Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Moment of Silence

Charlottesville, Virginia

A moment of silence for Heather Heyer, a 32 year old woman anti-racist murdered yesterday in Charlottesville, VA.  She was part of a protest against a fascist, racist and nationalist mobilization by various 'alt'right', Nazi and Klan groups.  This murder took place at the hands of a car driven by a 20 year old Republican and white supremacist in the "Vanguard America" group from Ohio.  Some of the other 19 people hurt could be members of various groups like the IWW, Black Lives Matter or Red Neck Revolt.  It has been reported that two DSA members and one ISO member were injured.  Also unknown is who has been arrested.  This is reminiscent of the killing of 5 CWP members by the KKK in Greensboro, NC in 1979.

Fascists Blocked in Charlottesville, VA
A new stage in the class war in the U.S. has arrived.  Perceptive analyses of actual fascism - as opposed to impressionist, borrowed or lazy ones - posit that it is only when a wing of the ruling class decides to back these forces that fascism can gain strength.  At this point at least 3 people in the Trump cabinet - Bannon, Gorka and Stephen Miller - are supporters of these kind of forces.  Top capitalists in the Republican Party benefit from them, especially those based in the former Confederate south.  This rally was an attempt by the fascists to forge a 'united front' to increase their paltry numbers.  That is significant. 

Trump 'evenhandedly' denounced 'violence by both sides' and was immediately praised by the Daily Stormer for his restraint.  Because of this clear support by the White House, a wing of the Republican Party and the part of the capitalist class tied to that party, the left must begin to mobilize a large, permanent anti-fascist front.  It has to ignore the liberal's plans to protect racist speech or to 'ignore' the fascist right.  This is not a polite debate.  As any reading of history understands, it is precisely their ability to march and attempt to violently control the streets that is at stake.  The Democrats and liberals would prefer that we go back to the 1920s, when the Klan proudly marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in their thousands.    

Leftist observers in Charlottesville claim 500-1,000 right-wingers were confronted by 'thousands' of counter-protesters, some flying black and red flags, who prevented them from marching from their rally site to other places in Charlottesville, including to a black housing project.  The police were absent except around a small area of the original rally, and did not separate the two sides.  The spent the day passively watching for the most part.  Any idea that the 'police' would somehow lessen this confrontation is wishful thinking.  They actually hope the right gives the left a thumping.  A brawl in front of the police station resulted in the police looking ... away.  Even when the right-wingers pushed into a police line, no one was arrested.  A black student was severely beaten by rightists in a parking garage, and no one was arrested.

Weapons carried by the right-wingers included baseball bats, AR-15s, Glock handguns, brass knuckles, tear gas & pepper spray, smoke grenades, clubs and flag poles with metal tips. Many of them wore helmets and shields.  The deployed in military order. This weaponry far outweighed anything the left brought.   Unprovoked physical assaults by these racists on older counter-protesters did not elicit any response by police and patrolmen.  The police did not intervene. Some ostensibly neutral armed 'militia' members attempted to keep the two sides apart, but could not.

This is not about 'free speech' - this is about intimidation, violence and death.  A scraggly 'left' opposition will not succeed in most cases in opposing this until large and more organized numbers are brought to bear.

Robert E Lee was a supporter of slavery, and removing his statute to a private park full of historical statutes is the right thing to do - not enshrine him as a hero in a public park.  Lee has always been treated with veneration, even by Civil War historians who admired his military skills and his aristocratic and reserved personality.  These historians - Catton, McPherson, Foote - for the most part approached him a-politically.  That is now changing through the efforts of anti-racist and anti-fascist forces.  It is about time.  Finish the Civil War!

Prior commentaries on the violent U.S. ultra-right, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

(Prior reports that Heyer was a member of the IWW on IWW web sites were incorrect.  My apologies.)

Red Frog
August 13th, 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cemetary of Outcasts

“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” by Arundhati Roy, 2017

There must be a trend in Indian fiction to have ironic titles that do not reflect the real nature of India.  Roy’s first work of fiction in many years, it interweaves the story of various ‘losers’ whose lives are damaged by the conservative Hindu nativism paid for by the “millionaire God men" that now control the political scene in India.  This is political fiction, where individuals, love, children, babies and family stories are inextricably tied to social reality, not escapes from it. 

A Tourist Destination!
The book opens with the story of a boy Aftab who wanted to be a girl and became an unhappy ‘hijra’ named Anjum after a somewhat botched sex-change operation.  She joins a collective of hijras in Delhi, who help each other in the very conservative atmosphere of Indian sexuality.  At first you think that Roy is going to tell a story about the most trendy present liberal topic, transsexuals.  But then the focus widens.  The famous pogrom in Gurjurat after 9/11 affects Anjum, and reference is made to the chief minister of Gujurat, who was directing the pogrom. That would be Narenda Modi, but in this story, unnamed.  Modi is now the Hindu supremist and neo-liberal Prime Minster of India and a welcome guest to the U.S.

Anjum ends up leaving a home of hijras and going to live in a graveyard in Delhi.  From sleeping on a rug there she builds huts around graves of those she knows, and starts to run a mortuary with help from other surplus people.  Ultimately many outcasts come to live in the graveyard, which is certainly a metaphor for something.

Kashmir - India's Palestine
The occupation of Kashmir by the Indian Army forms the political heart of the story.  The occupation has been going on since Partition in 1947. As Roy puts it:            
            “I would like to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing happens there’s lots to write about.  That can’t be done in Kashmir.  It’s not sophisticated.” 

Notice the slam against post-modernist fiction - excessively detailed stories about nothing.

The activities of Islamic terrorist groups allows the Indian Army to apply its own form of state terrorism to the population of Kashmir, mostly Muslims.  It is to be an occupation that never ends, as the Indian Army supplies some terrorist groups with ammunition to keep the pot boiling.  Unsurprisingly many police in India are brutal thugs – a characteristic of police all over the world and not a secret at this point.

