Monday, September 1, 2014

The Long & Winding Road ...

"The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism,” by Samir Amin, 2013

Amin is an Egyptian Marxist who is now living in Dakar, Senegal as director of Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP).  His roots are closer to Maoism than anything else.   He is a particularly acute observer of relations between what he calls the ‘center’ and the ‘periphery’ of contemporary imperialism.  The center is Europe, the U.S. and Japan – the “triad.” Even in this short book, Amin has many interesting insights, expanding Marxism for the present.  This book fleshes out some of his theories about what countries are involved in what he calls ‘lumpen development’ run by a ‘corruptionist comprador’ class and what countries are really ‘emerging,’ based on their relations to the central imperialist corporations, banks and financial powers like the WTO, the IMF and World Bank.  He calls Iran, Egypt and Turkey examples of ‘lumpen-development’ due to their subaltern status in the imperialist web.  He also includes India, South Africa and Brazil.  To him, only China is truly an emerging economy, along with South Korea and Taiwan.  The latter two were allowed to ‘emerge’ by capital due to their position as virulently anti-communist states, while China did this in spite of opposition from the imperial powers.

Center / Periphery

Amin’s main thesis is that it is impossible for a country in the periphery to ‘catch up’ to the center in the context of capitalism.  He downplays the fact that certain ‘middle classes’ in peripheral countries ‘think’ they are catching up.  These classes form the basis for support to their comprador bourgeoisies.  His central thesis is that the benefits the imperial countries enjoyed cannot be completely repeated by ‘new’ capitalisms.  The earth is finite, history cannot run backwards and one well-armed imperial colossus already sits astride the world. In this sense he is right – we have reached a condition he calls ‘generalized monopoly capitalism’ which is attempting to lockup all material resources, political power and wealth world-wide. 

Amin’s dissing of most of the “BRICS” nations also jibes with a recent essay by Leo Panitich in the Guardian, which deconstructs what the recently announced “BRICS” Bank would actually do.  The World Bank and IMF welcomed the BRICS Bank as a valuable addition to the network of imperial commerce.  It is going to be based on many of the same political principles as the WB and the IMF.  Panitich, much as Amin would, indicates that this Bank, if it actually exists, will not as it is presently organized challenge dollar hegemony or Wall Street. 

Only the Russian petro-state has now become directly opposed to the triad, in response to the push of NATO and the EU directly into neighboring Ukraine.  Amin also predicts, as have many, that the China-bashing common in the central countries is preparing the populations for war with China.   Certainly obvious military developments by Japan and the U.S. point in the same direction.

Political Islam

Unlike so many ‘anti-imperialists,’ Amin is particularly hard on ‘political Islam,’ his term for the various right-wing movements operating under the guise of the Islamic religion. When you have to organize in a country whose reactionary parties are ostensibly based on Islam, you have no illusions as to their progressive or 'anti-imperialist' nature.  Having had to deal with it face to face in Egypt for so many years, he details the confluence of the Egyptian state, the imperialists and the Muslim Brotherhood – policies even Nasser carried out.  The Brotherhood was allowed to exist as the sole 'oppositional' exception by the Egyptian government, which depoliticized the working classes.  Sadat and Mubarak followed the same policy.  Its present pose as an oppositional movement is only as an entity vying for the same state power as the military.  He goes into detail on the Mullah regimes in Iran and Edrogan’s party in Turkey as reflections of self-same lumpen-development, with no real independence from capital.  They are only negotiating the relationship with monopoly capital, which the triad wants completely on their terms

Amin makes the very important point that political Islam is based on the ‘informal’ and the bazaar sectors of these middle-eastern economies, which form such a large sector.  The rise of Hamas in Palestine, as opposed to the PFLP and the DFLP, was predicated on the erosion of jobs for the Palestinian working class.  Islam for Amin is essentially a de-politicization of society, and a return to archaic culture – all as an aide to capitalism.  In much the same way that ‘political’ Christianity in the U.S. is a bulwark of the virulently pro-capitalist Republican Party and right-wing figures in the Democratic Party like Hillary Clinton.

China

As a Maoist, Amin is especially interested in China.  Here his loyalty to the Chairmen somewhat derails his political approach.  After calling people who want to label China as ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’ idiotic, Amin finally comes up with a definition – ‘state capitalist.’  He contends that state-capitalism and ‘market-socialism’ are way-stations on the road to socialism – or they are not.  As to which class is running this particular state-capitalism, he infers it is the working classes through the CP.  At the same time he says that he is not exactly sure which way China is going, as it could also become capitalist.  Amin seems to be unable to use the words ‘bureaucracy,’ ‘capitalists inside the party’ or even ‘capitalist-roaders.’  The hinge-point for him as to Chinese progressiveness is the socialized ownership of land.  Along with several other dated points, Amin was unaware in 2013 that China is considering allowing the sale of land to anyone, including foreigners. This may have already happened.  His celebration of state-capitalism does not take into account ‘trajectory’ – i.e. to understand which way Chinese ‘state-capital is heading.  All indications are that the CP is still heading toward a fully capitalist economy with some social-democratic aspects.  In other words, is ‘state-capital’ coming or going?  The openings in 1971 to the U.S. and 1980 to private enterprise continue.

Amin blasts multi-party elections as democratic frauds, and indeed in the present context they usually are.  However in propping up a vague ‘democracy’ - like Mao - he mentions absolutely no concrete forms of mass democracy.  Neither work or geographic councils/soviets/communes, neighborhood committees, elections in which working-class or farmer parties can participate, factions within the CP (none are allowed), independent worker or farmer unions or peoples organizations, strikes or any other actual form of democracy for the working classes passes his lips.

Past Ballgames - Mao & Lenin

He compares Mao to Lenin several times, to the former’s benefit.  Mao did understand how to organize the rural peasantry, unlike the Bolsheviks.  This policy helped avoid the slaughter of forced collectivization – which he calls not just a Stalinist but a “Leninist’ policy.  By introducing ‘state-capitalism’ as a new ‘stage’ in the class struggle, he sounds somewhat similar to the Kautskyists of the 2nd International and even the Menshiviks, who believed that Russia needed to go through capitalism.  He maintains that Russia did not but China does…  One quote in this respect seems absolutely odd – “Mao understood – better than Lenin- that the capitalist path would lead to nothing and that the resurrection of China could only be the work of the Communists.”    

Europe

Amin doesn’t really discuss the title of the book, evidently assuming that readers understand that ‘implosion’ means the results of the 2007-2008 financial crash or some future event.  He maintains that the EU is dying from its own inequalities and austerity, and as a result the Eurozone has to be rejected by the European radical left.  While the concept of a regional block is something socialists would support, the EU was formed to consolidate the power of monopoly capital, not to consolidate democracy or prevent wars.  It is a form of flawed ‘bourgeois internationalism’ which ultimately has increased inequality between nations within the EU.  Eastern Europe has become a cheap labor/cheap materials colony of Germany and other leading EU nations, while the weaker states of the EU like Greece, Spain and Ireland have become debtor nations.  All still rely on the military power across the Atlantic – the U.S.

Recommendations

Amin’s prescription for what should be done by the ‘radical’ left oscillates between a vague nod to the ‘mass line’ and 3 transitional demands, the first being the nationalization of the monopolies, the second de-financialization – ending Wall Street’s control – and the third is what he calls ‘de-linking’ – replacing domination by the WB and the IMF with negotiation between nations.  He also supports resurrecting a new Bandung movement and ‘strengthening’ the UN as well.  The UN is a toothless agency at present, controlled by the Triad – a democracy of unequals.  The rising of a new Bandung is unlikely in the present case of ‘generalized global monopoly.’  Bandung was produced by a confluence of the oppositional USSR and national liberation movements, which have now become their opposite, and are for the most part integrated into the global system, as Amin points out.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
September 1, 2014, the saddest Labor Day. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Innocents Are Also 'Terrorists'

"A Most Wanted Man,” by John Le Carré, 2008.

