Friday, September 25, 2020

The Motley Fascist Mob

“Fighting Fascism - How to Struggle and How to Win,” by Clara Zetkin, 1923

This short book is an address to a Plenum of the 3rd International’s Executive Committee by Clara Zetkin.  She was a long-time German Communist who was one of the prime movers behind International Women’s Day, a fact that is never mentioned in U.S. media coverage.  Here Zetkin lays out a clear, precise and deep analysis of European fascism that conflicts with the views of thin-thinking liberals, social-democrats and later, Stalinists.  This analysis, which was adopted by the Comintern, is now the standard Marxist explanation of fascism, echoed by Trotsky, Gramsci and others. 

Zetkin concentrates on the development of fascism in Italy under Mussolini, which was in a period of deep economic crisis, a failed left-wing factory occupation wave and a disorganized general strike led by a reformist Socialist Party.  Then she covers the situation in Weimar Germany at the time, which was also experiencing a capitalist crisis being managed by the reformist German Social Democrats and in the aftermath of the failed 1919-1920 German Revolution.   You can see a basic pattern here.

MUSSOLINI

Mussolini first used violent methods to crush rural peasants, workers and their organizations, then went on to do the same thing in the cities.   Black Shirt ranks grew from a couple 1,000 to tens of thousands within a year, as he promised society many of the same things that the Socialist Party advocated.  He did none of them after being in power.  The capitalists in Italy all coalesced around Mussolini – finance, industrial and most of agricultural capital.  His party in 1923 absorbed one Nationalist party and sections of others, but it could not absorb all the parties at the time.  He formed ‘fascist unions’ that combined bosses, workers and white collars to try to liquidate class struggle in ‘national unity.’

Zetkin outlines how Mussolini deceived his supporters over at least 17 different key issues – running on a virtually socialist program while actually enabling big capital.  In the end what happened in Italy was a dictatorship of big Italian capital dominated by the Black Shirts.  This is one reason why Marxists understand that fascism in each country is capital’s last defense.  Zetkin points out repeatedly in her report that you cannot just defeat fascists in the streets, you have to defeat them ideologically too.  Interestingly, one of the patch-work of ideas Mussolini borrowed from was idealist Platonism.  In spite of Zetkin’s understanding of the divisions within and against Italian fascism at the time - something not to be ignored - Mussolini’s power lasted from his King-enabled coup in 1922 to his execution by partisans in 1945 – 23 years. 

GERMANY

In Germany Zetkin sees the same economic crisis and the same collaborationist and reformist Social Democracy.  The victory of Mussolini was the biggest help to the German fascist movement because it said to them, “You Can Succeed.” 

Zetkin understands the key issue is intervening with the angry, distressed and disappointed workers, peasants, small and middle bourgeois and intellectuals to turn them away from the Right towards socialism.  She points out that the many contradictions within fascism and its popular base can be used.

Clara Zetkin on left.

Zetkin’s proposal to the Comintern on how to combat fascism:

1.     Educate workers, peasants, small and middle bourgeois, military and intellectuals to keep them from falling into the clutches of the fascist movement.  This means special literature for each group.

2.     Workers self-defense, starting with factory defense guards.

3.     A United Front of all anti-fascists, of whatever party or union or organization.

4.     The fight is international.  Block shipments to Italy; increase Red Aid to Italy; supply comrades in Italy. 

LESSONS for the Present U.S.?

One, combating the fascists in the streets is essential, but not enough.  Propagandizing their supporters is essential. 

Two, in the present situation the whole U.S. capitalist class has not thought it necessary to come over to fascism, only a hard-right section behind Trump.   

Three, the rolling but disorganized BLM struggles and the inept corporate Biden administration, if elected, can provide the same failed attempt at ‘change’ that echoes European reformism.  The constant Democratic Party program of ignoring the working-class, the proletariat and poverty leads to strengthening the Right, as proved under Obama. 

Four, without organizations with weight, especially in the proletariat, no anti-fascist front will ultimately be successful.  There is now already enough human material to create one.

Five, the present economic crisis is reminiscent of Zetkin’s analysis and is feeding into a social collapse that can go various ways.

Basically, time to form an anti-fascist front among all those affected.  Alliances with capital, sectarianism and single-issuism have to end. 

Other prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left:  “It Can’t Happen Here” (Lewis); Hungary Continues on a Horthyite Path,” “The Ultra-Right,” “Impeachapalooza,” “Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety,” “Enemy at the Gates,” “Charlottesville, Virginia.”  

And I bought it at May Day Books' anti-fascist section!

Red Frog

September 25, 2020

 

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Bloc Against Bureaucracy

“Lenin’s Last Struggle,”by Moshe Lewin, 1968

This book shows that in his last days Lenin saw into the future of the USSR.  It is the moment when the 1917 Revolution began to change form.  Lenin feared a split in the leadership, a ‘split’ that eventually took a most bloody form, culminating in Stalin’s personal dictatorship after the 1938 show trials. In 1923 he saw a Stalin holding too much power in his hands, an insight that was confirmed in spades.  He perceived a Great Russian chauvinism which ultimately led to the deportation of whole minorities as collective punishment.  He feared a break between proletariat and peasantry, which became concrete in forced collectivization.  He opposed a growing bureaucracy that he and Trotsky blocked against, which later became the power in the USSR, overriding the working-class, the Old Guard, as well as Marxist and Party norms.

