Thursday, December 14, 2017

Punch ... the Time Clock

"Time Wars - The Primary Conflict in Human History" by Jeremy Rifkin, 1987

Rifkin is a former peacenik who has gone on to a career in the social sciences as an advisor to the EU, the UN and China, while penning influential books on the 'end of work' and a 'third industrial revolution' for a green economy.  His generally progressive credentials are rooted in social-democracy, which is both his strength and his weakness. 

This book written in Reagan time, with its somewhat bombastic assertion that 'time' is the primary contradiction in human history, rings of pop sociology.  Sort of an early progressive version of Malcolm Gladwell. The primary contradiction in human history is actually between classes.  But methods of time keeping are certainly essential to the understanding of historical economics. Rifkin's book sees the relationship while undermining its own case.
Yeah, you hate it...

Any proletarian knows that a certain attitude to time is how capitalist life is structured.  In the U.S. it is the alarm clock, the quick breakfast, the dash to the car or train or bus, the half hour lunch embedded in an 8.5 hour day, the dash home or to daycare or a second job.  Blue collar workers have time-clocks to look forward to.  White collar workers have time sheets if they are non-exempt.  White collar workers who are 'salaried' still have to do their 8 hours or more.  Our time is taken from us.  Just as we are robbed of surplus value, we are robbed of time.  You work 50 years and hope you live to retirement.  Where you might still might have to work again, and be 'on time.'  Nearly everyone in this society is time-pressed.

Those farmers and peasants who lost their land and were forced into the factories of early England had a very difficult transition adapting to the demand that they sit or stand in one place for 12 hours doing repetitive tasks.  That is one reason child labor took off - because children were more malleable than grown people who had known a certain amount of time freedom as farmers. They also resisted the destruction of religious holidays, which gave them more days off than the Ebenezer Scrooges of capital would allow.

Rifkin describes sequences of time that correspond to changes in the economic structure of society.  Natural biologic time ruled the period of hunter/gatherer societies, which lived by the seasons, by the sun and moon, by rain, wind and weather.  Time was essentially circular, though slow changes happened even in this allegedly circular environment.  Agricultural/slave societies were also based on this, but the ruling elite then introduced the calendar, which gave time a certain rhythm beyond biologic time, celebrating certain political or holy holidays each month or year.  These still returned over and over again, but the calendar extended time beyond natural cycles. This method was heavily adopted by medieval serfdom, which used the sacred Church calendar to control the peasantry and create 'sacred' time.  

Early capitalism adopted the clock from Benedictine monks, which allowed factory owners to regulate work efficiently, in a linear manner.  Large clocks were installed in the center of towns as secular monuments.  From this came a period where 'time is money.'  Then schedules were developed, which further structured time.  Now, in the hyper-capitalist environment of the world-wide market, the computer has introduced instantaneous 'nano-second' time. The computer 'stores' are open 24/7.  Capital can travel in seconds to different exchanges or banks, trades are made in seconds, corporations, militaries, media and governments can communicate in seconds. 'Change for change's sake' seems to be the mantra, but beneath it is the search for profits.  Marx pointed out that capitalism naturally speeds everything up, and modern capital, with its ability to leap the earth like this, has reached its zenith regarding time racing. 

Rifkin is anti-Marxist of course, because Marx challenges his philosophic idealism.  But he does see that it is not merely a practical issue.  Rifkin sees that the economic ideas of time are then translated into the philosophic world. Religious types continue to believe we live in a 'clock-work' universe, where the 'clockmaker' keeps things ticking.  Muslim lives are supposed to be controlled by a 'call to prayer' 5 times a day, starting very early.  You can see how this might be a problem in a fast-paced capitalist society not attuned to rural life.  Corporate executives work in airports at any time of day.

Yet Rifkin insists that each method of time-keeping created these different types of economy, not the other way around.  I.E. the clock created capital.  Capital did not seek out the clock.  He is essentially a somewhat religious anti-materialist and desperately tries to ignore his own history of time-keeping and its link to class structures and methods of production.  Rifkin advocates the 're-sacralization' of time, nostalgically wanting a return to a period of 'deep ecology' where nature is the only time-keeper, where time was circular.  Time unfortunately is the center of present and past social life, but the methods of time are decided by those in power.  And those in power are normally the ruling class in each society.  So control over time is one way that power is exercised in the interests of that ruling class. 

Class status is partly about how important your time is.  If you have money, you can hire others to do the drudgework.  The more 'time' you put in, the possibilities of your career increase.  Children suck time, so having them is a drag on careers.  And of course, our time on earth is limited, so 'time' hangs over us all. 

Rifkin does not address the nature of time in certain former workers' states, where the phrase 'You pretend to pay us, we pretend to work' had some relevance.  Most people in Russia or Central Europe did not break their backs at work, as the pace of work was much slower than in the capitalist 'West."  This was one of the benefits of not having a capitalist system. He also does not address the benefits of a workplace democratically controlled, such as co-ops, that exist in various countries, which could adjust time standards to fit the needs of the people who work there.
We have an App for that...!

This book is dated, but Rifkin makes good predictions on where computers were going, hinting at the power corporations and governments had using them.  He describes the computer-generated philosophy that 'information' is at the heart of all processes, biologic and otherwise, where negative feedback guides machines.  The body is a mere information storage system.  This mechanical view of the natural world has been christened 'cybernetics.' Time is no longer linear, but 'associative' in this view...an idealist idea that time is fungible, and maybe even goes backwards or 'leaps' forwards.

Rifkin notes that parts of the working class and proletariat are more 'present' oriented, as their lives are so chaotic that planning and the 'future' are vague and impossible to define.  The middle class plans better due to their economic stability, as do some sections of the working class.  But now modern capital, with it's short-term profit focus, its opportunist looting of the commons, its 'catastrophe' profiteering, is beginning to lose its own ability to plan.  It is throwing the future to the winds as we speak...and reaping a whirlwind.

Book reviews that reference time:  "Flash Boys," "Ten Assumptions of Science," "Factory Days," "Night Shift," "China on Strike," "Night Shift - 270 Factory Stories,"

And I bought it at May Day's used book section
Red Frog
December 14, 2017

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Homo Sapiens Agree...