A quartet of characters revolve around the situation in Kashmir, who all first met in school.  One is now a reporter who is also a collaborator, Naga.  One part of the quartet, 'Garson Hobart', is a lovelorn secret police officer and gets to narrate for a time. One is a Kashmiri Muslim nationalist leader, Musa.  One is a woman who loves him and begins to understand the situation in Kashmir, Tilo.    Their blood-thirsty enemy is a secret police commander in Kashmir, Amrik Singh.  Ultimately Kashmir needs self-determination, but that word never reaches these pages, although its meaning does.

Both Anjum and Tilo are searching for babies, as they are unable to have them normally.  Roy seems to think the babies are the optimistic future.  I'm not so sure.  Nothing guarantees a baby growing up to be anything but a copy of what already exists.

In the process, Roy describes many corrupt, absurd or sad facts of Indian life.  An ‘artist’ walks around with shit attached to his clothes as an artistic statement.  Heartless young and rich Indians find caste status a key in their treatment of the world.  A security guard not allowed to wear sunglasses, whose eyes are burned by watching over a stainless steel statute that catches the blazing sun.  A former leftist journalist who condemns aspects of Indian rule in Kashmir while secretly working for the military and police.  A profusion of fake products in the whole economy, including even the animals in the Delhi zoo.  Clothes taken off dead bodies and re-sold.  'Anti-corruption' campaigns ultimately run by the corrupters.  The idiotic Indian media - not much different than our own.  And on and on.

As to the writing, Roy makes up some great words like ‘smallwigs.’  She comments how stories of misery never go anywhere in the "international supermarkets of grief.”  'Telling your story' is ultimately not enough...  She writes almost surreal sections that are sometimes funny, acid or beautiful.  This is Roy describing the ‘modernization’ of India: 

“Skyscrapers and steel factories sprang up where forests used to be, rivers were bottled and sold in supermarkets, fish were tinned, mountains mined and turned into shining missiles.  Massive dams lit up the cities like Christmas trees.  Everyone was happy.”

Then several times Roy transcribes long sections of dictated notes full of random thoughts by various characters that do not cohere.  I frankly skipped them.  The book has no plot really.  It focuses on the characters interweaving around their fate of being outsiders and the parallel cruel occupation of Kashmir.  This occupation is  another unknown story.  Bringing it's reality to readers attention is the most progressive part of this book.

Other books on India reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left. "Annihilation of Caste," “The Last Man in the Tower,” "The God Market,” “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” "The Story of My Assassins" and various earlier books by Roy – “Walking with the Comrades,” “Notes on Democracy,” and "Capitalism - A Ghost Story." 

Red Frog
August 8, 2017 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, continued...

"October - the Story of the Russian Revolution" by China Mieville, 2017

The story of the October/November 1917 revolution in St. Petersburg is a great story.  It is also a politically instructive story.  While not as thorough or advanced as Trotsky's "History of the Russian Revolution," or as passionate as John Reed's "Ten Days That Shook the World," this book still delivers by being a bit of a combination of the two.  Mieville is not a socialist but he is a sympathetic (science) fiction writer and he brings some of those skills to describing this momentous event.

Speeches in the Factory
What strikes one first about the book is the calumnies against the Russian revolution as being a 'putsch' or an isolated, dictatorial act are so far from the truth as to be laughable.  Mieville shows that the upsurge in 1917 was a vast, mass event engulfing other nationalities, the Russian peasantry, the working class, the army, the socialist parties and parts of the intelligentsia.  Actual social revolutions cannot be made except by the most real and massive display of 'democracy' any country has seen.  A social revolution is far more democratic than the most fair and 'attended' election - if those exist any more.  Certainly, in the U.S., they do not.  Revolutions do not come by accident.  They are ultimately determined by vast social forces in a moment in history, not by tiny groups of 'leaders.' This story shows that.

Another thing the books illustrates is that the 'moment' is key.  While many people think that events will always leave time for action, the truth is that 'windows' open and close very quickly.  It was this Bolshevik understanding, especially as provided by Lenin, but also Trotsky, that the 'moment' had arrived.  Actual revolutionaries understand the issue of timing, while reformists 'have all day.'  The 'stage' theory at work among many Marxists is a concretization of this reformist idea, as it shaped the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary majorities' reactions to this situation.  They felt the bourgeoisie had to 'build capitalism' as a first stage. Even some Bolsheviks thought that workers rule was premature after February, and that a block with the bourgeoisie was necessary.   Most Bolsheviks dropped this after Lenin's "April Theses" but it remained in the party even afterwards as events unfolded, especially in the person of Kamenev.

Mieville tracks the radicalization of the soldiers, the workers, and even the Bolshevik Party itself, as they navigated through seeming chaos, land and building occupations; fraggings and arrests; the beatings of foreman, officers, capitalists and landlords; invasions of stores and warehouses; bloody war, Czarist counter-revolution and pogroms; crime, desertion, starvation and rage.  He shows how the social-democratic Kerensky "Provisional Government," which refused to call off the war, or give land to the peasants or open the granaries to the starving, sealed its own fate.  From a love hero to goat in a matter of months, the beloved and mourned 'socialist' Kerensky could not break with property and capital.  Kerensky at one point in September formed a block with the former Czarist general Kornilov to institute martial law, until even he understood that Kornilov would do away with him too.

The key demand, of course, is "All Power to the Soviets."  Lenin carefully waited until the real left had a majority in the Soviets before initiating actual military action to take power in early November, or late October, depending on your calendar.  Lenin wanted this to be a 'fait accompli' before the 2nd Congress of Soviets.  He feared the Congress would still be undemocraticaly controlled by the rightist socialists  For the short period prior to this, Lenin dropped the slogan of 'power to the Soviets' due to the pro-war/pro-capitalist role of the Soviets.  But the slogan returned when the Bolsheviks and their allies in the Left SRs and Menshevik Internationalists won a majority in the Congress.  Trotsky became head of the St. Petersburg Soviet once again.  Anarchists,  Kronstadt sailors and left Bolsheviks in the Bolshevik Military Organization (MO) chafed at the bit to come out before the Soviet majority had fallen in their hands, especially in the July days.  Ultimately the demand was not 'all power to the RSDLP" or 'all power to Lenin" or 'all power to the Bolshevik Central Committee' - it was all power to the mass democratic organizations that had spread throughout Russia and its satellites - Latvia, Finland, Ukraine, etc.  This must never be forgotten.

