Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Grave Diggers are Assembling

“Southern Insurgency – the Coming of the Global Working Class,” by Immanuel Ness, 2016

This academic and repetitive book still has a valuable point to make.  It is filled with charts that show the flow of capital to the ‘third’ world, now named the ‘global south;’ more charts indicating the rise in the numbers of the working class in the global south; and more charts comparing labor wages in various countries to the detriment of the global south.  80% of the world’s working class is outside the ‘northern’ areas of the U.S., Europe and Japan, and is now concentrated in places like China, India, South Africa and Brazil.  These facts, along with the majority of the world’s people living in cities, indicate both its increased weight and the new geographical locus of class struggle.  The working class is now the largest in history.  The grave-diggers are assembling. 

Yue Yuen Shoe Workers Strike in China - 2014
Ness points out that migration – from countryside to city, from one part of a country to another, from country to country, from the ‘global south’ to the ‘global north’ – has been built into capital since the beginning.  Engels documented this in his “Making of the English Working Class,” describing how the land was enclosed by landlords, forcing farmers to leave rural England and Ireland for the ‘satanic mines & mills’ of English capital.  Capital still wants this free flow of investment and labor in order to undermine wages and working conditions.  It still goes where labor and commodities are cheapest, and that means finding desperate landless migrants looking for work.  Ness’s charts help prove it. 

The real news is that revolutionaries will be looking to the millions of workers in this region of the globe to begin the overturning of world capital, as capital runs out of places to hide.  According to Ness, the ‘north’ has been eviscerated by the loss of productive jobs and the substitution of a low-wage service economy of temps or an office economy dealing with paper - and hence will be somewhat late to the races.  

In the process of describing developments outside of the central capitalist countries, Ness makes short work of the ‘post-industrial’ society nonsense of people like Daniel Bell, showing that material goods are now flowing from locations that bourgeois sociologists have never visited, in conditions reminiscent of the beginnings of capitalism in Britain. One labor historian visiting the present mines in South Africa had this to say:

“underground workers …perform heavy manual work, often doubled up, under the threat of rock falls and machinery accidents.  Making matters worse, the air underground is ‘artificial’ and full of dust and chemicals.  TB is widespread and illness is common… often working 12 hour days or more….often slave more hours than the 1920s workers I studied, and they probably work harder.” 

These black immigrant miners get paid between $400-$500 a month digging up minerals like platinum, which is more valuable than gold, especially to the tech economy. 

The best parts of the book are detailed case studies of auto workers rebelling against Suzuki in India’s Haryana province; shoe workers who make Nike and Adidas going on strike in China’s Guangdong province; miners taking on the pit bosses in South Africa’s North West region.  The latter led to the bloody Marikana massacre in 2012 - the biggest massacre of workers since Soweto. The book’s thesis is that most of these labor struggles are outside the standard union environment – they are wildcats, factory occupations, workers’ assemblies run by rank-and-file groups that also involve mass demonstrations or street-fighting. This allows them to become more radical and effective.  Ness thinks the standard corporatist model of trade unionism imported from the West stifles struggle and is inadequate to the desperate situations these workers find themselves in. 

Ness’s evidence points out the weakness in NGO/government/AFL-CIO advice to bring “American Unionism” to developing capitalist countries, much as it was a Trojan horse strategy in Europe and in the former Soviet bloc.  Given AFL-CIO unions have mostly endorsed the pro-market Hillary Clinton, that weakness is still present in the union movement even here in the U.S.

Most cruel is the situation in India since 2009, where the bourgeois government, the police, the courts, the established political parties and unions all lined up repeatedly against the mass auto workers’ strikes that started at Suzuki Maruti.  The actions resulted in killings, jailings, firings and the banning of rank-and-file unions – and yet workers continue to defy the authorities  The issue of migrants is present here too, as poor peasants from all over India are brought in by the auto companies to work for cheap alongside the ‘full time’ employees, who form a minority of the auto workforce.  This is also true in the South African situation, where the official COSATU / NUM unions only want to represent a fraction of the miners – the ‘full timers.’  These are ‘two tier’ situations with a vengeance.   Ness contends that the Indian working class is being forced to organize outside the approved unions and political parties because of their support for market-driven solutions.  What Ness doesn’t mention is that many of the workers brought in from Haryana and other places are lower-caste, and so doubly ignored and mistreated. 