Le Carré is one of the more left-wing writers in the UK.  This, one of his latest books, will also be a film featuring the last appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died while it was being filmed.  While not as strong a book as “The Constant Gardner” or “Absolute Friends,” this one tackles the issue of extraordinary rendition, combining all of Le Carre’s knowledge of intrusive spy-craft with a too-human story.  Issa is a mysterious Chechen, dressed in a long overcoat, spouting half-baked Islam, an “idiot’ of the Dostoevskyian variety.  He escapes from Russia to Turkey, two countries that tortured him, then from Sweden to Hamburg, Germany.  There he meets a pretty human-rights lawyer, Annabel, who takes his case – although it’s not much of a ‘case.’  The case involves a dull German banker, Brue, who falls for them both.  Issa has a claim on a vast amount of money at Brue’s bank, courtesy of his dead Russian military father, who laundered it there courtesy of English intelligence as a thank-you for his spying.  Convoluted much?

It is a somewhat unbelievable story.  The central character is not really sympathetic.  The crush developed by the banker on the cute young lawyer is cliché.  The villains – the secret services of Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. – are a somewhat familiar set of creeps, thugs and vicious bureaucrats.  Among this mess is a somewhat more intelligent arm of the German spy services, who want to use Issa to get to Dr. Abdullah.  Abdullah is a well-known moderate Islamic scholar in Germany who diverts 5% of the donations he solicits to possible Islamic terrorists.  The more subtle Germans want to ‘turn him’ into an informer, and role up other, real terrorists.  The U.S. thugs and the majority of the Germans and the UK just want to disappear both of them and send them to an unknown jail without trial – extraordinary rendition. 

Of course you know what happens.  In order to do this, one group of intelligence agents must shaft another in an evidently unending internal power struggle.  The optimists and naive ‘good guys’ lose.

It is never clearly set out that Issa is a Chechen terrorist of any actual kind – information to that effect is shot down by one of the Germans.  He’s a pathetic mumbler with grandiose ideas and a smattering of education – permanently scarred by his torture.  His access to riches, which he ultimately rejects for himself, reminds the reader of unknown princes in homeless shelters grasping unread books in their worn hands.  He’s basically innocent.

Extraordinary rendition –being abducted by secret police like the CIA and sent to an off-site gaol - was first proposed under Bush I, initiated under Clinton for accused terrorists, used by Bush II extensively and continued under Obama – though there are now ostensible rules against torture.  It is not much different than the decades-long disappearances in Latin America engineered by U.S.-trained death squads, except not all now result in death, only incarceration.  Of course, they could just send in a drone, but that would not be done in Germany. 

Le Carré continues his one-man crusade against the hypocrisies and crimes of the political and economic ruling classes of the ‘advanced’ nations. 

Red Frog
August 28, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

Big Pharma Strikes Again

"Dallas Buyers Club, film by Jean-Marc Vallee, 2013

No one wants to remember the HIV/AIDs epidemic – the Ebola of the 1980s in the U.S.  Which is why it seems to have taken 30 years for a film indicting the government FDA, Big Pharma and the compliant U.S. legal system for dragging its feet on cures or symptomatic alleviation for AIDS patients.   This film is it.  Basically, the Reagan government didn’t care if gay people died.  So they did. 

It is based on the true story of Ron Woodruff, a supposedly hard-drinking, hard-fucking Texas electrician, who had to question his own homophobia and that of those around him to extend his life after getting AIDs.  (A flashback shows some gay sex, perhaps many years earlier in 1981.)  The film Woodruff lost his rodeo friends and instead becomes allies with a cross-dressing gay man, Rayon, who had AIDs too, who he invited to become his first business partner.  Woodruff always has an eye for the buck, but he also relentlessly tried to stay alive.  The corporate doctor had given him 30 days to ‘get his affairs in order.’  Instead he learned everything he could about the disease. He had paid a Latino janitor to steal AZT for him, as it was only available as a ‘trial’ drug at that point – sugar pills being given to some of the human guinea pigs. When the AZT ran out, the Latino gave him the address of a doctor in Mexico.  And saved his life for awhile.

Woodruff went to Mexico in desperation and meets a ‘barred’ physician, Dr. Vass, a grey-haired hippie doctor.  Vass prescribes vitamins, Compound Q, ddC, an antiviral, and the protein “Peptide T.”  None were yet approved by the FDA in the U.S. to deal with HIV.  Eventually he realizes with Dr. Vass’ help that AZT in the high doses being prescribed actually did not work, and could instead harm people.  Woodruff got better and 3 months later, decided to start his business, the “Dallas Buyers’ Club.”  For $400 a month, people could get as much of his ‘drugs’ as they needed.  Dozens of HIV/AIDs patients line up outside his apartment every day.  To do this, he has to smuggle the drugs into the U.S. from Mexico and contend with the FDA, who want to shut him down.  He goes to Israel, Europe and Japan to get non-FDA-approved drugs, the latter alpha Interferon.  He eventually convinces a sympathetic doctor at the local hospital that his treatments should be allowed, and that AZT doses were too high.  He later sued the FDA in 1987 when they blocked the importation of the Peptide protein into the U.S. While the judge is sympathetic, the ‘law’ is against the Club, and he ruled against Woodruff.  Later, only Woodruff was allowed the protein. 

The FDA had made a deal with GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of AZT, and evidently no other drugs could be used to treat AIDs, and no other dosages prescribed.  Then, as now, the FDA was a complete captive of the industry it regulated.  However, AZT is effective at lower doses as part of a full therapy – unlike Ron’s claims. 

The ‘Washington Post’ claimed that all the drugs Woodruff smuggled into the U.S. were ‘useless,’ including Peptide T.  This, of course, is the Washington Post, the #3 top ruling class paper in the country.  Others contend Peptide T has some beneficial effects for AIDs patients.  Whatever the exact detail on the drugs smuggled in by Woodruff, it doesn’t change the basic dialectic that the government moved slowly on AIDs.  Woodruff lived 7 years, not 30 days, even riding a bull in a rodeo one more time, according to this film.  He stopped using cocaine and started to eat non-processed food. As he is played here, he was a monument to a non-passive approach to fatal diseases. 

Critics have pointed out that the gay movement is invisible in this film.  Here it took an aggressive red-neck to help all those poor helpless gays!  Woodruff does mention he got the idea of a ‘buyers club’ from another city.  However, no national gay movement, no ACT-Up, no protests. No nothing.  Just one individual hero, a typical Hollywood proposition, just like the Mandela film. (See review of ‘Mandela,’ below.) 

Say what you will about the obnoxious Mathew McConaughey, he’s a good actor, though he usually plays the same character, which is probably himself.  In this one he portrays an emaciated HIV victim, losing 47 pounds for the film.  Just doing a film about AIDs had to make a dent in his macho.  Even as a possible bi-sexual, McConaughey has to ‘kick ass’ numerous times - but this is a Hollywood film, and his macho has to be preserved somehow.  The real Woodruff was not like that.

McConaughey made a dreadful 2013 acceptance speech after receiving the Best Actor award for this film for playing Woodruff.  In that speech he thanked God and himself for winning.  He also reprized a line from his first film, ‘Dazed and Confused - ‘alright, alright, alright!’ - which I almost heard him mutter again in this film too.  McConaughey portrays mostly working-class rebels, which is a good job to have.  The film before this, “Mud,” is a reprise of the Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and runaway Jim story – McConaughey playing a white Jim in modern times named ‘Mud.’ 

