried over.  In essence it felt sympathy for the androids and their abject slave-like conditions.  This film also deviates from the first film and the book.  It concentrates on K's individual story, and a hopeless, depressing one at that.  As you might say, Hollywood does with Dick what they want.

The barely-noticed rebels here in 2049 are replicant slaves who are going to overthrow the slave system and the wretched human rulers who rule over this dystopia.  Of course do the replicants really represent soft machines - or do they represent real brutalized proletarians across our present world?  The answer seems to be obvious.  One scene even shows poor orphans in a waste zone disassembling PC boards for the metals - just like now!   But to culture mavens who prefer to wonder if Siri is a better girlfriend than a real one, this is a mind-fuck that will generate many sophomore college papers.  What is real? Where do humans end and cyborgs begin?

The essence of bourgeois thinking is idealism - not in the sense of 'having ideals' - but in the sense of thinking reality is not based on material, scientific facts, but only on what you think.  So wondering what is real is essential to disordering the population - in religion, in miracles, in real-world fantasies, in factless conspiracies, in ghosts, in new age mysticism - its endless really.  This is not what Dick was solely concerned with, but the director and writers of this film thought to place their major emphasis on it, thus undermining their own somewhat surreal and beautiful construction. 

Prior review of Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" below.

Red Frog
October 9, 2017

Friday, October 6, 2017

Why He Did It...

Stephen Paddock

The U.S. media is scrambling around for a reason why this individual man killed and injured so many people in Las Vegas.  May I propose a theory.  It has been noted he was on Valium, which is the drug of choice for suicides and mass shooters.  Even through Big Pharma claims it works on 'depression.' However, what is not noted is his class position.  He was a 'multi-millionaire' according to his brother.  He was a real-estate businessman, one of the most sleazy businesses in the world, the one Trump is also in involved in.  He was an inveterate gambler, a compulsion that is hard to explain except that you believe in your 'elevated luck.'  He had a lot of money to buy, what , 47 weapons, tons of ammo and explosives.  Anyone who owns a gun knows that takes a lot of cash.  He was reported to abuse his Filipino girlfriend in public and visit prostitutes for violent sex.  Abusing women is another characteristic of mass shooters.  He was white, male and older, a hunter, a suburbanite with a big house and quite likely a conservative of a very common type.

Entitled God Complex
Rich people believe they have special rights - if you've had contact with them you know this.  They are, in a way, entitled, and killing is the highest entitlement of all.  Paddock had scheduled two trips to towns with music festivals before he came to Vegas.  Vegas is a town where working-class people go to have a cheap vacation.  Paddock was a country music fan too, so he knew exactly who was down there. Who goes to a country-music festival?  Mostly fun-loving young people, mostly working class.

This was primarily a terrorist ambush of class hatred, but hatred of the young, machismo, U.S. militarism and white privilege also filter into it.  It is a message in the class war.

Red Frog
October 6, 2017

Thursday, October 5, 2017

'Sassy' and 'Poorly Behaved' - not Enough

"Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt Again."  by Alice Birch, presented by Frank Theater, 2017

This is a play by a young feminist English dramaturge, which was billed as  'sharply funny,' 'searing,' and exploring the ' power of language' in the context of the oppression of women.   Considering we are talking about 'the power of words,' let's look at the key term here: 'feminist.' There are a number of types of feminism and which one you are talking about is key.  The generic term actually hides a multiplicity of ideologies, so just saying you are a 'feminist' hides more than it reveals.
They Liked it in New York

The play was actually somewhat sad, confused and gave up on exploring language.  But most prominent was the idea that feminism is about men as the root of all evil.  And men do horrible things.  Only last week in Minneapolis, a man lit his ex-girlfriend on fire with gasoline after years of harassing her, killing her. Another choked his wife to death with a phone cord because she threatened to divorce him. A local St. Paul school bus driver was accused of sexually-abusing 10 children.  The mass murderer in Las Vegas abused his girlfriend in public and hired prostitutes for violent sex, which gives you a hint of what type of guy he was.  This is a pattern by other mass killers.  The jails are full of men who have committed violent crimes but unfortunately are not full of rapists, who normally get away with rape.  Restraining orders aren't worth the paper they are printed on sometimes.  Are we living in India or Pakistan?  No, but the class structure and profit motive in India, Pakistan or the U.S. is still the same and women's oppression is 'baked in.'  Inequality in economics makes inequality among the genders or ethnicities inevitable.