What is a Soviet?  It is the Russian word for 'council' or 'commune.'  The councils included all the workers at a factory, soldiers in the army, residents in a town or city.  They included a large number of citizens acting in a mass democratic manner, sort of like a New England 'town halls' except with actual power to pass and enforce laws, to police neighborhoods, to decide policy, to manage and control property and production.  They are vastly more democratic than the farce of 'representative democracy' we have in the U.S. - or now in Russia.  Of note, in St. Petersburg, the police, who were guarding the last bunker of the Czar in February - were driven out of town, throwing their uniforms away.  In working-class neighborhoods of St. Petersburg - the Vyborg and Petrograd for instance - they were replaced by armed citizens.  As 'starry eyed' as you might find this, that will be the ONLY way that abuses by the capitalist police are ended.  

Additionally, even in a vast country like Russia with a small working class, a number of parties competed for socialist allegiance.  The Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Popular Socialists and the Bolsheviks had left and right wings, which at different times supported or opposed policies of the Provisional Government.  The Provisional Government was a post-Czar block of the working-class Soviets and the Russian bourgeoisie - in essence a popular front.  During the dark July days, Trotsky and Lunacharsky's organization, the Mezhraiontsy, joined the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks at the 2nd Congress of the Soviets, which was meeting while the Winter Palace was being stormed, agreed to a 'joint socialist government' with the Left SRs and the Menshevik Internationalists.  This agreement, however, fell apart, mostly due to the sectarianism of the latter. 

This is somewhat like the U.S., which has an even vaster working class made up of various economic and social strata.  It  will ultimately produce, in a revolutionary situation, an even greater number of working class parties.  So the story of October/November as told by Mieville is not a simple one of one united party taking power. U.S. Leftists who think everyone will flock to only one party in a revolutionary situation are living in denial of history and society.  This historical knowledge might be an antidote to sectarianism and small group mentality, but don't bet on it.

Leftists reading this will carefully track the activity of their 'heroes' - Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Zinoviev, Lunacharsky, Kollentai, Kamenev and others.  In this book - and the actual event - Trotsky is second only to Lenin in his role as Bolshevik advocate and organizer of the Soviet's Milrevcom military defense, which actually overthrew the Provisional Government.  Lenin is shown to be relentless in his determination not to let the moment slip away, even in the face of Bolshevik Party hesitations.  His 'April Theses' overturned the Bolsheviks (RSDLP) post-February policy of conditional support to the Provisional Government, as Lenin was an advocate of 'revolutionary defeatism' regarding the war.  Kamenev and Stalin, on the Bolshevik right at that time, were the proponents of a policy that was much like some of the left Mensheviks and SRs - critically backing the government, which was pro-war.  Lenin was even accused of 'Trotskyism' for supporting the idea of converting the bourgeois revolution into a proletarian one. (The idea of the 'permanent revolution' of course was originated by Marx.)

Mieville points out that Lenin made a mistake by 'pooh poohing' the threat of a counter-revolutionary attack on St. Petersburg by Kornilov and local capitalists.  This even in spite of the hysteria about Lenin being a 'German spy' that brought out the military right-wing in July, and put them in control of the streets of St. Petersburg. The Bolshevik Party's advocacy of the Soviet's independent military defense organization, the Milrevcom, was in response to this threat of counter-revolution - and it happened without Lenin.  It later became key to operational success in St. Petersburg, when it routed Kerensky as part of a self-defense of the working class.

In this story, Stalin is a rare presence.  Kamenev plays the role of the Bolshevik 'right opposition.'  Zinoviev hesitates at a key moment.  Kollentai is nearly always on the left, as is Lunacharsky, Trotsky and others. Bukharin was not in St. Petersburg. 

Can we learn anything from this event?  Certainly, it took place in the material context of a horrible imperialist slaughter.  Hunger and poverty were rampant.  You might say that revolution was the only way out at that moment.  The political arguments that happened still remain valid, even to this day.  But the Russian Revolution is not a simple template for the future, though many leftist nostalgists seem to think so.

Stay tuned for actual commentary from St. Petersburg/ Leninsburg/ Leningrad in November, 2017...IF the visa process is a success.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog

August 2, 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Monthly Review Review

The Musings of the Professors
Sometimes you can't take politics too seriously.  The latest edition of Monthly Review (Vol. 69, #3) is a somewhat labored overview of the Russian Revolution and the conditions that have arisen since then, including the fall of that very revolution.  Various left thinkers weigh in.  Deep thoughts are had, and not so deep thoughts.  Familiar ideas repeat themselves.  Good ideas break through.  And things stand the same.

For the most part it does not dwell on the great popular social and economic gains of the Russian Revolution or its progressive role in world politics regarding national liberation struggles, anti-fascism or its role in taking some economies away from the market or from capital. Even its role in providing a 'global class war' presence that affected internal politics in capitalist countries is not covered.  It is generally a critical history in this volume, so I'll stay on that path.

Stalwart Marxist publication
The roots of Monthly Review from what I understand are among the supporters of the Soviet CP and then Maoism and the Chinese CP.  Both of these entities have fallen on hard times as 'revolutionary beacons' or fallen on no times at all.  Tiptoeing around this is a difficult job.  Professor John Bellamy Foster introduces the edition as editor and clearly makes the point that the Soviet nomenklatura 'failed to carry forth the socialist revolution' and became a 'bureaucratic ruling class.'  I think Foster is a supporter of Nicolai Bukharin at this time, who was both a close ally and then victim of the nomenklatura. 

But Foster also says upfront -" 'Socialism in one country' the basic defensive posture of the USSR though out its history, was thus to a large extent a geopolitical reality imposed on it from outside."  Bukharin came up with the theory of 'socialism in one country.'  What kind of socialism was this?   In spite of its later giddy proclamation by that very same nomenklatura - it was not a socialism recognized by Marx.  What socialism Foster is talking about then?  The one with a bureaucratic ruling class?  This robs the word of any real meaning.

