Monday, November 11, 2019

The Cowboy Way

“This Land – How Cowboys, Capitalism and Corruption are Ruining the American West,” by Christopher Ketcham, 2019

Ketcham is a reporter and backpacker who knows the western U.S., especially the ‘intermountain west,’ intimately well.  He lived in Escalante, Utah for a number of years near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that was recently decimated by Trump, and so is able to tell that story. This book tracks the continued raping of the public commons and nature in the west by ranchers and their cows and the government agencies, bureaucrats and politicians in league with the ranchers.  The Utah-based Mormon religion plays a role in proclaiming that man must dominate nature, as the majority of local politicians are Mormons like Orrin Hatch - which perhaps makes Utah a theocracy!  Timber, oil and gas-fracking companies have piled in with the ranchers and are rarely denied government permits.  Added to this are the collaborationist fake ‘Green’ groups that partner with the destroyers.   It’s not a pretty picture.

Marxists have understood for years that ‘the destruction of the commons’ in England (and other countries) was part of the way capital developed and still develops – by enclosing public agricultural and forest land as private, owned by landlords.  The operative word is ‘develops.’  What many don’t realize is that this process is still going on in the West.  There is a massive amount of federal land other than our national parks in the west: millions of acres set aside as wilderness; national forests, wildlife preserves; national monuments, far more than in the east or north.  All of this is protected by a large series of environmental laws passed between 1964 and 1976 – the Endangered Species Act being one of the most important. 

As part of the private enclosure movement, the exploits of the violent Bundy rancher clan and their ‘sovereign citizen’ views are well known.  These ‘sagebrush rebels’ deny any role for the federal government in the intermountain west and even deny the existence of public land.  Ketcham actually reveals that the FBI and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service allowed the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge invasion by Bundy’s militia to happen.  Not to mention the mistakes in prosecution by the US DOJ that allowed them to go free.  The Bundys are the poster-children for what is happening in the intermountain West but they are only the visible tip of the cowberg.

I say ‘cowberg’ because cows grazing almost for free on public land are the key force destroying western nature.  They are an invasive species.  Their hooves, their shit,  their munching, their very profitable presence is the reason ranchers and the government kill wolves, cougars, grizzlies, coyotes, buffalo, gophers, wolverines, lynx and other animals while profitably locking up wild horses.  Over the 20th century, tens of millions have been killed.  One whole federal agency, Wildlife Services, just kills animals!  The delisting of grizzlies or wolves from the Endangered Species Act draws 95% opposition from the public, but goes on anyway for the benefit of the ranchers.  Science shows that top predators are necessary to reduce the numbers of deer and elk and for a healthy ecosystem, but instead they are shot. The crypto-biotic soil and the riparian creeks are damaged or destroyed, roads are built, habitats chopped up.  Desertification, deforestation, topsoil loss, species extinction – chock it up to cows.  This even though ranching in the intermountain west provides only 2% of the beef produced in the U.S. Beef itself, the SUV of foods, is unsustainable and carbon intensive anyway.  As Ketcham has found, the cowpocalypse has arrived.

Compounding this is the profitable and private ‘harvesting’ of public trees, subsidized by the Forest Service and the taxpayer.  Logging is actually right up there with coal in carbon emissions.  Trees are carbon sinks and ecologically necessary.  The massive road building, soil erosion and natural destruction that come from chopped-up habitats benefits only the likes of Boise Cascade.  Excuses that clear-cuts and ‘thinning’ are anti-fire strategies have been disproved by science – they are useful myths for the timber companies.  Fire is actually part of the natural cycle.  But as Ketcham makes very clear, science is no longer used by government agency top bureaucrats, and certainly not by the timber companies or stockmen.  Profit is the only marker.

Ketcham goes into great detail on these issues, interviewing many government and ex-government scientists, botanists and biologists, environmental activists, whistle-blowers and even one of the Bundys.  As the main philosophic argument puts it – are we ‘part’ of nature or are we ‘the lord’ of nature?  If the former, then killing nature is killing ourselves.  If the latter, the Biblical and Mormon reading of Genesis 1:27 coincides with the capitalist profit motive and the collaborationism of the fake Green groups – the Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy, some local groups along with some local Sierra Club chapters.  Eco-pragmatism is a recipe for destruction but it has been embraced by big-money liberals, who one activist hilariously describes as “milquetoast, sweet, upper-middle class numbnuts.”  

They Look Innocent, don't they?
The ‘sovereign citizen’ idea claims the county is the only legal entity to be recognized – giving even the Republican idea of ‘states rights’ a run for its money.  These militia bozos carry around copies of the Constitution and cite one passage – A1,S8,C17 - they erroneously seem to think prohibits the federal government from owning land.  It does not.  Ultimately these people want to graze their cattle for free on public land while happily receiving millions in USDA government welfare monies.  You could not find better hypocrites. Western ranching actually needs to be shut down, like the plantations of old.    

Government agencies key to the intermountain west like the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services and the Park Service have been captured by the corporations and businesses they are supposed to ‘regulate.’  As such, they no longer actually follow environmental laws.  This has happened under both Republican and Democratic Party administrations.  Over-tourism and overhunting are also part of the problem.  Ketcham takes particular aim at Obama’s ‘compromises’ with the ranching and extractive industries and the policy of the fake Green groups towards collaboration and ‘multiple use.’  The latter actually get PAID by the government to ‘consult’ on environmental issues, so their cash flow is dependent on not litigating and instead having beer with the bastards. As a prerequisite to saving the land and animals, the leading corrupt government bureaucrats have to be removed and scientists put back in charge.  This will only happen through a political revolution in the U.S.