The first scene involved a somewhat clever dialog between a stupid male Lothario and a woman who turns the tables on him verbally, until he sexually is the 'woman.'  Another is about a guy who proposes marriage out of the blue and his overly-talkative girlfriend can't quite say no, but compares the offer to being asked to take part in a suicide bombing.  Barely funny, but at least coherent on a 'micro-aggression' level. 

Another is about a male boss who refuses to give a woman every Monday off, another somewhat coherent set piece.  Let me look at this one, as it is the only place in the play where economics, that invisible and monstrous creature, plays a direct role.  What does the female employee want to do with her day off?  Walk in the woods with her dogs and maybe sleep!  Loeverly, aye?  What would most women want to do with their day off?  Probably avoid a day of expensive daycare if they have children, or do all the chores they haven't done on the weekend.  Yes, get more sleep (why is never explained but it might have something to do with overwork...), maybe do homework on some night-school class, visit their aging parent whom they never see, but walking in the woods might be last on the list unless they have a pretty calm life. 

Now the male boss offers every ridiculous enticement in the books to get her to quit asking for Monday off ... and she refuses.  Now who is she?  What is her job?  If she is an ordinary, working class white or blue-collar employee working full time, non-exempt, there is no flexibility in the schedule and asking for Monday off is impossible.  If she is 'exempt' from overtime, and gets paid a salary, then she might be able to work 4 days a week if there was not a crush of work, but again this conversation would not be so fraught, and could be easily denied.  If she is a temp or part-time worker, it could be arranged, but then this scene would not be the way it is.  Is she a high-ranking corporate manager who can set her own hours?  Evidently not, or the scene would not be taking place either.  She stands up to the boss and tells him she will see him Tuesday.  In the real world, if she was a regular worker, she would be terminated for job abandonment.  So the whole scene takes place in a situation of 'everywoman' unreality.  And on purpose.

From there, the play descends into confusion, with rape and incest failing to get laugh lines, lots of running around, words upon words, underwear gyrations and other 'experimental' methods.

The most disturbing parts of the play, though I'm not sure if they are on purpose, is that black woman actors have to do somewhat humiliating things.  One is stuffed in a shopping cart, to be yelled at by a young, cute white woman. From there she has to gyrate around in her underwear on the floor.  Later she gets to dump water on her head.  Some other scenes also play out like this, yet there is no mention of the double-oppression of black women in the play.

Portrayal of these 'micro-aggressions' is insufficient, though this seems to be as far as modern middle-class feminism goes right now.  If you want to really 'behave poorly,' attacking the 'MACRO-aggression' of the capitalist use of the patriarchy might be a good place to start.  Capital actually makes money off the oppression of women, which is why, many years after the beginning of the feminist movements, things continue as before.  Democratic rights alone are insufficient.

Free labor at home by taking care of children or the elderly; poorly paid labor in the work-places like minimum-wage tip exemptions and the practice of 'tipping'; jobs where women are kept out or harassed, as in Silicon Valley; the 'male bribe,' which tells some sad-sack men they are superior to any woman; police and judges coddling rapists and domestic violence to back up the male bribe; or the ubiquity of profitable sexual exploitation.  

Then there are the politics that back up the economics:  the cult of manly violence portrayed in film, as a backup for our imperial war-like Spartan society; a foreign policy that tolerates the oppression of women world-wide in reality while paying lip-service as a cover; archaic religions supported by the state that encourage the oppression of women in their practice and texts.  The U.S.  military and schools tolerate sexual harassment or rape.  Even marriage itself is an legal contract with the state and an economic contract with the partners.   It is now more and more confined to those with higher incomes. None of these somewhat realistic points were brought up by the play.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  'Macro-aggressions' like this should be the real final target for any feminist worth their salt.

These latter are all points of proletarian feminism, which was strong in the 1970s but is weak now.  Yet it is going to come roaring back as bourgeois feminism (the glass ceiling feminists like Hillary) and this middle-class feminism (men-suck feminists) are seen as basically unable to change society.  Yes, words do mean something.

