Sunday, December 23, 2007

Send an Anti-war Message for the Holidays

Scenes from the holiday anti-war gathering in Uptown, Minneapolis. December 21st 6:30 - 7:30

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Event: Frida Kahlo, at Walker Art Center

Event - Frida Kahlo, Walker Art Center, through January 20, 2008.

Can you say self-portrait? Patron saint of Mexico, self-created icon, Christ and Mother Mary stand-in Frida Kahlo has paintings in her first exhibition in also-ran Minneapolis, running through January 20 at the ‘new’ Walker Art Center.

You have to hand it to Mexico. What country in the world has images of three revolutionaries – Zapata, Villa and Kahlo – hanging all over the country? The U.S. does not have pictures of our revolutionaries like Washington or Lincoln or Grant in stores or houses. Our memory does not go that far back. Kahlo and her story are familiar to many, if only because she probably did more self-portraits than any other painter. When I first discovered Kahlo, I was put off by this. What heights of self-centeredness! What conceit! I avoided Kahlo like the plague. Then I saw the film “Frida” with Selma Hayek. Say what you will about Hollywood, this will be their first, and last, film about Kahlo. And perhaps the last film about Kahlo by anyone. The best part of the film was explaining the self-portraits, and actually showing other, broader works that put her squarely in the surrealist tradition. Andre Breton explained this to Kahlo, who was actually surprised to hear it. She is probably the most prominent woman surrealist painter.

Some of her best non self-portraits are not in this collection, but there are a few that are. Kahlo was tortured by spinal injuries from an accident, multiple miscarriages, and adultery from her two-time husband, Diego Rivera. She spent time in hospitals and at home, flat on her back, where the legend is the only thing she could paint was herself, lying flat, from mirrors suspended above or in front of the bed. In concentrating on herself, breaking the mold of most painters, in showing herself in pain, bleeding, part animal, dressed as a peasant, an Aztec, in high detail, aging over the years, her body parts exposed, she created the first ‘autobiographical’ painting style, which was effective because it spoke to more than just Frida Kahlo. In effect, she created herself as a semi-religious icon for Mexican women, and Mexican people, representing their pain. Her personal story became something many women might identify with. Indeed, the show was attended by many women on the one free Thursday I went, including many Latino women.

Some of the paintings here are “Henry Ford Hospital,” about a miscarriage in Detroit; “The Dream”, which hung in Paris; “Self Portrait on the Border,” which is about the clash of Mexico and the U.S.; and “My Dress Hangs There,” about her stay in New York. Another is "Moses," based Kahlo reading an analysis of Freud. "Moses" is one of the better non-self portrait pictures, and in style is similar to Rivera. It includes mini-portraits of Hitler and other assorted odious ones on one side and Lenin, Stalin and Gandhi on the other, in the apparently 'non-odious' area.

There are several portraits of Rivera in the show, though he is not the theme here. There are two paintings, one of which is "Suicide of Dorothy Hale," that spread out onto the frames. Another has a three dimensional approach, as it is mounted under a kind of painted glass, and made me think Kahlo might be the source for so many Mexican three-dimensional ‘box’ paintings now popular. Additionally, Kahlo painted on metal a lot, which might have been a product of poverty, or an appreciation of its hard texture and thin width.

There is also a large collection of photographs of Kahlo and Rivera attached to the show, from the collection of a friend in San Francisco. Kahlo, as true in her painting, was also the favorite subject of the camera. Her clothing and jewelery compliment her art, as she saw herself as a 'work of art' as well. In one photo, Kahlo is shown in neck traction, with the Spanish words, “totally fucked’ written across the top. In another, the most famous, Kahlo poses with her family dressed as a young well-dressed man. There are 4 pictures of Trotsky, and one interesting picture of Rivera and Kahlo in front of an English sign selling Marxist pamphlets, which might have have been taken in NY in front of a Socialist Workers Party table at the New School.

Typical of the Walker, they make no mention of Kahlo’s specific radical politics in their storyboard descriptions of her life, preferring to dwell on the personal trials. While the storyboards are extremely accurate in other respects, the curators should be spanked for this de-sanitization of Kahlo in the interest of appealing to middle class women from Minnetonka, who they think don’t want to know their dear Frida was a communist, and for a long time a Trotskyist sympathizer.

Go to the show, as the Walker has finally hit two home runs with this and the Picasso 'inspiration' show one after the other. This show was very crowded, on both pay and Thursday nights, so get there early. After years of sterile 'modern' art shows that communicate to few people, the Walker has finally grown as a museum. Of course, in the process they had to abandon 'abstract' art in their special exhibitions. And better yet, visit the main source museum for Kahlo in Coyoacan, Mexico, just southwest of Mexico City. This, also, is close to the Old Man's last resting place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Book Review: "Party's Over"

Book Review: “The Party’s Over” – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, by Richard Heinberg

One in a long line of recent books about peak oil, this book speaks from the perspective of oil engineers and scientists. Based on their perspective, a world-wide Hubbert’s peak for oil is being reached somewhere around now, between 2005-2010.

Carrying on with the theme of the ‘cheap oil fiesta’ announced by Richard Kunstler in his book, “The Long Emergency,” Heinberg agrees that the ‘party’ is over, and, cutting to the chase, agrees with Kunstler that no technological fix(es) will suffice to completely replace oil and it’s products - gasoline, jet fuel and natural gas. He says essentially we had better be prepared for a combination of new technologies and reduced material living standards.

Heinberg starts with a description of the first and second laws of thermodynamics (the first says energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed, the second says that conversion leads to dissipation of energy) and shows how there is no ‘perpetual motion’ machine in the universe, as much as humans have attempted to invent one. The second law also says that entropy in closed systems increases. The universe is a closed system, as far as we know now, and so is the earth. Hence, entropy is the ultimate fate of the earth and the universe, and our best hope is a ‘climax ecosystem.’ He proceeds to describe the workings of the earth’s biosphere and it’s development into a climax ecosystem - a balanced, sustainable environment. On the road to a climax ecosystem, or growing out of it, there is a danger that some organism will become more populous than the system can support, due to a sudden massive increase in food. When the ‘food’ runs out, the population will ‘overshoot’ habitability, which will resort in a massive die-off of the species eating that food. He considers humans to have acted no differently, to date, than any rat, fruit fly or bacteria would if confronted with a new abundant food source - oil. And our fate may be the same if it runs out.

From this model, Heinberg thinks humans are reaching a point where there might be a massive die-off, due to the collapse in the oil supply, our ‘food’ and the foundation of our present world agriculture. Other theorists, like James Lovelock, the discoverer of “Gaia,” featured in last month’s Rolling Stone, think global warming, and attendant droughts and starvation, could lead to a die off. The numbers they toy with are a remaining 2 or 3.5 billion of 7 billion people, Heinberg the more 'optimistic. ' These are catastrophic projections.

Heinberg includes a short history of the development of petroleum, and it’s incredible in-built energy. The United States was the discoverer of mass oil, and its first beneficiary - it is the technical foundation of our society. Gasoline is one of the most efficient fuels ever discovered - one gallon can do the work of 510 man hours of work. The dangers of relying on this non-renewable resource are environmental degradation, climate change and eventual over-dependency on a phantom. The defeat of Germany and Japan were both linked to their lack of fuel. When Eisenhower created the interstate system in the 1950s, he helped destroy rail all over the country, something we are still grappling with today. In 1970, Hubbert’s oil peak was reached in the U.S., much as Hubbert had predicted. Heinberg notes that now U.S. troops are in 120 countries, and have established bases near oil and gas pipelines all over the world.

