Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CLASS is in SESSION

You either have it or you don’t.  Class that is.  ‘Classy’ actually means knowing what class or part of a class you are in, or were in, or are going to be in, or want to be in.  ‘Classy’ means that you understand how class affects everything.  That is the best version of classy, not the one that alleges you are close to some wealthy ‘taste-makers.’  

CHINA HEADS FURTHER TOWARDS CAPITALISM

Bloomberg.com reports that there are further moves towards more capitalist mechanisms in China by the new leadership under Xi Jinping.  Bo Xilai has been sentenced to life in prison, so the threat of a new ‘cultural revolution’ has been slapped down again.  The cultural revolution was a deformed attempt at introducing democracy and working-class power into the Chinese state, but it haunts the new aristocracy like a nightmare.  Members of the Politburo said they were considering ‘unprecedented’ economic reforms next month.  “Reforms’ in the mouth of these bureaucrats means a weakening of working-class protections.  The most egregious is the proposed taking away of the social ownership of the land, and its convertibility into complete private property that can be bought and sold by anyone.  The possession of the land by millions of agricultural worker/farmers is one of the remaining gains of the Chinese revolution of 1949. 

Proposed ‘reforms’ also include “reducing administrative approvals, breaking monopolies, lowering barriers to entry in the financial industry…” And, “making the yuan an international reserve currency in some markets, setting up funds to invest and manage state assets, adjusting the system of transfer payments for local governments and reducing government stakes in financial institutions.”  The Guardian reports that other reforms up for debate are 'making China's currency, the renminbi, convertible' and 'allowing full private ownership of banks, facilitating the development of the corporate bond market and loosening curbs on cross-border capital flows..' This would mean the currency's value would be set by world market forces, and lead to increasing privatization of the banking sector and the movement of capital in and out of China.  Premier Li Keqiang has ‘pledged to cut the state’s role in the economy.’ 

China has the largest working-class in the world.  It is also the largest country in which some modicum of mass Marxism still exists.  It is also the place where environmental concerns and a drastic response are necessary, and even possible, due to the commitment of the government to environmental actions far above what is proposed in the U.S. Chinese workers and farmers have been resisting the neo-liberal policies of the bureaucracy for years.  They will one day form revolutionary labor organizations and then workers councils and permanent organs of direct proletarian power and take this society back from the rich capitalists and the rightist leadership of the Chinese CP – who are sometimes  the same people.

P.S. - Further reforms have been announced, one of which is at least beneficial to workers because they won't be subject to legal harassment - that of ending residence permits in small cities and towns.  However, this allows a more free flow of labor in those areas, a rule of capital, which also benefits businessmen.  There have been noises that state money will be legally redirected to aid to cities - also a positive sign, as well as the abolition of labor camps, a tradition inherited from Stalin.  The rule on allowing a few more couples to have two children is getting the most press, but is relatively inconsequential. 

CELEBRATE the BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION and the CHINESE REVOLUTION

The Soviet workers’ insurrection started on November 7, but it was October 25th in the old Julian calendar.  Mao declared the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.  Fortuitous months.  Celebrate these two revolutions by coming to Mayday for a film showing, food and booze on November 7, 2013 at 7:00 PM.  From Tsar to Lenin,’ film, 45 minutes, narrated by Max Eastman.  Sponsored by May Day Books and the Lenin Study Group.

CLASS and the 9th WARD

Let’s apply class to the 9th Ward council race in Minneapolis, covering the ‘People’s Republic of South Minneapolis.’  The corporate Democratic Party has put up a Latina politician in the Ward who has been endorsed by the National Association of Realtors (“NAR”).  The NAR sent a mailer to those living in the Ward advocating they vote for her.  A NAR-connected PAC donated $8,000 to her campaign.   The NAR has fought efforts by cities and organizations that were trying to relieve people who were underwater with their mortgages, or anyone that calls for a moratorium on foreclosures.  Which is why they have intervened in this council election, as Ty Moore, the socialist/ Green/ SEIU backed candidate in the 9th Ward, advocates a moratorium on foreclosures in the city.  The NAR is the national association for the advancement of speculation in housing, and the useless occupation called ‘realtor.’  So … vote your class or vote based on ethnicity – that is the choice of Latino voters, and even some liberal whites or blacks. Many Latino activists are supporting Ty.  As any supporter of Emiliano Zapata knows, it is your policy and actions, not your ethnicity, that make the difference. 

Will the Democratic Party shut down the center of foreclosures, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office in the basement of City Hall?  They would not even think of it.  They support the Sheriff, who deports people, evicts people, cooperates with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, participates in racial profiling, arrests people for marijuana possession, arrested political activists during the RNC and on and on.  Not one elected Democratic can think of a way to get outside the repressive box their Party supports. Not one. Which is why the Democratic Party leadership is at one with drones and the NSA.  Which is why there is not even an organized left wing in the Democrats of any reality.  Even locally, the sad ‘revolution’ in the DFL sponsored by Eddie Feilen here in town falls far short, and always will.

ACA is a REPUBLICAN IDEA

Robert Reich has pointed out that the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) (or perhaps, for some, the Unaffordable Care Act) was initially suggested by Richard Nixon in February 1974.  Nixon was a moderate Republican who passed the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, signed the EPA and OSHA into law and instituted wage-price controls in the face of raging inflation.  Of course, then there is his dark side, which most know.  Stuart Butler of the Republican think-tank Heritage Foundation fleshed Nixon's version of corporatized ‘universal health care’ out in 1989.  In 1994 the billionaire Mitt Romney instituted it in Massachusetts.  It was then voted into being on a national level by Republican moderate Barack Obama in 2010.  After all, the actual text of the act was many times written by the HMO industry.  Wellpoint, a massive health insurer, has raised its earnings predictions because of it. UnitedHealth Group’s CEO is very excited by the ACA.  And so they should be.  Health organizations in our city are starting to hire, all because of this massive expansion of their health ‘business.’

