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 the 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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Moment of Silence

Charlottesville, Virginia

A moment of silence for Heather Heyer, a 32 year old woman anti-racist and Sanders supporter, who was murdered yesterday in Charlottesville, VA.  She was part of a protest against a fascist, racist and nationalist mobilization by various 'alt'right', Nazi and Klan groups.  This murder took place at the hands of a car driven by a 20 year old Republican and white supremacist in the "Vanguard America" group from Ohio.  Some of the other 19 people hurt could be members of various groups like the IWW, Black Lives Matter or Red Neck Revolt.  It has been reported that two DSA members and one ISO member were injured.  Also unknown is who has been arrested.  This is reminiscent of the killing of 5 CWP members by the KKK in Greensboro, NC in 1979.

Fascists Blocked in Charlottesville, VA
A new stage in the class war in the U.S. has arrived.  Perceptive analyses of actual fascism - as opposed to impressionist, borrowed or lazy ones - posit that it is only when a wing of the ruling class decides to back these forces that fascism can gain strength.  At this point at least 3 people in the Trump cabinet - Bannon, Gorka and Stephen Miller - are supporters of these kind of forces.  Top capitalists in the Republican Party benefit from them, especially those based in the former Confederate south.  This rally was an attempt by the fascists to forge a 'united front' to increase their paltry numbers.  That is significant. 

Trump 'evenhandedly' denounced 'violence by both sides' and was immediately praised by the Daily Stormer for his restraint.  Because of this clear support by the White House, a wing of the Republican Party and the part of the capitalist class tied to that party, the left must begin to mobilize a large, permanent anti-fascist front.  It has to ignore the liberal's plans to protect racist speech or to 'ignore' the fascist right.  This is not a polite debate.  As any reading of history understands, it is precisely their ability to march and attempt to violently control the streets that is at stake.  The Democrats and liberals would prefer that we go back to the 1920s, when the Klan proudly marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in their thousands.    

Leftist observers in Charlottesville claim 500-1,000 right-wingers were confronted by 'thousands' of counter-protesters, some flying black and red flags, who prevented them from marching from their rally site to other places in Charlottesville, including to a black housing project.  The police were absent except around a small area of the original rally, and did not separate the two sides.  The spent the day passively watching for the most part.  Any idea that the 'police' would somehow lessen this confrontation is wishful thinking.  They actually hope the right gives the left a thumping.  A brawl in front of the police station resulted in the police looking ... away.  Even when the right-wingers pushed into a police line, no one was arrested.  A black student was severely beaten by rightists in a parking garage, and no one was arrested.

Weapons carried by the right-wingers included baseball bats, AR-15s, Glock handguns, brass knuckles, tear gas & pepper spray, smoke grenades, clubs and flag poles with metal tips. Many of them wore helmets and shields.  The deployed in military order. This weaponry far outweighed anything the left brought.   Unprovoked physical assaults by these racists on older counter-protesters did not elicit any response by police and patrolmen.  The police did not intervene. Some ostensibly neutral armed 'militia' members attempted to keep the two sides apart, but could not.

This is not about 'free speech' - this is about intimidation, violence and death.  A scraggly 'left' opposition will not succeed in most cases in opposing this until large and more organized numbers are brought to bear.

Robert E Lee was a supporter of slavery, and removing his statute to a private park full of historical statutes is the right thing to do - not enshrine him as a hero in a public park.  Lee has always been treated with veneration, even by Civil War historians who admired his military skills and his aristocratic and reserved personality.  These historians - Catton, McPherson, Foote - for the most part approached him a-politically.  That is now changing through the efforts of anti-racist and anti-fascist forces.  It is about time.  Finish the Civil War!

An excellent analysis of security and defense needs by the U.S. left in confrontations with armed right-wingers was just published on Counterpunch: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/18/the-fetishization-of-violence-reflections-on-charlottesville-wwii-and-activism/

Prior commentaries on the violent U.S. ultra-right, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

(Prior reports that Heyer was a member of the IWW on IWW web sites were incorrect, according to a press release by the IWW.  My apologies.)