Of most interest is the case study in China, which saw a wave of strikes centering around the 2014 strike against the Taiwanese shoe firm Yue Yuen which makes athletic shoes for the U.S. market.  Ness carefully parses how the Chinese trade union ACFTU, which all Chinese workers must belong to, was ineffective yet helpful sometimes, and how the Chinese government was both repressive and helpful at other times. This reflects the dual character of the Chinese economy and the hesitant attitude of its state.  The strike was against the non-payment of ‘social security’ benefits, which in China encompass much more than retirement benefits - for lodging, health care – and also against conditions in the dormitories, safety issues and unequal payment of wages.  The strikes were initiated by older ‘lead’ workers who had been working for years, and joined by younger workers who understood that it involved their future too.  At one point, almost 70,000 workers from different factories were out. Benefits were won and Yue Yuen was ordered by the government to extend them to their other factories in China.  China had the least violent response to the strikes in this book, which is significant. 

Ness also points out that China's 'one child' policy, which is unknown in even overcrowded capitalist countries, allows the 'reserve army of labor' to be less, and thus gives more leverage to the Chinese working class - large as it is.

South African police shoot platinum miners - 2012
The South African situation, especially the Marikana massacre at the Lomin mine, is the most politically sad.  It puts in relief the political bankruptcy of the ANC and its union affiliates, COSATU and the NUM.  NUM snipers fired upon strikers! The former head of the NUM, Cyril Ramaphosa, and presently a shareholder and director of the Lomin mine, opposed the strike.  He was later elected to a national position on the ANC slate with Jacob Zuma.  Police had ordered mortuary vehicles 8 hours before the shootings, which left 34 miners dead and 78 wounded, so the shootings were premeditated.  Yet a 22% raise was won in the end, and workers affiliated with the independent ACMU union instead of the NUM.

Democratic rights were gained for the black majority when apartheid was destroyed through a black revolution.  But in the process the social and economic struggle was abandoned by the leadership of these same ultimately reformist forces, and so capital continued its rule in a different manner.  A black mask was put on the profit system, much as Obama’s election did the same for the U.S.  These recent labor struggles are showing the cracks in the fa├žade of South African and international ‘liberal’ capital, which endeavors to exploit the migrant, black working class to its utmost, all the while crowing about ‘diversity’ and praising Nelson Mandela.  

Ness writes the book from a Marxist perspective, yet keeps on mentioning the IWW even when the references don’t fit, so he’s perhaps an anarcho-syndicalist.  He has also written a glowing tribute to a pro-Stalin book, so his politics are murky.  Ness never mentions a socialist solution but does diplomatically write: “The books suggests that the working class and peasants can only achieve a modicum of institutional and structural power and dignity inside the modern capitalist state.’ 

A modicum at best.

Other books about these topics reviewed below:  Annihilation of Caste,” Embedded with Organized Labor,” “The Rise of China,” “Reviving the Strike,’ “Save Our Unions,” “Africa & the New Colonialism,”  The God Market,” “The Servant Economy,” “Tropic of Chaos,” “Famished Road,” “The Race for What’s Left,” “Rebel Cities,” “The Fall of Bo Xilai.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
February 24, 2016

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Secret Scourge

"Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” by Jon Krakauer, 2016

This book is a reportorial story that fleshes out a series of ominous statistics about rape in the U.S., and specifically rape in college towns with revered football teams.  In the process it paints a picture of what could be happening nationwide. 

STATISTICS

Here are the numbers from Krakauer’s book:   1,750 > 350 > 114 > 14 > 13 > 9.

