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.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Except for military spending, that question is always asked.
Health care.... where will we get the money? will we pay for it?
Roads, bridges, environmental clean-up....where will the money come from?
Well, fellow commodities, the money will come from where it always comes from: LABOR! Even in all-out war such as World War 2 there was enough labor for both guns and butter albeit some shortages in non military goods. Otherwise there is not only enough labor, there is an excess! The other part of the equation is materials. As yet, as of now, at this moment the planet has enough stuff to take care of now and to have enough for a few decades and maybe even a millennium or two, IF it is handled wisely. Here is where we get political: corporate capitalism is not able to handle it wisely. EXAMPLE: There are 3 million more people in the U.S. every year needing more goods and services. In spite of this ever-increasing demand we have economic CONTRACTIONS periodically. More people need more things yet the economy CONTRACTS. Go figure.
Tom R Dooley

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Insightful essay at dissidentvoice on why the US system of governance makes single-payer health care well-nigh impossible. I thank my lucky stars I'm a European citizen. I just don't see what the benefits are these days of being an American citizen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sad but true

When you finally have time to read...

Yoga, Roy-Style

“Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers,” Essays by Arundhati Roy, 2009

India is a caldron of ethnic, religious and class hatreds, folks. Not the land of mellow ‘gurus,’ yoga, Gandhi, vegetarian food, beaches and quaintness, as it is marketed to the hipster elite. Or of bright, enthusiastic entrepreneurs and high-tech workers in Bangalore, marketed to, and also paid-for by corporate America.

Roy is the gorgeous pin-up woman of Indian activism, who wrote the novel “The God of Small Things,” which won the Booker prize in 1997. This, her latest book, details the slow descent of Indian political culture, of both the Congress and BJP parties, into an India dominated by Hindu nationalism and creeping fascism. Bollywood objected to “Slumdog Millionaire,’ which revealed India’s poverty-ridden cities. The Indian political elite ground their teeth when “The White Tiger,” about a servant who kills his master in Delhi, wound up on the best-seller charts. (And which also won the Booker prize.) The Congress and BJP hate Roy and various other writers like Vandana Shiva, who detail the legal, political, environmental and communal disasters that have occurred on their watches. They have both been threatened many times for speaking out and organizing.

India broke with a somewhat centralized economic model of development in 1991, which consisted of controlling the ‘commanding heights of the economy;’ then adopted neo-liberal market methods, at which point many things began to come apart. According to Roy, this period was preceded in 1989 by the BJP beginning a program of Hindu nationalism – Hindutva. This is a country, after all, that has as one of its major founding events the British ‘Partition’ of 1947. Partition resulted in hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims dying in communalist violence, and millions became homeless or moving, as the British ‘created’ Pakistan, Bangladesh and India out of the fabric of one multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

The recent slaughter of Tamil’s in Sri Lanka by the Sinhalese government’s army in April and May 2009, mostly hidden from the world, has inspired the present Congress government to now declare war on the Maoist Naxalites in the east-central regions of India. I think hoping to duplicate that feat. The Naxalites, who got their name from a village in West Bengal named Naxalbari, are still waging a guerrilla war to defend the forests and land of the poor, bottom-caste people of those regions against corporations eager to control their land and the mineral and water wealth beneath it. This struggle has been almost invisible outside India. Congress hopes that drowning it in blood will be equally invisible.

Against this background, Roy's essays focus on the collapse of the police and legal system in the face of Hindu fundamentalism and Muslim terrorism - real and fabricated – something that accelerated greatly after 9/11. George Bush essentially gave the green light to anti-Muslim pogroms and politics in India, and the Hindu nationalist politicians eagerly took advantage of it. Essentially, Roy sees much evidence pointing to the Indian secret police carrying out many frame-ups and provocations. For her, the central events are:

  • 1984 - Congress Party leads mobs in Delhi in slaughter of thousands of Sikh’s as revenge for the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

  • December 1992 – mobs of Hindu fundamentalists converged on the town of Ayodhya and demolished an old Muslim mosque. Plans to build a huge Hindu temple over that spot are underway.

  • 1993 – a fundamentalist Hindu mob killed a 1,000 Muslims in Mumbai. In response, Muslim terrorists used bombs to kill 250 people in that same city.

  • 1998 – Using this polarization, the BJP takes national power after starting with only two representatives in 1989. Roy sees this as linked to the anti-Islamism of the first Gulf war. The BJP then conducted nuclear tests within weeks of taking power, linking nuclear weapons to the pride of being ‘Hindu.’

  • January 1999 – Bajrang Dal, a Hindu militia, burns a Christian missionary and his two sons alive.

  • December 2001 – Attack on the Indian parliament resulted in 5 dead “Pakistani” terrorists, never identified, and the remaining ‘conspirators’ being judging innocent or being declared guilty in the face of much evidence that this was actually a police provocation by the “Special Cell.” Roy spends several chapters on this incident.

  • February 2002 – 58 Hindu pilgrims on an express train burned alive as they returned from Ayodhya. According to Roy, the BJP government in Gujarat, lead by Chief Minister Modi, responded with a carefully planned genocide; 2,000 Muslims were murdered, Muslim women gang-raped, and 150,000 Muslims driven from their homes and forced to live in the woods or on the outskirts of towns. Modi has now been re-elected 3 times, running against Congress party candidates that are mostly ex-BJP. He has never been prosecuted. Roy focuses especially on this event.

  • November 2002 – Undercover Delhi police kill alleged Muslim terrorists in Lashkar-e-Taiba. Witnesses say the victims were unarmed.

  • 2002 - Draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act passed. The Indian Congress repealed it in 2004, then adopted a tougher law in December 2008, with almost no debate between parties.

  • December 2007 – Systematic attacks in three states against Christians lead to the burning of churches. Lower-caste Muslim Dalit and Adivasi are urged to attack Christians Dalits and Adivasi by the BJP. Thousands of Christians now live in refugee camps in the forests. Roy thinks this was actually an attack on the base of the Maoists.

  • November 2008 (or as the press calls it, 26/11) - The attack in Delhi by alleged Pakistani-backed Muslim terrorists, has been promoted to basically turn India into a police-state. Roy hints that it, too, might have been a police operation.

  • December 2008 – Hindu fundamentalists attack women in Bangalore and Mangalore for wearing jeans and western clothes, protected by the new BJP government.