According to Foster, no responsibility arises from the internal politics of the nomenklatura, the bureaucratic strata - it was imposed from the outside.   They were passive victims.  Yet it was advocated by internal forces for their own ends. The adoption of this idea actually was one of the main props which strengthened and solidified the nomenklatura, which moved the whole of the USSR to the right internally; which created the gulag state, which allowed the USSR to follow an international popular front policy or an ultra-left policy (as in Germany) internationally.  These policies prevented working-class revolutions. It is self-imposed exile.  This changed little after WWII.

The later deformed revolutions that did occur after WWII were imposed mostly by tanks, or were products of national liberation struggles in the context of that war, not just frontal assaults on capitalism.  Yugoslavia, which broke with the Soviet CP, was one of the only struggles that actually had independence.  Even in Cuba, the CP did not support the armed revolution at first.  Ultimately it was the nomenklatura, as every detailed study has shown, that became the core of the new capitalist class.  It assisted the reestablishment of capitalism, or the large growth of the capitalist sectors, for instance in China and Vietnam.

Conditions have changed however, as the working class is now the largest in history, and the prospects for world revolution - the revolution Lenin worked for - are greater than ever, as even Samir Amin notes.

Yet a spectre still haunts the intellectuals and professors at Monthly Review.   An Indian professor, Prabhat Patnaik, attacks the 'stages' theory, opposes 'forced collectivization' and endorses the view that the working class would participate in an 'uninterrupted revolutionary process.'  These are advanced views that are invisible as to their history.  'Who' might have developed them, if not Lenin...?

A Hungarian professor from Budapest, Tamas Krausz, is a little more clear.  Krausz includes a fellow named Leon Trotsky and actually never says anything hostile about him.  He describes what came after October/November in the 1920s as a 'bureaucratic counterrevolution' that led to a failed experiment in 'state socialism.' 

Bernard, D'Mello, the editor of "Economic and Political Weekly," points out the great internal defeats of the USSR:  the suppression of Kronstadt; the banning of factions; the defeat of the Left Opposition; forced collectivization and the purges and show trials of the late 1930s.  But he lauds Stalin as the leader who 'led the Soviet Union to victory over fascist barbarism.'  This even though Stalin's block with Hitler and refusal to listen to warnings of a German invasion or prepare for it brought German armies to the gates of Leningrad and Moscow!  He also comments that "sadly, Mao did not approve" the establishment of the Shanghai Commune during the Cultural Revolution.  In this "The Maoist leadership had failed to lay the basis for a genuine workers state."   D'Mello is a supporter of the Indian Maoist Naxalite rebellion, but feels it has no chance of overthrowing Indian capitalism.  He, oddly, endorses a party of "middle-class revolutionaries in the vanguard party of the 1917 type."  Muse on that.

Of most humor is Dublin professor Helena Sheehan's travels among the intellectuals of the central European workers states - Yugoslavia, Hungary, the GDR, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia - as these workers states began to unravel in the late 1980s.  You might be surprised at the ideas that 'intellectuals' nourished at the breast of bureaucratic 'socialism' come up with. For instance, they cannot decide whether a 'one party state' or a bourgeois 'multi-party state' is the correct way to go.  They obviously are unaware of another position - legality for only working-class or socialist parties.  This was the position of the 4th International. 

Diana Johnstone heroically manages to drag Monthly Review backwards.  Johnstone wrote a valuable book on the war to dismantle Yugoslavia and a somewhat easy takedown of the war queen, Hillary Clinton.  Here she dutifully includes a whole section on the evilness of Trotskyism.  Granted some Trotskyists would be disowned by Trotsky, just as some 'Marxists' and 'Leninists' would be disowned too.  But that is not the context.  Essentially she labels Trotskyism 'permanent counterrevolution.'  Which is not quite calling it the agent of 'Hitler and the Mikado' as Stalin did, but close.  Unfortunately, bureaucratic socialism is a corpse that has died, at least politically.  Johnstone's reactionary nostalgia does not permit going beyond it.

Then we have an odd celebration of Bertrand Russell by two professors from France and Quebec, John Bricmont and Normand Baillargeon.  They attack Lenin and Trotsky from the mild socialist left, though Russell at one point defended Trotsky against Stalin.    

Lastly Samir Amin weighs in, attacking Lenin for not being pro-peasant enough, even though the Bolsheviks adopted the SR platform of 'land to the peasantry' in toto.  And attacking Trotsky for not 'accepting the challenge' of building 'socialism in one country,' thus ignoring Trotsky's lifelong defense of the USSR, and his roles in creating the Soviet workers state as the second leader of the Bolshevik Party, leader of the 1917 St. Petersburg Soviet and it's military section, and leader of the Red Army that defeated the Whites. 

Again, as history might say, how did that theory work out?  For instance, the analysis that the 'bureaucracy' basically deteriorated the revolutions was first developed by the Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky and the 4th International.  Now it is an unattributed common understanding, even among these writers.  Why the timidity? 

Monthly Review is good on economics and on ecology, but this review of the Russian revolution and its aftermath seems to be missing some cylinders.

Prior reviews of Monthly Review, Foster or Amin, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at Mayday Books, which has many Left magazines and newspapers.
Red Frog
July 29, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Gorilla War

"War for the Planet of the Apes," 2017, directed by Matt Reeves

The deep ecologists will like this film.  The apes – chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos - live with fire and in log huts, use spears and commune with nature.  In this film they survive the humans, who are shown as uniformly militaristic, cruel and unreliable, even with their remaining technology.  Nature itself, in the form of an avalanche, seems to agree. 

More War?
The plot is that the simian virus, which killed many humans,  is now making humans unable to talk too (humanities’ defining characteristic is talking, according to the filmmakers…)  As a result, ‘Humanity,’ in the form of soldiers following a modern Colonel Kurtz (Woody Harrelson, also called ‘The Colonel’) will kill any ape or human who opposes them or who exhibits the virus.  The rationale is that this will ‘save humanity.’  Co-existing with apes is off the table, though there is no evidence that this ‘virus’ is coming from apes themselves.  The Colonel’s slogan on their prison camp is “The Only Good Kong is a Dead Kong” – which might remind viewers of similar ideas about the Viet Cong or native Americans.  