EVEN PAULSEN KNEW

In 2010, Henry Paulsen, former Secretary of the Treasurer, admitted in his book, “On the Brink” that many of the executives at Lehman Brothers and Bank of America were criminals or had materially fabricated information.  Dick Fuld, head of Lehman, was basically guilty of criminal fraud and racketeering.  However, no criminal prosecutions by Holder, even to this day.  Wall Street walks, while Wall Street’s government talks.

Red Frog
October 30, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Living on Your Knees Lately?

"Viva Zapata," film by Elia Kazan, 1952

In the U.S. we don’t talk much about revolution.  If we do, it’s always in its counter-revolutionary form.  You know, the  "Tea Party Revolution." (Actually a counter-revolution.)  When Russell Brand recently told an obnoxious BBC interviewer that he wanted a left revolution, and wouldn’t vote, naive American commentators were stunned and confused.  Really?  What’s wrong with Russell? 

In fact, just south of us across the border, Mexico had a revolution.  Not in 1776, but starting in the early 1900s.  Emiliano Zapata was involved from 1909 until 1919, when he was assassinated.  This black and white film covers Zapata’s life as the most upright revolutionary of that long, confusing period of warfare that culminated in the social reforms of Cardenas in the late 1930s. 

Marlon Brando plays Zapata in a great performance for a gringo.  John Steinbeck wrote the script, which does not always adhere to historical truth.  Elia Kazan, a leftist who later denounced reds in the film industry before the McCarthy committee, directed Brando in this and “On the Waterfront.”  The volcanic Anthony Quinn plays his brother Eufemio, and Jean Peters his long-suffering and beautiful wife.  The film’s graphic quality is almost documentarian and photographic, reminiscent of Italian neo-realism.  The story centers around Zapata’s unwavering position to give land back to the poor campesinos of Morelos and every other state.  In order to do that, the farmers had to oppose the dictatorial hand of the federal government and the troops who back up the local landlords and hacienda owners.  Zapata's first revolutionary act was to lead a land occupation, after much time spent in frustrating negotiations with lying landlords.

Steinbeck’s script makes several left political points, then backs off and makes some liberal clich├ęs about the inevitable corruptions of power or uselessness of warfare.  The script does show the need to meet violence with defensive violence, how giving up weapons can be fatal, and to stick to your principles even after you 'win.'  It is not specific as to the actual nature of Zapata’s position on land.  Zapata supported Indian communal ownership of land and older village rights to lands, forests, and water, and the breakup of the hacienda system. Zapata, after all, spoke fluent Nahuatl, the native language.  His Ayala plan is not mentioned, nor is Zapata’s work on an agrarian party, a land bank or sugar cooperatives at the federal level.  He could read and later became familiar with anarchism, neither of which the film indicates.  Zapata is portrayed only has an honest, romantic, instinctual rebel.  

Madero, who was the titular head of the first wave of the revolution that overthrew Porfirio Diaz, is shown as a clueless liberal in bed with the bloody military head, Huerta.  Huerta eventually imprisons, then kills him.  This made a strong impression on me, as many bourgeois liberals, like Castor and Pollux, have a military yang to their ‘yin’ - Obama/ Petraeus; Johnson/ McNamara; Carter/ Brezezinski; Clinton/ Cohen; Nixon/ Kissinger; Kennedy/ McNamara - all have their deadly doubles.

Huerta is later defeated in battle by Zapata and Villa in 1914, but both refuse to take national leadership. The famous photograph of the two of them is reenacted in the film, with them humorously running away the second after it is taken.  In a completely literary scene, Zapata is supposedly acting as President of Mexico in Mexico City after this victory.  There he responds to one Morelos farmer about abuses by his brother in the same way he was addressed by Diaz earlier.  In the film's initial scene Zapata and a group of Morelos farmers talk to Diaz and Zapata makes the same objection about the lack of time as the young man he has just put down.  Zapata realizes his hypocrisy and rushes back to his hill-side shack to avoid the 'corruptions of government.'  In Morelos state for several years after that the federal government did not dare to tread, and the campesinos and poor farmers were the power.

One sinister character in the film is the Madero representative, who might be a guy named Robles Dominguez.  This character encourages Zapata to stay true to land reform, even in the face of Madero’s hesitations, and later becomes a traitor.  He sets up Zapata’s assassination at the courtyard of the hacienda of San Juan Chinameca, this by the forces of the liberal/conservative president Carranza.  I’m not sure if this person is a creation of Steinbeck’s or a real person, but he makes little sense.

The emotional issue in the film is the relationship between Zapata and his wife Josefa, again probably a creation of Steinbeck’s.  Zapata falls in love with the daughter of the richest businessman in his town of Anenecuilco.  Yet both father and daughter look down on Zapata, who at this time supposedly didn’t have any farm or property, even though he was a famous horse trainer.  These scenes reflect poorly on the grasping money-love of the local businessman.  When Zapata is named a ‘general’ by Madero, they suddenly grow fond of the stiff love-sick man with bandoliers.  Actually by this time Zapata had been elected head of the town council.  Josefa ends up marrying him, then living in his dusty house on a hillside that her father warned would be her fate, fearing for Emiliano’s death, which she quite correctly divines.  Zapata is shown as refusing land given him by Madero as a bribe, so he never got rich by being a general of the southern army. 

