Sunday, December 13, 2009

The origins of the state

This notion of a "workers' state" continues to bother me (though my apprehensions may be misplaced). As I understand it, the state originated with Babylon, Sumeria, Lydia, and Assyria. The idea was to expropriate agricultural surplus from peasant communities and use it to feed standing armies, which could then be used to invade other peasant communities (a "virtuous circle" of military expansion). The expropriation was carried out (if memory serves) through the introduction of coinage -- i.e., a monetary economy -- which allowed for taxation and caused, inter alia, the instant impoverishment of the peasantry. Anyone in the neighborhood not organised along state lines quickly got invaded by these proto-states and incorporated into these structures. Thus, the state itself was born as a military entity, and organised to channel resources from peasants to armies, rulers, a priesthood, and an aristocracy. In passing, it goes without saying that the state has been in the hands of different oligarchies at different times -- military rulers (like Sargon, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar in ancient times) or the modern capitalist bourgeoisie that we're lumbered with today. But regardless of the era and regardless of the nature of the ruling oligarchy, it has always served as an instrument of armed might, coercion and extortion. Whether it can ever be anything else -- such as a "workers' state" -- is what I'm wondering about.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ugly demonstrations

David Macaray echoing what I've been saying for awhile now:

And guess what happened when these people poured into the streets, stopped
traffic, shut down businesses, and mixed it up with the police? They found
that by making a goddamn bloody nuisance of themselves they got what they
wanted. Only by “embarrassing” themselves were they reckoned with.

Of course, those in authority will always tell you that ugly
demonstrations don’t work. They’ll tell you that demonstrations are, in
fact, counterproductive, that the only tactics that can be relied upon to get
the dirty job done are rational discourse and the free but orderly exchange of

This is a myth. The authorities tell workers that because they
want to control them. They want workers to believe it because the bosses
have no fear of rational discourse, and no dread of the free exchange of
ideas. What they do fear are massive protests. What they do dread
are ugly demonstrations. Which is why they work.

I look forward to an implacable and militant working-class movement, which has been purged of all limousine liberals and champagne socialists, and which has been purged of all sissy "discourse" about Jameson and Althusser. I look forward, indeed, to a working class which slams an iron fist on the table and makes the ruling class dirty its pants. Unabashed class warfare, with class consciousness firmly instilled.

Default structure

As I understand it, the usual liberal and progressive point of view is that there are certain immoral and greedy individuals at the pinnacle of capitalist society and that if these people are done away with (or persuaded of the error of their ways), everything will be hunky-dory. This is a deeply unsatisfying explanation, particularly to anyone steeped in Marxist thought. That we have the specific structure that we endure on a daily basis should itself give us pause. I contend that it is the "default structure" of our times, given our technological modernity and the concomitant stage of history we are presently at.

This is not to say that we should not struggle. We should. But this notion of "default structure" does, however, suggest two important caveats. The first is that we need to have an alternative very clearly delineated. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We don't want the fiasco of Orwell's "Animal Farm." Or in other words, without a very clear and detailed idea of where we want to go, we will unknowingly replicate the "default structure." The second caveat -- closely related to the first -- is that this default structure exerts a magnetic pull; in scientific lingo, it's a point of "stable equilibrium," towards which any artificial system -- even if carefully designed -- will naturally gravitate.

This mix of finance capitalism, plutocracy, sham democracy, militarism, a global economic web controlled by a hegemon, growing disparities between rich and poor, both globally and in nation states, deteriorating biosphere -- this is our present structure. Whether revolutionary force can change this set-up at a fundamental level, and transform it root and branch, is an open philosophical question.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The House and Senate health care "reform" bills

Andy Coates -- in this interview with Ashley Smith at Socialist Worker -- succinctly explains what's in the health care reform proposals:

The crux of each bill is compulsory private health insurance. The
government will use its power to compel every individual to purchase private
health insurance, or enroll in Medicaid. The bills don't make private health
insurance affordable; they propose to subsidize private insurance premiums for
those who live on modest means.

