Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tyrion the Liberal

Game of Thrones – Season 7
The wine drinking has disappeared, and so has the sex except for an odd act of one person lying on top of another.  As you can see, there are many aspects to Game of Thrones, but what is most interesting is it's political ramifications.  I don’t just see this as just a historical fantasy, but as a commentary on the present.  This is not unusual, as GoT has seeped into the general culture.  George Martin was not devoid of politics and certainly his views infused his books and the beginning chapters of this HBO series.   Martin became anti-war during Vietnam and thinks imperial domination is an abomination.  That is why it is called ‘game’ of thrones, which belittles the whole process of imperial rule.

The Lannisters Always Pay their Debts...
So the basic question for this season is:  Who thinks they can make a deal with Cersei Lannister?  Cersei is certainly the Mad Queen at this point, a medieval fascist intent on maintaining her rule over the Iron Throne and her imagined ‘7 kingdoms’ no matter what.  This in the context of a stagnant medieval economy that has lasted far beyond anything in real human history.  She is a climate denialist of the first order regarding the fact that “winter is coming” and the Night King with it.  She is an intimate of the Iron Bank, which will lend money to anyone for any purpose, as long as interest is paid.  She personifies a Westerosi  nationalist who thunders against the invading hordes of ‘foreigners’ represented by the Unsullied and the Dothraki.  As Bronn and Jaime comment, the Unsullied are an army of dickless men, not ‘real’ men.  They might even be gay!  Does this all sound familiar?  

The deal with the Iron Bank for an army of 20,000 mercenaries – the Golden Company – is built on stolen Tyrell money that the Lannisters seized through military conquest.  Cersei’s brutal ally, Euron Greyjoy, will ferry the Golden Company from Essos to Westeros in his bid to become King, allegedly with Cersei.  However, one of the recent absurd fact problems in GoT is that this money is never seen getting to King’s Landing - a place which may also just be the Hunger Games capital of Londonium.  Was it the paltry sum of gold in Bronn’s saddle-bag on a horse that was probably incinerated by a dragon while rescuing Jaime?  Was it in the train of wagons incinerated by 3 dragons?  Did it arrive in King’s Landing by an invisible boat?  No. 

Let’s assume the money exists though somehow, because the script writers do.  That is all Cersei has now.  Money.  The Iron Bank?  The City and Wall Street! And with money comes power.  With which you can buy military power, much as the U.S. has the biggest army in world history, funded by their imperial system of economic domination.  And even many mercenaries, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Or the use of Blackwater, now XE, a close partner with the Defense Department and Donald Trump.  No reference to Blackwater Bay, but you never know...

GRR Martin, in an interview, commented that the dragons were the equivalent of nuclear weapons.  Anyone who has ‘dragons’ holds an ace in the war of thrones for domination of the ‘world.’  No wonder Kim Jong-Un doesn’t want to go the way of Libya’s Gaddafi , and so keeps his ‘ace.’  The biggest nuclear arsenal in the world is held by the U.S.  And now the nuclear threat again hangs over the whole world, both in North Korea but now even in the crusade against Russia, because of our mad King and our mad military and their bi-partisan allies.  You see, the problem is nuclear proliferation, as now even the ‘Night King’ has one too.  Witness the collateral damage of dragons burning sheepherders or eating livestock.  This is no different than the radioactive pollution from Hanford or Seabrook, not to mention Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Nagasaki or Fukushima.

This leads one to wonder – is the ‘breaker of chains’ the U.S.?  Certainly, but only if hypocrisy is taken as reality.  This is where the analogy breaks down.  Unless Daenerys does incinerate Kings Landing and its million citizens in frustration over Cersei’s betrayal, Daenerys is not the U.S. quite yet.  The U.S. is a maintainer of chains, wage labor, wage slavery, literal slavery and is attempting to sit on the imperial iron throne.  The U.S. is King's Landing.