Red Frog
August 13th, 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cemetary of Outcasts

“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” by Arundhati Roy, 2017

There must be a trend in Indian fiction to have ironic titles that do not reflect the real nature of India.  Roy’s first work of fiction in many years, it interweaves the story of various ‘losers’ whose lives are damaged by the conservative Hindu nativism paid for by the “millionaire God men" that now control the political scene in India.  This is political fiction, where individuals, love, children, babies and family stories are inextricably tied to social reality, not escapes from it. 

A Tourist Destination!
The book opens with the story of a boy Aftab who wanted to be a girl and became an unhappy ‘hijra’ named Anjum after a somewhat botched sex-change operation.  She joins a collective of hijras in Delhi, who help each other in the very conservative atmosphere of Indian sexuality.  At first you think that Roy is going to tell a story about the most trendy present liberal topic, transsexuals.  But then the focus widens.  The famous pogrom in Gurjurat after 9/11 affects Anjum, and reference is made to the chief minister of Gujurat, who was directing the pogrom. That would be Narenda Modi, but in this story, unnamed.  Modi is now the Hindu supremist and neo-liberal Prime Minster of India and a welcome guest to the U.S.

Anjum ends up leaving a home of hijras and going to live in a graveyard in Delhi.  From sleeping on a rug there she builds huts around graves of those she knows, and starts to run a mortuary with help from other surplus people.  Ultimately many outcasts come to live in the graveyard, which is certainly a metaphor for something.

Kashmir - India's Palestine
The occupation of Kashmir by the Indian Army forms the political heart of the story.  The occupation has been going on since Partition in 1947. As Roy puts it:            
            “I would like to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing happens there’s lots to write about.  That can’t be done in Kashmir.  It’s not sophisticated.” 

Notice the slam against post-modernist fiction - excessively detailed stories about nothing.

The activities of Islamic terrorist groups allows the Indian Army to apply its own form of state terrorism to the population of Kashmir, mostly Muslims.  It is to be an occupation that never ends, as the Indian Army supplies some terrorist groups with ammunition to keep the pot boiling.  Unsurprisingly many police in India are brutal thugs – a characteristic of police all over the world and not a secret at this point.

A quartet of characters revolve around the situation in Kashmir, who all first met in school.  One is now a reporter who is also a collaborator, Naga.  One part of the quartet, 'Garson Hobart', is a lovelorn secret police officer and gets to narrate for a time. One is a Kashmiri Muslim nationalist leader, Musa.  One is a woman who loves him and begins to understand the situation in Kashmir, Tilo.    Their blood-thirsty enemy is a secret police commander in Kashmir, Amrik Singh.  Ultimately Kashmir needs self-determination, but that word never reaches these pages, although its meaning does.

Both Anjum and Tilo are searching for babies, as they are unable to have them normally.  Roy seems to think the babies are the optimistic future.  I'm not so sure.  Nothing guarantees a baby growing up to be anything but a copy of what already exists.

In the process, Roy describes many corrupt, absurd or sad facts of Indian life.  An ‘artist’ walks around with shit attached to his clothes as an artistic statement.  Heartless young and rich Indians find caste status a key in their treatment of the world.  A security guard not allowed to wear sunglasses, whose eyes are burned by watching over a stainless steel statute that catches the blazing sun.  A former leftist journalist who condemns aspects of Indian rule in Kashmir while secretly working for the military and police.  A profusion of fake products in the whole economy, including even the animals in the Delhi zoo.  Clothes taken off dead bodies and re-sold.  'Anti-corruption' campaigns ultimately run by the corrupters.  The idiotic Indian media - not much different than our own.  And on and on.

As to the writing, Roy makes up some great words like ‘smallwigs.’  She comments how stories of misery never go anywhere in the "international supermarkets of grief.”  'Telling your story' is ultimately not enough...  She writes almost surreal sections that are sometimes funny, acid or beautiful.  This is Roy describing the ‘modernization’ of India: 

“Skyscrapers and steel factories sprang up where forests used to be, rivers were bottled and sold in supermarkets, fish were tinned, mountains mined and turned into shining missiles.  Massive dams lit up the cities like Christmas trees.  Everyone was happy.”

