Sunday, September 25, 2011

From the Anarchist Book Fair:

“Anarchism and its Aspirations” – by Cindy Milstein, 2010

This short book has been described as a good introduction to modern anarchism. I’ve reviewed several books in the anarchist tradition or close to it: “The Coming Insurrection,” “Non-Violence Protects the State” and “Facing Reality,” the work of CLR James (however, a council communist), and the Situationist ‘Society of the Spectacle,” (all reviewed below.) However, this book is different in that it tries to layout the politics of anarchism in 122 pages.

I expected much more. In fact I was somewhat shocked by how naïve this book seemed. Of course, there are various brands of anarchism, and not all of them can be judged by these writings. Milstein points out that anarchism is primarily an 'ethics.' And the ethic leads to the destruction of capitalism, any state and hierarchy – and this all in one time period, simultaneously. In other words, communism now. And it is to be done by free and happy people who will reach the true, the good and the beautiful. Milstein centralizes the role of ‘ethics’ in anarchism – as if anarchism was kind of a hyper-humanism or hyper-liberalism. She uses the term ‘substantive humanism’ and ‘libertarian socialism’ to describe it. The phrases “class consciousness’ and ‘class struggle’ are nowhere to be read. The working class makes no appearance. Milstein does endorse much of Marx’s analysis of capitalism, but not his view of the state. Milstein considers the state to be a separate entity from capital, representing a third force in society, not the expression of the ruling class, as Marxists understand it. However, what economic class this ‘state’ represents is unclear. She brings forth no factual basis for the existence of this ‘third force’ or economy, but her intent here is not factual or scientific analysis.

Hatred of an abstract 'state' is also popular on the libertarian right, which some say is the anarchism of small capital. And it is, of course, the main target of the Republican Party - or at least those parts of the state that don't benefit them. So the left anarchist attack on the 'state' finds echoes in the broader culture. And this may explain the ease with which some youth accept anarchism.

Milstein insists that modern capitalism can exist without corporations – and indeed that is a truism. But monopoly indicates what form is really in control now – and it is not shoe-store owners. She praises anarchist attempts to build counter-institutions, and I have no problem with this. Of course, a counter-culture is not the product of anarchism alone – populism, Marxism and simple cooperation among people lead to various co-operative endeavors being constructed. You have only to look at the grain co-ops from the 30s or the food co-ops of the 1960s to see this. However, a ‘counter-culture’ was tried in the 60s, and failed to overwhelm the capitalist system – because you cannot ignore the system away. Capital, as it did to the former workers’ states, will attempt to destroy or undermine anything that does not conform to it.

This leads to another thing missing from Milstein’s book – the idea of a revolution to overthrow the state. Milstein ignores the question of force, as if the capitalists will just disappear when their oil wells, car factories, steel mills and wealth are taken from them. The implication is actually that you can just ‘work around’ the state, and ignore it. She praises what could only be called ‘charity’ efforts by anarchists in this regard. Yet, as even churches understand, the scale of misery in the society cannot be ameliorated by charity alone. Much as Republicans theorize otherwise, and evidently, some anarchists too. Without Welfare/WIC, unemployment insurance or social security/Medicare, etc., the working classes in this society would be even more destitute.

Milstein’s argument against Marxism is a somewhat inaccurate one – that a ‘classless yet statist society’ is undesirable. (p. 81) Well of course it is. Because it is impossible. States do not need to exist if classes disappear. Milstein evidently does not agree that a state exists because classes exist. It is not really clear why she thinks states exist except perhaps that ‘mean people’ organize them! People do not set up a bureaucracy, system of laws protecting private property, and back them up with many armed bodies of men if there is no significant economic privilege to maintain. In a way, Milstein also disappears economics, replacing it with a hostility to ‘hierarchy’ in any form. Of course, what is actually behind her criticism is the very real experience of Stalinism and bureaucracy in the workers states, and the congealing of the Leninist party into a bureaucratic organization. However, anarchism is not the only political force in the world that noticed this.

Milstein believes in direct democracy (although she makes some nods to the practical necessity of electing delegates at times) but, along with the other invisibilities, never mentions elections or voting. Anarchists believe on principle in not engaging in the political arena, I suspect, and that is the reason.

Milstein is not totally sanguine about anarchism. She seems to be aware of some of its limitations – even calling the anarchist founders ‘naïve’ over their endorsement of the essential ‘goodness’ of human nature. She also says that some ‘street actions translate into nothing more than counter-cultural version of interest group lobbying…” And her take on small-group actions (perhaps the ‘black bloc’…)? “There is ultimately something slightly authoritarian in small groups taking matters into their own hands …”

What Marxists, democratic socialists and anarchists can agree on, I think, is that society should eventually be run by workplace and geographic councils. Of course, the whole issue right now is just getting there. And there's the rub.