1,750 is the estimate of total rapes in Missoula County in a 5 year period, based on studies showing that 80% of rapes are not reported.  350 is the number reported to the Missoula police in the 5 year period 2008-2012.  114 are the number of rapes investigated by Missoula police detectives during that period and referred for prosecution based on significant evidence.  The rest of the investigations were dropped by detectives.  14 is the number of rapes Missoula county district attorneys actually prosecuted during that time. A bit less than 13 is the number of convictions at trial or plea bargaining, based on Missoula’s 90% conviction rate.  9 of these people is the number that probably did jail time, based on Missoula County’s jail-time rates from 1/2001-3/2012.  The rest would have gotten probation. 

Elsewhere Krakauer points out that based on national statistics 90% of rapists get away with rape.  In Missoula the numbers look even larger.    The police and prosecutors in Missoula were adamant that 50% of all rape allegations are fraudulent.  Experts outside of Missoula that have studied rape report that between 2 & 10% of allegations are false.  The vast majority of rapes – 85% - take place by acquaintances or ‘friends,’ not through ‘stranger danger.’  Most rapists go on to do it again between 6-8 times, so serial rape is the most common issue.  One study put this number at 63% of rapists.  Sexual and physical abuse of children and battery against intimates are also common among this group, raising the rate in this particular study to 14 for each offender. 

Bucolic Missoula Montana
MISSOULA

Missoula is a ‘liberal’ college town full of football fans, in the middle of rural Montana.  It is politically controlled by the Democratic Party.  The University of Montana Grizzlies are the beloved team, able to fill a fancy 25,000 seat stadium every game, winning many titles.  Now it should not surprise anyone that some drunken and beefy man-boys imbued with entitlement and a hazy idea of women should be prone to rape.  Indeed, college football towns have a higher than average level of overall crime committed by football players.  Adding this to the statistics on brain damage caused by football might be a sign that American football is a dinosaur.   But not yet in Missoula, where nearly everyone in this story was a sports or football coach on some level, a football fan, a patron or a player, or connected to the players through friendship.  A somewhat rotten web of connections.

THE NARRATIVE

Krakauer takes you through the various personal ordeals suffered by a group of young college-age females in Missoula who finally went public about their rapes.  One gets a plea-bargain conviction, then must contest a legal effort to reject it.  One trial is decided by a jury for the rapist after the promulgation of rape myths by the aggressive defense counsels.  An investigation into gang rape by football players is dropped by police.  One woman comes forward when a man who raped her was publicly charged by another woman – much as in the Cosby scenario.  And so on.

All show the overwhelming trauma to the young women – depression, anxiety, poor school performance, withdrawal, fear and isolation from the community of Missoula.   Krakauer shows how rape was unevenly handled by University administrators and lawyers, though better than the legal system.  At this time journalists at the local paper and the Justice Department were looking into how Missoula authorities handled rape. 

SOME RAPE MYTHS

Krakauer spends time on various myths about rape that are not born out by those who have been raped or studies of rape, but pushed by right-wingers and defense attorneys. 
  1. ‘Women can always scream or fight.’  Actually, many young women become paralyzed with fear.  Having a 200+ pound person on top of you, holding you down can do that.  Drinking also has a role in impeding responses.
  2. “The reaction should be immediate.”  Actually, many victims try to maintain a sense of normality in the immediate aftermath, to pretend that it did not happen. A deep sense of shame or shock is part of this.
  3. “Drunk girls deserve it.”  Actually, drunks cannot give consent.
  4. “Most girls lie for various reasons.”  Actually, guidelines by the Chiefs of Police in the U.S. indicate that the victim should be believed until proved otherwise, just as victims of burglary or assault should be believed.
  5. “The physical injuries were self-inflicted” or “The woman was always a head case.”  Actually, physical and emotional damage that is visible immediately after a rape should be almost conclusive proof that rape occurred.
  6. “Sluts deserve it.”  Actually, this idea, common to orthodox Catholics, Muslims and Christian fundamentalists, is imbued with punitive moralism and sexual repression and has no relation to an act of violence.
  7. “You have to feel sorry for the poor boys.”  Actually, plain male chauvinism.