Heinberg takes petroleum scientist supporters of Hubbert’s methodology and presents their arguments. They think Saudi claims of reserves are inaccurate, and are propagated for political reasons, as the alleged Saudi reserve has not changed in 17 years! Nor have the reserves of every other Middle Eastern country. Nearly every known oil field in the world is past peak – Northsea, Mexico, Nigeria, Algeria, Iran, Russia, etc. The peak is for almost every kind of oil. Heavy Venezuelan and Canadian oil tar are included in the book, though not at peak. They may produce more in the future that other fields, but their costs and consequences are much greater than regular oil. To replace world oil with Canadian oil shale would require 700 fuel plants and a water waste lagoon the size of Lake Erie to process it all. He concludes that the relatively short historic industrial interval of oil is coming to a close.

To make his second point on the uniqueness of oil, he goes through each replacement technology one by one. Natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, hydro, geothermal, tides and waves, biomass, fusion and conservation all have their ‘at bat.’ Natural gas is near or at peak itself. Coal is highly carbon-positive, and its efficiency is growing less as more efficient coal has already been mined. Coal’s global peak is around 2050. Nuclear is promising, but it would take many years to build all the nuclear plants required, not to mention the dangers of nuclear materials themselves. He has no problem with wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and tides and waves, although he thinks smaller hydro dams are more feasible, but taken together, these all cannot provide the same energy as oil. Hydrogen is also feasible, but at this point is extremely expensive. He points out ethanol is taking food to feed SUVs. Using ethanol to replace oil would require planting corn in more acres than the world even has in arable land. In the process it is destroying the tree environment needed to combat global warming, for instance in Brazil. The efficiencies of biomass are modest, and again, no substitute for oil on a mass basis. Fusion and its offshoots have never worked.

Conservation through efficiencies and curtailment of energy use is his last suggestion. He concludes that curtailment is more efficient that efficiencies, which have been resorted to already in many areas. Curtailment is thought to be the least palatable politically.

Heinberg’s last section is on what the world will look like in 50 years after peak oil. Well, think about it. Flying to Australia on vacation? Wrapping products in plastic? Steak? Oranges on trucks from California? Everything made out of plastic? Bus service for schools? Just look around, and you will start to get an idea of what will change. Almost everything.

Heinberg thinks the future will bring greater clashes between the classes and he is absolutely right. Peak oil will create a more and more stratified society of haves and have nots. The white collar middle class we have, based on finance capital, will shrink, as the economy shrinks. While Heinberg discounts classical Marxism as rooted in the ‘19th century,’ Marxism is actually rooted in the working class itself. Marxism, although it grew at the same time as the oil explosion, is not related to hyper industrialism per se, or growth. In fact, Marxism is far more compatible with the sustainable, collective society that will be necessary to survive peak oil and global warming than capitalism. The working class is not going away in the future. If anything, a local industrial and agrarian working class will be needed again to replace the oil labor being performed by machines. Shoes will not be exclusively made in China - in fact we might not be able to ship shoes from China. Human labor is not passé.

Some estimate U.S. living standards will go back to the 1890s as oil use declines. I guess about the 1940s. Predictions, of course, are different for the main capitalist countries as opposed to those in the 2nd and 3rd worlds. Whatever the case, Marxism started developing during the Paris Commune in 1870. I would say Marxists or the working class have no fear of being ‘outdated’ by a return to older or more sustainable technologies. We have no alternative to survival. In fact, we might be right at home.

Red Frog – 11/06/2007
“And I bought it at MayDay Books!”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Book Review: "Laurel Canyon"

Book Review of “Laurel Canyon – The Inside Story of Rock and Rolls’ Legendary Neighborhood” by Michael Walker, 2006

In homage to Gramsci, I thought I’d write about a cultural issue. This one relates to the ‘state’ of things here in the U.S.A. This book is about the effect this Los Angeles canyon, and the people who lived in it, had on rock and folk music in the 60s, 70s and beyond. The issue relates to what I consider to be the essence of creativity – an environment where like-minded people can work together to increase the value of their art. History is replete with this happening - the groups of U.S. transcendentalists and other writers in Concord MA and Hartford, CT; the Bloomsbury group in London; the writers and painters of the 20s and 30s in Paris; the Bolshevik culturalists after the revolution in Moscow; and the later bohemians of Greenwich Village, the Algonquin Hotel in New York and North Beach in San Francisco. Musically, there were the hippie bands of San Francisco, and all the music incubator cities - Memphis, Nashville, Austin, New York, Athens, Detroit, Seattle and, even, Minneapolis. And there was Laurel Canyon in LA.

Why does this matter? Because essentially, when a local music or cultural scene matures, it has more power over the corporate controllers of culture than it would if the corporations ‘created’ the music, or they ‘discovered’ the talent, or they ‘decided’ on the trends. The best music comes out of local roots and environments. So does the best literature and painting. It is the answer to corporate culture. Local scenes can ‘explode’ on a national and international level. To paraphrase, it takes a village to raise a good art form.

The author, Michael Walker, is kind of a kitschy, poppy LA type, who trades on gossip and big names, but what do you expect about a book on rock? I did not really understand the interrelationships between the bands and musicians in LA until this book. LA rock seemed somewhat sterile and isolated, and more driven by commercialism. I thought the situation of a creative enclave was reserved for San Francisco at the time. However, a similar scene did happen in LA, close to the music clubs of the Sunset Strip, and also close to Hollywood and the mainstream music industry. Laurel Canyon musicians 'jammed' together constantly in the houses and porches of the canyon, mixing with artists, producers and dancers, then went down to the “Strip” clubs, to play, watch other musicians, or plan deals. All this outside of Hollywood or the record factories churning out Vic Damone. And they changed those industries because of the creative clout they had.

Many of the people and bands lived in Laurel Canyon. Frank Zappa moved into a large ‘cabin’ at a crossroads in the Canyon, and for half a year, played host to the GTOs, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and some ex-Turtles. Unlike his somewhat stern and sarcastic persona, he was actually encouraging to the talent that flocked up the road to his house. His ‘cabin’ became an endless music party, without many drugs, until the potential for violent behavior made Gail Zappa decide to move the family to a quieter location in the Canyon.

Musicians like Mark Volman of the Turtles, Gene Hillman of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, Roger McQuinn of the Byrds, Carole King, ex of the Brill building, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of the Eagles, Jackson Browne, Love’s Arthur Lee, Judy Collins, Mick Dolenz of the Monkees, Nick St Nicholas of Steppenwolf, John Densmore and Robby Krieger of the Doors and John Mayall all spent time in the canyon. Mayall did an album, “Blues for Laurel Canyon.” Canned Heat lived in Northridge, then moved to the canyon for awhile, until their house burned down. Neil Young lived over in the more isolated Topanga Canyon, as would be Neil’s wont. Of course the most famous residents are The Mamas and the Papas' Cass Elliot, and Byrds' David Crosby and Buffalo Springfields' Stephen Stills, and the king and queen of the canyon, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, who co-habited in that house. The former wrote “Our House” about their small abode on Lookout Drive. The latter did an album, “Ladies of the Canyon.” Elliot actually introduced Nash to Crosby, and put that band together, because she knew harmonies so well. Nash has said his whole life changed because he knew Elliot.

The bands and managers that lived in the Canyon attracted a whole ‘LA sound” which was really folk rock. The Byrds were the first big breakthrough, as the prior Buffalo Springfield with Stills and Young did not make it commercially. Bands like America came out of LA as well, sounding almost exactly like Crosby, Still and Nash, the biggest name of the canyon. These bands and their sound were the link between the earlier ‘pure’ LA folk scene, and the later, mellow Canyon “California rock” of the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Brown. "California rock" gave way to later LA hair rock bands like Motley Crue; then punkers like “X” dominated the clubs of the Strip, to be followed by the alternative rock of Janes Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt. Nikki Sixx, from the Crue, actually lived in the canyon at one time, oddly enough.