Truths normally takes years to come out, especially in the U.S.  Waiting 30 years for a mainstream movie on the AIDs/HIV crisis that is critical of the government seems normal.  It is because film makers and those who fund these films will not take political risks.  Just as MLK was hated in the 1960s, and a target of government spying and ultimately murder, but now lionized.  Just as Mandela was called a terrorist, he is now a ‘saint.’  ‘Time heals all wounds’ - because the reactionary initial response of government or corporations cannot be challenged until the real-time political impact has been reduced to almost nothing. 

Red Frog
August 25, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Black Movement Rises From The Dead

FERGUSON FACTS

Ferguson represents a national moment against racist police violence and the military transformation of US Police.  There are no 'outside agitators' in this situation, as Ferguson is where the class is making a stand.  Cops kill non-white people in every city in the U.S.  It is a national epidemic.  New York, Florida, California, Missouri.  The left is on the offensive.

The cops tell lies about Molotov cocktails and 'gunshots,' confusing thrown-back tear gas canisters and fireworks, and the press dutifully repeats it without attribution.  CNN, NPR (“National Government Radio”), ABC, NBC, CBS.  Reporters continue to be arrested, per normal.  Latest are from ‘The Intercept’ and a German newspaper earlier this week.  Capt. Ron Johnson, who Holder embraced as "The Man," presided over tear gas, beatings and mass arrests of people and journalists.  A church was raided by police under his authority. Agent provocateurs have been at work. 

News reports indicate that the police in Ferguson have collected $2.6M in fines, fees, tickets and penalties from the mostly black people of the town for various piddly infractions, using the poor as a virtual cash register to fund their town and department.  It was reported that Darren Wilson had been fired from another mostly black town in Missouri, Jennings, along with the rest of its police force, because of so many racist incidents.

Fox News reported that there were injuries to Wilson – a 'fractured eye socket.'  Not true, which even CNN proved.  An activist walked away from CNN’s Don Lemon, who interrupted him so many times it was no longer an ‘interview.’  The NPR reporter was hoping that Ferguson would get back to 'normal' - which means racist cops are normal.  Everyone should just go home and shut up and let the white power structure and their black puppets do their non-jobs.  Racist prosecutor in St. Louis County.  Secret mostly white and rich "Grand" jury will decide. Stacked deck, anyone?  Only pressure from the streets and everywhere else will push this indictment.  This is really a power struggle.

Shoot To Kill

Shooting to kill is the only method cops are using to stop someone 'coming towards them,' 'armed' or not.  Michael Brown 'coming toward' cop justifies killing him?  Not one black person without a death wish tries to 'grab a cops' gun. This is the same cop lie they use every time they kill someone.  6 shots!  What happened to knee-capping?  Can't cops shoot straight? (Actually not.  They have only been trained to shoot in the chest – although Brown was shot in the arm and head.)  Body left on street for 4 hours?!  Really?  They just killed another kid in St Louis who wanted to commit suicide-by-cop.  And the cops obliged. Mentally ill?  You are dead.  'I fear for my safety."  You are dead. 

Ferguson and St. Louis are saying, ‘arrest Darren Wilson for murder.’ However, not one move by anyone in the racist power structure to do this – even with the federal FBI swarming all over the place and a personal visit from the Holder.  What do you think are the odds Wilson will be arrested and convicted?  About 90% against.

“Since President Obama took office, the Pentagon has transferred to police departments tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”
---NYT - 8/20/2014

Liberate Territory

“Sharpton wants Black people and the police to understand each others' perspectives, which is the common refrain of corporate media, as well.” …Yet ”this is not about bad, rogue cops, but an entrenched system of Black oppression that the cops are paid and trained to enforce.” Even “black majority rule does not automatically transform the relationship between cops and citizens.”  Look at cities with black mayors.
---Glen Ford - 8/20/2014 – Black Agenda Report

 Red Frog
August 23, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Threatening Profits is Terrorism

"Green is the New Red,” an Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege,” by Will Potter, 2011

This impressionistic title is both a compliment and an inaccurate reference to the left-wing movements that preceded the environmentalist movement, both in scale and depth.  Potter says as much at the end of this book.  He likes the phrase because it brings the present animal rights and environmental movements into an historical context.  As they say in the factory, ‘same shit, different day.’

Potter focuses on the deeds, arrests and imprisonments of young activists in Earth First (“EF”), the Animal Liberation Front (“ALF”), the Environmental Liberation Front (“ELF”), and SHAC – “Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty,” in the period 2004 to 2011.  He himself was at one time arrested for protesting Huntington, the biggest animal torture/experimentation lab in the world, then became a journalist covering those movements.  He switches back and forth between a personal angle on the young radicals and a policy angle.

Potter traces the development of various laws aimed at stopping ‘eco-terrorism’ – a phrase that he spends much time dissecting.  The prime one was in 2006, signed by Bush II – the “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act,” which broadened the concept of terrorism (as did the Patriot Act before it) to speech, protest and basically interfering with profits.  Adding a ‘terrorism’ charge to a crime vastly increases the sentence.  Laws such as the prohibition against taking pictures of animal cruelty in slaughterhouses in Iowa is one of its step-children.  The pharmaceutical, beauty and meat industries and other capitalist concerns that are based on the exploitation of animals lobbied for it.  It passed without notice in an almost empty Congress.  Dennis Kucinich, the vegan, could have stopped it by calling a quorum, but did not. 

The definition of terrorism, as we all know, is now so broad it includes almost anything the capitalist state wants it to mean.  One day it is possible that strikers could be charged with terrorism – as they are already accused of by Fox News.  The FBI, our political police, says it is “…use of force … against people and property…”   In internal documents, the FBI clearly thinks interfering with the economy can be terrorism. Potter traces every act by the EF, ELF and ALF and not one person has been injured or killed.  Well-planned arsons are the most ‘violent’ thing the latter two groups have done.  The longest sentence handed out was for an arson by a female animal-rights activist at a Michigan lab - 21 years.  Which might be the longest arson sentence in history!  Another couple got 13 years for burning 3 empty new SUVs – probably the longest sentence for destruction of SUVs.  Letting minks out of mink farms?  That will get you long time too.  Animal rights and environmental direct activists are normally included along with Al Qaeda and nuclear terrorists in the government’s handling of terrorism. A 2003 audit of the FBI told them they were wasting resources on the exaggerated threat of ‘eco-terrorism’ instead of white-collar Wall Street crime and native right-wing fascist groupings.  The FBI rejected the criticism.  Of course they would.

The worst example of government overreach was the ‘terrorism’ indictment in 2006 of those running the SHAC website, which organized the campaign against Huntington.  SHAC was able to bring Huntington almost to its knees, getting it delisted from the NYSE and forced on to the penny stock 'pink sheets.'  Hence the counter-attack. They were never accused of doing anything illegal – only publicizing activities that were going on, and giving out information that illegal activists might have used.

Potter visits some of the prisons that these young ‘terrorists’ are sent to.  One is worse than a super-max – a secret prison inside the super-max in Marion, Illinois - where the inmates have less rights and contact than even the super-max.  Potter says this CMU prison is illegal under present law - the ACLU is suing over it.  At least a 100 ‘eco-terrorists’ are locked up, some in this facility along with ostensible Muslim terrorists as well as innocent Muslims.  One ALF activist was transferred from minimum security Sandstone to Marion without warning or reason.  The ostensible reason for these prisons is to so totally isolate the prisoners from any ‘movement.’  Which should give pause to anyone indicted who is part of ANY movement.  Is this their long-term plan for all activists? 

