Monday, December 29, 2014

'The Sun Is God... heh huh'

"Mr. Turner,” a film by Mike Leigh, 2014

There are films to see on decent televisions at home, or in a pinch that small screen on computers.  This is a ‘big picture’ film that needs to be seen in a theater.  After all, a film about a painter will be ‘painterly.’  Director Mike Leigh attempts sweeping vistas of ocean or land, setting suns and steam, ships and seagulls, shorelines, farmer’s fields, lakes nestled in high hillocks or mountains, all back-grounding the sketch outings of J.M.W. Turner, the British romantic painter who lived from 1775 to 1851.  Turner himself cannot be bested on screen, at least in this film.  I would call Turner the first Impressionist, as he increasingly used light, natural phenomena and emotion, not always direct depiction, in his paintings.  He did not paint religious themes or burghers and royalty, or excel in clutter, and instead focused on nature and ‘maritime’ themes, including people ‘merry-making’ or working. 

Argh, there be SPOILERS beelow.

The film finds Turner at the mid-stage of his career, when he is already an accomplished painter, part of the Royal Academy of Art.  He was inducted into the Academy at the ripe age of 14 years old by Joshua Reynolds, one of Britain's top painters.   Tim Spall, one of Leigh’s semi-permanent acting company, plays Turner as a gruff misanthrope who underneath is extremely perceptive and passionate.  At one point, he makes fun of the egocentric young critic John Ruskin by likening Ruskin’s artistic taste to whether he likes one kind of meat or another.  In this film, Turner sees himself visually as an ugly and obese ‘gargoyle’ – so the film suggests perhaps his life was an attempt to find beauty.  Spall is an excellent actor, nothing like the usual pretty-boys or muscle-bound oafs that become ‘leading’ men.   His grunts say it all, and there is a lot of grunting in this film.

Turner’s only real friend in this film was his father, who faithfully bought paint powder, stretched canvases and cleaned up after his son.  They both had very bad marriages, and commiserated over alcohol. Turner himself is shown in this film cruelly ignoring the two children he had with his angry harridan of an ex-wife, even to the point of not attending one of their funerals.  He also ignores a ‘tetched’ woman, Hannah, who acts as his life-long home servant – at one point shoving her against a wall for sex and then walking away.  She was incoherently in love with him and he was too self-centered and crude to notice.  Turner visited the sea at Margate in south-eastern England quite a number of times and fell in love with an inn-keeper, Mrs. Booth, who had lost her husband.  At one point, he too grabs her sexually, but in this case it leads to them living together in Margate and later in Chelsea along the Thames in London. 

Leigh is a political director and, while he has never done a film like this, politics lurks in the background.  Turner feels compassion for a broke painter who asks him for £100, a painter who is later cast out of the Academy after a very public argument.  He eventually cancels his debt after hearing the extent of his suicidal poverty.  Turner himself actually set up an organization to help painters with health or financial problems – something which even today is quite forward looking.  A key scene involves a wealthy man attempting to buy all of Turner’s work for £100,000 - paintings, sketches, water-colors.  Turner turns him down, saying that the work is to be given to the British public for free.  Some of the work still resides in the British Tate gallery, but it has been scattered among several museums, against Turner’s wishes. 

In Turner's spirit, the film also pokes fun at the Royal Academy – a set of mostly pompous upper-class twits in this depiction.  Philistine British opinion led by Queen Victoria, which disliked anything not sufficiently naturalistic, also comes in for a slam.  Of especial significance is Turner’s painting of a slave ship dumping sick slaves into the ocean.  There was a massive anti-slavery movement in Britain, which resulted in it being peacefully outlawed through out the empire in 1833, more than 30 years before the U.S.  This painting implies Turner was part of that movement.

Turner dies in Chelsea, and on his death bed utters a line, perhaps understanding his last words were to be remembered: “The Sun is God” … then chuckles.  This poke at religion is something to be expected from Turner, who seemed to be a man far ahead of his time.

Red Frog
December 29, 2014 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Not the Post-Gender Society

"Marxism and the Oppression of Women – Toward a Unitary Theory,” by Lise Vogel, 1983

The U.S. women’s liberation movement, which was strong in the 1960s and 1970s, became ‘domesticated’ and dominated by corporate feminists in the 1980s or ‘radical’ feminists, who blame men and the ‘patriarchy’ for all problems.  The main concerns of the former became formal legal equality, 'leaning in,' the ‘glass ceiling’ and now, electing Hillary Clinton as President.  The latter were unable to take a systemic approach to oppression, and pursued a personal version of a cultural and 'sexual politics' regarding identity.  In the U.S. abortion rights are disappearing in many states, rape is an epidemic in certain areas, the ERA was never passed and women still do not have adequate child care, wages, legal protections or equal jobs.  Women all over the world, and even in the U.S., are still second-class citizens.  Why?

Vogel senses that corporate feminism has exhausted itself and that middle-class ‘radical’ feminism is losing theoretical traction too, which is why this book has been republished.  The book was written in the early 1980s when neo-liberalism and post-modernism were becoming dominant world-wide, putting an end to more radical perspectives among the feminists of the day – i.e. revolutionary and Marxist perspectives.  Vogel wants to bring back this kind of feminism, which looks at the material structure of society.

In this book Vogel carefully goes through socialist-feminists from the 1960s and 1970s who attempted to combine the various views of more modern feminism with the struggle against capitalism.  This also meant trying to theoretically analyze and absorb the issue of the ‘patriarchy’ and ‘sexual politics’ – a task which was impossible as Vogel found out, as they refer to two different sources of oppression.  Vogel in this volume comes up with what she considers to be a unitary theory of women’s oppression, thoroughly rooted in the writings of Marx (and Engels).  She says: “…his work provides the foundation for a theory of the relationship of women and the family to social reproduction in general and the capitalist mode of production in particular.”

As a consequence, Vogel locates ‘patriarchy’ in its proper historical place - ultimately an early stage of historical development, not a modern mode or relation of production, and later as a structure within families in capitalist society. Patriarchy overthrew ‘mother right’ - the matriarchy based on genetic inheritance - at the moment that property surpluses became inheritable and early class society began.  Engels called this the “world historic defeat of the female sex.”