The play ends with the four women donning combat gear while admitting that something has gone dreadfully wrong in the feminist movement. No matter. Their solution it seems is a 'revolution' where it will be necessary to 'kill all the men.' This last scene really exposes the sad bankruptcy of their ideology.  After that, the audience filed out quietly...

The play continues until 10/22/17 at the Gremlin Theater, at the back of the Vandalia arts complex in St. Paul.

Other plays, including Frank Theater plays, reviewed below.

Red Frog
October 5, 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Caught in a Cyber-Hurricane

Cyber-Proletariat - Global Labour in the Digital Vortex," by Nick Dyer-Witheford, 2015

I picked this book up thinking that I was going to find out about a new strata of the working class or proletariat that was unfamiliar.  You know, geeky techies who now consider themselves cyber-communists or something.  But what Dyer-Witheford (DW) does in this book is connect very familiar present events and issues to the living tissue of the technical computer revolution, the cyber-matrix we now live in.  This 'strata' actually involves nearly all proletarians, across the world.

Grin and Bear It?
DW covers robotization, the cell phone, the internet, digital platforms, artificial intelligence and automata, tech companies, the different strata of techies, world supply chains, software and the like - all translated through Marx.  DW is an 'autonomist Marxist' in the Italian tradition of Negri and others, and so eschews Leninism.  He seems to favor a spontaneous, mass approach to class struggle, which he calls 'The Human Front.' (!) Organization is almost invisible in his high-tech world, but then this book is not really a prescription of 'what to do,' but of what is happening to us.

Some writers love to coin new phrases and you can't fault DW for trying in this book.  It is a habit of the precise academic.  In one example he focuses on the 'proletariat' as those who might be able to work, not the narrower category of the 'working class,' which at least has a job.  However, even people without a job have to work to stay alive...  DW contrasts the disaster of industrial capitalism in Detroit with the growth of cyber-capital in Silicon Valley.   He tracks the growth of precarious part-time employment, showing how the majority of proletarians in the world do not have a full-time jobs.  For instance, 93% of Indian workers are in the 'unorganized' sector. He describes finance capital's 'money grid', where 'M=M+' was not possible until the development of the computer.  Wall Street and banking were one of the first areas to become digitized.     

In the most illuminating section, DW shows how the mobile phone has become essential throughout the world as a way for temporary workers to be 'on call' for work.  As I've pointed out in the past, it is the neo-liberal commodity 'par excellance.'  In richer countries or higher-income strata in less wealthy ones, the internet phone is the fetish of all fetishes.  The computer, the cell phone, the internet phone, the software and physical networks that tie all of it together are in essence how modern imperial capital controls the world's labour - how it functions.  The quick movement of capital, of orders, of instructions, of commerce, of entertainment, of data, of news, of labor - all are part of this cybernetic vortex.  The stock markets themselves are a reflections of how algorithms trade at lightning speeds.  Nearly every job has been touched by computers - not just in white-collar cubes but blue collar work like mechanics, machinists, construction workers, railway workers, even miners and farmers.  DW, like Marx & Engels, describes it as a type of social hurricane, which is only speeding up.  It is matching nature's Maria, Irma and Harvey in their acts of de-composition.      

Monthly Review has downgraded the role of the tech revolution because of the few people it ostensibly employs.  That is true, at least in the U.S., which outsourced its blue collar PC board force, and now concentrates on intellectual property.  But beneath them, even in Silicon Valley, are more than 200K support workers.  Overseas the tech industry's flagship plant is Foxconn in Shenzen, China, which employs over 200,000 workers alone, making it this century's 'River Rouge' plant.  Modern growth in industrial production has mostly come from the tech industry, saving capital for a time from complete stagnation.  Even automobiles are becoming massive tech gadgets.  Due to automation and software, employment is now not what marks capital's progress - in fact the LACK of it indicates its regressive 'progress.'  The second issue is profits, and tech firms are some of the most highly capitalized firms in the world. Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Verizon, Sun, Oracle, Cisco, Tesla, etc. - you have heard of them, right?  The third issue is that of control - and the cyber web now encompasses the globe, both in a corporate, a military, a propaganda and a surveillance sense.  This truly qualifies as a technical breakthrough for capital on par with the steam engine or the automobile, and it is a method which is still developing at lighting speed, as the development of 'self-driving' cars and trucks attests.  Truck drivers are the most common blue collar jobs in the U.S. - 1.8 million - so this development, IF it happens, will result in massive unemployment, as capital never has a plan for those rendered obsolete.