Most of the animal rights movement is sympathetic to anarchism.  Potter himself sees it as part of a vast ‘culture war,’ not a class war.  While he indicates that corporations are the ones twisting the government’s arms, he ultimately thinks this is for ‘cultural’ reasons.  You know, fear of a vegetarian nation.  Where we can’t wear pretty lipstick, even if it was used on dead baby rabbits.  I’d insist that this is really all about profits first.  They only use culture to enforce and protect those profits.  Stirring up the bacon eaters.

Potter himself does not have an overall political point to make.  He focuses mostly on animal welfare and seems to suggest that if the animal rights and environmental movements were persecuted less, all would be well.  Well, I will make the political point for him, and I'll focus on environmentalism.

The Republicans are right in stating that the environmental movement - which includes the animal rights movement - threatens ‘capitalism’ – especially the Republican’s immediate financial base among capitalists in the oil/gas/coal industries, and in auto, Big Pharma, Big Ag and Big Meat. The Democrats are 'more' based in ‘cleaner’ businesses – like technology and finance.  Some of them are putting their faith in 'alternative' industries – solar, wind, nuclear, ethanol, smart-grids, fracking, dike building, even aspects of localism.  This is the Goreite prescription.  However, no capitalist party wants to 'own' re-use, buying less, vegetarianism and acting quickly or drastically.  Or moving against the real culprits.  Oh no! Instead both support wars of intervention aimed at protecting energy and mineral supplies, or gaining more access to them, such as in Russia.

Can the Goreite prescription work?  If you believe that technology alone will solve hunger, global warming and climate change, ocean acidification, over population, species extinction, peak minerals and peak oil, then yes.  However, if this global complex of problems brought on by unplanned industrial development and a commodity-based, profit-based society seems a bit beyond the reach of a technological ‘silver bullet,’ then you might be led to believe that ‘capitalism’ itself is under threat from this direction.  And you’d be right.

Every industry involved in global warming – like the oil, gas & coal companies - should be immediately nationalized and put under workers’ control.   This includes auto and big agriculture, including big meat.  Just as the banking and mortgage industries have proven to be rogue businesses, who should have been seized too.  The gradualist /’evolutionary’ method of a market-based society in which one technology very slowly replaces another is not possible in this situation.  Nor is the continued political influence of these barons of destruction. There is no other way to actually freeze the environmental train wreck in process.

Prior reviews on environmental topics – “No Local,” “The Search For What’s Left,”The Ecological Revolution,” “Foodopoly,” “Fear of an Animal Planet,” are below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
August 18, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Paid Administrative Leave - Again

Fear of a Black Rebellion

Our Janus-faced president, who represents a government that is the primary military procurer for Israel while ‘tsk-tsking’ the bombing of Gaza schools and UN outposts.  That perhaps ‘will look into’ the killing of Michael Brown while its Pentagon, the DHS and the DoJ increases the amount of military gear given to every Podunk cop and police department in the U.S.  That whines about the incarceration rates of abstract future black people while not retroactively changing cocaine sentences for real black people.  That condemns torture as a word while findings of independent human-rights organizations indicate it has been going on in Afghanistan up to this day, and has been covered up.  That wanted to close Guantanamo, and now refuses to release prisoners already found innocent.  That thinks perhaps cops shoot too many innocent black and brown people while its “Justice” Department does not follow national laws already on the books to track these escalating and constant killings by police.  All these are connected.

Sonic weapons.  Flash bang grenades.  Armored trucks.  M-16s.  Military helicopters.  SWAT squads.  Teargas.  Rubber and wooden bullets. A suburb in Missouri, a state that was part-Confederate  A police chief with a Confederate flag.  Reporters roughed up and arrested. And … dead and injured black people.  It all fits. 

You know governments, especially Democratic ones, want to talk about their clean hands, hoping you don’t notice the dirty one covered in blood and mud held behind their back.  Then there is the chorus of Democratic Party apologists, especially in the Black Political Elite, from the Black Congressional Caucus on down to Al Sharpton, who give political cover to Janus.  This is essential to the rule of capital.  I guess not all the citizens of Ferguson are following the script. 

Nobody in the corporate press or the networks full of useless talking heads gives two cents about Michael Brown except as a ratings bonanza, least of all Atlanta-based CNN.  As Russell Brand hinted, no wonder Robin Williams hanged himself.  If it wasn’t for protests and some minimal ‘rioting’ we’d be on to the next celebrity death.  Not some unknown 18-year old.

Clueless social-Democrats like Joan Walsh of Salon.com are just ‘shocked’ at the war in Ferguson, and say they are going to catch up on this whole issue of warrior cops.  Well, it’s a white-controlled town with a majority black population, with a poverty rate twice that of Missouri as a whole.  What has been going on is a form of class war, and it’s not always pretty.  Of course if you’re white, you can’t experience the police response to ‘walking while black’ or ‘driving while black’ or ‘being in your home while black.’  Yet anyone who has been to a single demonstration against a serious target – like the Republican or Democratic Party conventions, or police brutality, or the WTO, or a real strike – knows that the cops have become soldiers. The ‘enemy’ is the working and poor classes of the U.S.  Welcome to the American Police State.  It’s still a bit modest, but push it a little and see what happens.  Where the local and federal government has two-faces – one more real than the other. 

Now the St Louis County cops have thrown up on their bullet-proof vests in front of the whole nation.  They had to be removed by the governor today to keep them from creating more of a mess.  Call their removal from Ferguson a victory for the people.  If you can get to Ferguson, go.  Fill up that town with so many people that the cops back off.  But that includes State Police and FBI, not just St. Louis County cops.  The 'good copy/bad cop' routine is just that - a dodge. Only then can you start focusing on justice for Michael Brown.  Nothing less than jail on a homicide charge for the cop responsible will do.  

Prior books reviewed on this subject – Radley Balko’s excellent “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.”  There are also reviews on the police, like “The Wire” and “Bad Boys,” and those on the on-going American prison complex – “Are Prison’s Obsolete” and “The New Jim Crow.” Use blog search box, upper left.

PS - On Saturday, Governor Nixon of Missouri instituted 'marshall law' in Ferguson - ending the fake cop honeymoon.  The police state is now official. 

Red Frog
August 14, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fear of a Black Revolution

"Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom” (2013) and “The Butler” (2013)

WAITING on FREEDOM

Both of these movies present a liberal interpretation of the civil rights struggles in two different, yet linked contexts – the U.S. South and South Africa.  What is obvious about them is the hard line taken in these films against black radicalism. 

“Mandela” was directed by Justin Chadwick and written by William Nicholson.  Both are white.  Nicholson grew up Roman Catholic, was educated at Christ’s College in Cambridge UK, then became a BBC documentarian.  He then went on to write a play about CS Lewis and wrote parts of “Gladiator.”   He also worked on “Les Miserables” – the movie. So a well-respected liberal who takes on ‘political’ themes with a Catholic slant.  Chadwick is a long-time actor and director in the UK, mostly doing non-political dramas. 

‘Mandela’ is based on the ‘great man’ theory of history.  Mandela’s autobiography provided much of the source material.  Mandela was clearly the right man in the right place, but without the mass movement behind him and the organizational prowess of the South African CP, he would have become just another civil rights lawyer.  The film does not mention the CP, nor other leftist groups.  The growing black consciousness movement led by Stephen Biko is vague and discarded.  The CP left around mine trade unionist Moses Mayekiso (which has now formed a new left party, “The Workers & Socialist Party”) is ignored.  Winnie Mandela, who was to Mandela’s left at the end, is portrayed at that point as a big crazy problem. 

