Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Book Review: "People's History of the Vietnam War"

Book Review: “A Peoples’ History of the Vietnam War”, by Jonathan Neale, 2001

This book is part of a series of peoples’ histories, edited by, who else, Howard Zinn. These books take the view of ordinary people, as distinguished from the ‘great man’ histories, mostly typical of bourgeois historiography. Besides Zinn’s own groundbreaking volume on the United States, it also includes probably the best book every written on the U.S. Civil War, predictably titled “A People’s History of the Civil War” by Georgia professor David Williams. The latter includes the well known struggle in the North against the aims of the northern capitalist class. But its central narrative is the almost unknown majority mass struggle against the war and the planter aristocracy by white southern workers, sharecroppers and small farmers. A taste of this was seen in the film, “Cold Mountain.” This book puts to rest the myth of the South united under slavery, propagated by apologists for the Confederacy. A myth many northerners also buy into.

No such grand feat is accomplished by this volume by Neale, who is a writer and also supporter of the Schactmanite International Socialist Organization (ISO) at Amherst. However, it includes some valuable and oft-overlooked aspects to the Vietnam war, even to those familiar with the basic story. Neale has to compete with books like “Working Class War” by Christian G Appy. To do so, he attempts to talk about the Vietnamese side as well, applying a class analysis all around. Neale himself is a PHD graduate of Warwick University in England.


Neale makes a convincing case that the domino effect, pooh-poohed by liberals, was actually an operative factor. The war against the Soviet Union and China, the ‘cold war” behind all these events, was a war waged to prop up world-wide U.S. hegemony. Neale himself thinks the cold war was a war by the U.S. against other ‘capitalist’ powers. This analysis is the long running weakness in the book. It makes the Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions out to be, yes, ‘capitalist’ revolutions, lead by the bourgeoisie! Those clever, progressive capitalists … ! In effect, he diminishes the actual global class war that was raging between classes.

Neale contends that the domino theory is real. Anti-communism had been the glue that welded U.S. employers and the government together against the labor movement here at home. They used anti-communism to successfully ‘declaw’ the movement of reds in the '50s. McCarthyism actually existed long before McCarthy, starting under Truman and J Edgar Hoover, and was mostly directed at the labor movement. 3,000 longshoreman lost their jobs due to it. Here in Minnesota, chubby Hubert Humphrey helped purge the "Democratic" Farmer Labor Party of reds and leftists. In addition, the military ‘draw’ in Korea was still fresh in the minds of the U.S. ruling class. The Cuban revolution had just turned to the left. The U.S. was afraid a success by the Vietnamese could spill over into Cambodia and Laos.

Neale brings up Exhibit D, much forgotten, the peoples’ movement in Indonesia, where a mass Communist movement contested for power. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and its labor and peasant allies were drowned in blood by Sukarno in 1965. Over half a million people were slaughtered by the government army and their right wing Muslim allies. The spine to do this was put into Sukarno by U.S. military support of the various South Vietnamese regimes. 450,000 U.S. troops were within a day’s flight sitting in Vietnam. And orders from the CIA, of course, as Indonesia was far more important to U.S. imperialism than Vietnam. Liberals shed no tears over this slaughter – they approved it. They never mention it.

And of course, Laos and Cambodia did fall. We must recall Che Guevara's call for "two, three, many Vietnams." The eventual military defeat of the U.S. in Vietnam is the cause for the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ that still exists – a seeming reluctance by the majority of the American population to die in a foreign war. It is still in effect, even through two Iraq wars. Yes, folks, it was quite a defeat. There was a domino effect.


Anyone who reads about the war in Vietnam, the “American” war, knows that ordinary Vietnamese peasants and workers had to contend with the most aggressive military tactics and ordinance known to mankind. According to Neale, 1.5-2 million Vietnames peasants, Viet Cong and NVA died in Vietnam alone, though the Vietnamese own numbers are higher. Neale puts the total for all countries at 3 million. The numbers are staggering, of humans and animals dead, wounded, crippled, ecosystems destroyed, poisons unleashed, buildings razed, dikes broken, paddies flooded, bridges bombed, across three countries - Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In Cambodia several hundred-thousand peasants died under bomb attacks approved by the U.S. and the Lon Nol government, nearly a tenth of the population. The Plain of Jars in Laos was made a wasteland. Schools, hospitals, churches, pagodas even leper colonies in North Vietnam were repeatedly bombed and strafed by John McCain and his compatriots. Neale cites eye-witnesses at one leper colony, which suffered 36 bombings. Anti-personnel bombs holding 180,000 darts a piece were dropped. The U.S. dropped 8 million tons of ordinance in all sectors – 3 times the weight of all bombs dropped by ALL sides in World War II. Yes, read that again. 3 times the weight of all bombs dropped by ALL sides in WW II.