Then several times Roy transcribes long sections of dictated notes full of random thoughts by various characters that do not cohere.  I frankly skipped them.  The book has no plot really.  It focuses on the characters interweaving around their fate of being outsiders and the parallel cruel occupation of Kashmir.  This occupation is  another unknown story.  Bringing it's reality to readers attention is the most progressive part of this book.

Other books on India reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left. "Annihilation of Caste," “The Last Man in the Tower,” "The God Market,” “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” "The Story of My Assassins" and various earlier books by Roy – “Walking with the Comrades,” “Notes on Democracy,” and "Capitalism - A Ghost Story." 

Red Frog
August 8, 2017 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, continued...

"October - the Story of the Russian Revolution" by China Mieville, 2017

The story of the October/November 1917 revolution in St. Petersburg is a great story.  It is also a politically instructive story.  While not as thorough or advanced as Trotsky's "History of the Russian Revolution," or as passionate as John Reed's "Ten Days That Shook the World," this book still delivers by being a bit of a combination of the two.  Mieville is not a socialist but he is a sympathetic (science) fiction writer and he brings some of those skills to describing this momentous event.

Speeches in the Factory
What strikes one first about the book is the calumnies against the Russian revolution as being a 'putsch' or an isolated, dictatorial act are so far from the truth as to be laughable.  Mieville shows that the upsurge in 1917 was a vast, mass event engulfing other nationalities, the Russian peasantry, the working class, the army, the socialist parties and parts of the intelligentsia.  Actual social revolutions cannot be made except by the most real and massive display of 'democracy' any country has seen.  A social revolution is far more democratic than the most fair and 'attended' election - if those exist any more.  Certainly, in the U.S., they do not.  Revolutions do not come by accident.  They are ultimately determined by vast social forces in a moment in history, not by tiny groups of 'leaders.' This story shows that.

Another thing the books illustrates is that the 'moment' is key.  While many people think that events will always leave time for action, the truth is that 'windows' open and close very quickly.  It was this Bolshevik understanding, especially as provided by Lenin, but also Trotsky, that the 'moment' had arrived.  Actual revolutionaries understand the issue of timing, while reformists 'have all day.'  The 'stage' theory at work among many Marxists is a concretization of this reformist idea, as it shaped the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary majorities' reactions to this situation.  They felt the bourgeoisie had to 'build capitalism' as a first stage. Even some Bolsheviks thought that workers rule was premature after February, and that a block with the bourgeoisie was necessary.   Most Bolsheviks dropped this after Lenin's "April Theses" but it remained in the party even afterwards as events unfolded, especially in the person of Kamenev.

Mieville tracks the radicalization of the soldiers, the workers, and even the Bolshevik Party itself, as they navigated through seeming chaos, land and building occupations; fraggings and arrests; the beatings of foreman, officers, capitalists and landlords; invasions of stores and warehouses; bloody war, Czarist counter-revolution and pogroms; crime, desertion, starvation and rage.  He shows how the social-democratic Kerensky "Provisional Government," which refused to call off the war, or give land to the peasants or open the granaries to the starving, sealed its own fate.  From a love hero to goat in a matter of months, the beloved and mourned 'socialist' Kerensky could not break with property and capital.  Kerensky at one point in September formed a block with the former Czarist general Kornilov to institute martial law, until even he understood that Kornilov would do away with him too.

The key demand, of course, is "All Power to the Soviets."  Lenin carefully waited until the real left had a majority in the Soviets before initiating actual military action to take power in early November, or late October, depending on your calendar.  Lenin wanted this to be a 'fait accompli' before the 2nd Congress of Soviets.  He feared the Congress would still be undemocraticaly controlled by the rightist socialists  For the short period prior to this, Lenin dropped the slogan of 'power to the Soviets' due to the pro-war/pro-capitalist role of the Soviets.  But the slogan returned when the Bolsheviks and their allies in the Left SRs and Menshevik Internationalists won a majority in the Congress.  Trotsky became head of the St. Petersburg Soviet once again.  Anarchists,  Kronstadt sailors and left Bolsheviks in the Bolshevik Military Organization (MO) chafed at the bit to come out before the Soviet majority had fallen in their hands, especially in the July days.  Ultimately the demand was not 'all power to the RSDLP" or 'all power to Lenin" or 'all power to the Bolshevik Central Committee' - it was all power to the mass democratic organizations that had spread throughout Russia and its satellites - Latvia, Finland, Ukraine, etc.  This must never be forgotten.