This illuminating book tracks Lenin’s last political struggles in 1921-1923, which concerned preserving the state monopoly of foreign trade, changing the structure of the upper levels of Soviet governance, estimating the personal quality of the leaders of the Party and especially the treatment of nationalities and national regions in the new USSR, in this case related to Georgia.  The most salient fact is Lenin’s alliance with Trotsky over some of these issues against a Central Committee faction led by Stalin.  This resulted in the long-suppressed ‘Testament of Lenin’ which openly called for Stalin’s removal as Party secretary and suggested Trotsky as the best, though not perfect, alternative. Lenin also wanted Stalin’s allies Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze removed as well, breaking their hold on key organizations.

THE PARTY CHANGES

Lewin, a former Red Army soldier and collective farm worker, now a professor, wrote this book in 1968 when some key documents were still secret, like the results of Lenin’s investigation into Georgia.  Vilkova in “The Struggle for Power – Russia in 1923” had access to newer documents, as she covered the same period from the same point of view. 

 As Lewin points out, the Civil War bled and heavily damaged the Soviet working class.  The Soviet councils lost their working-class majority due to death, injury, military or administrative duty and just plain survival.  As a result of this bloodshed, the Party replaced the class, as even Lenin understood.  Lewin maintains that the centralist methods of winning the Civil War also impacted how it functioned later, giving certain organizations within the Party immense power against working-class, democratic norms.

Lewin illustrates how former Czarist and bourgeois functionaries, along with former Red Army military commanders worked in the apparatus, with many of the latter becoming leaders in their areas.  The Party at this point attracted careerists, peasants and new workers, many of whom had little political education.  The NEP, which developed a layer of agricultural capitalists and traders, was also important in this regard.   Lenin saw the changes and warned against the ‘petit-bourgeoisification’ of the Party.  He especially wanted to see a class census of the state bureaucracy, but it was held back from him by Stalin.

In Lenin’s discussion of ‘state capitalism’ during this period, Lewin understands it to refer to Lenin’s hope that the workers’ state could use big capital’s methods of organization and technology to develop the economy. In effect, the workers’ state would work with and manage some capitalist firms. This nomenclature was discarded after 2 years when that outlook failed, as capital was not interested in collaboration.  This should disappoint the anarchists who insist these quotes prove the USSR was ‘state capitalist.’

What is interesting in the story is the portrait of Stalin’s personal methods – scuttling away in hiding when out-numbered; acting like a rude and vicious bully when angry or he had the upper hand.  Stalin was oddly in charge of Lenin’s doctors and he used this position to block Lenin in several ways during his illnesses.  His satrap to the Georgians, Ordzhonikidze, struck a member of the Georgian Central Committee, and the complaint disappeared from the Control Commission files.  Little things that indicate something more.     

The Commissars Vanish

THE ISSUES

Stalin and centrists like Kamenev and Zinoviev wanted a USSR where the Russian Communist Party directed affairs of the Communist Parties in the 5 other Republics.  Lenin wanted a USSR where each Republic was represented in a new governing body.  In the end Lenin allied with the leaders of the Georgian CP who had been stripped of their posts and ordered to Moscow by Stalin.  Stalin and his bloc wanted a relaxation of the monopoly of foreign trade; Lenin and Trotsky wanted to retain it.  They did not want foreign capitalists forming direct connections with those in the Soviet Union, thus further increasing capitalist power during the NEP.   

 Stalin took advantage of the changes in the Party membership to build a personal base loyal only to him.  Lenin wanted a Party not inundated with petit-bourgeois and bureaucratic elements, which understood Marxism and workers’ democracy.  This is why he suggested reorganization of the various branches of government and Party. Stalin and his supporters claimed to be building communism.  Lenin instead detected the growth of a bureaucracy in the Party and state, principally around Stalin and his cohort.  In this he asked for a ‘pact against bureaucracy’ with Trotsky, who agreed.  That struggle lasted the rest of Trotsky’s life, though Lewin points out Trotsky made a ‘rotten compromise’ in regards to Stalin and his allies which sealed his fate. 

Lenin literally called his investigation of the ‘Georgian Affair’ a clandestine conspiracy, as he had to do it in secret.  He enlisted Trotsky on his side at the conclusion of his research. 

In the end, after Lenin’s death, the overwhelming hostility against Trotsky by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin at this key moment (the first two in the future ‘Joint’ opposition with Trotsky and the latter in the ‘Right’ opposition) also sealed their own fates.   Kamenev and Zinoviev were executed in 1936, while Bukharin, the originator of ‘socialism in one country’ served Koba/Stalin until he ‘confessed’ and was shot in 1938.  At that point all rivals had been liquidated.