This is a 2013 film that features the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre as a key turning point, while the Marikana Miner’s Massacre of 2012 does not exist.  As such, the film hints that history stopped with Mandela winning the presidency.  The triumphalist tone take by the film – quite justified in a traditional Hollywood narrative arc – fails as an historic arc. Political meetings are ignored - instead the personal relationship between Mandela and Winnie or his first wife take priority.  The military campaign of the ANC’s Umkhonto we Sizwe is barely shown, and Mandela’s role largely invisible.  The significant ANC / SACP decision to drop demands for economic nationalization and instead propose only ‘one man, one vote’ is also invisible.  Even the decision by the De Klerk regime to endorse ‘one man, one vote’ is not depicted.  This was, of course, the key compromise that created the ‘new’ South Africa.  Recent statistics show that the South African working class, poor township residents and black farmers are now worse off than during apartheid, while rich whites still mostly own everything.

Simple bourgeois democracy cannot alleviate these key economic issues.  Another movement is brewing.  ‘A Luta Continua,’ as Miriam Makeba once said. 

WAITING on PRESIDENTS

“The Butler” is the U.S. version of this same standard Hollywood narrative.  Lee Daniels directed and Danny Strong wrote it.  Daniels is black, directing ‘Precious’ and producing “Monster’s Ball,” though started his career at 21 owning and running a large nursing agency. The film stars black film stalwarts like Cuba Gooding, Forest Whitaker, Mariah Carey & Oprah Winfrey.  Strong, on the other hand, is a white actor appearing on many TV shows, including “Mad Men” and “How I Met Your Mother.”  He is now involved in writing the “Hunger Games” trilogy.  Again, a white liberal interested in political themes. 

Ethnicity of course is not the only gauge of authenticity.  The American black upper middle-class has little contact with the working or poor classes anymore.  Most black ‘intellectuals,' actors and pop stars have simply stopped caring and instead, at best, celebrate the history of the aging civil rights movement – in order, it seems, to forestall another movement.  It was a movement one of whose benefits was the creation of a larger black middle class.  My gut feeling is that THIS part of the movement is what is really being celebrated. 

This film is based on a real character – a black butler that worked for every president from Eisenhower to Reagan – Gene Allen.  It is a way to introduce the history of the black rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s as a backdrop to long service with the ‘great men’ of American politics – the presidents.  Martin Luther King is quoted in the film as saying that black domestic workers played a role in showing the white man that black people could be competent and excel.  That is certainly one way to put it.  However, as several scenes show, the black butlers in the White House didn’t get wage parity until the Reagan administration, when Nancy intervened after Allen complained once again.  At that pace, we will get our rewards at death.  ‘Merit’ has little to do with it. 

However, much of this movie story is not based on Allen’s life.  The key issue in the movie is the vast hostility between the ‘butler’ and his radicalized son, who organizes to integrate lunch counters down south, then becomes a Freedom Rider, is jailed repeatedly, shot-at and fire-hosed, and eventually joins the Black Panther Party (“BPP”).  He leaves them, gets an MA degree, runs for office and becomes an activist with the “Free South Africa Movement.” Only then, sometime perhaps in the 1980s, does the movie ‘butler’ reconcile with his activist son at a FSAM rally.  Both films come together at this point, referencing this issue.

This is frankly reactionary hokum.  The intense hostility towards the son makes no sense.  Even the mother only gently reprimands her husband, but she also breaks ties with the son.  (And it’s Oprah, if you don’t get the point clearly enough.)  In one scene, the son is thrown out of the house during dinner, after he shows up as a Panther with his girlfriend and says some mildly offensive statements.  Yet at this point they had not seen their son in many years!  The Panthers are shown as violence-loving and offensive, in some FBI cartoon-way.  They are also shown as being slaughtered by the FBI and police, on orders from Nixon.  Might I remind the writer that the BPP was called the “Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.”  They believed not in ‘violence’ as some vague, stupid term used by liberals, but in defending themselves from racists and racism. 

But hating on the BPP is the stand-in for hating black radicalism in the U.S. of any form.  So is the portrayal of intense animosity between father and son here – a psychological inoculation of the audience against radicalism that makes no sense as a plot line in any other way.  I expect Mr. Strong will also ruin the ‘Hunger Games’ series.  His ‘revolution’ will be televised.

The film ends with its glorious culmination – the election of Barack Obama.  And history stops again.  If it had continued, it might have pointed out that Obama has done little for the majority of black people in his 6 years in office.  He’s busy running the capitalist state, after all.  A job that has certainly proved his competency, excellence and ‘merit.’   

 The Hunger Games” is reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.  See “Black Agenda Report” for analysis of Obama’s role in the U.S.

Red Frog
August 7, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Real Estate Madness

“Last Man in Tower,” by Arvind Adiga, 2011

 Adiga is probably the most prominent modern Indian writer known in the west.  He’s been political, which should be a surprise, but it is not.  After all, this is India.

 This book is a twisted parable of neo-liberalism. It concentrates on the aging residents of Tower A, Vishram Co-Operative Housing Society, in Vakola neighborhood, Mumbai.  For a long time, this building was one of the few collective buildings in an otherwise poor slum south of the Mumbai airport.  It was originally built in the 1950s after WW II.   The building now has intermittent water pressure, its walls are stained with rain seepage, lizards and bugs invade, the elevator no longer works, the road floods.  Yet it holds a group of upright ‘pucca’ white-collar residents who have lived together and helped each other for years.  They know what each other does just by glancing at each other’s daily garbage.  They note every financial good fortune, like the ownership of a scooter, or every tragedy.  They vote on matters large and small concerning the building while sitting on white plastic chairs in front of the main entrance – their ‘parliament.’

 This is a reflection of the old India of Gandhi, Nehru and the ‘old’ Congress Party, of an ersatz bourgeois socialism.  Of a sort of gentle religious and class cooperation, a time of collectivity after World War II.  Key characters are Masterji, a retired school-teacher; Mr. & Mrs. Pinto, retired, the wife blind; Mrs. Rego, a social worker and Communist with two children; Mr. & Mrs. Puri, accountant and wife; Mary, the cleaning lady who lives in a tin hut along a drainage canal; Mr. Kudhari, Secretary of the Society, whose source of income is unknown; Mr. Kudwa, internet store owner and Mr. Ajwani, a real estate broker who frequents prostitutes.  In building B of the Vishram Co-op Society, erected in the 1970s, younger white-collar people predominate, and their roots are short. 

 Dwelling on the personal lives of people in literature can provide temporary enjoyment, but as each of us also lives our own personal lives, this is not news, nor particularly interesting.  Most people’s lives are not worth a memoir, except to their children.  Much present aesthetic fiction never gets past the ultra-personal.   It is when those personal lives intersect with the social realities surrounding them that literature can have a more widespread impact. 

Adiga has attempted to be one of those writers.  

Into this shabby gentility comes Mr. Shah, a ‘bootstrap’ developer who rose ostensibly from nothing – a country boy arriving in Mumbai.  Mr. Shah is now going to gentrify Vakola with a splendid ‘upscale’ luxury building project, involving the land on which the Vishram Societies sit.  He has many successes, and is planning his greatest development.  In Mumbai, real estate developers are known for shabby construction, lying, non-payment, breaking laws, violence and thuggery.  As in every capitalist city, in Mumbai real estate is the life-blood of commerce outside the places of production. It is a part of the relentless circulation of capital.  Real estate developers have close relations with the politicians, the police, the religious authorities.  Your neighborhood determines your status.  And ‘status’ – as Adiga observes – is constantly evaluated among the residents of Mumbai.  The caste system has now mutated in urban areas into the various micro-levels of the economic class system.