The Canyon was a short drive to the Sunset Strip, where legendary clubs like the Whiskey, the Troubadour (which was actually on Santa Monica), the Rainbow and Rodneys’ English Disco made stars of many of these bands. Without this display area, they could not have flowered. Like the Avalon, Winterland and Fillmore in San Francisco, it was a natural part of the ‘scene.’ It even applied to outsiders – Elton John’s career started at the Troubadour. He became a star after a playing 6 nights in 1970. Linda Ronstadt was no one until she hit that stage. British bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream visited Rodney’s as their home away from home, then visited up the road. Labels like Geffen grew out of this scene, a label and managers who actually gave the bands and songwriters more power and money than they’d ever had before.

All good things end, and according to Walker, what did-in the ‘hippie’ vibe of the canyon was cocaine, money and Charles Manson. Manson’s gang, who’d hung around some of the parties in the canyon, killed 4 people in Benedict Canyon in Beverly Hills. At that point, the wide open scene of the Canyon lead to doors shutting along the wooded streets. Manson actually had moved in with the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson for awhile. Wilson was too clueless to get rid of them, as Wilson was having sex with two of Manson’s women. What Walker doesn't point out is that doors closed all over LA… not just in the Canyon. Walker also links Manson with “Altamont” as a ‘culture’ ender. Though how a poorly planned rock festival ‘killed’ a counter-culture is a theory only a Time journalist could love. The Dead, for one, bailed on Altamont when they saw how bad the concert was. The only thing that took a fall at that racetrack was the Stone’s hubris, and one dead concert-goer. Manson was no different. Guy with long hair who likes the Beatles kills someone? End of the counter-culture? Come on.

The second poison was cocaine, which slowly substituted for weed and LSD. Notorious coke heads like Crosby and Stills were just a few of the victims of a massive infusion of coke into the rock and roll industry. As Walker explains it, coke is expensive, and is not ‘shared,’ so coke heads are naturally more possessive and less friendly to anyone. The third wicket was money. Walker points out that behind the friendliness of the canyon was a desire to be famous and get ahead in their careers. When many of these very young musicians finally became overnight millionaires, and bought Porsches, it changed the atmosphere, as you’d expect. After awhile, the small inexpensive houses that had drawn them there in the first place, and the run-down condition of much of the steep canyon roads and buildings lead people and families to moving out, and ‘up’, to better houses, and a different, less collective way of life.

The funny part is, Walker still lives in Laurel Canyon right now. Each year, the present denizens of the various roads intersecting with Laurel Canyon Boulevard, between Mulholland and Sunset, get together for a picture at the Canyon Country Store, the heart of the canyon. In the old days this store saw, day or night, famous musicians wandering in looking to buy something. It is still there, still painted, still full of the signs of those times, and still open for business.

Red Frog, 10-21-2007 -
And I might have bought it at Mayday books, but I didn’t. But I DID see Woodstock at Mayday Books! And of course you can by Gramsci at Mayday. Do so.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Book Review: "Monkey Wrench Gang"

Book Review –
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey, 1975

This classic is the first fictional manifesto of the radical environmental movement. Abbey helped found Earth First! and was a member thereafter. He came from a poor background, became a partially college-educated anarchist, then took to fiction. The forward indicates that everything in the book happened at one time ... in probably the same way Mark Twain means it.

This is the story of four radicals – a “jack” Mormon river rafter, Seldom Seen Smith; a Jewish hippie girl from new York, Bonnie Abzug; an overweight surgeon, Dr. Sarvis, and an ex-Viet Vet, George Hayduke (Doonesbury anyone…) who, while taking a raft trip down the Colorado, decide to defend the Arizona-Utah desert together. The desert, under assault from strip mining, road building, industrial tourism, real estate developers, energy exploiters and politicians, needs someone to stand up for it. Their dream is to destroy the Glen Canyon Dam, but first they start with ‘smaller targets’ – road building equipment in the Utah canyonlands; strip-mining trains and bridges on Black Mesa; forest-destroying chain tractors north of the Grand Canyon, and bridges over the smaller canyons in Utah above Glen Canyon.

The author, Edward Abbey, wrote some 14 books, and also cut down ugly billboards along highways, sabotaged bulldozers creating useless roads and cut barbed wire fencing that trapped wild animals, while burning tires and one mansion. Some of these events are in the book. He worked as a forest ranger all over the northern Arizona and southern Utah area – Arches national park, Organ Pipe and Petrified Forest national monuments and the northern rim of Grand Canyon national park. He spent an immense amount of time alone, out on the desert, in hikes or staying in one place in a sleeping bag, which also might have helped his writing. While never reading Muir, and making gentle fun of Thoreau, he is more like a rural Ned Ludd, the famous slinger of ‘sabots’.

Abbey is an excellent writer. He is poetic, and uses sentences in odd ways. The book has an edge of ‘comedy’, as the quartet face the numerous dangers they are taking up with a little too much nonchalance. Almost like the “Fabulous Four” facing down the hyper-American evil ones destroying their desert. When eventually caught, after numerous hair-raising and hysterical chases, they get off with a wrist slap and a wink. Hayduke eventually gets ‘killed’ – but of course he doesn’t. Nowadays, the present environmental activist trying to destroy construction equipment would be arrested by the Department of Homeland Security, treated like Al Queda, and put in jail for most of their lives. Recent sentences for some California activists who burned up environmentally-destructive Hummers on a new car lot was in the dozens of years. So we know what this society wants now – screw nature, jail anyone who defends it, and throw away the key. Property destruction in the name of environmental protection is terrorism! This has changed since Abbey wrote. If anything, the ‘bastards’ have only gotten worse, as Hayduke puts it.

The focus of many of Abbey’s books is the Glen Canyon dam, as the epitome of human destruction in the desert. Indian ruins, towns and petroglyphs, beautiful canyons, rare plants and trees, animal and fish habitats were destroyed when it was built, to create a fake boat playground for water skiers and fisherman. This of course starved the downstream areas for water. Water and electricity were then sent to unsustainable cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix. If you’ll remember, Earth First’ initial protest was to unveil a giant plastic sheet with a ‘crack’ on it down the Glen Canyon dam, symbolizing what they would like to do with that structure. Now some smaller dams all over the country are being demobilized and destroyed, as the damage they create is higher than the benefits they produce. This might come one day to Glen Canyon too.

The role of environmentalism in U.S. politics since 1970 has grown. During that year, the first Earth Day was declared, and later governments under Nixon and Carter started to pay attention to environmental issues like species protection and water/air quality. This was all partly spurred by the oil boycott of 1973. Since then there has been a counter-attack on the environment, culminating in the criminal Bush administration. Albert Gore, who you’ll remember was the vice-president under the neo-liberal Bill Clinton, had few environmental accomplishments to remember from his 8 years in POWER. Now, as an environmental activist, he is trying to save capitalism (and imperialism) from itself.

Environmentalism should be part of a modernized ‘transitional’ program, but in and of itself, it cannot overthrow capitalism. Marxists point out that profits naturally conflict with the needs of the environment, and a profit-making society cannot really pay attention to the biosphere. An excellent book on this is “Marx’s Ecology” by John Bellamy Foster, which shows Marx and Engels equating the ravaging of the working class and the ravaging of nature. There is certainly money to be made in environmentally-friendly products and technologies, which is the financial sector Gore is working for. But to configure the whole U.S. society into a carbon-neutral and especially non-growth one is impossible for capitalism to accomplish. No more than it can become a true democracy.

Essentially, environmentalism means a slowing, and even a reversal of harmful growth in the capitalist heartlands. And ‘growth’ is the heart of capitalism and corporations. To be fully implemented it will mean putting ‘society’ ahead of the individual. It will require the government to be in control of production. It will require the community to share water and energy and food. It will essentially restore a cooperative model of life and sustainability from an unbalanced and exploitative one. And this Al Gore is not prepared to do.