The Night King seems to represent the advance of world-historic barbarism.  How did the Night King get the bomb?  Well, that is where liberalism comes in.  Tyrion is a beloved character - a drinker, lover, wit, an intellectual of sorts.  Another ‘half-man’ like so many damaged men in this tale – but a real one in character, more so than many taller men.  However, Tyrion, as Daenerys has noted, lately gives very bad advice.  His odd fretting over Daenerys’ death.   His idea to capture Casterly Rock by the Unsullied fell into a diversion, which Daenerys corrected by attacking and destroying the Lannister and Tully army.  His worst recent idea was to capture a White Walker’s wight and show it to Cersei, who would then suddenly ‘see the light’ and send her armies north to fight alongside Daenerys, Jon Snow and the rest.  

Of course anyone looking at their internet phone constantly might also be a zombie.  Or those worker-bee drones that work without thinking.  You can extrapolate this…

Tyrion is the expression of the liberalism of the male HBO showrunners, but also of liberal principals in general.  He is humane, but also ‘humane’ sometimes to the point of betrayal.  His idea to allow slavery in Meereen and Essos in Season 6 after it had been militarily defeated was a stunning example of trying to make a deal with the devil.  He argued against the former slaves on this issue, Missandei & Grey Worm, who knew a deal with the slavers was a terrible idea.  It would be like Lincoln deciding that, after winning the Civil War, the South could still have slavery or that Jim Crow was a good compromise.
 
Now Tyrion again wants to make a deal with a fascist and a climate denier, his sister, and thinks that will work.  And so the fateful and idiotic machinery goes into action, of capturing a zombie wight, having a bogus peace parley and losing a dragon to nuclear proliferation.  That dragon then melts Hadrian’s ice Wall at Eastwatch, which otherwise would have provided an effective barrier against the White Walkers for some time, at least until the ocean shore froze over. Tyrion was instrumental in this. The real Hadrian’s Wall was supposed to protect England from the ‘freemen’ - Scotsmen and Norsemen.  But the Wildlings are now south of the Wall, as freemen in league with the King of the North and survival. 

After showing the wight to Cersei, she publicly agrees to send her armies north.  And she is lying of course, which is not unpredictable.  Even Jaime leaves her at this point after she almost kills him.  So much for negotiating with medieval fascists.  So do we negotiate with climate deniers?  With fascists?  With virulent opponents?  Tyrion does, though we don't know all that transpired, and this might indicate something else is going on.  But the real answer is obvious.  Time for Arya to put on Lord Baelish’s face and have an audience with the Mad Queen. 

So what is this “Night King” that humanity must unite against?  Why is he framed in the phrase “Winter is Coming” all the time, as if he and some turn in nature were the same?   Because snow storms do rage as he approaches.   I see ‘winter is coming’ to be the inversion of ‘summer is coming’ – meaning global climate change.  Not a stretch at all.  Jon Snow is always arguing with people who have killed each other that they need to unite against this greater danger.   He’s the only one consistently doing it, which is why he is the actual leader here – not all the limited players concentrating on their little thrones, even the Mother of Dragons. 

Now you might even interpret this as an argument for a working military and political unity of the left against disastrous climate change; the present rightist threat in the U.S. or the capitalist class in general.   The need for a U.S. Left Front or Anti-Capitalist Front, even among those who are in historical currents that have killed each other! The Internationalist Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action, Socialist Appeal, Redneck Revolt, Socialist Party, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Workers World Party, Industrial Workers of the World, Democratic Socialists of America, the Socialist Gun Club, Black Agenda Report, the Communist Party, etc. – a bunch of Trotskyists, Stalinists, anarcho-syndicalists, Maoist, Marxists, radicals, left populists and social democrats.    

These are all real organizations, just like the Wildlings or the imaginary Brotherhood Without Banners, who have rejected kings and queens and defend the ‘smallfolk’ – who want to ‘break the wheel.”  But they need to unite to have any impact, ala Jon Snow.  The Hound is one of their number, one of the few who has turned on the rich.  The show-runners certainly will not question the idea of a 'good' queen or a 'good' king, as this is the basis on which they probably plan on ending this series.  Even thought JRR Martin was against the idea of 'good kings.' But not our liberals...

Am I blurring fact and alleged fiction?  You bet…

Will the real groups unite?  Or like Cersei Lannister, only use a united front to further their own ends?  Ah, yes, we know how that works … because history and Game of Thrones has told us so.