The government we get is a function of the struggle between classes.  If a government is mostly controlled by the wealthy and corporate entities, then that means they are winning the class struggle. 

Ketcham sees value in nature itself, going into rhapsodies over myriad birdlife, fragile vegetation, the sage-brush steppe, red-rock formations, clear streams that still have healthy trout and the last remaining bits of unspoiled forest and old-growth timber.  He makes fun of the cowboy myth which covers for ecological wrecking.  He at times sounds like a ‘deep ecology’ advocate.  But he also draws links between human social survival and preserving the intermountain west.  It seems he endorses eco-sabotage when necessary.  Beyond that, what we need is a mass socialist movement that is an implacable enemy of the capitalists, their government lackeys and their rancid politicians over the continuing enclosure of the commons, in the intermountain west and everywhere else.

Other reviews on this topic, use blog search box upper left with these terms: "Born Under a Bad Sky," "Red State Rebels," "Vanishing Face of Gaia," "Manny's Steakhouse," "Archaic Thanksgiving," "The Emotional Lives of Animals," "Green is the New Red," "Good News," "Hayduke Lives," "The Monkey Wrench Gang." (Last three by Edward Abbey.)

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
November 11, 2019

Friday, November 8, 2019

Comrade Jeff Miller

Comrade Jeff Miller 
Jeffrey Mayer Miller, a founder of the New Unionists which later became the New Union Party (NUP), died in Minneapolis on October 15 of complications from leukemia.  He was 72 and had been an apartment resident of the Ebenezer Park Tower, a senior living center.  He was a private person and in his later years kept to himself, living an austere life while dealing with health issues.
Miller's 1984 Campaign for U.S. Senate

Miller married Gudrun, the daughter of Karl Heck, a Socialist Labor Party (SLP) stalwart in St. Paul.  Heck later worked against Miller and helped push him out of the SLP in 1977.  Jeff and Gudrun had a child, Jennifer, who still lives in St. Paul, though she has not been located yet.  Jennifer was named after Jennifer Marx.  Jeff’s grandparents were from Lithuania while Jeff was born in Minneapolis.

The New Unionists started as ‘section Minneapolis’ within the Daniel DeLeonist SLP.  The SLP had a very authoritarian internal structure according to members of the New Unionists - one factor that led to their resignation from the SLP in August 1977.  As an example, the SLP actually forbade members from talking to leftists from other currents.  The SLP is now inactive.  Their paper “The People” is no longer published and their website has nothing on it to indicate recent activity except an address in California.

The NUP was consolidated in 1980 with some comrades from other cities.  It held discussions and forums, tabled, marched in the local May Day parade, ran in elections, had an office in the Twin Cities and representatives in other U.S. cities.  It put out a monthly paper, “The New Unionist.”  Like the SLP, its politics were a based on those of Daniel DeLeon, an early American Marxist who advocated ‘socialist industrial unionism,’ and ‘one big union.’ The organization had a heavy emphasis on labor issues and believed in a peaceful transition to socialism.  Jeff worked with local comrades Earl Balfour, Tom Dooley, George Kane, Dick Taylor, Craig Palmer, Kathy Kleckner, Jane Christian, Lila and Bo Holmdahl, Michael Jefferis, Brian McNeil  and Bill Comiskey.  Comrades from other cities were Connie Furdik, Joann Forman and Rado Mijanovich. Later some of these people participated in the “Working Democracy” study group that met at the NUP offices in Minneapolis and later at May Day Books.

Miller was the editor of The New Unionist and wrote many of the unsigned articles in it. According to some, he understood Marxism better than anyone in the organization and was able to popularize and explain it.  He was passionate about the subject and could be an inspirational speaker.  He was even generous with fools in discussions.  Miller specialized in Marxist economics, especially teaching Marx’s “Value, Price and Profit” and “Wage-Labour and Capital” and the works of DeLeon, specifically “What Means This Strike?” and “The Burning Question of Trade Unionism.”  He also taught “The Communist Manifesto.”

To layout the monthly paper Miller worked on a compositor typewriter, then an Apple computer.  The paper never went on-line. He held the NUP together and did most of the work and so was elected time and time again as editor. Tom Dooley was the local distributor of the paper with Craig Palmer doing a good bit of the legwork.  An almost full selection of The New Unionist is located at the U.W. Madison periodicals library, which has a massive cache of left-wing materials from various organizations.

The NUP was founded in 1977 and lasted until 2005, a long time for a relatively small group.  In that year the paper was closed and all efforts were put into electing Miller to the U.S. Senate under a “Campaign for a Working Democracy.”  The campaign materials did not mention socialism but instead concentrated on labor issues due to the bad connotations of the word ‘socialism’ at the time.  Miller was not comfortable with DeLeonism being relegated to a side issue in Working Democracy.  According to Michael Jefferis, the end of the NUP ended a large part of his life.

As part of his frugal and Spartan lifestyle, he slept in the office as part of his ‘payment’ as NUP editor.  He had a pickup truck and lawnmower early on, and sometimes earned money through lawn jobs and temp work.  He refused to accept a used car or other gifts from comrades, as he did not believe in consumerism. Jeff liked opera and classical music and oddly, followed the Minnesota Vikings.  He watched news programs like Al Jazeera and spent a lot of time visiting the library for books and music, as he could not afford otherwise.