What is perceptive about Marxism is that ‘the family’ or marriage – so wrapped up with personal, psychological and emotional meanings – is seen for what it is at bottom, an economic construct.  Vogel’s key insight is that under capitalism it is many times the site of the literal reproduction and maintenance of labor power, unpaid work mostly by women  The working-class family structure – starting with the birth of children, which can only be carried out by females at this point – provides a locus for new generations of workers to grow up to work in the offices, factories, farm fields, mines, transport, schools, warehouses and shops of modern capital.  Without an institution like this, capitalism would crumble.  Vogel takes basic insights of Marx and Engels on women and the family and fleshes them out, or corrects them.  Marxism to Vogel is not a static theory to be studied like the Talmud and memorized.  It is a living theory based on a method – like learning to read, practicing the scientific method, or learning to ride a bicycle.  She calls it 'lens' with which to view the world.
Many bourgeois feminists look down on Marx and Engels, claiming they have little to say about modern issues.  In Vogel’s long review of Marx, Engels, August Babel, Eleanor Marx, Clara Zetkin and Lenin’s writings on women – worth the price of the book alone - she tracks some of their errors and omissions, perhaps reflecting a nearly all-male Victorian labor movement.  She especially targets the standard formulation of the “women’s question’ among socialists.  Her left-criticism of Engel’s ‘The Family, Private Property and the State’ is especially lucid.  She cites statements that reflect a ‘biology is destiny’ view about women regarding their ability to work outside the home or the division of labor – while being silent on some key specifics of the family.  In addition Marx and Engels both thought that capitalism was destroying the working-class family by employing women and children.  This process might not be halted by working-class action - which was one reason they saw the family structure ending.  This clearly did not come to pass so quickly, though family dislocation is still more common among the working class than other classes.  

Vogel points out that the poverty of most workers in those days created a marriage based on sexual love and self-help, not inheritance as in bourgeois families. Prostitution oddly enough plays a role in the narrative, as the bourgeoisie of the time accused the communists of wanting to legalize it, while the Marxists accused the bourgeoisie of making it inevitable – within the family!  The socialists understood that death-do-us-part monogamy itself was a product of property transmission.  They understood the importance of women escaping the isolation of family life to work in the public world. The First International of the 1870s called for protective legislation against the horrible conditions endured by women and children workers, the latter being ‘robbed of their youth,’ and the former, of having no protections during gestation, child birth or after. 

Vogel elucidates the ‘emancipatory’ thread in Marx & Engels.  They emphatically championed women’s rights, repeating the utopian-socialist Fourier’s comment that the treatment of women is the measure of a society. As Marx put it in ‘The Holy Family,’ “The change in an epoch can always be measured by women’s progress towards freedom.”  Contrast this with recent statements by the present Muslim president of Turkey, Erdogan, who said women are not equal to men – this more than 150 years later!  In what condition do the women of Turkey exist in then?  In 1871 the International adopted a new rule allowing the establishment of female branches. Marx & Engels put forward a program for the Second International that said, ‘The emancipation of the producing class involves all human beings without distinction of sex or race.” 

Vogel’s own contribution to socialist feminism is in drawing out Marx’s insights about the ‘reproduction’ of the working classes.  She expands on the concept of the domestic labor carried out by women – the second shift and women's absolutely unique ability to have and nurse babies. Or as you might cynically call them, future wage slaves.

Some of her salient points, in no particular order:   
  1. The socialists of the day did not pay enough attention to the conditions of peasants and farm women. 
  2. Labor power (the ability to work) is split into two categories by Marx – necessary labor and surplus labor.  Necessary labor leads to individual consumption by workers.  Necessary labor involves what a worker needs to live for him or herself and any dependents.  Surplus labor is work done for the bosses’ profit. 
  3. Domestic labor is unpaid, and is part of the necessary labor used to maintain workers, children, the aged, the sick, the unemployed, etc. Having babies and nursing is ‘necessary labor.' 
  4. Unpaid domestic labor is mostly performed by women, and is the main material root of women’s oppression under capitalism.
  5. Migrant labor, prison & slave labor, off-shoring and the various stratas of the reserve army of the unemployed allow a substitute for population growth.  So the family is not the only modern locus for gaining a new workforce.  However, overall, population growth is central to capitalist production. 
  6. The tendency in modern society is for domestic labor to be privatized (restaurants!) and hence for wage work to increase for all.  There is also a tendency for all labor to be completely mobile, which also leads to the system extracting women from unpaid domestic work.
  7. Domestic labor is not a ‘pre-capitalist’ or a separate form of production.
  8. The capitalists do not like women taking time off work for child bearing or rearing, as it impedes their immediate profitability.  However, they also need to have workers in the future, so for them it is a contradiction.
  9. Equality between the sexes under capitalism is a product of the commodity exchange of labor power for a wage, which disappears as soon as the bargain is struck. As Lenin put it, ‘formal equality and social inequality.’  It is rooted in the material relations of production.  But this right is not purely formal as it begins to affect the way women view themselves, which is why struggling for democratic rights for women is not a diversion. 
  10. Vogel feels women’s organizations should involve all women, not just those of the working class.  She understands that women of each strata of society have different demands, so this might lead to a quite strange organization.
  11. There is tension between the necessary, supplementary work done at home and that given to the capitalist. 
The more chauvinist a society is, the more the working man can sit in a coffee shop or bar while the woman ‘invisibly’ toils at home.  Male chauvinism and the ‘patriarchy at home’ is a gift that capital gives to some men as a consolation prize for their insignificance, and as a result, splits the working class and makes it weaker and more easily exploitable.  As she puts it, the ‘ruling class encourages male supremacy within the exploited class.’

Vogel does not address the gender difference of physical force, but I think the strength of most men allows them to use physical intimidation and recklessness as a trump card.  Younger women are becoming stronger, more physically skilled and even good at self-defense.  However the majority of women, especially older ones or those who are in more chauvinist cultures, are more vulnerable.  This imbalance in strength and skills is certainly partly due to culture, but it also frequently exists as a biological fact. 

This somewhat dry theoretical material is nevertheless rich in accidental insights into life in the U.S.  Ours is a period where marriage and the birth-rate are both in decline, divorces more common, where most women work outside the home, where it takes two incomes – or more - to maintain a household.  Gay rights are growing and pro-family religious dogma weakening, men are taking on more home responsibilities, reproduction has become a choice, abortion partially legal.  Struggling single parents or couples without children are more common, sexual relations are more free.  Formerly private tasks of a household like child-care, growing food, education, care of the aged and cooking have been partially or fully outsourced. Of course, for wealthier families, nearly everything is outsourced.  Unemployment and precarious employment afflict the various strata of the reserve army of the unemployed, especially women.  

 All of these contradictory issues impact the essential ‘reproduction of labor power.’ This is the reason why ‘culture war’ issues have become so important, as the traditional capitalist family and a woman's traditional role is crumbling and something ‘new’ is arriving.  Something that can perhaps be called the 'neo-liberal family" and at the same time, presaging another kind of social unit.  Marx called the goal to be a ‘higher form of the family and relations between the sexes.’  When women across the globe come to full liberation, the closer we all come to a socialist society, which will remove class & property as the gauge of humanity and human relations. 

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
December 27, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Russian Connection

Why Are U.S. Oil Prices Dropping So Far and So Fast?