The real message from Tyrion’s liberal mistakes or relation to the Lannisters (remember his class and family background...) is that liberalism is treacherous in the present period.  We need a revolutionary attitude to adequately cope with reality, be it fictional or real as real can be.  After all, giving police grenade launchers and armored vehicles seem to be 'The Mountain' in actual fact. Hillary Clinton just compared her self to Cersei Lannister in her recent book.  This is the problem with people who are so out of touch they assume a pop citation will prove their 'groundedness.'  But there is much truth in it nevertheless.  Prior discussions of the TV series Game of Thrones” and other dystopian films, below.

Red Frog
August 30, 2017

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Anti-Fascist People's War

"The Unwomanly Face of War - an Oral History of Women in World War II," by Svetlana Alexievich, 1985, translated into English, 2017

More than a one million Russian girls and women fought in World War II, defending the USSR from the German/Axis invasion.  This is the greatest military mobilization of women in history and reflective of its character in the USSR as a 'peoples war.'  For all the bourgeois feminists in the U.S. who celebrate the strides that U.S. women have recently made in the U.S. army, these stories show who was first.  Alexievich tells the personal, emotional memories of these women, be they nurses, snipers, partisans, underground fighters, pilots, signal-women, communication operators, corps-women, railway workers, engineers, anti-aircraft officers, doctors, truck drivers, tank mechanics, cooks, washers, sappers or front-line troops.  One woman sniper killed 75 Germans.  No position was closed to females.

The Motherland Incarnate
Alexievich is not a socialist or communist but she is a journalist who specializes in oral histories.  She won the 2015 Nobel prize for this kind of work.  These brutal, sad or wonderful stories are told from the unique point of view of mostly older women reflecting on their lost, youthful lives in the war.  The book took 26 years to compile, so the book covers a very broad range of women and time.  These kind of emotional and personal tales have been ignored in the broad canvas of 'history unfolding,' or whatever you want to call the traditional view of war - the movement of armies, the actions of generals, the technology of death.  But through them you can see what it was really like for the Soviet citizen in the midst of this horror.

A few reflections, as there are hundreds of interviews here.  Memory is obviously a tricky thing, made up of emotions, choices and impacts, not some linear, perfect process.  Alexievich recognizes this and understands that memory creates itself.  

Leaving Home:  Many stories start with the traumatic moment they hear that the war has started.  Girls in school, at home, shopping.  Most want to immediately volunteer, even if they were only 15.  The too young girls are so persistent they talk their way into some position in the army or sneak into the services on the back of a truck. Older Komosol girls (youth section of the CP) are taken immediately.  Many volunteer and whole trainloads of girls headed to the Front.  These girls would not think of leaving the defense of the 'Motherland' to just men and boys.  Dying for the cause was taught in school as was the equality between girls and boys. 

Clothes:  Clothes were a big issue for the girls and women.  The Soviet Army had no real clothes for women initially, especially in the small sizes of teenage girls.  So the boots are too big, the pants billowing, the shirts hang, the underwear is bulky men's underwear and there are no supplied bras.  Menstruation is difficult. Clothing even changed the way the women walked.  Only after two years of war women's underwear begins to be supplied to the army.

Love:  Some girls found husbands or lovers in the armed forces.  They watched them die.  They formed life-long bonds.  They got crushes on men that disappeared.  For many, this was their first love, as they were very young.  For some, their last.    

Children:  Some women had to leave their children behind, with relatives, with neighbors.  Some even took them into the war - with the partisans in the forests, in military units.  One women actually drowned her baby because it was crying while her partisan unit was hiding in swamp waters.  When the women returned to their homes, they were sometimes unrecognized by the children they had to leave behind.  One woman arrived back home on a horse, with a short haircut, a side-arm and military clothes.  Who is she, the child wondered?

Stalin:  For some women, Stalin, the War and the Victory were closely identified and this emotional connection continued throughout their lives. For others, some of whom lost Communist or peasant brothers or fathers to the prison camps, Stalin was a failure who left the USSR totally unprepared for a German assault, losing millions of Soviet soldiers to death or capture in a month; who jailed and shot the majority of experienced Red Army generals in 1937; who imprisoned innocent Soviet soldiers or partisans after they had been captured by the Germans. These are the most political sections and indicate that the war was won, not because of Stalin, but sometimes in spite of him.  The May 9 'Victory" was a victory for the whole Russian people, a true victory of 'peoples war.'   