For example, the House bill will subsidize the premiums of those whose
income is 400 percent of the federal poverty level and below. Taxpayers would
pay for this. But it would still mean that people who earn 200 percent to 400
percent of the federal poverty level would have to pay 8 to 12 percent of their
income for private insurance premiums, or pay a fine and stay

That would be the so-called "choice." For the uninsured, paying for
expensive insurance would amount to an enormous wage cut. And then they'll get
skimpy coverage, with high co-pays, high deductibles and all those other onerous
and unworkable measures that come with very expensive private insurance.

It serves no point for me to do a lengthy copy-and-paste so I recommend the interview be read in toto at the Socialist Worker site I've linked above. Just the picture of those three scumbags (at the SW website) -- Reid, Baucus, and Dodd -- should suffice to convince one that they're up to no good. Another giveaway is the 2000 pages of small print in the House proposal. This kind of voluminous paperwork is produced whenever the public is to get shafted. I suppose this is the reason we say, "The devil is in the details."

As I've made clear in previous posts, I don't think the usual "activism" -- standing with placards or calling one's representatives -- will serve any purpose. All it is does is provide camaraderie and a feeling one is doing "one's bit'" -- without achieving any tangible results whatsoever.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another essay savaging liberals

An essay at commondreams:

Sometime early in Ronald Reagan's first term, I decided to forget
everything I'd always disliked about liberals. I took pains to subordinate what
put me off about them to the larger objective of unity against the rightwing
onslaught, I decided to overlook their capacity for high-minded fervor for the
emptiest and sappiest platitudes; their tendencies to make a fetish of procedure
over substance and to look for technical fixes to political problems; their
ability to screen out the mounting carnage in the cities they inhabit as they
seek pleasant venues for ingesting good coffee and scones; their propensity for
aestheticizing other people's oppression and calling that activism; their reflex
to wring their hands and look constipated in the face of conflict; and, most of
all, their spinelessness and undependability in crises.

... Beneath all this idiotic coyness lie liberals' long-standing aversion
to conflict and their refusal to face up to the class realities of American
politics. They avoid any linkage of inequality with corporations' use of public
policy to drive down living standards and enhance their plunder,

The tools being used by both sides in the "War on Terror" and the ideological implications

I found a thought-provoking article in Dawn:

The cavalcade of controversy that has followed recent revelations regarding
Blackwater/Xe are notable for the marked turn they represent in the nature of
warfare as defined by the age of terror. In essence, they represent the implicit
admission that liberal democracies, even those as strong as the United States,
are unable to fight transnational terror without giving up the very core
principles that define their ideological positions.


The new terms of the war on terror are thus being defined not by Obama or
Karzai or Zardari but Osama bin Laden and Erik Prince. In being the leaders of
the lawless frontiers where truth is ill defined and law merely an
inconvenience, they operate beyond accountability and are untouched by political
opinion. While one uses faith and the other money, the recipes of both are
simple: they employ and operate the tools at their disposal to maim kill and
destroy on a global scale. Together they have revealed the war on terror as a
conflict of evil vs evil where good is either invisible or altogether

Why is the ruling class the ruling class?

My memory grows feeble in my dotage but I seem to recall 19th century social theorists like Mosca and Michels contending that oligarchy was the natural state of affairs in human society. Why this inevitability? On the left we like to argue that it's because of the lack of scruple among the rulers. And this is doubtless a contributing factor. Though the lower orders hardly seem to be overburdened with scruple either. One explanation might be that the rulers are smarter. The plebs sordida are a stupid lot. Orwell's "Animal Farm" describes a post-revolutionary situation where the smart animals -- the pigs -- rapidly become the new governing elite. Most of the rest of the animals can't even remember the second letter of the alphabet. I've been musing about the (relative) smartness of the ruling class for some time. Yesterday evening I tried once again to initiate a political discussion -- which despite my efforts rapidly deteriorated into speculation about whether Tim Pawlenty would have Michele Bachmann as running mate should he run for president. Faced with this wall of obdurate stupidity -- which is utterly incapable of grasping the structural aspects of our situation -- I become despondent. Ah well, maybe we can teach them "Four legs good, two legs bad."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Liberals are useless

An excellent essay by Chris Hedges, with which I concur:

Liberals are a useless lot. They talk about peace and do nothing to
challenge our permanent war economy. They claim to support the working class,
and vote for candidates that glibly defend the North American Free Trade
Agreement. They insist they believe in welfare, the right to organize, universal
health care and a host of other socially progressive causes, and will not risk
stepping out of the mainstream to fight for them.

