Monday, May 23, 2016

Down from Socialism?

“Up From Liberalism,” Jacobin Magazine, Issue 20, Winter 2016

Continuing with the theme of the Democratic Party (“DP”) and its identity issues in this election - brought about by the campaign of Bernie Sanders - Jacobin weighs in somewhat.   The academic socialist or Marxist journal that promises for $50 the ‘thorough Bolshevization of American Culture guaranteed’ dissects and quantifies the decay of the Democratic Party from a somewhat ‘social democratic’ Rooseveltian organization to a neo-liberal centrist organization. They date this process since 1975 or so, but start their history in the 1930s.   

This analysis has been done before, perhaps even beaten to death before, but Jacobin manages to add some great statistics.  For instance, they have figures on the many government social programs that evidentlly people are unaware they use, show that most ordinary people who ‘don’t get government money’ actually do.  Check your tax form next time you say anything about ‘government aid' and then try to explain the mortgage deduction, 529 plans, IRA non-taxability, the child tax credit, the earned income credit, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, etc. etc. etc.

Jacobin #20 Deals Some Cards
Regarding the U.S., articles carefully describe the history of the Democratic Leadership Counsel, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in defining a new politics for the DP.  Obviously Hillary Clinton is the continuation of these politics. Echoing Thomas Frank’s new book ‘Listen Liberal’, one article focuses on the role of the professional strata and the technology sector in this new iteration of the DP – the development of the ‘Atari Democrats’ in the early 1990s that signified a break with any real orientation to labor and an embrace of the tech sector instead.  Carter had called out the military on the miners in the 1988 UMW strike, but Clinton 1 made it official.

The articles detail how ‘3rd Way,’ ‘New Democratic,” neo-liberal policies were carefully nurtured and promoted over a pro-working class verbalism in these organizations, both nationally and internationally.  In the process the authors many times confuse true social-democratic organizations that came out of the 2nd International with the US DP, which never had anything to do with socialism even under Roosevelt.  This fuzzy amalgamation has a political purpose I think – giving more credibility to the DP, if that is possible.

Overseas, an article looks at Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the British Labour Party over the forces called ‘New Labour’ in England, representing a youth and labor insurgency that stunned the pro-capital elements in the Labour Party.  Detailed statistics in other articles show the decline of voting and membership in the mass social-democratic / labor parties across the board in the European capitalist countries, as those parties for the most part turned to capital and the market to solve problems in the 1980s.  The exceptions were Greece and Spain, home to new mass parties opposing austerity. 

What is the problem here?  The problem is what I perceive as an attraction to social democracy by this ostensible group of independent Marxists at Jacobin.  In the first article, “The Dynamics of Retreat,” the interviewee Robert Brenner insists that Roosevelt showed: “There is no need for a labor or social-democratic party to win important reforms.”  Which might be an interesting historical point until you understand that, A. American capital had reserves other countries didn’t; B, the Communists, Trotskyists and other socialist radicals had organized the class and were attempting to build a labor party in the process.  Perhaps he could have said:  “No real reforms are possible without the role of communists and socialists!”  But he didn’t, which means he’s giving an opening to the people who do not want a mass labor / populist / black party in the U.S.  These are the social-democrats, whose stories pack the pages of this edition of Jacobin.

The lack of a mass organization for the American working class – one oriented to socialism – explains the apparent strength of the DP.  Brenner recognizes that later in the article – calling that lack a ‘major negative consequence.’  Even foreign ‘co-thinkers’ are hampered by this outlook.  It is interesting that the Canadian New Democratic Party, which is part of the social-democratic current in world politics, does not promote an independent labor party in the U.S. next door, but instead kow-tows to the Democratic Socialists of America (“DSA”), who have been deep-throat DP’ers since the 1960s.  This, incidentally, is the same deep-entry path the U.S. Communist Party ("CP") has followed since the popular front of the 1930s.

Of most interest in this series of Jacobin articles is a description of the various forces inside the DP who attempted to change or influence its course.  The article by Paul Heideman is key.  In a detailed history, he describes the roles of Max Schactman, a former Trotskyist who was one of the first to claim the USSR was ‘state capitalist’ - and Michael Harrington, the founder of DSA, the 2nd International’s wing in the U.S.  Over many years, they attempted to sway George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO and the pooh-bahs in the Democratic National Committee to move to the left – and failed.  At the time this was called the ‘socialism of the possible’ or some such abomination.  Anyone outside the tent was some kind of ‘ultra-left’.  They ultimately became cheerleaders for every war (Vietnam!) and many reactionary policies that the DP followed.  For instance de-regulator Jimmy Carter was somehow the ‘working-class’ candidate when he ran, according to Harrington.  Harrington was apparently unaware of Jimmy’s true loyalties. 

The key sentence comes at the end of the article, which after describing the sad reformist long march of Schactman and Harrington through the DP, says:  “The failure of re-alignment, then, contains lessons for socialists who fall on both sides of the old ‘reform or revolution’ argument.  Its history should not be taken as a verdict against reformism. Indeed, the story of realignment serves to clarify what, exactly, will be required for a successful American reformism.”  

It is nice that someone finally proclaims they are a reformist.  However, you can also be a reformist OUTSIDE the DP.  After all, what about that history of social-democracy and mass European-style pro-labor parties?  The choice to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the DP is not really about reform, though certainly no actual revolutionary who wants socialism will find himself inside the DP with a long-term entry strategy. Which is exactly the program of DSA, the CP, Schactman and other social-democratic ‘warriors.’  

Just to put the icing on the cake, a nice full page ad from DSA graces these pages of Jacobin #20.  Do we sense a political opportunity?  After all the kinda-leftist commentariat – Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Thomas Frank, Cornel West, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Richard Trumka, Matt Taibbi, Salon.com, Alternet, now Bernie Sanders – the whole crew of well-known names – are in the end on-board with the social-democratic approach and the DP.  This is the siren song being sung right now. 

All of the above have conflicted relationships with the DP, of course, but none advocate any organizational break with it – ever.  They could be encouraging all the ridiculous number of single-issue organizations and community groups to unite in a single activist united front.  Or advocating an independent populist, labor or black party, as has been done in the past.  Perhaps even getting on-board for a block of all the actual Marxist leftists in the U.S. in a working unity committee, or for a broader workers’ anti-capitalist front that would incorporate organizations outside the socialist left.  Perhaps on a smaller level encouraging the 3 Trotskyist groups in the U.S. – Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action and Socialist Appeal - to form a formal working partnership together too.  But you will never hear one of these people, after describing how miserable everything is, saying its time to break organizationally with the people committing the atrocities. 

This group of prominent semi-lefties’ reticence to advocate a different organizational approach puts them to the right of the labor radicals of the 1930s.  Hell, it even puts them to the right of the middle-class led Green Party.  It also puts them squarely in the camp of DSA, the CP and the DP.   