There Is Only One Race - the Human Race

Ostensibly on the U.S. Left or among liberals, people respect science.  Even centrists respect science to some extent.  So-called 'controversial discoveries' like the sun at the center of the solar system, evoluation and global warming are true, based on observation and scientific method.  So why is it that the U.S. government, the corporate and liberal media, the bought and sold academics, the capitalist political parties and politicians, some 'public intellectuals,' - the whole broad swath of ideological capitalist purveyors - believe that there are different 'races?'  Or at least talk like they do?

Scientifically, there is only one race - the human race.  This is the dominant perspective among biologists and anthropologists, and has been for many years.  Only extreme right-wing (fascist) scientists believe in a theory of 'different human races,' each which has a significant biological basis.  Yet we get constant chatter about the 'races' - plural - from nearly everyone.  Even so-called identity 'leftists.'  I can only conclude that this idea is yet another symptom of racism, held over from the criminal past of the U.S. and world colonialism - a past which is still present.

British Scientist Ashley Montagu
In 1942 British anthropologist Ashley Montagu claimed that 'there are no races, there are only clines.'  He referred to the fact that skin color and other small physical differences were originally related to climate and geography.  In 1950 UNESCO said that the idea of different 'races' was a myth.  This was a summary of the findings of an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists at that time.  In the 1960s, Montagu later challenged the race concept when used by those who claimed that IQ tests showed differences among 'races.'  The American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists later passed resolutions to the effect that this is only one race.  Even Rosa Parks pointed out that there was one race, saying this in the 1960s.  No one listened to her then either. The DNA of human beings is 99.9% identical.  There are greater genetic variations among different human populations than between human populations.  Human evolution cannot be tracked like 'branches' of a tree.  it is one root.

In 2014, Harvard professor Robert Sussman published the book, "The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea," which had to take this issue to task, 75 years after Ashley Montagu.  The U.S. government to this day asks citizens in the Census to mark what 'race' they belong to.  They've had 'problems' because Latinos were marking 'white.'  So they added some ethnic categories.  They have also had to allow people to mark more than one 'race' or ethnicity, as mixed ethnicities are common.  I use the term 'ethnicity' as the best description at this point, but different 'cultures' might be even more appropriate. 

"Race" is a social concept used by colonialism and capitalism to separate people, not unite them. That is it's racist meaning.  The term 'interracial' is another folly. The lazy use of these terms only feeds into the discourse about 'the Other.'  Even saying 'women of color' without using 'women without color' or 'colorless women' implies that 'white' people actually don't have a bit of brown, as if all 'white' people were albinos...  But at least it is a bit more specific and narrow, as it only relates to skin color.  What do we do?  Well, stop using terms or phrases that imply there are different races.  And call people on it.

Books by Ashley Montagu:  "Man's Most Dangerous Myth:  The Fallacy of Race" (1942) and "Statement on Race" and  "The Concept of Race." (1964)

Red Frog
December  9, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat

"A Foodie's Guide to Capitalism," By Eric Holt-Gimenez, 2017

This is a pretty hard-core investigation of the capitalist food system in the world, as structured by capitalist relations. The author is the director of "Food First," an organization that focuses on food as a right, not as a privilege or a commodity as it is treated by capital.

The popular connection to 'foodie-ism' is the plethora of cooking shows or competitions, from the relatively sedate and kind "British Baking Show" to the vicious encounters in the U.S.-based "Hell's Kitchen."  Farm-to-table restaurants, international fusion cooking, localism, organics, exotic ingredients, vegetable gardening, vegan and vegetarian foods, tipping practices, CSAs, 'voting with your fork,' animal cruelty - these are all topics that U.S. 'foodies' are supposed to be interested in, but they are not focused on here.  Holt-Gimenez is more interested in looking at what is behind the cover. But he does not look at the topics of the dying oceans or meat diets in any detail, which are both central to our food systems.

Cuban farmer practicing Agro-Ecology supported by the State
Holt-Gimenez is interested in explaining the mechanics of why the food system is structured the way it is.  For instance, mono-crop farming, the use of toxic pesticides, cattle feed-lots and industrial meat production, artificial fertilizers, GMO seeds, the promotion of large farms and contract farming, agro-fuels, the overabundance of cheap and unhealthy food - are all directly related to the profit system.  He points out that to oppose these problems the 'food movement' is split up into so many causes that it cannot have a major impact.  This of course is the problem with the Left as a whole, which is addicted to single-issuism across the board.  Holt-Gimenez hopes that once people take a step back and look at food, they will see that anti-capitalism and what can only be described as a socialist solution will become the tie that binds all these causes together.  He seems to be saying that if you are afraid to holistically talk about capitalist functioning, then you are not serious.

In the course of the book he explains the concepts of the 'commodity,' 'enclosure of the commons,' 'surplus value,' 'super-exploitation of labor,' 'land rent,' 'export economy,' 'capital,' 'externalities,' 'bio-diversity,' 'debt,' 'soil fertility,' 'socially necessary labor time,' 'use value,' 'over-accumulation' and 'agro-ecology.'

Of most interest is Holt-Gimenez's insistence, as a Marxist, that small farms and small farming techniques are superior to large farming because of the nature of agriculture, which is different than industrial production.  He calls food a 'special commodity.'  70% of world food production still comes out of peasant and small producers and he thinks this will continue.  Small farms are more labor intensive, but are able to be more productive and ecological because of this.  In the U.S. this points to the re-population of rural areas that capital has de-populated, as massive International Harvester combines have replaced people.  The benefits of small farming include soil & water conservation, high agro-biodiversity and rural employment - none of which have a market price.  Corporations are now buying out smaller organic firms and are diluting the benefits of what was once higher quality and more sustainable food through their large-scale industrial methods. According to Holt-Gimenez, 3/4s of the world's food is produced on 1/4 of the world's arable land.  This long 'persistence of the peasantry' confounds normal rules, which is why, at this point, capital prefers farmers to take the risks, while the capitalist firms reap most of the profits as suppliers, middle-men and retailers.  

