Sunday, November 25, 2012

Beware of What You Wish For

Catastrophism – the Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse & Rebirth,” Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, James Davis, Forward by Doug Henwood – 2012

The recent wave of catastrophic environmental and economic films, fiction books, political theories and cultural events – Zombie Bar Crawl, I’m looking at you – has finally been addressed by these authors from a Marxist perspective.  While it suffers from a certain thin evidential reed, and a large amount of repetition, the authors make the point that leftists who wait for ‘catastrophe’ only play into the hands of the right and the State. 

The authors take aim at various versions of apocalyptic politics.  Faulty neo-Hobbesian theories; modern Malthusianism; the flaws in the ‘peak oil’ hypothesis; the bourgeois preference for the ‘gated lifeboat;’ the use of disasters by the capitalists; the adoption of apocalyptic scenarios by the Christian and fascist right; and quietist “Kautskyian” approaches among leftists, waiting for an automatic capitalist collapse - all come in for a dunking.  Most interesting of all is an essay on the modern reappearance of the zombie meme, and its connection to capitalist decay.  Of course, we have only to look at the 'zombie' banks still in our midst to see this reality.

Take the issue of environmental destruction via global warming.  There are basically 5 ways to respond to this crisis.  1., do nothing and go on as usual; 2, green capitalism; 3, deep ecology; 4, life-boat preparations and 5, eco-socialism.  The authors insist that because ‘surveys show’ that the more people learn about the collapsing environment, the more quiescent they become, 'apocalyptic' talk must be counterproductive.  Yet ‘surveys’ also show that most people right now do not even believe human activity is causing global warming – at least in the U.S.  So which of these is actually causing the quiescence?  Another thing that can cause quiescence is that people do not know what they can do, as there is no effective party or mass movement to effectuate actual change.  So, really, which is causing the passivity?

In the U.S., most people presently, other than small changes in lifestyle, are doing nothing.  Buying a Prius or buying or growing more organic food, becoming vegetarian, bicycling more, etc. are the most common responses of a minority of the population.  Green capitalism is being promoted by the Democratic Party, mostly based on a market point of view.   Very few government subsidies have been granted to wind, wave, solar and biomass and so green capitalism has essentially gone nowhere.  ‘Deep ecologists’ like Derrick Jensen predict the collapse of industrial civilization due to the effects of peak oil, starting in 2015.  Well, ‘peak oil’ has passed worldwide, but on the backside of that bell curve is the ‘improved’ rape of the land – see the increase in oil and gas fracking, tar-sand oil extraction and deep water drilling.  All of these methods have been embraced by both Parties, and no doubt the Keystone Pipeline will also be approved.  It was recently announced that the U.S. would overcome Saudia Arabia in oil production in a few years due to these new technologies of the ‘old’ fossil fuel industry. Of course, this is based on falling rates of Saudi and Russian production.  Nevertheless, more evidence of capitalist maneuverability.

Preparing a lifeboat?  As the ridiculous Mayan disaster film “2012” has shown, preparing a safe bastion against rising seas and food scarcity is a prerogative of the rich.  The wealthy will always be able to retreat to gated communities, which is why personal appeals to the rich over global warming fall on deaf ears.  And for ordinary workers to prepare?  Well, it makes sense, even in the short term – see Hurricane Sandy or any government recommendation on ‘emergency preparedness.’  But social ties and a social movements are your best guarantee of survival, especially in a ‘long emergency.’  You have to add to your storehouse of grub, generators and guns the most important ingredient - real people.

The authors come out for an eco-socialist approach, which involves patient ‘pre-organizing. Much as a labor party will not spring out of society at the snap of a leftist’s finger, nor will a resilient mass movement be able to handle social upheaval without a prior linkage of human beings.  What we do right now will enable us to actually help each other when a conjuncture arrives.  Really pretty simple.

One main theme the authors cover is the disabling use of ‘fear’ as a motivator.  Liberals do it when they obsessively maintain that if the Democrats are not elected, fascism will draw nigh.  You know, those people who think the Republicans are already ‘fascists.’  The people that babble on and on about Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as if there were no other issues.  The State uses it – 9/11 being a prime example – to induce a police state and imperialist war.  Conservatives use it to build up border walls and consolidate their hold over some white people.  And the Left tries to use it – but has not had much success.  Fear as an emotion usually makes people withdraw, not go forward.  Take fear of losing your job.  Want to organize a union at your workplace then?  Good luck.  The fact that some U.S. Wal-Mart workers actually protested on Black Friday shows a lack of fear.  The most fearful are the most useless in any situation.