This is the pull that any ‘intellectual’ journal must contend with.  Jacobin perhaps wants to straddle this fence by being organizationally vague.  They have ‘Jacobin clubs’ in 60 places that discuss issues – using their articles to organize independent socialists.  Perhaps they think their journal will be the ‘organizing center’ for a new party, as Lenin once upon a time theorized.  “Because the Internet Needs a Vanguard!’ says their website.   I’m going to visit the local one and see what is inside the box.    

So I ask – whither Jacobin?  Social-democracy or socialism?

Reviews about books on the DP:  Listen Liberal” and “The Democrats, A Critical History,” below. Use search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!  Jacobin is for sale at May Day, along with many other left newspapers and magazines.  It is the best selection in the Twin Cities. 

Red Frog
May 23, 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Mark of Frostbite

‘Kolyma Tales,’ by Varlam Shalamov, (1994, English edition) with added stories – ‘Graphite.’

During the Stalin period in the USSR, Shalamov was arrested twice and had his sentence extended twice, spending a total of 17 years in the labor camps of Kolyma, a river basin and mountain range in far eastern Siberia above the Okhotsk Sea.  He was accused of being a Trotskyist in 1929, sentenced to 3 years, arrested again in 1937 for the same ‘crime,’ and sentenced to 5 years, which was extended till the ‘end of the war,’ then extended 10 more years in 1943 for saying something complementary about a writer, Ivan Bunin. 

Kolyma Gold Mine & Prisoners
Unlike Solzhenitsyn, his stories are matter-of-fact depictions of what the political prisoners sentenced under Article 58 went through.  Shalamov thought that just describing the nightmarish gulag conditions would have more impact than adding a political angle, as did Solzhenitsyn.  What stands out is that the Kolyma camp political prisoners came from all walks of life – workers, peasants, intellectuals, engineers, party officials and government bureaucrats, scientists, artists, soldiers, officers, suspect ethnicities - anyone.  It reflected a general dragnet of Soviet society.   

This was also pointed out by Zizek in his book ‘Totalitarianism,’ as almost anyone could be arrested and sentenced - giving the terror a completely irrational surface logic.  Even the first organizer of the Kolyma camps, Eduard Berezin, a Latvian Communist, was shot in 1938.  At that time in 1932 the camps were well-run and very few deaths occurred, as an infrastructure for this region of Siberia rich in minerals was constructed – roads, railroads, bridges, ports.  Only later did this change when the great purges began.  Mass graves became common in Kolyma. 

Another thing that is obvious is that this was a massive project of unpaid prison labor.  The ‘logic’ behind the camp system was to mine gold, tin, zinc, even uranium with virtual slave labor – starved, ill-clothed, ill-housed, over-worked, frozen, terrorized, shot.  This was the ‘primitive accumulation’ of the bureaucratic state economy.  It cannot be ignored that these prisoners were not just being ‘punished’ but were actually doing the work of a working class, but for free. Since so many died of the brutal Siberian conditions of 6 months of winter, much of it in 40 below zero conditions, more prisoners were always needed.  More baseless charges, more arrests, more trains to Siberia were the essential source of labor for this sub-arctic Siberian mining region.    

Shalamov describes absurd visits from high Communist Party bureaucrats who came through occasionally to tell everyone not to mistreat the prisoners, then they would drive away and things went on as usual.  He points out the respite that hospital stays could provide, and the eagerness with which people would get sick or injured, including self-injury.  Or the differences between ‘goners’ – weak prisoners – and the rest.  Shalamov himself was a ‘goner’ at one point.  He describes over and over again the privileged position of the actual criminal element in the camp, who lorded it over the politicals by law and in accord with the camp administrations, who used them to discipline and terrorize the workforce.  One 'tale' concerned a scientific-minded inmate who realized that the official food rations would starve large men first, as the rations were uniform for everyone – as were the clothes.  Shalamov describes all the dodges prisoners would use to avoid death in the gold mines - hiding, getting sick, finding a skill like calligraphy that a prison administrator would find useful. 

Some tales concern ill-fated attempts at escape, as hundreds of miles of taiga stretched between the camps and some kind of ‘freedom.’  One such group was composed of former soldiers who had been sentenced to the gulag, along with thousands of other Soviet Army soldiers, for being captured by the Nazis during WWII.  Really, that was Stalinist policy.  “Thanks for fighting!”  Most of the other prisoners were civilians with no military training, easily intimidated by the professional criminal thugs and the camp guards.  As a result, almost no solidarity existed among prisoners – everyone was left to their own fate, except for occasional individual acts of kindness.  Evidently political organization was not strong at all.  This isolation marked every prisoner.  Only one exception was noted – the “Committees of the Poor” in the formal urban prisons like Butyr in Moscow.  These gathered a ‘tax’ from prisoners for those prisoners without money, who were unable to purchase anything at the commissaries and hence dependent on the starvation food.  The prison administration attempted to stamp them out, but the prisoners held firm, disciplining anyone who informed or did not contribute to the tax. 

These are human stories at bottom – humans in horrendous conditions.  Survivors were marked by the disfigurement of frostbite on face, hands, feet.  Many of the stories are told in the first person and we assume this is Shalamov talking, not several fictional creations - but it could be the latter.  Shalamov ultimately is released and perhaps travels back to his wife in Moscow on the loaded trains, a different person.  He later smuggled these stories out to be published in German and French, but in a statement finally published in 1972, he was forced to say that the “Kolyma Tales” were no longer relevant.  Because of this he had been permitted to publish poetry beginning in 1956, so the statement must have been signed soon after he was released around 1952 or 1953.  He died in 1982.

Other reviews that relate to the USSR:  Cohen’s “Soviet Fates & Lost Alternatives,” Zizek’s “Did Someone Say Totalitarianism?“, “The Struggle for Power – Russia in 1923,” “The Red Atlantis – Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism,”, “Enemy at the Gates,” Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”  

Red Frog
May 17, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Democratization of Art

Minneapolis Institute of Art (‘MIA’) – ‘State of the Art – Discovering American Art Now’

Ever wondered what the art world is doing or where it is going?  Tired of reading about high prices at Art Basel or at Sothebys?  Wondering if art will ever be relevant to working-class people again?

I’ve asked myself some of these same questions.  This show provides one of the answers, and it’s not limited to Minnesota.  Organized by the Museum of American Art in Bentonville Arkansas, this show is a cross-section of 130 artworks by more than 50 pretty much unknown artists.  Bentonville of course is the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the retail death-star; and anti-union Delta is the show’s major sponsor  – probably part of their PR campaigns to the liberal professional strata who frequent the MIA. 
  