Cold War III:  The Ukrainian economy is in free-fall, something the U.S. media never talks about.  Faith in the Ukrainian banking system and economy is disappearing, the hryvnia currency has been halved in value and Ukrainian industrial production is cratering.  Ukraine has no money to pay for Russian gas and its foreign currency reserves are very low.  In Russia due to the drop in oil prices, the ruble has dropped so low in value that efforts by the Russian government central bank might not stem the tide.  There are now runs on food and other tangible goods as a recession is taking hold.  Some are even speculating about a ‘palace coup’ in Russia, which is a goal of U.S. foreign policy.  This could destabilize 1/6th of the globe if it came about, with no gain to the working classes.  The working classes of both countries are suffering due to the fight among the rulers.

You’ve heard of the somewhat bogus theory of ‘supply and demand’ – as if product over-production by firms is the only thing that drops prices.  Not really.  Over-production is built into a system of unplanned production – the capitalist market.  Which shows that the ‘magic hand’ of the market is really not very magical after all.  Government policy has a large role, as do the owners of those products and what they do in relation to production.  So does class struggle like strikes and the weather, war, advertising and lack of demand due to poverty, inequality or massive recessions.  Need we mention oligopolies and general price fixing, which has become the norm among world-spanning oligopolies.  OPEC is just such a world-spanning price-fixing cartel.   "Supply & demand" is pablum fed to the U.S. media and beginning Econ. 1001 students.

And when the geo-political aims of the dominant capitalist governments and the dominant capitalist ‘producers’ coincide?  Not hard to predict.  Patrick Smith is a former reporter for the International Herald Tribune and an active opponent of America’s aggressive foreign policy.  He was one of the first to point out that Kerry’s visit to Jeddah in early November came at the same time as a further hardening of U.S. policy towards Russia over the Ukraine.  Smith’s article appeared November 13 in  Kerry’s visit also came at a time when Russia had again proposed to process Iran’s uranium so it could not be used for weapons, a deal Iran finally accepted.  In other words, a deal over the Iranian nuclear issue was at hand.  A deal that would upset both the U.S. and the Saudis.  They don’t want a deal.

In Smith’s words, based on his inside source:
“…the visit had to do with Washington’s unabated desire to ruin the Russian economy. To do this, Kerry told the Saudis 1) to raise production and 2) to cut its crude price. Keep in mind these pertinent numbers: The Saudis produce a barrel of oil for less than $30 as break-even in the national budget; the Russians need $105.”

To this day, the Saudi Royal Family (and the little Gulf principalities that follow in their wake) are still refusing to cut production as they would normally do, because they too want to damage Russia’s economy – and Iran’s and Venezuela’s.  These are all countries that do not jump to the dictat of the U.S.  Just today the Saudi’s again denied a reporter’s question that they had an interest in undermining the Russian economy. 

The message from the blinkered American news media is that ‘oh, oil fracking is the source of overproduction and the low costs of oil. Ain’t cheap prices great?”  Oil fracking is only a small part of the world industry however.  And indeed, the U.S. fracking industry could become collateral damage.  Some companies are already producing oil they cannot afford.  If oil drops below $55 a barrel, Bloomberg sees a third of the industry shutting down.  Many firms started up due to the almost free-money policy of the Federal Reserve.  This has created the present oil and gas fracking bubbles, along with some others like in rental housing, and the stock market gas itself.  It has been recently reported by Smith that the gas fracking industry in the U.S. is really behind sanctions - as they want to separate Russian gas from Europe and take over that market.

If you remember in Chile in 1973 the American government, the CIA and the ‘intellectuals” at the University of Chicago promised to make the “Chilean economy scream.”  This was because a socialist, Allende, had been elected president.  Not long after that, a military coup sponsored by the U.S. occurred, and the Pinochet dictatorship was established.  This tactic has not changed 41 years later.  Now they want to make the ‘Russian economy scream.’  Just like they tried to make the Cuban economy ‘scream’ for 53 years.  Or the Iraqi economy ‘scream’ after the first Gulf War, which killing hundreds of thousands and went on until Bush II’s invasion.  Or the continuing boycott against Iran.  Or Yeltsin’s and America’s idea of introducing capitalism overnight in Russia, which created a 10 year depression after the Yeltsin-led counter-revolution in 1991.  This made Russian workers and farmers scream. 
It is people that they want to make scream.  That is the price for bringing Ukraine into the U.S. orbit.  Which is part of why Obama just signed a bill put forward by Republican hardliners to give military weapons to Ukraine.  This will aid the Ukrainian fascist militias fighting pro-Russian separatists.  Ukraine has now dropped its unaligned status.

The hardships these policies are having on the Ukrainian and Russian peoples is growing.  The working classes in these two countries need to organize themselves independently. But this is not a an even situation.  It once again proves that any time the U.S. comes around seeking to promote ‘democracy’ they are really there to destroy.  Beware of American governments bearing gifts. 

Red Frog
December 22, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

No Island is a Man

Cuba Libre?

Cold War II:  After 53 years of U.S. hostility to Cuba, something may be changing.  A policy held hostage by supporters of Batista in Miami, moronic anti-communists and the full weight of the U.S. military and CIA is now challenged from within part of the U.S. ruling class.  The Right's visceral hatred of Castro and Che led to plots against one and the death of the other.  After all, no country in the world except Israel supported the cruel U.S. boycott of Cuba.  Obama is desperate to do the things he only talked about 6 years ago - due to the mass refusal of voters in the 2014 elections to back the Democrats.  He  perhaps realized he does not need to continue to pander to all forms of Republicanism - just most.  Well and good.  It is time to celebrate Cuba’s resistance to the imperial colossus to the North.  ‘David’ has won.

Yet there is a hook here.  Obama said the obvious – ‘why keep doing something that has failed…”  What has failed is ‘regime-change.’  This statement reveals that the real goal of ‘normalization’ is counter-revolution - by other means.  The Cuban Communist Party is aware of this, but they too are now to be subjected to the siren song of privatization and capital intrusion.  IF this policy is fully enacted, which is doubtful at this point given the strong reactionaries in the U.S.  Ironically, it was a 1996 law enacted under Clinton that will give them the most ammunition to stop normalization.
U.S. corporations are salivating at building more internet architecture and tourist hotels, creating agricultural and energy dependencies, gentrifying Havana’s aged Malecon and the like.  Not to mention importing the best cigars and rum in the Caribbean, or using Cuba as a cheap source of cane sugar and manufacturing labor. Or prying Cuba away from Russia. Obama glorified getting the U.S. version of the internet – and the NSA - into the Cuba.  It might not be that easy...

The Caribbean sea was named for the Caribs, a tribe who were exterminated by the Europeans.  Let that be a warning.  If the travel restrictions actually go away, visit Cuba.  This tropical Atlantis is worth the trip.  If the forces of corporate capital remake the island into a neo-Cancun, the Cuba of today will be a dim memory.  Let us hope the Cuban working classes are strong enough to resist the road of Poland or Hungary.  Cuba should remain an independent country with a nationalized economy, and an organized working class able to go forward to real socialism in league with others in Latin America. 