The authors discuss in some depth prior Marxist approaches that predict a final collapse of the capitalist economy, thus leaving the working class to merely wait patiently for it.  This has been the root of social democratic reformism for generations – See review of “All Power to the Councils,” below.  They also take on the opposite tack - adventurist, mostly anarchist approaches of immediate action, as capitalism is supposedly so rotten that an active push can bring it down.  Neither approach recognizes the versatility of the capitalist economy and its reserves, or an understanding of specific historical conjunctures, or even tactical reality. They also get some jabs in against the 'stagnation theory' of Monthly Review, which they accuse of being similarly 'catastrophist.'

The authors support the theses of Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine,” (reviewed below) which carefully pointed out that capitalists love a crisis so that they can dictatorially institute their policies.  In the factory, we called this ‘the bums rush.’  What else can you call the hysterical events around the 2008 bailout of the U.S. banking sector?  Or the fear of the 'fiscal cliff?'  Crises cut both ways.  Oppression oppresses.

Others have started to notice the trend:  
           "Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson has suggested, dystopia might be best described as an anti-political genre an attempt to oppose the frightening force of change itself, to squelch Utopian hopes and longings. Though its ostensible purpose is to take trends in the present day and forecast them into the future, to offer timely warnings of looming disaster, in practice it can shade into a sort of aestheticized quietism."  --- on Salon.com, by Lee Konstantinou, LA Review of Books

 David McNally ends this volume with a wonderful historical-materialist answer to the question of ‘why zombies now?’  It involves riots around hangings in early London, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Haitian sugar cane slaves, American horror movies and responses to southern African neo-liberalism.  You will have to read it to find out.

 (Books on environmental, economic or political apocalypse reviewed below – (“Gaia,” “Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Road,” “Reinventing Collapse,” “The Coming Insurrection,” “Tropic of Chaos,” “The Race for What’s Left,” “The Party’s Over,”  “The Shock Doctrine.” “Collapse,” “The Hunger Games,” “Living in the End Times.”)

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
November 25, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Real Thanksgiving


“Lincoln,” Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner, 2012

Any reader of this blog knows that I pay particular attention to the U.S. Civil War.  Understanding the forces that led to that war allows you to ‘look under the hood’ of subsequent events.  So, being this is a film review, I’ll just say what is expected - “See This Film.”

In this film a trifecta of cultural heavy weights is taking on the last year of Lincoln’s life, as he attempts to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which would outlaw slavery.  Steven Spielberg, the ace of ‘big picture’ crowd-pleasers; Daniel Day Lewis, one of the top actors in the U.S., and Tony Kushner, a gay leftist, whose pretty-much Marxist play “A Bright Room Called Day,” I reviewed below; all combine to deliver a vast political punch.  Kushner, unlike most American writers, actually understands the political issues around the passing of the 13th Amendment, and this comes out in the film’s intricate dialog and situations.  People who see in this film a reflection of, and meditation on the present state of the U.S. Congress and presidency might not be imaging things either.

Spielberg applies his gargantuan mainstream film skills into making a film that is already the front-runner for Oscar.  Daniel Day Lewis, who carried 2007’s great adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s “Oil, in the film “There Will Be Blood,” plays Lincoln as a joking genius, who doesn’t have a bit of frivolity in his considerable body.  Lewis seems a bit young at times, and less austere than the mythological Lincoln we all carry around with us, but is probably the most arresting cinematic Lincoln ever.  Sally Field, of “Norma Rae” fame, has been rescued from oblivion to play his wife, in a powerful performance.  And Tommy Lee Jones is the great surprise, escaping the ridiculous world of the “Men in Black” to play Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the radical Abolitionists in Congress.

The play centers around attempts by the Congressional Democrats in the North – the right-wingers of their time – to continue slavery and stop the war on any basis whatsoever.  And, in opposition, Lincoln’s intention, after his re-election, to get rid of slavery as a permanent legal measure, prior to the end of the war.  Lincoln understood that slavery had been suppressed only as a ‘war measure’ when the “Emancipation Proclamation’ was issued, and could possibly be reinstituted after the war's end without the 13th Amendment. 