And why is it that to defeat fascism in WW II or the U.S. in Vietnam, millions had to die? While to defeat the dreaded USSR, hardly anyone died in the counter-revolution lead by Boris Yeltsin? Think about it.

The point of all this was break the will of the population to resist. It didn’t work, but it wrecked havoc on the Vietnamese people. The book, “Sorrow of War”, by Bao Ninh, a north Vietnamese soldier, is the most poignant description of that misery, and one of the great books every written about war. You can buy it from crippled Vietnamese soldiers on the streets of Hanoi to this day.


For all the blowhard reactionaries who still think we should have ‘escalated’ the war in Vietnam, there was one ace in the hole held by the Vietnamese resistance movements that is relatively unknown. To his credit, Neale brings is up. China had troops in north Vietnam, seeded in various locations, working some anti-aircraft guns, barracked in others. A large scale invasion, a nuclear attack, a mass parachute drop – any event like this could have precipitated the involvement of China, and if China had been attacked, the Russians could also have become involved. Both countries were supplying Vietnam with weapons and aid. This is why it never happened. So it was not just the ‘little’ Vietnamese people against the ‘big’ Americans, though that is most of the story. It was a global front against the United States.


Neale has chapters on the resistance at home against the war, and the resistance within the military. He cites the 1969 anti-war march of 500,000 as the biggest march in U.S. history, bigger than the anti-poverty march headed by Dr. King. This is familiar territory for most readers, so I will not repeat it. Neale’s chapters on the resistance in the military reminds us of how broad the military opposition was – to the point where the draft army would no longer fight – something the brass and the government knew in 1970-71. 93,000 mostly working-class soldiers deserted between 1968-1972. There were hundreds of anti-war newspapers on every military base in the world, the names of which Neale details. Navy ships had their own, like the USS Coral Sea and the USS Constellation. Even the Air Force, the aristocracy of the military, had anti-war activists. One fighter pilot and one B-52 bomber pilot refused to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong during the Christmas bombing campaign in 1972. The B-52 crews at Guam and U Tapao in Thailand had such bad ‘morale’ that many bombing flights were canceled.

These are the airmen we should celebrate, not John McCain. McCain was the son of a long line of brass, and still thinks he should inherit the U.S. military. He was born with a silver sword in his mouth. May he choke on it.


After the success of the war against the Americans, the Vietnamese still did not have peace. They intervened in Cambodia in 1978 to defend themselves from constant cross border raids by the Khymer Rouge, and defended themselves from the Chinese in 1979. Only in 1989 did peace come to the Vietnamese when they pulled out of Cambodia after the fall of the USSR, whose proxy they had become. They have now been at peace for almost 20 years, an unheard of luxury and a great source of happiness for the Vietnamese people.

Neale covers the red thread of the story of rice and land, which is the heart of Vietnamese relations in the country-side. There was a small working class in the cities, in which some Trotskyists were active. Trotksyists were also working on some of the rubber plantations in the south. The Trotskyists took part in the Saigon general strike of 1938 and participated in the Saigon revolt of August 21, 1945. However, the bulk of the population were landless or commune peasants. The French always supported local large landlords against the collective property of the villages, or the smaller landholders. The French extracted extortionate rice levies and tax levies, subsuming poor peasants into debt or sharecropping, or into wage labor, in order to pay the tax. Large landlords then got larger. This was the main reason the Communists and Viet Minh were able to gain solid support in the rural areas, because when they took power in an area, they threw out the landlords and distributed the land, while lowering taxes. The overwhelming growth of the Viet Cong in the South was due to this same policy.

