Monday, January 23, 2012

I'm a Refugee

“Tropic of Chaos – Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence,” by Christian Parenti, 2011

Well, this book shoots that theory of ‘super-imperialism’ all to hell. (Super-imperialism – oligarchic corporations completely control world market with no national issues remaining.) Instead, Parenti describes a world where the violent patterns of the old ‘cold’ war, neo-liberalism and climate change are combining to produce failed states, massive migration and violence in the global ‘South’ - and an armed life-boat mentality among the imperial states of the ‘North.’ In other words, a centrifugal world – not a centripetal one. Parenti concentrates on the situation along the equator between the two longitudes – hence his title.

He traveled around the world to tell this story – spending time in Kenya, Afghanistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Brazil and Mexico. He could have looked at Asia too – Burma or Indonesia would have given him plenty of support for his thesis. This book is a companion to Mike Davis’ “Planet of Slums” (reviewed below – use search). They both start by looking at U.S. Defense Department military planning, which visualizes combating guerrilla war in crowded slums – like Baghdad and Mogadishu – while dealing with millions of climate refugees. A look at the British film “Children of Men” gives an idea of what lifeboat militarism might look like. As the unstated assumption goes, if the corporate politicians never talk about it, it’s not because their armed forces aren’t fully aware. The situation along the Mexican border using high technology, massive force, fences and reactionary politics all illustrate what is happening even now. Mexicans are not merely looking for 'better pay,' as refugees from neo-liberalism - many are refugees from climate change too.

Parenti uses examples of individuals caught up in the present violence of climate change. He tells the story of a dead cow herder in Kenya, killed trying to keep his cows from tribal raiders because the water holes are drying up. He interviews poppy growers in war-torn Afghanistan, who can’t grow anything else except poppy due to the string of droughts there. (Poppy uses very little water.) The Taliban supports poppy, taxing it, while American policy is to destroy it. He talks to an ex-fisherman squatting in murder capital Juarez, Mexico, who’s livelihood was lost because of red algae in the over-heated Pacific ocean. Neo-liberal Mexican government policies which got rid of government supports for fish prices and fishing also played a role – combining to put him out of work. Farmers in northern India, who’s wells and rivers are running dry, tell him how they can no longer pay the usurers and banks for expensive Monsanto seed and chemical fertilizers. (AKA, the end of the Green Revolution.) Parenti points out that these are also grievances of the revolutionary Naxalites, whose base in among farm and forest people. (See Arundhati Roy’s “Field Notes on Democracy,” reviewed below – use search.) Parenti travels to northern Brazil to talk to landless peasants squatting on unused land, using local ‘green’ techniques to bring back the soil and crops. The violent favelas of Sau Paulo and Rio are full of people from the Northeast who can no longer farm due to economic and climate conditions. Parenti notes that Lula, while redistributing wealth in Brazil, has not changed the basic class relations. Parenti tells the tale of ethnic violence in Kryghistan. One main reason is because the hydro-electric river dams no longer have enough water to power the city and countryside, resulting in escalating conflicts between Uzbecks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz. Formerly, the USSR provided economic support to all three now 'independent' states, and this enabled them to blunt negative effects like this.

Parenti describes climate change due to global warming as gasoline on the economic failure of market solutions and the arms issues of the ‘cold’ war. The collapse of Somalia is precisely where the cold war and later, American military priorities to control that part of the oil world, come together. Climate change is producing floods and droughts, tsunamis, melting glaciers, poor crops, dying animals, poor soil, dropping water tables, raging fires and disappearing forests. Neo-liberalism has already made water, trees, people, animals, land and crops commodities to be bought, sold and controlled only in order to make a profit. Which is why sustainability is being sold to the highest bidder. The cities of the ‘South,’ and increasingly the ‘North,’ are full of refugees from decaying eco-systems and eroding economies or classes. This book is another warning to those who don’t actually believe climate change will have any effect, or will ever impact themselves. I think this includes many Democrats, not just Republicans.

The weakest part of the book, of course, is the last chapter. Endings reveal underlying ideologies. Parenti, after roaring like a lion for chapters, ends squeaking like a mouse. He sounds basically like Al Gore – not that Al Gore hasn’t said some good things about climate change – but the Al Gore of the Democratic Party establishment. Parenti does not talk about conservation as a strategic response, or the limitations of the capitalist market – his fixes are mostly technological. He directly opposes eco-socialism’s idea that capital’s method of eternal growth is wrong. He visualizes capital growth in the direction of wind turbines and solar arrays. In that, he and Al Gore are in the same lifeboat. He thinks an enlightened market, seeking profits in green technology, can mitigate climate change to an acceptable degree.