The logic in this scenario is that this ‘flu’ was not something humans brought on themselves – unlike something like the actual swine or bird flu, which are produced by animal overcrowding in factory farms.  It may be similar to Ebola, which was originally transmitted from fruit bats or monkeys – even from domesticated pigs or dogs - to humans.  So the cause of this dystopia is nature itself, animals themselves, and not directly connected to how human society was functioning.  It is nature playing out, like the Black Plague.  So the film reflects a fear of nature – also reflected in the fear of animal intelligence as exhibited by the talking apes.  It is really a film about the war between man and nature.

A somewhat shacked-up moral subtext of the film is that Ceasar, the bonobo leader played by Andy Serkis, has so much anger that he might kill people he shouldn’t.  This is ostensibly following Koba’s methods from the prior film, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” (reviewed below).  Ceasar does, somewhat accidentally, smother a traitorous ape Winter in order to keep him from crying out for the human soldiers for help.  This scene reminds one of a similar situation from “Native Son," but that is not what the filmmaker wants you to think about.  However, Koba was not killed by Cesar in the prior film because he was a violent war leader, but because he started attacking and jailing his own people – the apes.

The apes ultimately show more ‘humanity’ and mercy than the humans by far. Like the aliens in ‘District 9’ or in ‘Avatar,’ or the animals in “Tarzan” or the classic ape in “King Kong” - our sympathies lie with them.  Their emotional character is evident, especially in the characters of Maurice and a chimpanzee they come across, Bad Ape. They even adopt a young human girl who has lost her voice.  At one point, Ceasar is crucified like a simian Christ for his sin of attempting to relieve the suffering of his fellow apes .  One human soldier released in a show of mercy by Ceasar ultimately fails to show his ‘humanity’ in return.  In contrast, a traitorous gorilla who had followed Koba and was now working for the humans at least helps the apes in a penultimate scene. 
 
Is there another sequel?  The apes leave the forests and mountains of California to settle away from any humans, arriving at a somewhat desolate lake that looks like Crater Lake in southern Oregon. They bring the young girl, who may grow up to be a female “Tarzan.’  Do we need more senseless warfare between ape and man? Well for one, you certainly won’t see a mass conversion to vegetarianism among the reviewers or viewers of this film.  Unless this series develops some kind of more advanced political or environmental content, I think it can be put out of its dark misery. 
 
Red Frog July 21, 2017

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I'm Too Sexy for my Veil


“Lipstick Jihad," by Azadeh Moaveni, 2005

This is ‘diaspora’ literature.  Populations are moving all over the world and ‘diaspora’ memoirs are the logical result.  Whether through war, famine, environmental collapse, political upheaval, pogroms, poverty, unemployment, alienation or just plain wander-lust, millions are on the move.  We no longer live in a world of exclusively ‘national’ states and the proof is all around us in human sub-communities the world over.  You do not have to understand imperialism and ‘globalism’ to see this.

Cultural Subversion
Stories of other countries are exotic tales for many U.S. readers and this book fits.  Moaveni is a young woman born in Iran, but whose upper-middle class family moved from Tehran to San Jose, California after the 1979 Iranian coup by the mullahs.  She insists that the majority of that whole class left the country, and many of them jointed the million Iranians in Los Angeles.  She spends the memoir trying to figure out her identity - if she’s Iranian enough or too American, and finally decides she is both.  Even when she’s not in Iran, she carries Iran with her in her family and friends.  She spent two years in Tehran has a reporter for Time Magazine, but decides to leave after George Bush declares Iran part of the “axis of evil’ – a stupid phrase only a Christian Texan could think up. 

Moaveni is irritatingly na├»ve, neurotic, petit-bourgeois and conventional, but she is also an astute observer.  Her intense interest in her homeland leads her back to Tehran and there she gives us a picture of what Iranians actually think about the theocratic regime.  She improves her Farsi tremendously and becomes more Iranian by the day.  Her specific focus is naturally on conditions for Iranian women, which she also has to live through.  But as a result, sort of borrowing the logic of CLR James, Moaveni shows how Iranian women try to subvert the cultural and legal domination of the clerics all the time.  This is where the phrase ‘lipstick jihad” comes from – jihad in this case meaning ‘struggle.’  Moaveni's perspective will undermine those clueless liberal multi-culturalists who think that every ‘cultural practice’ is worth respecting – even when it results in oppression and misery for women or working class people.  She shows that Iranian society is not a simple version of Arab desert, village or tribal politics, but complex, sophisticated and urban too.

Being a reporter for Time Magazine in 2000 might tip you off to the fact that Moaveni is not a radical.  She has almost no understanding of ‘blowback’ resulting from American war-making.  Her method of changing Iran is to give tepid support to the ‘reformers’ – the liberal wing of the very same religious people who took over after the Shah left Iran.  She red-baits by comparing the clerical methods to ‘Soviet-style’ society – but the comparison fails.  She makes absolutely no mention of the Iranian working class - unless you include taxi drivers - or any subterranean Iranian Marxist movement.  Only one mention is made of the fake opposition represented by the cultish and Islamic MEK, which is treasured by U.S. government figures across our limited political spectrum.  Her family has servants and they are invisible.  Her mother back in California is a conventionally religious woman while she describes her father as an atheist and Marxist.