In spite of this, Neale’s theory is that the Vietnamese Communist Party was dominated by intellectual ‘mandarin’ cadres closer to ‘progressive’ landlords than peasants. While they became revolutionaries of sorts (I guess), once taking power they treated the peasants much like the old landlords of yore, taxing them of their rice beyond endurance. As a result, the Vietnamese cooperatives during and after the war, while modeled after earlier Vietnamese rural forms, were impoverished by demands from the urban ‘state.’ Neale calls this ‘state capitalism.’ Later, land divisions in 1988 resulted in many old landlords with friends in high places regaining much of their land.

I find this argument unconvincing. I have seen the village Ho was from, and it is extremely modest, just outside Hue. I would not call these people ‘very’ mandarin! It is possible that the peasants could have been supplied with urban goods, education and health care, in exchange for their rice levies. I think it was a program of uber-industrialization and forced collectivization, based on a Stalinist model, that resulted in the impoverishment of the peasantry, and not the presence of an alleged ‘state capitalism.’ The fact the landlords were able to re-gain some land after the land dispersal in 1988 reflects a lack of democracy under the Vietnamese workers state – the bureaucracy has always had close ties with businessmen, as we have seen over and over again. Nevertheless, Neale’s history of the development of Vietnamese rural relations is extremely factual, and brings a relatively untold story to U.S. readers.

As a response, Neale reports that strike levels since the '90s, outside the official unions in Vietnam, run higher than in bourgeois democracies, including our own paradise of labor. A recent strike over rice in northern Vietnam against a Taiwanese clothing factory made world-wide headlines. Perhaps the storied patience and 'labor peace' promised to our lords of capital in the lowly 'third' world is ending. This shows the Vietnamese working class is mobilizing again. Their history would predict nothing less.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, 6/24/2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book Review: Garbage Land

Book Review: “Garbage Land” By Elizabeth Royte, 2005 –

They don’t call it muckraking for nothing. The rebirth of muckraking has finally gotten around to the actual muck – garbage, that is, the dark side of our throw-away society. This book accompanies “Gone Tomorrow – The Hidden Life of Garbage” by Heather Rogers, also published in 2005. Both female, Royte and Rogers both live in Brooklyn, New York. So you know something odd is going on in Park Slope.

Garbage is our dirty little secret. No one wants to think about it much. Everyone wants to put it in a bag or some public bin, or flush or rinse it away, and ‘end of story.’ People don’t want to face garbage any more than meat eaters want to visit a slaughterhouse, or war supporters want to actually enlist, or people in love with nature want to bicycle to work or mow their lawns with push-mowers. Well, Royte did. She took her garbage apart, week by week, weighing it for nearly a year, listing what was in it each week … down to the twist ties, ignoring only the tissues. Then she tried to follow each thread of the bag down to its final resting place, and most everything going into the drain and toilet. Perhaps the fascination with garbage in Brooklyn is the result of it’s proximity to “Fresh Kills” landfill on Staten Island, the biggest landfill in the world at 2200 acres, now closed. (A ‘kille’ is Dutch for a riverbed or water channel…) Whatever the reason, we are fortunate someone did it so we don’t have to …

The main point of the book is to investigate how we can recycle or reuse what we throw out, given the limitations of the physical world. It is written in the first person, and we meet the various actors at the landfills, recycling facilities, sewage plants, wastewater treatment plants, incinerators, on the garbage trucks, and in the planning offices, all from a New York perspective. Royte is inspired to investigate garbage by a visit to the Gowanus canal, at the foot of Brooklyn, 1.3 miles of ‘water’ full of the detritus of modern ‘civilization,’ including guns and mob bodies, lined with fuel and cement factories, an old marine transfer station for garbage and an asphalt plant that used to recycle glass. New York resident throw out 4.5 pounds of waste a day, an increase of 1.8 pounds over 45 years. The national waste stream has tripled since 1960. Each American throws out 1.31 tons of waste a year – 30% is recycled/composted; 13% burnt, and 57% buried in a hole in the ground. And this is the average across municipalities, so a San Francisco and a Birmingham Alabama could be on different ends of the spectrum.