Which is why in the U.S., farmer suicides are at a record high - double that of military veterans according to the Guardian.  This is like India, where 5,600+ farmers committed suicide in 2014 and over 18,000 in 2004, as the pressure on both is the same.  

The misnamed but much lauded 1960s 'Green Revolution' prompted by Norman Borlaug and the Ford & Rockefeller Foundations was actually a way for capital to dispossess farmers and control and subsequently profit from agriculture throughout the world.  The IMF, the World Bank, the various trade agreements like NAFTA, USAID, USDA, the World Food Program and billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates all continue to promote capitalist agriculture for oligopolies like Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, Syngenta and Coca-Cola.  This process is not going to stop on its own.

Like slavery, cheap Latino, black and African labor provides a human subsidy to U.S. food production, but this should not be a secret to anyone.  Besides labor, land is the key issue in agriculture, which even includes the 'land' growing veggies in buildings in Brooklyn, NY.   Holt-Gimenez discusses 3 types of land ownership - private, public and common property.  Capital wants everything to be privatized and can tolerate only those things that are public that it cannot profit from.  It essentially wants to get rid of all 'common property,' as NAFTA did to the Mexican ejidos when Gotari legislated them out of existence in 1991 as a sop to capital.  Land rents are only going up, as 'land' is not an increasing commodity, except insofar as habitats are destroyed - rain forests, woods, marshes, tidelands, prairies and savannahs.  This is why heavy debt and increasing land prices are inevitable in a market economy.  This results in larger and larger farms and more debt for farmers.  Capital needs the power of the state to promote their program, which is why the U.S. Farm Bill becomes the template by which capital controls agricultural land in the U.S.    

Ultimately Holt-Gimenez promotes the methods of 'agro-ecology,' which is being practiced in Cuba and many other places, even the U.S.  This is essentially adopting many indigenous farming practices - polyculture, biomass instead of toxic pesticides, natural manures, small scale agriculture - as the real substitute for capitalist farming methods.  And to accomplish this, common ownership and control would be the only way to block capital from continuing to ruin the land, the health of the population and the farmers and farm workers who provide food for us all.  Like all the other interconnected struggles against capital, this has to be incorporated into any socialist transitional program.  A unity of workers and small farmers is part of that strategy.  That, after all, is what the hammer and sickle meant.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
December 3, 2017   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Old School Bulldog

Roman J. Israel, Esq.  - Film by Dan Gilroy, 2017

Some film critics have dwelled on the fact that the central figure of this film, an old-school civil rights attorney, was 'socially awkward."  Israel's real problem is that he couldn't compromise with a corrupt criminal 'justice' system.  Some called him a 'Rip Van Winkle" for suddenly having to go in public, leaving his legal brief writing behind, and having to deal with the modern neo-liberal prosecutors of the State.  All this while having the values of a 1960s black activist, which keep him from being able to negotiate properly.  Well yes.  Actually, Israel had been fighting with these people for 35, years, so no 'sleep' existed.  He knew them for what they were. 

Angela Davis - Old School / New School
At his tiny civil rights law firm, he gets paid a pittance, wears a bulky suit and an Afro, and at night listens to Pharaoh Sanders jazz and looks at posters of Angela Davis and Bayard Rustin.  He only has a flip phone.  He's like some kind of uncool Cornel West.  Retro!  He lives in an apartment walking distance from his former work (he does not have a car, in LA for god sakes), an apartment beset by gentrification construction.  All that ends when his law partner dies.  At a certain moment, he cracks, having deprived himself of love, a family, a larger income, some pleasures and anything but 'the struggle.'  This caricature of a 1960s activist, while respecting him in the end, alienates the viewer in reality.  Who wants to be an activist if you must live like a monk?    

So the message is that having principles means you will ultimately crack, and go for the bacon sprinkled donuts and the surf off a swanky Santa Monica hotel. Israel says, "I'm tired of doing the impossible for the ungrateful," and takes a reward that it is illegal for an attorney to collect.  And also fatal to his health.  He later backtracks, as he would, but it is too late.

At a certain point, a young black activist gives Israel a chance to speak to a group of young black people about the criminal justice system, but their cocky ignorance makes the meeting go downhill quickly.  He ends up taking a job at a slick criminal-defense law firm just to make ends meet.  Evidently Israel has never heard of unemployment insurance, as his panic leads him there pretty quickly.  He has prepared a massive U.S. District court class action that will attack the system of prosecutors railroading criminal defendants without trial. The prosecutors bludgeon the accused with extremely heavy sentences if they do not agree to a plea bargain.  Many of his former clients have signed on as class plaintiffs.  One young white lawyer at the upscale firm, who ultimately respects Israel in the end, amazingly enough files the civil claim against this racist practice, a practice which is prevalent today. 

However, in reality, this federal lawsuit only exists in this movie, which is the real crime. 

Denzel Washington plays Israel, and being one of the best actors in Hollywood, nails the part. Unfortunately Afro-American film is about the only film consistently political in the U.S., which tells you something about how sad the culture is.  But what can we say about the larger picture of geezer leftists suddenly rising from the ashes of history - weird but more principled and tough than the conformists around them? It hints that black radicalism is back, and that young Afro-Americans are taking up the torch their old-school mothers and fathers once carried.  The 'bulldog' has been passed.  Young people are the future, but the past is never really past.

Prior book review of Angela Davis' "Are Prisons Obsolete?"  Afro-American themed films reviewed below: "Selma," "Get Out," "Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom," "12 Years a Slave," "The Butler," "Red Hook Summer," "I Am Not Your Negro," "Free State of Jones."  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
November 27, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Microcosm Reflects the Macrocosm

Notes on Local Politics in Our Town - Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Jacob Frey, whose qualifications for being Democratic Party mayor of Minneapolis seems to be his ability to jog, his young, prosperous, white maleness and his support by the Minneapolis Business Council, was elected mayor on November 7.  He claims he will do something about the housing situation in the city, but that is merely standard swill designed to fool a gullible public.  And the majority of the voting public is still gullible evidently, as class rarely enters their voting choices.

Here in liberal Minneapolis, we don't have the long list of Republican criminals and fools to deal with.  But we have their 'responsible' reflection.  Odd things happened in this election, which are probably happening in other places in the U.S. too.  