Red Frog, with contributions from Craig Palmer, Dick Taylor, Michael Jefferis and George Kane.

November 8, 2019

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Identity Front Against the 1%

Bernie Sanders and Ihan Omar at Williams Arena, U of M Campus, 11/3/2019

Bernie Sanders brought his presidential campaign to Minneapolis on Sunday after receiving the endorsement of Ihan Omar, the local Congressional representative.  This so-called ‘odd couple’ clasped hands and raised them high after Omar’s introduction of Sanders.  As Sanders pointed out later, both were immigrants or the child of immigrants from impoverished minority backgrounds, events which shaped their lives.
Sanders, Omar at U of Minnesota, Williams Arena
The crowd, estimated by the press at 10,000, was mostly young and light-skinned.  The main first tier was full, as was the basket-ball floor, which had a standing-room only crowd.  Somali-Americans did not come out in force.  Local rapper Brother Ali and the New Power Generation of Prince fame warmed up the crowd musically, especially with a rendition of Bob Marley’s “Stand Up For Your Rights.”  A local organizer of students at the U spoke first, condemning the servitude of debt brought on by over-priced colleges and massive student loans.  Sanders’ national Co-Chair Nina Turner spoke next in a fiery speech, highlighting the need for an all-encompassing ‘movement’ for universal goals.  Keith Ellison, now attorney general for Minnesota after leaving national politics, commented on Sanders and Ellison walking picket-lines together.  He started the chant for “Not me, us!” which was theme of the rally.  He endorsed Sanders in 2016.

Then Ihan Omar spoke.  At rallies like this, political speeches express many generalities punctuated by crowd cheering, so that without a deeper understanding, speeches ‘can’ sound the same.  So nuance is important.  In that context Omar made some very left-wing statements that surprised me.  She said that “workers all over the world have the same interests.”  She said the real need is to build “a mass movement of the working class.”  She decried ‘Western imperialism’ and got huge crowd support for that comment.  As a Marxist who lived through the radical movements of the 1970s, this all sounded a bit familiar! 

I might quote from “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan:  “Somethin’s happenin’ here and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”

At the same time, her comments about ‘genocide’ were garbled and, given her bland ‘present’ vote on Armenian genocide, contradictory. 

Sanders came on next with his wife, who he introduced as the next ‘First Lady.’  After making continued genuflections to Prince, Paul Wellstone and Omar’s time in a refugee camp in Kenya, he spoke repeatedly of uniting every ‘identity’ in a joint struggle to defeat the 1%.  Then he launched into the rest of his 40 minute speech hitting every single favorite left and liberal theme in existence.  This included the partly transitional ideas of the ‘Green New Deal,’ ‘Medicare for All’ and ‘Free College,’ through ending the incarceration state and the inequitable legal system, supporting labor, down to legalizing marijuana, ending cash bail and supporting abortion rights through his picks to the Supreme Court.  Hey, even gentrification got a mention!  Like everyone else, he heavily emphasized moving from ‘single-issueism’ and multiple ‘movements,’ as the main slogan of the rally was ‘Not me, us!”

Huge military spending was only mentioned once.  Endless wars were not mentioned.  “America” was repeatedly invoked, even to the point where he almost said that he would “make America great again.”  This gave a sheen of social-patriotism to the event, though his unstated international positions are to the left of nearly all the other Democratic Party rabble – ah, contenders - except perhaps Gabbard. So we’ll never know if the crowd would have given him ’cheer lines’ for anti-militarist foreign policy positions.  I think they would have. 

Sanders and the rest of the speakers repeatedly emphasized that only ‘movements’ change things.  And indeed they are right.  The question is, what kind of unitary movement brings significant change, not just the same ‘nibbling around the edges,’ as Sanders himself put it?  There was no mention of a mass 3rd Party or a labor or populist party.  There wasn't even a mention of democratic-socialist organizations within the Democratic Party like DSA or the Working Families Party” or even Our Revolution.  In other words, how do you actually cohere various single-issue movements into one?  The implication is that this is done by supporting the Sanders campaign.  That is the real message.  He has said he would be ‘the organizer in chief’ not the ‘commander in chief’ if elected, so it would continue after the election. 

The problem with that is that Sanders will endorse whatever Democrat wins at the brokered Convention, as he’s already proved.  ‘That’ will hobble any movement he’s generated, even if ‘Sanders-lite’ Warren gets on the ticket.  In the unlikely event that Sanders wins at the Convention - with the whole capitalist establishment against him! – only support by millions of workers would guarantee that as president he is not totally blocked, impeached or killed. 

So Sanders and his legislative supporters ‘become’ the movement on an actual organizational basis.  The ‘left’ of the Democratic Party becomes the organizing center.  For Sanders, this has taken the form of the Our Revolution (OR) group within the Democrats, which has brought even garden-variety Democrats under its wing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth metro areas.  OR does not have a solid political program or a real class angle and is submerged in ‘process’ issues.  Yet the leadership of the Democratic Party is extremely hostile to Sanders anyway, so their place in the party is tenuous.  Right now the leadership is maneuvering against AOC, Tlaib and Omar, as well as many others, trying to find the right centrist politician to run against left dissidents. 