Edward Abbey would be proud if this happened. He was an inspiration to greens who oppose the complacency and horse trading of the ‘big’ Green organizations. At the fictional trial of three of the “monkey wrench gang” at the end of the book, Abbey noted that the defense managed to get two secret “Sierra Club” members on the jury. The defense was hoping for an acquittal vote from them. Later, they found out both voted full felony convictions for the three environmental ‘terrorists.’ We need a new mass environmental movement that they cannot put in jail.

And I got it at MayDay Books –

Red Frog – 10/15/2007

Monday, October 1, 2007

Book Review: "Life & Fate"

Book Review: "Life and Fate" by Vassily Grossman, 1960

This book has been looked at as the Soviet version of "War & Peace," Tolstoy's masterpiece of imperial Russia and the Napoleonic wars, i.e. the 'great Russian novel." And it succeeds, perhaps better than it's predecessor. One of Grossman’s characters even makes a point of saying, as a humorous aside, that Tolstoy never lived at the same time as the battle of Borodino or the Napoleonic invasion. The obvious hint is that the novel you are reading WAS written by someone involved in the events.

Grossman was a Jewish supporter of the Russian revolution, first discovered as a writer by Maxim Gorky. His first short story, “In the Town of Berdichev,” became a famous Soviet film, “Commissar.” Grossman wrote several novels during Stalinist times, when he became a member of the Writers Union. He reported during WWII for Red Star, the Soviet miltary paper. He covered Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, and was the first journalist to write about a German death camp, Treblinka. He worked with Ilya Ehrenburg on the "Black Book", a log of Nazi crimes against the Jewish people of Russia, a book that is still unpublished in Russia. His mother died when the Nazi's annihilated the Jewish population of his home town Berdichev – 20,000-30,000 people, similar to what they did at Baba Yar but on a lesser scale. His attitude towards the bureaucracy began to change during and after the war. Just prior to Stalin's death in 1952, Grossman was most likely on a list to be imprisoned. When Grossman asked Krushchev to publish Life and Fate in 1960, the KGB confiscated all copies. It was finally published in the West after being smuggled out in the early 1980s by Andrei Sakharov and Vladimir Voinovich.

This novel is 871 pages, and is not for the faint of heart. Like War and Peace, it is a panoramic 1942-1943 portrait of the U.S.S.R. during the battle of Stalingrad. Grossman traces a large Russian family, the Shaposhnikovs, scattered across this vast country during war time. Scenes from the book include the ruined factories and power station on the front line at Stalingrad, and across the Volga in the command areas; a science lab removed from Moscow to Kazan, and then returned to Moscow once more; imprisoned Soviet soliders in German concentration camps and imprisoned Communists and others in Soviet labour camps, including the Lubyanka; hospitals full of dying soldiers and the evacuated women waiting for them in various eastern towns; a Jewish ghetto in Berdichev surrounded by the fascists and a Nazi death camp itself; Nazi's like Eichmann, Hitler and Von Paulus; Soviet airfields and the mobile Soviet tank troops on the steppe, preparing to encircle Von Paulus’ army at Stalingrad. All add up to a series of intimate miniatures of a nation at war. Over it all is the oppressive rule of the Soviet bureaucracy, which seeps into every aspect of the novel. Some of the characters have a very difficult time handling the pressure of this state. You can see the intimate internal battles as they rage, especially in the character Victor Shtrum, who deals with the moral pressures of denunciations and confessions. Constant references to the purges of 1937 and the collapse of the Soviet armies in 1941 due to Stalin's trust of Hitler are a prelude to the action.

Like many other observers of the war years, Grossman notes that the war actually weakened the bureaucracy. The war mobilized the Soviet people, who relied on their own initiatives. The prior purges in the military and Party, the forced collectivization and the gross military errors of 1941 showed them that the rulers were not all powerful, no matter their propaganda machine or bloody hand. Trotskyists also noticed a revival of the Soviet working class during and after the war, as they became more confident of their own strengths. Many observers think this is what helped lead to the revelations in the 1950s by Khruschev, who was a general at Stalingrad.

Special reference is made to the encircled 'House 6/1'on the front line at Stalingrad, where the Soviet commander no longer sends reports back to headquarters, and the men live in the style of a commune, not a latter-day Soviet military unit. A commissar sent to dismiss the commander is 'winged' while he sleeps and must be sent back to a hospital, probably the first instance of 'fragging' in a novel on WWII. The whole house and everyone in it is then destroyed by a massive Nazi assault. Of course the 'fragging' also saved the commissar's life. The famous machine-gunning of retreating Soviet soldiers by NKVD units, made public in the film "Enemy at the Gates" is bemoaned as a military mistake by some officers. Even Ziatsev, the sniper from that film, makes an appearance, as do many other Soviet and German officers, some with their real names and some without. Grossman lived with and observed people from every grouping in Soviet society for many years from the inside. His depiction of the characters in each group is one of the great strengths of the novel.

Grossman had a life-long interest in science, and the improbable lead character Shtrum is a somewhat self-involved but creative nuclear scientist, who is dismissed for a time by the Central Committee science 'commissar" for not being "Lysenkoist" enough, or perhaps being too Jewish. In a twist of fate, Stalin himself calls Shtrum and rehabilites him, as Shtrum is involved in the valuable field of nuclear research. He has been likened to Grossman himself, or a real Soviet scientist, Lev Landau. The ties and names of the main Shaposhnikov family in the book are somewhat confusing, and hard to link to each other, but as you read you 'kind' of understand who's who. The last letter from a fictional Jewish mother in Berdichev's Jewish ghetto is based on Grossman's mother, and is heart-rending. The scenes from the death camps have become familiar to western readers and film goers, and so it must be remembered you are reading some of the first literature to describe it, if not the first.

Grossman gradually was repelled by Stalinism to the point where he equated it with fascism. Like other honest observers - Orwell and Solzhenitzyn come to mind - he developed slowly in the direction of a kind of social humanism, angry at the use or misuse of Marxism in the name of slaughter and totalitarianism. This novel stands as a great monument to the Soviet people, and to a great writer's search for 'truth'. Relatively unknown in the west, as are most Soviet writers and painters, Grossman may one day rank as the best literary product of that era, even standing above Babel, Solzhenitzyn, Gorky, Serge, Sholokhov, Rybakov and Ehrenburg.

- By Red Frog, 10/1/2007 – and I might have bought it at May Day books!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Book Review: "God is Not Great"

Book Review: “God is Not Great”, by Christopher Hitchens, 2007.

Christopher Hitchens is unfortunately best known for being a former leftist who endorsed Bush’s invasion of Iraq. A little of the reason for this might be found between the lines of this book. The invasion is barely addressed. In one paragraph Hitchens says it would give the Iraqi people some ‘breathing space” from the religious and bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, probably because of this blindspot, he does not address the religious ‘rationale’ behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq in this, a book on the negative effects of religion. You’d think it would be appropriate. No one wants to talk about the dead dog they buried in their back yard of course.

Hitchens was a Marxist at one time. Eating at Trotsky’s bountiful table paid off, and now he has been declared one of the top “public intellectuals” in the world. He survived in the form of an extremely opinionated and strict liberal. While not as good a writer as Sam Harris, nor as scientifically clear as Richard Dawkins, two other prominent atheists, Hitchen’s strength is his intellectual consistency, and his familiarity with the Bible, Christian thinkers and contact with various religious people. He recently appeared on many news talk shows to put forward his views against religion. Atheists appearing on TV are a rarity in the U.S. It is a hoot to see Hitchens on CNN talking to the befuddled and clueless anchors about their most cherished myths.

"Religion Kills"

Hitchens points out the many ways religion can kill. There is the obvious - fomenting religious wars or religious hatred that leads to violence. Then there is the religious love of the apocalypse, especially in both Christianity and Islam. Then the anti-scientific or anti-sexual religious fanaticisms that promote leader worship, AIDS, pregnancy, circumcision, infibulation, polygamy, male chauvinism and oppose pork, condoms, flu shots, sex education, medical care, science, evolution and abortion.