The book is rich in the issues facing Iranians, like the cruel violence of the Basij street thugs used by the regime.  Or how woman deal with the legally-prescribed head-covering hijab and cloak-like roopoosh – their version of a chador.   Or the legal rules related to various forms of gender segregation.  Or the social barriers against fraternization with men that women are not married to. Or the bans on street gatherings, alcohol, dancing, bikinis, ‘western’ movies and music, even poodles. Instead, the citizens are treated to occasional public whippings.  Or how the Tehranis ignore the prohibition against not eating, smoking or drinking during the daylight hours of the month-long religious holiday of Ramadan.  Or how Iranian Islamic repression of sexuality resulted in an overly sexualized environment as a response.  Exceptions?  If you do want to have sex with someone you are not married to, the law allows you to have a legal Sharia ‘temporary’ marriage to justify it. (!)   And you can marry 9 year old girls if needed, or more than one woman if you treat them equally. What Moaveni’s memoir shows is that the ruling clerics in Qom (called the “Mullah Factory” in fun) are alienating a great mass of the Iranian population from Islam, or their interpretation of Islam.   That is the dialectic playing out in Moaveni’s book.

The Iranian clerics are allies of the petit-bourgeois bazaaris and also made a block with the Iranian big capitalists.  They use religion as a sort of totalitarian ideology to control the Iranian population. The Shia clerics have morphed into a religious elite that controls some state economic entities through the ‘bonyad’ funds, are corrupt through graft and bribery, womanize and secretly – like their Sunni un-brothers in Saudi Arabia – revel in various  other ’western’ vices.  They control the army, the Revolutionary Guard, the paramilitary Ansar-e-Hezbollah and ‘civilian’ Basaji, the state media and are legally superior to the executive and parliament. 

This is not to say that the perpetual war drive by U.S. Democrats and Republicans against Iran is some kind of solution.  It is, in fact, the opposite, as it gives more authority to the mullahs, driving the population into their arms.  The clerics and the U.S. government are allied in this sense.  U.S. support for Saadam Hussein’s war against Iran had hugely damaging consequences to this day. Imperialism has it sights set on control of Iran, as it does on any country that opposes it, for any reason.

Moaveni finalizes her Iranian-American identity, a cross-cultural complexity, at the end of the book.  Her book is funny and revealing, especially about the odd lives various women in Tehran lead.  Yoga, lipstick, cosmetic surgery, glamorous American fast food joints, jewelry smuggling, fake exercise clubs, veil issues, attempts to jog, designer roopooshs, co-ed hiking in the mountains, wife shopping by ex-pats, the necessity of marriage in a country with many more women than men due to the long war with Iraq - the issues cover the range of exclusively urban life.   The book is great about women’s issues but politically weak at the same time.  But then, she is a journalist, not an activist.

And I got it at Eat My Words books.
Red Frog
July 15, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mayday Volunteer and Peace/Labor Activist

Thomas R Dooley, born January 20, 1926, died July 4, 2017

Comrade Tom died at the age of 91 of unknown causes in a nursing home or hospice in St. Paul, after a short stay, having transferred from United Hospital subsequent to colon surgery for colon cancer.  His mother died on July 4th too when he was 6 months old, so Tom grew up without a mother for nearly all of his life. 

Tom Tabling for May Day in his Traditional Suspenders
Tom grew up around Loring Park in Minneapolis.  He went to Catholic schools for awhile and was an alter boy at the Basilica during the Father Couglin period.  In his youthful enthusiasm then, he threw snowballs at the nearby Communist Party headquarters.  But his views changed.

Tom went to a bomber gunner school in Texas during WWII, but the war ended before he was deployed.  He became radicalized as an anti-war activist by opposing the tragic war in Vietnam.  He was a member of Veterans For Peace, joining when he retired and writing a column for the Veterans for Peace newsletter.  Tom was also a long-time member of the DeLeonist New Union Party, supporting ‘one big union’ and various labor causes.  Tom also did a funny and well-written column for them, titled “My Fellow Commodity” in the local New Unionist paper, which was one of its high points.  He used ‘myfellowcommodity’ after that in his e-mail address.  He was a long-time volunteer at Mayday Books and the most dedicated book-tabler Mayday Books had, always volunteering to sell books for the non-profit store.  He was a consistent letter and e-mail writer for progressive causes and very generous with his donations to every left group.  He designed a unique saw-horse mostly for wood-working, and donated them to many Women Against Military Madness auctions and friends.  He attended Minnesota Atheist meetings and believed in ‘no gods, no masters.’ As part of that, he crossed out the word “God” on nearly every bit of U.S. currency he was going to spend.  Really.

Several people have remarked that Tom was a 'Jimmy Higgins.' They are the people on the left who do the 'grunt' work - a labor activist 'everyman' rank and filer, as celebrated in the Socialist Labor Party play, "Jimmy Higgins."  There can be no left without "Jimmy Higginses."   Tom believed in 'No master, no slave...' and he might agree.  However, from my perspective, those who do the ground work are leaders too.

Tom sold appliances for Admiral in his younger days as a traveling salesman, then worked for the Minnesota Highway Department on the maintenance crew, from which he retired.   He married once and had 5 children.  After his marriage ended, he met Lenore Burgard, a local political activist and they formed a liaison.  In his later years he lived in the basement of his daughter Mary Kay Edward’s home in St. Paul.

Tom’s major interest was in protesting the endless wars the U.S. pursued over the years.  He was a class conscious pacifist and always wore a button against war. He had a great sense of humor, and was one of the kindest and most giving persons on the left in the metro area.  He stickered junk mail with anti-war messages or cartoons and sent it back to the poor souls who would receive the mail.  He spent time in Twin City bars from the old Stand Up Franks to the new hipster Red Cow with his friends, and left anti-war buttons with his tips.  He always liked a good beer and food to relax – though he didn’t like the Irish bars, in spite of his Irish background.  Even at the end, he was making perceptive comments and jokes about the ways of the hospital. 

Tom’s death reminds us that another generation of activists is passing from the scene.  He will be greatly missed. But as Tom would have it, the struggle continues. 

A memorial for Tom will be held at Mayday Books at 4 PM, July 29, Saturday.

Greg, Kristen, Doug, Don, Craig & Morgan

Friday, July 7, 2017

Guess Who Shouldn't Come To Dinner

“Get Out,” film by Jordan Peele, 2017

This is the modern version of the film, “Guess Whose Coming to Dinner,” except now, 50 years later, black people are no longer sure they want to be invited.  This is how ‘race relations’ are progressing many years later – going nowhere or worse. Of course, there are no such thing as different human races, but we reference the vernacular used by unscientific journalists, liberals and conservatives.