That is the final Cuban liberation.  Let’s drink to that.  That would be a Cuba Libre without the Coca-Cola.

Red Frog
December 21, 2014
Happy Solstice!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

No Justice, No Peaceful Shopping

"The Whole System is Guilty as Hell!”

This is one of the chants at today’s civil disobedience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, USA.  Led by a young black-led group – “Black Lives Matter” – it garnered perhaps nearly 2,000 people interested in disrupting the orgy of commercialism that is the Mall and Christmas.  The protest was against racist police brutality and the legal system that supports it. 

One side of this huge mall was shut down – 3 levels of one side of the ring of shops – for nearly 2 hours.  The mall cops, city cops and State troopers walled it off after the crowd left.  This mall is a hard place to control, as there are many entrances, and protesters more or less look like shoppers.  Perhaps with a fewer bags in hand and more youthful.  It was reported that 20 people were arrested. The TV press naturally started to focus on shoppers whose experience was disrupted.  Or demanded to know why more weren't arrested, given this was 'private property.'  The Bloomington city attorney promised prosecutions to the 'full extent of the law.' While they released 20 with citations, they may go after organizers.  December 23 the city attorney confirmed the would go after the organizers, proving that she really works for the Mall of America and no one else.

Most of the crowd were young white people.  The local organizers had guts to target a national mall like this.  Their violation of the ‘sacred right’ of private property was intentional.  They were first offered a cold parking lot a block from the mall, which was an insult.  So, like Occupy, which thought that public parks actually ‘are’ public (and we found out that they are not…) the organizers made the Mall, which hosts thousands of people each day, an actually ‘public’ place for a brief period of time.

Red Frog
December 20, 2014
Happy Coming Solstice!!!!

The Real Korean Comedy

The End of Free Speech for Sony Pictures, Seth Rogen and America!

Cold War I:  The American media just can’t get enough of the tempest in a teapot that is the ostensible North Korean hacking ‘scandal’ into Sony Pictures.  The female anchors of the smoothly sonorous and righteously indignant National Government Radio (“NPR”) are having a shit-fit over North Korea supposedly messing with Sony’s internal intranet.  Propaganda?  What propaganda?  They certainly didn’t spend this much time on the epic U.S./Israeli malware hack into the Iranian atomic program.  And, as some techies have pointed out, the evidence of North Korea's involvement evidence is thin.

I only have to laugh. 

Remember, the U.S. government has several hundred nuclear missiles pointed at North Korea.  We also invaded north Korea at one point, and keep thousands of troops across a thin border with them.  Sony Pictures, which I might remind you, is a JAPANESE company, approved a ‘comedic’ film featuring the assassination of the present leader of North Korea.  Ha Ha.  Japanese colonialists occupied Korea from 1876 until the end of the Second World War – an event that led to the formation of North Korea through a partisan struggle. Sony was formed right after World War II and today is headquartered in Tokyo.   

Now who directed this unseen film?  Seth Rogen.  Is he a famous comedic actor involved in hysterical and political films as his bread and butter?  Well actually, no.  Rogen has been involved in a slew of main-stream comedy fare on TV and films, (The Mindy Project, etc.) mostly very juvenile stuff.  Seth Rogen’s main film list: 

1. This Is The End – Drunken party in LA ends in massive earthquake.
2. Pineapple Express – Stoned Westerners ride Indian trains and transport.
3. Superbad – Navigating the last weeks of high school through a booze-soaked party.
4. Knocked Up – Immature guy decides to help raise child after one-night stand.
5. The 40 Year Virgin – Predictable dumb-ass comedy about some poor guy who hasn’t had sex.
6. Neighbors - Immature parents deal with drunken frat boys next door.
7. The Interview – comedy about assassination of leader of North Korea. 

Now, the Pineapple Express was funny.  Yeah, but that last jumps out, doesn’t it?   You can expect a funny film from Rogen, Franco and Sony on the assassination of Barack Obama – produced in Iran - at any time.  How about a film about the assassination of Vladimir Putin?  Hey, a film about the assassination of Raul Castro would have been funny too! (Oh wait, not timely…and more like a documentary.)  Or a film on racism or capitalist exploitation of workers?  Killing the head of Saudi Arabia? Don’t hold your breath. 

Kim Jong-Un is a soft target in the comedy world – the same weak target that corporate comedy shows like Saturday Night Live love.  If you can’t make fun of a homicidal spawn with a funny haircut, what can you do?
Can't you see the Hollywood pitch session?
   "Seth, you need to do something with gravitas, to up your cred."
   "Yeah, you know, take on the big issues.  Look, you heard of that goofy dictator kid in Korea?
   "Its a slam dunk.  We'll bring in all that old classic Commie poster stuff, and you'll be like Charlie
   "Yeah.  I've always wanted to be like Charlie Chaplin, except I want to talk.  Wait, wasn't he a

So why would Rogen decide to make a comedy about killing the leader of North Korea?  Did the U.S. State Department put him up to it?  The CIA?  We know they work with Hollywood.  Well not necessarily -  heavy Hollywood hitters like Rogen and Franco know that they won’t ruffle any feathers at all in the U.S. by taking this angle.   And a major film company will back them.  However, 'Democracy Now' has reported that this film was done with cooperation of the State Department.  Rogen?  The best description of this guy is a trivial, conformist comedian.  Sort of the stoned Seinfeld of post-modern comedy.  Rogen will have to find solicitude with a comfort woman.  Can’t you see the presentation from Sony?  “So sorry for what happen to movie.  Here ... Korean Lady for you!”

I have no love for the crude militarized dictatorship that is North Korea.  But the people of North Korea will one day deal with their rulers – not the U.S.  In fact it is the aggressive posture of the U.S. which has helped justify the north Korean police state (and the south Korean version.) Just take a step back and look at this pathetic spectacle for a minute.  Jesus.  It’s not like the hypocritical U.S. doesn’t constantly spy on and hack their enemies.  What they really hate is that someone else’s hack worked.

Coming soon - Cold War II: Cuba outlasts imperial colossus!  Cold War III: Oil prices & Russia;

P.S. - With Sony's announcement that they will now show the film in selected theaters, could this be the most 'viral' marketing campaign for a probably quite mediocre comedy?  Only the viewers will tell.  However, early reviews by film critics indicate its the same lame ass jokes.  It's no new "Ulysses." 

Red Frog
December 19, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Tsar of Detroit

"The Flivver King – A Story of Ford-America,” by Upton Sinclair, 1937

This is the supposedly fictional story of the rise and fall of Henry Ford, a farm-boy inventor who became imprisoned by his billions and became the worst car-company owner in Detroit.  It is also the story of Abner Shutt, a loyal Ford employee who barely ever saw through his owner – but his son did. 