Tourist Shot - Stone Arch Bridge over Mississippi
Green Party
The 'second party' in Minneapolis is not the Republicans but the Greens, due to having one council member, Cam Gordon, on the City Council after 3 elections.  Cam is usually on the left side of issues.  However, the Green Party ran a woman in the 3rd Ward, an ex-executive for Medtronic, a local medical devices firm.  She was against rent control, against $15 an hour, and spent most of her time attacking the socialist who was running in the ward, Ginger Jentzen of Socialist Alternative.  Jentzen won the first round in the ranked choice voting election, but lost when 2nd and 3rd picks were tabulated.  Clearly the Green Party is coming apart at the seems, as their vetting process is non-existent.  They should be run out of the left in Minneapolis based on this performance.  A Green running in the Park Board was allocated funds by the Minneapolis Business Council, so it seems the corporate rulers of Minneapolis see the Greens as no threat at all.  Here the Greens are usually represented by small business men as candidates, which indicates their real class slant.

Union Candidate
A union officer in the Laborer's Union ran for Park Board, while also being a worker at the Park Board.  He was reluctantly endorsed by his own local and given $600 for his campaign.  AFSCME also said they would help him, and he got some money from them, but then they disappeared.  You see, the union officer was not endorsed by the Democratic Party.  Many people in Minneapolis still run without official endorsement and he was no exception.  He discussed this issue when he found his Local phone banking for one of the pro-business candidates, the above-mentioned Frey.  They said they would not phone bank for him because he would probably lose and - wait for it - they needed to back people who would give them business and jobs.  I.E. corporate business, officially-sanctioned Democrats.  A clear example of sbort-sighted business unionism and an example of why unions are on the ropes.

City Attorney
The Democratic Party-dominated Minneapolis City Council has a city attorney who has taken the wrong side in every single major issue.  1. She issued a legal opinion that public monies through sales taxes for the new Vikings stadium did not have to be run by residents of Minneapolis, though the Charter maintains that anything over $10M has to be put to a vote.  This allowed them to ram through an undemocratic tax increase to fund a private business.  2. She prosecuted Clyde Bellecourt, legendary American Indian Movement member for drinking coffee in the IDS Crystal Court as 'trespassing.'  She attempted to increase prosecution of environmental protesters for hanging a banner from Washington Avenue and pipeline protesters for hanging a banner in the Vikings stadium.  She attempted to prosecute peaceful Occupy Homes activists for 'riot.'  She also attempted to prosecute local Lawyers Guild members for opposing her.  3. She issued an opinion against the $15 minimum wage.  4. This year she handed out tickets to Vikings stadium suites and was cited on ethics issues.  Welcome to 'The Law'!

Corporate Welfare
The rentier class is plowing money into real estate and Minneapolis is no exception. Nothing easier than sitting back and collecting rents. The amount of building downtown is phenomenal.  The whole city is slowly being gentrified, first downtown, but now in almost every neighborhood.  The solution to unaffordable housing seems not to be rent or building control.  What does our City Council majority decide to do with our tax money instead?  Spend $50m into a 'new' Nicollet Mall, which, to quote the Who, 'New Mall, just like the Old Mall."  This is supposed to be a benefit to the upscale citizens of downtown.  The new mall has more trees, some colored frame structures along one block, while downgrading the pavement from solid granite to concrete.  That is it. $50m!!!  It's construction disrupted downtown buses and pedestrians for more than 2.5 years, caused the closing of a number of businesses and can charitably be described as a vanity project, a facelift, and only later when you understand what just happened, a vicious tax boondoggle.  A few dozen people showed up for its 'grand opening' where it was christened 'The Main Street of Minnesota" by the irony-challenged leaders of the City Council.  

 A large amount of public funds was also spent on the Target Center, to move the door from the middle of the building to a corner atrium, while giving the whole building a new outside shell.  I.E. another facelift.  This again to mostly promote a privately-owned group of basketball teams.  Though one of them, the female Lynx, is routinely downplayed in spite of being the only consistent sports winners in this state.  Park Board money is now going to be plowed into a privately-owned "Commons" park near the Mississippi.  (Ironic that park name, what?)  The enclosure of the real 'commons' of tax monies into the pockets of corporations continues, thanks to a City Council dominated by corporate Democrats.  

And indeed, because of gentrification, nearly all real estate taxes in the city increased.  Real estate taxes are where the tax burden is falling, as income taxes decrease for the rich and corporations.  This affects both renters and homeowners, those on a fixed income and those who are barely making ends meet. Unless you sell your home, the possible 'increase' in home values is never realized, but the tax bills are 'realized' every 6 months. 

Architecture
The architectural and cultural sensibility of the rulers of Minneapolis seems to be somewhat like those of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, an upscale newish suburb on the edges of the Metro area.  Like those rich homeowners who have to update their bathrooms and kitchens periodically with marble, hot tubs and stainless steel refrigerators, or buy the latest car, the City Council seems to think that this 'newness' is next to Godliness.  Which is why all their projects - the City Center, Block E, the Mall revamp, the new Stadium, the Target Center 'upgrade' - try to turn Minneapolis into the equivalent of an Eden Prairie mall - souless, slick and corporate.  "We want to be a World Class City!'  Which is why the Super Bowl was invited - but the tax bill for that monstrosity has yet to come in.  The only thing 'world class' about Minneapolis is its provincialism.  But then, this reflects the real internal class reality of many of our council people.  One, we unfortunately have to dwell in.

Red Frog
November 25, 2017 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Equality Beats Inequality

"Viking Economics - How the Scandinavians Got it Right - and How We Can Too," by George Lakey, 2016

If any book will make you a militant social-democrat, this is it.  The comparison between Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to the shabby, reactionary state of the U.S. is extreme, to the detriment of the latter.   Lakey, using both his political understanding and his long residency in Norway, hammers on how U.S. capitalism is cruel and bloodthirsty - primitive under a modern veneer, while the "Nordics" are on the right track in almost every area which concerns ordinary people.  However, his somewhat starry view of bringing this social democracy to the U.S. is basically flawed.  That later.