Lewin covers Lenin’s published future plans during this period on the international situation; on the development of the peasantry; on a reorganization of the upper levels of the government.  Lenin in his last days had always understood the Russian revolution would start an international wave.  But he knew the Soviet revolution was isolated after the failed revolutions in Germany and Hungary; the lost civil war in Finland and the smashed mass strike wave in Italy.  In March 1923 he wrote, “We, too, lack enough civilization to enable us to pass straight on to socialism.”  Russia straddled both areas of the world and he increasingly looked for aid from the east, to China and India, as possible allies.  Again, he saw into the future.  

 In contrast to his earlier attitude of hostility to production, service or sales cooperatives, Lenin advocated a rural cultural revolution – peasants learning to read and write – and voluntary rural cooperatives as roads towards unity with the urban working class and a future socialism.

Regarding the government, Lenin advocated cutting down on duplication and excessive committees.  He wanted to enlarge both the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission (CCC) to 100 – weakening the small 7-member Politburo dominated by Stalin.  He railed against the Workers and Peasants Inspection (RKI) developed by Stalin, calling it an overgrown ‘haven of ineptitude.’  He wanted a vastly trimmed-down one, to be combined with the CCC, so one place would hold the best technical and administrative experts.  These experts would also have a connection to power. Yet the temporary 1921 prohibition of factions ended up eviscerating the independent life of the democratic Party Congress, which Lenin does not mention.  This ban later became permanent under Stalin.  Additionally the CCC/RKI was appointed, not elected.  As Lewin points out, none of Lenin’s prescriptions solidly countered the increasing role of a narrow, elite and corrupt bureaucracy in the USSR. 

This is an excellent book that reveals Lenin’s far-seeing and factual thinking in this dark and difficult time.  It reveals Lenin charting a sensible program that was not followed and ignored by those in power.  Instead the same individuals created a cult around Lenin for their own benefit.

 Other prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box upper left:  “The Struggle for Power – Russia in 1923(Vilkova);  “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives” (Cohen); “The Ghost of Stalin” (Sartre);  “Fear”(Rybakov); “The Unwomanly Face of War,”(Alexievich); “The Lacuna” (Kingsolver); “Did Someone Say Totalitarianism? (Zizek).

And I got it at May Day’s excellent used/cutout book section!

Red Frog

September 22, 2020

Friday, September 18, 2020

Middle-Class Crime

 “Ozark,”Seasons 1-3 on Netflix

The father in a family of suburbanites from Naperville, Illinois starts working for the Navarro Mexican drug cartel.  Dad is an unemotional whiz at numbers and finance and excels at money-laundering.  His wife is a stay-at-home mom frustrated about no longer working in the political arena.  His younger son is near autistic but smart; his daughter is the typical tiresome and rebellious teenager of so-many movies fame.  If this sounds like another Breaking Bad, where normal middle-class white people go rouge, it is.    What’s up with that?  Does it make crime more legit?  Or middle-class people more cool?  Another fantasy of fake rebellion for people trapped in suburbia…  Or are they objects of humor?

Wholesome Crime Family

 Number one lesson here is don’t work for a drug cartel unless you want to be threatened with death or water-boarding day in and day out.  The Byrde family has to immediately move to Osage Beach, Lake of the Ozarks in Arkansas to save their lives, as they promise the cartel they will launder huge Chicago drug cash through businesses in the Ozarks.   And they do, buying up a distressed lake lodge, a strip club, a funeral home, almost funding a church and ultimately a river boat casino.  They are nothing if not resourceful and clever. In the process they run into a group of low-end trailer criminals, the Langmores, and high-end ‘red-neck’ heroin poppy growers, the Snells.   But don’t call them ‘red necks’ or you life is on the line.

In episode after episode the level of fuck-ups and deadly tension from problems is almost farcical.  Bodies drop like fall flies in this rural ‘paradise’ crammed with upscale lake homes and enormous boats.  It’s like Naperville on the water, as the family also gets a big house and high-powered boat.  The constant jeopardy the family contends with, not just from the cartel, is like ‘fear crack.’   It’s a cinematic ride on a roller-coaster for viewing dullards who don’t have enough stress.  The Mexicans in this one are all evil.   The Byrde’s also get involved with the Kansas City mob through the Teamsters Union (right…); crooked state politicians; a crazed Protestant preacher; an obsessive and illegal FBI spook; amateur thieves and killers; a useless and duplicitous local cop; killers from another rival cartel; a bi-polar brother; a deadly cartel lawyer and the aforementioned cold-blooded Ozark hicks living in a grand home on the hill.

I imagine each character has a writer assigned to them to get them into more trouble each episode.

Eventually mom, daughter and son get clued in on the family business.  The suburbanites forge alliances with everyone, including the local crooks.  They become prominent members of the community, starting a charitable foundation to launder their consciences.  The son hilariously starts hiding money in a tax haven himself.  Mom orders a hit, even though the family’s main pride was never engaging in violence.  The daughter eventually gets with the program.  In a way it shows how to be a successful American family, a modern Deadwood of primitive accumulation. 