What is not understood by Sanders is that the Democratic Party is run by a wing of the same ‘billionaires and multi-millionaires’ that Sanders thunders against.  This control has only hardened over the past 40 years.  Labor unions have been turned into handmaids by the corporatists that run the party.  While his ‘Trojan Horse’ strategy seems reasonable given the extreme conservatism of U.S. politics, it has failed time and time again in the end.  Ultimately any real movement will have to break from the Democrats if it wants actual change, not just removing Trump from the White House.  Which in itself only guarantees another Trump.

Red Frog
November 5, 2019

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Politics in Culture

“Mayans M.C.”, “Rebellion” and “Official Secrets”- 2 Political TV Series and a Political Movie

Mayans M.C.” is about a mostly Latino motorcycle gang in the made-up town of Santo Padre, California near the Mexican border.  It is a spin-off from the simple blood and guts series, “Sons of Anarchy,” though the Sons occasionally still appear.  What is different is that the Mayans eventually form an alliance with Mexican social revolutionaries trying to change the corrupt capitalist Mexican system.  Their main enemy is the U.S. government in the form of creepy U.S. Assistant Attorney Potter, whose mission is to squelch any rebellion in Mexico.  Potter uses every means at his disposal, including violent mercenaries to try to get his way.  Whether a criminal M.C. would actually unite with left-wing rebels is debatable of course.  The great Edward James Olmos gets a role as the father of two key Mayan gang members.  Also, motorcycles! (

''Mayans' on Motorcycles
“Rebellion (and Resistance) is the story of 2 phases of the Irish national revolution – the 1916 Easter Rising and the later 1920 successful fight for partial independence against the British.  It is possible there will be a 3rd phase, based on the Irish civil war over leaving the northern 6 counties to Britain. The key character is Jimmy Mahon, who is with James Connolly at the GPO; then a shooter and eventual head of intelligence for the IRA in its battle with ruthless British General Winter in the national fight; then a key ally of Michael Collins in the coming civil war.  The series weaves personal and political together, highlighting the murky world of loyalties and betrayals, of secrets and lies.  As such an overall view of the rebellion is not very clear.  It chooses to highlight the large role of women in the struggle, which is usually ignored. (RTE – Netflix)

“Offical Secrets:  (Spoiler) An accurate docu-drama film based on events in Britain prior to the U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq in 2003.  It features whistle-blower Katherine Gun, who worked at GCHQ listening in on surveillance Chinese conversations for the British government.  The spies at GCHQ get an e-mail from a U.S. NSA officer asking them to eavesdrop and spy on members of the U.N. security council to find information that might make these countries vote for war.  Gun is young and against the war, though she cannot admit it to her bosses.  She spirits the memo to a friend in the massive anti-war movement, who get it to a reporter at the Observer newspaper. The Observer waffles over whether it is a real memo, but investigation shows it is probably real.  They publish and Gun admits her role.  Ultimately the British government refuses to prosecute her based on the official ‘Secrets Act’ because the trial would expose the illegality of Blair and Bush’s criminal war.  Gun is played by Kiera Knightley.  (Riverview Theater)

Other reviews on these topics below, use blog search box, upper left with these terms:  
Ireland:  "Abortion Referendum in Ireland," "The Immortal Irishman," "Plough and the Stars," "James Connolly," "Jimmy's Hall," "1916 Rebellion Walking Tour," "The Irish Literary Trail," 
Mexico:  "Drug War Capitalism," "NAFTA 2," "Frida Kahlo," "Viva Zapata," "The Lacuna," "Sicario," "Pancho Villa Underground Railroad." 
Iraq War:  "The Yellow Birds," "Armed Madhouse," "The Management of Savagery," "What is the War on Terror," "Blow Back to Iraq," "Libertarian Atheism," "The Left and Islamic Literalism,"   

The Cultural Marxist
October 31, 2019
All Hallows Eve

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fighting Fascism

“Panzer Destroyer:  Memoirs of a Red Army Tank Commander” By Vasiliy Krysov, 2010

I don’t usually review books like this, but as a personal tale of the WWII tank battles from Stalingrad to Kursk to Kiev and into Poland and Germany, it is unequalled.  Krysov was wounded four times, had a number of T-34s or SU-85 motorized guns destroyed under him and had so many narrow escapes it is hard to believe he survived.  He used his excellent tactical skills to beat the odds, sensing the best plans of attack or defense.   His small SU-85 mobile gun group at one point destroyed 8 Tiger tanks, the most formidable Nazi tank.  Leading only two motorized guns he wrecked a whole German regiment and their vehicles on a road, laying waste over many kilometers.   At one point his self-propelled gun rampaged through the German rear for a few days.  He details the difficult attacks on heavily-fortified hill 197.2 near Kovel, Poland. His aggressiveness and skills led him to overrun German positions and trenches time and time again.
The Russian Army at its base was highly-competent, with young and skilled tankers being able to repair tanks quickly, sight targets on the run, help their comrades, dig pits for the tanks and endure cold, hunger and sleeplessness, staying steady in the heat of dangerous combat.  Krysov attempts to refrain from comments about the headquarters’ officers who drank too much, had ‘campaign wives,’ luxurious conditions and never saw real combat - but sometimes he can’t help himself.  Some half-assed Communist Party ‘political’ officers shared these characteristics.  Krysov was decorated three times and supposedly drafted into the CP for a particularly heroic action, but he never received a party card.  Decorations were related to politics and friendliness with key officers, so he received far fewer than he should have.