Shah mixes the Hindu religion with his business, using religious symbols on his company logos.  He hires fortune tellers to let him know when to do things.  He prays at the temple before any auspicious events, taking the 30 rupee fast lane to get by the lines of non-paying worshipers.  As in the book, “The God Market,” Adiga shows that Hinduism has become a kind of ‘prosperity gospel’ for the Indian middle and upper-classes.  Of course, Catholic, Jain, Parsi, Sikh and Muslim’s also combine business with religion.  Was it ever so.  Shah suffers from lung disease, spitting blood occasionally, a reminder of his mortality.

The proposal to be very generously bought out by Shah is put before the somewhat impoverished residents of Tower A.  Their society is to be sacrificed for the ‘new life.’  All will be scattered to different places, and the co-operative will be no more.  All but 4 agree in Tower A, while the young people in Tower B immediately agree.   So Shah, Mrs. Puri and Mr. Ajani work on the holdouts – Masterji, Mrs. Rego and the Pintos.  Mrs. Rego believes it will be a swindle.  Masterji will not move because his close friends the Pintos do not want to move, as Mrs. Pinto’s blindness would not allow her to get around another building so well. 

Mrs. Rego eventually succumbs to an appeal directed at her children’s future.  The others suffer shunning, hostile posters put on their doors, threatening phone calls and physical threats from Shah’s ‘left-hand’ man.  The Pintos do not want to stand in everyone else’s way, and eventually quit in fear.  Only one person, Masterji, holds out over memories of his dead wife and daughter in the building.  He is the last man in the tower.   His former friends and neighbors become his enemies. 

Adiga here seems to be looking at the role of individual stubbornness or anger in what ostensibly could be called ‘class struggle.’  Masterji ‘cannot be bought’ at this point in his life.  He ‘wants nothing’ – a most dangerous person.  He is not linked to any organization or movement against gentrification - even his lawyer and the law abandon him.  He is totally isolated, even from his son.  Has it come to this, even in populous India?  In disagreeing with all the other people in his building – isn’t he the one who opposes ‘the will’ of this particular majority?

Spoiler alert:

It is so.  The builder does not even have to 'do it.When he continues not to agree, the neighbors and friends of Masterji bash him over the head with a hammer, then haul him up the steps to the 6th floor rooftop of Tower A and shove him over to his death.  They go unpunished, as the incompetent police think it is suicide.  He was depressed over his wife’s death, over his diabetes, over the loss of his friends, you see.  The conspirators – at least 10 of the people in the building – go on to live more wonderful lives, at least from the last care-free Mumbai scenes on the beach in Juhu or the mall in Andheri West.  At the end even the developer Shah becomes likeable and cuddly.


So the ‘political’ author has now chosen an odd, dark story – sort of like a group of suburban Americans burying a troublesome neighbor under their backyard barbecue patio.  What are we to make of this ambiguous ending? Is Adiga now a neo-liberal, welcoming the wealth?  Or is he just holding a mirror up to the Indian pucca ‘middle-class?’  Even including a ‘Communist” auntie? Most people reading the book might agree practically – kill the old man.  As such, Adiga has tried to recruit to the side of the developers and the killers, no matter what ‘ironical twist’ he thinks he has fashioned.  As with most ambiguous stories (see review of the “Hurt Locker,” below) the impact of the story is generally shaped by the dominant environment. 

This is the message of money.  It is the golden rule in the “new” India.  Those with it will have their way. Few can resist cash waved in their faces, and for good reason, because most do not have enough. That desperation is the point of class society and, at least for me, this story too. 

(Prior books by Adiga, “The White Tiger” and “Between the Assassinations,” reviewed below.  Other books about India, “Walking With the Comrades,” “ Field Notes on Democracy,” “Water Wars,” and “The God Market,” also reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

And I bought it at Strand Books in London

Red Frog

August 2, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014

Desert Rebels Against Dystopia

"Good News,” by Edward Abbey, 1980

Abbey is the desert anarchist who wrote while working as a park ranger around the Grand Canyon.  His fiction is movie-like, featuring close escapes, somewhat cartoon villains and the struggle against industrialism gone crazy.  As he puts it, it is about ultimately the ‘oldest civil war, that between the country and the city.’  Good News” is a combination of “Don Juan, a Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” Larry McMurtry westerns like “Lonesome Dove,” and “The Road Warrior.” It is a post-apocalyptic look at the west after the collapse of industrial capitalism, centered on a city wasteland, called Phoenix.  The book is prescient in its descriptions and has aged well.  For instance, Abbey identifies the U.S. as a former corporate oligarchy before its fall. 

A catastrophe has destroyed the United States, leaving broken-down cars, empty malls, shuttered stores and an absent government. (And it wasn’t the 2008 financial crash!)  In its place are the remnants of the frightened citizenry and a megalomaniacal dictator called “The Chief” who wants to not only reconstitute the United States with his army of 2000+, and conquer the rest of the world next, but go on to the planets and the universe, where he will meet his ‘God.’  He plans to march east and occupy Washington D.C.  This is a country, by the way, that has almost no fuel left, which must be carried in massive tanker trucks.  So, monomaniacal times 3.  The Chief lives in a steel and glass skyscraper run by diesel generators in the middle of the smoking ruin of Phoenix, sort of like Sauron’s tower.  The skyscraper here has come to symbolize late-stage capitalism, like a pyramid shining out of the past.

Why apocalyptic disasters do not have clear causes is a mystery.  Book or film cannot name what actually happened.  Nuclear war?  Other kinds of wars? Environmental catastrophe or global warming?  Economic collapse?  The end of resources?  The seizure of power by a fascistic rich class?  All you get are crappy hints. This shows either cowardice or cluelessness, but in this case, Abbey is neither.  Abbey clearly says that something about industrialism led it to a dead end – a lack of food as the land was destroyed by industrial 'progress.’  He is a deep ecologist, and posits a rural, agrarian existence based on small landholdings as the counter-point to industrial society of any kind. The “state” is the prime enemy, as in most anarchist fiction.  

The struggle features an old cowpoke and a Hopi shaman on horse-back, an impulsive young man, several tough, good-hearted women and an anarchist guerilla leader against The Chief, his sadistic motor-cycle thugs, his chosen #2 and various sad military lackeys.  One of the motorcycle cops, Brock, is a relentless killer, torturer and rapist, who rides with a brutal Apache.  The Chief knows he is a torturer, but says, prematurely channeling George Bush, that people like Brock allow the ‘Chiefs’ of the world to have ‘clean hands.’  Brock is eventually dealt with … using magic.  Resorting to magic, especially in a literary work, indicates that even the likes of Abbey are impotent before vicious violence. 