The series is well-acted and has some emotional depth and reality, which is how it survives.  It includes some interesting characters, not just Marty and Wendy Byrde, but especially Ruth Langmore as a young woman tired of living life in a family of petty southern criminals.  But again, after the characters, what have you got but clever math whizzes profiting off of the illegal drug business.   They are the perfect Randian example of creative, How I Built This, job-providing, ‘makers.’

At one point Marty’s non-emotional patience and calmness goes.   It is so dangerous that the Byrde’s plan an escape to some obscure rural town in Australia.   They scotch this plan because of some kind of ‘feminist’ decision by Wendy, who is enjoying her close contact with the head of the weakening Navarro drug cartel.  Sane people would have bailed, taken the money, fake identities, plane tickets and run.  But that would have ended the series, and there is nothing streaming services like better than running stories into the ground, long past their consume-by date.  Stay tuned!

Prior blog reviews of political streaming series, use blog search box upper left: “Deadwood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Rebellion,” “Stateless,” “Hannah,” “The Peaky Blinders,” “Black Sails,” “Tremè,” “Vikings,” “Fargo,” “Damnation,” “Handmaid’s Tale,”  “Comrade Detective,” “The Wire,” “Rebellion.”

The Kulture Kommissar

September 18, 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Socialist Survivalism

“Living in a World That Can’t Be Fixed – Reimagining Counterculture Today,” by Curtis White, 2020

According to White, there are 3 choices for those who understand the present capitalist world is slowly falling apart.  The first is ‘reform’ of the rigid capitalist system, which White sees as impossible at this point.  The second is ‘revolution’ which White sees as bloody and unlikely due to the shredded nature of the working class.  The third is ‘socialist survivialism’ – building a bit of an ark to sail into the future.  He chooses the 3rd.  White’s counterculture prescriptions are obscure and airy, as he waxes lyrical about creative essayism and the 1960s in San Francisco, a city which has now been colonized by corporate big tech.  I was expecting something more grounded, more factual, not a collection of quotes from Nietzsche, Adorno, Freud and Rozak. 

White seems to be limited to Marx’s humanism, which concerned alienation, commodity fetishism, praxis and creativity.  He writes as if no one would build houses, grow vegetables or configure software in a future counterculture.  His idea is that a creative counterculture is ‘impertinent’ and ‘improvisational’ and should be attractive to those sick of the failing grind of capital.   So a reader has to take him at his words alone.
 
White insists that you have to think beyond politics to culture.  The idea of a counterculture originated with the European Romantics in the 1800s - Wordsworth, Shelley, Yeats, Coleridge, Byron, Blake, Baudelaire.  The Romantics were a social movement, not just an artistic event.  It was a mostly middle-class and declass reaction against capitalism’s industrial revolution.  This counterculture continued and changed as time went on, as it practitioners were called Bohemians, transcendentalists, existentialists, beatniks, hippies, hipsters and so on.  He is hoping that they can create the dominant social form as capital slowly whimpers, then collapses.  The ruling class in their upscale protected enclaves; the artists and some working class in their down-to-earth city and country communes; and evidently a wasteland for the rest.
 
Like Zizek, White analyzes the issues through film and books – for instance the issue of ‘place.’  According to White, “precarity has become a generalized existential condition for all of us,” as place is disappearing.  He criticizes Ai Weiwei’s 2017 depiction of human migration in the documentary Human Flow – as if Weiwei was doing a National Geographic animal special about African gazelles.  He compares that to Agnes’ Varda’s film Faces Places, which painted the faces of ordinary workers onto the buildings they worked in.  In other discussions he makes fun of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop; deconstructs the Disney movie Black Panther from a familiar left point of view; gives props to Spike Lee and the film ‘Get Out; looks at the Australian film Walkabout and the English one Glastonbury Fayre; takes apart Ken Burn’s imperialist documentary The Vietnam War and analyzes the one-sided documentary on the Rajneeshis in Oregon, Wild Wild Country.
 
White, who seems to be heavily inspired by Buddhism, describes various types of ‘stupidity.’  Convenient stupidity allows you to believe and fit in with the lies of American culture – God, nation, good wars, racism, whiteness, elections, money, etc.  This leads to ‘sacrificial stupidity’ which allows people to die for the ruling class in various ways and to oppose their own economic and political interests for some shallow sense of belonging. Then he introduces ‘inconvenient’ stupidity, which allows you to not entirely believe the first stupids.  This can lead to ‘post-stupidity,’ where you can become ‘transcendentally stupid’ – i.e. rejecting the whole of society’s cant.  To White these are the “class traitors, resistors, agitators, trouble-makers, rebels, artists, dropouts, anarchists and revolutionaries.”  This is the episodic human yeast that he thinks will create a counterculture.
 