This novel was specifically written for the union organizing drive of the UAW and the CIO at Ford, and helped win unionization at Ford.  Its dialectical structure is based on the class interplay between owner and workers - an interplay which ends in disaster for one. 

Sinclair knows working class life in detail, and nearly each detail appears in the lives of the Shutt family.  Sometimes poverty and layoffs, physical pain and injuries, foreman harassment, transport issues, company ‘reorganizations,’ inflation, house and car debt, fatigue, economic crashes, mechanization, bargain hunting and endless ‘economizing.’  It’s actually amazing when you read this how little has changed.  Even the near bankruptcy of Detroit in the 1930s jumps out at you like a shock.  Detroit clearly has gotten worse since the 1930s.    

All this the family endures as a natural condition of life.  Father Abner is a loyal and dogged company man since he first worked for Ford on Mack Avenue.  His signature story is of helping push Ford’s original horseless buggy around the streets of Detroit’s Bagley Avenue.  He later works on (and off) at River Rouge, the monster Ford plant in Dearborn that was the heart of the Ford manufacturing empire.  Mother Milly is a weak and careworn woman.  Both are religious.  Son John becomes a Ford engineer and along with his wife Annabelle, a social climber.  Son Hank becomes a gangster, who later works for Ford.  The last son, Tom Jr., becomes a union or ‘Red’ agitator after graduating from college.  He goes on to become a union ‘colonizer’ or ‘salt’ at Ford too. 

Sinclair studied Ford’s autobiography to write this book.  All of their lives revolve around the various stages of Henry Ford’s career, who, as Sinclair says, was a ‘super-mechanic with the mind of a peasant.”  Ford’s triumphs of enlightened capitalism prior to 1916 – the higher wages, the pacifism during WW I and opposition to war profiteering, lack of hostility to unions, the moralistic ‘consideration’ for some workers, gradually turns into its opposite by 1937 - vertical monopolies, the lowest wages in the industry, ownership of right-wing newspapers and politicians, vicious speed-up, layoffs, anti-union gun thugs and support for Fascist groupings in the U.S. and abroad. 

This is not the story recently portrayed on the U.S. ‘Government’ Broadcasting System. (“PBS”).  Liberals who want to love capitalists always cite Ford’s initial practice of paying workers so they can afford to buy what they make.  However, with an international market, capitalists do not have to pay domestic workers enough to buy what they make if there is an international market of middle-class consumers that can take up the slack. With globalization, there is.  Thus ‘Fordism’ is an archaic relic.

Sinclair portrays ‘The Battle of The Overpass,” when police and Ford gun thugs opened fire with machine guns and pistols on 3,000 protesting auto-workers outside River Rouge.  4 were killed and more than 50 wounded, and those ended up handcuffed to their hospital beds.  Abner was in the march, as he had been drawn to it in spite of his conservative politics, but he got away.  Sinclair clearly shows that the failure of the “New Deal’ to significantly lift wages or reduce unemployment was one of the reasons behind the strikes in the auto industry.  Of particular humor is Ford’s hobbies, like his fondness for old American antiques and ‘square dancing’ to archaic fiddle tunes, and opposition to ‘Oriental’ styles like jazz and ‘wild’ dancing.  Sinclair knows his history, and in this fictional study of ‘industrial feudalism’ he shows why history is not actually ‘bunk.’ 

This book is of particular interest to auto workers, historians and almost anyone who wants a readable story of class life.  But more importantly it shows that 'literature' can actually intersect with social movements - that books do not have to be isolated aesthetic products, but can instead intersect with their times. 

Other Sinclair books reviewed below – a play, “Oil/Jungle,” the book, “Oil” and the book, “The Jungle.”  Also the book “War is a Racket,” which talks about profiteering during World War I. Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
December 17, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Classic of Black Intellectual Work

"The Souls of Black Folk,” by W.E.B. Du Bois, 1903

The story of WEB Du Bois is familiar.  Born in Massachusetts just after the Civil War, the first black man to get a PHD from Harvard; studied in Europe; essayist and activist, founder of the NAACP in 1909, later joining the Communist Party and emigrated to Ghana in the early 60s, where he died.  He is buried in Accra. 

The trajectory of his life is a gradual radicalization of his politics and attitude towards racism in the U.S.  He concluded it would never go away under capitalism and renounced his U.S. citizenship.

This book still resonates more than a 100 years later because the situation has not fundamentally changed for people of color in the U.S.  The book reflects that early period in Du Bois’ life when he, as an educated black person, attempted to ‘uplift’ his people while all the time denouncing their oppression.  In this book he is still optimistic that some kind of rapprochement with the southern racists is possible. But he clearly realizes that the system wants black people to have no political representation.  He says, “the South…is simply an armed camp for intimidating black folk.”  Given the present rebellions against nationwide police murders of black people and the absence of a black political party or real power nationally, nothing has fundamentally changed for the black proletariat. 

Du Bois opposed both Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington, the latter in a famous essay in this collection.  Washington had traded not making waves over Jim Crow or forced labor for ‘industrial education’ – limiting the opportunities of black people to trade schooling.  It is not possible to read this essay and conclude that we don’t have our own modern “Booker T Washingtons” in the caste of upper-middle class black politicians, chiefly Barrack Obama.    Du Bois coined the phrase ‘the talented tenth,’ which later black intellectuals like Franklin Frazier and Harold Cruse called the ‘black bourgeoisie.’  Cornel West has just written a book called “Black Prophetic Fire” addressing the very question of political differences among black leaders, difference which really reflect class approaches. 

In a way, Malcolm X adopted a similar approach to Du Bois while in the Black Muslims – self-improvement and a militant anti-racism.   He, too, started to leave this approach behind, moving towards socialism.  The strain solely focusing on ‘self-improvement’ and moralistic scolding of black people still continues through prominent people like Bill Cosby and Obama.  Not to mention a whole strata of right-wing Black Republicans, businesmen and church preachers.  

These essays mix sociology, history, flights of sophisticated literary writing, fiction, political polemics, political recommendations (a ‘permanent Freedman’s Bureau’) and reminiscences of Du Bois’ times in Tennessee and Atlanta.  Du Bois has two excellent chapters on Dougherty County in south-eastern Georgia, a ‘buckle’ of the Black Belt.  He describes exactly how the black tenant serf cotton economy actually worked - the 'crop-lien' system.  It perpetuated never-ending debt to the local white businessman and landlords, and subsequent poverty and ignorance.  Dubois estimated that around 95% of the black people in this county were rural ‘peasants’ or hired hands and did not own land. 