Four Legs, Good - Two Legs, Better
That said, the curators claim that 2 million people in the U.S. are artists.  This is significant, for it shows that ‘art’ is not just an elite preoccupation anymore.  Since the Renaissance, when a handful of people called themselves artists, to Paris in the times of Impressionism where 2,000 registered artists lived in the city, artists have been a marginal strata.  Today it is a mass activity.  In Minneapolis there is even an ‘art crawl’ in some neighborhoods, and this is probably true all over the U.S.  This show makes the usual tired nods to ‘diversity’ – even in its’ promo cover shot – but it showcases an amateur art world in which no art ‘movement’ exists.   

Each artist is following their own obsession through various mediums  – sculpture with balsa wood, birds dressed in clothing, paintings, ink drawings, digital art based on skin, films of various kinds, found objects; recycled pieces made with corks, painted fabric, lottery tickets; much photography, immersive pieces, fabric constructions, fabric wrapped around combs, ceramics and porcelain, melted plastic, collage, what have you. 
 
The themes are also over the map.  There is a bit of politics – a picture of an abandoned mall; environmental messages; the enslavement of black people, little recreations of buildings destroyed in Iraq and Syria, references to Animal Farm – but most of it is again, individual obsessions.  This reflects the whole capitalist economy, in which individuated people follow their tiny passions.  Each artist becomes an entrepreneur, selling themselves and their somewhat narrow talent as a commodity.  In addition, art has become part of the ‘peddler’ economy in which money is earned on the side to supplement meager wages.  Today most varieties of isolated artists avoid any interaction with social movements or history.  Sad but true.  

Folk art and ostensible ‘fine art’ are also all mashed together.  This might all be called ‘post-modernism’ but I don’t think it is because it still follows a certain pattern.  What is that pattern?

What is happening is the democratization of art.  That is the pattern.  Karl Marx pointed out in his younger days that socialism and later communism would free people from the tyranny of excessive labor in order to allow workers to grow and develop other skills – cultural, athletic, mechanical.  Socialism he felt would be the full transition from the ‘realm of necessity’ to the ‘realm of freedom.’  In this vision, many or all people would become artists – or musicians, writers, builders, inventors, sewers, software developers, great cooks, gardeners – all the thing people in the U.S. pursue, but currently in a somewhat limited way.   

Whether this also leads artists in the present day to actually forming artistic ‘movements’ that unite with social struggles is probably also inevitable, as individuation ultimately becomes a sterile approach. 
 
This democratization is happening across the cultural board, not just among artists.  In the U.S., the massive amount of musicians in Minneapolis, the thousands of actors in Los Angeles, the writers crowding New York (or perhaps who used to crowd New York…) - are creating an overflow of creativity, ‘content’ and ‘product.’ The consequence is that there is now massive amounts of everything  - not just cereal but cultural products.  But there is still a bifurcation of this production – a 1% or 10% that can earn a living and a 90% that does occasionally, in their spare time, or that never earns enough to make a real living and scrapes by.  ‘Don’t quit your day job,’ as they say.  Yet this situation presages a completely different kind of ‘art world’ which is totally alienated from the high-bucks commodification that we see of Impressionism or Picasso or Abstract Expressionism by capital’s art market.  A commodification that has now even reached street art, much to the dismay of Banksy.  

Under socialism, the added amount of free time enjoyed would allow this flowering of talent.  But even other capitalism, there is now more free time in some more social-democratic countries or among some strata than in the past.  This allows the ordinary population to become more creative.  This is what we are seeing when we see a number like ‘2 million’ artists in the U.S.  – it is not just a reflection of the poverty of the job market.  In essence what is happening even under capital is the development of socialist cultural values ‘in the egg,’ foreshadowed.  This situation prefigures a world where food, clothing, health care, education and shelter are givens – no longer the main goals of life, but automatic.  Then human beings can become fully human, not just wage slaves or animals grubbing for their daily bread.  

Indeed, artists won't become millionaires or lauded by the rich anymore.  That will be the new paradigm.  Art and creativity will instead become widespread - it will be democratic.  The government or society will instead support the arts in a way that they do not now. 

The show at the MIA runs From Feb 18 to May 22.

Reviews on prior art shows or books.  Use some of these terms to find them:  The Influence of Picasso,” “The Art of Frida Kahlo,” “Art Crawl in Northeast Minneapolis,” “London: The Death of Art,” “9.5 Thesis on Art’ and “Banksy.”

Red Frog
May 13, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sacrificing the Living for the Dead

“Son of Saul,” film directed by Laszlo Jeles Nemes, 2015

This Hungarian film, which won the 2015 Oscar for best foreign film, is about events during the Sonderkommando rebellion in the Auschwitz / Birkenau camp.  Sonderkommandos (‘special unit’ in German) were essentially Jewish ‘trustees’ who worked in the death camps.  On October 7, 1944, they learned they were to be eliminated and they revolted with others, burning part of a crematoria and killing and wounding Nazi guards.  The revolt was eventually crushed and most Sonderkommandos killed with shots to the back of their heads.  Rebellions also took place in Treblinka and Sobibor.  (The 650 page academic book “Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis,” details the history of Jewish rebellions during WWII.) 

Crematoria at Birkenau
The lead actor who played Saul Auslander (‘outsider’), Reza Rohrig, was a poet and semi-actor who visited Auschwitz frequently while studying in Poland.  He became an orthodox Jew and that story is at the heart of this one – oddly enough.  Many have dismissed the story as inessential to the film, but I think it is.  The film is shot in Cinema Verite style from the sole viewpoint of Auslander, a quiet, mouse-like man who becomes intent on burying a Jewish boy who he claims is his son.  This boy somehow survived the gas chamber, then was strangled by a Nazi doctor.  Auslander cradles the dead boy in his arms repeatedly, reminiscent of a pieta, and hides him in his bunk. 

Auslander attempts to hold an ‘orthodox’ Jewish funeral, but doesn’t really understand how to do it.  For a burial, you do not need rabbi and any Jew can recite the Kaddish.  Auslander thinks a rabbi is necessary. 10 people are supposedly needed instead.  He is told these things by the rebellious, probably Communist prisoners, but he doesn't listen.  In addition, bodies need to be buried in 24 hours, but away from bad places like Auschwitz.  Yet Auslander at one point is digging a plot in the middle of the camp under some stairs.  This Sondercommando understands none of this.  He spends the film looking for a rabbi, to the detriment of the rebellion and almost his own survival.  And when he finds one, the man is a liar who was just trying to survive.