Norwegian Labour Party Poster 1930s
Lakey makes many arguments against U.S. capital that Marxists also make.  It is an enjoyable and easy read, with statistics and clear comparison's that leave little doubt about 'who' is right in this battle of social economics.  Because economics is not a 'science' - it is a social question that boils down to:  "Who benefits?"  Lakey clearly sees that a society that is more equal, where labor has a significant amount of power, where co-ops and cooperation exist on a mass scale, where significant Labor Parties hold political power, is better in every way than the model of dog-eat-dog competition.  There is less crime, less suicide and mental problems, less unemployment, less despoliation of the environment, less ignorance and fear, less racism and nationalism, less poverty, less sickness, less stress and frankly, regular people are far happier.

Lakey points out that the early Viking pagan culture actually provided a different and more equal template for social life than the later Christian medieval culture - and this still plays out in present day Scandinavia.

One of the most significant points he makes is that these countries are not 'welfare states.'  That is a misnomer based on reactionary political confusion.  Unlike the U.S., where 'special' programs are targeted at the 'poor' - the social-democratic economies are 'universal service states,' as he calls them.  Since nearly everyone benefits, those at the bottom of the economic class structure are not stigmatized and penalized and turned into a pariah class or ethnicity, as in the U.S.  U.S. liberals love the U.S. 'welfare' state because it pretends to solve the problem.  It does not and it has not - it only continues the problem and exacerbates racism and classicism.  It is the government version of religiously-motivated charity.  When I was on welfare years ago, I sold a communist paper in the welfare offices with the line, "Get rid of the welfare system."  Sold tons of papers to those trapped in it.

Here are some points made by Lakey:

1. Like many other capitalist countries in the 1880s, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark had terrible economies which forced many to flee to the U.S. in search of a better life.  Sort of the Mexico's and Latin Americas of their time.  So it was not always so...
2. The Nordics support 'flexicurity' which means that specific jobs are not guaranteed, but free job retraining and 90% unemployment insurance is guaranteed.
3. Government housing banks exist to help people buy or build homes inexpensively.
4. The Nordics believe that everyone has to work to contribute to society.  Work is both a social and a personal necessity.  This echoes Marx, who understood that labor is at the center of society.
5.  3 of these 5 nations are in the EU, with Iceland and Norway not members.  But only Finland uses the Euro as currency, reflecting the other's fears of the imperial bankers of Frankfurt, Paris and still, London.
6.  The neo-liberal banking and securities crises of the 1980s and 2008 affirmed Nordic social-democracy, and turned back attempts to derail those systems.  Iceland, by letting its over-leveraged capitalist banks fail in 2008, actually has recovered more quickly than countries who propped them up like the U.S.
7.  Norway became social-democratic in the early 1920s because of a very strong Communist and Socialist labor movement which led the unions.  They started a Labor Party in 1899.
8. This strain of socialist laborism was the dominant force among the populations of every one of these countries, and the reason the capitalists had to make a 'social compact.'  The Left sought dialectical polarization, not accommodation.  Class struggle and fear of revolution created social-democracy, not liberalism.   
9.  As a result, these societies have free health care, free education, full employment, inexpensive or free daycare, powerful trade unions and efficient transport systems.
10.  Lakey points out that there are more successful entrepreneurs in these countries than in the U.S., where the U.S. 'Small' Business Administration is a misnomer.
11.  There is a massive non-capitalist cooperative sector in these economies, in retail, insurance, farming, banking, housing and production.
12.  Small farming is the agriculture model, not massive large farms. Farmers have unions and negotiate prices with the government.  Crop prices are protected. Family farming has been preserved.
13.  The 'universal service state' has reduced poverty to low levels not seen in almost any other country.
14.  Crime is so low that it has to be remembered through Nordic crime novels.
15.  Gender and ethnic rights are far stronger than in the U.S.  Life-long learning is part of the free education system.  There is no student debt.
16.  The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the biggest in the world (!), recently announced it is divesting from oil and gas.  On windy days, Denmark gets all of its power from wind turbines, sometimes exporting that power to Germany.  These are indications that global warming is not a 'theory' in the Nordic countries.
17.  Taxes are the main bugaboo in the U.S.  Nordic countries use taxes to actually get something for the vast majority of people.  In the U.S. the rich and the corporations avoid them and get corporate welfare instead.  U.S. taxes are moving to sales taxes and property taxes, which directly impact working people and housing, letting the rich off the hook.

Is this rosy story exportable to the main imperial power of world capitalism?  Just asking the question answers it.  Lakey's main problem is that he does not treat capitalism as a world system.  Instead he wants to carve out a capitalism with a human face, sort of a counter-culture niche living within the war-making, IMF controlled, transnational beast.   It can certainly be done for awhile, but even he admits that class struggle still exists in the Nordics due to the presence of the internal capitalist class and their upper-class allies.  And world capital, though that he does not mention. 

The other problem is that Lakey thinks just presenting these 'great examples' will suddenly prompt the sad political culture of the U.S. to change.  While Bernie Sanders, who Lakey pointed out is to the right of the Nordics, brought up some of these issues, Sanders collapsed back into the neo-liberal Democratic Party at the crucial moment.  Lakey makes no mention of the role of the U.S. ruling class, military and propaganda network in maintaining world-wide exploitation.  Lakey makes no mention of the need for a Labor Party in the U.S.  He makes no mention of the need for a strong socialist and communist movement in the U.S.  He makes no mention of the rotten state of the AFL-CIO or "Change to Win" labor federation leaderships. Yet correcting this was essential to the founding of these social-democratic societies.  You can't get to the social-democratic moon with a tricycle.  And Lakey offers a tricycle. 

Actual socialism and class struggle is still verboten in the U.S. on the ground level, though it is gaining ideological strength.  DSA and Socialist Alternative are gaining members, as is the IWW, but their sizes are still small.  In a recent city council election in Minneapolis' 3rd Ward, a female socialist from Socialist Alternative won the majority of first round votes but due to IRV, lost to a bureaucratic white male Democrat.  So voters still don't get it.  Certainly no one but the heavily deluded believes the Republican Party can do anything for the working class.  But the Democratic Party is the main roadblock to social-democracy, not the avenue through which it will be attained!  Lakey mentions none of this.  His U.S. citations - familiar people like Stiglitz, Galbraith, Sachs, Alperovitz, Krugman, Piven, Perlstein, Nichols - are all basically Democrats.  