Du Bois uses the phrase ‘the Veil’ to describe the barrier separating black people in the U.S. from normal American life.  He speaks at every moment of the ‘double consciousness’ of being both black and an ostensible citizen.  Du Bois investigates the black Church – about the only space black people could feel safe - and black music (‘sorrow songs’), one of the first to do so.  His most famous quote from the book - "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.'  Today, the color line and the class line are inextricably mixed, yet still distinct, in every country in the globe. 

This book is essential reading to understand the long history of black radical thought in the U.S. 

"Souls of Black Folk" and ‘Black Prophetic Fire’ are for sale at Mayday.  A review of Du Bois book on "John Brown" is below, along with other reviews of books on the South and black oppression. Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
December 13, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Cheapest Labor Colony Inside America

The Neo-Confederate States

With the defeat of the oil and gas lobbyist Democrat Mary Landrieu in Louisiana by another oil and gas lobbyist Republican, the southern U.S. is now a ‘solid south’ dominated by the Republican Party, at least in electoral offices.

Ever since the Democratic Party jettisoned its openly racist and segregationist wing in the 1960s, that voting bloc moved over to the ‘tough on (black) crime’ Republicans.   When the Democrats began to abandon labor under Carter, the movement continued.   Clinton did his best to stem that Republican tide by becoming one.  He executing a retarded black man in Arkansas in the 1992 presidential campaign, got rid of AFDC, passed a strict ‘crime’ bill aimed at the working classes, and then starting funneling military weapons to the police through Joe Biden.  Obama kept these policies in place, the third Democrat to govern by neo-liberalism.     

Yet even with all these concessions to the wage-slave states and their official ideology, the Civil War still goes on. Much of the hatred of Obama from the Republican Party originates from this racist source.  With the weak position of the Democrats, the old Jim Crow voting laws now have their modern equivalent in the lifting of federal voting controls in the south, and a rush by southern states to disenfranchise black, Latino, working-class and young voters.  The Christian Dominists, given birth by the Southern Baptist Convention, are just the latest echo of the original Bible-thumping slavers.  They all expect to be ‘raptured’ soon, so fighting ‘disorder' is just part of their biblical plan. 

Much like the pre-Civil War 1850 compromise with the Southern slavocracy, the Democrats have compromised for 30 years.  Many Democratic leaders are really modern-day Copperheads, who want to coddle Republicanism and unite with them on many of their tenets – war and imperial adventures, budget-cutting, privatization, the drug war, the attack on public education, the dual-track legal system, support for Wall Street, the police and the incarceration state.  They only differ in tactics.  Institutional racism still exists – not in the obvious Jim Crow sense, but in a more subtle yet strong version – in education, housing, employment, the legal system, policing, the media.  Some have compared the police in black neighborhoods to ‘slave patrols’ who carry out modern-day legal lynchings.   

Here is a quote from Britney Cooper, a professor active in Ferguson:

“The old conceptions are dead and gone. The 20th century civil rights project has failed. It has proven insufficient for the challenges of the 21st century. The vote is unprotected, the jury system is a sham, abortion rights are increasingly nonexistent, and urban public schools have become not training grounds for citizenship but holding cells for underprivileged black youth who learn what it means to exist in a state of social death.”

No one wants a real civil war with the south - as a place. The “South” in general is not the culprit, as even W.E.B. Dubois recognized.  One thing you notice about most working-class white people in the south is that bigotry is just a part of their class system.  Ethnicity and class are deeply intertwined.  They are actually extremely subservient and fearful of their white overseers.  Anyone who has spent time around southerners knows that, except when drunk, there is a certain conformist servility about them.  The key insight about the south is that the class system there is stronger than in the north.  Everyone is supposed to respect their 'betters.'  Part of that bargain is that some whites can then look down on the ‘black trash.’  And sometimes even ‘white’ trash gets thrown into the bargain.  This is why unions do poorly among many whites.  They are afraid of losing their little bit of low wages, low-end health care, half-educations, shoddy skills and slightly elevated status in the face of the violent reactionary capitalists who run the south.   Those latter are the real culprits. 

This pathetic situation has been going on since after the Civil War.  The South is consistently home to the lowest social and economic statistics in the U.S. and this affects white people the most, as they are the majority. Ironically, the social and economic statistics for black people show the worst conditions in inequality in mostly northern states, as the white people in the north do much better. This is a legacy of national institutional racism, which is anchored in the rural southern experience and slavery, but has obviously affected the material and social conditions of whites too.

Why has the dead weight of the neo-Confederacy lasted so long, in its various forms?  The first thing to know is that the northern and international capitalists – Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the automobile industry, the oil and coal industry – needed a cheap labor colony within the U.S. An English-speaking maquiladora with a southern drawl.  And they got one.  They don’t always have to go to China.  Southern servility is useful now.  But in the 1930s white and black southerners organized sharecroppers, initiated large labor strikes in textile, docks and mining and elected left-populists like Huey Long.  So there is nothing ‘eternal’ about the servility of the majority of the white working class in the south.  Yet the Democrats long ago gave up on them.  Starting with Georgian neo-liberal businessmen Jimmy Carter and following with Arkansas’ lawyer Bill Clinton, whose wife sat on the board of Wal-Mart, they remade the Democratic Party to the right.  The official labor movement followed, starting back in the late 1940s by cooperating with the Dixiecrats and cutting themselves off from southern black – and white labor. 

So what to do to untie this Catch 22?  Mary Landrieu was an example of the modern Democratic ‘blue dogs’ – a species that is going extinct. Southerners now vote for another kind of dog - rabid ‘yellow dogs’ named Republicans.  The Democrats have abandoned the working class nationally and in the south specifically - and the Republicans have fed a fake superiority to white workers in order to make the cheap labor southern Maquiladora possible.  This has resulted in dividing labor and keeping out unions, and the strategy has spread to the whole nation now.  In effect, no one really represents the working classes anymore.  This is especially true in the 'enterprise zone' that is the U.S. south. 

What we need is a large group of "Atticus Finches" to oppose the rabid yellow dogs.  Instead of giving up on white workers as so many (white) middle-class liberals counsel, or leaving the south to neo-segregationists, secessionists and Christian Dominionists - or insulting everyone who lives there as a 'redneck' - it is incumbent on the left and labor movement to actually provide an alternative. Movements and organizations have to convince white workers that their real enemy is the white businessman who runs everything.  That means taking a class line at all times – not just culture-war, identity politics, with which the electoral appeal of the Democratic and Republican Parties are both exclusively based on.

Turn the civil war into a class struggle.