The book details a war of villages, where small-scale tank battles tell the tale.  It starts in July 1941 at the Chelyabinsk Tank School east of Stalingrad, where Krysov learned to work T-34s and KV1 tanks, sometimes learning on a tractor.  It lasts until May 1945, when the destruction of the 3rd Reich found Krysov’s unit in Konigsberg, now Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, after its difficult seizure.  Krysov could not keep notes on pain of arrest, so he put the stories together through his memories, research in military archives, repeated unit reunions with his surviving comrades and trips to the actual battlefields.  He recalls the warm support for the Red Army from peasants in Russian and Ukrainian villages - and even in Poland.  He notes limited combat with Vlasovites (Russians who joined the Wehrmacht) and Banderists (allies of Hitler in Ukraine.)  He also comments on regrettable rapes in Germany, one of which he investigated for the prosecutors. 

Tactically Krysov used zig-zag driving tactics at full speed to approach German emplacements and occupied villages before firing his guns.  The Red Army engaged in surprise night attacks on a semi-regular basis with much success.  He had frequent duals with ‘Fritz’s’ Leopard Mark IV, Panther and Tiger tanks using his low-slung SU-85 tank destroyer, even though his SU-85 was outgunned by the Tigers and outclassed by the thick armor of the Panthers.  There are a number of difficult river crossings mentioned, including one where the tankers stopped-up holes in the vehicles so water could not get in while fording a river.  During combat, many Soviet soldiers died, and Krysov details the brutal losses among his comrades, a few of which were due to command mistakes.

The WWII tank battles in Russia and eastern Europe were probably the greatest the world will ever see – certainly larger than Al Alamein or Tobruk or anything Patton was ever involved in, like the Battle of the Bulge. After all, the main focus of WWII in the European theater was the Soviet Union. But this memoir is more than that.  It is the human side in the field, of a tank commander who wanted to defeat the fascists and repeatedly returned to the Eastern Front to do just that. 

Some day we might have to follow his example.

Other reviews on the subject of WWII below, use blog search box, upper left:  “Life and Fate” (Grossman); “The Unwomanly Face of War” (Alexievich); “Enemy at the Gates.”

Thanks to Bro Rod,
Red Frog
October 28, 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Nothing to Lose But Their Value Chains

“Value Chains – the New Economic Imperialism” by Intan Suwandi, 2019

This book promises more than it delivers, while repeating itself constantly.  Nevertheless I’ll highlight its main points.  Suwandi, an Indonesian Marxist, attempts to give an empirical basis to the Marxist view that imperialism still exists and is going strong.  He counters political geographer David Harvey on this question, as Harvey thinks the ‘global south’ has reversed the process, so imperialism is no longer a viable concept for him.  By doing that Harvey fails the most widespread geography test of all.

Suwandi does not really deal with the military, debt, financial (currency), political (SAP), monetary (dollar), environmental, raw material, infrastructure or ‘legal’ (local and WTO) aspects of imperialism.  He keys in on the labor exploitation question.  Suwandi’s main points, some of which are obvious:

    1.     Oligopolies and multi-nationals use two methods of expropriating labor value from the global south:  global value/supply/commodity chains and subcontractor-based ‘arm’s length contracting.’ (Nike and Apple for instance.) 80% of world trade in 2012 was connected to these types.  57% was ‘arms length’ alone.

     2.     The key metric to look at is ‘average unit labor cost’ when estimating super-exploitation, unequal exchange or uneven development.

     3.     The two main aspects of average unit labor costs are productivity and wages.

     4.     The ‘southern’ countries with the top employment in global value chains originating in the global north are China, India and Indonesia.    In 2013 39.2% of labor employment in China and 16.8% in India were for exports to the U.S.  85% of China’s ‘high tech’ exports are ‘links’ in global supply chains.  U.S. firm GM itself has 20,000 suppliers world-wide.

     5.     Firms in the global south supplying multi-nationals headquartered in the global north are subservient to and dependent on those larger and more powerful firms.  They are not really independent and must rely on ‘flexibility’ and ‘leanness’ to obey whatever requests are made.  In Suwandi’s investigation of two Indonesian contract firms, the multi-nationals they work with can dictate sub-contractors, costs, technology, quality, sales issues and even wages, as these companies demand full ‘transparency’ on the part of their suppliers.  ‘Problems’ are the responsibility of the supplier, not the core multi-national. 

6.     As a result of international control, local workers are dealing with a far-away headquarters in Silicon Valley or Hamburg, not just their local bosses.  Strikes, unions, minimum wage and unjust limits to overtime (due to low pay) were issues in Indonesia.

7.     Technology, especially information technology, has made world-wide control more possible by multi-national oligopolies.

8.     ‘Global labor arbitrage’ references the method by which multi-nationals look for the cheapest and most productive labor possible, mostly found in the global south.  For instance, garment companies pay 1-3% of the final clothing price back to southern labor.

9.     Foreign direct investment (FDI) by core multi-nationals in the global south has increased dramatically.  In Indonesia it went from $83M in 1970 to $30.54B in 2017.  In 2018 core FDI investment in the global south was 58% of all investment.

10.  The greatest concentration of productive workers are now in the global south – 541 million to 145 million in the core countries in 2010. 