Roy links the recent 2009 election – in which UPA/Congress triumphed with 10% of the vote – as showing the unity of both parties behind neo-liberal economic practice. Roy delineates how this economic philosophy is actually intimately linked to the pogramist BJP and the tolerant-of-pograms Congress. For instance in Chattisgarh, the BJP government and the Congress-Party militia Salwah Judum work together in a war with the Maoists and the low-caste Adivasis population. 644 villages have been emptied. 50,000 people have been moved into Salway Judum camps. 300,000 hide in the forests. The newest Gandhi, Varun Gandhi, is a BJP campaigner who believes Muslims should be sterilized. He won overwhelmingly.

The Left Front in West Bengal took a hard right, according to Roy, and made deals to build a chemical complex, a plant for Tata motors, and a Jindal steel plant in the forests. This was opposed by the population, but the Left Front attempted to make this come true virtually at gun-point, using thugs in their own party militia. The population eventually defeated the Front over these plans. The Left Front, of course, was decimated in the 2009 elections for embracing neo-liberalism - the first time they had lost elections in 30 years. The ruling class press said it was because the Left Front was too antagonistic to neo-liberalism, not the reverse. Roy also analyzes the strengths of the multi-headed, very well-organized, reactionary-nationalist, pogramist BJP, which has mass educational, military, economic and social organizations all over the country.

Roy ends with a description of the endless and brutal occupation of Islamic Kashmir by the Indian army, supported by both Indian Parties, the intelligentsia, the bureaucracy and the media. The occupation has gone on for 20 years, leaving 70,000 dead, 1,000s tortured, many raped, fabricated elections, and an occupation army of half-a-million. Massive non-violent protests by the Kashmiri population in summer 2008 put a dent in this occupation, but it still sits at the center of every violent vortex in the area, and even Indian politics itself.

For those Americans who have only the haziest understanding of India, and think of it more in relation to the beaches in Goa, this book is a great introduction to the politicians, organizations and issues that are tearing India apart. Within the limitations of the essay style, Roy makes impassioned, yet factual, analyses of every contradiction she uncovers, in sibliant prose.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/09/2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dennis Kucinich on why he voted against the healthcare "reform" bill

The arguments of Dennis Kucinich against the healthcare reform bill can be found here. I don't see in what manner the bill improves matters for ordinary Americans. Indeed, it arguably makes matters worse. Obama, Pelosi, and Baucus (among other Democrats) are the scum of the earth.

Postscript: This article by John Geyman is also eminently worth reading.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time to Vote

Melt-down of the Minnesota Green Party?

Curiouser and curiouser. Two months or so ago, Cam Gordon, a Green, received the endorsement of the Minneapolis Democratic Party and Mayor RT Rybak – that mannequin guy that looks just like Tim Pawlenty. According to Mike Calvan, someone testifying under oath explained in a court suit brought about by Dave Bicking that Rybak and Gordon had made a deal. Gordon would oppose the Greens running anyone for mayor, and the Democrats would not run anyone against Gordon. It happened…especially the last part. Mr. Rogers now has a safe seat. Dave's suit was to stop Rybak from claiming Gordon's support, which he had not gotten written approval for at that time. Later, Gordon did endorse Rybak.

At any rate, this sad setup was preceded by the main Party in town, the Democrats, gerry-mandering the wards of Natalie Johnson Lee and Dean Zimmerman, in order to get them out of the city council. Evidently, the Democrats couldn’t make a deal with these two. Also evidently desperate for cash to pay for a lawsuit against this gerry-mandering, Dean Zimmerman accepted some in an entrapment sting organized by the Republican federal District Attorney. There was no quid pro quo, but this did not make a difference to the DA. Those with long memories can remember how the U.S. DA did somewhat the same thing to Eddy Felien, another progressive council person from an era long ago. And you might add several black council people that the powers-that-be evidently didn’t like, adding to a pattern against ANYONE who rocks the boat in this here ‘nice’ town. In effect, only if you are 'approved' can you get away with this kind of thing in Minnepolis. In sum, together the two – the Democrats and the Republicans – eliminated two Greens in the city council, by fair means but mostly foul.

Dean Zimmerman is back in town and out of jail. And Natalie Johnson Lee’s Uncle Tom replacement rules the roost in the forgotten part of town. But Natalie is still kicking, running again in the 5th Ward, though not as a Green it seems.

Now ‘Papa’ John Kolstad is running against RT for mayor, breaking a pact Gordon could not enforce. Remember Rybak, the pretty-boy, do-nothing former neighborhood activist, who claimed he was going to fight for ‘affordable housing?’ Right -he increased housing stock for poor people less than the former Republican mayor in St. Paul, which was hardly any. RT is running a non-campaign, dreaming about being the next handsome, young, white governor of Minnesota.

RT’s Minneapolis police, evicted Rosemary Williams from her house a month of Fridays ago because of a Minneapolis trespassing charge… trespassing in her own house. Ah, yes, the bank owns it now. So the bankers’ cops - with RT not making a peep, or issuing instructions to allow her to live in her home - busted in, boarded up the house to the rafters with steel grills, and hired a private security guard to stand by the property, while arresting more than a dozen. And so, Rybak’s move for ‘affordable housing’ continues. Rosemary's house stands empty, joining thousands of others while the 'leaders' of Minneapolis fiddle.

However, in this virtual crapdown, Papa John is now running as an “Independent Civic Leader,” not a Green. He has secured the endorsement of the Minneapolis Republican Party, which has been seized by the followers of Texas Republican Ron Paul. The Independence Party has also endorsed Kolstad. Kolstad ran previously as the Attorney General candidate for the Greens. Al Flowers, who also has ties to the Greens, and is endorsed by Fareen Hakeem, is now running as a “Democratic Farmer-Labor” candidate. The Green Party is not running an official candidate for Mayor, much as RT wanted. The Greens are running Dave Bicking, Jeanine Estime and three others for city council, including Gordon.

Now read that back. Kolstad got an endorsement from Ron Paul’s libertarians, who are hated within the fundamentalist Republican Party, it was thought. However, Ron Paul has also recently endorsed Michelle Bachmann. So there is no Chinese Wall between the crazy fundie wing of the Republican Party and the libertarian one, contrary to certain illusions. I understand that Kolstad has good personal relations with the Paulites, and that on certain issues they agree. And I also understand the Paulites are upset about the Paul endorsement of Bachmann.

Certainly, if the Greens are endorsed by someone, it is different than if the Green's adopted their program, which they haven't. And in this run, Kolstad is not an official Green. In this instance, that certain piece of the program that they all seem to agree on is standing up for small businessmen – or as Kolstad put it on cable TV and at Merlin’s, ‘small businessmen are the life-blood of the community.” Wha?