What Royte saved for later was that only 3% of all waste is generated by individuals – the rest is generated by industrial and corporate activity. So is there a point in recycling this tiny amount when the lords of garbage are the real targets? However, the pound of junk (or that nice computer) in your house is related to tons of waste back at the factory, as the consumer is the target of it all. Purchasing feeds production, so if you buy something, it directly relates backward to the large virgin waste pile, and forward to the eventual disposal of the used product. If individuals have recycled, or limited waste by not buying in the first place, they gain, among other things, a moral ability to ask massive producers and polluters to do it too. In this, the population ends up being ahead of the corporations, as usual.

Throw-away products were marketed from the 20s to the 60s as modern and clean, while it was implied that reusing things was dirty and lower-class. The 20th century saw the disappearance of rag men, bone collectors (from meat), the banning of horses in the cities, and civil limitations on various scavengers of glass, metal and paper. Instead, all went to be dumped in the ocean or in pits. The return of ‘can men’ is actually a sign that recycling is profitable again.


Royte points out the environmental racism inherent in much trash collection. Transfer stations are located in poor neighborhoods in New York, so noise and pollution follow in those neighborhoods. From the marine transfer stations, everything was barged by water to Staten Island. The old garbage now interned in Fresh Kills is hidden away under vast high mounds covered with brown grasses, surrounded by slowly developing marsh fauna, underlain with various liners, gases like methane and liquid wastes vented as they come out of the mounds, then treated or used as fuel. It is supposedly a model landfill. The problem is, plastic liners and covers break. Dry waste lasts almost forever, while wet waste still leaches for a long time. Fresh Kills is a bit of both, given it is in a former marsh. The EPA only requires a landfill to be monitored for 30 years, and Royte contends that landfills have more problems the older they get, which only makes sense. Fully wet landfills are called ‘bio-reactors’ and are being tested in California…though the problem is, of course, the toxic leachate and methane made up of nail polish, diapers, battery acid, cleaners, plastics etc. doesn’t stop emitting for years.

Royte has a nice story about how the mob was pushed out of the trash-hauling business in New York by Guiliani, because of their almost extortionate prices and low quality. In their place came the corporate mega-haulers – Waste Management, IESI and Allied/BFI. Those companies initially had lower rates, but now have topped the mob in price and in quality. I.E., the corporate mob.

Royte followed her ‘new’ garbage to a large new landfill in Pennsylvania. It was trucked all the way from New York City, at $257 a ton in 2002 disposal fees, to private contractors who run these landfills. They would not let Royte see their Pennsylvania landfill except from an approved area. When blocked at every turn, she hides, hops over a fence and then loses her nerve over being discovered, in attempting to climb the high hill to look at the active ‘face’ – where the garbage is being layered by massive graders.


Usually, one of the touchiest parts of garbage is the organics, and so Royte looks into what is to be done with food and other organic wastes. She starts collecting her coffee grounds, banana peels and eggshells in a can on the counter, then gives it to the gardeners downstairs. Park Slope itself got a 41% composting rate in a pilot project for composting at Fresh Kills, a project ended due to budget cuts. (What else?) Garden waste and kitchen waste combine to form compost, activated by worms or biological activators. Unfortunately, not only is mass meat eating unsustainable environmentally, it cannot be composted.

Municipal composting is gaining strength, going from over 651 communities in 1989 to 3,227 in 2002. Minneapolis is also considering it. Los Angeles mixes yard waste with wastewater sludge 'biosolids' to make “TOPGRO,” a fertilizer, so two kind of recycling are being done at one time. In one month Royte got rid of 26 pounds of waste into her composting system, thus freeing the landfill of that much weight, and reusing the nutrients. The EPA thinks 67% of household waste could be composted, but this seems a high number.


Madison, WI was the first city to start a recycling program, collecting paper in 1967. Marblehead, MA added bottles and cans in 1973, inspired by Earth Day. New York started with paper recycling only in 1986, and still makes money on the program. Royte visited a paper recycling plant on Staten Island, processing 180,000 tons of corrugated liners out of the ‘urban forest.’ Recycling paper saves thousands of trees a day, saves oil and water, uses less electricity than ‘virgin’ paper processing, and keeps massive amounts of paper out of the landfills. However, paper cannot be eternally recycled, and starts to break down after several gor-ounds. Royte tried to get her book printed on recycled paper (like the Harry Potter series) but her publisher, Time-Warner, said ‘no.’ (!)