Venezuelan People's Communes Exist Throughout the Country

To White this piece-meal counterculture presently consists of the growth of workers cooperatives, Fight for $15, local food and sanctuary cities.  In the future he invokes a dissolution of the archaic nation state into regions governed by themselves – a fabled ‘mosaic of subcultures.’  Which in reality will look more like a failed state governed by warlords and various political factions.
 
White’s historical pessimism about revolution is because there is no longer a unitary working class – “what we have now are separate systems of wretchedness in a social context that is radically anti-communal.”  If true I don’t see how a majority counterculture can be built out of the same human material.  At bottom this is an argument for historical pessimism, an argument he was not trying to make in spite of the title of the book.  Most large historical commune developments in France, Italy, China, Rojava and Venezuela came out of revolutions.  The logical result of only pursuing a counterculture will be deep ecology survivalism, Orlov-style, and nothing else.
 
Other prior blog reviews on this subject, or mentioned in the book, use blog search box, upper left:  “Nomadland,” “Zizek,” “Iowa Writers Workshop,” “Zappa,” “Society of the Spectacle,” “Black Panther,” “Spike Lee,” “Get Out,” “Ken Burns,” “No Local,” “Daydream Sunset,” “Cool Town,” “Orlov,” “Hippie Modernism.”
 
And I bought it at May Day Books!
Where the thinkers go to talk and read…
Red Frog
September 15, 2020

Friday, September 11, 2020

Get Stoned

“Chasing the Light” by Oliver Stone, 2020

The new autobiography of film director Oliver Stone, born 1946, covers his early years to 1987 when his signature "Platoon" won the Academy Award for the 1986 Best Motion Picture. That's not to say he doesn't reference more recent years, with chapters that refer to his youth, the films "Midnight Express,""Scarface," “Salvador” and filming in the jungles - but he concentrates on the first half of his career. Stone is very forthcoming about how he developed his screenplays and how he went about financing the production. In fact he is so forthcoming that he really gives a peek into the business of making movies in Hollywood in this day and age.  Stone makes it quite apparent that when a person wants to do films like many of his that question authority, it is even harder.


The title of the book, "Chasing the Light," refers to running out of light at the end of the day when he is on location shooting a film. Stone is very forthright in discussing the use of drugs and his personal life. It is an excellent book to read if you are a fan of Stone, want to know more about movie-making or want to take a look at the history of the 1960s-1980s through the eyes of one of the most influential artists of this period. This reviewer would definitely classify "Chasing the Light" as a good read.  It is now available at May Day Bookstore in the music and arts section.

Other prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box upper left:  “Wall Street – Money Never Sleeps” (Stone); “On the Trail of the Assassins,” “The Peoples’ Convention,” “American Art and the Vietnam War,” “Hollywood.” (Bukowski)

P.S. - Joe Rogan interviews Oliver Stone on his new book:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOrOYUxzX3o

Sam Snow

September 11, 2020

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Reparations 'Brand'

“Toward Freedom – the Case Against Race Reductionism,” by Toure F. Reed, 2020 
The battle in the U.S. between an economic & class view of racist oppression and a reductionist ‘identity’ view has been going on since the 1950s.  Recently we’ve had to deal with academic concepts like ‘class reductionism,’ ‘intersectionality,’ ‘post-racialism,’ ‘ethnic identitarianism,’ ‘white fragility,’ ‘black pessimism,’ ‘racial tribalism,’ ‘micro-aggressions,’ ‘critical race theory,’ etc.  In a complementary manner, ‘white identity’ is also the calling card of the white supremacist Right.  Much of the debate is reminiscent of the 1960s-1970s between labor socialists or revolutionary nationalist and Marxists on one side and liberals and cultural black nationalists on the other.


Reed traces that history, showing how early African-American labor leftists like W.E.B. Dubois, A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin saw a direct connection between economic conditions and the oppression of African Americans.  'Race' and class were inextricably combined.  This was true under Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal when the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the NAACP, the Urban League, the National Negro Congress, the Workers Councils and others supported the New Deal and the rise of the CIO and unionism.  As Reed points out, unionization was one of the best ways to secure a working-class life for African-Americans.

Broad universalist programs like the Wagner Act, the CCC, the GI Bill, the WPA, unemployment insurance and Social Security benefitted all workers, but especially African-Americans.  According to Reed, the New Deal set the stage for the development of the modern Civil Rights movement.  This is why the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” targeted a broad range of discrimination methods but also public-works jobs, a higher minimum wage and extending labor rights to agricultural and home workers - unifying themes that would benefit African-Americans most of all. This is one reason the UAW under Walter Reuther endorsed the march.  The most successful civil rights struggles in the South had specific policy aims, not vague racial identity claims.  ML King eventually began backing labor struggles, anti-imperialist struggles and opposing capitalism in the 1960s.  Even Malcolm X came around to this perspective.