I would disagree.
As Bill McKibben said recently: "What ... the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry."

This point in history is unlike any other ‘catastrophic convergence’ (Parenti’s own term). There is a ‘clock’ running and, even by his own standards, the present 390 ppm of carbon is already on the slope towards irredeemable global climate change. Capital may well be able to convert in ordinary timescales, after much destruction and squandering – but unfortunately, continuing to use market methods and ‘market’ politics in this situation will allow profit-making via destructive technologies and practices to continue long past the time when the clock stops. Since it is basically profit that drives this system, anything that makes money, no matter its inherent destructiveness (Rhino horns!) will survive. The people who control those industries will defend their positions on the normal terrain of the capitalist state for years to come. In other words, the solution to a ‘catastrophic convergence’ is not gradualist market politics and policies.

Parenti correctly points out that the main problem is a political problem, and the U.S. is the premier roadblock to tackling these issues. However, both U.S. political parties are dedicated to military solutions in many cases - just the thing Parenti warns against. They both preside over the largest military and arms dealer in history. Yesterday, Obama even admitted that military spending will still increase, only more slowly. (!) The ‘protected enclave’ is already U.S. military policy. Both parties embrace a status-quo picture of handling immigration and Mexican politics, with minor variations, continuing to make a chunk of the working class in the U.S. illegal. Both parties support the continuation of the drug war. Both parties have essentially done almost nothing about climate change, though the Democrats have made a few small moves in the right direction. Both parties support different versions of neo-liberal economic policies. So if the main problem is political – what is the ‘political’ answer to this morass? Parenti has none. Absolutely none. And reveals himself to be an excellent reporter, but not much more. His own facts condemn his politics.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, January 22, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


“The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism – How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers,” by Michael Perelman, 2011.

I imagine you are not a fan of bondage or S&M. They say that rich people like it. Since most working class people exist in some kind of handcuffs all the time, they don’t relish putting on real ones. The only time that happens is when they are arrested by Officer Friendly. Perelman understands this. His play on Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of the market is … logical. After all, invisible hands create invisible handcuffs too.

Perelman is a professor of political economy at Chico, California, and proves that there actually are a few professors in the U.S. that do not smile kindly on capital. This book is a calm, somewhat detailed look at capitalism’s sorrier ideological aspects. Perelman takes an in-depth look at, among other things: Adam Smith’s real theory and history; the creation of the modern economics profession; how bourgeois economic theology makes work and the working class invisible; how control over workers is more important than unleashing the creative potential of human beings; the massive fraud that is the “GDP” statistic; how the Federal Reserve enables the capitalists; and the enormous waste embedded in the ‘rational’ corporate market system.

Controlling the working class is key to Perelman’s book. He frames it around the Greek legend of Procrustes. Procrustes was a bandit in Attica, who waylaid travelers and made them spend the night on his iron bed. There he stretched short men to fit the bed, or cut off the legs of tall men, so that all men eventually fit the bed – and died of it. His sadism made the surrounding countryside desolate. Eventually Theseus, who became King of Athens, subjected Procrustes to his own treatment. Perelman thinks that capitalism is like this Procrustean iron bed. As Frederick Winslow Taylor, the founder of Taylorism said, “The system must be first.” Even Margaret Thatcher, much beloved feminist, said of the market: “There is no alternative.” And, like all classically trained political economists, Perleman poses an alternative - Michelanglo’s “Bearded Slave” – partially encased in rock, yet attempting to free himself from the restraints of the stone.

Enough classicism. I actually do not think the ‘invisible handcuffs’ of ideology would be as strong if it were not for the real handcuffs that underlie them. Perelman has a good section on the ‘guard economy’ – the millions of economically useless jobs now invested in security guards, prison guards, border guards, CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, NIA employees and contractors, military contractors, home security consultants and systems, the military, the National Guard, police, judges, attorneys, ad nauseum. Quite clearly, if these people stopped doing their jobs as enforcers of the myriad political rules against working class people, the invisible handcuffs of belief would slowly disappear. After all, the 'rational' market, the “American Dream” the made-up ‘middle class” and the magical ‘invisible hand’ are all comforting things we tell ourselves at night - because to believe otherwise is to face our own comeuppance. It is precisely the inability to successfully act against the capitalist state and corporations that fuels belief in imaginary things. This is why successful strikes and a successful populist labor party movement are the most feared things in the U.S. They have the possibility of cutting through both kinds of handcuffs. But, as Zizek points out, the class war does not just exist on the real battlefield – it is also an intellectual war, which is why Perelman wrote this book.