What is a Soviet?  It is the Russian word for 'council' or 'commune.'  The councils included all the workers at a factory, soldiers in the army, residents in a town or city.  They included a large number of citizens acting in a mass democratic manner, sort of like a New England 'town halls' except with actual power to pass and enforce laws, to police neighborhoods, to decide policy, to manage and control property and production.  They are vastly more democratic than the farce of 'representative democracy' we have in the U.S. - or now in Russia.  Of note, in St. Petersburg, the police, who were guarding the last bunker of the Czar in February - were driven out of town, throwing their uniforms away.  In working-class neighborhoods of St. Petersburg - the Vyborg and Petrograd for instance - they were replaced by armed citizens.  As 'starry eyed' as you might find this, that will be the ONLY way that abuses by the capitalist police are ended.  

Additionally, even in a vast country like Russia with a small working class, a number of parties competed for socialist allegiance.  The Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Popular Socialists and the Bolsheviks had left and right wings, which at different times supported or opposed policies of the Provisional Government.  The Provisional Government was a post-Czar block of the working-class Soviets and the Russian bourgeoisie - in essence a popular front.  During the dark July days, Trotsky and Lunacharsky's organization, the Mezhraiontsy, joined the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks at the 2nd Congress of the Soviets, which was meeting while the Winter Palace was being stormed, agreed to a 'joint socialist government' with the Left SRs and the Menshevik Internationalists.  This agreement, however, fell apart, mostly due to the sectarianism of the latter. 

This is somewhat like the U.S., which has an even vaster working class made up of various economic and social strata.  It  will ultimately produce, in a revolutionary situation, an even greater number of working class parties.  So the story of October/November as told by Mieville is not a simple one of one united party taking power. U.S. Leftists who think everyone will flock to only one party in a revolutionary situation are living in denial of history and society.  This historical knowledge might be an antidote to sectarianism and small group mentality, but don't bet on it.

Leftists reading this will carefully track the activity of their 'heroes' - Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Zinoviev, Lunacharsky, Kollentai, Kamenev and others.  In this book - and the actual event - Trotsky is second only to Lenin in his role as Bolshevik advocate and organizer of the Soviet's Milrevcom military defense, which actually overthrew the Provisional Government.  Lenin is shown to be relentless in his determination not to let the moment slip away, even in the face of Bolshevik Party hesitations.  His 'April Theses' overturned the Bolsheviks (RSDLP) post-February policy of conditional support to the Provisional Government, as Lenin was an advocate of 'revolutionary defeatism' regarding the war.  Kamenev and Stalin, on the Bolshevik right at that time, were the proponents of a policy that was much like some of the left Mensheviks and SRs - critically backing the government, which was pro-war.  Lenin was even accused of 'Trotskyism' for supporting the idea of converting the bourgeois revolution into a proletarian one. (The idea of the 'permanent revolution' of course was originated by Marx.)

Mieville points out that Lenin made a mistake by 'pooh poohing' the threat of a counter-revolutionary attack on St. Petersburg by Kornilov and local capitalists.  This even in spite of the hysteria about Lenin being a 'German spy' that brought out the military right-wing in July, and put them in control of the streets of St. Petersburg. The Bolshevik Party's advocacy of the Soviet's independent military defense organization, the Milrevcom, was in response to this threat of counter-revolution - and it happened without Lenin.  It later became key to operational success in St. Petersburg, when it routed Kerensky as part of a self-defense of the working class.

In this story, Stalin is a rare presence.  Kamenev plays the role of the Bolshevik 'right opposition.'  Zinoviev hesitates at a key moment.  Kollentai is nearly always on the left, as is Lunacharsky, Trotsky and others. Bukharin was not in St. Petersburg. 