She next visits a metal recycling facility in Jersey City. Metal appliance recycling has included enough metal in one year to make 189 stadiums for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Recycling saves iron ore, coal and limestone. Recycling aluminum generates huge savings in bauxite ore, crude oil, coke, ash, pitch and lime, along with cutting energy use and pollution by 94%. These are incredible gains. At the center of this story is the “Prolerizer," used in one New York metal recyling plant. It is a massive 6,000 horsepower chopper with 32 giant steel-maganese blades that can cut up any amount of metal in seconds. And yet, most metal in the U.S. is not recycled.


You know that eye-burning chemical you put in your drain to break c logs? Yes, that. And the can it came in? Royte tackles hazardous wastes like batteries, paint, electronics, etc. Some is incinerated, others are just put in the landfill (alkaline batteries still contain traces of mercury, but now are thought not to be hazardous…!) Coal fired plants burning mercury-containing waste (PC boards, batteries, thermostats, fluorescent lights, gauges etc.) contribute 2/3rds of the poisonous mercury in the atmosphere.

Royte finally found her well-hidden Brooklyn hazardous waste site, and discovers the batteries, fluorescents, paint and thermostats all get recycled by various private companies – sometimes. The rest is stuck in the landfill in black sacks. Right now, electronic waste is accumulating three times faster than any other kind. The criminal cell phone companies manufacture throw-away phones full of toxic metals. The computer industry is fully on-board with planned obsolescence. Only recently has Best Buy begun to take in electronic waste for recycling. Some computers get recycled domestically, and others get sent to third world countries so Indian children can go through mounds of computer monitors for parts. Some states ban e-waste from landfills. Europe makes the producers of the waste, the electronics companies, responsible for their waste product. Now Maine is joining Europe in passing laws to the same effect. CDs, videotapes, ink cartridges, cell phones – all can be recycled, but the economies of scale do not make this very ‘affordable’ in a capitalist economy.


I have one word for you, boy … “Plastics.” Recycled plastic levels are down in the last few years, from a high of 39.7% 12 years ago, to 19.2% in 2002. And the people that drink water in plastic bottles are worse recyclers than pop drinkers. If the recycling rate had continued, 6.2 million barrels of crude could have been saved, and a million tons of greenhouse gases avoided. But no. Most people drink this stuff ‘on the go’ so they also throw away the stuff ‘on the go.’ 40 million plastic bottles get thrown away per day.

Get a metal bottle and fill it with tap water. Period.

Royte visits a plastic recycler that turns yogurt cups into seawalls and lumber, or ships it overseas to be made into clothing. Uniformly, recycling plants pay poorly, have a non-white, low-wage workforce, and are low tech, grimy operations. New York has now halted plastic recycling. Grocery stores oppose bottle bills, as do the whole can, container and bottle industries. Coke and Pepsi claim they are going to use recycled plastic in their bottles and they haven’t done it yet. Much content ends up in China or other low-wage / low environmental regulation countries. There are two main problems with plastics – they are of such variable content as to make recycling difficult, and they never go away. Never. The chemical composition alone in incinerators or landfills provides a toxic discharge for many years. 500 square miles of the north Pacific contain a floating sea of plastic waste, eaten by fish and birds. In 2002 a researcher in this ‘dead zone’ reported finding 10 pounds of plastic for every 1 pound of zooplankton.

The real answer to plastic is that it will, A, become so expensive as to disappear, due to peak oil; B, people will stop buying things made out of it; C, it will be realized that it is non-sustainable and toxic, so that it will be banned completely, or all 3. It will only be used for limited, very specific and high tech uses. That is the future of plastics.