OK, so now we come to the meat of the issue. Anyone hanging around the Greens can see that labor people are few and far between. And anyone hanging around also sees that they have had an over-representation of small businessmen among their candidates. Essentially the Marxist analysis of the Green Party is that it is a basically a progressive, petty-bourgeois opposition to big capital – in the Democratic and Republican forms. In a way, the Ron Paulites are also a petit-bourgeois opposition to big capital. And so we see the link. It is not that some of their criticisms are not accurate, or that we do not need small businessmen as allies - it is that they represent a class that is not, ultimately, able to fundamentally change our situation. No Marxist wants to point this out, but at this point, it is so obvious even the uninitiated can figure it out.

With the evaportation of the Labor Party in the U.S. because they would not run candidates, I supported Nader in 2000, and worked in a group called “Labor for Nader.” No wing of capital supported Nader at that time, and a critical vote for Nader was a useful tactic in 2000. He got millions of votes and showed up Gore in state after state. I voted for that ‘crazy black woman’ from Atlanta in 2008, Cynthia McKinney, who ran as a Green candidate. I have worked and donated money to David Bicking, running for the council in Ward 9 as a Green, who is one of the most principled persons in Minnesota politics today. I will be voting for a member of Socialist Action, Brent Perry, in my own Ward, Ward 12. He doesn’t have a chance in hell against another former neighborhood activist, the wretched Sandy Colvin Roy, who gave away public park land on Nicollet Island to the Catholic Church for ANOTHER stadium - among other acts. These people are truly stadium-crazy. Roy's claim to fame, from her candidate forum, was protesting outside the ROTC building in 1972. I was there too, but seem to have gotten a different message from that event.

At any rate, the national race in 2000 galvanized the local Greens into some kind of mass support in the City. Since then, no national race has helped the local Greens. And this is a real deficit. I know there is an argument between those Greens who just want to concentrate on local issues (and who refused to endorse a national candidate in 2008) and those who think the two are interrelated. The answer is now in. You need to burn the candle at both ends, if you are a Green.

The Minneapolis City Council is the grave-yard of neighborhood activism.
So how can we absorb these changes? I think the Green Party in Minneapolis is fractionating, and has lost its ideological and organizational coherence. And just when IRV was to go into effect in the city, a situation they could have taken advantage of.

The real masters of our local Democratic Party council members are the real estate interests and giant corporations who run this town. This is a One-Party Town, presided over by an incestuous council cozy with the ruling financial interests, the stadiums, the real estate developers, the cops, and anyone with a dollar bill. They all vote alike. Once they get elected, it is 'hasta la vista.' These people are just tiny versions of the corporate Democrats on the national stage, and neo-liberalism in general. They are helping undermine the true health of the city by giving a free license to the police, condo overbuilding, corporate welfare like stadiums, wasting taxpayer money on ridiculous projects like the Lake Street makeover and the new downtown public library; trying to liquidate any independent groups like the Park and Library boards and other anti-democratic moves, and ignoring the foreclosure crisis and the jobs crisis. They also allowed the federal and various city police to run wild during the Republican Convention. The Greens made a valiant effort to change this. Hopefully their present candidates will do well. However, the present situation points to a need to go beyond Green politics. The fat is in the fire.

Red Frog

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Petition to Harry Reid:

When you read this I may be dead if I am one of the 93,000 who die each year from hospital infections or one of the 100,000 who die each year from wrongly administered drugs or one of the 43,000 who have no coverage. It's a disgrace in this rich country. Yesterday, Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, Cornell West and Jon Stewart all were disgusted at the lack of health care for so many. You and your esteemed colleagues and distinguished gentlemen should become human!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Effortless Revolution

“Facing Reality – The New Society: How to look for it and how to bring it closer.” – CLR James & Grace Lee, with Cornelius Castoriadis, Intro by John H Bracey – Originally Published 1958, new Kerr Edition, 2006.

C.L.R. James (Cyril Lionel Robert), the Trinidadian writer best known for the masterful “The Black Jacobins,” co-authored this book, which was written right after the worker-led revolts in Hungary and Poland. It is best described as a cross between Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism. James was part of the Johnson-Forrest tendency in the SWP, which left the party in the 50s. Starting out as a Trotskyist, James broke with the Socialist Workers’ Party and Trotsky’s analysis of the ‘degenerated workers state’ and agreed instead with Max Schactman that the USSR was a form of state capitalism. James denies that getting rid of capitalist ownership of the means of production, and having that owned by a state of ANY kind, is historical progress.

This book is remarkable for its optimism. Marxists are by nature optimistic, as they believe that the working class actually can take power. James took this one step further and said that socialism was already existing in the advanced capitalist countries, as well as the bureaucratic ‘state capitalist’ ones. What he meant by ‘socialism’ was that the working class was already organized, educated and conscious enough to take power, and could, given the right conditions. He pointed to the 1956 workers councils in Hungary, the 1956 rebellion in Poznan, the 1953 rebellion in East Germany, and the shop stewards movement in England as current proofs the workers were able to take power, as their social strength was such they only needed the right impetus. The Hungarian workers councils he considered the height of workers power, and draws from that the slogan “All power to the Workers Councils.” I do not think many Marxists would have a problem with this slogan, of course.

When he rejected Trotsky’s theory of the ‘degenerated’ or ‘deformed’ workers states, he also rejected the Leninist concept of the ‘vanguard’ party. He considered it to be a product of workers organization in one time and place, Czarist Russia, and not appropriate for other conditions. James believed that workers did not need a self-appointed vanguard to take power. He saw the role of the Marxist organization to be one voice of many working class voices, which would describe conditions and provide information to the working class. His revolutionary organizations would essentially be ‘committees of correspondence’ which would not be dominated by through-going Marxists, but could have other working class oriented individuals in them. The role of these committees in the factories and in society was to provide information to counter bourgeois propaganda. Essentially, the Marxists would hasten the event which would weaken or topple bourgeois rule, and organize around their paper (and presumably now, their website…) James pointed out that the events in Hungary and Poland happened without a ‘vanguard party.’ And the shop stewards movement in England allowed Communists and Trotskyists to participate, but did not allow these organizations to dominate it. And this is partly because the workers see the factionalism built into the ‘party’ system.

Of particular interest is James’ point on factory committees in the USSR, which James and Lee said formed in various plants after the revolution, had a national organization, and wanted to take over economic management in the USSR. He said the Bolsheviks preferred unions to handle that function, and broke up the factory committees. James said very little has ever been written about these committees. I find it persuasive to allow a national factory committee structure to handle the economy, as unions are organized as defensive organizations of the working class, and are not normally suited to run production. And they frequently fail even as defensive organizations.