LEGAL ISSUES

In the process of telling the story, Krakauer digs into the legal issues behind rape prosecutions.  He notes that 1972’s Title IX law gave women the right to have equal sports opportunities in college, but it also requires that colleges protect women from sexual assault.  Krakauer takes a swing at the U.S. system based only on winning or losing cases.  He points out that ‘truth’ is not the point of the system and this is understood by attorneys on both sides.  He shows how the defense attorneys who regularly defend against rape have no sanctions against them if they breach ethics or lie or misrepresent, but public prosecutors do.  Krakauer’s specific examples in Missoula show the crude bullying tactics of defense counsels. 

POLITICAL ISSUES

So you’d think if there were only more female cops or female prosecutors or female DA’s then this problem would solve itself? Actually not.  What is striking about this story is that females played some of the worst roles – as University deans, as Missoula detectives, as prosecutors and later as defense counsel. 

One woman, Kirsten Pabst, is actually the chief villain here. Pabst was a single mother that became a paralegal, then got a JD and became a Missoula detective, then head of the sex crimes unit, then quit to become a defense counsel for a football player accused of rape, then ultimately ran to be Missoula County DA and won as a Democrat.  She is still in this position today – supposedly abiding by Department of Justice rules on how the Missoula authorities should change their methods.  Unfortunately, she was head prosecutor of the sexual crimes unit at the Missoula DA’s office during the period in which the Justice Department noted Missoula’s failure to protect 50% of its population from rape.   Those numbers I started with … 14 prosecutions?  That was her.  So the ‘fox’ is in charge again, voted in by the chickens. 

ALTERNATIVES?

I had a conversation with a Hungarian woman friend who lived for many years in Hungary’s largest city, Budapest, when Hungary was a bureaucratized workers’ state.  Even in this patriarchal culture, she never heard of a rape, even as a college-age woman, nor read about it in the news.  Now there may be another explanation for this, like shame, but I think it indicates something, perhaps a greater imbalance between the sexes due to financial power.  She said violence in Hungary between men and women was more about husbands beating wives. She said that alcohol was as present as it is in the U.S., so the 'drinking' excuse doesn't work either.  But men did not attempt to get women drunk or spike their drinks. (This is a correction from an earlier version.)  From my scan of the book “Soviet Women,” about feminism in the last days of the USSR, it does not even mention rape. 

Anecdotes like this hint that something about life under U.S. capital makes rape more likely.  Certainly the crude form of warlike imperialism in the U.S. provides the proper atmosphere.  In the U.S. chauvinist entities like the Catholic Church, some religious cults, some 40 universities and the U.S. military are notorious for their rape climates.  Clearly, women are still second-class citizens in the U.S. and the rape issue is traumatic evidence of that.  Every college freshman girl should read this book.

Other books related to this issue:  Gone Girl,” “Soviet Women,” reviewed below. Another book by Krakauer reviewed below: "Into the Wild."

Red Frog
February 19, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

Daesh & Al Qa’ida Sponsored by U.S. Pawns

“What is the War on Terror and How to Fight It,” by Marilyn Vogt-Downey, 2016

Vogt-Downey is a former member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, a Trotsky translator and now a researcher.  She will be speaking at a forum on the topic of ‘terrorism’ at May Day Books Thursday, February 18 at 7:00 PM.

Sec of State Clinton Meets with Saudi King
She wrote this pamphlet, though the title misleads somewhat.  It is mainly about how the U.S. has used Islamic fundamentalism to prop up its rule and that of local dictators for years.  In recent times, it started with the war in Afghanistan, when Jimmy Carter helped arm, fund and train the Taliban and Al Qa’ida in the war against the Communist Afghan government and the USSR – though Vogt-Downey spends little time on this.  U.S. ally Pakistan played a key role in this situation, providing protection and aid to the Taliban to this day.

As she emphasizes, state chaos and increased Sunni/Shia antagonism’s were an expected and planned part of this global strategy.  The U.S. strategy is not just about protecting oil, it is going further to gain full political control and dent any resurgent labor movement anywhere in the Near East, Middle East or Africa.  This is the meaning of the defense of ‘little Kuwait” in the First Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq in the Second Gulf War.  It was meant to decimate secular regimes partly hostile to U.S. interests like the Baath Party governments in Iraq and Syria. This would enable U.S. allies – the fundamentalist Sunni theocracies in the Gulf - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE –  by increasing their power and security. 