And I bought it at the Anarchist Book Fair from Mayday Books!
Red Frog, September 25, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Last Battle of the Civil War?

James-Younger Gang Attempt to Rob Northfield Bank – 1876; Reenactment in Northfield, September 11, 2011.

I stopped by Northfield this weekend to check out the reenactment of the James-Younger gangs raid on Northfield back in 1876. The town has been putting this show on since 1948. The bank and hardware store are preserved as a historical site and museum. Dark black circles surround certain large holes in the old bricks of the hardware store, where old bullets are reputed to have struck.

I call it the last battle of the Civil War, although we might reflect that the civil war is still going on. Unlike old histories, such as George Huntington’s 1896 “Robert and Hero,” which does not mention the issue; or the 1972 film the “Great Northfield, Minnesota Bank Raid,” full of idiotic historical fantasies as big as the 'mountains' looming over the town, neither focuses on the strong Civil War connection.

The raiders did not come to the town because it had ‘the most money’ west of the Mississippi, although it was one of several banks targeted in southern Minnesota. To get sympathy from ex-Confederates, Cole Younger mentioned to the press that Benjamin Butler, an abolitionist union general, had money in the Northfield Bank, as did Adelbert Ames, former Reconstruction governor of Mississippi. (See Ames mentioned in the review of the ‘The State of Jones,’ below.) In doing this, he implied that this was one of the reasons they chose this bank to rob. However, Younger was wrong, as it was J.T. Ames, the brother of Adelbert Ames, who sat on the board of directors of the bank. Butler’s daughter had married Adelbert Ames, so there was indeed a family connection at the bank - a Union connection.

There is an argument as to whether Adelbert Ames was in Northfield on that day - the re-enactors say he was. Or whether one of the Ames brothers was addressed as ‘guvnuh’ by a southern voice as he crossed the bridge to the Ames mill (now owned by Malt-O-Meal), which caused Ames to glance at the riders and see pistols under their linen dusters - also claimed by the re-enactors. This alerted Ames and supposedly lead him to follow the riders back into town. However, it is no secret that Joseph Heywood, the bank teller killed by Frank James, and others in the street in Northfield shooting back, were former Union soldiers. Heywood fought at Chickasaw Bayou, Champion’s Hill and finally at Vicksburg under Sherman and Grant, after which he got sick. Anselm Manning, who killed raider Bill Stiles/Chadwell, had been a Union soldier. The Younger brothers – Cole, Bob & Jim - fought with Quantrill and the James brothers – Frank & Jesse - had ridden with Bloody Bill Anderson’s blood-thirsty guerrillas. All fighting for the South as irregulars in the Confederate Army.

Raiders Clell Miller and Chadwell/Stiles were killed by the armed citizens of Northfield that day. Cole and Bob Younger were injured. During the manhunt, lead by Union veteran William Murphy and also organized by J.T. Ames, the Missourians fled towards Madelia, Minnesota. There Charlie Pitts was killed and the three Younger brothers shot up and captured. The three were later sentenced to Stillwater Prison, where Cole Younger started the prison newspaper. Only the James brothers escaped, though, typical of this history, there is a bit of doubt whether one or the other was in Northfield. It was admitted to by several of the band, but Cole Younger tried to deny their presence, which is something any smart 'pard' would do. Six of eight of the gang were killed or captured (though some claim there was a ninth gang member on the edge of town), and this ended the exploits of the gang. The re-enactors take great pains to point out that the James/Younger gang was no bunch of “Robin Hoods’ but were instead interested only in buying good liquor, prostitutes and high-quality horses and guns. They gave their money to no one but themselves.

The roots of this raid in the Civil War are unmistakable. The James brothers participated in the Centralia massacre, where more than a 100 unarmed Union soldiers were killed and mutilated. These Missouri bushwhackers, who were part of a movement that had also burned down Lawrence, Kansas and killed dozens in cold blood there, lived up to their name, again, even in 1876. Both Heywood and a Swedish immigrant, Gustafson, died that day. Killing unarmed tellers and conductors was the gang's habit. But the ex-Confederate raiders met the same fate at the hands of Minnesota farmers and unionists in Northfield as the Confederate Army met in the battles of Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Missionary Ridge and Nashville, all battles where Minnesota units distinguished themselves.