I won’t go into each aspect of this book, but one thing struck me. Perelman discusses how the only agency a working person in a capitalist society gets, according to bourgeois theory, is through being a consumer. Work and its costs are kept hidden behind a dark, unspeakable curtain. Odd for an economy based on making ‘commodities’ eh? Like black people, working people are invisible too - until they enter a store to buy something. Then they are rational, valued ‘guests.’ But at work they are expected to sleep in the Procrustean bed, for the most part, with no health care, low wages, little respect and bad hours, just like that Target worker who dresses in red shirts and beige pants.

And I bought it at Mayday books!
Now buy it, Dammit, Gumby.

Red Frog, January 18, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

That Weird Little Country in the Middle of Europe

Hungary Heads Into the Horthyite Past

If the EU, Bloomberg and oh my, Paul Krugman are talking about you, something must be right – or wrong. Hungary’s Fidesz government, lead by reactionary Viktor Orban, is making waves by heading towards bankruptcy and authoritarian rule. Of course, for Hungary, this is nothing new.

Known as an enlightened empire back around 1900, Budapest and environs boasted a Parisian-style life. However, anti-Semitism and rural nationalism were rising at that time in response to the domination of Hungary by urban capital - which many reactionaries saw as "Jewish." The revolutionary wave of 1919 in Europe brought the Hungarian Communist Party to power under Bela Kun for 6 months – the only successful revolution after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The radical Marxist Gyorgy Lukacs was Commissar for Culture in this government. Romanian troops entered Budapest in August 1919 and crushed the workers republic. Lukacs organized a Communist underground while Bela Kun left the country and went to the USSR. After the Romanians left, a White terror followed, sponsored by Admiral Horthy (yes, in a country with no seaport…). Horthy, on his white horse, took over Hungary, and oversaw an authoritarian right-wing dictatorship from 1919 until 1944, lastly as an ally of the Nazis. A Hungarian army was one of those encircled and defeated at Stalingrad by the Soviets. (See “Enemy at the Gates,” reviewed below.) Kun, who fled to the USSR, was later executed by Stalin as a Trotskyist in the 1930s. For his part, Lukacs was at one point put under Budapest house arrest by the Hungarian Communist Party, and served in Imre Nagy's government during the 1956 uprising..

Horthy was removed by the Nazis in 1944 for insufficient loyalty, and the “Arrow Cross” Hungarian fascists put in charge. They carried out the deportation of the Jews of Hungary to the death camps. The German Nazis did not even have to do it – few were in Hungary anyway. It was Hungarians who stocked the death camps at the end of World War II - a point surviving Hungarian Jews consider significant. However, today the Budapest museum of the “House of Terror” (headquarters for the Arrow Cross and later the Communist secret police) celebrates the period prior to post-war communism – the Horthy period - and the reign of the Catholic Church. This is the period that Orban would also like to return to.

A new Constitution took effect January 1, 2012 that gave Fidesz control over the news media, the courts, religion, and the central bank. Orban has ‘decertified’ 348 religions – although not the Catholic Church, which is now one of 14 ‘state-recognized’ religions. This in a country where only 21% of the population attends church at all. The government has even nationalized pension funds and put the unemployed to work digging ditches. Abortion is now illegal and hetero-sexual marriage is the only form of marriage. Christianity is now recognized as the ‘foundation of the nation.’ Fidesz appointees will hold key government positions for years in the future. Major decisions can now be made by a bare majority of the Parliament. The courts have been packed with Fidesz appointees. The press must now pass articles by a Board of Censorship, and 'violating' papers can be shut down. This is all based on a 53% Fidesz win in the elections – similar to George Bush’s idea of a mandate with 50.5% of the vote. Hungary now has 10.7% official unemployment, 14% of retail loans are defaulting, and working class people who got loans in Swiss francs or the Euro are now suffering the plunge of the forint.