Nice White People
An upper-middle class and clueless young white woman romances a young black photographer, Chris, and invites him to meet her parents at their upstate and upscale New York home.   This event would be fraught, even if both partners were white.  She doesn’t tell the parents he’s black and he’s bothered by this omission.  But ‘it’s all good’ he says a number of times – a phrase that is perhaps too optimistic for the circumstances.   

From a romance to a comedy to a horror show, this film progresses into the predictable depths.  The parents are odd – a neuro-surgeon that can’t quit with over-familiar comments; a psychologist mother that practices hypnotism related to cigarette-smoking; a nasty drunk brother that physically challenges Chris.  Oddest of all are two black servants that work for the parents – a cook and a gardener, who both seem like hypnotized robots.  Yeah, you know what is coming.

Mary Shelley’s socialist parable “Frankenstein” was about a human monster composed of body parts from other people.  As detailed in the book, “Monster of the Market,” working class relatives of hung or dead people during Shelley’s time had to fight the hospitals and the state for their husbands’ or brothers’ bodies.  Doctors were using the bodies for various purposes, including dissection in medical colleges.  Present African parables describe kidnapped children abducted by the rich for their body parts.  Current vampire tales borrow the same psychology.  In many parts of the modern world like India, body parts from exploited populations like the Dalits are part of a brisk trade.  Kidneys for sale! Vulnerable working-class bodies have been turned into commodities by capitalism - they are not merely flesh machines worn-out during the production process, but useful beyond that.   

Partial Spoiler Alert

This film brings that story home to the U.S.  The mother meets Chris as he wanders around late at night for a smoke, and hypnotizes him with a clinking tea cup. He is shaken by this, but tries to discount it.  Chris observes one black man who is a companion to a much older white woman during a suspiciously unsuspected lawn party full of creepy white suburbanites. The black man seems oddly familiar, but he’s also robotic.  Chris takes a flash picture of him and the flash of the camera seems to shake the man out of a stupor.  The man physically attacks Chris in what might be a warning, yelling “Get Out.” 

Chris sends the picture to his buddy Lil Rel, who works for TSA, and his buddy recognizes the man as a guy from the old neighborhood in the Bronx who disappeared.  Over the phone, Lil Rel conjectures that the white folks are kidnapping black people and turning them into sex slaves or some other kind of slaves.  Chris doesn’t buy this absurd story.  Lit Rel brings this story to the police after Chris won’t answer his phone.  The cops laugh at him too.  I won’t tell you the rest.

What is striking about this film is that liberal white Obama supporters have been turned into their opposite.  They are not Klansman or Republicans or any of the other stock racists.  And only the most cynical black attitude actually reflects reality.  Even cute, monied white girls come in for suspicion – as they should.  The film reflects black distrust writ large, through a funhouse horror mirror.  It was written by a black comedian.  Is it a comedy?  Not quite. 

Monsters of the Market,” reviewed below.

Red Frog
July 7, 2017   

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cerebral Play and the Red Domino

‘Petersburg,” by Andrei Biely, written 1916, re-written1922, published 1928 and 1935

To continue our celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, this is a review of another lost classic of Russian literature.  It focuses on 5 days in 1905, September 30 through October 4 in the city of St. Petersburg, a year of revolution in Russia.  Vladimir Nabokov thought this novel was one of the great books of the 20th Century, along with ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.  Of course, that is Nabokov, a son of the Russian nobility.  Virtually unknown in the ‘West’ and only published in English in 1959, it is a modernist blend between traditional Russian literature and a symbolist approach that reminds one of surrealism or James Joyce.  Biely himself became a supporter of the Russian revolution, working on the Organizational Committee of the Union of Soviet Writers.  He died in Moscow in 1934 at the age of 53, prior to the majority of Stalinist purges.

The Bronze Horseman is After You
The plot is slight but a bit tense.  A wealthy and absurd son of a high Czarist official promises the “Party” that he will kill his father.  Like ‘Ulysses,’ and Dublin, the city of St. Petersburg plays a central role as a virtual character.   Psychological portraits of various Gogol-like citizens – the green-eared Czarist official, a ridiculous society woman, a repressed Czarist officer, a sinister anarchist revolutionary, his sick or mentally disturbed compatriot, the trivial son who dresses in a mask and red cape (and is called ‘the red domino’ by the yellow press, as ‘domino’ means mask), and marginal servants (called ‘lackeys’) or apartment dwellers populate the book.  For Russian literature connoisseurs, there are quotes or references to other Russian writers like Pushkin and Bulgakov. There is a Tolstoyan ball that degenerates into a creepy farce.  Flying over it all is the metal statute of the ‘Horseman” that stands along the Neva – Peter the Great, the spirit that haunts this corrupt city built on a swamp.  The Russian steppes surround that swamp and frighten the Czarist official.

Politically, this is an odd book.  Working class characters are almost invisible.  Factories that ring St. Petersburg are occasionally mentioned.  The working-class ‘islands’ surrounding central St. Petersburg – Vyborg, Vasilyevsky, Petrograd, Narva and the others – are where the unwashed masses lives, while the Nevsky Prospect carries a constant stream of the bowler-hatted middle class.  The 1905 Revolution plays an almost invisible background role, though it started in December 1904 and went for a whole year.  Bloody Sunday predated the book, as it was in January 1905 when the Imperial Guard shot demonstrators before the Winter Palace.  

 The character of the anarchist bomber(s), as in Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Chernyshevsky, play a central and negative role. The ‘red domino’ represents the coming bloodshed, and you could even interpret this symbol as a foreshadowing of the later November 1917 revolution.  The clash between “Asian’ and ‘European” cultures that meet in St. Petersburg is another non-class theme (much as the Sokurov film “Russian Ark” dwelled on it in relation to the Winter Palace/Hermitage), with mentions of the 1905 Japan-Russia war and various insults involving "mongols."  The “Party,” which is frequently mentioned, does not seem to be the working-class and Marxist ‘Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party’ (which united Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the time), but something more like the anarchist Narodniks or peasant-based Socialist Revolutionaries.  The 'educated classes' and the Czarists are depicted as weak, useless and odd, which is probably its most important political point.