Lakey is a pacifist and a Quaker and is certainly aware of the problems of the Democratic Party and perhaps U.S. imperialism.  His Nordic examples show that a mixed economy capitalism with a human face is possible somewhere.   But he fails to bring a wider understanding to bear on the U.S. and thus undermines his whole argument. 

Prior review of "The Vikings" TV series, as well as a history of Viking societies, below. Travel notes on Helsinki and a novel about Iceland, below.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
November 19, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Goodbye Lenin!

On the Streets
A Russian sociologist could do research about where the St. Petersburg proletariat lives now.  They have moved to the outer districts ringing St. Petersburg, past Vyborg, Kirovsky and Petrograd which were so important in 1917.  As such, they are more dispersed geographically, and this means something in any city from the political angle. There are still large factories visible from the train, as well as complexes of apartment housing as you come into the city, and some still within it.  One apartment complex was massive and modern, but kilometers from the old town.  The port is still huge down the Neva west towards the Baltic and Kronstadt.  Factory chimneys and power plants can be seen ringing the older parts of the city.  In spite of the conspicuous layer of upscale shoppers and car owners, the city still feels proletarian.  One woman driving her Mercedes with a cross dangling from the rear-view mirror, busy on her cell phone, almost ran into a group of pedestrians.  But here, pedestrians still have power given their numbers.  Or as Jim Morrison said, they have the guns and the money, but 'we have the numbers.'

Actors and Reality...St. Petersburg

Being in St. Petersburg is much like being in any other European city - millenials with their cell phones and nice clothes, trendy coffee shops and bars, shopping etc.  People in this city, like nearly everywhere else, dote on coffee, tea, sweets and food while sitting in endless cafes, and I'm beginning to wonder if coffee is not the opium of the people now.  The prices for U.S. citizens are actually low, especially at this time of year when the skys are grey, the days short and it seems it wants to rain but never does.  Food can be had cheaply, especially if you understand what you are looking at.  Although Cyrillic lettering is everywhere, streets signs are also in Greek letters... our letters.  Stores play western pop and some have English names.  A good number of young people know bits of English.  Some menus have English translations, as English is unfortunately the language of world tourism.  You can walk the central city easily if you know how to read a map or invested in a Euro-card for a cell phone and GPS.  I found cheap internet and museums to be very inexpensive - except the Hermitage.  

The worst part is the traffic noise, the exhaust fumes and the tobacco smoke on the sidewalks. People cannot smoke inside anymore.  The other negative is that museums are closed on Wednesday mornings, sometimes all Tuesdays, and the entrances are sometimes not marked. If I had not had a map with it marked, I would have missed the Russian Literary Museum unless I decided to push through a mysterious door.   I pushed through some unknown heavy doors several times and discovered quite remarkable things by mistake.  Once it was the Steiglitz art school, where young girls with Parisian accents study painting surrounded by massive bas reliefs from ancient Rome and Greece.  Their easels, stools and still lifes were set up in a massive courtyard again covered by glass, surrounded by this statuary.  Inspirational?

Police were shaking down young men on the Nevsky, asking for papers.  There are guards everywhere in buildings, but they seem to be bored to tears and don't give a damn.  There is a sense that you are to be intimidated, but then you realize that they are human and know you are not a Chechen terrorist or a thief.  Strict instructions are ignored in practice.  I got a few hard stares, as I wore a hat with a worn red star on it, but no one seems to care.  They liked the beret better, as France has a rep in Russia.  Russian pastries are exotic, much like French petit-fours and the Russian beer is good.  The food is nothing to write home about, especially for vegetarians, though I did have some potatoes and mushrooms wrapped in pastry, which was great.  Sort of like the Iron Range pasty.  If you are vegan, very difficult, as cheese is the default. But then my Russian dictionary's type was so small and list of words limited that I could not decipher what food was what very well anyway, so you can blame 'user error.'

I went into a few women's toilets by accident and got away with it.  Leave it to the 'Amerikanski' to bring uni-sex bathrooms to Russia through misreading the letters on doors.

Goodbye Lenin.  Not really frozen in time...

I took a last picture of Lenin at the Finland Station as I left, frozen in time, but actually not...  There is a reason why the Russian government spends so much time undermining the Revolution, Lenin, Trotsky and affirming Kerensky.  As do most other governments for that matter, including our own, where anti-Marxism is a staple across the U.S. political spectrum.  But as Karl mentioned long ago, 'a spectre' still haunts the world.  As long as capitalism exists and the proletariat exists, it will not be going away.

Red Frog
November 10, 2017 Helsinki

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Travel Notes 7 - The Hermitage

The Hermitage and Winter Palace

What is unusual about this art museum is that it is not only a musuem but a place of history and architectural interest in its own right, unlike the Louvre or the Uffizi or the NY Museum of Modern Art.  Here the Czar lived until he abdicated and where the Provisional Government had their meetings.  Kerensky even lived here after July 1917 as the leader of the government.  Unaware of what this looked like to the people of Petrograd or the Petrograd Soviet, Kerensky bedded down in a former Czar's bed chamber and had his office in another Czar's study.  His 'cabinet' met in the Malachite room - an ornate room of valuable green stone also favored by the 300 year old Romanov dynasty.

The Malachite Room - Winter Palace/Hermitage

The Provisional Government was later arrested in the Winter Palace in the early morning of November 7 by Soviet soldiers led by Anton-Ovseenko.  Perhaps for being just plain clueless, starting with the symbolism.  A 'failure of optics' and more...