In the end, Lincoln relies on, let us say, various subterfuges, his own 'big muddy feet,' and the political dynamism of Stevens and the Abolitionists to cut through the moderate Republican opposition and the violent Copperhead reactionaries of the Democratic Party. Of course, like nearly all American histories, it is told from the individual 'great man' point of view.

A key contradiction, of course, is between the Abolitionists and Lincoln, who was to their right.  In a critical scene, at least for leftists, Stevens and Lincoln meet and Lincoln criticizes Stevens for advocating the end of slavery right at the start of the Civil War.  This would, according to Lincoln, have allowed the Border States to go with the Confederacy, and might have broken up the Union coalition too.  Stevens has no response to this statement in the film except sheepishness.

Might I, as a dialectician, make one.  The existence of the Abolitionists actually made Lincoln himself possible.  Lincoln is a what you might call a 'synthesis' between the Abolitionists and the slavers.  Without a strong Abolitionist movement, Lincoln would not have been elected twice, nor would he have been able to pass the 13th Amendment.  Nor, in a certain measure, would the Union have won the Civil War, as the Emancipation Proclamation forestalled international support for the slaver Confederacy, and also allowed the Union Army to enlist tens of thousands of black soldiers and spies in the cause.  Stevens should have said, “Mr. Lincoln, with all due respect, you would not be sitting here today without me.”

Lincoln was the most clear-eyed representative of northern capital - and a big friend of the railroad titans.  He understood that slavery was incompatible with a modern capitalist economy, and also that the southern landowners had to be integrated into the governing class as quickly as possible.  And that is what happened.  The success of Reconstruction actually was not a part of this vision, though it was a part of the radical Abolitionist vision.  So, in a way, the continuation of Jim Crow for 90 years was the legacy of Lincoln's centrism.

Of course, this relates to the present.  In our present great battle, which is now not about chattel slavery but wage slavery, there is no independent radical mass movement in the country or the Congress dedicated to being anti-capitalist, or even anti-war or anti-corporate.  The one that existed for a time, Occupy, was undermined by the Department of "Homeland" Security and the Obama administration.  Which is why Obama will never even be a Lincoln or a Roosevelt, in spite of the reams of liberal hogwash hoping for this that predated his 2008 election.  Mass movements make history, not just ‘great men.’  Without the former, there is no latter.

(Reviews of other Civil War books - “Last Battle of the Civil War?”, “Why the South Lost the Civil War,” “County of Jones,” “The Bloody Shirt,” “Appomattox,” are below.)

Happy Thanksgiving!  Originally, this day became a national holiday not to ‘remember’ the couple years of peace between Native Americans and Puritans so long ago, but as a Thanksgiving dedicated to a victory of the Union in the Civil War.  The proclamation was issued not soon after the Union victory at Gettysburg.  The fact that this origin is covered up again shows the political strength of the Southern aristocracy to this day.

It was declared October 3, 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, ending… “… in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”


Red Frog
November 22, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Calling All Personal Assistants!


“The Servant Economy – Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class,” by Jeff Faux, 2012

After the crash of the capitalist economy in 2007-2008, a flood of books has emerged from the left, tracking the bi-partisan coddling of Wall Street since Carter.  This is another.  One of the main tendencies, as you would expect, are new-born Keynesians and Rooseveltians, who see the limitation of the blue-dog in Obama, Clinton and Cater, yet dig no deeper into the capitalist economy than that.  Regulation and government stimulus spending are the be-all and end-all of their political economy. The other main tendency is Marxist, many of the books of which I have reviewed below. (see “Global Slump,” “The Great Financial Crisis,” “Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism,” “Occupy the Economy,”   
“Structural Crisis of Capital,” “Zombie Capitalism” and “The Endless Crisis.”)

Faux is one of the Rooseveltians, and if this is your point of view you will especially like this book.  Like many, he gives us yet another historical and detailed run-down of the decay of the U.S. capitalist economy, especially since the mid-70s.  The framework remains the increase in class stratification, the off-shoring of industrial work, the growth in the military sector as an economic bulwark for capital, the weightier role of finance, the ideological dialectic that led both main U.S political parties to embrace different forms of neo-liberalism, and the consequences of this market vision spreading across the world.  All these topics are now almost basic commonsense. 