11.   Core multi-nationals use peripheral global production for export back to the core, but also as a way to penetrate large local markets.

12.   Taylorism is alive and well in the global south.  Deskilling is part of the effort to lower labor costs.  However, Suwandi does not add that computerization has modernized ‘Taylorism’ to be even more precise.  It could be called ‘Gatesism’ now!

13.   While capital has ultimate flexibility to move about the world, human labor is restricted by immigration laws.

14.    International ‘monopolies’ (really oligopolies) have made price-cutting and price competition mostly obsolete.  On this level, competition is a figment of free market ideology, not fact.

15.    Average hourly compensation differences between the US/ UK/ Germany/ Japan on the one hand and Mexico/ Indonesia/ China/ India are huge, with India having the cheapest labor.  This accounts for vast differences in average unit labor costs.  For instance, the average profit rate for the iPhone 4 was 59% in 2010.  1.8% of the final cost went to assembly costs in China.  And you wonder why Apple executives and stockholders are rich?
Suwandi does not address the issues of computerization, robots or AI directly, so the inference is that all jobs lost in the global north are due to the transfer of labor to the global south. Kim Moody and others have noted that local technology is actually one of the other main drivers for unemployment and low pay in the global north.  Suwandi doesn't deal with super-exploitation issues within the global north – i.e. ethnic or regional super-exploitation.  He treats China as an exception to the rule while assuming China is capitalist, and not a mixed economy dominated by certain levels of planning and a dominant deformed workers' state.  That might explain his ‘exception.’
2014 Strike in Indonesia - 1 Million Go Out

This is generally a helpful book, especially for those not familiar with this topic.  However, Suwandi does not have enough economic statistics to ‘prove’ the level of profit coming from cheap labor in the global south, though the inferences are direct.  As he points out, corporate GDP figures hide profits and labor by allocating all gains to the country where the corporation is legally located, its ‘home’ - though some authors have been able to reveal them.  “Arms Length Contracting” profit flows are entirely invisible in standard economic statistics.  So in a way, international capital attempts to statistically launder their profitability by hiding the true value of value chains.  This is why Marx called labor exploitation “the hidden abode of production.”

Other reviews on this topic below, (some referenced in the book), use blog search box upper left:  “The City” (Norfield); “The Endless Crisis”(McChesney); “Can the Working Class Change the World?(Yates); “American Theocracy”(Phillips); “Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,””The Law of WorldWide Value”  and “The Long Revolution of the Global South”(all by Amin); “The Open Veins of Latin America”(Galeano); “Secret History of the American Empire”(Perkins); “American Exceptionalism and American Innocence”(Haiphong); “Drug War Capitalism”(Paley); "Bali."

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

October 24, 2019

Sunday, October 20, 2019

An Inside Job

“The Testaments,” by Margaret Atwood, 2019

This is the long-awaited sequel to Atwood’s 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  Between the rampant misogyny embedded in U.S. capitalist culture now exemplified by Trump, and the parallel Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood was bound to do a follow-up.  This book is nothing like the flawed Hulu series, and for that we can be thankful.   It is far better.

The story is presented as a series of testimonies, narrations and ‘holographs’ long after the fall of the religious theocracy of Gilead.  The 'testament' title might be a play on the Bible of course, indicating this is a newer testament.  The focus is not on the central character of Atwood’s first book, Offred, as in the Hulu series, but instead employs a large twist.  A certain person within the power structure of Gilead has access to information which can reveal the massive corruption and depravity among Gilead’s religious elite.  Hypocrisy is just a euphemism for their behavior, a hypocrisy we've seen among religious types for years. She has information about the real impact of women’s oppression on girls and women in a theocratic male-chauvinist state, from suicide, murder to sexual abuse - information that has been suppressed by Gilead.  That person is Aunt Lydia, who was one of the vicious disciplinarians in the first book. 

Atwood focuses on how women’s initiative does not die even when being forced to be part of an oppressive state apparatus.  As such, Atwood does not focus on a rebellion of the majority, or the initiatives of the Marthas, econowives and econohusbands, Handmaid’s, slave workers or others, but on a former judge, now the head of the Aunts.  It is ‘revolution from above,’ by scandal and exposure, not by mass action and politics.  Lydia is aided by several young Aunts who have a personal stake in the outcome to ‘help women.’  Baby Nicole, who was spirited away from Gilead to safety in Canada originally, also plays a role, as she has grown up. 

Gilead is isolated on the world stage, its economy in tatters, having lost part of the U.S. through civil war, with a ruling class that is consumed by in-fighting.  (Sound familiar?) The political economy of Gilead is invisible though, as it is not clear who is growing the food, maintaining the infrastructure or making anything, though there is one fishing boat in evidence. This is a personal story above all, similar to many dystopian fantasies which never explain certain basic things like origins or economics.  However, Gilead is not a fantasy, as there are obvious parallels with present right-wing political Christianity and political Islam, with political Hinduism and political Judaism not far behind. 

Atwood’s main point is that the oppression of women is central to certain conservative religious ideologies, born of ancient holy patriarchies.  An attempt to bring them back into the present will only fail, as the inevitable fall of Gilead makes clear.  According to Atwood, this happens through the courageous acts of women themselves.