However, identity liberals reject all this.  In the conservative period of 1950s McCarthyism, the Nation of Islam developed to pursue black capitalism and ‘racial solidarity.’  This continued in the 1960s through various mistaken ‘black power’ views of ethnic solidarity which led to middle-class entrepreneurism and black capitalism, an idea also supported by Richard Nixon.  A similar narrative has been adopted by liberal identitarians to this day.

These two main tendencies within the libratory African-American movement reflects its class structure.  The question is, which one works for the majority of African-Americans, and which one does the ruling-class prefer?  Because that gives you an idea of what threatens the rulers the most.  Here Reed clearly shows that European-American ‘culture of poverty’ theorists like Daniel P. Moynihan and Oscar Handlin, while rejecting fake biological ‘race’ science, chose instead a ‘cultural’ or ethnic understanding of the African-American community.  This resulted in the ideology of a stressed ‘underclass’ unable to climb out of poverty.  The solution was piece-meal, means-tested programs dealing with poverty, ignoring the larger issues of wealth, class, exploitation, jobs or labor rights.  What really followed from ‘the culture of poverty’ analysis that isolated African-American poverty from European-American poverty was mass incarceration, the drug war, cuts to public housing and welfare, urban ‘renewal’ and the privatization of schools.   In a sense, this is also the symbolic Obama presidency in a nutshell.

Reed sees present neo-liberal ‘black identity’ politics doing the same thing.  The practical result is the promotion of a layer of African-American professionals, non-profits, business people and politicians, just as happened in the 1960s - while the vast working-class of African-Americans remain far behind.  In a sense, identity politics is isolated from material reality on purpose.  Reed thinks the “War on Poverty” was lost because it did not involve large economic solutions like public work programs, free education, pro-unionism and a higher living wage.  It failed not because it was too ‘universalist’ but because it was actually narrowly focused and consisted of ‘cultural tutelage,’ as Reed calls it.

At the same time in the 1960s, the service economy was rising while manufacturing - which employed many working-class people including African-Americans - was beginning to decline.  The civil rights laws had little effect in turning this around.  This was the opinion of 1960s labor analysts like Michael Harrington, Rustin and Charles Killingsworth too.  They came up with the 1966 ‘Freedom Budget for All” to address the problem economically, a budget never adopted.

Which Way Will BLM Go?

Reed points out that poverty is the inevitable result of an unequal capitalist class system, an inequality which affects everyone. The liberal nationalist method of ‘race reductionism’ wants to disappear class and capitalism and only emphasize skin color.  This ‘ethnic affinity’ plays into the hands of the racists as you might guess.  Ultimately its practical result is to divide the working class, which is the only force able to significantly change political economy. If you read or listen to corporate European-American media to this day, the word ‘class’ almost never appears in the litany of supposedly equal identities. The skin color caste that nestles within the class and employment system is always isolated.  Yet color and class are part of one whole.  The media instead promote cultural nationalists who fit the race reductionist narrative like some BLM activists, as well as Ta Nehesi Coates, who Reed discusses, and middle-class neo-liberal politicians like Obama who actually ignore ‘race.’

Coates’ seemingly radical answer to Obama ‘post-racialism’ and ‘culture of poverty uplift’ narrative was claiming that “race was the engine of history,” all white people were the problem and reparations the only answer.  In a theoretical sense, these two cultural analyses fit together.  According to Reed, both these neo-liberal narratives “divorces what we tend to think of as racial inequality from political economy.” Reed carefully takes apart most of Coates’ historical examples that back-up his position of racial ontology to show their falsity. For instance, while Coates claims that liberals embraced class over ‘race’ after WWII, Reed shows this to be very mistaken, especially after the McCarthy period.

In a searing section of the book, Reed roasts Coates moralistic and doomed attempt at ‘reparations’ for slavery, as it plays to middle-class white guilt and political impossibility.  Reed calls Coates’ metaphysical writing a ‘densely packed fog of black suffering and white plunder” and his non-plan for reparations a ‘brand.’  Reed says non-political demands like reparations are based on a white-guilt petit-bourgeois coalition running on “altruistic noblesse oblige” rather than a proletarian one focused on material and mutual interests.

Coates and other race reductionists’ fierce rejection of universal programs that benefit the whole working class, but especially those in the color castes, jibes with the neo-liberal identitarian platform of the Democratic Party leadership.  As Reed says of Coates: “So, while it is unlikely that Coates set out to be neo-liberalism’s most visible black emissary of the post-post-racial era, his insistence that we must treat race as a force that exists independently of capitalism has, ironically, earned him this accolade.”

This book is a good refutation of simplistic race reductionism and a hard blow to Coates - neo-liberalism’s pivot guard whose business is letting capital score the points.  Reed himself is a social-democrat who thinks that significant anti-discrimination and New Deal programs can blunt or crush institutional racism.  A revolutionary Marxist approach is that these steps will certainly help and are to be supported, but they ultimately cannot overcome the capitalist need for super-exploitation of some sections of the working class.  This is built into the profit and class system.  The imperialist U.S. will never become Reed’s social-democratic paradise, sad to say, because capital itself is becoming rigid and desperate, not flexible and optimistic.