What is tremendous about the film is the way it shows the camp – a hellish warren of death rooms in which Auslander never quite makes eye–contact with the arriving transports of Hungarian Jews.  We do not directly see the piles of bodies in the crematoria or any of the other horrors, but only at the edges of Auslander’s consciousness, out of focus.  This is not Spielberg’s version of Hollywood panoramas and clear-eyed witnessing, but closer to what it must have been like to attempt to survive in these conditions.  The whole day and a half of the film is chaotic and similar to how Altman handles film – voices and languages float in and out, sounds happen, people appear and disappear, events flow.  It is almost as if there is one tracking shot following Auslander around the camp and its various chambers of horrors. 

Hell Is On Earth
The trustees talk to the arriving Jews entering the dressing rooms like they are entering a normal delousing or sanitation station, to be followed by a meal of hot soup.  They then drag the dead from the gas chambers to the crematoria, scrub the bloody floors, take out the clothing, take the travel bags of the dead to a large warehouse, shovel ashes into the lake.  At some point the Nazis begin to panic, as they cannot kill quickly enough, and so bypass the gas chambers.   In the night, they start shooting naked Jews and dumping them in pits, then pouring gasoline on their bodies – so the fires are burning everywhere.  It looks quite literally like hell on earth – something out of Dante or Hieronymus Bosch. 
 
This film makes this experience more real than any previous film has done, and yet you cannot cry.  This film was shot on a budget and was never expected to go anywhere.  It is similar in mood to another Hungarian, Imre Kertesz, who won the Nobel in 2002, partly for his “Fateless” story.  That book centered in a somewhat dispassionate way on a boy too, and asserted that there is human normality even in a death camp.

However, this is also the first film to focus on the Sondercommando revolt, yet the revolt is somewhat peripheral to the main narrative.  Auslander fails to deliver some gunpowder smuggled to him by the imprisoned trustee women because he lost it while looking for the rabbi.  It was to be used to blow up the crematoria. The people organizing the revolt – probably Communist prisoners - say to him: “You are sacrificing the living for the dead.”  His response:  “We’re already dead.”  He essentially is trying to do one thing – properly bury a boy who it turns out probably isn’t really his son.  In retrospect it is an act of madness, depression and humanism, but not of collective action.  So the story in this film does not highlight the rebellion – really the only way out of this situation – but this single-minded, somewhat cracked religious narrative.

Why does this matter?  We have seen films on the Warsaw ghetto revolt, the Jewish partisans in the Polish forests, but nothing regarding the camps.  This is the first to my knowledge.  Failing to focus on the rebellion is a huge mistake of political blindness.  That is because the overarching political issue regarding the ‘final solution’ from the viewpoint of the Jews was why were there not more revolts, more escapes, more guerrilla war, more understanding.   It really comes down to the upper-class and religious leadership of the Jewish community – the rich, the Zionists, the collaborators with the Nazis, some of whom bought their way to freedom; the rabbis who counseled cooperation and pacifism; the marginalization of the communists among the Jewish population in so many countries.  These people fatally lulled parts of the Jewish population – and to this day have escaped any penalty.  Some of them went on to found the State of Israel.  Back in the day, the left called this group ‘the Judenrat.’


Soviet Army Liberates Auschwitz
The Soviet Army arrived in Auschwitz on January 27th, 1945, liberating the survivors.
  
No individual knows how they would have handled this dreadful situation, but certainly political organization and understanding would have been beneficial.  The ambiguous status of the Sonderkommando, who survived by collaborating under threat of death, shows the lengths people will go to survive.  They even knew that their terms would be up at some point, as they were replacing others - so they were only buying a bit of time.  This is a visually and emotionally powerful film with flawed politics, but nevertheless is required viewing. It is perhaps the greatest fiction film on the Holocaust in the camps. 

Other review related to this:  "The Holocaust Industry."  

Red Frog
May 9, 2016

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deep South May Day

May Day in the Southern U.S.

About a 100 people gathered at the corner of Broad and College in Athens, Georgia for a May Day march and event.  It was on the site of the annual "Human Rights Festival" in downtown Athens.  This had only happened once before.  This crowd was certainly larger than I expected, so perhaps there is a new spirit afloat in this passive country.  A large group of Latino activists, some black activists fighting for a living wage, a group of students (mostly young women), hippie greyheads and townies all united.  "Obreros Unidos!" was the chant.

The Famous Fist
After some speeches by a Latino activist in Spanish and an older black activist from the music stage, the demonstrators marched to the office of the president at UGA to demand a living wage, then back over to City Hall. However it was Sunday and no one was home - though it probably wouldn't matter if they were.  Inequality and working-class rights are not something that is tackled by either.

Athens/Clarke County is one of the most unequal counties in the U.S. - hosting a layer of mostly high-paid academic professionals and administrators, as it is the site of the University of Georgia's largest campus.  And then a 30% poverty rate of mostly black workers.  Your ethnicity almost determines your class standing.  But there are many underpaid working class whites in Clarke County too.  Added to this is about 40,000 students, many of whom are attracted by the state-paid HOPE scholarship - which allows almost free tuition with a B average.  If Georgia can do it, there is no reason why every other state can't. 

Unions are virtually non-existent here, even among teachers or other public employees like maintenance workers at UGA.  Fear and intimidation, as well as the law, almost prohibit unionization in various industries, according to one public teacher activist.  A Caterpillar plant has just relocated near Athens, of course without the UAW.

Being a unionist, activist or socialist in this town is pretty hard.  As is being black or Latino!  The 'mellow' mood and right-wing and religious surroundings mitigate against radicalism - except reactionary radicalism.  The vast numbers of students have not made Athens a more radical Berkeley, a Madison or an Ann Arbor.  The students are mostly interested in shopping, drinking, eating and music.  And their careers, of course.

This gathering shows that May Day is not dead yet in the U.S., even in the South.
Happy May Day!

Red Frog
May 1, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ecuador in the 1980s

“Blood Lake, a Philomena Buscarsela Mystery,” by Kenneth Wishnia, 2014

Genre fiction has broken out of its cage so many times that it has earned a place as ‘real’ fiction.  Detective stories are no longer predictable police procedurals that are so formulaic as to be sleep-inducing.  However some things remain the same.  

Guayaquil, Ecuador stilt slums
This book by a PHD and professor is one such.  A great look inside Ecuador in the 1980s, it still suffers from the unreality of constantly falling bodies.  Wishnia is a progressive of some kind who has created a reckless female detective, Philomena Buscarsela.  She is a product of poverty and was once a former leftist guerilla in the Andean highlands in Ecuador.  Unusual provenance for a female American gumshoe.  Most, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, have no politics.  