Trotsky’s main disagreement with Lenin before the 1917 revolution was on the issue of the vanguard party, which he saw as carrying the seeds of despotism. After 1917, Trotsky adopted Lenin’s idea, and held it to his dying day. James theory is similar to early Trotsky – that the vanguard party can become a bureaucracy quite easily. This of course was proved in the USSR and China, though in the former it was not an easy process, occurring over the dead bodies of most of the Bolshevik leadership and cadre. Trotsky maintained that real democratic-centralism, not bureaucratic-centralism, would prevent a re-occurrence. James insists that the nature of the vanguard party, while enabling revolution in some conditions, also guarantees their degeneration.

James & Lee were not able to comment in this book on the vast police powers accrued to the modern imperialist state after the 50s, as part of the degeneration of bourgeois rule. It is hard to see how revolutionary organizations could survive without a structure able to handle the various forms of repression that emerge, even in our present 'bourgeois-democratic' structure. Assassination, firings, heavily armed police, constant surveillance and jailings are by now normal police methods, and would be used extensively. Surveillance itself is certainly more broad now than at any other time in American history. When James & Lee wrote this book, re-privatization and the growth of white-collar service-sector employment in the imperialist heartlands were not on the radar either.

The most amusing parts of this book are James shots at various Communist and Trotskyist organizations and their failures, and might well be familiar to some readers. Tiny organizations coming out with massive slogans of the day. Organizations that pursue their factional interests over the interests of the working class or the movement. Leaders who spend all their time trying to curtail the deterioration of their own small organizations, whose permanent survival is their only goal. Organizations fighting each other instead of the enemy. In essence, the small-group mentality instead of the broader view of the needs of the class.

However, we must draw a short balance sheet of the Johnson-Forrest Tendency, and James himself, based on this 1958 book. The small committees created by James have all disappeared. The heady enthusiasm for Hungary, East Germany and Poland has been replaced by the restoration of direct capitalist bank rule in those countries. James never seemed to notice that it was in Hungary, a country whose bourgeoisie had been dispossessed and its property nationalized, that the working class, by his own analysis, held direct state and economic power through the workers councils. This did NOT happen in bourgeois France in May-June 1968, for instance, which might point to a major difference in these two countries – not to their similarity. The shop stewards movement in England has disappeared; defeated after the smashing of the coal miners by Thatcher in 1984-1985. The American working class, repeatedly celebrated in this book for its tough, independent behavior, was de-unionized and many of their jobs exported during this same period. World-wide capitalist reaction, glorying in the 1989 destruction of the USSR and the central European workers states, has run almost untrammeled until recently. The ‘socialism’ that already existed everywhere in James’ eye has somehow not come to fruition.

I wish James & Lee were right, as it would make things a lot eaiser! However, perhaps revolution is not so effortless. Or perhaps the working class was not prepared to rule. Whatever the answer, James and his friends main contribution is their view that it is the actions of the working class that are key, not any substitute. They point to the ‘small’ actions of workers on the job, or in a community, resisting bourgeois ideas and actions, as proof of the socialist existence of the working class. They believe that if workers do it, it is correct.

Indeed, workers do many things without a party; sometimes spontaneously, and sometimes completely – as in Hungary, where the workers councils held both economic and political power – really a dual power against the Russian Army. Whatever your opinion of the insurrection there, it cannot be denied that the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian working class was not on the side of the Russian Army and the bureaucracy. Marxists can organize, but it is the action of the working class itself that will make any movement – and any revolution.

I read the books so you don’t have to…And I bought it at MayDay Books!

Red Frog – 10/8, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Author visit

Upcoming author event at Mayday Books.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

US Imperialism
The American flag is habitually burnt publically around the world by anti-imperialists while the Union flag of the United Kingdom rarely is, if ever. Second, the Stars and Stripes flies over the states of California and Texas, which America took by force from Mexico fewer than 150 years ago. Mexicans still call these states occupied territories. Unlike Britain, America has not yet decolonised, and continues to act in a brutal, imperialist fashion in many parts of the world. But what can one expect from a nation whose creation involved the genocide of one race and the subjugation of another.
David Short, Johannesburg
Letters are welcome and should be addressed to the Editor at The Economist, 25 St. James's Street, London SW1A 1HG.
FAX: 020 7839 2968

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Local Boy Makes Good

“The Grass – A Young Man’s Journey to the Korean War” – Paul Zerby, 2009

Minneapolis’ own Paul Zerby has written a fictional account of a feisty young man from Fargo who ends up fighting in the Korean War. It is unknown how much of this is biography, and how much is fiction – but then, that is the essence of some kinds of literature. Zerby is a former lawyer and irascible DFL City Counsel person who represented the 2nd Ward on the West Bank. He himself was born in Fargo, went to the U and later shipped out for Korea. Writing this book seems to be something he has put off until ‘retirement’ – a story he has been carrying around for quite awhile.

The lead character, high-schooler Tom Kelly, initially believes that the Korean war is worth fighting, to save ‘the American way of life,’ because there was no doubt that the “Communists were trying to take over the world.’ By the end of the book, after being in Korea for a combat tour, Kelly doesn’t believe that anyone should die for any ‘isms’ anymore. It is not quite clear how this transformation happens – contact with warfare does not make all soldiers into pacifists. Kelly is quite an odd conglomeration of characteristics. He is a kid who talks about Hemingway without ever being seen reading him; who is loud, foul-mouthed and drinks Jack Daniels constantly, even at school; is mostly driven by sexual urgings in his relationships with women - i.e. a thoroughly conventional male. Yet he is also somehow class-consciousness, bookish, anti-racist and not afraid of authority. I have met this kind of person in the Midwest, but they are certainly a rarity.

The book starts by tracing Kelly’s life in Fargo, North Dakota, when one of his friends comes home in a box from Korea; where he romances an upper-class, conservative Christian named Moira who fancies herself an edgy progressive; and when he finally leaves his Democratic-populist, working-class parents to go to school at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, not to the agriculture school in Fargo. Throughout the book, Moira attempts to win him back, even though she will not have sex with him. This is the early ‘50s, after all, and she is an endless source of frustration to Tom.