Vogt-Downey does not mention how Russia, Israel and Iran figure in this process, nor does she mention U.S. weapons ending up in the hands of Daesh, the Nusra Front and others in Syria.  Turkey is also omitted, as is its support for Daesh by letting their oil and fighters through its borders while bombing Kurdish fighters succeeding against Daesh.

Vogt-Downey uses research from the Brookings Institution and from reports in the press to show that U.S. Gulf allies are providing funding, arms, leadership and sometimes even cadre for Daesh (which she calls ISIS), for Al Qa’ida, for other fascist Islamic groups – in Iraq, in Syria and in Libya.  So the U.S. has it both ways – it can promote fear of Daesh / Al Qa’ida and so promote a police state at home and bombing campaigns abroad, while its allies use undercover methods to create and support Islamic fundamentalist brigades in Syria, Libya and Iraq.  Don’t think the U.S. is unaware of this process.

This is resulting in the tragic destruction of the artificial states and regions in the Middle East and now North Africa, and led to the Syrian refugee crisis.  Vogt-Downey quotes Donald Trump as saying to the effect of: “Let them kill each other and we’ll come in and pick up the pieces.”  Well, that is actually present U.S. policy – Trump was just being honest about it.

Vogt-Downey points out that the 5 monarchies in the Middle East contain a vast amount of non-citizen workers with almost no labor rights.  Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world to outlaw slavery, but it continues in another form.  4 of these Sunni monarchies are made up of a majority of non-citizens.  The UAE has a population of 9.2 million with 7.8 million non-citizens; Qatar, a virulent funder of fascist brigades, has a population of 1.8 million, 1.5 million not being citizens; Bahrain has a population of 1.2 million, with more than half not being citizens; Kuwait a population of 4.1 million, with 2.8 million non-citizens.  Saudi Arabia has a population of 28.7 million, 8 million of whom are non-citizens.  And remember, these numbers do not list the citizens of the Shia religion, who have few rights even as citizens.  Only Yemen is outside this group, and is now being bombed into the stone age by the Saudi’s, with U.S. consent. 

These numbers show that the Gulf States are actually sitting on a powder keg of internal class struggle and ethnic oppression. 

Please attend the forum on Thursday.  Ms. Vogt-Downey will be in person.

Red Frog
February 15, 2016

PS:  If the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and that has never been investigated, isn't about time the U.S. actually looked into who was backing these people?  And if they don't want to, why not?  Could it lead in unexpected directions?

Friday, February 12, 2016

State Department Feminism

Feminists and Feminists

Recently two supporters of Hillary Clinton made disparaging remarks about any woman who does not vote for Clinton.  One was by Madeleine Albright, who supported the invasion of Iraq and enthusiastically promoted the long prior campaign of throttling Iraq with sanctions, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.  Albright said there was a ‘special place in hell’ for any woman who did not vote for Clinton.

Madeleine Albright - 1st Female Sec of State
Feminist #1 Track Record – A Peek:
Correspondent Leslie Stahl said to Albright, "We have heard that a half million children have died (in Iraq). I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and you know, is the price worth it?"

Madeline Albright replied "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it."

I think I know who has a place in hell reserved for her.

Feminist #2:
The other feminist Clinton supporter was Gloria Steinem, who was a founder of Ms. Magazine and NOW and has not been a paid government official like Albright, thank god.  Steinem said that young women who support Sanders were only following the lead of their boyfriends or husbands.  She later apologized about this statement for insinuating that young women were not interested in politics.  Actually, the mainstream official feminist movement is as moribund as this statement.

So what we have obviously are different kinds of feminism.  Anyone who uses the generic term of ‘feminism’ as referring to something good for all women would be mistaken.  There is bourgeois feminism, which is mostly concerned with getting women in high places – on boards of directors, as CEOs, as government officials, as media stars or for higher pay for Hollywood’s leading actresses.  The ‘glass ceiling’ and ‘leaning in’ are their main concerns.  Making your number one objective a woman president in the White House is a perfect example of this kind of feminism, damn her politics.  Can you say Margaret Thatcher?  Sarah Palin?  Hillary Clinton?