At the end of the film, the ‘spirit’ of rebellion in the form of his great white horse escapes to the mountains.  The farmers insist that Zapata is not dead, as you ‘cannot kill an idea’ – he is waiting in the hills to be called on again. However it was another 20 years before land reform of any kind came to Mexico.  The Zapatista indigenous rebellion against corporate/landlord/military power in Chiapas in 1994 shows that this might be true, because the land question is still not solved.

Adolfo Gilly’s great history of the confusing stages of the Mexican Revolution indicates that in 1914 the Mexican proletariat was not strong enough to hold power, and that Zapata’s campesino/farmer revolution was limited in that regard.  Given the development of the Mexican working class both in the U.S. and in Mexico since then, that is no longer true.  Where is our proletarian Zapata?

Red Frog
October 27, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dystopia In Books Begins?

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K Dick, 1968

I think I know people who are really androids.  Their lack of affect and emotional intelligence gives them away.

If you saw the film ‘Blade Runner’ when it came out in 1982, you probably were slapped in the face by the story and setting.  From my experience, that film was the first big screen version of an American dystopia, following on foreign films like Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ and Godard’s “Alphaville.’  Many films have since borrowed some of the concepts – ‘Total Recall,’ the ‘Terminator’ series, part of ‘The Matrix,’ ‘Star Wars, ‘Cloud Atlas’ and ‘District 9,’ – but it set the standard.  It concluded the period of ‘invading monster’ stories, except the monsters had won.  What is evident is that the humans were now the ‘monster,’ as these dystopias are self-inflicted.  Blade Runner was very loosely based on this seminal book, although the film's name is not from the book, but borrowed from William Burroughs.  The film is a LA space-noir directed by Ridley Scott.  It captures the mood of this book, but butchers the story, and the progressive points it made.

Dick quit college to avoid ROTC in 1952 and lived in the Bay Area, writing more than 30 highly-regarded science fiction books.  You could conjecture that the Beats and Hippie-dom influenced Dick’s science-fiction writing, as it was issued in that revolutionary year – 1968 – from the heartland of the hippie movement, San Francisco. 

The surprising thing about this book is its progressive message.  Much U.S. science fiction, unlike progressive Soviet science fiction, brings us into a backward world of high-tech fascism or medievalism. This book doesn’t.   

It is 2021.  Noir San Francisco after a nuclear war that killed millions, and made the planet a barren wasteland.  Most upscale people have escaped to the equally barren but not radioactive world of Mars, where android slaves do the dirty work for the humans.  Back on earth are nostalgics who don’t want to leave, or those who are ‘specials’ – a working-class group of rejects who cannot procreate or go to Mars because the radioactive dust has partly damaged them.  Their insulting name is ‘chickenheads.’  Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter assigned to kill androids who escape Mars after killing humans, and hide on earth.  He’s fully human. 

Most humans on the planet follow an ersatz religion called “Mercerism” – a thinly disguised term for mercy.  Television consists of one station showing a burgling idiot 24/7 called “Buster Friendly,” who is really an android and hates Mercerism.  Mercerism unites all humans and makes them ‘empathetic’ – the most important word in this book.  The humans revere animals, bugs, birds – any living thing – as most have died in the nuclear war.  In fact it is so important that an industry creating electric animals has appeared to comfort people who cannot afford a real animal or pet.  This is where Deckard’s electric sheep comes in.  The only meal shown on this planet involves a meal bought by Isidore the special - a bottle of expensive wine, peaches, bean curd and cheese – and no dead animals. (Dick didn’t realize cheese would have had to be made from rare or non-existent cows, and would have been prohibitively expensive for the poor special Isidore to afford.)  Mercer is shown in videos climbing up a hill like Sisyphus, being stoned like Christ, yet continuing to love and advise the humans, including Deckard. 

The androids on the other had are intellectual, but cold.  They have no empathy or emotional intelligence.  In fact their physical intelligence is lower too, as humans are faster.  The bounty hunters like Deckard use a test that measures humanity by asking humans and androids questions that include bad treatment of animals in each one.  If they don’t react to the brutality to animals quickly enough, Deckard knows them to be a robot / android, as you can't tell by just looking at them.  And he kills them if they are on his list of escaped killer androids.  In a key scene, an escaped female android snips 4 legs off of a 8-legged spider just to see if it can still walk.  She does this in front of Isidore, a ‘chickenhead’ who has offered to help them, even though he finally figures out they are androids.  He is horrified at this brutality.  It is reminiscent of little human boys who torture animals.  Later, a sexy android named Rachel pushes a living goat off a roof to its death to get back at Deckard.

The U.N. is a force for good on the planet – and the Soviet’s still exist.  A creepy rich company called the Rosen Corporation makes living android robots, which sometimes go rogue.  They have just created an advanced version, the “Nexus VI.” They lie and try to bribe Deckard with a fake owl to protect their profitable android business. 

I contend that Dick was a virtual vegetarian and was making a point about the sorts of persons who lack ‘empathy’ for living things, and thus lack humanity.  In 1968 in the U.S., in the midst of massive civil rights and anti-war movements, of back-to-the-land and organic food movements, it was no secret who that might be.  The ‘androids’ were certain cruel humans. 