Other reviews on the topic of women and religion, use blog search box, upper left:  “The Handmaid’s Tale,” (book and TV series); “Rise of the ‘Nones,’” “God is Not Great,” “Libertarian Atheism versus Liberal Religionism,” “Female Genital Mutilation,” “Annihilation of Caste,” “Jude the Obscure,” “Really, Rape, Still?”  “Marxism and the Oppression of Women,” “Feminists and Feminists,” “Fortunes of Feminism,” “Stitched Up – the Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion,” “Socialist Feminism,” “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.”  

The Kulture Kommissar
October 20, 2019

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Children of the Past

The Italian Brand

Many U.S., British and Canadian tourists and wealthy ex-pats really like Italy.  And in ways the Italians feel much the same way, especially the jingle from tourist money.  Just listen to the pop music or watch Italian movies or TV, much of which comes from the U.S. and Hollywood. Check out the T-shirts, many of which are in English. My take on this is that ‘Americans’ feel Italy is a ‘beach beneath the street’ kind of place, to turn a phrase from the Situationists on its head.  A place where ‘la dolce vita’ is really true.  Italy is imagined as one long beach town between two seas where people eat, drink, swim and shop in an ancient culture providing a refuge from the present.  Party towns like Florence/Firenze bring this out the most, as tens of thousands flock the streets eating and drinking long into the night.

Trying to Get Into the Uffizi Art Gallery, Firenze, Italy
But is la dolce vita true?  Take the food.  In the small town I’m in in Tuscany, (Estruscany!) there might be 35-40 ristorantes, trattorias, osterias and enotecas.  All but one serve only Italian Tuscan food, though two have hamburgers in a small part of the menu.  The same limited cocktails are served – Negroni, Campari spritz, Aperol spritz and plain prosecco.  Most do have large Italian-only wine selections - but only Italian.  The menus look suspiciously familiar – the same dishes seem to be repeated. The cooks are trained not to deviate from old recipes.  Fusion is almost unknown. Multiply that by every other Italian town in this area and you can see the uniform, ingrown, nationalist slant to the food culture.  

Some of the larger towns are getting Asian food due to a recent influx of Chinese.  Our best meal in Venice was north African, but we only found the ristorante by accident.  For urban U.S. citizens who are adjacent to food cultures from all over the world, this is extremely odd.  The beer and cocktail culture in the U.S. is years ahead as well, though Italians have recently added small selections of birra.  Even U.S. pizza surpasses the Italian version. 

The pasta is almost all white; the wine is mostly alkaline due to the soil; everything is bathed in olive oil (much as I love olive oil there is a limit); and being a vegetarian or vegan is like being a leper who slipped out of the colony. Italy’s food has the feeling of small town rural fare located perhaps 20-30 years ago, though certainly more organic, unprocessed and local - which is its big strength.  Inevitably if you are in Italy, you begin to look for non-Italian restaurants.  So one 'leg' of the Italian vita is not so sweet.

Gringos, tourists and Italians enjoy public eating and drinking in the piazzas and narrow streets. It’s the view! Yet eating close to a passing crowd seems somewhat suspect.  It is a bit like showing off and that might be the point.  The display, the ability to afford, the view of those not eating or who cannot afford to pay that price, who instead subsist on cheap focaccia street sandwiches.  Food seems to be around which modern Italian 'culture' circulates, as the evening meal is the focus of the day.  Most of the ads on TV feature food.  Many Italians eat out frequently, though they don’t all visit higher-end places with white table-cloths, mulitiple wine glasses, service fees and priced water, as classes exist in Italy too.  They might eat just a simple and inexpensive pizze or spaghetti. (By the way, in nearly all of the world, tipping is not done, but in Italy higher-end ristorantes charge a low fee for service, though nowhere near 15-20%.  Sorry U.S. service workers, but something is wrong in the States regarding tipping.)

A visit to Florence/Firenze, Venice/Venezia or Siena cements a certain essential symbiosis between shopping and aesthetics.  Once you’ve taken in the archaic church Duomos, Renaissance art museums, religious icons, the same Madonnas and child and crucified Christs and other innumerable ancient museums while walking the narrow cobble-stone streets admiring the very old architecture, you have paid your obligatory cultural dues.   

After all that somewhat boring religious hokum you, the tourist, have earned your just deserts.  You can now enter shop after shop and buy, buy, buy or ristorante and eat, eat, eat or enoteca and drink, drink, drink.  Antiquated aesthetics becomes the justified background to this commercial foreground. Tourist dollars and euros and real estate sales to ex-pats have pumped massive amounts of money into chosen towns, which were poverty-stricken after WWII.  The ones that aren't, still are.

Along with you, most Italians are also out for food and a stroll.They enjoy Sunday mornings as well, as many of their main churches have been turned into art and architecture museums.  And when they do go to church, most attendees seem to be over 50 or 60.  Canes are common.

What you then notice is that Italy lives off this hoary cultural history as their ‘brand.’  Yet its present ‘high’ culture is not painting or icons or frescos or sculpture, not Leonardo or Michelangelo.  It is the commercial industrial art of Ducati and Moto Guzzi motorcycles; Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Alpha Romeo cars; Vespa scooters, Murano glass, world-class textile machines and Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Ferragamo and Versace clothing and accessories.  After all, its last real cultural explosion, long after pre-war WWII Futurist painting, was post-war Italian cinema.  This brought a plethora of neo-realism and post-neo-realism, political comedy and art-house wonders from world-famous directors like Pasolini, Bertolucci, Fellini, Pontecorvo, Wertmueller, De Sica, Rosselini, Visconti, Monicelli, Antonioni and Leone.  They made Italian culture known world-wide. But that kind of culture brand and 'vita' is over.