Robots of the World ...Unite
Marx pointed out that the more capital invests in technology (fixed capital) and not in labour, it results in a falling rate of profit, as labour is the source of surplus value.  This is if other things do not interfere, like war, environmental destruction and the issues that DW raises about cheaper fixed machinery.  Additionally, it can easily be seen that a corporate plan to replace humans with machines, like some capitalist "Terminator" end-game, will result in poverty for the majority of humanity - and that would be bad for sales at a certain point.  All this 'creative disruption' as Schumpeter labeled it, could become 'plain destruction.'  Which is why billionaires and tech bosses are trumpeting the 'guaranteed national income' - sort of a warehousing plan for now economically useless human beings.

DW points out that Marx's concept of the 'reserve army of labor' implies that some of these people 'might' get a job someday if the production cycle picks up.  At present, some people will NEVER have a job, except perhaps in the marginal peddler economy, selling things people barely want like Chicklets.  They are 'surplus humanity.'  He also contends that imperial development is disrupting the standard 'center/periphery' economic model, as the 'center' becomes increasingly immiserated while some in the periphery get wealthier, and tries to describe a new world model based on localized zones.

He has a section on the varying roles of Twitter, Facebook and various messaging platforms in social struggle.  He shows how in some countries - Egypt and China - they played a huge role in organizing protests, while in others they were peripheral.  Mirroring the lack of large revolutionary organizations on the left, some protests were as ephemeral as Tweets - they came and they went. 

DW discusses the dispossession of farmers, migrant labor, virtual slave labor, unpaid labor mostly done by women, and every other kind of workforce drawn into the cyber network.  Primitive mining for metals in the Congo, staffing call centers in India, picking apart e-waste in Mexico, peddling cell phones in Nairobi, 'content-moderating' in San Jose - all join a chain of production that was non-existent not that long ago.  Even the free 'user content' you are reading now on this blog actually helps Google.  And yes, some techies (hackers) have become proletarianized as routine coders and 'help desk' personnel, just as is happening in almost every other 'white collar' area.  But sorry, no real movement in the direction of 'cyber-communism' from the techies I meet. 

Other books on this topic:  "The Precariat,"  "Flash Boys," "Cypherpunks," "The Shock Doctrine," "The Unseen," "China on Strike,"

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 28, 2017

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, interviews, 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.  Interviewees like southerner Shelby Foote were the source of much of his information.

Cherubic Nice Guy Finishes First
That series is a stylistic 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 or obscured.  Ken Burns is not going to undermine the 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! 

Certainly, for people unfamiliar with the American War, this series can be enlightening.  It talks to and quotes the 'enemy' unlike any standard U.S. historian has done before - Viet Cong and northern Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh and Giap.  

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

Veterans for Peace Comment on Series
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.  He also believes that damage from Agent Orange is 'inconclusive,' when responding to a question.
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 based on body counts engineered by the U.S. for imperial reasons. 
11. Japanese and French colonialisms 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.  No healing.
14. The key war critic Daniel Ellsburg is missing from film.  One of the war critics allowed to speak apologizes.  Only one stands out.
15. Karl Marlantes, 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.'  But in his book, "Matterhorn" he also noted the conflict between blacks and whites in the military and the stupidity of holding some hill in the middle of nowhere.  See if he goes there.
16. Sponsored by Bank of America, Rockefeller & Mellon foundations 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 specific 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.  They finally mentioned that the whole U.S. army and good chunks of the Navy and Air Force refused to fight by 1970-1971, for maybe 10 minutes. Every form of resistance - desertions, fragging, refusals to go on patrol ... briefly discussed.
23.  Operation Phoenix assassination program justified or soft-peddled.  Phoenix was the basis for the My Lai massacre - it was policy. 
24. Series red-baits all U.S. anti-war protesters as "Maoists."
25. Nick Turse points out that the massive civilian casualties are mostly hidden.

  
Sources:  Veterans for Peace, Counterpunch, Mekong Review, Truthdig, the Intercept, nearly every leftie on the internet and folks around May Day who have seen parts of 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 '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 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.  George 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...

GRR 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 disastrous climate change; 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.' But not our liberals...

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