The last thing that Royte talks about is human and animal waste. Grease recyclers wouldn’t talk to her, so she had to investigate something else. Royte mediates on this issue while looking at a full disposable diaper left at her home by visitors. You’ve been there. Into the garbage, along with the dozens of doggie poo bags and kitty litter, and on to the landfill it goes! Royte follows her waste pipes downhill to the wastewater treatment plant, in Owl’s Head, on the southern tip of Brooklyn. In heavy rains, the waste runs right into the harbor. Small towns and municipalities put waste directly into the streams and rivers, as many still do in Minnesota, according to a recent Star-Tribune series. New York itself pumped sludge directly into the ocean until 1985, when the oyster beds died and the fish got sick. Only in 1992 did the last load of New York sludge go into the ocean. Some larger municipalities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Houston remake it into fertilizer that is sold to farmers or ranchers. In New York, “biosolids” like this are shipped to a plant in the South Bronx. However, thier saftety as actual fertilizer is questionable, as application has to be 'very careful.' Individuals have started to use low water, grey water or no water toilets. Some people are composting human manure outside their homes.


The goal of most environmental activists is zero waste, and while this seems unfeasible, it is amazing how much waste could be reduced if it was tackled on a society-wide basis. Germany, for instance, assumes the recyling of everything - exactly the opposite to the U.S.. Waste can be prevented in the first place by production and packaging controls. Of course, that would mean capitalism would probably have to end in its present form, or ANY form, as this would require a more planned economy. In addition, it would require a social effort not seen since World War II, something that our rulers are loathe to see. A divided and difused population is what they prefer. That is the lurking danger for the capitalist class behind the idea of the natural limits of the world. The proletariat seems to have had a slow half-century in the U.S., but nature itself is making it’s own statement, working class or no working class.

---and I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Book Review: In Praise of Barbarians"

Book Review: “In Praise of Barbarians” by Mike Davis, 2007

The recent past has seen a profusion of left-wing books, films and documentaries. This blog in part is a tribute to this wave of intellectual fervor, which is greater than anything seen since the late 60s and early 70s. Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, the elder warhorse intellectuals of the left, have been joined by a raft of hard-core atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, environmental activists like Vandana Shiva and James H Kunstler and social and economic critics… the latter including Kevin Phillips, Doug Henwood, Greg Palast, Thomas Frank, Susan Faludi, William Grieder, Michael Parenti, Eric Schlosser, John Perkins and Mike Davis.

Only one of these people, besides Doug Henwood and perhaps Mr. Parenti, is still a Marxist revolutionary of sorts… Mike Davis, who writes in New Left Review and Socialist Review, along with the Nation, the San Francisco Chronicle, Radical History, and various mainstream newspapers. Davis, a historian based in Los Angeles, influenced by the Trotskyist Militant Tendency, has a wide range of interests, and they are on display in his new book, “In Praise of Barbarians.” His last book, the celebrated “Planet of Slums,” focused on the growth of sprawling, poverty-stricken mega-cities like Jakarta, Mumbai and Kinshasa, and how they are changing the dynamics of capitalism and class struggle in the third-world.

This books is a series of essays from 2001-2007, published in various places, all dealing with episodes of rebellion against the new Romans. Essays on the responsibility for dissent after 9/11, the collapse of the Democratic Party during the 2000 and 2004 elections, and careful analysis of the divisions within the Democratic Party after the 2006 election are written from a traditionally left-wing viewpoint.


Davis’ next section is where the analysis gets interesting. There is a standout story on the successful left-wing movement in Greenland against U.S. military bases and the subsequent degradation of Greenland’s environment and the Inuit people. It is followed by a comparison of the so-called ‘cartoonish’ violence in a Cormac McCarthy book “Blood Meridian” which actually pales in comparison to the old westerners it was based on, and the modern ‘westerners’ in Vietnam. McCarthy, of course, also wrote “No Country for Old Men.” The U.S. Army’s 101st Tiger Force, emulating McCarthy’s ‘heroes’, started scalping Viet Cong right off the bat in Vietnam in 1967, rampaging through the central highlands killing everyone in sight. This story was covered by the Toledo Blade in 2002 and roundly ignored by what passes for the press in the U.S. The subsequent story of the bridge at No Gun Ri in South Korea, where U.S. troops were ordered to massacre Korean civilians in July 1950, was another story mostly ignored by the U.S. press, and also covered by Davis.

Essays on Iraq chronicle the history of the early British occupation of the delta, and the bloodthirsty tactics of Winston Churchill, which even T.E. Lawrence was motivated to protest. Churchill was actually the first to use poison gas there.