Can we learn anything from this event?  Certainly, it took place in the material context of a horrible imperialist slaughter.  Hunger and poverty were rampant.  You might say that revolution was the only way out at that moment.  The political arguments that happened still remain valid, even to this day.  But the Russian Revolution is not a simple template for the future, though many leftist nostalgists seem to think so.

Stay tuned for actual commentary from St. Petersburg/ Leninsburg/ Leningrad in November, 2017...if the visa process is not shut down.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog

August 2, 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Monthly Review Review

The Musings of the Professors
Sometimes you can't take politics too seriously.  The latest edition of Monthly Review (Vol. 69, #3) is a somewhat labored overview of the Russian Revolution and the conditions that have arisen since then, including the fall of that very revolution.  Various left thinkers weigh in.  Deep thoughts are had, and not so deep thoughts.  Familiar ideas repeat themselves.  Good ideas break through.  And things stand the same.

For the most part it does not dwell on the great popular social and economic gains of the Russian Revolution or its progressive role in world politics regarding national liberation struggles, anti-fascism or its role in taking some economies away from the market or from capital. Even its role in providing a 'global class war' presence that affected internal politics in capitalist countries is not covered.  It is generally a critical history in this volume, so I'll stay on that path.

Stalwart Marxist publication
The roots of Monthly Review from what I understand are among the supporters of the Soviet CP and then Maoism and the Chinese CP.  Both of these entities have fallen on hard times as 'revolutionary beacons' or fallen on no times at all.  Tiptoeing around this is a difficult job.  Professor John Bellamy Foster introduces the edition as editor and clearly makes the point that the Soviet nomenklatura 'failed to carry forth the socialist revolution' and became a 'bureaucratic ruling class.'  I think Foster is a supporter of Nicolai Bukharin at this time, who was both a close ally and then victim of the nomenklatura. 

But Foster also says upfront -" 'Socialism in one country' the basic defensive posture of the USSR though out its history, was thus to a large extent a geopolitical reality imposed on it from outside."  Bukharin came up with the theory of 'socialism in one country.'  What kind of socialism was this?   In spite of its later giddy proclamation by that very same nomenklatura - it was not a socialism recognized by Marx.  What socialism Foster is talking about then?  The one with a bureaucratic ruling class?  This robs the word of any real meaning.

According to Foster, no responsibility arises from the internal politics of the nomenklatura, the bureaucratic strata - it was imposed from the outside.   They were passive victims.  Yet it was advocated by internal forces for their own ends. The adoption of this idea actually was one of the main props which strengthened and solidified the nomenklatura, which moved the whole of the USSR to the right internally; which created the gulag state, which allowed the USSR to follow an international popular front policy or an ultra-left policy (as in Germany) internationally.  These policies prevented working-class revolutions. It is self-imposed exile.  This changed little after WWII.

The later deformed revolutions that did occur after WWII were imposed mostly by tanks, or were products of national liberation struggles in the context of that war, not just frontal assaults on capitalism.  Yugoslavia, which broke with the Soviet CP, was one of the only struggles that actually had independence.  Even in Cuba, the CP did not support the armed revolution at first.  Ultimately it was the nomenklatura, as every detailed study has shown, that became the core of the new capitalist class.  It assisted the reestablishment of capitalism, or the large growth of the capitalist sectors, for instance in China and Vietnam.

Conditions have changed however, as the working class is now the largest in history, and the prospects for world revolution - the revolution Lenin worked for - are greater than ever, as even Samir Amin notes.

Yet a spectre still haunts the intellectuals and professors at Monthly Review.   An Indian professor, Prabhat Patnaik, attacks the 'stages' theory, opposes 'forced collectivization' and endorses the view that the working class would participate in an 'uninterrupted revolutionary process.'  These are advanced views that are invisible as to their history.  'Who' might have developed them, if not Lenin...?

A Hungarian professor from Budapest, Tamas Krausz, is a little more clear.  Krausz includes a fellow named Leon Trotsky and actually never says anything hostile about him.  He describes what came after October/November in the 1920s as a 'bureaucratic counterrevolution' that led to a failed experiment in 'state socialism.' 