Abbey includes a sub-story involving the old cowboy, Burns, looking for his long lost son, who turns out to be the Chief’s #2, Barnes.  This search does not go well. The anarchist guerrillas, who shout “Viva la Libertad” and “Tierra o Muerte” before being hung (shades of the Spanish Civil War…) are led by a professor named Rodack, and are mostly students, some Native Americans and Chicanos.  Portraying your anarchist guerrillas as mostly young students might be a weak point.  Bad pop Muzak plays throughout the Tower and also during the executions on “Unity Square,” which seems named after someplace in Assad’s Syria.  In contrast, a frustrated classical piano player remembers Beethoven and Bach while being forced to play Dylan in a bar.  Abbey, in laughable detail, names all the closed shops that line the weed-grown streets when the collapse happened circa 1984 (!) – Victoria’s Secret, Holiday Inn, B. Dalton, 7-11, McDonalds, Checker Auto Parts, Sambos, Denny’s, Food Giant, Odyssey Records and Tapes, etc.  The head of the military bordello describes the wonders of the vanished civilization to one of her new charges – eating all the time, driving everywhere, dressing in nice clothes, air-conditioning, entertainment, vacations, the Pentagon, drugs for every problem, power plants…

Abbey understood the problems of western capitalism even in 1980, before the recent extreme take-off of inequality and corporatism.  His analysis blames all of industrial society.  Doing this he is unable to separate out the role capital plays with the role ‘the city’ or ‘the state’ or ‘industry’ play in that kind of economy, where they become key and oppressive aspects of capitalist development.  Take the city. The growth of massive cities across the world is an outcome of the concentration of capital, as monopoly destroys agrarian land by ownership and with chemically-enhanced export mono-crops.  The concentration of people mimics the concentration of wealth. Present Phoenix, like Vegas and even Los Angeles, is itself at risk, slated for destruction through lack of water, increased fires, an influx of climate refugees and global heat waves from runaway climate change.  Who builds a massive city in the middle of a desert? Only capital accumulation and lack of planning would lead to something like this.  Abbey is always a rollicking good read.  He refused to remove politics from his literature, unlike the approved writers of purely aesthetic fiction, and hence rises above them.

Dystopian and post-apocalyptic film and fiction - “The Road,”The Hunger Games,” “Blade Runner or "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” "World War Z," and "Cloud Atlas"  are reviewed below.  The Monkey-Wrench Gang” by Abbey is also reviewed.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

Red Frog
July 28, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mutiny on the Bounty

"Soldiers in Revolt – GI Resistance During the Vietnam War,” by David Cortright, 1975, intro by Howard Zinn

This is a true work of people’s history, written by a former GI activist in the U.S. military during Vietnam, who took years to document many acts of revolt - and to tie them together.  Most of these events were hidden from the general U.S. press, which rarely gave a real picture of what was going on in the Army, Marines, Navy & Air Force.  Even to this day, CNN in its ‘60’s’ coverage gives almost no space to the rebellion in the U.S. military against Vietnam, and by extension, imperialism.  The book is based on a close reading of 250 dissident military newspapers, anti-war materials and contacts among GI activists, as well as official documents and news stories. 

What clearly comes through from every fragging, act of sabotage; refusal to fight, board ship or fly; desertion, insubordination, military prison takeover, riot, GI organization, off-base coffee-house, GI newspaper, vigil, march, rally and published statement is that the U.S. military, from the Army to the Marines, from the Navy to the Air Force, broke down in Vietnam.  It was a chief reason why the U.S. gave up the fight.  At one point, 3 aircraft carriers were demobilized by sabotage or rebellions.  Soldiers in the field stopped obeying their officers.  Some army barracks were taken over by rebels for short periods of time.  This extended from Vietnam to Japan, Thailand, Guam and the Philippines, into nearly every camp in the U.S. and into Germany and the U.K.  It was worldwide, and involved hundreds of thousands of soldiers in various ways.  To accomplish this, the civilian anti-war movement and the soldier’s anti-war movement worked together frequently. 

The leaders in many of these fights were black soldiers.  The movement over common goals resulted in unity between black and whites, although there were also racial brawls between black radicals and the more conservative and racist white soldiers, or the even more racist white MPs.  The Black Panther Party was invited on to one base. Memorials for Malcolm X were held at another.  Black study groups sprang up everywhere.  Clearly the movement for black liberation in the U.S. intervened into the military. The movement started being against this particular war, then became against imperial intervention anywhere, and started to include the social demands of soldiers – better housing, the unjust military legal codes, racist military police and officers, discrimination in job assignments, mistreatment of various kinds, low pay and every other issue soldiers – similar to workers – have with their employer. 

In effect, the class war being waged by the Vietnamese extended into the ranks of the enemy army.  U.S. soldiers were the second line in this fight, and the third, the domestic anti-war and black radical movements.  The latter never extended far enough into the domestic labor movement, but if it had, that would have led to a more profound revolutionary crisis throughout U.S. society.  The labor movement, then and now, is harshly policed to forbid this kind of truly radical activity.

Cortright documents in painful detail every single rebellion, no matter how small.  I take great enjoyment in reading about every single one.  He lists the increasing AWOL rate – peaking in 1971 in the Army at 18% and the Marines in 1970 at 17.5%.  Or the desertion rate – 7% in 1971 for the Army and 6% in 1970 for the Marines.  In-service CO applications – the Army had 2,827 in 1971.  Discharges for misconduct and unfitness – 11% in 1970 for the Marines.  Marijuana usage?  42% of the Army used it in 1971.  In the 173rd Airborne, 68% had used weed.  Of course harder drugs were also being used.  Nearly 500,000 Vietnam-era soldiers were discharged with less than honorable separations. Confirmed fraggings in the first 11 months of 1971 were 215.  80% of victims were officers or NCOs.   All these are from official figures and Cortright documents that some of these figures are under-counts, especially the latter.  Cortright does not shy away from supporting fragging or desertion or almost any action by angry soldiers, which shows that he understand who the real killers are. 

The issue of ‘who’ opposed the war the most – enlistees or the draftees – is handled in this book, but not very thoroughly.  While Cortright believes, following other writers, that the men who enlisted were the most unhappy with the war, there is not much evidence of that in the book. Cortright does point out that the majority of organizers against the war within the military were working-class enlistees.  The theory is that they felt most betrayed when the promises of ‘training,’ ‘fighting for your country’, ‘discipline’ and ‘leadership’ fell far short. In other words, the difference between a 'full-time' worker enlistee versus a temp 'draftee.'  I propose a more subtle argument - that the leadership were working-class enlistees but the majority of their followers were draftees. 

Instead, when the military brass realized the extent of demoralization and opposition in the ranks in the early 1970s, enlistments were ended in a mass way – thousands were sent home.  The draft itself ended in 1971.  And this reduced the rebellion in the ground forces military almost overnight.  Cortright himself thinks that the draft would be re-established, and the ‘all volunteer’ army would become a failure.  That was his view in 1975.  Almost 40 years later we can say he was wrong.  The ‘high-tech’ mercenary army has enabled the U.S. to carry out many invasions since.  The ‘draft’ has not been seriously raised, except perhaps by people who view an army formed of economic refugees, right-wing patriots and macho personalities, reflecting a small slice of the population, to actually be anti-democratic.  The ‘citizens army’ is no more – perhaps because the citizens will no longer do what they are told.

Of particular interest is the issue of how the rebellion spread from the grunts in Vietnam to the Navy seamen, then to the air-craft carriers and bases, as the focus of the war changed over time from ground combat to air-bombing campaigns and big naval guns.  No part of the military was off-limits to protest – even groups of NCO’s, pilots and other officers came out in an organized way against the war. 

Another key point was the mistreatment of black soldiers.  One indicator was that they ended up in the military prisons in far higher numbers than their numbers in the military would indicate.  The prisons inside the army mirrored the prisons outside it.  Cortright makes an invaluable point that the U.S. Army was (and I think still is) heavily dominated by white Southerners in the leadership.  The South is also where most military bases are located.  In fact the largest employer in Texas is a federal base, Fort Hood in Killeen.  Their backward racist and classist ideas dominated the military at the time – sort of a Klan with bars and stars. 

