Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Starry Plough

“A Full Life:  James Connolly the Irish Rebel,” by Tom Keough, 2016

This graphic pamphlet gives the viewer the highlights of James Connolly’s life. Odd given that 102 years after the Easter rebellion of 1916, northern Ireland is still under the control of the English.  Ireland was one of England’s first colonies – with Wales and Scotland being absorbed earlier.  Theresa May’s Tory government is in power with the votes of a small group of these right-wing Ulster Protestants. The curse of colonialism never ends…

The surprising thing is that Connolly organized in many locations and was a member of many groups.
Graphic pamphlets are Cool


Connolly grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland very poor, and went to work at 10 years old.   He enlisted in the English army, but after being stationed in Ireland and then threatened with being sent to India, he deserted.  He joined the Scottish Socialist Federation after living on poverty wages for too long.  In 1893 he joined the Independent Labour Party and later became head of the Scottish Socialist Federation.  Then he went to work for the Irish Socialist Republican Party, combining the causes of national liberation and working class power – for a workers’ Republic.

Due to poverty, he left Ireland and shipped off to the U.S. where he joined the Socialist Labor Party.  He organized a shirt collar workers strike in Troy, New York. Connolly fought the AFL, which refused to enlist black, Chinese, Filipino and Italians in their unions.  He was sympathetic to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which won the first minimum wage in the U.S. in Goldfield, Nevada.  Connolly moved to Newark, New Jersey to work at a Singer sewing machine factory, then to the Bronx, New York, where he worked with the IWW.  Ultimately he organized the Irish Socialist Federation with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in the U.S. and became the editor of their paper The Harp.  In The Harp he supported the rights of women, all immigrants, opposed the hostility between Protestants and Catholics and understood that religious people could have a role in a revolution.  Connolly was also aware of the colonial reach of the British Empire, having penned attacks on their control of India. 

In 1910, Connolly and his family moved back to Ireland and with Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), modeled after the IWW.  Larkin and Connolly spoke all over Ireland as the Irish and English capitalists attacked the ITGWU.  Strikes organized by the ITGWU received aid from the English cooperative movement.  Connolly advocated sympathy strikes and strikes spread across Ireland.  On Bloody Sunday, August 31, 1913, 400 workers were injured and 2 killed by police in Dublin.  The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) was formed by the left as a response to the massacre.  In 1914 Irish labour opposed WWI and Connolly organized against the imperialist war.  The English government attempted to conscript Irishmen and opposition grew exponentially.  More armed groups were formed by labour, including a women’s brigade.  The ICA and Irish Republican Brotherhood got word that the English authorities were going to arrest the leaders of all the Irish labour and anti-war organizations.  A block was formed between nationalists and socialists for an uprising against English rule.

Barricades on the Streets of Dublin
An attempt to get guns for the insurrection from the Germans failed, as the Irish drivers drove over a cliff in the dark.  Because of the lack of weapons, the nationalists called off the rebellion and urged volunteers not to show up.  The ICA, Connolly and others went ahead on Easter Sunday, 1916.  Working out of Liberty Hall they took over a number of locations in Dublin, including the Post Office. They announced a provisional government for an Irish Republic.  Because not enough volunteers showed up, after 5 days of fighting the rebels were defeated.  Connolly was arrested and he was shot along with 15 others on May 12 at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.

1916 was in a period of massive labour ferment all over Europe, as the war disrupted the normality of capitalist rule.  While the rising did not initially succeed, it led to independence for most of Ireland in 1921 after 5 years of continued conflict and civil war.  The pamphlet is easy to read, the art well done, and includes much more than I have related here, including original articles by Connolly from The Harp.

Other reviews related to Ireland:  Film:  “Jimmy’s Hall” and novel about Roger Casement:  “The Dream of the Celt.”

And I got it from May Day’s large selection of inexpensive pamphlets.

Note:  Stay tuned for information on Dublin's Easter Rising sites. 
And listen to this: "James Connolly" by Black 47:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wukfdjJv340

Red Frog

April 29, 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Russian Novels Still Get Written


“Fear” by Anatoli Rybakov, 1990

This book, unlike any other, takes you into the heart of the purge trials of the 1930s in the USSR after the assassination of Kirov.  It does not contain descriptions of camps or mass deportations or killings, but a personal story of those involved in the trials, as well as the civilians affected by the atmosphere of death and uncertainty.  The purges ultimately went far beyond the public trials themselves and insinuated themselves into every facet of social life.  It is a sequel to Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat.  It is about fear – of the government, of your neighbor, of your family, of yourself.  Rybakov’s analysis is that Stalin had Kirov assassinated, and used that as an excuse to purge opponents and rivals.  It is written as a semi-fictional account of the period, interposing the lives of the fictional characters with descriptions of real events and people.