The Russian government created a very large and powerful display in the Hermitage for the 100th Anniversary of the revolution.  It basically creates sympathy for the poor Romanovs and later, poor poor Kerensky and his government of suits and ties.  Pictures throughout the museum show the damage and looting of the royal suites, even in the bedroom of the Czarina.  But it did include some revolutionary posters, pictures of Lenin and Trotsky, satirical pamphlets of the day like Mockba and other revolutionary material, including an early draft of the 'Monument to the 3rd International.'  Also a funny magazine cover of Rasputin saying: "I overthrew him first!" and pointing at a little Nicolaus II. Lunacharsky took over the Winter Palace for the Soviet in order to preserve what was left after Nov. 7.  His cultural group took pictures of the damage.  He was the same person who started a 'Museum of Atheism and Religion' in the former Kazan Cathedral and had been part of Trotsky's organization prior to them joining the Bolsheviks.

HERMITAGE - Old Section

If you have seen the excellent film "Russian Ark", walking through the Hermitage is a little like being in that film again, as you recognize staircases, corridors and rooms.  That film featured a single tracking shot through the whole Winter Palace, lasting about an hour and half with hundreds of extras and just one very tired cameraman.  It was a bit surreal to say the least to walk these corridors after seeing that film  Deja vu induced by a film.  Where are the cameras!?

Rasputin and Little Nicky II

The Hermitage collection includes vast amounts of portraits of rich people and royalty from different countries - even in the Middle East.  It also contains much Christian religous painting and classical art.  Not my 'cup of tea' as they say, and perhaps not many other people's cut of tea, no matter how well painted. There are also large sections of archaic antiquities from Turkey, Egypt and other non-Western countries. None of these areas were well-populated by visitors. I did find some great paintings by Bruegel the Younger and Hieronymus Bosch and their followers Mandyn and Cleve, who described both a bloody hell and the forbidden Garden of Earthly Delights, which evidently includes lots of nudity and intimations of hetero-sexual sex .  There was a hilarious Rubens' painting of a vast, overweight nude Bacchus and his drunk cherubs.  Stalin actually told the staff of the Hermitage to return artistic material from Ukraine to the Ukrainian museums and they refused.  They were steeped in royalism at the time, so they were not going to listen to anyone.  The former director emigrated in 1918.

HERMITAGE - New Section

Across Palace Square is now another part of the Hermitage Museum, in the General Staff Building that lines the other side.  It has been refurbished so the open courtyards that are found in many buildings in St. Petersburg are covered over by glass, thus creating two vast open spaces - which seem to be for a museum still in the making.  Along the edges are what has been transferred from the Moscow Museum of Western Art and private collections, either bought by the Russian government during the 1920s and later, or collectivized or donated.  So yes, Communists actually care about art.   Many come from the |Morozov and Shchukin private collections.  Here are all the figures of Impressionism and some of post-impressionism - Gaugin, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne and the usual suspects - and then people like Picasso, Rouault, Kandinsky, religious bible stories sketched by Chagall - basically another huge collection. A painting by Besson of miners is especially outstanding, opposite a fantastic shimmering picture by Hoffbauer of a high-society woman in a London nightclub.

The New Hermitage

One picture of Socialist realistic art was included and nothing by Russian Constructivists, but the point of this part of the collection is not Russian art.  However, I looked for the Museum of Avant-garde Art while in the Petrograd District and could not locate it, except in the remains of a damaged building.  So I don't even know if there is a collection of Socialist Realist or Constructivist art anywhere in Russia.  Certainly the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis has some of the latter.

Red Frog
November 9, 2017

Trave Notes 6 - Literary St. Petersburg

I Saw a Woman on a Horse Riding Down Nevsky's Sidewalk at 11:00 PM

Dostoevsky Apartment - I visited the last one of the Dostoevsky family apartments, the one he was in when he wrote "The Brothers Karamazov" and where he died.  He moved every 3 years or so, even living in hospitals and churches.  This was a modest apartment, recreated from pictures and descriptions of his daughter.  It is not far from some of the scenes in 'Crime & Punishment.'

Dostoevsky's Last Apartment - Upstairs

Russian fiction was one of the 4 great traditions of 19th century European fiction, along with French, English & U.S. fiction.  If you were interested in existentialism, you had to start with Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" and go from there.  He was the darkest writer, even darker than Gogol.  He moved from socialism in his youth to Russian Orthodox Christianity, culminating in the book "The Idiot" - the name of a Russian Christlike figure who people made fun of because he was so kind and naive.

Dostoevsky worked at night, loved very hot tea, sweets and cigarettes - even though he had emphysema.  His wife took care of him.  She ran his literary business, taking dictation and editing, so that in the morning he would have a final draft to look at.  Without her, there might have been no Dostoevsky.  I have been in the houses or apartments of Hemingway, Dickens, Twain, Hugo, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Alice Walker and being here was a powerful feeling.  A tobacco box still stood on one table, with his daughter's notes saying: "Papa died today" with the date of death.  Fitting for his apartment, I think.

Russian Literature Museum - This is located on Vasilevsky Island, just across from the Winter Palace.  It is best seen with an audio translation, but there are some English explanations in each room.  It has a full room of Tolstoy photos, objects and paintings.  The old man, dressed in his muzhik's blouse and boots and his flowing white beard is endearing.  There is also a Lermontov room, a young poet who died in a dual with Martynov - like his hero Pushkin, as I understand.  Lermontov was deported for revolutionary lines in his poem "A Poet's Death" which was declared seditious.  He served in the army serveral times and lived in the southern Caucasus Mountains after being sent from St. Petersburg. There is also a room of 20th century writers - Gorky, Mayakovsky, Bely & Block, some symbolists, Yesenin and Mandelstam, the best stuff being on Gorky.  Pictures of members of writers unions and various intense intellectual 'salon's are also included - something that has been absent in the U.S. for a long time.  After all, few in the U.S. take ideas seriously anymore.

Pushkin's sumptuous apartment is located within eyesight of Palace Square along the Moyka river.  Pushkin allowed Nicolas I to review his draft / final of "The Bronze Horseman" about Peter the Great - a draft included here with Nicolas' notes on it.  Pushkin was very close to the aristocracy evidently.

I walked right by the Nabokov Museum and did not go in, as his writing has never interested me.  His most famous work, "Lolita" about an older man's sexual relationship with a young girl, seems to be such a sad and chauvinist angle, even if true, that I can't stomach it.  Nabokov was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in St. Petersburg in 1899 which later supported the Provisional Government of Kerensky, then fled after the seizure of power by the Soviets.  Perhaps the history of diddling the servants by aristocrats played some role in 'Lolita,' but we'll never know.