The key moment comes when Deckard, after killing a record 6 escaped androids in one day, starts feeling sympathy for the androids too.  In his fights with them, they have made simple intellectual mistakes, which belies even their intelligence level.  Deckard feels this way after he has sex with Rachel, a Nexus VI android.  Sex with androids is a crime in human society.  He can’t kill her afterwards, as he’s been advised to do by a more ‘blood-thirsty’ bounty hunter.  Instead he is obsessed with getting a live animal, no matter the cost.  This is the only thing that brightens his life.  He decides to quit the bounty-hunter business because his empathy cannot allow him to kill androids anymore.  After all, a few of them were just trying to hide, had talent and evidently had not killed anyone. They had been slaves. He even identifies himself as ‘Mercer’ at one point after he walks up a hill in the desert and is stoned, so there is a bit of the hipster Jesus in him.

Mercy wins.  A rarity.  Animals are revered.  A rarity.  The human community actually improves for one of its members.  So ‘can’ an android dream of having an electric sheep?  Perhaps, perhaps.  But the odds are long.

Red Frog
October 24, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Monsterology - The Endless Halloween

"Monsters of the Market," by David McNally, 2013

If you feel exhausted at the end of the work day, your eyes are tired and blurry, your back is sore, your hands hurt from carpel tunnel or repetitive motions; or perhaps too many cuts and bruises, knees aching from bending down, or coughing from what is in the work air.  And your mind plain doesn’t want to do anything but watch shitty TV and drink.  Then you are experiencing the ‘body’ impact of capitalism.  Not just from work, but from alienated work.  If you are in some countries, you hope to make it to ‘retirement’ – that pleasant land beyond forced labor - but will you?

This book sheds light on the body-part issues that underlie the  vampire/ zombie/ monster mania of present culture, highlighting it using materialist methods.  McNally wrote a chapter in the book “Catastrophism” (reviewed below) that explained the class nature of the zombie meme.  That eye-opening chapter is derived from this book.  After all, vampires didn’t come out of nowhere.  They are based on actual material life, not really on people who literally suck blood out of necks with fangs.  Count Dracula was a real person, Vlad the Impaler of Transylvania, who put enemies heads on spikes and 'drank their blood' to supposedly make himself stronger - not a fake movie character.  Could the vampire fear be based on the young Millenial generation’s trepidation towards life-long marriages or jobs, which can be arenas where someone figuratively 'sucks the blood out of you'?  Same with zombies – do young Millenial’s want to be zombie workers, covered in scars? Or are there some young people who want to be the upscale vampires of the '90210' class of Beverly Hills?  I.E., suck or be sucked?

THE GOTHIC MARX

As McNally points out, Part II of the first volume of ‘Capital’ by Karl Marx is filled with images of the brutal work endured by English workers in the 1800s.  Marx compares the capitalists to vampires and werewolves, who literally suck the life-blood out of the working class in the process of commodity production, turning many workers into zombies working endless hours at little pay.  Marx repeatedly likened the whole system to a ‘monstrous machine’ that preys on the bodies of the living.  Marx doesn’t limit his analysis to England or Europe, but refers to the ‘monstrous’ conditions in the colonies - “Africa … a preserve for the commercial hunting of black skins” and “the entombment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”  It is no accident that the key zombie story in American culture originated in Haiti out of the lives of enslaved sugar-cane workers.   

Now that the conditions of the 1800s in Europe and the U.S. have been exported to Nigeria and Bangladesh and China, nothing really has changed except the location of the blood-sucking and bone-breaking.  The majority of people there have also been forced off the land and into urban areas, into precarious and dangerous employment in the ‘planet of slums,’ as Mike Davis puts it. ("Planet of Slums", reviewed below.)  Where ‘the capitalized blood of children‘(Marx) in English factories and mines is now visited on Indian and Pakistani children.  As Marx put it, capital came into the world ‘dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.’

McNally calls this flavor of analysis ‘Marxist Gothic’ and he insists this literary method was used by Marx for a reason.  In the second section of Capital, Faust’s descent into hell is consciously paralleled by Marx when he descends into a description of the lives of English workers.  After all, pure numbers and formulas like M=MP+LP=C=M’ do not do justice to what actually happens to many working people, soldiers and sailors when they work under the whip of capital. 

The book, “The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism,” (reviewed below) explores what I call ‘sado-capitalism’ in the legend of Procrustes – a Greek bandit who stretched short people or chopped off parts of the too-long legs of tall people – all to make them ‘fit’ his iron bed, i.e. into Margaret Thatcher’s ‘system.’  McNally analyzes various English literary works to reveal the conditions under which the English working classes were first cut off from the land, then forced into factory, mine or mill labor.  Through it all he focuses on the ‘body’ issue, as capital cannot survive without using the bodies of the living. 

CULTURE REVEALS

McNally looks at Rembrandt and Hogarth paintings of dissections, the Dickens book, ‘Barnaby Rudge’; the Shakespeare plays, ‘Coriolanus,’ and ‘King Henry the Sixth (2nd Part)’ and most importantly, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ to illustrate the themes of bodily destruction and plebian revolts in England, the birthplace of capitalism.     

The latter works were all reflections of powerful working-class rebellions in the 1600s and 1700s - Kett’s Rebellion; the Midland Revolt, the uprising of the Luddites, the Gordon riots.  Shakespeare, Dickens and even Shelley, the most radical, were sympathetic to the rebellions but never joined them, as they were liberals, not radicals. 