The Sequel

The book continues the story of Sasha Pankratov, a student who is exiled to Siberia for 3 years for making a comment in a school newspaper that is seen as ‘politically subversive’ by the NKVD.  The book is centered in Moscow, and includes many references to the streets and squares of that city.  The fictional characters include an art critic who becomes an informer, even on people he has known since childhood like his barber.  An operative in the NKVD who does interrogations and gets confessions out of ‘suspects,’ but has secrets of his own.  Sasha’s mother and a young woman, Varya, who both worry and pine after Sasha. Working class exiles who can no longer live in Moscow or Leningrad.  An old census taker and family friend who finds that many people are missing in the census.  A high school teacher who is expelled from the Party, fired, then arrested.  A loyal Communist who suddenly realizes she is a target and escapes to Vladivostok upon the urgings of her sister.   A woman who marries a rich foreigner and leaves for Paris.  Relentless thugs working for the NKVD.  Arguments within families over being arrested or suspected of being a subversive for any slip of the tongue or association.  Pro-German spies working for the NKVD’s foreign section.  Doctors who see their fellow doctors disappearing, and CP leaders and workers disappearing.

These ‘fictional’ stories are interspersed with chapters dominated by Stalin as he plans the show trials for Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, Bukharin, Tukachevsky and others.  Rybakov paints a pretty accurate psychological portrait of Stalin embedded in real  historical detail.  Every fabricated confession – through threats to family, various forms of torture, lying promises that the confessor will not be shot – is based on a conspiracy theory.  It is that the ‘Trotskyites’ are at the head of a vast ‘fascist’ conspiracy to undermine ‘the Party.’  In this, the “party” has replaced socialism, the working class or revolution as the most important thing in the USSR.  That ‘party’ has actually devolved to control by Stalin and a few of his closest allies.  Many of the real CPers voting to execute their real comrades are also later killed.  Even the Cheka and NKVD are purged, to make way for new cadres controlled by Stalin and the apparatus of fear.  Stalin calls this ‘the cadre revolution.’

Other Cover
From this book, it seems Rybakov is not hostile to socialism or Lenin.  Many of the comments are couched in a defense of the “Old Bolsheviks” who led the revolution and had been in the party since the beginning.  These are the people Stalin had to remove through any method he could, as well as anyone who showed some opposition, no matter how trivial.  Some Communists shot themselves rather then continue, which is a measure of the cruel nature of the purges.

This is a powerful and long book that takes you inside a situation you never want to be in.  Many respected cultural figures were forced to applaud the purges.  Ultimately to avoid imprisonment or poverty or death, it makes cowards of everyone, even Sasha Pankratov.  He serves his sentence only to return from exile into a country where nearly everyone is afraid, and so conforms and follows orders. That is the ultimate goal of fear.

Addendum:  For the few people I know who are still nostalgic for Stalin.   Nearly all were recruited through Maoism in the 1960s and 1970s, which had Stalin in its pantheon.  At the time, China was a revolutionary beacon, which was quickly extinguished, especially after the block with the U.S.  After Che, Cuba has been unable to export its revolution and stays frozen in time defying capitalism.  Vietnam thankfully won its war and now peacefully manages its mixed economy.  The USSR and the workers’ states in central and eastern Europe are no more, as counter-revolution triumphed.  So the major ‘material’ bases for the past credibility of Stalinism as some kind of alternative has mostly collapsed, though not everywhere.  This ignores, of course, any separate political or economic or historical facts, which I won’t get into here.  Because of this disappearing history, young radicals the world over will not be drawn into Stalinism in any numbers.
And I got it at the Library!

Red Frog

April 26, 2018


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Not On PBS


'The Young Karl Marx,' film by Raoul Peck, 2018

This film looks like a traditional period drama.  Top hats, warrens of poor people in England, young romance, the working Irish, factory life, garrets, gendarmes and police, heavy drinking, cigars and chess in taverns.  But underneath the conventional British PBS veneer something else is going on.  The film humanizes Marx and Engels and serves as an introduction to their ideas and activities.   Some leftists insist the film should have been some kind of in-depth primer.  Similar complaints were lodged against the film “Reds,” but given this film is being released in the present political climate, it is not surprising.  As it is, it means something just by being released.
Top hats?