The story has a bit too many incongruities.  For some reason Philomena returns to visit her family in Guayaquil, towing her teenage daughter along – then immediately throws herself into a dangerous search for the killer of a Liberation Theology priest who once saved her life.  Her daughter is forgotten, even though it is obvious that the police/death squad people who killed the priest would seize her if needed.  A parent would attempt to hide or shield their child.  But as she says many times, she is a ‘bad parent.’  Philomena fails to spot the tall blonde gringo ‘journalist’ that suddenly shows up at her side as a CIA asset – even though every reader does.  She even trusts the notes of a real journalist who was murdered for researching the assassination of the prior progressive Ecuadorian president to this agent.  She goes on a fruitless search for another invisible right-wing journalist in several Ecuadorean towns like Cuenca, which never makes real sense.  Ultimately she reunites with her guerrilla ex-boyfriend in the Amazonian jungle in the east of Ecuador by Macas.  This is the real literary point of her trek into the mountains, but one which doesn’t lead to any killers.  Again, incongruous. 

Through all this she seems to allow the Ecuadorian police to track her progress towards the guerillas – which is their purpose for letting her go on.  She is even friends with one cop, who saved her life and she saved his.  Philomena was a cop in NYC for 3 years, so she seems to play both sides.  She is an adept at physical violence and can throw a stiletto with deadly force, so plays the role of action heroine well.  She’s also sexy, but her sex with her Jewish boyfriend from New York, who oddly visits her, is more talk or braggadocio than action.  

The great strengths of the novel are its deep knowledge of the poverty of Ecuador during this period.  The scenes of the stilt shanty towns built over the steaming, putrid water in Guayaquil are tremendous.  Philomena rides in rickety buses, sleeps in a shabby concrete construction site, visits humble stores and peasant huts that mirror the ‘otherness’ of Ecuador to the North American reader. Her large family seems to be almost the only refuge.  At one point, she sees a rural Quichua baby and notes that its sad 2-year-old face already registers that it was born into a fucked life.   Wishnia focuses on the crookedness of the press and a confusing matrix of bourgeois Ecuadorean politicians that promise everything and deliver nothing.  He describes the violence of rightist death squads and police; the control of commodities like rice and gasoline by businessmen; the shortages, inflation and power outages of every day – the miseries perpetuated by the local comprador bourgeoisie and their North American puppet masters.  And just to be ‘even-handed’ he shows that the guerillas can perhaps be ruthless too.  

Wishnia references the on-going struggle by indigenous people against Texaco/Chevron’s pollution of their Amazonian region.  The assassination of progressive Ecuadorean president Jaime Aguilera in 1981 in a suspicious plane crash is also a part of the story.  Aguilera established a 40 hour work-week and supported human rights.  Later Omar Torrijos of Panama also died in a suspicious plane crash a few months later. Further investigations of Aguilera's death showed the plane’s motors suddenly shut down, a sign of an electrical pulse weapon.  Documents have revealed that this was part of the U.S. "Operation Condor" plan. (See book review on the assassination of Paul Wellstone, below.) This was during the period of the contra wars in Central America and the Reagan presidency, which considered anything left of Jesse Helms to be a Soviet plot.

In 2010, corrupt Ecuadorean police attempted to kill the present presdient of Ecuador, Rafael Correa.  Most suspect that the CIA was involved in that plot too, as Correa was a staunch supporter of Hugo Chavez.  This happened under Obama and Clinton's watch. Assassination is one of the surgical tools of imperialism and the domestic Right in every country.

Latin America in the 1980s was a bloody, violent place dominated by military dictators, death squads, IMF austerity loan programs, assassinations, anti-communism and poverty. These were the fruits of the heavy boot of the northern colossus.  This is a look back into that past – a place which U.S. imperialism wishes to return to in full force.  See the recent coup in Honduras, the support for right-wing forces in Brazil and Venezuela, the continual financial pressure from the central banking industry in the U.S. and Europe, our love of every right-wing Mexican president.  The past can return.

If you enjoy detective stories with a foreign, feminist and political twist, this book will be of interest.  A nice glossary of Ecuadorean and Quichua words is included in the book.

And I bought it from Mayday’s used book section.
Red Frog
April 28th, 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The “God Mode”

“The New New Thing – A Silicon Valley Story,” by Michael Lewis, 2000

This is the story of former Texan Jim Clark, an eccentric ADD ‘anarchist’ who invented the first 3-D micro-processor for computers, which eventually became Silicon Graphics.  Then he started Netscape, the first net browser company.  He continued with a plan and program called “Healtheon” - health industry mid-ware that would link all of the fractionated U.S. health industry together.  Healtheon’s first IPO was called off in 1998 prior to the ‘tech wreck’ on Wall Street, but a later offering in 1999 made him a billionaire.  In the process Clark evolves into the key ‘idea’ person in Silicon Valley.  He started the lawsuit between Netscape and Microsoft over Microsoft’s anti-competitive browser monopoly.  He spends most of his time working on a massive computerized sailboat, the Hyperion – which was stylized as the 1990s predecessor to a home controlled by computers.   

The Valley of the Kings
Lewis is a journalist who normally rakes mostly capitalist muck, but in this case he has written a panegyric to a capitalist ‘outsider’ – Clark.  The book glories in all his oddities, his unorthodox style, the brilliant coders around him, his ‘genius’ and his love of money.  This is a man who dropped out of a Texas high-school.  It is somewhat like the early biographies of ruthless titans of industry like Rockefeller or Morgan, or the later ones around Bill Gates or Steve Jobs – and tiresome in just that sense.  If you look back over most of Lewis’ work, that same theme of kissing-up to a group of capitalist outsiders is there.   

MoneyBall” – the baseball recruiter that favored statistics over the ‘good ‘ol boy’ network to succeed; The Big Short – the Wall Street short-sellers who knew that mortgage derivatives were garbage; “Flash Boys,” - how some Wall Street contrarians invented a way to prevent the main firms from scamming clients through high-speed trading; “Liar’s Poker,” his first book, which didn’t lionize anyone … yet.  Lewis, while denigrating the mainstream of American capitalism, loves its outriders.  He has no outlook beyond that.

Clark knew that 3-D computing would be copied by everyone as soon as possible.  He knew that Microsoft would throttle Netscape with its own web browser, which turned out to be Explorer. He also thought that Microsoft, due to its monopoly position, would seize software control of a vertical industry like health care. So the important thing for Clark was always the … new, new thing.  The next shiny object.  The latest commodity.  This is how it works in Silicon Valley, which reflects its role as the leading commodity provider in the world. 

One absurd part of this was the promotion of Healtheon in Europe. Lewis actually went on a ‘road show’ for this product through Europe with Clark – like an embedded reporter in Iraq suffering Stockholm syndrome.  What seems obvious is that Lewis actually missed the fact that Healtheon – which was supposed to connect the 11 different sectoral ‘bubbles’ of the U.S. health care system into one web – was not as useful to a ‘single-payer’ or government-run system as in Europe.  So Lewis laughs at the Dutch or English when their eyes glaze over, while the Dutch or English are thinking – what the fuck? 