McNally’s handling of “Frankenstein,” given its place in American film history, is the most interesting.  The Monster was not a mute in the book, as Karloff insisted on playing him in the film.  Instead a good part of the book is a paen to rebellion spoken by the monster against ‘society.’  The body parts he was made of were stolen from executions, mortuaries and graves by Dr. Frankenstein.  This practice disgusted British workers, as proletarian bodies, even after death, were still claimed as ‘things’ and commodities by the capitalists. (Bloomberg.com even had a story on October 17, 2013 about the selling of hair, blood, human eggs and kidneys by desperate American workers.)  The ‘wretched’ Monster’s speech is about revenge against Dr. Frankenstein and his family members.  The ending of the book is a rebellion of proletarian sailors against a captain who is sending their ship into the cold of the arctic with little chance of return. All this is butchered in the American version of the film.

McNally locates Shelley’s politics alongside her husband, Percy Shelley, and her father, the proto-socialist & Jacobin writer William Godwin. 

Of note, the severe ‘vagrancy’ laws that were instituted against Irish and English workers by the English ruling class in the 1600s and 1700s made a return to the U.S. mainland in the vagrancy laws aimed against black workers in the post-Civil War south.  (See review of “Slavery by Another Name,” reviewed below.)  It seems that much of the brutality of American life we owe to our rich English ancestors, especially in the south.  Even the term ‘cracker’ was an insult used by propertied English referring to the slightly ridiculous comedic skills of those dispossessed rural English proletarians. (i.e. to ‘crack’ jokes)  Later this term was combined by black people in the south with those who ‘cracked whips’ under slavery to describe a strata of poor white workers who lorded it over blacks as their pitiful form of class arrogance. 

FANTASTIC REALISM

McNally ends his book with a section on recent vampire and zombie news and literary stories, films and songs from Africa, a region that is at the bottom of the capitalist world system.  Africa, however, is not the only place these stories are found – others can be located in the mountain uplands of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, where armed gringo’s are rumored to extract the fat out of children to grease the machines of ‘El Norteno.’

Southern Africa is where rapacious capitalism has generated wars over cell phone minerals, terminally polluted areas around oil fields, indebted it to World Bank SAPs, begun to buy up massive tracts of land and introduce the money/debt economy.  Africa reflects this recent investment by capital in witchy stories of cash and body parts, which McNally points out, is not a reflection of some racist idea of ‘primitive’ culture but a reflection of the ‘now.’

The word, ‘nzambi’ is a Yoruba word describing a dead man who can return to visit his family, to do good or evil.  Stories of humans who spew money like ATMs; of children stolen and disappeared; of people eaten by diamonds; of pythons in prostitutes’ vaginas that collect her vomited bank notes; of a man who gains wealth by killing his wife and drinking her blood; of the murderous harvesting of body parts for money, or selling the skins of children; of vampire pits beneath work sites; of people captured and turned into zombies; of witches who accumulate huge amounts of money like magic, or dead witches that invite the living to marry them to become rich.  These are all reflections of various forms of money magic in a society whose tribal or family unity is breaking down to be replaced, not by capitalist industry per se, but by a rentier economy, a financialized world of manic selling and bloody violence over extractive commodities.  One commentator called it ‘cannibal capitalism.’  Africa is now a victim of recolonisation and wars, not over ethnicity, but over economic issues. 

McNally highlights recent news reports out of a small village in Nigeria, Owerri, in which a young boy disappeared, only to have his head found, along with 20 others, in the house of a local rich hotel owner.  Riots ensued, and the stores, hotels, Pentecostal churches and businesses of the rich were all burnt down.  One rumor even insisted 200 penises were kept in a goat’s belly in a freezer in the same house.  The disappearance of children, either by being sent off to work in other cities, and never to return, or by being killed in road accidents, or actually kidnapped and killed or abused, is part of the living nightmare of parents in present-day Nigeria.

McNally also looks into the Nigerian author Ben Okri and his cycle of novels, “Famished Road,” which depict what is happening to Nigeria under this cannibal capitalism.  Okri urbanizes the forest-bound colonial-period writing and images of Amos Tutuola, updating it into the sprawling mega-ghettoes of Lagos.  McNally again combines political economy and literary analysis to expose the dark reality of African capitalism – a reality that Marx would be no stranger to. 

Recently I just passed through the Zombie Pub Crawl - a street festival of zombiefication - on the West Bank in Minneapolis near our Mayday Bookstore, attended by thousands of young people dressed as zombies.  However, the ostensible point of the event - consuming beer - would be different if the 'zombies' turned over a police car or marched on City Hall or the Federal Building.  But they don't.  And that is the tale of our mostly passive cultural environment today.  Yet there is still something of a cultural criticism in this event nonetheless, which cannot be hidden.  It was started by anarcho-punks, not bar owners.  After all, do you want to be a zombie for your life? 

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
October 20, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Government Fails


I'm A Gettin’ Gone on the 17th? 

Do we need to get our helmets on?   After all, Michelle Bachmann thinks the end times are at hand.   The 'debt ceiling' is coming up fast.

Nancy Pelosi admitted yesterday in Salon.com that the Democratic Party had been ‘enabling’ the Republican Party for many years.  This should not come as a shock to anyone who has followed the neo-liberal path of the Democrats since Carter.  Their whole position was never based on principle, but only related to a macabre dance with the other capitalist party.  Uppermost in their minds was: “What Will the Republicans Do?”  (WWRD)

It was relayed on Washington Week PBS program that Nevada senator Harry Reid, a conservative moderate, is the ‘backbone’ in Obama’s spine during these shutdown negotiations, leading the Democrats – for the first time – to say ‘no.’  Which tells you which wing of the Democratic Party Obama is in. 