Given his pro-capitalist bonifides, his pessimism is extreme - which is significant.  He essentially spends the whole book attacking neo-liberalism, and only has one suggestion that he believes will stop the juggernaut – a Constitutional amendment that establishes that Corporations are not ‘persons’ and do not have the same political or economic rights.  Well, if you think this is weak tea for his baleful picture of the increasing levels of austerity that all workers will be facing, you’d be right. 

Faux’s rundown of the Wall Street bankers working in the Obama administration is hilarious, especially given the populist rhetoric we just heard that won re-election. Faux has one chapter engaging in a polemic against various American neo-liberals, from the dreadful Fareed Zakaria on down, which might be of interest if you actually take the suggestions of neo-liberalism seriously.  He has chapters on the coming complete privatization of education and the deceptive ‘education is the solution’ baloney; the insulting way the U.S. auto industry was rescued and the coming ‘grand bargain’ for austerity between the two Parties.  Faux quotes Rupert Murdoch as predicting that education privatization is a $500 Billon dollar market.  The auto bailout structured by leveraged-buyout artist Steve Rattner cost 21,000 workers their jobs, closed 14 factories and 3 warehouses and slated 1,454 dealerships be shut.  Under Rattner, more production went to China, South Korea and Mexico.  As Rahm Emanuel said when the UAW protested:  “Fuck the UAW.” 

Of interest, Faux shows that Jimmy Carter laid the groundwork for neo-liberalism in the Democratic Party.  A southerner from Georgia and a peanut capitalist, Carter explicitly rejected a national industrial policy even when major corporations supported it.  He refused to use wage/price controls, a la Nixon, to deal with inflation – which was the real reason he lost to Reagan in 1980, not the Iran hostage drama.  According to Faux, the majority of Americans supported price controls.  In a many domestic ways, Carter was to the right of Nixon – a hard thing to say, after all the abuse heaped on that twisted man.  Carter’s breaking of the national miners strike in 1978 should be fresh even in the mind of Rich Trumka.  Carter hired Paul Volcker for the Federal Reserve, who plunged the economy into stagflation by instituting very high interest rates.  Carter started deregulation of certain industries, including airlines, trucking, banking and telecommunications.  Carter actually was the first one to say, ‘Government cannot solve our problems’ in his 1978 State of the Union speech. 

Faux is strong on the issue of the cheapening effect of the ‘digital revolution’ and its role for labor.  Not only is the quality of books, music and art degraded by digitalization, but so is labor, at least under capitalism.   As many studies have pointed out, almost 47 million U.S. jobs are based on digital technology – and given the flexible and movable nature of this technology, these jobs could be theoretically outsourced.  The only ‘safe’ jobs are ones that cannot be digitized – waitresses, for instance, or personal servants.  High-tech technology, unemployment and anti-unionism have gone hand in hand, which is why a certain level of “Luddism” makes sense.  Yet as efforts in certain sectors, like law have shown, training Bangalore Indians to create legal paper based on limited English, a foreign law understanding and other shortfalls might be an exercise in futility. 

But, like housing construction, even ‘safe’ jobs can also be undermined without union protection.  Witness the housing industry. What roofing company in the U.S. uses union labor instead of lowly-paid and slave-driven Mexican workers? 

Faux’s kicker – which gives the book its title – is that service jobs needed by the rich, especially jobs that in England would have been called ‘servants’ – nannies, au-pairs, cooks, maids, gardeners, dog walkers, diet coaches, drivers, personal shoppers, personal assistants, physical trainers, yoga teachers, masseuses, vacation planners, computer assistants, interior decorators - and labor contractors to coordinate all of the above – are predicted to be part of the cheery future of U.S jobs.   Even high-end prostitutes and efficient drug dealers can fit into this scenario!

Here are the ten jobs that the overall economy is predicted to need the most:    Registered nurses, college professors, nurse’s aides, customer-service representatives, restaurant workers, retail salespeople, office clerks, janitors, home health care aides and personal aides.  Except for the first two, most only require a high school degree – and nurses aides only a one-year certificate above that.   Of the first two, 75% of college professors are now working on year-to-year contracts, and are no longer on a tenure track. 