Leningrad Siege Museum

Leningrad Siege Museum - This is a moving but small museum not far from the Field of Mars.  It contains incredible water color/paint pictures of civilian scenes from the 900 day Siege of Leningrad in World War II, showing Leningraders pulling water from the frozen canals to drink, cooking cats, cannibalism, hauling the dead and surviving, just using black paint on a white background, giving the feel of a wood-cut.  I have to look up the artist.

The museum explains how the Nazis cut off Leningrad by land, so that the only supplies had to be hauled across northern Lake Ladoga's ice or water and trucked into the city through the snowy countryside under German bombing.   The small museum contains paintings, military hardware, a few explanations in English, photos, recreations of scenes. The section below, from the Museum's site, explains why the museum is only one floor:

"A memorial museum was established around the current site immediately after the end of the blockade, and covered an area over thirty times the size of the present exhibition. A number of 'trophy' Nazi tanks and aircraft were among the 37,000 exhibits, many of which were donated by citizens. Fearing the unifying power of such a monument, Stalin ordered its destruction during his purge of the Leningrad Party in 1948. The museum's director was shot, the larger exhibits were disbursed and destroyed in secret, and the rest were burnt until there was nothing left. It was not until the late eighties that it became possible to re-establish the museum. Once again, Blockade survivors and their families provided most of the exhibits, and the museum reopened on 8 September 1989."

I asked some Maoists from ICOR who were attending at the same time why the museum was so small for such an incredible event.  They did not know, evidently not knowing the history.  I commented to them that it was too bad the Russian Army was 'surprised,' which allowed the Germans to get to Leningrad in the first place.  They moved away from me at that point.

What was clear is that the Nazi command said they would not feed the civilians of Leningrad if they took the city.  So Leningraders never surrendered, though 700,000 died.  Better to die on your feet than your knees, as Zapata so succinctly put it.  That, unfortunately, is what happened.

Reviews of Russian novels by Chernyshevsky, Biely, below:

Red Frog
November 9, 2017

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Travel Notes 5 - Nov. 7 Evening Updated

Tovarishchi -  November 7 Evening

The 'manifestation' to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 1917 Revolution in St. Petersburg was held around 5:30 PM in the Vyborg.  About 2,500-3,000 people attended.  Part of it started at the Lenin statue in Finland Station Park, then moved to "Finland Lane" where the Russian Communist Party (CPRF) was already in place.  This was an area where Finnish workers who built the railroad lived.  They were later deported in the 1950s. After about half an hour of singing and chanting by various groups, behind a van of the CPRF decorated with hammers and sickles, the column began to march.  The march led through the streets, over the Samsonieksviy bridge, to the Aurora battleship on the Petrograd side.  There a stage had been set up by the CPRF, along with a video screen.  The police escorted the march through traffic.  It was very impressive as it marched, filling about 4-5 American blocks with red flags and people as it came up to the Aurora.  The majority were supporters or members of the CPRF, and given that, the demonstration seemed somewhat small if this is any reflection of their base.  However, for the CPRF this was a sideshow, as their main demonstration was in Moscow.

Comrade of the CPRF at the Manifestation

The City Government had granted the permit at 5:30 PM after the sun went down and the cold came up, so as Sergei, one local Russian said, they city probably knew this would be a crimp in the 'manifestation.'

The march was full of various Left groups.  I have to tell you, on this somewhat momentous occasion, it was a bit like that Monty Python sketch.  You know, "Who are you?"  "We are the League to Free Galilee!"  "And you are,,,?"  "We are the Workers Association of the Dead Sea!"  "And who are you?"  "We are the Socialist Federation of the Sheep Herders!"

But in this case, Maoists from the ICOR, young Trotskyists from 2 Russian groups - the Russian Socialist Movement and the Revlutionary Workers Party, the mainline CPRF, which was the largest and another group, the United Workers Party of Russia.  Also cadre from the Swedish, German and other Communist Parties, people from the Australian Labor Party, leftists from China, one member of Socialist Action from the U.S., a supporter of Enver Hoxha, a few anarchists and some I missed or didn't run into.  Yeah, the U.S. left granted 2 people.  There were also plenty of ordinary Russians, who no longer believe in the promises of Russian capitalism.

What was interesting was that there seemed to be no attempt to coordinate chants, songs, movement or anything between organizations. The ICOR sang the Internationale, then the CP sound system kicked it out at a different time.  As if no one there actually knew the words in their many languages.  At the Lenin statute, a group of CPers walked by the ICOR and disappeared towards Finland Lane and it's pretty clear they did not invite anyone.  It was as if all these various Marxists and anti-capitalists were there by accident, busily ignoring each other.  It certainly shows the fatal organizational isolation of the Marxist left.  Does anyone really consider themselves the leader of an actual revolutionary movement, committed to overthrowing capital on a world scale?  Everyone there was a supporter or sympathizer of the Bolshevik revolution, but the leaders did not use that fact to build a larger more significant event, or even make an attempt to recruit by acting like it actually mattered. The CPRF certainly had bigger fish to fry, as their larger demonstration in Moscow was covered on Russian news.

Comrades of the Revolutionary Workers Party

So I felt like I was at an ordinary left demonstration, if more colorful and more architecturally appealing.  People selling or swapping their party papers, a stage on which the first 'act' was a group of youngsters singing a tepid song, and I'm sure not one speaker from anyone but the CPRF.  Typical organizationally protective behaviour, in which your own parties' calculations are paramount.  Yet there were people from all over the world in attendance.  The most impressive group was the Maoist electoral party from Nepal, who brought a large contingent.  They won the election there after years of guerilla warfare and the collapse of the royal family and royal rule.  Were they invited to the podium?  I doubt it.  I left because I know the answer.

I later went to the Hendrix blues bar to celebrate the day.  A Russian three-piece played stride, boogie-woogie, rockabilly and some blues.  The real world calls...

Red Frog
November 7, 2017