The EU is only protesting government control over the central bank - their main interest, of course. Yet defeat of Orban by the Hungarian working class is what is really needed, similar to what they did in 1919 and 1956. 10s of thousands of demonstrators lead by the Hungarian Solidarity Movement recently forced Orban to leave his new Consitution event by the back door of the Buda palace, which is a start.

Hungary’s government bonds have just been declared ‘junk’ by 3 credit agencies, although these same agencies are suspect due to their own blindness before the 2008 U.S. crash. Hungary was able to get a massive loan from the EU in October 2008, just prior to the recent meltdown in Europe, which has saved it until now. Now Hungary is part of that very same meltdown, as the strapped IMF and the ECB are balking at more loans. Hungary is not in the EU zone, after all. The forint has dropped precipitously in value due to Hungary's difficulties. While some parts of the European populations are moving to the left, others are moving to the right, as the bourgeois ‘middle’ collapses along with its credit ratings and its fat wallets. Hungary provides an example of the latter.

What is the opposition? The Hungarian “Socialist” Party (“SP”) is what is left of the former Communist Party. It is a neo-liberal organization rife with corruption and prostration before Brussels - though it barely lost the last election. However, Fidesz has now passed laws making the SP liable for transgressions by the former Communist Party. The Communist Party has been branded a ‘criminal organization’ and the SP is legally identified as their successor. In other words, anti-communism continues, even against liberals. Sound familiar?

The other main party in Hungary is Jobbik – a far-rightist party that silently murders Gypsys, makes anti-Semitism a plank in their program, and trains with weapons. They have several seats in the European Parliament. For all practical purposes, they are the reincarnation of the Arrow Cross, as Fidesz is Horthy in a suit.

When old Jewish ladies in Budapest worry again – is it any wonder that they might wonder what capitalism has again brought to Hungary?

Red Frog
January 13, 2012

Thursday, January 5, 2012

There's Actually Something on Television?

“Tremé” – Season One, 2010

High-end pay cable has always been off limits as some kind of frivolity expense, where you waste money paying for TV, of all things. For years I’ve been reading reviews about shows I’ve never seen – fascist shit like “24,” gangster love story “The Sopranos,” and the swear-fest “Deadwood.” Now I’ve read and seen bits of the faux-authenticity of Mad Men, the standard sad cop drama “The Wire,” breasts and blood pulp Tolkien rip-off “Game of Thrones” and the biker-thug fantasy “Sons of Anarchy.”

However, one program stuck out. Just one. “Tremé.” (pronounced “TremAY”) So I rented the first season.

Faubourg Tremé is a neighborhood in New Orleans, just west of the French Quarter, across Rampart Street. It is what remains of Storyville, the neighborhood that invented jazz and was behind the development of the blues in the 1920s. (see review of “Birth of the Delta Blues,” below.) It is full of musicians, and is mostly black. The series takes place 3 months after Katrina. It is filmed in a standard Robert Altman ensemble style, following the weaving stories of Treme residents - black Indians, bar owners, restaurateurs, musicians, music-lovers, attorneys and professors – all coping with the dead water left by Katrina. While somewhat romantic and familiar, (indeed, the theme song is a knock-off of “Lovelight”) I think it captures the best parts of the city well.

Tremé pulls few punches politically or culturally. It is the first show I’ve seen on television that takes black culture seriously, as something other than lumpen or buffoonish. The portrayals attempt real people, not thugs, not saints and not comedians. One of the Mardi Gras Indians stands up to the notorious New Orleans PD. He squats in abandoned federal housing untouched by the flood so as to re-open the apartments to the black Orleanians displaced from those buildings. Another story follows the mysterious death of a black youth in police custody just after the flood hit. A third tracks the life of a session trombonist trying to still make it.

Tremé, and by extension New Orleans, is a music city, and musicians are all over this series. Which is extremely rare on television. There are cameos and appearances by Steve Earle, (who actually plays a character), Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins, Elvis Costello, Rebirth Brass Band, Tremé Brass Band, even McCoy Tyner and Ron Carter. I’d say this is a better introduction to New Orleans jazz than the painfully sincere efforts of Ken Burns. Tremé filmed on Jackson Square among street musicians, on Frenchmen Street, and in the clubs of Rampart and others, catching the musicians in the real. Odd and knowledgeable DJ’s on the radio, Japanese jazz benefactors, second-line parades, impromptu concerts and jazz funerals punctuate the episodes.