Blood:  Nearly all the girls and women in these stories did not know how they would behave under fire or bombardment or with injuries or around death - like any new soldier would.  Nearly all managed to get through the first hellish experiences.  However, some clearly had PTSD.   One woman smelled blood almost everywhere, which made her sick to her stomach.  One could not have anything red in her house.  For the nurses and corps-women, blood soaked their clothes constantly, dried and stiff, and they had to get used to it.

Kindness:  The officers and men of the Soviet Army treated the women with kindness and tried to protect and help them.  Sexual assaults were very rare, at least in these pages.  Commanders acted like good fathers in many instances. The girls, who hated the Germans, nevertheless found themselves helping and feeding the German wounded. 

The Germans:  The German Wehrmacht killed prisoners and civilians, sometimes using kerosene to burn a village church or school filled with people.  The Germans killed and sometimes mutilated all captured women.  Contrary to this, the Soviet Army rules did not allow German prisoners to be killed, nor German civilians - though there were rapes.  There is no 'equivalency' between the two sides, as the bourgeois press likes to pretend.

Hair & Makeup:  Women had to cut their hair - not even braids were allowed, so some sneakily attempted to let it grow, curl it, dye and comb it.   They created on-site make-up.  Other military women felt that they had to wait until the war was over to become 'womanly' again, as it was disloyal to do it while in the war.

Roles:  Women were in every branch of the service, even in the navy, which had a superstition against women on ships.  Girls and women formed the legendary 'Night Witches," which flew small, old planes just above the treetops by sight, in the night.  They held positions in various parts of the armed forces, from private to officer, and led men in a good number of instances. 

Physical Tasks:  Young, small women hauled wounded men by crawling with them on their backs through mud, over earth, time and time again.  One woman hauled 481 wounded soldiers from under fire. Rifles taller than they.  Endless heavy basins of dirty water to wash clothes in.  Heavy artillery shells.  Digging deep anti-tank ditches.  Building bridges.  Constant hunger and stress, which turned one young women's hair grey at 19.

Coming Home:  Women that did not go into the Soviet army slurred the military women as 'whores' and 'unwomanly' and attempted to cut them off from male relationships when they returned home.  Nothing is left in many of the villages they return to.  Many men are dead and the female ex-soldiers must begin the heavy work of harvesting, plowing, planting alone, or with young children.  Women later became a much larger part of the Soviet working class that labored outside the home.

The Soviet experience in WWII is somewhat of a mystery to the majority of people in the U.S., who think the U.S. played the main role in beating the Axis at "D-day" with their 'Band of  Brothers."  Au contraire.  These stories range geographically from villages to Stalingrad to Leningrad to Berlin.  After the war, the role of women in the USSR rose because of their war-time experiences, not just as "Rosie the Riveter" but as "Rosa the Soldier." These remembrances give 'women's liberation' a whole new meaning - perhaps one middle-class U.S. feminists are not used to.      

Prior reviews on women in the USSR:  "Women in Soviet Art," "Soviet Women: Walking the Tightrope."  Use blog search box, upper left. 

Red Frog
August 26,2017

Monday, August 21, 2017

Do Not Trifle With a Tamil Tiger

"Deephan," film by Jacque Audiard, 2015

This is a Diaspora film.  This time the displaced ones are Tamils from Sri Lanka.  It starts after the 26-year guerilla campaign in Sri Lanka has been won by the majority ethnic Sinahalese government in 2009.  This occurs after a mass slaughter of  the ethnic Tamil minority.  Deephan / Sidvahasan is a former Tamil Tiger whose wife and children have been killed.  His unit is decimated and he's forced into a refugee camp.  To get out of the camp, he gets the passport of a dead man, finds an unattached woman, Yalini, who finds an orphan girl, Illayaal, and they claim to be a real family.  They are allowed passage to France, where he becomes the caretaker of a large apartment building in one of the working-class ring suburbs of Paris, which are full of immigrants from various countries.