P.S. - Ta Nehesi Coates’ father was in the Black Panther Party in Baltimore.  Coates wrote for Marvel Comics, writing the ‘Black Panther’ character and movie, thus changing his father’s BPP reality into a children’s fantasy.   Cornel West takes down Obama-supporter Coates in The Guardian:  Cornel West on TN Coates 
P.P.S. – There is only one race, the human race.  All ‘plural’ usages here are derivative of Reed’s usage, not mine.
P.P.P.S. - The African-American identity liberals in Minneapolis coalesced around African-American police chief Arradondo in Minneapolis, but in Rochester NY after the murder of Daniel Prude, BLM has called for the resignation of the African American police chief AND the African American mayor. The former just resigned.

Other prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left: “Da 5 Bloods,” “Are White People White?” “Viking Economics,” “Cornell West in Toronto,” “Modern De Facto Slavery,” “Slavery by Another Name,” “The New Jim Crow,” “Slave States – the Practice of Kafala,” “The Latino Question,” “Mistaken Identity,”  “Populist’s Guide to 2020,” “White Trash,” “Understanding Class."

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

September 8, 2020

Friday, September 4, 2020

Doomsayers Corrective

“China – the Bubble That Never Pops,” by Thomas Orlik, 2020 
This is a bourgeois economist’s analysis of why the Chinese economy, given its vast debt burdens, hasn’t gone into severe recessions or depressions yet.  Orlik, a reporter for Bloomberg and the WSJ who lived in China for a long time, supports the complete privatization and marketization of the Chinese economy.  But he’s honest enough to detail how these kind of crises have not occurred in the Chinese economy - yet.  Orlik says that “China itself is the innovation.”


China is still enmeshed in a capitalist world economy.  Given the hard blows from the rest of the capitalist world – long-term Japanese stagnation, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the U.S. 2008 Wall Street collapse of securitized mortgages, the European sovereign debt crisis – China as a whole has avoided many of the consequences in spite of the large debts accumulated by its public and private sectors.  China now has to deal with the severe CoVid recession, a U.S. trade war and military encirclement, but that is not in the book.  Orlik explains in macro-economic detail how China has avoided the worst effects of four cycles containing at least six economic crises.

CHINA’s CLASS CHARACTER

This book relates to the endless debate on the class character of Chinese society.  It is pretty clear that in any retelling of the ups, downs and sideways moves of the Chinese economy since 1978, two forces are always at work.  On one side in this dialectical war is the Chinese Communist-Party (CCP) dominated economy – a planned and state-owned industrial and banking sector; CCP run local governments; a restricted capital account, a controlled foreign exchange market and blocks on external capital outflows.  On the other side is the capitalist and imperialist export sector; the private shadow banking and financial sectors and the private real estate construction sector. Many of these enterprises have CCP cadre planted inside them. The state monopoly on foreign trade and a fuly-controlled yuan value are no longer in effect.     As Orlik points out ‘reform’ – i.e. a neo-liberal market orientation – have generally grown upward for 42 years since 1978, enabled by the CCP and a parade of its leaders.  1978-2002 was when the ‘iron rice bowl’ and agricultural communes were ended.

The question is, what has been created? A fully capitalist state and economy, or a deformed workers’ state run by bureaucrats attempting to promote and still control an ever-growing capitalist sector?  After all, even billionaires are now allowed in the CCP and in government positions.  The book shows that China has a better-regulated economy than almost any capitalist country, as Orlik compares actions in China with similar ones in Korea, Japan and the U.S.  The book gives ammunition to both sides in the debate but it clearly shows the ‘market’ is not in full control.

To Orlik, the state keeps the capitalist economy in check, which is why deep recessions and depressions don’t happen.  Orlik contends the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy are in the hands of CCP bureaucrats, not a private capitalist class.  I.E. the state basically controls the economy, not 'the market.'   To Orlik some of the worst effects have been slower growth rates, massive overcapacity, business bankruptcies and workers thrown out of jobs and peasants off their land. Behind the 1989 Tienanmen Square events - which many thought was only about ‘human rights’ - the economic situation was deteriorating for workers and farmers.  This is why workers joined some of the protests due to “a misstep on reform – moving too quickly from government to market-set prices” as Orlik puts it.  High inflation was the result.  The CCP wanted to avoid this happening again.

SEMI-PLANNED ECONOMY

Orlik does not spend much time on the conditions for workers or farmers or the agrarian economy.  He does mention the internal hokou system frequently.  Hokou walls rural migrants out of social programs in the cities, even preventing their children from getting an education.  It defines two kinds of Chinese citizens – a rural underclass of temporary workers in the multi-millions and a more settled urban working class.