Bernard, D'Mello, the editor of "Economic and Political Weekly," points out the great internal defeats of the USSR:  the suppression of Kronstadt; the banning of factions; the defeat of the Left Opposition; forced collectivization and the purges and show trials of the late 1930s.  But he lauds Stalin as the leader who 'led the Soviet Union to victory over fascist barbarism.'  This even though Stalin's block with Hitler and refusal to listen to warnings of a German invasion or prepare for it brought German armies to the gates of Leningrad and Moscow!  He also comments that "sadly, Mao did not approve" the establishment of the Shanghai Commune during the Cultural Revolution.  In this "The Maoist leadership had failed to lay the basis for a genuine workers state."   D'Mello is a supporter of the Indian Maoist Naxalite rebellion, but feels it has no chance of overthrowing Indian capitalism.  He, oddly, endorses a party of "middle-class revolutionaries in the vanguard party of the 1917 type."  Muse on that.

Of most humor is Dublin professor Helena Sheehan's travels among the intellectuals of the central European workers states - Yugoslavia, Hungary, the GDR, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia - as these workers states began to unravel in the late 1980s.  You might be surprised at the ideas that 'intellectuals' nourished at the breast of bureaucratic 'socialism' come up with. For instance, they cannot decide whether a 'one party state' or a bourgeois 'multi-party state' is the correct way to go.  They obviously are unaware of another position - legality for only working-class or socialist parties.  This was the position of the 4th International. 

Diana Johnstone heroically manages to drag Monthly Review backwards.  Johnstone wrote a valuable book on the war to dismantle Yugoslavia and a somewhat easy takedown of the war queen, Hillary Clinton.  Here she dutifully includes a whole section on the evilness of Trotskyism.  Granted some Trotskyists would be disowned by Trotsky, just as some 'Marxists' and 'Leninists' would be disowned too.  But that is not the context.  Essentially she labels Trotskyism 'permanent counterrevolution.'  Which is not quite calling it the agent of 'Hitler and the Mikado' as Stalin did, but close.  Unfortunately, bureaucratic socialism is a corpse that has died, at least politically.  Johnstone's reactionary nostalgia does not permit going beyond it.

Then we have an odd celebration of Bertrand Russell by two professors from France and Quebec, John Bricmont and Normand Baillargeon.  They attack Lenin and Trotsky from the mild socialist left, though Russell at one point defended Trotsky against Stalin.    

Lastly Samir Amin weighs in, attacking Lenin for not being pro-peasant enough, even though the Bolsheviks adopted the SR platform of 'land to the peasantry' in toto.  And attacking Trotsky for not 'accepting the challenge' of building 'socialism in one country,' thus ignoring Trotsky's lifelong defense of the USSR, and his roles in creating the Soviet workers state as the second leader of the Bolshevik Party, leader of the 1917 St. Petersburg Soviet and it's military section, and leader of the Red Army that defeated the Whites. 

Again, as history might say, how did that theory work out?  For instance, the analysis that the 'bureaucracy' basically deteriorated the revolutions was first developed by the Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky and the 4th International.  Now it is an unattributed common understanding, even among these writers.  Why the timidity? 

Monthly Review is good on economics and on ecology, but this review of the Russian revolution and its aftermath seems to be missing some cylinders.

Prior reviews of Monthly Review, Foster or Amin, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books, which has many Left magazines and newspapers.
Red Frog
July 29, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Gorilla War

"War for the Planet of the Apes," 2017, directed by Matt Reeves

The deep ecologists will like this film.  The apes – chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos - live with fire and in log huts, use spears and commune with nature.  In this film they survive the humans, who are shown as uniformly militaristic, cruel and unreliable, even with their remaining technology.  Nature itself, in the form of an avalanche, seems to agree. 

More War?
The plot is that the simian virus, which killed many humans,  is now making humans unable to talk too (humanities’ defining characteristic is talking, according to the filmmakers…)  As a result, ‘Humanity,’ in the form of soldiers following a modern Colonel Kurtz (Woody Harrelson, also called ‘The Colonel’) will kill any ape or human who opposes them or who exhibits the virus.  The rationale is that this will ‘save humanity.’  Co-existing with apes is off the table, though there is no evidence that this ‘virus’ is coming from apes themselves.  The Colonel’s slogan on their prison camp is “The Only Good Kong is a Dead Kong” – which might remind viewers of similar ideas about the Viet Cong or native Americans.  