Deephan - Street Peddler & Maintenance Man & ...
The apartment blocks are dominated by armed criminals, mostly drug-dealers.  They are Arab, African, French.  But they let Deephan quietly do his efficient work on the buildings - fixing, cleaning, maintenance.  His alleged daughter Illayaal goes to a nearby school and works on learning French.  His alleged wife Yalini, who has a bad temper, sits around until he convinces her to work for a paralyzed man in one of the buildings, Mr. Habib.   She is an excellent cook but gets a crush on Mr. Habib's son, who is a criminal wearing an ankle monitor.

They face all the problems of immigrants in a totally new place.   Language is a main burden, though Illayaal begins learning French quite well.  Deepan has trouble understanding and fitting in with the cultural customs, like French humor.  Illayaal tries to make friends with school children who are hostile to strangers.  Earning a living is a big hurdle, though the French find Deephan and then Yalini a job quickly and they pay far more than in Sri Lanka.  Deepan & Yalini both try to escape their past, which can be difficult.  The Tamil guerilla leadership in Paris want Deephan to continue working for the cause, but he can't face it anymore.  They have to lie to the authorities about their background, as Deephan has to hide being a former Tamil Tiger.  And keeping their odd 'family' together - probably the hardest.  In the final case, putting up with violence that reminds them too much of Sri Lanka, as especially Yalini goes into panic mode immediately.

The thugs in the buildings have a shootout one day and Yalini loses it and runs to the train station, abandoning Deephan and Illayaal to get to London, where she has a cousin.  Deephan forces her back to the apartment, as he is beginning to feel that they are a real family.  Her leaving might also endanger their immigrant status.   From then on, Deephan puts his former military skills to use in combating the criminal element, who have not dealt with a guerilla soldier before - dark and inconspicuous as he is.

The film has an unrealistic but very happy ending.  Part of it is that the artificially constructed family becomes a real family by living through this misery. This film puts you in the position of being in immigrant, which is its main strength.  It again reflects the massive dislocations that primitive capitalist ethnic politics and poverty bring to society.   

Other reviews on Diaspora issues:  "Lipstick Jihad." 

Red Frog
August 21, 2017

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Missing Ideology of Liberalism

"The Political Beliefs of Americans - A Study of Public Opinion," by Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril, 1967

Recent articles by Paul Rosenberg in Alternet and Salon drew my attention to this 1967 book. The book is an analysis of surveys taken in 1964 by Gallup Poll. Its focus is on what they take to be a contradiction between strongly liberal responses to issues they consider “operational” and conservative responses to another set of “ideological” issues. As an example: to a question about federal responsibility for reducing unemployment. 75% agreed that it was responsible while 18% disagreed. On the other hand, to a question about whether any able-bodied person who wants to work can find a job and earn a living, 76% agree and just 21% disagreed.

The Subterranean Socialist
The “operational” questions in the surveys were mostly about federal funding for a variety of social programs while the “ideological” questions covered a range of generally conservative beliefs. Free and Cantril find that, as a whole, Americans tend to be operationally liberal and ideologically conservative. “This discrepancy is so marked as to be almost schizoid.” (p.33). They peg a national figure of 23% for those who cross the political road rather than holding to either position consistently. This segment increases among those with a grade school education (28%), the very poor (30%), and in the southern states that went for Goldwater in 1964 (41%).

Writing at the nadir of Republican Party fortunes they have little trouble
identifying the trap that the GOP was in, their base enthusiastically supported conservative rhetoric but was significantly less happy about cuts to the social programs that were the province of the Democrats. We can still recognize a reflection of this dilemma in their failure to replace the Affordable Care Act.  However popular with their voters is the rallying cry of repeal and replace, they choke on the reality of mass support for universal health care. Fifty years down the road we have a changed political landscape - although it can be argued that there is still something of the same mismatch today.  I'm not going to attempt an update the book's findings but instead take a look at its theoretical weakness.

What can we, discerning working class readers, get out of such a book? First, we'll have to untangle some of what it presents as its historical background. Their overview of the evolution of the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' is brief and not misleading, up to a point. The U.S. political system professes belief in “liberal” principles which we will venture to summarize in our own way here as protecting private property against the prerogatives of the state. And, of course, the larger the property the greater the protection.