Another theme is politics, though here the series pulls punches. John Goodman rages on ‘You Tube’ as an angry Tulane professor attacking ‘Katrina Fatigue”, NO Mayor Ray Nagin, Bush, the U.S. government, FEMA, NPR, the Po-lice, the Army Corps of Engineers and various shit-faces. Another character, angry at the police and the city government, starts a dope-addled campaign in his ward against the slickster politicians, and gains support. One of his slogans? (Legalize) “Pot for Potholes.” This campaign, however, is dropped like a hot potato in Season One, albeit humorously. The Mardi Gras Indian tells his ward boss to get some housing, and when only one FEMA trailer shows up, he tells him to stuff it. Later he spends Mardi Gras in jail – a sad event for a resident of the city - for defending himself from the police. A lawyer locates a prisoner who died from blunt force trauma in police custody, but the family decides not to go further. There is little united, consistent, organized action – although you can tell the progressive population hates the ruling elite of New Orleans. After all, this is still HBO. And HBO is never going to promote mass organizing against the system.

There is even a food subtext befitting this city. Some famous New York chefs do a cameo drop-in on a local Creole restaurant run by a talented female chef at the end of her wits. I don’t know who they are, but she sure does. Another meme is how “New York” is where you go to make it. The son of the Mardi Gras Indian plays cool jazz and bebop, not New Orleans style. He’s always running between the cities, trying to escape his past. Another character claims to want to move to New York. The capital of the 10% and NO silently duel.

The trajectory of the first season is down, however. Three of the characters spiral into failure and worse. One loses a restaurant. One becomes a drug addict and drops out of music. And, in a false note, one commits suicide. The missing black youth finally turns up the way you might expect.

Would like to watch just one pay-series? It’s Tremé. Although few programs can carry themselves for years. Even Dickens ended his written serializations when the story was done. Attempting to keep a story going after it’s ‘done’ is typical of profit-based American television, which is why so many programs die a slow death. It is quite possible Tremé attempts the same thing. Better the serializations on British TV, which do end well because they are on the public dime.

Red Frog
January 5, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Song of the Non-Industrious Poor

“Debt – the First 5,000 Years,” by David Graeber, 2011

This magisterial work by a pro-Occupy professor from Goldsmiths University in the U.K. has gotten praise from, of all places, Bloomberg and the New York Review of Books. And that is odd for an anti-capitalist book that takes a hard-line against modern financial debt. Graeber sees communism as the basic human relationship between people, in much the same way that CLR James (see review, "Facing Reality, below) announced that socialism already existed everywhere among the western working classes in the 1950s. The book, however, promises more than it delivers.

Graeber’s contention is that debt – in various forms – has been in existence since the times of ‘primitive’ communism – among tribal societies, slave societies, mercantile societies, serfdom, early capitalism and now, modern monopoly finance capital. He makes the point that ‘debts’ are central to human society. The only issue is what kind of debt it truly is - social or private. This book is a work of economic anthropology that re-visits the cultural and economic history of society up to the present day, ‘re-imagined’ through the lens of debt – be it mystical, moral, social or monetary. Graeber approaches the debt issue on a world-scale, comparing cultures in China, India, Africa, Mesopotamia, the Americas and Europe. He focuses most on China, India and the Near East, and only later, on Europe.

Why should we care? Unlike ‘salt’ or steel, in the modern period, impersonal financial debt has become a central feature of the present structure of finance capitalism and its economic crisis. Graeber thinks the present U.S. treasury bill debt will never be repaid - it is instead functioning as a kind of imperial tribute to the U.S. government. He carefully delineates the issue of interest over time – including the successful use of bans on usury by Islamic markets and even early Christian ones. The complete collapse of laws against usury in the U.S. in 1980, allowing rates up to 120% on payday loans, marked a significant change in how this issue was handled. In essence, it made every U.S. bank a loan shark. Debt peonage continues to exist across the globe – even among U.S. college students who have forfeited many years of earnings to pay their loans – or homeowners that will never own their houses free and clear.