Then there is its polar opposite – proletarian feminism.  That is the kind of feminism that benefits working women most of all.  A higher minimum wage – like Sanders’ $15 an hour – is a reflection of that.  Low cost or on-site day care for working women and families.  Socializing housework, or payment for it.  An end to a war budget taking money away from public services, or killing women abroad.  An approach to Wall Street that keeps them from impoverishing families and working class people – of which women are the main targets.  A real government-run jobs program and promotion of unionization everywhere, which helps women workers.   An international policy that does not coddle the oppression of women through fundamentalist religion, FGM, theocracy or the destruction of partially secular states.  An end to a block with the most anti-feminist country on earth, Saudi Arabia.

The most advanced form of working-class feminism is socialist feminism, which had a lot of weight in the 1970s. This kind of feminism posits that women under capital will always be second-class citizens.  It posits that capital is invested in wage differentials, the male bribe (you can rape and get away with it!  You don't have to do housework!) and free labor in the care of children, the aged and working class household duties.  Under a worker's government and consequent socialism these permanent features of capital will disappear and women's liberation can become a real possibility.

Of course, there are issues that all types of feminists can agree on, like the right to abortion.  However, the middle-class feminists in NARAL have focused only on electing officials who will decide who is on the Supreme Court – a top-down, bureaucratic feminism.  This strategy has ignored the states doing an end-run around the right to abortion by passing local laws one state at a time.  What is really needed for defending abortion rights is a new movement in the streets and locally, not high-end lobbying centered on 1 election every 4 years.  A massive women’s movement made abortion legal in the first place.  Sanders says he wants to rebuild this kind of movement, but the middle class and bourgeois feminists do not. 

Then there are ‘radical’ feminists who think all men are the problem.  All men are rapists and thugs and are therefore the main enemy.  I.E. the patriarchy is the enemy, not a capitalist system.  Yet capital uses male dominance to ensure lower wages for a majority of women; puts women in a subservient position as a bribe to males, thus dividing the working class; benefits the capitalists by ensuring the family unit or marriage or babies are all a free incubator for future laborers.  This economic view of the financial benefits of the oppression of women is to be ignored.  So you will see radical and middle class feminists targeting all men as the problem, via their genitals or their culture.  Too much testosterone or guns or beer and not enough floor sweeping. The real battlefield is where the toilet seat sits. I.E. the culture wars, liberal style. 

There are even some third-world religious feminists who support Islamic dress codes for women and pretend that it is not required by archaic patriarchal laws or traditions.

These basic kinds of feminists have been with us for years, in various strengths.  Now Hillary is running.  She is a woman supported by Wall Street, who is temporarily against the Trans-Pacific Partnership until she will be for it again; who was for the Keystone Pipeline as Secretary of State until she was against it; who enjoyed bombing Libya, is still a hawk on Iran and wants regime change in Syria more than defeating Daesh; who is against the legalization of marijuana and has been a long-time supporter of the incarceration state; who wants a stronger military; who goes to prayer breakfasts with Republicans; who supports a corporate version of universal health care; who thought that Obama’s anti-foreclosure program could really work; who has no plan to tackle unemployment; who supports the surveillance state, who loves to creatively ‘disrupt’ every place on earth that opposes the U.S. government… the list could go on.  She was to the right of Obama in 2008 and she still is.

What the bourgeois feminists want you to think is that women should narrow all their political thinking down to one issue – the gender of the candidate.  Which is really not that much different than the identity politicians who want a white president or a rich president or a male president as their prime marker.  This kind of feminism dumbs-down women and is intended to do so.  

The fact that some women are looking at ALL the issues that affect their status as women - and other people’s status too - is actually a measure of maturity.  It is a higher form of feminism. It is an approach that grounds women’s oppression in economic reality, not in the lack of female leaders in a capitalist economy and state.  As everyone knows these females will do the bidding of the capitalist patriarchy when required.  In essence, we are to elect a puppet, a front-woman, a shill, and pretend that this is the only form of progress allowed.