However, Faux is a ‘fellow’ of the Economic Policy Institute of Washington, D.C. and he used to be an economist for the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce and Labor.  That background should tip you off that, while he wrote a book titled the ‘global class war’ he is not a working-class warrior.  

For Keynesians like Faux, ‘government’ in the abstract is the solution, and in a sense, they are quite right.  However, government itself has a class character, as Marx pointed out long ago.  The ‘government’ is not a neutral body standing above the global class war.  As Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

This rather simple idea stumps the modern Keynesians, as much as we all know in our guts that it reflects reality.  The ‘state’ actually has a class character, and the ‘government’ is allied to one class or another.  What any government does is a product of the class struggle.  Liberal ‘think’ tanks are not the same as actual, or figurative, working-class tanks. If the Keynesians understood this, then they’d see that a government of the working-class is the real, permanent solution to the austerity crisis.  Even during the 30s, the capitalist class still controlled the U.S. government, and was only forced to concede some benefits to the poor, workers and farmers because of the threat of revolution.  Tame house cats like Faux mention the word only once, and in the sense of ‘remote.’  Yet they want the government to change.  It is here that the failure of uber-liberalism is revealed.

Another favorite hobby-horse of the Keynesians is based on Henry Ford’s quote – “There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.”  However, that theory no longer holds.  The owner of a software center in Kiev in the Ukraine does not need to worry about paying higher wages to his staff, if he expects to sell his software in England.  Nor does the auto capitalist in the U.S. need to worry about the wages paid to a car-part worker in India when he outsources Indian parts for American-sold cars.  In other words, as even Faux has started to notice, international manufacturing and international markets – and international imbalances of class - makes this bit of Keynesianism obsolete.  It is the other ‘9%’ of the world population that can buy these goods now, not just local workers.  You cannot appeal to the capitalists with this kind of logic anymore, because they know better.  And appealing to the capitalists is all this is.

People like Faux sees the problems but has no solution, like many of the books coming out now.  He does not believe that a viable ‘3rd Party’ can ever succeed in the long run because of U.S. laws, media hatred, and the successful but narrow cultural values each party has based its voting-getting prowess on.  So he ends up being, right now, another reluctant Democrat – which is to say, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
November 18, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vandals Behind the Scandals


China:  The Fall of Bo Xilai & the “Chongqing Model” by Yeuzhi Zhao, Vol. 44, October 2012 Monthly Review

Scandals, scandals.  If you believe that Petraeus quit because he had an affair, I have a cold, dark, powerless building in Rockaway, Queens to sell you.  He bashed the Obama administration for abandoning the CIA/State Department station in Benghazi for 8 hours - saying this right before the election.  He was scheduled to go before Congress to perhaps repeat that notion.  Yet the FBI knew about his affair for months.  Ah, to have a Republican in your administration – so bi-partisan.  You reap what you sow.

At any rate, good riddance, war-monger.

An even more important scandal erupted in China in the last months.  This is the downfall of Bo Xilai, the somewhat leftist head of the Chongqing area of China, and the accusation of murder against his wife.  Facts will be hard to come by as the trial of his wife was bereft of them, and resembled more a show trial.  Some are comparing the downfall of Bo Xilai to Lin Piao so many years ago.  The CCP is now accusing Xilai of having billions of yuan stashed away, plundered through his position of power in Chongqing.  Of course, this from a Party which has 90% of the 1,000 richest people in China in its ranks.  If you believe that Xilai was stripped of his powers because of corruption and his wife murdered an English businessman, I have an out-of-date coal mine in China to sell you.

Zeuzhi Zhao, a professor in Canada, has written an article about this significant event in the October Monthly Review. Chongqing is a heavily working-class area, and was a leftist center during the civil war against the Nationalists.  Zhao uses warmed-over Maoist rhetoric, which is the only known leftist current in China, to discuss the strong points of the “Chongqing model.”   She describes an attempt to counter the reigning neo-liberal model of the Chinese CCP leadership by harking back to some aspects of Maoist doctrine – and meaning it. 