Faith less

Hitchens sketches the intellectual battle between religion and reason over the centuries. The question of religion, of course, is the beginning of philosophic discourse. It seems religion has lost this philosophic slug fest. Intellectually, in the present day, religion has no real standing. From the Greeks - Socrates, Epicurus and Democritus - to the enlightenment intellectuals like Spinoza, Voltaire and Hume, and to our present day - there are so many anti-religious intellectuals that the fight against the obscurantism of religion is like punching a helpless bag of bony lies. From what I can tell, no top philosopher or writer in the West in many years has endorsed religion, except perhaps the children’s writer C.S. Lewis. And a poor writer he was. Hitchens is especially good illuminating the distant fabrications that make up both the old and ‘new’ testaments, pointing out that the latter is really not all that new. He scours the indoctrination of children with the terrors of ‘hell” as child abuse. He does not spare Islamic or Hindu fundamentalism. Or even the supposedly ‘enlightened’ religions of the ‘east.’ He has sections on the supposed ‘anti-religion’ and actually anti-life attitudes of Zen, or the Buddhist religious hierarchy that enthusiastically backed Japan in World War II. He even nails Mother Teresa and the Dahli Lama, two supporters of theocracy beloved by liberals everwhere.

Islam and Hinduism

In one of this most useful thoughts, he describes how the Indian independence movement lead by a non-secular figure like Mahatma Gandhi actually pushed away Muslim Indians, and helped set the stage for the partition of India from Pakistan, and the bloodbaths of Lahore and other cities. He also explains the cults of Stalin and Mao to be similar to religious fervor, and structured in much the same way as fundamentalist religious movements. He celebrates the freeing of the Jews from the religious ghettoes of the world, which allowed world class intellectuals like Marx, Freud, Kafka, Einstein and others to flourish outside the hold of the archaic temple. His omission of Trotsky of course is telling, like an embarrassing uncle.

Hitchens, like many others, declaims the absence of a true Islamic ‘reformation’ or 'enlightenment', which has allowed it to rule civil society in many countries in which it is believed, to the detriment of the faithful. Without a civil alternative, such as exists in more secular societies, citizens are not even free to openly question the foundation of Islamic belief itself. They could loose their life, job or social standing if they do. There are certainly Christian theocrats in the United States who secretly admire just that, and back our military as “God’s army.” However they don’t yet have the internal kind of bloody power invested in the mullahs in Iran or Saudi Arabia. The Republican Party, as Kevin Phillips has pointed out, is attempting to be that theocratic party and the Christian fundamentalists are using it as such.

Saudi Arabia is the heartland of Islam and a true theocracy, It is the source of most of the 9/11 bombers and the birthplace of Al Qaeda. The Saudis are long-time funders of political fundamentalism, from the promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 50s to the anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 80s. Saudi Arabia is still religiously ruled over by the strict Sunni Wahhabi sect, who are no less backward than the Shiite mullahs around Ayatollah Khomeini in declaring “holy war.” And this ‘holy war’ is not necessarily against imperialism, but against other religions, and even others within their own religion. Yet the Saudis are a key ally for the United States, recently receiving $20B in military aid, because they sit on a rapidly diminishing sea of oil and are opposed to Shiite Iran.

And so the Bible thumpers prop up the Koran thumpers.


As an intellectual, Hitchens sees more insight into the human condition in Shakespeare than the primitive arid backwater verses of the Bible, Torah or Koran. He would rather quote true intellectuals and scientists like Einstein than frightening religious writers like St. Augustine. So I will end with a quote from the former included in Hitchen's book. Einstein wrote:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Hitchens equates religious thought to the childhood of the human race. The measure of our growth and the survival of our species will be determined by how far we leave religion behind, and embrace reason and science. The question is if this can be done in the context of capitalism - but that is another story.

And I bought it at MayDay Books!
by Red Frog, 9/6/2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Book Review: "Non Violence Protects the State"

“Non-Violence Protects the State”, by Peter Gelderloos, published 2007

This is a book by a young Virginia anarchist activist involved in street protests and organizing against the School of the Americas, for which he went to jail for 6 months. It is principally aimed at the academic pacifist wing of the anarchist movement, and the pacifists he has met in various ‘reform’ struggles.

I am not a pacifist. I was prepared to like this book. I was told I wouldn’t be able to put it down until I was done. I actually couldn’t get through more than a few chapters before putting it down, for good. But I soldiered on and picked it up again. It is written in somewhat academic phraseology, and is skimpy on details at times. It suffers from both the strengths and predictable weaknesses of a specific kind of anarchism.


Gelderloos makes many correct points. He shows how pacifist ideology ignores the true history of many mass movements, like the Indian independence struggle and the U.S. civil rights movement. He shows how pacifism cannot deal with or overthrow a violent state. He shows how the history of struggle is one of using all kinds of tactics, not one tactic, or one tactic raised to one strategy, then raised to one goal, as have the pacifists with pacifism itself.

In the Marxist movement we have plenty of secret pacifists, who think some ultimate mass demonstration – UNARMED – will somehow bring about the collapse of capitalist power. Or a strike alone will bring the state to its knees, and to its destruction. Parties such as the Communist Party and the SWP are full of this kind of thinking.

Gerlderloos intead shows the violent opposition of Jews to the Nazi’s – instead of the diet of Spielbergian heroes we have been fed. He details the intimidation of the leadership of the IWW, and the role of a group of Northeast U.S. Italian anarchists – Galleanists - in combating WWI in the U.S. and later Mussolini, without abandoning the right to self defense and even the right to aggressive action.


He weakens his argument by condemning certain gains as non-existent, like the independence of India, the defeat of Jim Crow in the south, the massive demonstrations against U.S. intervention in the Middle East, or the withdrawal of the U.S. army from Vietnam. In essence, he almost says that violence is needed for revolution, not reform. Well, actually, it is needed for both. In this he cedes some apparent gains to the pacifists, which is unnecessary.

Franz Fanon seems to be his most quoted figure. Fanon aided the FLN in Algeria, who’s victory lead to the formation of a bourgeois nationalist government in that country… i.e. a state. Would Mr. Gelderloos denounce the ‘useless’ Algerian war, since it did not result in the complete freedom of the Algerians? Given his comments on other ‘reform’ struggles, I would imagine so. He does not have the transitional program to connect reform and revolution, and so must fulminate at the former without showing how to connect it to the latter.


What is disappeared in this book is the class struggle and the violent efforts of workers to fight or overthrow capital. He has chapters on how pacifism is racist and patriarchal, but not one on the working class and labor, and how pacifism is actually petit-bourgeois. Labor violence is only mentioned in one example, at Blair Mountain, safely in 1921. The word ‘class’ appears maybe 5 times. He is more incensed about white people and men than he is about bourgeois and middle class men, and bourgeois and middle-class women. The working class has a natural affinity for defending itself, and in his screeds against white people, he forgets this. Of course, Gelderloos is white. His approach as an anarchist is essentially ‘sectoralist’ instead of classist. Not all anarchists have this position, of course.

But in his gut he understands that it is middle-class people in the protest movement who are the most attached to pacifism, and his hostility is a healthy class reaction, although he has a hard time verbalizing it.

He also almost disappears the communist movements’ efforts to violently confront or overthrow capital, referring let’s say to ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Cuba’ as just names of countries. Why? A, because Marxism is his main competitor; and B, because somehow overthrowing capital without having anarchism as an end product is wrong, since a kind of ‘state’ survives after these revolutions. Since the principal enemy of anarchism seems to be the state, not capitalism, he cannot condone overthrowing capitalism and creating a new transitional state. Which would put him in an interesting position if the communist movement was close to overthrowing the capitalist state.