In Minneapolis, Kelly starts taking classes, working part-time, and also joins ROTC. His first sexual experience is with a waitress at work who he doesn’t like that much except for sex. He also meets various leftists from the Socialist Workers Party, whom he calls ‘pseudo-intellectuals,’ and also the pivotal person in this narrative, Professor Theodore R Williams. Williams is a left-wing professor, and also the only black professor at the U at that time. Oddly enough, this professor seems to be modeled on the first black professor at the U that Nelson Peery helped get hired. (See the review of “Black Radical,” below.) The real professor’s name was Forrest O. Wiggins. He was hired as an instructor in the philosophy department in 1946 (when Peery helped get him hired), and terminated by the U administration in 1952 for political reasons (which Zerby probably protested.) As you might notice, discussing politics with the SWP and joining ROTC are usually mutually-exclusive activities. It certainly never happened in the 60s to my knowledge.

Kelly disagrees with but respects Williams. Williams comes out against the Korean War in public; like a fool, Kelly’s girlfriend Moira publicizes his stance in the Minnesota Daily; the administration decides to fire Williams, and, in an epic scene, Kelly leads a protest of hundreds of students against the firing by publicly arguing with the head of the University, Chancellor Werrecker. Kelly finishes the discussion by leading a foul-mouthed chant against the decision. That gets Kelly kicked out of ROTC and the University, and he heads back to Fargo, now known as a ‘communist sympathizer’ and a ‘nigger lover.’ During that time these designations were badges of honor, at least in retrospect. However, it seems unlikely that many real Tom Kellys earned them.

The hidden war in Korea – ignored by most of the population, somewhat like Iraq and Afghanistan – comes back to center stage. In 1952, Kelly decides to join the Army against the wishes of his family, his girlfriend, and his more radical friends like Will Lindeman, because he wants to ‘do the right thing.’ He is sent to boot camp in North Carolina, which also happens to be near the poor black college Professor Williams has been exiled to. At boot camp, he watches as a fat, slow soldier, Schlumpberger, who has been hazed and insulted for weeks, intentionally stands up in a live-fire exercise and get chopped in two by bullets. This starts the horrified Kelly on a writing jag, as he feels partly responsible for the suicide.

Kelly goes to visit Williams, who is thankful to see him, but is appalled that Kelly has joined the Army. The Professor feels somehow responsible for this. Kelly sees what happens to people that stand up to the power structure – Williams has aged, and he has become unhappy, as has his wife. The family is now poorer. Right before shipping out, Kelly has a 30-day furlough which he spends in New York City with a new woman he has met, Anna, and fantasizes about being a writer or going to Columbia. He spends most of the time trying to get this woman ‘in the sack’ – which is the slangy way Kelly usually puts things. On the last night, he succeeds. And they pledge their love.

Kelly lands at Pusan, and is immediately put in the field, where he shoots a young North Korean close-up on a hill called the “Witches Tit.” Then follow various maneuvers that take him through fields of exploding bodies, shit-soaked and pointless mud advances, deadly friendly fire, and trench warfare. He spends his 15 month tour along the 38th Parallel, as the two sides alternatively negotiate and fight. Nearly at the end of his term, he tries to help a black solider avoid court marshal by pretending the soldier is sick, not asleep on watch. At this point, he has already told his brass, Lieutenant Winton, that he does not believe in fighting the war anymore. Winton, a stiff West Pointer, is angered, and at the trial of the soldier, Kelly lies and is called a ‘nigger-lover’ again. Of course, Kelly later marries Anna and reluctantly returns to Korea’s DMZ in 2007 as a grandfather. He sees how Seoul has changed from a destitute, bomb-wracked town to a city of shining glass and skyscrapers.

I’ve read a lot of anti-war novels and this is one of the milder ones. Its real topic is the 50s in America, where most of the action takes place. The combination of the slangy attitude and the intellectuality of the lead character seem in conflict, and give Kelly an air of class unreality. Of course, he could, indeed be based on Paul Zerby … and Mr. Zerby is quite real.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 9/22/2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

The pathetic "Left" in the USA

As I've been arguing for quite some time, the problem in the USA is not the right; it's the left. More specifically, what masquerades as the left in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It's no use blaming the right: they're attack dogs for an entrenched plutocracy and they do their assigned job well. The fault lies with a pathetic, spineless, and gutless grouping that likes to masquerade as "left." If the US had a vocal and militant left, it probably wouldn't be up sh!t creek on so many fronts -- imperialistic quagmires in the Middle East, health care "reform," and the growing disparity between the rich few and a growing army of dispossessed -- to name but a few.

It seems Chris Hedges is of like opinion in his latest essay:

The right wing is not wrong. It is not the problem. We are the problem. If we do
not tap into the justifiable anger sweeping across the nation, if we do not
militantly push back against corporate fraud and imperial wars that we cannot
win or afford, the political vacuum we have created will be filled with
right-wing lunatics and proto-fascists. The goons will inherit power not because
they are astute, but because we are weak and inept.

My apologies for not reviewing some book but unlike my erudite friend, Red Frog, I am in Norway and lack access to books.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Apres Le Deluge, C'est Moi

“The Coming Insurrection” by the Invisible Committee, 2007 French edition, 2009 English Ed.

This slim philosophical book was written by friends of a group of anarchists in Tarnac, France, who were arrested in 2008 for supposedly planning a ‘terrorist’ attack on the French rail system’s electrical lines (!). This book issues out of the ‘ecole superieure’ and the hated French school system, not the lumpen proletariat, of which the authors are enamored. It is written in beautiful, elliptic prose, and initially traces the psychological and personal deterioration of French society and its citizens. It advocates communism, but seems to primarily advocate revolution in order to end personal and social alienation.

There is much to value here. What it does say about the hidden personal problems of French citizens is no doubt accurate, and similar to our society. Both populations live in advanced, deteriorating capitalist societies, with all of the psychological ramifications that that implies – compulsive overwork, weak social bonds, passivity, bad relationships, crumbling marriages, and alienated selves. Capitalism’s vaunted strength – its emphasis on “YOU” the individual, is a vast commercial lie. Behind that lie wait SWAT teams, prisons, surveillance, rent-a-guards, predator drones and all manner of compulsion.

The Invisible Committee’s sensitivity to the social breakdown in France comes after the 2005 riots by mostly Arab youth, when 2 youth were gunned down by the French flics. These riots lasted for months because of the close coordination of the youth of these neighborhoods, and the authors maintain that these are the only real communities in France. They also draw present inspiration from the 2007 Greek riots, lead by left-wing forces, that successfully stymied the Greek state. The present economic slide across Europe is adding fuel to this fire of spontaneous struggle.