Books on women's issues reviewed below:  "Fortunes of Feminism," "Marxism and the Oppression of Women," "Stitched Up - The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion," "Fashionable Nonsense" and the essays of Alexandra Kollontai.

Red Frog
February 12, 2016

P.S. - Oddly enough, Thomas Frank has just come out with a book, part of which analyzes the type of corporate feminism embraced by Hillary Clinton.  The State Department's big initiative on women was to promote micro-lending, and poured much money into promoting it, with few results. As he says, she has: “a version of feminism in which liberation is, in part, a matter of taking out loans from banks in order to become an entrepreneur.”

Hail Hollywood

“Hail Caesar,” by the Cohen Brothers, 2016

I think I’ve been robbed by the Hollywood capitalists and dream-merchants of $8.  Really.  A real bait and switch.  Much as I like most previous Cohen brother’s films, this is a mess.  This is basically a very professional and processed homage to old Hollywood films and the atmosphere that came with them - and nothing more.  People who might remind you of Roy Rogers, Charlton Heston, Dalton Trumbo, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Hedda Hopper and Zero Mostel makes pseudo appearances. And yes, the Frankfurt school of Marxism is represented by Herbert Marcuse.  The film is rarely funny, but more like a bunch of lame 1950s one-liners in Vegas.  Can we dispense with the self-reverential cameos by famous actors and actresses? Do we yearn for synchronized swimming or sailor dancing or cowboys with lariats?   Can we actually have a point?  No, there is no point.  This is post-modern indulgence at its best.

We need more films from Hollywood about Hollywood
The hero is a Catholic industry executive for “Capitol“ Pictures, who really was named Eddie Mannix.  He’s on-time, tough yet sensitive, dealing with the myriad problems of the film industry.  He spends his long hours keeping the lid on homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births and communism and promoting Jesus and confession.  In the penultimate scene in a Roman sandal film, “Hail Caesar,” Heston/Clooney kneels before Christ on the cross, giving a sincere Christian accolade that even brings the film crew to tears with its impressiveness.  Then he stumbles over the last line, so the scene has to be filmed again.  I swear, these two Jewish guys are doing wonders for Jesus, even when they think they are not.  

A Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Protestant preacher and an Eastern Orthodox priest walk into a Hollywood studio.  They are brought in by Mannix to back up the idea that this tale of Christ is on the button.  Instead a stupid religious argument ensues, which nevertheless endorses the film – minus the rabbi of course.  Badda badda boom.Yuckita, yuckita, that’s religion! 

Politics is presented by a clatch of geeky Hollywood writers who are in the Communist Party, complaining of being exploited by the studios who take the lion’s share of the profits.  Marcuse, looking like Trotsky, lectures Clooney on the dialectic and even Clooney is won over, as the Commies seem to have everything about Hollywood sussed out.  A front for capitalism, as the ‘study group’ puts it.  Mannix shuts up Clooney about his newfound conviction, telling him instead to ‘go out and be a star.’  And he does.  Then the Cohen’s dispense with the CP’ers by having them row out to a surfacing Soviet sub to show their lick-spittalness.  (Fact check:  The comrades donate their ransom money to the “Comintern,” which had been shut-down by Stalin many years earlier.)

At any rate, if you can find a point to this film other than nostalgia for that Hollywood, then you get a fan Oscar.  ( For instance, is that ocean-side house in Malibu the same one as Jackie Treehorn’s in the ‘Big Lebowski?’  No.) I don’t think identifying all the microscopic film references counts.  The self-indulgent film is really ‘all about them’ - meaning ‘all about the Cohens.’  And fuck-all to that.