Of course, he also can’t tell the difference between Stalinism and Leninism or Trotskyism, but so be it. That is not his topic.


Vanderloos central point holds true – non-violence is only one tactic in a full arsenal. If you stop at pacifism, you cannot win. It is like painting with a palette of ‘beiges’ only. You might ‘feel good” but at the expense of some real progress. And as he illuminates you can actually end up helping blunt the protest movement. And ‘blunted’ protest movements is all we’ve had for years.

Here is a local example. The defeat of the Northwest mechanics happened the day after they shut down the scabs at the Holiday Inn 5 Corners and the day after they blocked the Northwest Airlines terminal gates in Bloomington with cars. Mass pickets is what it is called in the labor movement and the transitional program. What happened after those days?

That is the day that the voluble Ted Ludwig, chubby leader of that Mechanics local full of mostly middle-aged, but working-class, white men, decided that these events were one-shot deals, and his union didn’t need to shut down the scabs every day. The events had been a success, mind you. Only a few were arrested. They gained massive publicity and involved many union members, who weren’t afraid to intimidate the scabs. Instead he decided to follow the main path of the later P-9 and get Ray Rogers to start a ‘corporate campaign’ appealing to the ‘public’ to boycott Northwest Airlines. And with the appearance of Ray Rogers in any struggle, you can kiss your ass goodbye.


Gelderloos is to be congratulated for trying to get a discussion going about the limits of pacifism, as it is a taboo topic in the protest movement. Candlelight vigils are second nature to people who think that good thoughts will overcome. He points out that pacifist hostility to more militant action actually makes them ally with the police and authorities over and over again. Engels also pointed out the use of force in history. It is somewhat akin to the use of force in doing mechanical repairs. Anyone who has laughed at someone who has ‘hit’ or hammered something, and suddenly it works or is in the right place, understands the use of force in the physical world. This is not far different from its role in politics. Some are afraid to 'hit' with the hammer. But sometimes it is the only thing that works.

Another example, which he touches on, is the fondness of many for violent movies in which the ‘good’ guy kicks the ass of the ‘bad’ guy. Since this rarely happens in real life, people get a primitive satisfaction out of this. A good recent example is the series of films of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, who manhandles CIA thug after CIA thug throughout the whole series of 3 films. A book written by reactionary Robert Ludlum has been changed in the hands of a British director into its exact opposite – a series which shows the CIA as a crooked bunch of killers, who need to be dealt with not with compassion or ‘discussion’ but with their own medicine.


As we approach the Republican convention in St. Paul, where they will attempt to herd us into approved ‘protest’ pens, let us keep that in mind. There will be plenty of ‘responsible’ people, friends of the hotel and restaurant industry, backed by 100s of police, telling us to do whatever we are told, and that will mean not seriously disrupting the convention. Instead, I think we should make the Republicans regret coming to St. Paul. And remind the Democratic Party politicians that inflicting this convention on the Cities is a net loss of citizens’ tax dollars, and only a gain for the businessmen and the respectability of these bloodthirsty cretins. Why would Democrats ‘welcome’ the Party of endless war in Iraq and endless tax breaks for the rich? Really, why?

And perhaps Mr. Gelderloos and the ‘black bloc’ will be there to make that point too.

And I found it at May Day Books ...

8/14/2007, Red Frog

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Review of the Book "American Theocracy"

American Theocracy – Kevin Phillips, published 2006

This book is by a former strategist for the Nixonian Republican Party, who has strayed far from the ranch. I call it Nixonian because Nixon was a veritable realist ‘liberal’ compared to the people Phillips now sees running that party. Phillips initiated the ‘southern strategy’ for Nixon. It is quite appropriate that Phillips is now writing the epitaph for the Republican ‘southern strategy’ after 35 years. He notes that the South is the strongest regional base the Republicans have anywhere, as they have slowly lost their hold on the western, southwestern and some northeastern states recently.

What is happening to the United States, according to Phillips? 3 concepts: fading power technologies, excess religion and overwhelming debt. Phillips unique contribution is to go back into the history of the Spanish, Dutch and English imperialisms to show how the ascendancy of all 3 of these ‘horsemen of the apocalypse’ marked the end of primitive accumulation, mercantilism and colonialist empires in the past. And by association, he suggests that the hegemony of U.S. imperialism is in its last declining stages. Not bad for a former Republican. The whole book for the most part jibes with Marxist thinking, at least in the sense that no stage of human development or any imperialism is eternal, and ‘beyond history.’ Those who declare the end of history are bound to be caught up in it, as even Mr. Fukayama now admits.

The Three Horsemen -

The first part of his book shows how the collapse of wind power for the Dutch, and coal for the English, forecast the decline of their respective powers. Phillips considers oil to be the equivalent source of power in the U.S., and its decline will parallel the decline of the United States. He is doubtful that this country will be able to adapt to a new technology. Oils and American military, economic and political power have been entwined in a death grip from the beginning.

The second part deals with the rise of radical fundamentalist religion in the U.S. Phillips wrote a book prior to this on the Bush dynasty, and how our ‘democratic’ presidency has now started to devolve into an American political aristocracy. He points out that Bush is the most religious president in U.S. history, and his main voting base is primarily fundamentalist Christian. By allowing the Republican Party to be taken over by Southern Baptists and other Pentecostalist groups, the Party has become almost a theocratic party. It no longer believes in the separation of church and state, and has based itself in the South as a consequence of this. He traces the similar rise of rigid, irrational state religion in Spain, the Netherlands and Britain as aspects of their decline, as their state religions blinded them to the objective processes that were going on, and made them unable to adapt. He points out irrationalism is a sign of intellectual decay.

The third part relates to debt. Unlike most traditional Marxist analyses, which see imperialism ‘exporting’ capital all over the world, Phillips sees the U.S. as the largest exporter of debt, ‘importing’ capital from all over the world to float the U.S. economy. We are now the biggest debtor nation in history, and our population has the deepest debt of any in history. Our treasury bills are mostly owned by Chinese, Saudi and some European nations, supplying money to us so that we can continue to buy their products.

At the same time, Phillips sees the U.S. as consciously abandoning the production of products in the last 35 years. Any blue collar worked knows what this has meant. In the place of it, for the first time in U.S. history in 2003, finance is now the largest sector of the U.S. economy, while employing far fewer people than production ever did. This is one reason for the impoverishment of the U.S. working class, and its gradual change in character to that of lowly-paid service workers. This corresponds to Lenin’s analysis of the primacy of finance capital in late imperialism. It also explains why so many blue collar jobs have moved overseas.

Phillips shows this same predilection for finance and debt at the END of the Spanish, Dutch and English regencies. The Spanish ran out of gold from the ‘new’ world and turned to Italian and German bankers to fund their increasingly weak economy and wars. The Dutch ended the production of products, and became the bankers to the world, then had to pay for the expensive 30-years war with no products. The English involvement in World War One almost bankrupted them, although their productive sector was no where as weak as the U.S. one is now. But finance ruled there too during this period.

The Perfect Storm -

You can see where this is going. The involvement in Iraq is the ‘perfect storm’ for U.S. imperialism, involving all three empire-ending aspects – oil, religion and debt. The ruling elite, from the Carter doctrine that the Middle East is ‘strategic’ to U.S. interests, and the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, all support some kind of a fight for unexplored oil in Iraq, and military control of the rest of this region. Hussein was reportedly going to give the concessions for this oil, not to U.S. companies, but to Chinese, Russian and some European ones (the damned French…). British companies were not going to get any either, which explains their participation in the war. This jibes with Greg Palast’s analysis. And it also neatly fits into a Marxist view of inter-imperialist rivalry. Peak oil has made the life-blood of the U.S. system even more important.