Lessons? There’s only one way to deal with a slaver… and their modern equivalent, a fascist, if they ever show up again.

And I saw it in southern Minnesota!
Red Frog, September 12, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Obama Wakes from his Beauty Sleep

The American Jobs Bill Speech, Thursday, September 8.

Since the Simpson-Bowles Commission released its findings in December 2010, the bi-partisan discussion among both Democrats and Republicans has been about deficits. The basic question was how much to destroy the ‘safety net’ for the working class, and how much to hand money up to the wealthy and the corporations. Like any clever bill, a few good ideas nestled next to many reactionary ideas. Of course, they all had an equal chance of passing, didn’t they? In a sense, there was a complete continuum between the Tea Party and the Democratic Party leadership about the paramount importance of deficits, going on for 9 months now. Snzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

All of a sudden, as the stock market starts falling again, and the threat of another ‘official’ recession advances (as if the real recession isn’t still going on…) Obama has suddenly woken up and realized he has to get elected. Of course, to the short-term deficit geniuses of the U.S. government, this was all unexpected! In order to be re-elected, Obama had to attempt some kind of a successful deal with the Republican Party on ‘jobs.’ Hence the September 8 speech.

This speech was given directly to the Republicans, and no one else. Yes, The Mustache – Richard Trumka - sat in the audience and thrilled once again to hearing about how construction workers and teachers might be getting jobs. Or that rich people should pay their ‘fair’ share. Yes, the Alliance for American Manufacturing, also affiliated to the AFL-CIO, might hold their nose, but they were also generally enthusiastic. Yet nothing in this proposed bill hasn’t been tried before or agreed to before by some or all members of the Republican Party. Bloomberg even called it borrowing from an ‘old playbook.’ The AFL-CIO probably appreciated that the topic now was on jobs, and not the ‘deficit’ – but if you look carefully at this plan, it is also a sleight of hand – using the jobs ‘emergency’ to further the capitalist agenda. The chatter after the speech was all about how it didn’t have a chance of passing, and so was a political move by Obama to finally show he cared about jobs – again.

The real question is – what if all or some of these suggestions DO get passed into law? Because this reveals what the Democratic Party leadership is really all about. Let’s look into them in a bit of detail.

First off, Obama said, “it’s all going to be paid for.” How? The “Super-Committee”! This body of Democrats and Republicans is tasked with adding the $447B price-tag for this bill to their deliberations. If you’ve heard them talking, they thunder about not listening to ‘special interest’ groups, which presumably also means their constituents. We’ve seen this before. A member of Congress is elected, and then does what he is supposed to do by the unwritten rules of the ruling elements in the society, not what he was elected to do. Which shows every day that the bourgeois democratic system in the U.S. doesn’t work. What this means, if you read between the lines, is they will do what is best for the ‘country.’ And what is best for the country they understand is what is best for the capitalist economy. Which means, to hell with my constituents, I will cut spending like a muthafucka, as I'm being told.

So how is this a stimulus if they are going to cut $447B down the road? The only difference is timing. As one friend put it, they are ‘buying time.’ It might ‘dent’ another recession just enough to get the election over with. Overall, however, there will be insufficient Keynesian impact to this bill, even if passed, but many nasty effects that will last longer.

So what are the elements?

1. The biggest part of the bill is another tax cut – 3.1%. It is a payroll tax cut for businesses and workers, the money coming from Social Security taxes. The theory is that demand will increase, and pay Social Security back. However, as with most tax cuts, they actually have very little ‘stimulative’ effect. Most people use them to pay off debts, or stick the money in the bank – as corporations have been doing for years now. Very few jobs will be created and very little will be bought. If you look at the ‘Cash for Clunkers” program and the credit for purchasing a house - both were far more direct attempts to channel money into the economy – and their effects wore off almost immediately, a quick high. What this proposal will really do is further deplete the Social Security fund, which has been robbed by bourgeois politicians for years to pay for other programs. This is another blow to Social Security. This tax cut is part of the $250B in new tax incentives, now added to the ones passed during the deficit ‘emergency.’

2. More tax breaks with shaky effects: Tax holiday for new hires for one year. Bloomberg pointed out that businesses hire people for longer than one year, so the only people that might use this are seasonal or low-end service/retail businesses. This will not create long-term decent jobs. And again, fewer taxes paid by businesses means less tax money to fund municipal/state and federal jobs. Can you say 110,000 layoffs at the Post Office? Obama also proposed a fifty percent reduction of the tax rates businesses pay on the first $5 million in payroll; and a $4,000 tax credit for employers who hire long-term unemployed workers. But do they have to keep them? No.