In Chongqing, the main television station was taken over by the state from its private owners.  Believe it or not, most media in China is privately-owned.  This station began to broadcast ‘revolutionary’ programs and become more like public television.  The state created a public investment firm that bought 1,160 state companies and returned them to sustainability and employment.  They started a program which allowed 3.22 million rural migrants to become residents of the region, with entitlements to urban benefits.  This is unlike other areas of China, which do not allow rural workers residency permits.  Since 2009, half of all government expenditures went to benefits for ordinary residents.  Xilai supported the idea of ‘common prosperity,’ something opposed to the ‘get rich’ theory of the CCP Central Committee.  Xilai started a popular program called “Striking Black,” designed to rid Chongqing of corruption, aimed at a nexus of party bureaucrats, private capitalists and criminals - using information provided by regular citizens.  As a result, crime and bribery in the region went down.  Xilai started to require Party and state functionaries to make visits to work sites, homes and villages in order to re-familiarize themselves with the population.  “Singing Red’ was a cultural program designed to promote collective revolutionary values through mass singing, plays, public readings and story-telling.

Of course, mixed with these progressive aspects were promotion of private firms and a top-down approach to instituting these changes.  Zhao called it a ‘mixed economy’ approach.  No mass councils or Soviets in sight, of course, given the politics of 'vanguard' society.  

The liberals decried Xilai as wanting to start the “Cultural Revolution’ all over again, and wanting to ‘overthrow the CCP’ or ‘bring in fascism.”  This kind of hysteria only shows how threatened they were.  No wonder Xilai and his wife were ‘disappeared’ along, with their supporters, right before the present Congress of the CCP.

Bloomberg reported on 5/2/2012:  "As Bo rose from a provincial bureaucrat to the Communist Party leader of Chongqing, where he rated a salary of about 10,000 yuan ($1,585) a month, his family’s wealth grew dramatically. His relatives have accumulated at least $136 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on the extended family’s business interests, including those of his wife’s older sisters. Li Wangzhi, Bo’s son by a first marriage, and at least two of Bo’s brothers held positions in banking and industry. Bo’s other son, Bo Guagua, studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts"

If true, Bo and his family, like other Chinese bureaucrats, was also taking advantage of his position.  However, this does not change the fact that his position was to the left of the CCP majority, and of benefit to the workers of Chongqing.

And I bought it at May Day Books, which always has Monthly Review in Stock.
Red Frog
November 12, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rush Hour of the Karma Capitalists; Gentrification of the Gods


“The God Market – How Globalization is Making India More Hindu,” by Meera Nanda, 2012

If you ever wondered if the dim religiosity of American politics and culture is also penetrating other unequal societies, you have your answer.  Nanda’s book, which reads somewhat like a PHD thesis, posits a temple-state-corporation complex in India, centered ideologically on the merging of neo-liberal thought and a tarted-up version of Hinduism. 

There are American equivalents.  The bi-partisan “Office of Faith-Based Initiatives,” constant public affirmations of Christian faith by politicians, bi-partisan Congressional cabals centered on prayer and politics (attended by our own Secretary of State, Arkansas’ Hillary Clinton, among other Democrats); the tax free status of churches and the wholesale takeover of the Republican Party by Protestant/ Catholic/ Mormon fundamentalists are part of the US synergy.  In the corporate field, this book suggests a Hindi extension of “God & WalMart,” (reviewed below) - how Protestant religiosity is used by the Wal-Mart corporation. 

Nanda shines a light on the tele-yogis, invented traditions, the 'secular' government's funding of various Hindu practices, and above all, the myths that come with ‘development.’  The most prominent theory is that ‘increasing science’ (after all, part of India’s resurgence is in IT) will downgrade backward religious practices and ideas and result in a secular society.  Not so.

Nanda shows that the ‘rush hour of the gods’ is happening most of all among the prosperous middle-classes of India, those most involved in so-called ‘advanced education’ and scientific jobs.  Just as our own suburban mega-churches expand in upscale Republican outer-ring suburbs.  There is a revival of Hindu worship practices - yoga, mass chanting and singing, pilgrimages, ceremonies in supplication to various local gods, gold purchasing, temple-building, miracle-cures, rain praying, meditation, astrology, reincarnation, Hindu camps, special diets and private religious colleges.  In addition, there is a large strain of ‘prosperity Karma” running through this explosion of gurus, the most prominent being Swami Dyananda Saraswati.  He interprets the teachings of Lord Krishna to mean that desires are a ‘manifestation of divinity.’  Deepak Chopra, a follower of Mahesh Yogi, called his interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, “Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.”  Chopra famously wears a Rolex everywhere he goes. 