They direct part of their attention to the notion of over-work in France, Japan and the U.S. Their analysis is a reflection of the collapse in secure labor, and the growth in the unemployed, the lumpen-proletariat, the partially-employed, the street merchant, the transitory worker, the temp, the homeless and hidden homeless. Except for the upper-middle class of high-level engineers, lawyers, programmers and managers who they quite rightly identify as people who ‘never stop working,’ advanced capitalism is creating, all over the world, a vast army of the unemployed and the marginally productive. The’ flexibility’ and ‘mobility’ favored by late capital for their workforce is only a reflection of this basic collapse in stability. In essence, it repeats the obvious assertion that we, as workers, are wage slaves. And who wants to be a slave of any kind?

The Committee disdains every organized force on the left in France. They wish to be ‘as impenetrable to state intervention as a gypsy camp.’ I quote: “Becoming autonomous could just as easily mean learning to fight in the street, to occupy empty houses, to cease working, to love each other madly, and to shoplift.” Shoplifting, of course, is just an understood cost of doing business.

The Committee is acutely aware of the vulnerability of the advanced urban metropolis. Their view of low-level war in the metropolises of the world is very similar to Mike Davis’s view in “Planet of Slums” (reviewed on the blog, below) – it is the new battleground, already recognized by the ruling elites’ military forces. They give credit to Blanqui for being the first to think of non-linear warfare, a philosophy that has been adopted by various western military forces. Given the interconnectedness of everything, they believe electrical grids can be brought down with careful explosions that will turn the lights off across Europe. They insist French society is quite similar to the USSR under Andropov … the French rulers no longer even pretend to rule in the name of the people anymore.

The Committee considers ‘environmentalism’ under capitalism to be an attempt by capital to save the same people who … destroyed the planet. Capital’s new version of environmentalism will create super-profits for some corporations, and allow the state to exert further control over the population. This is precisely the plan of Al Gore and Barack Obama, of course. The Committee favors a bloody planetary collapse as better than further capitalist crisis management. As a photographic negative of the capitalists (See Naomi Klein “Shock Doctrine”, reviewed below) they also believe that disaster can be beneficial, but in an opposite way - bringing people closer to reality, and rebellion.

They cite Hurricaine Katrina as an example, an event Klein also cited to draw a different lesson. The failure by the Bush administration over Katrina undermined his political support, and threw some of it to Obama. The Committee contend that the growth in community organizations in the wake of the hurricane proves that disasters are beneficial. However, pro-union laws were put in abeyance after Katrina. The same firms that made out like bandits in Iraq also made billions on Katrina. The City of New Orelans was depopulated of some black residents permanently. Many are still scattered across the U.S. or living in trailers. Whole neighborhoods are empty patchworks of homes. Many died or were injured. And to this day, the Corps of Engineers STILL doesn’t think a Category 5 hurricane dike is necessary. You will look long and hard to find ‘gains’ – only misery, and humans coping with misery. Sometimes disasters don’t create rebellion – they create destruction. Tell the survivors of the Tsunami in India about its benefits. Oppression oppresses. It does not automatically create rebellion. Or as someone once said, "Apres le Deluge, c'est moi."

The Committee notes that, in the homeland of the idea of the ‘nation,’ the concept of the French national state has ended, They conclude as to ‘civilization’ as a whole – ‘We have a corpse on our backs.”

Instead of seeing events as atrocities or indignities, they point out that events should be looked at as part of low-level warfare. They advocate avoiding far left, activist and community groups, and forming unbreakable communes and ‘base committees’ to prepare for an insurrection now. For money, the communes are to rely on hustling, some work, public funds, trafficking, theft, dumpster diving and fraud. This frees up people’s time for revolutionary activities – target practice, learning to set broken bones, pick locks, run pirate radio stations, learn urban agricultural practices, develop expertise in computers and other technical skills. They want to create different-sized free territories in the cities, geographic spaces opaque to the military, but known to the residents. They advocate personal travel around Europe and the world to make contacts. They also advocate sabotage at a minimum of risk and time, and for maximum damage. They believe in becoming anonymous, not public; developing the ability of self-defense; and destroying government computer databases.

The Committee eventually advocates linking up all the communes for an insurrection, perhaps at a moment of crisis. They oppose assemblies or mass voting at these critical times, believe in ‘blocking the economy’ through shutdowns; liberating territory without direct confrontations and deposing local officials. They think a military insurrection is only the very last step, basing themselves on the experience of the Paris Commune.

The philosophic conflict between Marxism and anarchism has been a long one, and I will not get into it here. Some of these things Marxists can agree with and are useful counter-weights to liberalism, of course. For instance, actual Marxist organizations have both a public and a non-public face. However, in much of this, it is Blanqui again – a select conspiracy of rage. I cannot assess the class character of the proponents, but again, the document has the air of the ‘ecole superieure.’ Events have shown that many kinds of public legal struggle, like mass marches, have become increasingly futile in advanced capitalist countries, which certainly accounts for this document. What is truly significant is that this book was even written. It is a thermometer held to the temper of the times.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, September 8, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009

Imperialism and Financialism

The following is a lucidly written essay by Nitzan and Bichler on the evolution of the terms "imperialism" and "financialism" among Marxists:

It's a 13-page printout and I've never seen the terms so clearly discussed. Like many people, I grew up with Baran and Sweeezy's "Monopoly Capital"; and like many others I've read Foster and Magdoff's recent "The Great Financial Crisis." But I've been blissfully ignorant of how the discussion among Marxists has gradually shifted over the decades -- partly because the same terms are used.

Nitzan and Bichler are famous for their 2002 book, "The Global Political Economy of Israel," which perhaps Mayday Books had in stock some years back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Have You Cashed Out Today?

“The Great Crash, 1929,” by John Kenneth Galbraith, with 1988 forward, 1954 – 1988.

This classic, recently cited by Rolling Stone’s Matt Tiabbi in his roaring Goldman Sachs take-down, should be read by everyone interested in the present market meltdown. In elegant, humorous, evenly-paced prose, Galbraith elucidates the story of the 1929 crash month by month, week by week, nailing every pompous fool, while staying remarkably even-handed. He follows it up with a short section relating the crash to the Great Depression. Galbraith is best known as a Keynesian, which in this day and age signifies a veritable revolutionary. However, Galbraith insists that ‘robbery’ is an individual failing, not a failing of any one class. He is, after all, a defender of a humanized capitalism.

In Galbraith’s 1988 forward (written right after the 1987 crash) he insists that market bubbles are based on 3 things: “a vested interest in euphoria;’ the ‘speculative instinct’ and tax reductions that benefit the wealthy. Contrary to the trickle-down, supply- side theory that says when rich people get money, they buy plant and equipment, and put people to work (such generous wonders!) – Galbraith points out that they actually put their money into speculation and luxury goods. I.E. tax cuts for the rich are very good for yacht builders and hedge funds, not capital improvement.