Graeber contends that debt is intimately connected to war and slavery. Slaves were one of the first forms of payment in tribal societies, along with cattle. In fact, the end of slavery marked a certain diminuation in the idea that everything is a commodity - although insurance companies still like to put a price on human life. Like Marx’s point about primitive accumulation, he locates the origin of impersonal markets in theft itself, usually during military conquest. He dismisses theological arguments by various religions that the debt we owe is to a ‘god,’ ‘nature,’ morality or some mystical entity. Real debts can only be between equals, or those within some approximation of legal equality.

Graeber takes aim at several modern free-market shibboleths. He divides the nature of markets between modern impersonal markets and intimate local markets, showing how early markets were really a function of social exchange, not profiteering against strangers. This point is a familiar one from pro-capitalist anarchists. He punctures Adam Smith’s myth of barter as existing prior to the development of money. Indeed, no anthropologist has yet located the barter system that Smith made up in his creation myth about money. He repeatedly hits the free-market libertarian fantasists who think gold and silver are not also ‘fiat’ money. Graeber says that money has never had any intrinsic value, even prior to the U.S. going off the gold standard in 1971. It has always been a social construct. Even a cow - one of the original measures of value - is worth more than gold. He spends a lot of time on the creation of money, showing how money originated out of debt, not barter. And how national governments adopted money for their own uses. The ‘market’ did not create money.

Graeber takes aim at the present legal definitions of property - which originated in Roman era law, then were transmitted through English law to U.S. codes. Rome was a society that supported slavery, and that 'logic' actually crept into its idea of property law.

Among many historical stories he tells is a significant one about the mining of gold and silver in Peru and Mexico by the conquistadors lead by Cortes. After slaughtering the Aztecs, millions of native peoples were used in the mining process. After dying in the mines, their dead bodies were left heaped around the mines like slag rock. While Cortes and his men never got free of debt – even though sitting on an ocean of gold and silver – most of these precious metals went to European bankers, and ultimately were sold to the Chinese so their governments could prop up their monetary system. Ordinary Europeans saw very few coins even at that time.

Graeber dates 1971 as the year that a new – and unknown - modern capitalist period started. When Nixon went off the gold standard that year it was an attempt to pay for the national debt of the Vietnam war. Graeber shows how war has been the chief driver of generalized debt since the beginnings in Sumerian Mesopotamia. The modern capitalist national debt was not created until the formation of the Bank of England in the 1600s, which itself reflected the King's war spending. Paper money, used in China and several other places, came into generalized use in England only after the intentional destruction of informal, local credit systems, part of what I consider the 'enclosure of the commons.' That grocer that used to let you run a tab? Now a distant memory. Trust and personal knowledge of people you knew was replaced by cold hard cash.

For a Marxist, Graeber’s most interesting point is about ‘free’ wage labor not being the universal standard after the development of modern capitalism. While wage labor certainly is the primary form labor took in most advanced countries - rural and urban debt peonage and other forms of pre-capitalist functioning continue to exist in mass forms under imperial capital to this day. Indian farmers are so in debt to usurers and banks for Monsanto seed and chemical fertilizers (which have destroyed the soil) that they commit suicide in consistent numbers. Many people are still tricked into working for free. Thievery and crime form the earnings of countless others. marginal peddlers working on credit are endemic to massive third-world cities. Virtual slavery still exists in sections of the world economy. As he puts it:
“We could no more have a universal world market than we could have a system in which everyone who wasn’t a capitalist was somehow able to become a respectable, regularly-paid wage laborer with access to adequate dental care. A world like that has never existed and never could exist.”
He follows that up by pointing out that the post WW2 Keynesian compromise between capital and labor has broken down – and will not return.

Solutions? After putting in a good word for the Sadrists in Iraq as perhaps having answers like their early Mesopotamian cousins, Graeber pulls up short. What popular movement will provide the answer? Graeber’s answer: “Who’s to say?” (!) He does call for a debt Jubilee, much like those under Hammurabi and others. And, interestingly enough, the ancient Mesopotamians seem to be to the left of the IMF, the World Bank and the U.S. political pygmies of both parties. The latter only take a haircut when the blood no longer runs from the stone. Who says history only goes forward?

Jubilees of this kind have been used in human society many times in order that the population not overthrow the rulers. Graeber consistently points to the pressure of the masses against debt during nearly all periods of history. However, a debt Jubilee still leaves the impersonal debt machine in place. While fulfilling its function of relieving the pressure of an angry population, and counting as a significant reform, it allows the machine to live, and the original communism of the human population to remain submerged.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
January 1, 2012