The New York Times reported that the Koch brothers recently gave marching orders to the Republicans to prevent a debt meltdown, which would threaten Treasury bondholders, the U.S. currency and the stock market.  The Koch brothers have billions invested in the latter, which might have something to do with their position.  This is why Boner came up with the idea of raising the ‘debt limit’ for another 6 weeks. 

If the U.S. stopped paying bond interest and its other bills, its credibility would take a dive, and might endanger its role as a ‘reserve’ currency and a place where many in the world – like the Chinese - stash their cash.  It would certainly lead to layoffs and a return of a recession – or worse.  BusinessWeek magazine has said that default would be many times worse than the Lehman collapse, as the U.S. owes trillions, which could result in a domino effect of bill-paying failures.

Obama declared to Bloomberg.com that ‘the bond markets will decide who gets paid’ if the debt limit does not get raised.  Could anyone be more blunt about who calls the shots in the Obama presidency? 

The ‘grand bargain’ is still the subtext Obama is using to get the Republicans to pull back from the partial government shutdown and the debt-limit fight.  Everyone has already forgotten about the sequester.  But make no mistake, social security and Medicare are on the backroom table.

This crisis has once again established that the U.S. economy and its two-headed ‘business party’ political system has become untenable.  It is a laughing stock and leftists should make the most of it.  The weakness of the Tea-Party Neo-Confederates can lead to a move to the left over the whole political spectrum. 

Red Frog
October 12, 2013  

Monday, October 7, 2013

No Political Healing


"What It Is Like To Go To War,” by Karl Marlantes, 2011

This book could be used as a primer by intelligent members of the U.S. military brass on how to handle the stress of killing and being around death constantly.  It is a way for soldiers to deal with the experiences they face and heal, and if applied, could make the U.S. military a more efficient machine.  Marlantes seems to convey that this is the book’s main point.  Because of this focus, navigating around his advice on preventing PTSD among soldiers becomes harder, even for some veterans.  I am not a veteran, but I have been around members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Vets For Peace for years.  Neither of these groups is mentioned by Marlantes, and there is a pretty obvious reason why. 

At the books’ end, Marlantes says there should be “no violence except to protect someone from violence” and “the substitute for war is not peace…the substitutes are spirituality, love, art and creativity, all achievable through hard work.”   If you look at these two statements, the first rationale does not apply to Vietnam at all, and the second is merely contradictory and obscure.  Yet he volunteered to fight in Vietnam, with misgivings, and supported the invasion of Iraq both times.  He doesn’t go into detail on other wars, but no doubt he has initially supported every U.S. intervention since Vietnam, as he seems to have a fondness for invasions and interventions styled as ‘humanitarian.’ His comparison of Hitler and Sadaam Hussein is a dead giveaway.  Then he says Vietnam and Iraq II were mistakes.  At one point, he says he’d only fight if the enemy was ‘on the other side of the river’ in the U.S. mainland.    If this seems contradictory, you are not alone.  I mentioned this to a vet friend of mine, and he said Marlantes was a ‘slow learner.’ 

That is an understatement.  But I don’t think it is about learning. 

As I pointed out in the review of “The Yellow Birds” (below), dealing with war only on a personal level is insufficient.  Personal healing without political healing is inadequate for a whole society. Actually, they go together.  And political healing does not consist of constantly celebrating ‘the Warrior” in some kind of perverted Spartan worship based on Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly.  Yet this has been the ‘solution’ in the present-day U.S., something Marlantes praises.

Marlantes hides his class background, but he went to Yale, enlisted voluntarily in the military, then went on to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship while in the military – and from there decided to go to Vietnam.  So it is pretty clear he was probably a well-off kid in Oregon, probably from a small-business family.  Today he works as a highly-paid business consultant for global energy companies.  He said he joined the army – or as the literature student in him describes it – the ‘Temple of Mars’ - in a “contradictory mixture of patriotism, genetic imperative, the draft, a yearning for transcendence and escape from the hum-drum, a need to prove my manhood, and just plain self-testing and curiosity.” He says he knew the Vietnam War was ‘wrong,’ but he went anyway.  Go figure. 

Marlantes combines a recounting of his personal experiences in Vietnam around Khe Sanh as a lieutenant and unit leader. (His book, ‘Matterhorn,’ is a fictional version of that war).  He refers to the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Bagavad Gita, Krishna, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Zen, Bushido, Soren Kirkegaard, the Grail story, ancient Irish tales and Cuchulainn in the text – all in the service of both obscuring the essential political-economic reality that dictates wars and providing high-brow background in his attempt to understand what ‘warriors’ do.  It mostly adds up to a large group of conflicted ‘humanist’ rationalizations, adrift from any class understanding. 

This part of the book will be useful to ex-soldiers, as Marlantes admits to enjoying warfare sometimes and understands what happens to soldiers during war and afterwards.  He doesn’t lie to you as a reader or himself.  He is not a pacifist, and most won’t find that a problem.  Yet can the U.S. military stop turning the enemy into something less than human, something he recommends? Marlantes derides treating enemy soldiers like animals, but I doubt the U.S. military will be listening.  Marlantes points out that for the most part, the Marines did not take prisoners in Vietnam.  He recounts an incident where his unit didn’t take prisoners and explains why.  In the book “Kill Everything That Moves” (reviewed below) Nick Turse provides plenty of evidence that this was military policy. Marlantes is astute in pointing out how humans must be degraded to the level of ‘animals’ in order to justify applying extreme violence to them.  And what of vegetarians - do they pose a problem for the U.S. Marine Corps?  After all, most vegetarians have decided that animals should not be butchered.   