Religion plays a largely unexamined role in the Middle East, but for the Bush voter, the re-establishment of the State of Israel (which was supported initially by the British for religious reasons too) and then the subsequent prophecy of the coming of the Messiah play a role in their support for war in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere. Much Rapture and Armageddeon theology posits that the anti-Christ is in the Middle East now, and the final battle between “good” and “evil” is upon us. Bush’s own statements play up his theological view of the issue, which is why no amount of facts deter him.

Finally, the war in Iraq is so expensive that the U.S. quite literally cannot afford it. When it is piled on top of our economy built on financial cards, it can create long term economic stress and vast debt. This can lead to recessions that will make the ones in the 70s and 80s, partly produced by the debt from Vietnam, look like tea parties. Washington Tea Parties.

Red Frog, 7/21/2007

----- and I got it at May Day Books!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Review of the Book "All The King's Men"

“All the King's Men” – by Robert Penn Warren – published in 1946

You've probably seen the recent wretched movie with Sean Penn playing Governor Willie Stark, i.e. Huey Long, of Louisiana. It was a dreadful film. If you are a fan of old movies, you might have seen the black and white original starring Broderick Crawford, which was better. Both are based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren.

Now, basing movies on novels is basic. And basing movies on really good books is even more basic. So what are we missing?

Robert Penn Warren is a great writer. You know it because he has three names. He was of the last generation of heroic novelists who lived in Paris, chummed around with Hemingway, and wrote like the devil. At least he wrote this book like that. The book is the first-person reflections of an aide to Stark, whose name in the book is actually Talos. The aide is an educated cynic named Jack Burden. He carried one, see? Warren writes long looping sentences that start somewhere and finish somewhere else, and say something, and sound good in the way of saying it, making poetic sense along the way. He writes in the colloquial mixed with the beautifully descriptive or startlingly original, and hits you with the images, bang after bang after boom. Great stuff on the aesthetic side.

The topic of this book is politics. Or at least it is ostensibly about politics. And Talos/Long is "King" and Burden is one of his men. But it is really the narrative journey of Mr. Burden as an aide, describing the life and fall/assassination of Talos/Stark/Long by a born-wealthy doctor enraged by his own 'goodness.'

Robert Penn Warren is not to blame for what other people’s films are trying to make out of his book. Not wholly anyway. You see, in the book Talos/Long is treated as a manipulative monster - womanizing, pushy, power-mad, and crooked. His followers portrayed as sheep-like, rural bumpkins and ignoramuses. "Hicks." Rednecks you'd call them now if you didn't like white working people. The assassin on the other hand is a self-sacrificing straight-arrow. End of story. This, not coincidentally, is also the real view of the Louisiana ruling families, who hated Huey Long with a passion. The assassin's fictional class background is portrayed as being born out of one of these ruling families. This "King" offended all the real Kings and was dethroned by a son of one of the old Kings. Shakespearean, huh? Or maybe Humpty Dumpty? A populist egg cracked to make a ‘royal’ omelet.

The only view we have of Huey Long, the historical figure, is this tiny reverse telescopic image of the past – i.e. this book and the two movies it spawned. No one really knows anything about the real Huey Long, unless they knew Long or are historians. According to some of the latter, a tired patrician liberal, Franklin D Roosevelt, stole Long's platform to create his own ‘new deal.’ Could this dreadful monster "King" be the source of the storied and loved New Deal, foundation of social security, unemployment compensation, legal unions, welfare, etc.? The wet dream of every liberal DFLer? And jeez, why isn't some of this in this well-written book?

The NY Times called this book, "The definitive story of American politics." Does that mean that all the populists always get shot?


Who was Robert Penn Warren? Warren was born in Kentucky, the son of a banker, graduating from Vanderbilt and Berkeley, then became a Rhodes scholar. He wrote novels and poetry, writing ATKM while at the University of Minnesota! In the 20s through the 40s he was a part of the southern ‘Agrarian’ school of writers, who were conservative and embraced segregation, among other things. His attitude changed in the 50s and in the 60s when he attempted to deal with the race question in a progressive way. Most literary critics only focus on his attitude towards race, but segregation was part of a full political point of view for him. Very few literary critics notice that Warren, a dyed-in-the wool conservative from an upper-crust Southern background, wrote a book about a left populist in 1946 - and seem to take no notice of how this might shape his novel! While Warren did not intend his book to be a mere depiction of the Long phenomena, much of it is rooted in just that. He actually met Long at LSU. The central character, Burden, is nothing but a kind of alter-ego of Talos/Stark/Long.

Warren was interested in an artistic rendering of an emotional journey, with some familiar social cliché’s larded into poetic language. However, let's just look at one word, the word - "Boss." Guess who's called that that about 700 times in the book? You guessed it, Mr. Stark/Telos/Long. Part of this is the repeated usage by associates of Telos. You know, "hey boss." However, Warren uses it beyond that as a constant discriptor. Not once does Warren call the real 'bosses" who ran Lou-‘sana’ their real names. Reminds me of the times AFL-CIO leaders have been called "union bosses" by the press. Somehow the only time they come up with the name "boss" is when it is about a union "boss" or a populist 'boss' or a communist 'boss.' Making the real rulers of society invisible is the name of the game. They are NEVER called "boss." And yet, in the real world, we all refer to our supervisors as 'boss.' Words are important for writers and this word, of course, is significant in its repeated use.


Someone who kills a left-wing populist should be put under the microscope, because there are many people who would pay to have someone like that killed, either the rich of Louisiana or Roosevelt. Was it goodness or jealousy? Or, actually, politics? Who was the real Adam Stanton, the so-called assassin? The real Adam Stanton was named Carl Weiss, the son of a judge whom Long was trying to remove. There are many questions about the assassination of Long - no motive, missing weapon, wrong slug caliber, missing records, the bullets in Long did not match Weiss’ gun, etc. - which lead some to suspect this was a political assassination by someone within Long’s bodyguards, and had nothing to do with the fictional reasons Warren stated in his book. Sound familiar? Killing those who stand up to the system is a time-honored tradition in this ‘democracy.’


Who was Huey Long? Long grew up somewhat poor from a rural background, became a lawyer, defending workers on worker’s compensation cases, then took on Standard Oil (“SO”) for unfair business practices. As governor and senator, Long targeted SO for exploiting Louisiana’s oil and gas. When first elected, he ran on an anti-SO platform, fighting rate increases and pipeline monopolies. He took one case all the way to the Supreme Court. He ran twice for governor, succeeding the second time on the slogan “Every man a king, but no one wears a crown” a phrase he borrowed from William Jennings Bryan.

As Governor, Long got free textbooks for school children, inexpensive gas for New Orleans, and a large system of public works programs in a state with few good roads, hospitals, bridges, schools and universities. A move to impeach him happened after he proposed taxing SO’s refined oil about 5 cents, which was to fund social programs. After being elected Senator (and resigning as Governor), the regular Democratic Organization decided to back some of his plans – instituting a gas tax and building LSU. Reflecting his ascendant power, Long called himself the “Kingfish” after the character in Amos and Andy. He was ruthless with enemies, and sometimes bought his friends. He controlled state government like a fiefdom, from all reports. This latter aspect is the only thing that is remembered about him.

In the Senate in 1932, Long criticized both parties for ignoring the working class and pushed for a redistribution of wealth. Long at first supported Roosevelt, then opposed him when he sold out to business. Roosevelt later compared Long to Hitler and Mussolini! Long opposed U.S. involvement in foreign wars, attributing them to the influence of Wall Street. He unveiled a plan to the left of the first New Deal called “Share our Wealth.” It put a cap on incomes, redistributing wealth through revisions in the tax code, a minimum wage, free college, old age pensions, veterans’ benefits, federal assistance to farmers, works programs and a 30 hour work week. After the Democratic Party ignored him, Long formed “Share the Wealth” clubs outside the party. The organizations had 7.5 million members in 27,000 clubs. Long opposed socialism and communism, and said his program would prevent their success. Roosevelt later adopted many parts of the Long program in the ‘second” New Deal.” None of this is even hinted at in the book or the films. Is it any wonder?