3. A plan, now being used by Georgia Republicans, to make unemployed workers work for free for businessmen, which Clinton initiated many years ago under the “Workfare” label. I.E. taxpayers are directly subsidizing businessmen to hire people. More corporate welfare. What will stop them from not hiring people they intended to hire and instead hire ‘free’ labor? Nothing. Perhaps the next step will be lending out prison labor from our federal lockups to needy businessmen. Oh, wait, we do that already. Will they prevent this practice or stop the fake B1 Visa program to create jobs? No. That would piss off the corporations, you see.

4. Obama again brought up the ‘free trade’ bills for South Korea, Columbia and Panama – three of our direct client states – as a way to ‘create’ jobs. This plan has been floated since 2010. Identical to the debate over NAFTA, (as chronicled in the book on Wal-Mart, “God & Wal-mart,” reviewed below) Obama waived the ‘vision’ of American cars being sold in South Korea. Of course, under NAFTA, the exact opposite happened, and Mexican goods appeared in American Wal-Marts. And now, of course, Chinese goods are in Mexican and American Wal-Marts. The Obama administration has already put a rider to these bills concerning ‘possible’ American job losses and ‘retraining’ – so even they know what it will lead to. The AFL-CIO sees through this scam, of course, but John Boehner clapped! So the Republicans are on board. The “Jobs Council” Obama mentioned in the speech is made up of businessmen from different industries – which is sort of like putting the foxes in charge of preparing the chickens.

5. The best parts of the bill is some amount between $105B//$125B/$175B (estimates are all over the place) for aid to states for education and spending on infrastructure, which might prevent some teacher or municipal/state worker layoffs in the near future, and hire some construction workers. This is similar to the ‘shovel ready’ part of the 2009 stimulus bill. However, again, the money is being taken out on the back end by the ‘Super-Committee’, so this is really a ‘take from Peter to pay Paul’ scheme. Again, buying time. As the Keynesians are pointing out, even in the short term, too little to make a difference - similar to the first Obama medicine.

6. Infrastructure Bank – seems to be some kind of publicly-run hedge fund that will pay interest to private parties who invest in infrastructure projects. Is this a wedge to get private investment owning 'public' property?

7. $62B (per Bloomberg) will be to extend unemployment benefits for a year. If you noticed, the deficit bill passed by the Democrats and Republicans a few months ago after Naomi Klein's “U.S. deficit ceiling emergency” (see below – the ‘Accident on the Potomac’) actually got rid of extended unemployment benefits, so Obama is now trying to slip this back in. At this point, so many people have been out of work for so long that it is unprecedented in recent labor history. And these extensions have never been needed before. However, this, again, does not create jobs or aggregate demand.

8. Another tax break for businesses to be able to write-off investments quicker. Again, nothing to do with jobs. This was also in prior bills.

9. Help with refinancing underwater homes at 4% through FNMA/FMC. Again, not directly connected to jobs, but it would put more money in people’s pockets. However, will they spend that money on new purchases? The odds are no – what gets people to spend is a real job. Obama’s prior mortgage program basically did almost nothing to stem foreclosures. Also part of this is a plan to fix up neglected foreclosed homes. However, private parties seem to be already doing this, so this could be part of another subsidy to businessmen.

10. And quite noticeably, Medicare had a big red target publicly painted on it by this ‘Democratic” President. Obama vowed that Medicare, ‘with an aging population and rising health-care costs, is spending too fast to sustain the program.” This repeats in public Obama’s private proposal in the ‘grand bargain’ with Republican Paul Ryan to cut Medicare. And who is raising health-care costs? Hmmm? Big Pharma? HMOs?

11. There was no proposal to ‘tax the rich’ or the corporations, only rhetoric. Richard Trumka, sit down.

Right now, this is a ‘mini-stimulus’ bill that undermines Social Security and Medicare, will not result in long-term job growth and in some respects, undermines long term job growth through tax cuts and mini-NAFTAs. It continues the redistribution of wealth up the ladder through tax cuts. Even on its own terms – as a jobs stimulus – it is insufficient – and will not create enough jobs. It does not mention the elephant in the room – military spending – perhaps because the U.S. will never seriously drop military spending due to its key role in absorbing surpluses and policing the world for corporations.

This bill continues to pay bi-partisan credit to the myth that small businessmen are the ‘job creators.’ Given their failure since fall 2007 to create jobs, I’d say continuing to buy into this myth is merely throwing good money after bad. Of the 33 million corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships in the U.S. only 200 corporations generate a 3rd of the profits and income. You do the math.