Nor is it about masculinity.  Marlantes seems to still have deep issues about masculinity and women in this book – as he feels women cannot really be ‘warriors’ in the same way as men. They instead are to nurture the warriors back to social health.  The ghost of Robert Bly weaves through this whole book.  

The first issue about war is whether a war is justified.  And that leads to all the rest. If you make the mistake here, the rest follows normally.  Marlantes makes this mistake serially.  The first issue about violence is when to apply it.  Defensive violence is justified.  Committing to your class is also justified.  Just as some people commit to the ruling classes’ government and its phony patriotism –committing to class war against this very same ruling class would mean the same thing.  That is what the NVA and the Viet Cong did, and they were right.  They actually were defending themselves.

The answer to war IS peace – but it is not through pacifism.  The road to peace is knowing why there are wars in the first place.  They are produced for the most part by differing economic interests, especially in a capitalist age.  The Bolsheviks understood this and took Russia out of the bloody disaster called World War I by overthrowing the war makers at home – bloodlessly, for the most part.  The Vietnamese have had peace for many years, but only after defeating the French, the U.S. and the Chinese.

Our own war makers still ride high in the saddle in the U.S., supported enthusiastically by the leadership and a majority of both parties.  Their recent defeat on the issue of Syria marks a unique moment in an almost unbroken run of war-making.  Marlantes book will be used by the military – if they make any use of it, and that is problematic - to make their military less destructive to U.S. soldiers and make war a bit more humane for the enemy.  It is the sort of tweaking that liberal imperialists would like to give the machine – perhaps just as a cover. Though he derides the alienated killing of drone warfare, ultimately Marlantes peddles the fantasy that war can be had without so much PTSD and so much brutality on the field.  This kind of advice, by itself, actually makes another war more likely.  Is that enough for you?

Red Frog
October 7, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

French Movies are Different From You and Me

"Something in the Air,” (‘Apres Mai’) film by Olivier Assayas, 2012

This almost coming-of-age story examines the lives of a group of creative anarchist high school students, starting in 1971 in France, a few years after the 1968 political earthquake in France.  The description on the Netflix sleeve pooh-poohs anyone interested in social change after 1968 as almost ‘old hat’.  Yet 1971 saw the largest anti-war demonstration in U.S. history in Washington, D.C.  Unlike careless dating of ‘the 60s’ – the early and mid-70s were still part of the same political period.  It only began to end in the mid to late 70s, after the liberation of Saigon and the counter-attack by the business class.

This is an intriguing film, with a great sound track including Phil Ochs, Soft Machine, Tangerine Dream, Captain Beefheart, Nick Drake, Incredible String Band, Booker T and some French bands I am not familiar with.  The film is probably based on Assayas own experience as a young man – ‘the artist as a young anarchist,’ if you will. 

The film involves discussions of anarchism, the Communist Party, “Trotskyites,” and Maoism, even name-checking the Situationists, displaying a political depth far above American films set in the same period.  The Trotskyists actually come out looking the best, though perhaps ‘too political’ for the ultimate purpose of this film. 

It displays the French (and Italian) counter-culture in all its laid-back, verdant and druggie glory.  The lead character Gilles actually walks around wearing tie-died T-shirts, even doing a light-show for a band.  These high school kids sell anarchist newspapers at the gates of the school, vandalize the school with slogans against police brutality, throw a Molotov cocktail at a guard shack, dress in helmets and clubs to fight police. They ride around on bicycles with tiny motors. They print and distribute leaflets, go to Paris for posters, and have confrontational meetings.  This is all familiar to those who participated in the events of the ‘60s and ‘70s, though these kids were ahead of American youth in their confrontational style.  At one point, a group of them including Gilles have to leave their idyllic country town just outside of Paris because one of them threw a bag of concrete on a guard who was chasing them, and severely injured him. They head across the border to Florence, Italy, where more anarchists and revolutionaries await.  This leftist youth rebellion, after all, was a pan-European and a world-wide phenomenon.

The tension of the story - as one anarchist who becomes a Trotskyist, only to later become a Maoist, says to Gilles – “You are either political and part of a group, or you are artistic and alone.”  This is a false choice, of course, but not to the director. 

Gilles, whose father is a TV producer of traditional detective stories (‘Maigret’), ultimately chooses art.  And Gilles is a really good artist.  His drawings of frescoes in Pompeii are excellent. Gilles is inspired to dress-down his corporate father for the shabby TV productions he makes.  Gilles first love dies in a firestorm at a Nellcote-like chateau full of hippies taking drugs and booze  (the moralistic penalty for such behavior?), while three others follow some kind of creative paths.  One boy is going to make the iffy move to Kabul, Afghanistan to work with a rug designer; one girl joins a leftist political documentary collective, only to be relegated to doing dishes and buying groceries; and Gilles, in spite of all his talent, ends up as a go-fer on a really-bad science-fiction film involving Nazis and monsters (there is actually a film like this…) None of their lives are turning out very creatively or politically useful.  The film ends in disappointing suspension, but then you only feel 2 years have gone by.  They are still young, after all.

Ultimately it seems that society really has no place for these kids, and that they may drift for years as internal exiles.  It is a great period piece, but also a reflection of what all youth go through at some point - though perhaps without so much politics ‘in the air.’  And that is a great loss to the youth of today.

Other reviews of books covering revolutionary French issues are below:  The current anarchism of “The Coming Insurrection” by the Invisible Committee; a view of 1968 in Paris, “In the Merry Month of May” by James Jones; a book by Paul Nizan on youthful pre-World War II radicals, “The Conspiracy;” and a book by Guy Debord of the Situationist International, “The Society of the Spectacle.”