During 1929 there was no FDIC; no insider-trading rules, no government regulation of the NYSE, no wall between banks and capital markets; no rules on margin; no rules on leverage or assets on hand; no rules on price manipulation; no rules on public disclosures, no rules barring insider trading, and a confirmed overall policy of no government intervention. Imaginative financial products were encouraged. Inflation was feared; deficits were hated and a balanced budget was the goal of all good Republicans and Democrats. It is for you to decide how much this looks like today’s picture.

Investment trusts were one of the new financial inventions, buying stock in many other companies, including other investment trusts. At their height, they controlled $3B in assets. Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation was one of the largest and most prominent investment trusts, cited by Taibbi when he pointed out Goldman’s continuing role in ‘bringing down the house.’ These trusts were similar to the present mutual fund. However, they were so highly leveraged that only tiny real assets controlled massive amounts of what later became illusory capital. One investment trust, highly secretive, successfully solicited funds ‘for an Undertaking which shall in due time be revealed.’ And no one laughed.

Prior to the meltdown in October and November 1929, the market had an incredible run-up. People felt that it would never end, and that they all deserved to make ridiculous amounts of money for essentially doing nothing. Harvard and Yale professors, captains of industry, the press (with the notable exception of the New York Times and Standard & Poor’s) and government politicians like Hoover all joined in the chorus. But as Galbraith points out, every run-up has the seeds of its own destruction within it. Most players, of course, think they can get out in time. What made 1929 unique was that it teased the speculators and ‘investors’ into believing they could turn the market around – with positive thoughts, with ‘organized intervention’ (the banks agreeing to support the market by buying stock…which happened several times) and, even, companies buying their OWN stock to prop up the price. In effect, as Galbraith says, ‘swindling themselves,’ as the stock was then nearly worthless.

One myth Galbraith punctures is that ‘everyone’ was in the market in 1929. He points out that the market dominated the culture, and made brokers and corporate insiders into cocktail-party heroes. As he slyly puts it, “Wisdom, itself, is often an abstraction associated not with fact or reality but with the man who asserts it and the manner of its assertion.” And “it is far, far better to be wrong in a respectable way than to be right for the wrong reasons.” By his calculation, out of a population of 120 million, 1.5 million owned stock, and of those, 600,000 were speculators on margin. This, really, is a small proportion of the whole population.

Tuesday, October 29, 1929 was probably the most devastating day on any market in history – 33,000,000 shares would have traded all day if the volume had kept up with what happened in the first ½ hour. As Galbraith says, the first week was the slaughter of the market innocents, but “during the second week there is some evidence that it was the well-to-do and the wealthy who were being subjected to a leveling process comparable in magnitude and suddenness to that presided over a decade before by Lenin.” The ‘Crash,’ or should we say ‘Slide,’ lead to a continual decline in stock prices for 3 years, until 1932.

Another myth he takes a shot at is that a good number of speculators and bankers later committed suicide. While we might find this myth oddly comforting, unfortunately the rates for New York City rose only after time, and he attributes this to the Depression itself. It was the poor hurling themselves off bridges, not the rich. What he found more interesting – and what we are finding anew – is that embezzlement, fraud and financial weakness were suddenly revealed on a massive scale. 1929 revealed crooks like Chase Bank’s Albert Wiggins, National City Bank’s Charles Mitchell and even the head of the New York Stock Exchange itself, Richard Whitney. The latter’s indictment was the day the business class surrendered to Roosevelt. In today's Great Recession, Bernie Madoff has become the largest swindler in world history – stealing billions. Here in Minneapolis we have several large Ponzi thieves of our very own - Tom Petters and Denny Hecker to name two. The whole nation is now dotted with indicted schemers and embezzlers who presided over failed hedge funds and businesses that were highly leveraged on the basis of … lies. Seeing what was behind these illusory fortunes is the inevitable aftermath of a broken bubble.

Galbraith talks of tax cuts as a Keynesian response to a financial crisis. It is, indeed, the only action Hoover took, and Galbraith applauds it. Hoover’s mistake was to announce the crisis over, and over, and over again. And he paid with his job.

Galbraith thinks the Crash is related to the Great Depression in 5 ways. Conventional wisdom has it that cheap money (the Federal Reserve lowered rates in mid-1929) caused the speculation. He asserts there are times when money is cheap and yet speculation does NOT occur because the pre-requisite ‘euphoria’ is not present. (Note to the Austrian monetarist followers of Ron Paul.)

Galbraith’s 5 reasons:

1. Bad Distribution of Income. 5% of the population has 1/3rd of the income. The collapse in buying power of the rich affected production more that it might now – they were vital to consumerism and to savings and investment.
2. Bad Corporate Structure. Instead of being prudent, American business was full of ‘grafters, promoters, swindlers, imposters and frauds.’ Investment trusts and holding companies were inherently unstable, as they had little real assets. I.E. too much leverage.
3. Bad Banking Structure. A domino effect of one failing bank lead to it knocking down the next one, and so on. 346 banks failed in the first 6 months of 1929, for instance.
4. The high balance of payments account with the rest of the world. The U.S. was a ‘creditor’ nation. Dangerous loans made around the world could not be paid back. In addition, the tariff was increased, which damaged farm and industrial exports.
5. Poor state of economic intelligence. No matter the economic situation, the parties supported an increase in taxes or reduction in spending, to balance the budget and to stop inflation. As Galbraith puts it, “The simple precepts of a simple world did not hold amid the growing complexities of the early thirties.”

Galbraith ends the book with a excessively sanguine conclusion, as he points out in 1988 that the laws passed in the 30s mitigate some of these 5 problems. However, in 1988 when he wrote the last intro, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act had not been passed, and Glass-Steagal had not been repealed. Nor had requirements for bank assets been lowered farther - something the SEC allowed to happen in 2004. For instance, some present banks like Ing have 42 to 1 ratios of debt to assets. In addition, the distribution of income has gotten increasingly worse since 1988. And of key interest - government regulators do not actually have to USE the laws they have. The slavishness of the government to Wall Street reached a nadir under Clinton and Bush - also after 1988.

The U.S. is now a debtor nation, which has allowed us – so far – to blackmail holders of dollars and Treasuries into continued support. And the FDIC has prevented – so far – a run on the banks, because of the experience with the Depression. However, the FDIC will need to be re-funded very soon. The ruling class HAS learned that passivity is not its own reward – which accounts for the massive bi-partisan action to save some brokerage firms and banks by Bush and now Obama - an action which to this point has succeeded for the big banks.