The logic in this scenario is that this ‘flu’ was not something humans brought on themselves – unlike something like the actual swine or bird flu, which are produced by animal overcrowding in factory farms.  It may be similar to Ebola, which was originally transmitted from fruit bats or monkeys – even from domesticated pigs or dogs - to humans.  So the cause of this dystopia is nature itself, animals themselves, and not directly connected to how human society was functioning.  It is nature playing out, like the Black Plague.  So the film reflects a fear of nature – also reflected in the fear of animal intelligence as exhibited by the talking apes.  It is really a film about the war between man and nature.

A somewhat shacked-up moral subtext of the film is that Ceasar, the bonobo leader played by Andy Serkis, has so much anger that he might kill people he shouldn’t.  This is ostensibly following Koba’s methods from the prior film, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” (reviewed below).  Ceasar does, somewhat accidentally, smother a traitorous ape Winter in order to keep him from crying out for the human soldiers for help.  This scene reminds one of a similar situation from “Native Son," but that is not what the filmmaker wants you to think about.  However, Koba was not killed by Cesar in the prior film because he was a violent war leader, but because he started attacking and jailing his own people – the apes.

The apes ultimately show more ‘humanity’ and mercy than the humans by far. Like the aliens in ‘District 9’ or in ‘Avatar,’ or the animals in “Tarzan” or the classic ape in “King Kong” - our sympathies lie with them.  Their emotional character is evident, especially in the characters of Maurice and a chimpanzee they come across, Bad Ape. They even adopt a young human girl who has lost her voice.  At one point, Ceasar is crucified like a simian Christ for his sin of attempting to relieve the suffering of his fellow apes .  One human soldier released in a show of mercy by Ceasar ultimately fails to show his ‘humanity’ in return.  In contrast, a traitorous gorilla who had followed Koba and was now working for the humans at least helps the apes in a penultimate scene. 
 
Is there another sequel?  The apes leave the forests and mountains of California to settle away from any humans, arriving at a somewhat desolate lake that looks like Crater Lake in southern Oregon. They bring the young girl, who may grow up to be a female “Tarzan.’  Do we need more senseless warfare between ape and man? Well for one, you certainly won’t see a mass conversion to vegetarianism among the reviewers or viewers of this film.  Unless this series develops some kind of more advanced political or environmental content, I think it can be put out of its dark misery. 
 
Red Frog July 21, 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I'm Too Sexy for my Veil


“Lipstick Jihad," by Azadeh Moaveni, 2005

This is ‘diaspora’ literature.  Populations are moving all over the world and ‘diaspora’ memoirs are the logical result.  Whether through war, famine, environmental collapse, political upheaval, pogroms, poverty, unemployment, alienation or just plain wander-lust, millions are on the move.  We no longer live in a world of exclusively ‘national’ states and the proof is all around us in human sub-communities the world over.  You do not have to understand imperialism and ‘globalism’ to see this.

Cultural Subversion
Stories of other countries are exotic tales for many U.S. readers and this book fits.  Moaveni is a young woman born in Iran, but whose upper-middle class family moved from Tehran to San Jose, California after the 1979 Iranian coup by the mullahs.  She insists that the majority of that whole class left the country, and many of them jointed the million Iranians in Los Angeles.  She spends the memoir trying to figure out her identity - if she’s Iranian enough or too American, and finally decides she is both.  Even when she’s not in Iran, she carries Iran with her in her family and friends.  She spent two years in Tehran has a reporter for Time Magazine, but decides to leave after George Bush declares Iran part of the “axis of evil’ – a stupid phrase only a Christian Texan could think up. 