Red Frog
October 4, 2013

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shut down the Republican Party

Is the ACA Worth Defending?



I don’t really talk about the Republican Party because it is like discussing the Nazi’s before they took power.  Not that I actually believe they ARE Nazis - except emotionally.  So there is really nothing to discuss or debate.  These virulent neo-Confederate reactionaries are mostly scum, especially their 30-member 'Tea Party" wing.  If I hear another southern drawl on TV or the radio talkin’ ‘bout ‘Bamacare” I’ll throw up. 

It was titled the “Affordable Care Act” ("ACA") and all the journalistic outfits that fall in with the Republican description should know better.

There may be moments of Libertarian sense in the Republican Party that oppose the NSA, the bombing of Syria and outlawing of weed, but these moments are more than made up for by the completely reactionary approach towards economics and society at large.  (See "Who is Ron Paul," below.) The Republicans are the joint approach of Neanderthal big capital and bug-eyed exploitative small capital combined in one nationalistic, Christian, authoritarian frenzy. Although here small-capital is in the driver's seat.  Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce, both Republican heavies, have condemned the shutdown.

After many years of Democratic Party 'compromises' and 'dialog' and 'bi-partisanship' - it is a first that they didn't bail.  The Democrats have been the Republican's chief enablers, not opponents.  Of course, watch out for a solution to this mess.  As they say, 'everything' is still on the table if they'd just let the government function for awhile.  

The underlying premise of the ACA, as I see it, is ‘universal health care.’ This concept is a partial undermining of the sole role of private capital and the 'market' in health care.  Now we know this is an abomination of Single Payer, its bastard Frankenstein, but nevertheless the ACA recognizes ‘in theory’ that all citizens should have health care.  And this, I am convinced, is what has the Republicans up in arms.  They feel health care should be a privilege, fully marketized, and thus totally disconnected from 'guvmint' - as should everything else evidently – like breathing clean air.  Oh, wait, they don’t like that either.  

Even the simple concept of 'government' - other than cops and soldiers and prisons and corporate welfare - seems to be under attack.  The Republicans have boiled government down to its essence - the repressive apparatus.  In this case, you think the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, the prison guards, the army, the federal police are all going home? The Army was given full pay by both the Democrats and the Republicans in an exception vote.  The others have been asked to work now, with a promise of pay later, which is already happening, starting with civilian employees of the Pentagon.

There are many bourgeois aspects of the ACA – primarily that it is being run by Big Pharma and Big HMOs as a monopoly.  That is the essence of private health care, of course.  Romney / Heritage Foundation came up with this method.  The ACA is creating a fuller capitalist monopoly ... but which can one day be turned into a public monopoly, I might add. These massive private entities are a base the Democratic Party leadership wants to cultivate.  It will degrade the quality union health plans that remain.  It refuses to bargain with the capitalist health industry for better prices.  There will be people that are not covered, in spite of the mandate, and people that will get over-priced plans, or plans they cannot afford.  And that last issue will be key, as private capital sets the prices.  I'm sure other issues are out there.

On the plus side of the ledger is that it puts into effect a ban on not covering people due to pre-existing conditions.  It covers young people until 26 under their parents plans – although in Minnesota we’ve had that for years.  It will allow people to quit shitty jobs and move and not lose health care.  What we have now is the expensive joke called “Cobra.”  And ultimately it will cover a part of the millions of people in the U.S. without health care – a sixth of the population of 330 million - and improve the health of those who sign up. It will lead to a reduction in medical bankruptcies. It will unclog emergency rooms. It might even remove the U.S. from being on the bottom rung of world-wide health care statistics.  

The Republican attempt to ‘shut down the government’ is in order to preserve, make no mistake, the death panels of the present private insurance industry as a commodity; to preserve the overpriced and underachieving health care system we have now; to preserve the insecurity of the ordinary worker facing unemployment; to preserve and maintain labor discipline by threatening the 'street' and no coverage.  This is a system where over 50% of U.S. ‘health care’ workers actually work in billing and coordinating the products of tens of thousands of private capitalist medical enterprises, not actual patient care.  This capitalist bureaucracy is one reason why our present private system is so corrupt, inefficient and expensive.  The Republicans have no alternative except leaving this criminal bastard system in charge.  Its broken and they don’t want to fix it.

Something has to be done about their actions.  The Democratic Party has allied with the Republicans on many issues, so their ability to stop this shutdown is questionable.  The population has to get involved.  Ordinary people are angry.  This is why even Marxists can oppose the Republican thugs successful attempt to shut down this capitalist government.  The problems of the ACA are exclusively due to its being a privatized plan, and the leadership of the Democratic Party doesn't want to hear this. 

Up to 800,000 federal workers are being furloughed now.  It is reported that a million more will be asked to work for free!  This is a body blow to the U.S. working class.  National Parks, meat inspections, airline inspections, nutrition assistance - all halted; Heat Start shut-down, parts of the health departments responsible for handling epidemics - the CDC - and many other key roles of government are being put in mothballs.  The unions and every other people’s interest group should call a mass demonstration in Washington D.C. and even occupy the U.S. Capitol.  We should make citizens’ arrests of the 30 Tea Party Neo-Confederates, or keep them locked in their offices.  Lets shut them down.  The people’s assembly could then institute an assembly of the real majority, and send the Neo-Confederates and their allies packing. 

Class war ... without weapons.

Red Frog
October 1, 2013