The role of the left is not very visible in this book, except for a mention of the SWP’s Young Socialist Alliance.  He does mention the formation of a soldier’s union, which he asserts (in 1975 again) will continue to function due to the conditions in the forces. He documents how much the ‘volunteer army’ is costing the government, and how conditions were changing a bit to accommodate the ‘volunteers.’ Cortright exposes the lies told by recruiters to trick people into joining the armed forces.  He points out that without dealing with the racism in the military, no military can survive in the U.S.  I do not know if there are any organizations left in the ‘volunteer military,’ though a soldiers’ union is still needed.   

This book is essential to understanding how to stop a war.  Cortright includes a section on the history of resistance to militarism within the military in various American wars – especially the massive ‘Go Home” movement after fighting ended in World War II, which essentially forestalled another war from starting.  He discusses how to bring 'democracy' into an essentially authoritarian capitalist organization, much like trying to get a union into a top-down business.  Having such an organization, perhaps modeled after similar conditions in the German Army of 1975, or the People's Liberation Army ("PLA") of China in 1975, he feels will improve conditions for enlisted men.

Cortwright's points on fighting militarism are germane. It is not about large peace crawls alone.  Or pacifism.  Or appealing to Democrats or liberals – who only opposed this war because it was a losing proposition.  The 300 dead Vietnamese to every 1 American ratio didn’t bother them.  To stop war the fight must be extended into the military itself – just as the Bolsheviks did in 1917 and the German revolutionaries did after WWI.  Take as much of the army from the capitalists as can be taken.  It has been done.  
Prior reviews of books on Vietnam – use search blog box in upper left are:  Kill Anything That Moves,” “Matterhorn,” “People’s History of the Vietnam War,” “What It Is Like to Go To War,” “In the Cross-fire – Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary,” and “Working-Class War.” 

And I bought it at Mayday Books
Red Frog
July 24, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dive Down

"Palmers Bar,” Minneapolis, West Bank (of the Mississippi River), Minnesota, USA

Community is a word, and the actual reality is fleeting.  Especially in the alienated U.S. Talk to someone who you don’t know and register the startled looks.  Yet everyone seeks it.  Facebook is a placebo, as real community has to actually become ‘face to face’ not 'face to book.'   

Bars are face to face.  Barring medical problems like alcoholism, to paraphrase Karl Marx, be careful to trust those who don’t drink occasionally.  Fundamentalist Christians or Muslims or yoga bunnies?  Hmmm.  What better place to go than a public house, a bar?  In the U.S. the ‘bar’ is the long wooden high counter you lean against to get a drink.  Alcohol is a depressant for a wired-up population trying to do 100 things a day on caffeine.   Of course, too much booze and you are useless and demobilized. And that is the way the powers-that-be like it.

Bars have been organizing places.  The Minute Men, including Paul Revere, met in the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston.  The Bolsheviks met in the Crown Tavern in London.  The Wobblies met in the Dil Pickle Club in Chicago.  The Stonewall Inn led to the first mass gay fight against cops in New York.  Italian sharecroppers met in taverns to organize against landlords and Austrian occupiers in the late 1800s.  The First Continental Congress of the U.S. met at the City Tavern in Philadelphia.  Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in New Orleans is the oldest bar in the U.S., and served as an organizing center against the British invasion of Louisiana.  You might know of a bar or public house in your town that has had a role in various progressive fights.   This is a mostly invisible part of people’s history.

Here in Minneapolis, we have a bar, Palmers, that has been a workingmen’s bar for many, many years – 108 to be exact.  It might not have organized much, except maybe a fight against the high-rise destruction of the West Bank in the early '70s.  In the 1960s, hippies gathered there to drink, across the street from the drug-saturated sidewalk next to Richter’s Drug and up the street from the vinyl Electric Fetus record shop, which is still in town.  It was part of the Minneapolis folk scene, and a poster of the cover of 1963’s “Blues, Rags & Hollers” is still is up on the wall, featuring some of Minneapolis legendary folkies during the time of Bob Dylan – John Koerner, Dave Ray and Tony Glover. It might be the only place left from the old ‘West Bank” – a time of hippies, pot, protest and music.  The other classic bars – the Viking, the Triangle, the Café Extemp, the Five Corners – have all closed.  Spider John Koerner still plays the tiny triangle-shaped stage at one end of Palmers, and his voice is almost as sweet as ever.  Koerner and Willie Murphy, another West Banker, did the best folk-rock album from that period, “Running Jumping Standing Still.” 

Posters of local musicians and patrons were up in the bar several weeks ago for sale, as art on the wall is now a regular thing.  Sometimes artists will sell their work while you are drinking.  In the 1980’s radicals used to argue Maoism, Pro-Sovietism and Trotskyism around the old pool table, an area which is now used for setting up bands.  I heard the ‘Theory of 3 Worlds’ took a verbal beating, not just at the pool table.

This year Esquire, a magazine of upscale male consumers, voted Palmers one of its top ten U.S. bars.  Esquire mentioned their simple ‘double whiskey with a beer back’ as a standout.  The regular mixed drinks are almost doubles, so buying beer might not be very cost-effective.  Strong stuff, so watch out.  A Pokeman bar crawl of odd geeksters came through one night, and the poor souls had a hard time leaving Palmers because they didn’t know what they had walked into.  After the award was announced, the bar made fun of the ‘craft cocktail douchbags’ at more trendy establishments on its Facebook page. The bands also cackled at the award, which tells you something about the bar.

Music is still in the lifeblood of Palmers.  Today the Front Porch Swingin’ Liquor Pigs sit in every Friday to continue the vibe, and on Wednesdays a ragged ‘Hippienanny’ allows people to sing along to their favorite tunes.  But late at night the young folks come out and the bar changes from older folks listening to blues rock or R&B to punks and young hipsters, and the music becomes alternative rock and punkier or funkier.  Two young and genial bar-tenders keep the place ‘up’ in the late hours, and one will even sing with the bands.  Big John, a 6+ foot black bouncer, keeps everything above board, and makes the place comfortable for every kind of entrant – black, Somali, old, young, working-class, poor and even single women, who can sit alone without being harassed by some meat-market type.  Out back in the patio a fire burns on cold evenings, people can smoke, sometimes even cigarettes.  The juke box is full of musical quality.  Next door is a closed Mosque, the victim of a fatal fire last winter in the building one door down from Palmers.  Somalis who don’t drink have to put up with the rowdy crowd of talkers in the back, very near to their high-rise ‘Mogadishu” in the West Bank apartments that tower over the bar.  Yet some Muslims come in to drink, talk and even dance.  Perhaps in secret – I don’t know.   I’ll have to ask.  

The place is partly owned by a female real estate attorney, Lisa, who drops in regularly.  Free produce from the co-ops is given away on Saturday mornings, and Korean women crowd the bar for vegetables and bread.  Free food crops up because of the many birthdays.  Musicians will yell out people’s names and those people answer.  The place tends to retain people – Dave is an older bartender whose been working there for 15 years.  The place has many regulars – old hippies with long grey hair, young bicycle punks, young and old musicians, suburbanites who are fleeing the suburbs, black folks who appreciate the laid-back vibe, Somalis running from Allah.  Big John had a 60th birthday party, and the whole bar joined in singing “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean after he got his present from the patrons.  Uptight suburbanite ‘slummers’ come through from time to time, and either do a quick circuit of the bar and back patio in horror, or stay for one quick drink to prove their mettle.  I.E. its not some fake ‘Cheers’ bar with scripted conversation, but a place where people actually can talk to each other.  If you don’t like talking to an eclectic group of ‘strangers,’ you shouldn’t show up.  And maybe, just maybe, you might not be a stranger anymore.  Drink up and see. 

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