As Nanda puts it, the Indian upper & middle class is not really in the ‘middle’ of anything, but an ’elite of mass proportion – 20-30% of the population surrounded by a sea of utter poverty.’  Nanda estimates that the real reason for this religiosity is partly guilt, partly self-justification, and partly immersion in corporate/government propaganda.  As she puts it, ‘The Indian elite and middle classes display an exceptionally high degree of tolerance for the inhuman levels of poverty and deprivation all around them.”  This could be the result of the reactionary belief in “karma,’ which makes every individual responsible for his own fate down through time.  Of course, this is a society whose caste system is ideologically based on Hindu doctrines, including reincarnation.

Nanda maintains that this religiosity leads the majority of religious middle/upper class Hindus into supporting the right-wing Hindu BJP (“Bharatiya Janata Party”), and a soft ‘Hindutva.’  Hindutva is sort of like a Hindu version of theocratic Christian Dominionism.  Soft Hidutva also affects the neo-liberal and formerly secular Congress Party, which now makes public support of Hinduism one of its constant practices, breaking from its secular past under Nehru.  She thinks even this ‘liberal’ Hinduism is creating a Hindu majoritarian attitude that the communalists of violence can draw upon again in the future.  (see “Field Notes on Democracy,” reviewed below)  She notes that, in another PEW survey, Indians said their culture was superior to all others by the highest amount of any nation in the world – 93%.  Which reflects a level of complacency not seen since the last speech by an American politician.  She also criticizes the self-congratulation and back slapping Hindus are doing over the level of IT work in India - which Nanda accurately portrays as quite low-level.

Religion is not only good for business, it is a good business itself.  Where else can you sell people intangibles for actual money?  It is a sustainable business, since the supply of mysticism will never run out…at least, until people stop buying your invisible product.  And for that other ‘product,’ Nanda gives examples of various large Indian conglomerates that link their activities to various Hindu shrines, training programs and schools, even citing Ford Motor Company.

Nanda describes how the Indian government, though formally ‘secular’ according the 1950 Constitution, encourages religion materially through tourism and education.  Because of the prior poor state of Hindu religious shrines and temples, due to the incompetence and theft of the various priests, the government was given legal writ over Hindu religious structures.  This law has given the neo-liberals free reign to promote religion.  Nanda gives many examples of regional governments gifting large tracts of land for free or cheaply to private religious schools, shrines, temple complexes, etc.  Religious tourism is promoted by the government monetarily, as 50% of all tourism in India is for a religious pilgrimage. (!)    

Education in India is being privatized so that anyone that wants to start a school is granted a charter.  It is a model for what could happen in the U.S.  With government help, purely religious schools are being built, as well as those that mix the teaching of astrology and prayers with medicine or structural engineering. 

Nanda ends her book with an examination of various theories of secularism and ‘de-secularism,’ seeming to be quite confused by what is happening in India.  She errs in seeing the U.S., Japan and even Europe as being a ‘more religious’ society now.  The recent PEW survey which showed that nearly 20% of the US population (60 million!) is now atheist, agnostic or unchurched seems to have missed her publication deadline. (see commentary, below, “Congratulations”.)  As did the fact that 50% of people in the U.S. who say they go to church every week were … exaggerating greatly.  She does point out that the Marxists in India did not directly attack religion, especially theoretically, thus failing to limit its effects.  She settles for a theory that modernization 'can' put a dent in mysticism over the long run. 

The problem in her understanding of secularism is that she divorces it from the class structure and from capitalism.  While the first great bourgeois revolution killed the priests in France, burned their churches and promoted rationalism and science in the face of feudal obscurantism, a decaying capitalism will do the exact opposite.  This is the answer to the ‘mystery’ of why current governments promote religion, and take down the barriers between church and state.  After all, "secularism" is not an economic theory.  Neo-liberalism can do nothing else, even while it really puts profit and the almighty rupee at the center of life.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, November 7, 2012 

Happy 95th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the overthrow of Kerensky and the Russian rich.  In Spain and Greece, now is the time to start forming workers councils.  To celebrate, workers should seize government buildings in those countries.