Books reviewed directly related to the Civil War:  The Civil War in Florida,”Why the South Lost the Civil War,” “The Bloody Shirt,”County of Jones,” “Guerillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front,” “Slavery by Another Name” and “The New Jim Crow.”  Commentaries:  A Snake Slithers Up the Mississippi.” Us blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
December 10, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Helium Economy

"Tales of Two Cities – The Best and Worst of Times in Today’s New York” edited by John Freeman, 2014

This is a collection of stories out of New York City, nearly all in the near present.  Given the title, the stories ostensibly concentrate on class conflict or contrasts between the classes.  Instead it is a somewhat disappointing grab-bag of slices-of-life, usually written by ordinary people, combined with some that actually relate to the issue.  The weakness is in the editor, John Freeman, who agrees with Walt Whitman to the effect that he was ‘against riches but not the rich.’   On inequality, Freeman says:  ‘Inequality is not an issue of us and them, the rich and poor. You often see it in these same so-called divisions in one family, like mine.”  Are these 'so-called' divisions?  Are they in most families?  Even the last part of the title itself is a cliché.  The first part, of course, was part of DeBlasio's election campaign sloganeering, through which DeBlasio won overwhelmingly.

For those of us who don’t live in New York – which is the majority of people – fatigue with New York tub-thumpers is high.  Many of these stories basically revolve around how secretly great New York is – even the one by David Byrne of the Talking Heads – who calls it the ‘most exciting city on earth” full of ‘vibrant playgrounds.’  Another gushes over the exciting Bangladeshi food in Queens or my first apartment in the city.  These stories will mostly be of interest to New Yorkers, who can identify the streets they walk on and neighborhoods they live in, and in that way enhance their own important sense of self.  The problem here unfortunately also lies with the stories chosen, which are not really about the topic.  Few of these stories are fiction, most are personal narratives.  

Some of these 31 stories are surprisingly sophomoric, even from published writers.  Some you could read in a zine about working shit jobs. Some are amazingly out of place, like the writer in the east Hamptons on Long Island writing about her bucolic cottage, dropping famous names, and pointing out that she lives next to some really rich person who has just bought a big chunk of land nearby.  Or a transvestite performer trying on a corset.  Another is by a religious fellow slamming atheists.  Freeman even got David Eggers to write a brief intro to a child’s story.  David Eggers!

What I think progressive people really want to read - from outside the city - is the story of the class struggles in New York.   In this collection, real estate and rental issues are the most prominent and working places a distant second.  These are the stories of most value. There is a direct connection between the monetary helium generated by financial, industrial and retail capitalism and inflation of real estate values.  This is going on all over the world in certain cities, as money seeks an outlet.  It can go into conspicuous consumption and into corporate expansion, but it is really found in stock market 'investing' and in real estate.   

They might have well connected a helium hose directly from Wall Street into Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, south Central Park, Midtown and now Soho and the rest. 

One story by a tenant’s rights lawyer who works in the housing courts says, “I’m not trying to stop gentrification.”  Then he follows with, “There is no justice.”  Contradictions abound, just like real life.  One activist writes about community group struggles for a ‘zero rent increase’ position by the city - a position subverted by a DeBlasio appointee.   He says, “the system is rigged’ but ‘maybe we can tip the balance’ - two statements that are contradictory.  One man in love with walking around New York travels from the run-down but friendly and lively confines of the Bronx to the cold and walled-off snootiness of the Upper East Side, which contains 4 of the richest zip codes in the U.S.   Another is a slice off of the “Bonfire of the Vanities,’ a humorous story about a wealthy couple who have to abandon their car in a ‘DeBlasio’ snowstorm, and then get confronted by a black man with a shovel hoping to do their sidewalk.  One of the better written ones is of a somewhat rich Russian émigré who visits a prostitute while his daughter slits her wrists at home.  A classical-music loving Indian cabbie ends up with the Russian’s phone, which was left in the back seat of his cab, and goes to help the girl instead.  Another is by a homeless man who quit New York for a warmer clime.  He says that it is the ‘rich New York’ that we usually hear about, not the other one.  He describes the homeless shelters in the city as New York’s ‘refugee centers.’

The most painful – and incredible – is written by a former Nicaraguan woman living in Bushwick, a working class area in north Brooklyn.  She describes fighting landlords who destroy bathrooms and kitchens with sledgehammers to force tenants to move out of rent-controlled apartments.  She has to use the relatives’ toilet and kitchen regularly, but she won’t move out.  This is the face of New York gentrification, where all real estate potentially glitters like gold.  May its writers someday achieve this too.  No stories about Hurricane Sandy exist in this collection, but you can bet those will take disaster bourgeoisification to the limit.  

 The over-accumulation of capital leads to smashed kitchens and bathrooms;  the under-accumulation of wages leads to the strangling of individuals selling cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island.  They are both intimately related.

Gentrification is not limited to New York, but is happening in every city in the country.  Old neighborhoods and buildings in central cities are being bulldozed for upscale housing developments, retrofitted apartments, parking ramps, fancy stores and upgraded stadiums.  And the ‘other city’ - the people and small businesses that used to rent or lease there?  Gone.  Neither Democrats nor Republicans oppose gentrification normally, as both are wedded to the developers.  Nor will they turn on their base – the corporations, landlords, builders and real estate lawyers who live off this trade, nor the upper middle-class that most benefits from it.  

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
December 6, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New York Strangler Goes Free

A New Movement

From today’s Eric Garner grand jury decision, it is clear police have been given a license to kill for any reason, any time, any way.  If this wasn’t clear with the Michael Brown decision, or many before it, it certainly is now.  Every person of color, especially boys and men, is at risk.  This murdering gang has official sanction.  And everyone now knows it. 

Obama’s issued words of fake concern, handing out dollars for video cameras while refusing to end the miltary arming of police or pledge to change laws. Notice - this killing was filmed and it did no good. The majority of the 'black caucus' in the House and Senate supported the military arming of the police.  This shows that the black mis-leadership class is bankrupt.   As Malcolm X would say, the White House Negro is an enemy of those in the field.  And so are his delegates like Al Sharpton.  This is somewhat ironic, happening in this supposed time of ‘post-racial’ harmony.  The line that ‘you too can be president’ rings hollow.  

It goes beyond the police, as these police methods have been endorsed by the legal system up to the Supreme Court.  Overwhelmingly grand juries indict civilians and let cops go.  Cops are trained to 'shoot to kill' and may use deadly force if they 'feel' they are 'in danger.' 

A new movement is growing among black youth and hard-working people who realize that in this area, nothing has changed for 100s of years in the U.S.  The “Obama goggles’ have fallen off.  The 'system' goggles have fallen off.  We see the reality behind the endless pacifying rhetoric.  Capitalism will not budge. 

The majority of people in New York will show what they think of this criminal decision by the mostly white upper-class members of the secret body they call a ‘grand’ jury.  It should be called the inferior jury.  May the best of New York come out now.  Shut down your city.  No justice, then no peace. Shut down every big city.  The police are backing off.

Black youth are clearly leading this struggle, especially from the epi-center of Ferguson – a new Selma.  This is their Occupy. Let us work for its continuance. 