An odd essay on new battlefield theories the Pentagon is using in Iraq, called “revolution in military affairs / network centric warfare” (“RMA/NCW”) show how the military thinks technology will allow it complete domination of any ‘battlespace.’ Proponents think that the ‘fog of war’ can be overcome, and the U.S. will achieve “total battlespace knowledge.” Just the language itself is chilling, and the corporate-speak obvious, like CEOs with stars. Both Rumsfield and Cheney are big fans of this ‘modernistic’ approach. A similar story on RAND Corporation tactics developed to fight in the sprawling and asymmetric locales of Sadr City and Faluja blends with Davis’ own study of the world’s mega-cities, which the military says are the new battlegrounds, and their weakest link. Davis follows it with a story on the outcast 1.5 billion members of the ‘proletariat’ of the mega-cities – not yet workers, and no longer peasants. According to Davis, this vast army of peddlers and occasional laborers, brought about by the IMF/corporate destruction of family agriculture, is a direct threat to imperialism’s rule. Their numbers will almost double by 2030 unless local agriculture makes a comeback.


Davis doesn’t stop at the standard themes of left-wing analysis. He, like Gramsci, has an appreciation for the politics within cultural issues. He has a hilarious essays on driving the freeways in southern California in a V-8 SUV; the intersection of freeway rage and right-wing politics around the recall of Gray Davis; Swartzenegger’s election, and the recent California grocery workers strike. Included are a critical analysis of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, the California Penal system, the Cali housing bubble (written in 2005), the Great Wall of the United States being erected along our southern border, along with the Minutemen who patrol it; the colonization of Baja California by gringo corporations, and Schwatzenegger’s conversion to moderation. Later stories cover Scorcese’s ignoring of the massive German left in New York, in order only to focus on the conservative nativist and Irish gang fighting of “Gangs of New York.” To counter the hullabaloo over “the Greatest Generation” Davis has a short history of Private “Ivan” – the Russian soldier invisible to Americans, who really destroyed the Nazi armies.


Unlike some mechanical Marxists, who think global warming or peak oil are schemes cooked up by the capitalists (!!), Davis, like Marx, understands the intersection of environmental degradation and capitalist accumulation. He has an excellent chapter on the heat wave in Europe and Chicago that killed tens of thousands in 2003, brought on by global climate change, and the inadequate response of the ‘appointed’ governments. He follows that with a story on Kerry and the Democratic Party’s total misreading of peak oil in 2004. He also brings in a chapter from his own 2005 book on lurking pandemics: “Monster at the Door – The Global Threat of Avian Flu” which centers on the central roles of agribusiness and the fast-food industries in enabling this flu, which could kill millions.

Hurricane Katrina and the (planned) destruction of black New Orleans is the subject of a group of biting essays that link Bush, FEMA, black Democrat Mayor Ray Nagin (who voted for Bush n 2000), and the DLC/John Kerry policy of marginalizing black Americans in the Democratic Party. A great companion to Spike Lee’s 4 part documentary on New Orleans and Katrina, “When the Levees Broke,” these illustrate the results of a decades-long policy of letting the ‘war on poverty’ quietly end, and black people quietly disappear.


What follows in one of the most interesting pieces, an interview with Davis about various generations of ‘terrorists’ on the left, an article reprinted from Radical History. Davis is extremely objective as to the nature of left 'terrorism' - seeing it many times as a response to government terrorism, and not always counter-productive. He then compares the massive 1934 textile workers strike in the South with the present Democratic Party policy of encouraging NAFTA and ignoring labor rights, especially abroad. Lastly, a fascinating history of the Sunset Strip police riots when young people stood up against the Los Angeles police in ’66-’67 for the right to visit night clubs hosting rock music and walking the streets of the Strip. By the way, with some help from the budding rocks stars of the time, they won.

Davis follows with a coda explaining that most subjects of the Roman Empire were happy when the so-called Barbarians over-turned Roman rule, as their taxes went down, the landlords were removed, and they were able to practice their religions and culture without heavy-handed oppression. At some point, as he calls it, the “Rome on the Potomac” will one day suffer the same fate.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 6/4/08