Orlik’s wider topic is to expose why all the China doomsayers in the bourgeois press have been wrong so far.  He picks apart each economic crisis in detail and how the government handled it.  He starts with the 1989 Chinese market price initiation and subsequent shutdown, the same year the Japanese real estate bubble burst. That was followed 10 years later by the 1998 Asian financial crisis and 10 years later the 2008 great sub-prime financial crisis, both hammering exports. In 2012 in Wenzhou the sovereign debt crisis closed factories, leading to the state curbing shadow banking and real estate speculation.  The government even put a cap on house prices.  Shadow banking involves a 3rd party making loans to a high risk entity while the bank buys a ‘security’ from the shadow bank, so the money actually comes from the initial bank.  To Orlik shadow banks are “too small to cause a systemic crisis.”

In 2013 there was a money market crisis of high interest rates that almost caused major defaults, cured by People’s Bank of China (PBOC) intervention in the money markets.  Orlik notes that a very small fraction of the population, 5%, is actually caught up in the financial markets, so losses are not widespread when a financial market seizes up.  That was followed in a 2015 equity crash due to yuan market depreciation, which caused the government to shut down trading and stop capital outflows of any kind.  By the way, most of the funds and brokers were state-owned! As part of market regulation, China controls foreign speculators in Chinese assets, who are nicknamed ‘crocodiles.’  In 2016 the Chinese government used what Orlik terms “supply-side reform” to reduce overcapacity.  One province closed 510 coal mines.  Zombie firms were merged, restructured or closed, while ‘public-private’ partnerships were introduced for infrastructure projects.  This led to further ‘slum clearance’ and moving many people into better housing. 

Skyscraper socialism?

DEBT

In the late 1990s many state enterprises were ‘de-leveraged’ by premier Zhu Rongji and CCP secretary Jiang Zemin, with millions losing their jobs.  This was supposedly due to the massive and continual debt of state and private actors.  Yet the state continues to back up most unprofitable state companies or public governments to maintain jobs, so the enterprises do not fear going out of business.  This is no small matter, as the Chinese state industrial sector’s revenue is larger than Germany’s GDP and has been growing since 2014.  Orlik considers this government guarantee a ‘moral hazard’ in capitalist terms.  Yet to Orlik, “state firms smooth the ups and downs of growth, drive the government’s development strategy and provide patronage opportunities…”

Orlik focuses on the high savings rate in China, as its inadequate welfare system makes citizens cover many expenses themselves.  This leads to low consumption by the working-class population.  For many years, deposit and loan rates were set, but now they are left to ‘float’ based on the market.  Like Greenspan, Orlik tries to blame the 2008 U.S. crisis on Chinese savings invested in U.S Treasuries by Chinese state banks.  This led to low U.S. interest rates, leading to low interest mortgages, leading to anyone with a pulse qualifying.  This of course leaves out many things – like no-doc mortgages, fraudulent paperwork, the dollar standard and securitization.  The high domestic savings rate and blocks on money transfers out of China give the large state banks stability and size, as they are the biggest in the country.  The state-owned Industrial & Commercial Bank of China is the largest bank in the world by assets.

Orlik points out that local governments sell peasant land to real estate developers to gain funds, a practice partly behind the recent Chinese property bubble after the 2008 Wall Street collapse.  According to Orlik these formerly unoccupied buildings and infrastructure are slowly being used.  At that time the 4-trillion yuan stimulus initiated by Wen Jiabao in November 2008 helped stabilize the world economy and allowed growth to continue in China.

The present CCP general secretary, Xi Jinping, has launched another large campaign against corruption. Corruption actually depresses growth.  Corruption, not labor exploitation, is how a bureaucracy gets richer. Tens of thousands of officials have been caught.  Even a cursory knowledge of the various bureaucratic strata in eastern Europe or the USSR shows they did not live like filthy-rich capitalists.  In East Germany the ruling bureaucratic caste was very small and tight, but not wealthy.  Think of a high union boss and you get a bit of a picture of their lives.   Now think of Jeff Bezos.  A big difference.

Orlik spends a bit of time on the ‘Belt & Road Initiative” and Trump's new cold war which started under Bill Clinton. He also discusses vastly accelerating tech R&D, with China spending almost as much in 2017 as the U.S. as part of a ‘Made in China2025’ plan.  Tech focuses like AI poses a threat to human jobs everywhere, including China.

Theoretically Orlik mentions that the CCP now believes that ‘public ownership’ is the sum total of socialism, ignoring planning, workers’ control, equality, exploitation, social basics, a classless society or any other parameters.  To many Marxists, this is almost laughable.  China is one of the most unequal societies on the planet, given its leadership is more concerned with being a developmental state than anything else. The Chinese proletariat will one day rise up and take political power away from the bureaucratic strata and their capitalist allies.  But in the process no one must forget the massive gains that must be preserved in China.

Other prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left:  “Two Sea Changes in World Political Economy,” “Is the East Still Red?” “From Commune to Capitalism,” “The End of the Revolution,” “Jasic Factory Struggle,” “China’s New Red Guards,” “The Rise of China,” “The Fall of Bo Xilai” “Maoism & the Chinese Revolution,” “Striking to Survive,” “China on Strike.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

September 4, 2020