Knitting the millions of vendors in U.S. health care together, along with the numerous health firms, vendors like drug companies, equipment makers, doctors as well as multiple U.S. government programs and their vast laws, along with 50 state systems, is extremely difficult, especially without single-payer.  Clark’s employees admitted they knew nothing about the U.S. health care system when they started. Software forms an essential connection that could be used to convert the U.S. to single-payer more easily.  The real point of this failed road-show was missed by Clark’s crew, even though it is staring these ignorant geniuses in the face.  Single-payer is the road to simple software.

Lewis covered the Microsoft/Netscape lawsuit, surprisingly filed by the U.S. Justice department, until its denouement when one of Clark’s e-mails seems to have torpedoed the case.  Lewis is then locked-up with Clark and crew on board the Hyperion’s first problem-filled crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.  (The ‘god mode’ is Clark’s override authority on the Hyperion’s 24 computers.) In this book Lewis ends up being like those craven biographers that rich people hire to paint them or write about them.  It’s unseemly at a certain point. 

This book again emphasizes the value of the technology ‘boom’ as one of the engines of capitalist profitability. The Marxists at Monthly Review think because technology doesn’t employ as many people as the rail or auto industries, it is not a significant development that can energize capital. This can also be said of the financial services industry, especially Wall Street. Yet these two forces are the only thing breathing cash (and new commodities) into the stagnating capitalist economy.  On a practical level, technology has actually made imperialist ventures across the globe more possible.  This is a topic that some Marxists really have to understand, instead of preaching about imminent doom all the time.

Profitless Silicon Valley companies like this, that ‘might’ make money in the future, were behind the 2000 dot-com bubble that crashed the U.S. financial markets.  “Value investors’ they were not. 

Let’s look back to 2000 and see what Jim Clark wrought.  3-D computing is still with us, useful for architects, doctors and Hollywood, but Silicon Graphics filed for bankruptcy in 2009.  Netscape Communications was bought by AOL and is now ancient history.  Clark inspired the first efforts at interactive television – ITV – which flopped. @Home, which was based on a computer network providing data to televisions, merged with Excite in 1999 and went bankrupt in 2001.  myCFO, a financial company for billionaires, was sold to Harris Bank in 2002 and is now an ordinary part of their investing platform.  Healtheon merged with Microsoft’s WebMD and now is called “Change Healthcare” - the largest exchange and payment system for health data and finance in the U.S.  All of these programs mostly enable the system as it is.  But it is true that a single health care software program would be essential to a single-payer system.  But so far over-head costs in the U.S. health-care industry still outpace actual medical costs, so software alone is insufficient.

Clark is on the list of the 400 richest Americans, so this is a portrait of a billionaire.  Many of the companies Clark was involved in bit the dust, but he was their inspiration.  He launched them, then collected.   A few of them were useful and the others were not. Oddly, he was involved in the documentary, “The Cove” about the criminal slaughter of dolphins for meat in Japan.  What do Marxists make of men with ideas like this, driven by greed, which are sometimes useful?  It is that there is plenty of proof that greed is not the only stimulus to new ideas.  Paeans to Silicon Valley internet heroes have become cheap literature and Lewis should know that by now.      

Other books by Michael Lewis reviewed below:  Liar’s Poker,” “The Big Short,” and “Flash Boys.”  Other books or commentary about technology below:  Cypher Punks,”  Citizen Four,” “In Letters of Blood & Fire,” “The Cultural Apparatus of Monopoly Capital” and “Creative Destruction.”  Use blog search box, upper left. 

And I bought it in Mayday’s excellent used book section!
Red Frog
April 20, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Foreclose on the Banks

"99 Homes,” a film by Ramin Bahrani, 2015

This is a companion to the film, “The Big Short” which did not dwell on the foreclosures or unemployment caused by the housing bubble.  Instead, ’99 Homes” takes you into the foreclosure industry in 2010 in Orlando, Florida.  It follows the story of one family that is evicted, much to their surprise.  The lead character who is evicted, Nash, in desperation then goes to work for the real estate ‘mogul’ Carver who evicted him – eventually putting Nash himself in an impossible situation. Nash is a working-class carpenter who used to do building work until the building boom ended, but is over his head in this situation.  His values ultimately dominate his desperation.

Housing is Someone Else's Private Property
Nash eventually takes over from Carver doing evictions and comes face to face with all the misery caused by the foreclosures – an aged man who has no relatives and nowhere to stay; families with children who have a ‘lawyer’ and think they have a stay or are appealing their eviction; angry people with guns.  One man has proof his house sale was never advertised – so Nash has to forge an affidavit of publication.  In the real world the housing courts in Florida processed these illegal foreclosures – fraudulently robo-signed paperwork, missing deeds and mortgages, no proof of ownership by the banks – with nary a hiccup.  We see scenes of the 1 minute ‘hearings’ after which the banks are given control. 

Allegations of falsified documents were at the heart of an investigation by state attorneys general and the federal government into foreclosure abuses by Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial's GMAC mortgage unit. Orange County, Florida, where Orlando is, was cited as one of the worst.

Then the thug sheriffs are sent out to enforce the evictions for the bank’s representative, while a crew of impoverished workers loads all the evicted family's possessions on the boulevard, with a cruel removal deadline of 24 hours.  Families are forced to find emergency housing, and Nash’s family ends up in a rundown and noisy motel full of other evictees. 

The courts, the police, the banks and the real estate industry were all in one big shiny cabal, and still are.

Fraud by the real estate brokers against the Fannie Mae government foreclosure program is also shown.  Appliances stolen, then sold back to the government to make the houses ‘whole’ again;  stolen appliances sold for a profit; water and electricity shutoffs enforced by bank representatives; damage to houses in order to stop other agents from selling the houses.  Carver wants to ‘carve’ up more houses and is attempting to muscle out the bigger competitors who are taking over hundreds and even thousands of homes.  Nash goes along with these schemes to get his son and mother back in their old house, but the contradictions eventually become too much.

This film was written and directed by two Indians.  Evidently we need Indians to cover U.S. tragedies, while so many American directors are making super-hero movies or other forms of head-in-the-sand entertainment. 

Review of “The Big Short,” and “The Divide” by Taibbi, as well as various commentaries re foreclosure, are below.  I will be doing a somewhat damning retrospective of Michael Lewis’ work based on his 2000 book, “The New New Thing,”

Red Frog
April 16, 2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Innovate This!