Red Frog
February 12, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

‘You are Rubbish and your Culture is Shit’

“The Football Factory,“ by John King, 1998

This book was heralded as reviving the ‘proletarian novel’ in the U.K.  This is not far off.  King has painted a portrait of British football ‘hooligans’ who fight for their soccer teams in the streets like the teams play in the stadiums.  It centers on pride in your neighborhood and class identity.  It’s mostly white and male and not ashamed.  It’s full of great English and cockney slang, with the most common expletive being ‘c#nt’ – a crude misogynist word referring to men and women who don’t measure up.  It is infused by class hatred and class perceptions, coming down on journalists, careerists, guilty leftists, bankers and yuppies.  A whole list of wankers.  Oh, and the ‘old bill,’ which seems a really mild way to refer to thug coppers. 
Chelsea Play at Stamford Bridge

It is oddly also interspersed with other stories - of one of the mothers of the lads, who works in a laundromat.  And another, an elderly veteran of World War II who liberated a concentration camp and married a Jewish woman, and kicks shit out of some Paki bashers. A journalist who wants to cover and denounce football fights to further her career.   An erstwhile Trotskyist social worker who combines her paternalistic job with identity politics.  A security guard who creates a war-mongering drone game for computers.

Tommy is a London boy from Chelsea, young and a fighter, who ‘tells it like it is.’  When he’s drunk on pints the book runs on stream-of consciousness’ writing, cascading on for paragraphs like a working-class Joyce.  He looks down on the country bumpkins from rural football clubs in the north and midlands of England, who live in run-down shit towns like Liverpool and Birmingham.  The book is peppered with the names of London tube stops covered by surveillance cameras. There transport and fighting take place, as one crew of mostly white niggers meet up with another for battle. 

The ethnic, national and gender insults run long – but underneath the language there is character.  The bangers hate people who mistreat women.  They generally insult black people but then have some in their Chelsea gang like Black Paul.  The Indians are wimps, but Tommy loves a ‘banger lassi’ and curry and he knows that the Indians will fight too.  They visit Spain during the European cup finals following the British national team and bond with other Brit fans, their former enemies.  In San Sebastian one guy, Vince, decides he just wants to travel away from all the English crap, even though he has no money.  So even patriotism takes a dent.  The book does show how the right is able to influence some working-class people, which also makes the book useful.

King himself is not the football fighter he portrays.  You can tell he has left-wing political sympathies and this view infuses the book, in spite of the anti-political views of the street fighters and their ethnic and gender bashing.  All these guys are working jobs and not on the dole, so they have money to travel to matches, hire coaches, drink lots of pissant beer, even calling an occasional taxi or two.  Tommy works in a warehouse but the work is boring, so street-fighting and the adrenaline rush it brings is the antidote.  At one point he gets so beaten up at the hands of Millwall football fans that he realizes he could die – which seems funny when you think about it.  Ah, the ignorance of youth.  Mostly these punch-ups and kick-downs only involve other groups of men like themselves – not civilians.  What is most important is loyalty to the group and their joint identity – that is the highest calling.  A specific micro-identity trumps a more general class outlook.

Cockney Rejects in London having a drink-up
Tommy prefers being single, avoids romance and makes do with one-night stands with drunken ‘birds’ in pubs.  His attempt to date a nurse fails, probably because she senses he’s trouble.  Even he knows that dating a nurse is aiming a bit high.

These are the people that in the U.S. might be called white trash, trailer trash, rednecks or peckerwoods. These are the last ‘acceptable’ insults.  As this book makes clear, demonizing working class people, even when they are white, is counter-productive and does no good.  Liberal whites that do this are mostly middle-class clueless wonders, who have no interest in the class struggle.  Black people that do this have justification.  But ultimately making powerless working class whites a target doesn’t help anyone but the bosses.  The rich really love that shit and they’ll pile on too.  Divide and conquer.  Divide and conquer.  It sets up everyone for a fall.

This is a powerful book and should be read by anyone who wants to read about this slice of working-class reality.  As one review pointed out, it is more true than all the sociology essays written about football ‘hooligans.’  That is one of the benefits of so-called ‘fiction’ that is ignored by those who only prefer non-fiction.

Other reviews on the English working class:  “Chavs,” “The Outlaws – One Man’s Rise Through the Savage World of Renegade Bikers…,’ Orwell’s “Coming Up for Air,” and “All Art is Propaganda” and the film “Pride.”

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog

February 8, 2016