The book itself is an enclosed symbolic and dream space, where the choral repetition of colors, shapes like circles, spheres and rectangles, musical sounds, architectural details, dialog and ugly physical characteristics attempt to forge some kind of literary unity.  Biely was called a ‘symbolist’ and the novel really centers on the psychological developments of his odd and somewhat worthless characters.  For what it is worth, ‘symbolism’ seems to be a dead style, but the book is interesting in how it attempts to do what a modernist symphony does – create some kind of artistic whole, but through non-linear or dissonant methods.  Nothing like it was produced in the U.S. at this time, so it shows how literary Russian culture was more advanced at the time, much like Irish or French literature.

What to make of the book?  It is a hard, wandering 300-page read, given it is mostly a dream fugue.  If you are a fan of Russian literature, it should be a part of your readings, as it has ties to many other Russian works.  If you like modernism mostly divorced from politics, this is the book for you.  If you want a feel for the foggy, sad culture of St. Petersburg and the ‘green’ Neva at the time, it might be interesting. But if you are interested in Russian politics as reworked by literature, this will be a disappointment.  

Prior review of “What Is To Be Done,” below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
July 1, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Punk Never Dies

“Subculture – the Meaning of Style,” by Dick Hebdige, 1979

Most people are vaguely aware that sub-cultures exist in many countries, and that they pose somewhat subversive issues to the main-stream culture – whatever that may be.  Hebdige, a British cultural studies intellectual influenced by Marxism, concentrates in this seminal book on UK sub-cultures like the Teddy Boys, Rastas, mods and punks as examples of how ‘style’ issues become translated into a certain political attitude.  “The Personal Is the Political” is an old slogan, but as the majority wake up to how politics infects everything, it has become pertinent again.

Are you in a sub-culture?
Hebdige ignores hippies in his analysis, but of course hippies were the classic and even world-wide phenomenon of an oppositional sub-culture within developed capitalist societies.  Bikers, queer culture, rabid Christian cults, survivalists – and plenty of others – all exist at certain levels in the U.S. and can be both conservative or liberal.  Hebdige concentrates on working-class sub-cultures in the U.K. and their social meanings – many times connected to music and clothes.  His touchstones are Roland Barthes “Mythologies,’ Antonio Gramsci’s idea of ‘hegemony’ and gay French novelist Jean Genet’s writings from prison.  ‘Culture’ as defined here means the whole range of social being, not just ‘high culture.’  Hebdige ultimately gets himself and the reader tied in verbal intellectual knots as he attempts to understand these subcultures through post-modernist theory, but ultimately returns to his Birmingham-school Marxism. 

Ideology operates as ‘common sense’ in most societies.  Hebdige partly uses semiotics to translate the social impact of hairstyles, or even the architectural layout of a college campus, to decipher unsaid meanings.   Every sub-culture has an internally consistent logic that covers many aspects of life.  He first focuses on the role of West Indian / Caribbean black culture, which impacted the white working class in England, especially the youth.  White punks adopted reggae for instance, showing that ‘identity’ can transfer across ethnicities.  As we know from Thomas Frank’s “The Conquest of Cool,” nearly any cultural rebellion can be commodified by capital. For instance, punk fashion found its way onto the high-fashion runways through people like Jean Paul Gaultier.  In a way, the dominant culture has a vampiric relation to sub-cultures, borrowing bits of their vitality for its own commercial and artistic uses.  But this process is never immediate or complete. 

1976 in Britain saw that hot summer explode into riots and punk.  Hebdon looks at the development of many music forms in this period which paralleled the growth of sub-cultures – northern soul, punk, reggae, ska – and how ‘blackness’ became the ultimate subterranean identity, which white youth either embraced or rejected in a dialectical process.  This also happened in the U.S. beginning with hipsters and beatniks back in the 1950s.  Teds and skinheads rejected black culture, while mods and punks embraced parts of it.  Rock Against Racism grew out of this fusion.  The glam and glitter rockers – Bowie led!- actually are identified by Hebdon as those who moved the the focus from class and politics to sexuality and identity.   Bowie represented a more middle-class ‘sub-culture.'  

Hebdon points out that sub-cultures are always historically specific – and not just based on some generalization like ‘youth.’  Many of these working-class subcultures were responses to the economics of England after WWII, and the severe changes in working-class life.  The world of the ‘home, pub and working-mans club’ was disappearing in the face of austerity and the cultural politics of the bourgeois media.  Punk was the primary ‘spectacle’ that arose in response to the degeneration of working-class life, and Hebdon digs into it deeply.  Even language, as we know, is part of a sub-culture, and punk had its own verbalisms, including much swearing. Hebdon thinks that punk ultimately had elements of nihilism, not just rebellion. Shock became the point of some; punk became modern Dada.  Because of this, the hegemonic cultural system tried to turn punk into a clown show, which is one way sub-cultures can be undermined by the dominant culture. To this day, punk still exists -  just visit the crusties in Kensington Street in Toronto.

Jean Genet actually wrote an introduction to “Soledad Brother,” a book of letters by George Jackson, a Black Panther murdered by the state back in the 1960s.  This odd pairing actually implies that parts of black culture in the U.S. are also part of a very large ‘sub-culture’ subversive to corporate culture or capitalist ‘normality,’ just as gay culture once was.  Latino culture represents another strain. This is an odd thought to have.  But as someone who has been a hippie, a motorcylist and a leftist – three subcultures in the U.S. - many of us belong to something out of the mainstream.  Ethnicities form massive sub-cultures and this point is often ignored.  Hebon’s point about West Indians in the U.K. is also relevant to the U.S. black, native and Latino populations.  The former was the basis, at one time, for the proposal for a ‘black nation’ in the ‘black belt’ across the South – a black belt which no longer really exists geographically, but still exists culturally.

Other books on "Chavs," British motorcycling gangs and British soccer 'hooligans,' reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
June 25, 2017