“Listen Liberal – Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?” by Thomas Frank, 2016

The timing is perfect.  In the shade of his credulous disappointment with Obama’s two stints as president, and the looming re-run of a Clinton II presidency, Frank has come out firing on all of his cylinders.  He takes every cherished idea and myth of the ‘new’ Democratic Party (“DP”), gently describes it, quotes it succinctly, nicely pokes it, then puts a bullet in its brain. The Democratic Party clich├ęs of ‘innovation,’ ‘the sharing economy,’ ‘the creatives,’ entrepreneurship, meritocracy, technology and education are all put on the rack and found wanting in the light of class reality.  What Frank investigates is the class nature of the Democratic Party, finding it to be a ‘party of professionals,’ not a party of the working class.   These ‘knowledge’ economy professionals who form the hard voting base of the DP are actually a capitalist ‘new economy’ echo of the ‘old-industry’ Republicans.  Or as Gary Hart first called them, "Atari Democrats."

This is an intimate class analysis that even takes on the subtleties of righteousness and ‘goodness’ pushed by this strata.  Frank does this after attending a glitzy back-slapping session put on by the Clinton Foundation, hosted by Hillary Clinton and Melinda Gates.

Let us be Frank

In the process, he lumps in the pro-Democratic top executives of Wall Street and Silicon Valley (unaccountably leaving out Hollywood) with the part of the 9% that forms the immediate base and transmission belt for the DP – academics, lawyers, doctors, engineers of various stripes, corporate and non-profit managers, the elite in media, software, arts and journalism  – what Frank terms the ‘well degreed.’  In essence, the ‘smartest people in the room,’ as they fancy themselves.


Frank’s ‘professional class’ is really a wing of the petit-bourgeoisie / middle class in U.S. society – what Marxists have always identified as a prop for capital.  Small businessmen form the other part of this class – they are the usual base for the Republican Party.  The two parties share this strata, as they do the topmost strata of the 1%.  Frank essentially says that the working class has been abandoned by the DP, which is why so many now vote Republican or don’t vote at all.  Unlike the DP mantra that ‘they have nowhere else to go’ – they actually do.  The DP’s triumphalist emphasis on ‘demographics’ is an example of this.  It’s like a line from Blazing Saddles: “We don’t need no stinkin’ workers.’ 

Frank agrees with most other left economists (Piketty et al.) and sociologists that it is the 10%, not just the 1%, that have benefited in the last 40 years.  This is crucial in understanding the role the professional strata plays in spreading the influence of the 1% into the rest of society.  Leaving this out basically camouflages how the 1% rule. Occupy Wall Street, while having a catchy slogan, on a deeper level was essentially wrong.  I pointed this out in December 2011 post (“Look Who We’re Calling Comrade”) that dwelled on the number of millionaires in the U.S., but was looked at as some kind of egg-head.

In the process Frank humorously reviews the dour history of the Clintons, then analyses Obama’s copycat version, which he called “Clintonism on monster-truck tires.”  Jimmy Carter, the born-again peanut entrepreneur from Hicksville, Georgia is left out, but he certainly started things in the late 1970s.  Clinton’s enormous failures – deregulating Wall Street, NAFTA, the incarceration and drug-war state, deregulation and privatization across other industries, strengthening a two-tier justice system, stranding unions, welfare ‘reform’ – all have been exhaustively covered, as have Obama’s versions of these policies.  What Frank shows is how these policies really reflected a conscious move towards the ‘well-degreed’ strata of professionals in the U.S. and away from the great unwashed proletariat, essentially moving this section of moderate Republicans into the DP camp - where they are now.

You will note that nearly every reactionary measure negatively impacting the working class by Clinton or Obama was in league with the Republican Party.  And yet these DP people – Hillary included – have the gall to picture themselves as the true opponents of Republicanism, when they have actually enabled a good part of it.  Even their bickering around the Supreme Court indicates they cooperate to have a ‘split’ court – all of whom support increased government power, including the ‘liberals.’

After the romance with Wall Street fizzled a bit after 2008, the DP decided to love tech. Google was name-checked by Obama in half of his ‘state of the union’ speeches while its head, Eric Schmidt, is one of his close advisors.  Schmidt called entrepreneurs the ‘value-creators’ of society.  Sound familiar? The DP promotes the ‘sharing’ economy.'  You know, tech firms like Uber, which takes jobs from tax drivers; TaskRabbit, which is nothing but a digital temp agency; AirBnB, which sidesteps housing, safety and tax laws for profit, or Amazon, which is a tax-free WalMart.  This kind of ‘disruption’ is really part of their creation of a precariat of workers, where one day most can hope to be temps standing around in front of hardware stores hoping for day work.  Just bring your ‘smart’ phone! This is the future for the majority that the enlightened DP describes as ‘progressive.’

Frank takes on the argument that the ‘big bad Republicans’ made the Democrats do all these things.  As one answer he takes an in-depth look at Boston and Massachusetts to see what a paradise of DP control looks like, as this state is thoroughly Democratic.  Outside the environs of the high-tech corridor, universities and pharmaceutical companies of Boston, Massachusetts is in a state of poverty and de-industrialization.  Inequality is one of the highest in the nation.  It is not just black people that have been left behind.  High drug prices, high education costs and unemployment are the result of this ‘innovation’ economy.   The DP’s black Massachusetts governor later went on to join Bain Capital, Romney’s firm!  If Boston was the Capitol of Panem, it makes sense.  Or perhaps its Martha’s Vineyard, where both Clinton and Obama take holidays among the deserving wealthy.

The ‘brainy’ Democrats love of ‘complexity’ even extends to the ACA and Dodd-Frank – two of the most complex pieces of legislation ever enacted, both running to thousands of pages, which probably no human being understands completely.  Dodd-Frank is still being written years after it was voted on.  Just on the face of it, there is something wrong here.  But only if you’re not an expert!

Frank’s visit to the 2015 Clinton Foundation gala allows him to look into Hillary’s plan for women in other parts of the world (and shows her plan for American women too.)  Essentially it involves promoting entrepreneurship among 3rd world women through micro-lending.  Essentially this means getting 3rd world women involved in the banking industry.  Essentially Peter Edelman showed that micro-lending does not alleviate poverty or empower women, but only increases indebtedness.  (Duh…)  Exxon, Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart all have micro-finance programs.  Frank points out that these corporations are buying ‘compassion credits’ similar to carbon offsets.  Poverty is actually profitable, as is labor, which is why both endure.  And so ‘gilt’ must be ‘suffered’ and the DP appears as moralistic as some Texas Baptist.

As Frank coyly notes, if you take into account the removal of welfare supports or housing foreclosures for many poor women, you can say that Hillary’s slogan is ‘No ceilings, no floor!’