Capital in the U.S. is lurching from political paralysis to fighting the deficit to short-term stop-gaps. This bill is a last attempt to again come to terms with a situation that has been going on for 4 full years. They are betting the U.S. population will once again be satisfied with a small carrot, rather than the long stick. Their paramount purpose is to prevent any kind of mass mobilization outside the bourgeois parties – strikes, demonstrations, political activity, occupations, bombings etc. And so far, their bet that a Democratic president could control the mass movement better, in a time of economic and military failure, has been successful. Anti-war organizations like Move-On showed their real colors and shut up. The AFL-CIO is making 'noises' and tiny moves, but still ultimately buys the folderol. The 'left' of the Democratic Party has created no primary opponent to Obama. Not one single large organization has seen through the con-job, except perhaps parts of the Latino movement.

The real question is, is being afraid of Rick Perry enough to convince people that a 'soft' Rick Perry is a viable option?

Red Frog
September 10, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Short Attention Span Theatre

“Politics Noir – Thirteen Dark Tales from the Corridors of Power” – Various Authors, 2011

Fiction provides a window into the ‘memes’ floating through the culture. This collection registers immense cynicism about the ‘democratic’ system in the U.S., while still not going for the jugular. American politics is shown in this collection, in the words of Paul Baran & Paul Sweezy, as ‘how political parties evolved into vote-gathering and patronage-dispensing machines without program or discipline.’ Plus blood.

This volume is another in the series of short-story modern noir (‘Native Noir’ reviewed below). Murder is the central event of most American TV, and this volume does not shy away from many, many political murders. Of course, we know ‘noir’ doesn’t always have to involve death – sometimes living while maimed or humiliated can be worse. Perhaps the most ‘noirish’ of all is when the powerful and rich get away with massive political crimes, perhaps without killing a soul. In that case, our whole brightly-colored culture hides noir day-in and day-out.

While most killings written here are shabby professional hits, the most high-profile is an assassination planned in 2008 by a female Democratic Party politician of her half-black rival for the presidency. Another features several black professionals being ‘penalized’ for falling in love with Condi Rice. Mike Davis dips back into history for a story of Dick Nixon administering fellatio to long-time director of the CIA, J Edgar Hoover, and the rampant chances for black-mail that affords. A Minnesota local, Pete Hautman, gives us a somewhat unbelievable tale of political killings in the metro-area by a small-time politician. There’s even a story of how New York hip-hop can make and ‘break’ politicians. One story actually involves no murders – just the attempted hi-jacking of a NY borough election by bogus robo-calls, fliers and illegal removal off the voter roles – shades of Florida 2000, Ohio 2004 or Election 2012. Only one gun is drawn.

Some of the stories do not directly reflect on politics – at least not in the narrow sense. One narrates the struggle of a Mexican kid learning to surf, and the problems he runs into in all-white and all-blond Palos Verdes, California. Another details the ‘happy-ending’ of a fundamentalist Muslim inman in Pakistan being stoned to death for breaking his own Sharia laws – because of watching porn. Another portrays de-mobilized IRA soldiers taking on their former leaders, who now drive BMWs and live in mansions. And it proves that, indeed, Irish English is another language.

The series features plenty of power-hungry women who will stop at nothing to be elected or get their candidate elected. (Where does this come from?) And who’d have known politicians know so many hit-men? But when I say pulls its punches, it is because good noir should be believable. And many of these stories are humorous but overdrawn to make a point. And the point is that the political system is rotten to the core. However, you don’t really need to exaggerate much. Just look at the headlines

My dream noir story is about Dick Cheney ordering the assassination of Paul Wellstone. I think that would be very revealing – and not ‘noir’ at all. More like a documentary. Or the CIA smuggling drugs into south-central Los Angeles. Or the captivity of Bradley Manning. Or the situation in the maximum security isolation prisons of California. Or the 2000 election in Florida. Or Guantanamo/ Bagram Air Force Base/ Abu Grahib. The CIA even sent people to Libya for ‘rendition’ - how’s that for noir? Or the killings of Joe Hill, Huey Long, UAW leader Walter Reuther, the U.S. Phoenix program in Vietnam, Lumumba, Malcolm X, the Chicago Black Panthers, the Kennedys, Salvador Allende and his aide, Orlando Letelier, South African radical Steven Biko, Harold Washington and every other convenient political death.

There’s noir for you.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, September 3, 2011