The gravest danger we face as a nation is not from the far right, although
it may well inherit power, but from a bankrupt liberal class that has lost the
will to fight and the moral courage to stand up for what it espouses.

It's a point I've been making for some time: the problem with the USA is not the right, but the so-called "left." It has no balls, no real conviction. It's empty posturing and cheap moral outrage. It's standing with anti-war placards. It's voting for the "lesser of two evils." It's that fat buffoon Michael More and his admirers. You could shoot all the scumbag liberals -- with their hypocrisy, posturing, and impotent bleeding hearts -- and it would not make the USA any worse than what it is today (in fact, it might make it better as at least there would be more intellectual honesty).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Press conference after Obama's Escalation Speech

Local activists gathered at Mayday Books on Tuesday evening, December 1, to listen to and respond to President Obama's long-awaited speech about plans to escalate the war against Afghanistan. It was great to hear a variety of reasons and viewpoints explaining why this plan is bound to fail and do little for the lives of Afghans or people here at home. Some images of the event:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who likes Short Shorts?

“The Handmaid’s Tale” about being “Born Under a Bad Sky” in “The Merry Month of May” while “On the Trail of the Assassins.” (by Margaret Atwood (1985), James Jones (1970), Jeffrey St. Clair (2008) and Jim Garrison (1988).)

For those of you who can’t stand long book reviews, here are four short reviews:

“HandMaid’s Tale” by Margret Atwood – of course a Canadian – wrote this book about the aftermath of a violent fundamentalist Christian takeover of the United States. You are dumped into an unknown world of high-walled compounds, fear and segregation of groups. No one dances, no one plays, there is no joy allowed except in the worship of Almighty God. The ruling law is the fundamental oppression of women. It is told from the point of view of a Handmaid, a ‘breeder,’ Offred, a former modern woman now enslaved to bear sacred children. She is to be ritually impregnated by the Commander, who has a barren Wife, served by working-class Marthas, and guarded by violent Guardians. Children are the point of this society. And of course, there are still secret prostitutes, which the Commanders visit to get relief.

For every repressive society, there is an underground resistance, which Offred makes contact with, in her attempt to escape to Canada. Warning her of the fate awaiting those who defy the religious order, dead offenders are ritually hung for public viewing. Enjoy!

P.S. - The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopic book. Below, I did a review of “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, a post-apocalyptic book. This has now come out as a film with Viggo Mortenson. The film is not as good as the book, however repetitive that comment may seem, but it is still worth seeing at some point. The new film 2012, loosely based on a Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy, is also coming out soon. For a review of dystopic and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction, here is a long analysis by a professor on this very subject: Http://

"Born Under A Bad Sky," by Jeffrey St. Clair, rips the hood off of neo-liberal Democratic Party ‘environmentalism.’ The Republicans take their share of fire, of course, but the clear new information is about the coddling during the Clinton/Gore years of the worst anti-environmental corporate figures and companies, looking especially at the situation in the U.S. mountain West. St. Clair, an editor at Counter-Punch, uses these essays to focus on water theft, forest destruction, mining pollution, dam consequences, nuclear carelessness, oil drilling, air pollution levels in LA, mine safety, FBI treatment of environmental protesters, Cancer Alley along the Mississippi, the oppression of native and Latino rural populations and the destruction of endangered species.