What is missing here is the most deluded group of all - not counting many established black 'leaders.'  It is top union leaders.  In the run-up to the 2016 election, the edicts came from on high from nearly every ‘international’ union headquarters that Hillary Clinton was to be endorsed.  Rank and file unionists were stunned.  The slavish teachers’ union bureaucrats were first in line.  This might reflect their role as the MA/BA aristocracy of labor that they fancy themselves, even though the ranks of their unions know better.  Imagine teachers endorsing people who support charter schools and Rahm Emanuel!  This is no different from poor rural people in Kansas voting Republican because of Jesus.  Even the SEIU, which has been the union most out-front with “$15,” backed Clinton, who did not support the demand. The ‘hope’ placed in Trumka or the split in the AFL-CIO have come almost to nought.  Four or more internationals and many local bodies have instead chosen Sanders, which certainly reflects that the union movement is not quite dead.  But its damn close.

This is a fast, entertaining read, with Frank's characteristic understanding of the 'commodification of dissent' and his ability to see through 'hip' rhetoric.  Frank was the editor of the "Baffler" and wrote "What's the Matter with Kansas" and other books that look at the culture of politics.

Other books on the DP:  The Democrats:  A Critical History,”Death of the Liberal Class,” commentaries, “Red Wedding,”Sanders, a Left View,” etc. and books analyzing class itself – “Class Lives,” “Chavs,” “Understanding Class,” “Rich People Things,” “The Precariat.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

April 10, 2016

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hidden HIstory of the Italian Left

"The Unseen,” by Nanni Belestrini – foreword by A. Negri, 1987

The unseen, the hidden half, the invisible people of Italy act.  A novelistic treatment of the events during the autonomist movement in Italy in the mid to late 1970s – a period of working-class turmoil similar to 1968.  Not on the NYT’s best seller list.  Will not be reviewed by the NYT Magazine.  No one on National Government Radio (“NPR”) will ever talk about this book or any book like it.  It is a play of light and dark, victory and prison.

A Negri, Theorist of Autonomist Movement
This is a picture of a generalized class struggle that does not last. A contest of power between the capitalist state, factory owners and the autonomist left.  The comrades wear shabby clothes: “How do you think about clothes when you are betting everything you’ve got?” The Leninists want a vanguard to lead the struggle.  The Italian Communist Party (PCI) is running the city and wants illegality to end.  It is the time of the ‘historic compromise’ – 1976 - when the PCI made a popular-front block with the Christian Democracy, the leading capitalist party.  The actual left was outraged. 

The villages around the city, a railroad ride away, are run by the Christian Democrats, a party based on the wealthy families in each town.  In the villages everyone works, especially at home, where piecework from the small factories dotting the area is doled out.  The families, especially the mothers, work for added hours every day putting together cheap parts to supplement their incomes. Some southerners have moved in from the backward rural south of Italy and a few village folks give them piece-work too.  The radical youth hate the ‘sanctimonious bigots all priest-loving hypocrites’ in the village and go to the city as much as possible.  “The movement was my family,” the lead character says. 

Young Italian students shut down a school in the face of their screaming principal.  Thousands of leftists fight carabinieri in an attempt to shut down a fascist headquarters after fascists kill a left demonstrator.  Helmets, tire irons, big wrenches, Molotov cocktails/petrol bombs and tear gas.  Cops run over a demonstrator with a giant jeep and shred his body. 

The illegal occupation of an empty Catholic building for a performance space, a clinic, a resource center, a press office. Many practical skills involved, as these are not bookish people. The comrades make a tactical decision and refuse to evacuate, then are stormed by carabineri with teargas.  60 of them escape over the roofs.  Real-life drama, better than all the fake Hollywood super-hero movies.

Tute Bianchi, struggle continues 1994-2001
The young lead character is arrested and interrogated because of a weapon found in a house he rented 3 years ago from a crooked attorney who wasn’t paying taxes.  The judge is also the prosecutor.  The appointed ‘defense’ attorney is indifferent.  The unseen is dumped in a medieval dungeon presided over by an incoherent dirty troll and then convicted on this incoherent evidence as a ‘terrorist.’

Indiscriminate arrests of activists are the order of the day if they have any connection to the movement. That is Italian justice.  Penned in a formulaic trial, the men and women prisoners meet in a swirl of color. There is a seesaw of power between prison captives and prison administration. Pictures of gruesome prison violence between non-politicals.  A ‘gentle’ prison rebellion by the comrades, capturing guards, seizing floors and grinding weapons.  Plastique is in play.  The comrade prisoners are lulled into complacency by prison negotiators until a sudden attack by helicopters, black ninjas and bombs.  The carabineri shoot and do not care if anyone dies. Then all the prisoners – politicals, non-politicals and even disguised guards – are beaten and beaten again by the guards.  Broken noses, faces, legs, arms, ribs, hands, brain damage.  The guards go on to destroy the prison, then blame it on the inmates.  Then the Berlusconi newspapers lie about it all. 

Still other inmate rebellions.  Refusals to eat the horrible prison food, dumped in the central walk. Flooding the floor.  Pots and pans banged at night.  Torches invisible to the population.  Similar to the IRA and Bobby Sands.  To no avail, as time must be served.  Forgetfulness must be observed.  

A centre is rented from a “Marxist-Leninist” Maoist organization that can’t afford the rent due to their tiny membership.  It then serves as an organizing place for the whole mass movement. Group theft, ‘the spectacle’ and creative disruption follow, allowing the movement to control the city neighborhood around the centre. In the villages, workers and students go from factory to factory, shutting them down in support of a factory occupation.  Sweat shops are invaded and destruction commences.  A feminist rebellion in the ranks.  A split of an armed action group from within the affinity group.  A leading 'military security' comrade becomes an informer.  

In this atmosphere, a stillborn pirate radio station is started.  But by now many have been arrested, had psychological breakdowns, committed suicide, become informers or drug addicts, and the station cannot go on the air.  Solidarity, the greatest weapon of the rebellion, has disappeared.  The government of the capitalists has crushed the movement.
Anarcho-Communism

The text is written without capitalization, periods or any punctuation, only blocks of paragraphs.  Sort of like ‘stream-of-consciousness’ except perhaps by an excited youth or a TV or movie camera that blinks regularly or perhaps like a prose poem.  You feel like you need to put the capitals on and place the periods, but you get used to it. The rhythm of the text suggests its own invisible punctuation.  Like the invisible history it charts.

Other books about Italy or anarchism on sale at Mayday and reviewed below:  The Dark Heart of Italy,” “Trumpolini,”Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs”, “Something in the Air,” “How Non-Violence Protects the State,” “The Society of the Spectacle” and “The Bomb.”  Use search box, upper left.  

P.S. - Inmates at many U.S. prisons, especially in the south, are on strike against the slave labor regime in American prisons.

And I bought it at Mayday Books in their excellent left-wing fiction section. 
Red Frog
April 5, 2016