And I bought it at MayDay books used-book section –
Red Frog, 9/1/2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Volunteer POV

If you were a Mayday volunteer, this would be your view of the store!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stacked Chairs

Making sure Mayday's chairs are stored correctly is an important task in book store management. Here, for the record, are two images of perfectly stacked chairs in Mayday's "chair alcove".

The bricks in back of this archway block off one of the old tunnels that run through the West Bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Come the revolution, we'll probably need to break down those walls and reclaim the tunnels as we fight for a better world!


Friday, August 21, 2009

Author Event

Dahr Jamail

Great book. Great author. Come to our next event:

Dahr Jamail in Minneapolis
Dahr Jamail in Minneapolis

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Join the Army and Get Radicalized

“Black Radical; The Education of an American Revolutionary” – by Nelson Peery, 2007

Minnesota’s own Nelson Peery tells his story of his revolutionary awakening after World War II. He came home as a soldier and ran into discrimination and poverty in the North and heard about lynchings in the South. After the war, Peery and his 6 brothers became members or supporters of the Communist Party (“CP”), while their father became a well-known and professional anti-communist in Minneapolis and later Los Angeles. Later Peery left the CP to form the Communist Labor Party ("CLP"). This book can be seen as Part 2 of Peery’s earlier memoir, “Black Fire,” about his life in rural American Minnesota, the depression and World War II.

The book starts with him coming home after 4 years of combat. Peery’s experience in the Pacific war paralleled that of many black soldiers – not only in World War II, but also in the Civil War and World War I. Combat empowered black men and some women to feel both competent to handle any physical threat and entitled to equal rights with white people. It, in an odd sense, was the incubator for revolutionary and egalitarian feelings. Black ex-soldiers formed the heart of the anti-discrimination and anti-Jim Crow movement that developed after World War II. Educated not on the pablum of non-violence and obsequiousness, but on combat cohesion and the risking of their lives for ‘democracy,’ black soldiers after World War II were changed men. The 90 years of post-Civil War neo-confederate rule, the result of the defeat of Reconstruction, was about to end, in both north and south.

Peery re-joins his neighborhood after the war, but cannot just blend back into the aimless life of partial work and partying. He joins the Communist Party (at their office on Fifth and Hennepin), greatly influenced by people like Paul Robeson and W.E.B Dubois. Later he joins the Party group at the University of Minnesota, where he starts reading Marxism more deeply. He was part of a group that got the first black professor hired at the U in the late 40s. In an incredible scene during this period, Leadbelly tours Minneapolis and Peery invites him over to his home to meet the ‘Red Bishop' of the English Anglican church. At the families' south Minneapolis house, Leadbelly performs an impromptu concert for the bishop, and 200 other people show up.

The Party then asked Peery to leave the U and get a working-class job. With some trepidation, he agreed. Fearing the ordinary unskilled union jobs usually assigned blacks, he walked upstairs in the union hall to the office of the Bricklayers Union, and got a job as the first black bricklayer in Minneapolis through plain moxie and a threat of a lawsuit. Peery worked construction for awhile and learned the trade from the Swedes on the job. As the Red Purge picked up in the United States, mostly targeted at unionists and workers, Peery was then assigned by the CP to go ‘underground’ in Detroit. The CP was afraid the whole organization would be outlawed, rounded up and incarcerated in jail, much as some of their leaders were due to the Smith Act. In Detroit he meets one of the Scottsboro boys hiding there, who had been heavily marked by his experience in prison. Perry lost contact with the Party organization due to its own disorganization. Peery eventually decides to re-emerge on his own, contacts the CP again, and is then assigned to work in Cleveland. There he joins a black Party club that helps initiate a major boycott of the Cleveland Sears for their refusal to hire blacks.

Problems in the Party start to surface. Peery initially made the mistake of going to a CP convention in New York and criticizing Tito when Tito was Stalin’s darling. For this, he is roundly denounced by the Party leadership at the convention meeting. The very next day Stalin denounced Tito, and then the U.S. Party also decided to denounce Tito. Peery, of course, was suddenly back in favor. Peery did not fail to notice that ‘thinking’ in the CP was not an independent process.

It is somewhat difficult in this book to figure out exactly which political or strategic issues lead to the break between Peery and many black comrades on the one hand, and the CP on the other. It is clear during the McCarthy and 50's period that the white leadership was afraid of getting deeply involved in anti-racist activities that might involve illegalities. The Party lost its nerve, and it meant that more radical comrades were asked to leave. The black comrades in Cleveland, through their anti-discrimination work, had stood up to the East Cleveland white racists, the FBI and the Cleveland police in their work in the mass Negro Labor Council. Some were expelled for refusing to leave the Negro Labor Counsel. Peery was also expelled for something similar to this reason, though his conflicts with various leaders over other issues seemed to play a role too.

Peery’s first marriage, to a non-political women, fell apart in Cleveland, and he moved to New York. In New York, he met his politicized second wife, Sue Ying. After the departure from the CP and move to New York, Peery joined the Provisional Organizing Committee (POC) (…to reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in the United States of America), who were a group of ex-CP’ers in the city. There, in one significant moment, he describes having the idea of giving political speeches on street corners in Harlem. His Marxist speeches were made not far from the headquarters of the Black Muslims. In the audience was a young Muslim, Malcolm X. Later, Malcolm started giving street corner speeches, and of course, drew far vaster crowds than Peery. The implication is that Peery gave the idea of talking on the streets to Malcolm.

Then Peery and Ying moved to Los Angeles’ Watts district for the POC, and helped form the California Communist League, and later, the CLP, his own organization. You see, he seemed to have a habit of pissing-off the leaders of every organization he was part of, until the CLP. While in California, Peery was involved in the 1965 Watts uprising, which he characterizes not as a ‘riot’ but as a people’s rebellion against white privilege and the police state in Watts. During Watts, he sees the unorganized black masses of Los Angeles almost overcome the strength of the cops and state, though at the cost of many dead, wounded and arrested.

This is a personal, non-rhetorical book, combining both private and political details. What runs throughout this second part of his memoir is how Peery always understood that black nationalism, no matter how radical or phrased, is ultimately a dead end in defeating capitalism and institutional racism. While he well knew that many white people, even those who call themselves communists, are flawed, he also knew that no overthrow of American capital can occur without black, white and Latino workers uniting. And this is the ‘red’ thread that runs through all his organizing - his bedrock commitment to a united working-class movement.

And you can buy it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, August 17, 2009