Moaveni is irritatingly na├»ve, neurotic, petit-bourgeois and conventional, but she is also an astute observer.  Her intense interest in her homeland leads her back to Tehran and there she gives us a picture of what Iranians actually think about the theocratic regime.  She improves her Farsi tremendously and becomes more Iranian by the day.  Her specific focus is naturally on conditions for Iranian women, which she also has to live through.  But as a result, sort of borrowing the logic of CLR James, Moaveni shows how Iranian women try to subvert the cultural and legal domination of the clerics all the time.  This is where the phrase ‘lipstick jihad” comes from – jihad in this case meaning ‘struggle.’  Moaveni's perspective will undermine those clueless liberal multi-culturalists who think that every ‘cultural practice’ is worth respecting – even when it results in oppression and misery for women or working class people.  She shows that Iranian society is not a simple version of Arab desert, village or tribal politics, but complex, sophisticated and urban too.

Being a reporter for Time Magazine in 2000 might tip you off to the fact that Moaveni is not a radical.  She has almost no understanding of ‘blowback’ resulting from American war-making.  Her method of changing Iran is to give tepid support to the ‘reformers’ – the liberal wing of the very same religious people who took over after the Shah left Iran.  She red-baits by comparing the clerical methods to ‘Soviet-style’ society – but the comparison fails.  She makes absolutely no mention of the Iranian working class - unless you include taxi drivers - or any subterranean Iranian Marxist movement.  Only one mention is made of the fake opposition represented by the cultish and Islamic MEK, which is treasured by U.S. government figures across our limited political spectrum.  Her family has servants and they are invisible.  Her mother back in California is a conventionally religious woman while she describes her father as an atheist and Marxist.

The book is rich in the issues facing Iranians, like the cruel violence of the Basij street thugs used by the regime.  Or how woman deal with the legally-prescribed head-covering hijab and cloak-like roopoosh – their version of a chador.   Or the legal rules related to various forms of gender segregation.  Or the social barriers against fraternization with men that women are not married to. Or the bans on street gatherings, alcohol, dancing, bikinis, ‘western’ movies and music, even poodles. Instead, the citizens are treated to occasional public whippings.  Or how the Tehranis ignore the prohibition against not eating, smoking or drinking during the daylight hours of the month-long religious holiday of Ramadan.  Or how Iranian Islamic repression of sexuality resulted in an overly sexualized environment as a response.  Exceptions?  If you do want to have sex with someone you are not married to, the law allows you to have a legal Sharia ‘temporary’ marriage to justify it. (!)   And you can marry 9 year old girls if needed, or more than one woman if you treat them equally. What Moaveni’s memoir shows is that the ruling clerics in Qom (called the “Mullah Factory” in fun) are alienating a great mass of the Iranian population from Islam, or their interpretation of Islam.   That is the dialectic playing out in Moaveni’s book.

The Iranian clerics are allies of the petit-bourgeois bazaaris and also made a block with the Iranian big capitalists.  They use religion as a sort of totalitarian ideology to control the Iranian population. The Shia clerics have morphed into a religious elite that controls some state economic entities through the ‘bonyad’ funds, are corrupt through graft and bribery, womanize and secretly – like their Sunni un-brothers in Saudi Arabia – revel in various  other ’western’ vices.  They control the army, the Revolutionary Guard, the paramilitary Ansar-e-Hezbollah and ‘civilian’ Basaji, the state media and are legally superior to the executive and parliament. 

This is not to say that the perpetual war drive by U.S. Democrats and Republicans against Iran is some kind of solution.  It is, in fact, the opposite, as it gives more authority to the mullahs, driving the population into their arms.  The clerics and the U.S. government are allied in this sense.  U.S. support for Saadam Hussein’s war against Iran had hugely damaging consequences to this day. Imperialism has it sights set on control of Iran, as it does on any country that opposes it, for any reason.

Moaveni finalizes her Iranian-American identity, a cross-cultural complexity, at the end of the book.  Her book is funny and revealing, especially about the odd lives various women in Tehran lead.  Yoga, lipstick, cosmetic surgery, glamorous American fast food joints, jewelry smuggling, fake exercise clubs, veil issues, attempts to jog, designer roopooshs, co-ed hiking in the mountains, wife shopping by ex-pats, the necessity of marriage in a country with many more women than men due to the long war with Iraq - the issues cover the range of exclusively urban life.   The book is great about women’s issues but politically weak at the same time.  But then, she is a journalist, not an activist.

And I got it at Eat My Words books.
Red Frog
July 15, 2017