Here in Minneapolis a youthful, multi-ethnic crowd of hundreds rallied on Tuesday outside the police station on Lake and Minnehaha over Michael Brown.  Some estimated the crowd at about a 1,000.  The crowd moved to block traffic.  One person was run down by an hysterical right-winger in their mini-van.   500 students left South High in Minneapolis as did more in St. Paul, as did students all over the country. On Thursday about a hundred or more blocked the main freeway through town to protest the Garner murder in Minneapolis, our echo to the protests in NY.

I have to say, when black people move, we all move.  Every other single grouping in society - except the rich and their upper-middle class supporters – Labor, Latinos, Native Americans, working people of all colors, students and youth – can overwhelm this system if we hang together.  Or else we will evidently hang separately. 

Red Frog
December 3, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

Secular Mysticism

"Fashionable Nonsense – Post-modern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science,” by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, 1998

This book originated as a hoax article published in the American academic journal ‘Social-Text” in 1996 from Duke University in the U.S.  It was a parody of the normal writers in that journal, yet the editors did not notice.  As Sokal/Bricmont point out, the adulation of these mostly French writers has become an intellectual ‘force’ in American and British academics as well.  Many reputable intellectuals are cited as endorsing the wonders of post-modernism in its various forms – Althusser, Barthes, Foucault, Debray, Havel - while others like Stanley Aronowitz are part of the post-modernist method.  The parody itself is included and even for a ‘dim’ reader such as myself it provided guffaws.  Of particular humor is the massive amount of quotes, sub-quotes, parenthetical points, false or non-connections and useless references that clutter the document, visually creating an image of ‘knowledge’ but actually portraying little except name-dropping. 

The authors are professional physicists who analyze flawed humanities’ writers’ attempts at intersecting with science and its methods.  They describe how the humanities' writers don't get the science or math right.  Sokol, in the epilogue, says he is also an ‘old school leftist,’ so there is more going on here than scientific rigor.  At bottom it becomes a philosophical debate.

The book is a take-down of some post-modern, post-structuralist, deconstructionist and semiotic ‘intellectual-speak’ – but it is not a must-read.  It is a book for specialists – and yet it is an intentionally hilarious book too.  It is a slog getting through dense gibberish to get to somewhat more sane mathematical and scientific explanations and footnotes of why these pompous writers are wrong.  Which means skipping over the crap you don’t understand to the points you do.  I figured in high school that getting basic geometry and algebra was all I would need for a lifetime.  That has proved the correct decision – except when you have to read material like this.  However the authors know this and do their best to be clear. 

Just as certain statements by alleged geniuses like Stephen Hawking read like science fiction, and have no factual basis as yet – so some of the key texts of these ‘philosophies’ actually don’t make sense if looked at carefully.  As they put it, many of the writers exhibit ‘a self-assurance that far outstrips their scientific competence.’  What the authors really attack is a sort of radical skepticism or cognitive relativism that questions the existence of objective reality.  Extreme post-modernism can philosophically be called ‘idealism’ – where facts disappear and only 'the observers' verbiage and ideas remain.  It is an academic form of mysticism.  This book is part of the struggle against a fake ‘leftish’ idealism in science and sociology, history and feminism.  In their epilogue, Sokol/Bricmont state that they want to help the Left by combating alleged progressive nonsense disguised as profundities.    

The first target is Lacan – Zizek’s favourite inspiration.  As they put it, Lacanian psycho-analysis “is too vague to be tested empirically.’  If you have wondered why Zizek goes from writing rationally about politics or culture to veering into some hellish underworld of post-Freudian double-speak and bogus associations – Lacan is the answer.  In Lacan’s sacred word-salad, erect penises pop up in the middle of mathematical equations, with no connection between them except proximity   Here is that choice Lacan quote: 

“Thus the erectile organ comes to symbolize the place of jouissance, not in itself, or even in the form of an image, but as a part lacking in the desired image:  that is why it is equivalent to the √-1 of the signification produced above, of the jouissance that it restores by the coefficient of its statement to the function of lack of signifier (-1).” 

The authors remark that this is more like Woody Allen then Freud.  ‘Psychology’ by way of fractured math.

Another target is Julia Kristeva, who attempts to mathematize linguistics and political philosophy, among other things.  A random quote – “The desire to form the set of all finite sets puts the infinite on stage, and reciprocally, Marx, who noticed the illusion of the State to be the set of all sets, saw in the social unit as represented by the bourgeois Republic a collection that nevertheless constitutes for itself, a set (just as the collection of the finite ordinals is a set if one poses it as such) from which something is lacking:  indeed, its existence or if one wants, its power is dependent on the existence of the infinite that no other set can contain.”

This is one reason why some interpreters of Marxism have not been a total success. 

Sokol/Tricmont take on unfamiliar (to me) people like ‘anything goes’ Feyeraband, Latour, the feminist Irigaray, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Guattari, Virilio and even the editor of ‘Social Text.’  Based on some of these readings, it seems petit-bourgeois feminism has found a weapon against class analysis in post-modernism, as have other narrow approaches.  Irigaray thinks because most mathematics has been done by men (as have other sciences) the scientific method itself is ‘masculine’ and hence flawed.  Irigaray rejects the ‘belief in a truth independent of the subject’ or observer.  She advises women not to: “accept to or subscribe to the existence of a neutral, universal science, to which women should painfully gain access and with which they then torture themselves and taunt other women, transforming science into a new super-ego.” 

This is a rejection of empiricism and fact-finding.  I won’t go on more, but you get the idea.

In their epilogue, the authors account for the rise of post-modernism and subjectivism among certain ‘progressive’ academics to the weakening of Marxism after WWII, as well as the fall of other enlightenment attitudes.  The authors themselves were called ‘culturally conservative Marxists’ at an academic conference in California held by post-modernists.  However the authors then spend a page or so attacking some Marxists for practicing ‘scientism’ too – which is no doubt correct at times.  Yet in the process they accuse historical materialism itself of not being scientific, which is not quite the same thing.  They say this without evidence – not very empirical, but certainly fashionable.  'Sub-textually' they are red-bashing to win sympathy from their adversaries.  This is a liberal habit you might have noticed.  This in spite of the continual historic and economic facts that Marxists nearly always employ when talking about historical materialism - the farthest thing from idealism. 

If you are interested in the topic of post-modernism, this book fills a gap.  I read it so you don’t have to – or perhaps you do.

Reviews of Zizek books below:  Living in the End Times,” “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?” and “First as Tragedy, Then as Farce.”  Mentions of post-modernism regarding art below – “9.5 Thesis” and “Art is Dead.” Mentions of idealism in science below – “Reason in Revolt,” “Big Bang Theory” and “Ten Assumptions of Science.”  Use blog search box, upper left. 

I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
November 28, 2014