St. Clair especially focuses on the ‘Big Green’ paper organizations complicity with all of this. Sainted figures like Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Bruce Babbitt, Dick Gephardt, Ralph Cavanaugh, John Kerry, Ken Lay, Mary Landreiu, Edward McGaffigan and sainted groups like the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Counsel, the World Wildlife Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund are all pinned for their attacks on the environment in the name of market solutions and corporate giveaways. This is another hard book to read.

“In the Merry Month Of May," by James Jones, is the story of the massive May-June 1968 worker-student rebellion in France, as told by the middle-aged, middle-class editor of a literary magazine. Jones, evidently, was trying to compete with “The Sun Also Rises” by Hemingway. If so, this is a truly poor second. The blasé editor doesn’t take the events seriously at first, then treats them like tourism, and eventually blots them out by his overwhelming focus on the sexuality of a young black woman from America. Jones trivializes everything that happens to focus on the romantic quadrangle of one family – wife, father and son – with this woman, who also happens to be anti-political.

Nevertheless, Jones WAS in Paris at that time, and his eye-witness descriptions of clashes between the flics and the students in the West Bank, and the activities of the students at the Sorbonne are its chief benefit. The involvement of the working class is marginal to what Jones witnesses. The book’s events are treated like a light-weight diversion, until, of course, he has to kill off a central character to give it some weight.

“On the Trail of the Assassins,” by Jim Garrison, is the story of the Kennedy assassination investigation undertaken by New Orleans DA Jim Garrison. Garrison was the only one who treated the assassination like an actual criminal case, unlike the Dallas police or the FBI. Garrison was attacked for doing his duty by nearly every magazine and newspaper, the U.S. government, the CIA and every useless pundit in America. Which means he was on to something. Later this story was made into the film “JFK” by Oliver Stone. The books abounds with great facts about what a sorry white-wash the Warren Commission, the FBI and the later Congressional Inquiry made of the assassination. It is invaluable as a description of how the intelligence agencies work in the United States.

Garrison conclusively proves that Oswald did not even fire a shot at Kennedy, but was a prepared patsy; that Oswald did not shoot Officer Tippet; that people impersonated Oswald for quite a time before the assassination; that Oswald worked with CIA and FBI figures like David Ferrie and Clay Shaw as a fake ‘communist’ in New Orleans; the Ferrie and Shaw openly discussed killing Kennedy; that Jack Ruby delivered guns to the grassy knoll just before the assassination; that about 15-20 people were openly involved in the assassination as shooters, getaway drivers, diversions, fake Secret Service agents; that the Dallas police destoryed much valuable evidence, and that the whole force of the secret police and their political allies in the United States blocked a real investigation of the killing.

He concludes that this event had all the hallmarks of a military coup by the secret police, aiding the political class in support of a continued hard-line, cold-war approach against the USSR, Cuba and for intervention in Vietnam - a line Kennedy was not following.

And I bought all but one of these books in the new and used sections of MayDay Books
Red Frog, 12/1/2009

Senior Goldman Sachs people arming themselves

An article by Alice Schroeder at Bloomberg:

... The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have
loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a
populist uprising against the bank.

... Talk that Goldman bankers might
have armed themselves in self-defense would sound ludicrous, were it not so apt
a metaphor for the way that the most successful people on Wall Street have
become a target for public rage.
And the single most damning comment in the article:

The bailout was meant to keep the curtain drawn on the way the rich make money,
not from the free market, but from the lack of one.
It's becoming clear even to an indoctrinated and befuddled public that politicians are acting overtly for those at the financial pinnacle.

There's no question that the situation is becoming tense. As a recent New York Times article made clear, one in eight Americans are now on food stamps. Destitution is increasing. And the baboon elected to supreme office has turned out to be another shameless sell-out.

It's also clear (at least to me) that many self-proclaimed "people of the Left" will be caught off-balance by a spontaneous populist uprising. These people can argue about something obscure in Althusser or Lacan till dawn -- but wouldn't know how to change a light bulb. Sort of reminds me of the film "Life of Brian," where the People's Front of Judea gets to arguing with the Judean People's Front .... Anyway, not to quibble. Serves no purpose.