“By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the doctrines of
liberalism, as further developed by such men as Spencer and Sumner,
were being used for exactly the opposite purpose: namely, by
“conservatives” to defend a new status quo. By this time, particularly
after the civil war, the business class was in the saddle and was fearful
that, with the extension of suffrage, governments would prove too
sensitive to the needs of the people and adopt dangerous working-class reforms.” (p.4).

In effect, liberalism becomes conservatism, in outline but not inaccurate. But what is this reborn liberalism which they see as emerging in the 20th century? Here is where I think we need to pull them up short, by the roots:
“As a practical matter, the new style liberals increasingly recognized the need for governmental action to protect the underprivileged. … They supported compulsory education, unemployment and old-age insurance, minimum wages...”
They are talking about Roosevelt, Wilson & FDR...
“However, neither Roosevelt nor those who followed him ever evolved a coherent philosophy of liberalism (new style) to rationalize the programs they supported.”
And so the authors were “unable to unearth a sufficiently coherent body of
ideological doctrine commonly accepted by the public to ask questions about "liberalism's new style.”

I think, looking back 50 years to when this was written, we can supply the
missing element to their analysis. In fact, it should not have been difficult 50 or even 100 years before this was written to see what they left out. All
of these liberal programs were the result of demands made by the working
class and were expressed by its own political program, socialism. “Liberalism (new style)” arose from and continues to be the accommodation to those demands, but which preserves the existing relations of production.
If we look at the survey results with this in mind we cannot be faulted for
seeing in the majority support for social programs, for what they call
operational liberalism, evidence of an abiding, if not fully conscious,
working-class support for a socialist political agenda.

The survey reports class self-identification of the respondents as follows:
Propertied class 5%
Middle class 37%
Working class 53%
Don't know 5%
The percentage of liberals (operational) rises from 40% in the propertied
class to 57% in the middle class and 74% in the working class. (p. 18)

While the responses to the operational questions have certainly undergone
shifts since 1964, as on the ideological side of the survey the questions are antique. As a snapshot of American political opinion of the period the book is rich and fascinating and I can recommend it on that basis alone. Among the subjects covered by the survey: foreign affairs, race, politics of the father, aspirations & fears, prejudices, and so on. But a solid analysis of the material would require a more extensive study of the period than I can perform. That won't stop me from making a sample observation.

Let's take one that I'm sure won't surprise many of us:
“Statement: The relief rolls are loaded with chiselers and people who just
don't want to work”
Agree 66%
Disagree 23%
Don't know 11% (p. 27)
While this response holds up across the classes I'm not sure we can assume that the workers who agree with the statement always have in mind chiselers who are among the poor or, with this opinion, they are asserting support for the social status quo.

“The working class in every country lives its own life, makes its own
experiences, seeking always to create forms and realize values which
may originate directly from its organic opposition to official society, but are shaped by its experiences in cooperative labor. Nowhere is this more marked than in the United States where the raucous rowdyism of
Republicans and Democrats obscures and drowns out the mass search for a way of life; not a new way but simply a way, the famous
'American Way' being strictly an export commodity. Quite often, the
reaction is for the time being merely negative, but none the less
indicative of the future” Facing Reality – C.L.R. James & Grace C.
Lee

Some additional nuggets:
 Q. There is a definite trend toward socialism in this country.
Agree 46%
Disagree 30%
Don't know 32%

Quotes in the book:
“It might sound funny, but they've got a good thing over in Sweden.
You're protected from the cradle to the grave. Not that I'm a socialist or anything like that, but it would be a good thing for the U.S. to follow." (an automobile worker in Michigan)

“I don't understand a lot about the Communists, but I sure fear them.” (a retired woman living in Tennessee)

“The way the Negroes are making trouble, they pretty soon will get on
top of the whites. We may even have a Negro President.” (a retired man living in Michigan)

Barry Link, August 20, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Moment of Silence

Charlottesville, Virginia

A moment of silence for Heather Heyer, a 32 year old woman anti-racist and Sanders supporter, who was 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, the Sharras - 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!

An excellent analysis of security and defense needs by the U.S. left in confrontations with armed right-wingers was just published on Counterpunch: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/18/the-fetishization-of-violence-reflections-on-charlottesville-wwii-and-activism/

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, according to a press release by the IWW.  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, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog

August 2, 2017