A book usually has three significant parts. A good story; well-written words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs; and an actual point. Although Jack Burden is not the world's most interesting character, he narrates a good story. The language is great. The point? Jealousy will make you do dire things? "Justice wins out?" "He deserved it?" Telos was a bad man? The actual 'point' of this book obscured and maligned Huey Long and his supporters, in the interests of the real bosses. Maybe that was not the intention of Warren. But. Writers who write fiction, and in the process greatly fictionalize history, are bound to fall short. But damn, Warren is a good writer. And isn't that what it is all about?

-----The Red Frog

And I might have found it at May Day books!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

David Zirin to speak at Mayday Books on June 19

Photo Hosted at Buzznet

For more information, visit the Haymarket Books web site.

For Zirin's weekly sports column, visit Zirin's Edge of Sports website.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

No honor for Card

This is an inspiring anti-war protest at the graduation ceremonies of the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. Andrew Card was presented with an honorary degree from the university, sparking a protest against what he and the Administration represents.

Click here to see highlights of the protest.

Or see it here...

(picture missing....)

Click here for local Massachusetts media coverage.

Monday, May 28, 2007

On capitulating to Bush's oil war...

I was sent via email this Keith Oberman video commentary on the disgraceful Democratic Party decision to fund the war. Not that it is any surprise that the corporate-based Democratic Party would ignore their November 2006 mandate and give Bush a clean bill to fund an unpopular war. I was just happy to see that at least one pundit is saying something in the mainstream press.

Click here for the video feed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review of Palast's "Armed Madhouse"

Armed Madhouse, by Greg Palast, Published 2006.

There's nothing like a bald Brit investigator to shiv the power's that be, and show the tame herd of 'journalists' how it is done. And laugh all the way to the intellectual bank.

Palast does that in this series of hilarious investigative essays on Iraq, the Kerry election and more on the Gore debacle, New Orleans and the class war against workers, minorities and poor. Like Michael Moore talking about his new movie as a 'comedy about 60 million people without health insurance" Palast laughs at the grotesque lies and opaque absurdities of this ruling class.

No one uses the phrase 'class war' except the die-hard left, but Palast, who used to work for the unions in Chicago, is not afraid to.


The lead piece is on the two plans for Iraq's oil. That, as any sentient person understands, is the reason we went into Iraq. According to Palast, one was the neo-con plan that involved busting OPEC and destroying the oil monopoly on Iraq, and selling it to any bidder. The other plan was a James Baker / oil company plan to continue Iraq's membership in OPEC, and to use the Iraqi state to sell the oil to the 7 sisters. As he put it, though capitalist, the oil companies want to do what is best to keep the oil price up. And that might mean keeping Iraqi oil nominally in the hands of the government. He shows the see-saw battle between these two factions over the years.

Palast points out that for Osama it has always been about the oil too. Bin Laden just wants to take it out of the hands of the 'infidels' and keep it in Arab hands. Palast suggests that the reason the U.S. invaded was because Saddam was playing with oil prices, and creating instability in the oil market. The same thing Chavez is doing today, which Palast covers in a complimentary way. Palast shows Chavez also using his oil wealth to help other countries and his own people.

Palast disagrees with the theory of peak oil because he thinks it interferes with the theory that the oil price rise the war was fought for would then be a consequence of 'shrinking supplies.' He insists it is only a product of the war, which was waged to stop capitalist oil overproduction and control Iraq oil reserves so as not to flood the world with Iraq's oil. However, I think you can uphold the theory of peak oil, and also understand that the 'bell curve" depicted by the peak oil theory does not have to be smooth on both ends. IE it can drop precipitously on the back side, ie pumping can go crazy, or it can be gradual, and pumping can be slow. So the price rise at this time is not an immediate consequence of peak oil. It IS the war.

Palast indicates the massive oil tar sands in Venezuela might make that country the most powerful on earth. He thinks $30 a barrel oil makes their 90% of the world's super-heavy oil tar viable. I have been hearing figures much higher to develop this kind of oil. Not to mention the environmental costs. But most of his analysis and evidence is 'spot on.'


If you thought Nader was to blame for the 2000 defeat, go to the back of the class. Even the NAACP got it.

The second largest part of this book is about Kerry winning the 2004 election. By carefully analyzing election returns and evidence down to the precinct level in some areas, he shows that a combination of tossed away 'provisional' ballots, old voting machines that created spoiled ballots, electronic machines that created spoiled ballots, intentionally missing voting machines in some wards, ballot purges based on felons or addresses, Bush over-votes, mysterious 'no' votes for president in some wards, uncounted absentee ballots and electronic voting that didn't allow recounts gave the election to Bush in Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida.

Essentially, black, Indian and Chicano people's voting rights were challenged in all these ways, making this the new Jim and "Jose" and "Joe" Crow election. Poor whites and students fared not much better. These were in elections where the Republican party was in control of the voting apparatus. And it was in the poorest areas, with the most transient Democratic populations that this happened in. The final nail in the coffin was the DLC and Democratic Party "pulling their attorneys" and not challenging the voting anywhere, thus acquiescing to the Republican theft of the election. He also revisits some of his work on the 2000 election in Florida, and amplifies it. Palast says the 2008 election can be stolen in the same way, unless people are aware of all the cons. Does our corporate press cover any of this? No.


Depressed yet? Don't be. There is more misery to come.

Palast has a chapter on the lynching of CBS' Dan Rather for challenging the president's service record. And the necktie party was organized by Sumner Redstone, chairman of Viacom, who owns CBS, and who supports the Republican Party.

Another chapter is on the class war, covering everything under the sun. It starts with Louisiana's Huey Long, and how he gave the populist program to some tired elitist from the East Coast, Franklin Roosevelt. Palast covers the removal of overtime laws for millions of workers that the Congress supported in 2006. And the price fixing of ADM and Wayne Andreas, a friend of Clinton's. And the legal protection of the entire firearms industry against lawsuits over gun violence. And Ken Lay suggesting who to appoint as the head of the Federal Public Utility Commission and FERC, and was accommodated by Bush. After a meeting with Ken Lay prior to the CA gubernatorial election, Arnold Schwartznegger then later settled with the power companies who raped California for 10-20 cents on the dollar. Enron paid about nothing, of course. Palast also covers the planned destruction of Delco/Delphi auto workers by bankruptcy law. And Gore cluelessly supporting NAFTA in the face of Ross Perot; Hillary on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart; the destruction of public schooling by privatization and the "No Child Left" law. Whew.

Then we get to New Orleans, where Katrina was seen by the Republicans as a chance to destroy the City of New Orleans as a Democratic power point, with the help of black middle-class mayor Ray Nagin. Every whore crony for the Republican Party crawled out of the woodwork to get a no-bid contract following Katrina. Republican areas especially got the money. The refugees of Katrina still live dispersed all over the country, while their city is rebuilt without them. Class war? You bet.

...and I got it at MAYDAY Books.

--- The Red Frog

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Michael Albert @ Macalester College

An evening talk by a visionary thinking of our time...

Michael Albert
on his new memoir, Remembering Tomorrow: From SDS to Life After Capitalism

Wednesday, May 23rd, 7 PM

Macalester College Student Union
John B. Davis Auditorium
Grand Avenue, one block east of Snelling Avenue, St. Paul

Listen to Michael Albert speaking about experiences from the past and visions for the future.
Sponsored by:
Women Against Military Madness
Merriam Park Neighbors for Peace
Mayday Books
For more information, see our events calendar at our website.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mayday's New Blog

Mayday Bookstore in the Twin Cities has a new blog! Please feel free to read our announcements, book reviews, and discussion pieces. If you wish to see the Event Calendar for the bookstore, please visit our website at

In solidarity,
Corey Mattson