Fellini’s 1959 film “La Dolce Vita” (The Sweet Life) was a commentary about the sad empty state of present Roman life, not a celebration of the beach, gluttony and amore.  Like U.S. politicians who use Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” at rallies to promote patriotism, they have not listened to the lyrics.  Or in the Fellini case, they do not remember the actual point of the film.  Fellini’s last film in the 1990s commented on the takeover of Italy’s culture by commercialism, not actual la dolce vita.  The high Renaissance, the “David,” are ancient history. 

Anita Ekberg in Rome's Trevi Fountain in "La Dolce Vita."
The sad state of present Italian film is obvious.  In the late 1990s Italy had fewer movie theaters than France or Germany.  The highest-grossing films were consistently from the U.S. and Hollywood – 75% of those shown - while Italian movies were 14% of the total.  In the 1990s only 15 Italian films grossed 86% of the remaining tickets out of 150 Italian-produced films.   So quality Italian film culture, which was based on the anti-Church, anti-Mafia, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist ferment after WWII is now dead.  The heavy class-war years of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s fueled Italian cinema’s extension and they are over too.  Wonderful later films like “Cinema Paradiso” and “The Postman” provided codas.  Its last remaining survivor seems to be jumping Roberto Benigni, who not so recently turned a concentration camp into a vacation paradise for his son. (Refs. from P. Bondanella’s 2001 book Italian Cinema.”)

New Claudia Cardinales, Sophia Lorens, Anita Ekbergs or Marcello Mastroiannis won’t be flouncing down your cobble-stone street anytime soon.

There is a larger organized fascist movement in Italy than even the U.S., given the history of Italy and Mussolini.  Rightists still make pilgrimages to Mussolini’s small rural birthplace in northern Italy, Predappio.  Italy was, after all, on the wrong side of the last World War, collaborating with Hitler, enthusiastically sending troops to invade the USSR.  Recently the present far-rightist Salvini was just stymied from taking national power.  Now he has promised to stage another “March On Rome” later this October.  This ‘march’ echoes Mussolini’s call for a ‘march on Roma’ before he took power in 1922 with the blessing of the Italian capitalist establishment. The Vatican is still a stronghold of the Italian right, and still holds enormous political and financial power, even given its long history of scandals.  It owns more real estate than anyone else in the country.  This ache for the ‘power of the past’ is what motivates all rightists.  Not so sweet.

Now that the Italian Communist Party is history and the effort by Rifondazione (Communst Refoundation Party) to bring together ex-CPers, Trotskyists, Maoists, Stalinists and assorted leftists has foundered, politics in Italy is also floundering for those at the bottom of the class ladder, rural or urban. African immigrants are shunned by landowners to the point where few can get paying work from olive or grape farms and subsist on selling trinkets while being homeless. In the cities some are getting the lowest jobs as laborers, doormen or restaurant help – but then this is no different from the U.S. and Latino or African immigrants.  This is a mostly rural country with little ethnic diversity and that rurality mitigates the proletarian influence of Milan or Turin or Rome, though poorly-paid Italian proletarians subsist in every town and village.  Labor in Italy is at present weak and the capos and padrones rule. 

I won't get into the health or vacation policies in Italy, which surpass the U.S. by a mile.  These and other advances are the product of the massive proletarian left that existed at one time in Italy.  Whether these gains will last is another matter.
So why do U.S. tourists and moneyed ex-pats love an insular, rural and seemingly apolitical country that lives in the past?  The question answers itself.  Living under the warm Tuscan sun is not just a movie.  Italy has the weather, agrarian isolation and culturally retrograde nature of the U.S. south.  It is like Florida on a really, really good day or like an imaginary beach town in California - though not California’s version of Venice.  It is ‘the beach beneath the street,’ set in a mostly curated and sculpted nature, a supposed escape from modernity, trouble and strife. It is above all, a commercial, aesthetic brand with its slogan ‘la dolce vita’ as a beguiling come-on.  But of course no place can actually provide a real escape or the permanent sweet life.  Italy provides an ostensible substitute for those tourists who don’t want to go a little deeper.
Friday - Rome General Strike Against Incompetent Mayor and Condition of City.  The Forze Proletariano.
In Firenze, there is a famous statue by Michelangelo, "The David," depicting the very naked and very human David on a massive scale staring southward towards Rome, the center of the retrograde Papacy and quite clearly the archaic Goliath in this Renaissance morality tale.  The question remains for leftists, where is the new 'David', the new Renaissance, the new forze proletariano which can conquer the retrograde capitalist Goliath? Certainly not in la dolce vita imitazione. 

P.S. - as my contribution to Italian 'fusion' I made up this drink - an Italian G&T. - 1/3rd Gin, 1/3rd Tonic, 1/3rd Prosecco.  Better!
Other reviews on Italian issues below, use blog search box, upper left:  “The Dark Heart of Italy,” “The Unseen,” “Amiable With Big Teeth,” “Spartacus,” “The Sixth Extinction,” “American Vandal – Mark Twain Abroad,” “La Biennale Arte 2019,” “The Beach Beneath the Street,” “A Travelers Tale.”

The Cultural Marxist
October 16, 2019