The film starts in 1843, 5 years before the 1848 insurrections across Europe and before the publication of the Communist Manifesto.  We meet various famous socialists, anarchists and communists– Proudhon, Bakunin, Weitling, Stirner, Feurbach, Courbet.  In the process, the 2nd meeting between Marx and Engels in Paris occurs, where they both praise each other’s work.  In a Parisian bar, Engels calls Marx the world’s leading dialectical thinker after writing Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, while Marx praises Engels for his study, The Condition of the Working Class in England.  On this and too much booze, they bond.  Some have called this film a ‘bromance’ but that word is actually loaded with reactionary connotations.

Engels encourages Marx to read the British economists like Ricardo.  We get snippets of their thoughts – how gathering dead wood in the forests became criminalized as part of the ‘enclosure of the commons.’  How labor is a commodity, like any other thing, to be bought and sold, just as are the people who labor.  Karl and his wife Jenny poke fun at Proudhon’s phrase ‘property is theft’ as an image, and not actually accurate.  Jenny pokes fun at the overuse of the word ‘critique’ by Karl.  We see Marx’s drunken realization that real philosophy should lead to action.  The labor theory of value, borrowed from those English economists, makes an appearance, along with their atheism and irritation with political conciliators and clichéd sloganeers.

The film shows the cruelty of the governments and police in enforcing private property and propping up the aristocracy, through killings, beatings, arrests, firings and deportations of workers and leftists. It tries to depict the convoluted relationship between Friedrich and his factory-owning father.  Marx, Jenny and their children are first thrown out of Germany, then France, then Belgium for political dissent and ultimately settle in London.  Engels marries a working class Irish woman, Mary Burns.  Marx is broke, having 2 children, a wife and a maid to support.  The wives are not the focus of the film, but they are shown as political actors in themselves.  Burns herself is even more personally liberated than Jenny.  These personal issues dominate a good chunk of the film, as is standard in most films about intellectual or theoretical conflicts in the present conservative cultural context.

The film features verbal confrontations with capitalists and vague or intellectually undisciplined socialists and anarchists.  The issues between leftists are unfortunately not clear in the film.  This included the young Marx’s differences with the old man Proudhon, the leading anti-capitalist of the time.  Marx writes The Poverty of Philosophy against Proudon, which the film shows as a very muddy inter-party debate.  Conflicts in the film centered around the role of intellectuals and theory in the workers’ movement and over vague terms like ‘kindness’ or ‘brotherhood’ versus a thoroughgoing and scientific understanding of class society and economics.  Marx was caustic in his debates, sometimes on purpose.  Oddly, personal insults seem to be a common currency, but it is not clear if this is a filmic inventions or quotes.

During this period, the underground ‘League of the Just’ becomes the public ‘Communist League,’ though as depicted in the film it is some kind of vague debate.  Splits in the League were actually caused by the differences over the competing strategy of organizing an ultra-leftist and secretive uprising versus a public mass movement for communism, the latter supported by Marx and Engels.
E0.00 Euro Note

As members of the League, Marx and Engels are commissioned to write a programme.  This becomes The Manifesto of the Communist League, otherwise known as The Communist Manifesto.  It is one of the greatest works of political writing in history, if not the greatest.  Part of its greatness is that it has stood the test of time as any reading will tell you. It came out right before and during the 1848 popular working-class  insurrections all over Europe – in France, in Hungary, in Germany, in Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Sicily.  The ferment extended beyond the League to millions of proletarians across Europe, something not really shown in the film.

If the film makes a few more people take Marx and Engels seriously, then it has served its purpose.  The fact that is has come out now is significant, as it is no secret that capitalism’s present future is cloudy at best.  Given Marx and Engels began the most through-going analysis of capitalism, one that stands to this day, they are anything but outdated.  And that is what really haunts even the present.  The cultural climate is shifting under the bourgeoisie’s feet, whether they recognize it or not.

Red Frog

April 21, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Tech Fantasy

“Four Futures – Life After Capitalism” by Peter Frase, 2016

Sometimes you have to laugh.  This book is a ‘think piece’ about the future under 4 scenarios – communism (1.) or an environmental version of socialism (3.), and authoritarian capitalism (2.) or a descent into exterminatory barbarism (4.).  Marx called detailed plans about the future ‘cook-shops’ that he didn’t indulge in.  But given the future seems to be here, Frase has decided to ‘cook’ a brew that he calls ‘social science fiction.’

A Glass Darkly
The author seems to have been greatly influenced by Star Trek, dystopian movies, the Jetsons, recent science fiction, his pet robot and his internet phone.  The book contains appropriate slams at steampunk and Kurt Vonnegut's book Player Piano.  His idea of nature approximates a terra-formed Central Park.  His idea of food production seems to be a hamburger maker in a vending machine, or to make it more New York, an automat.  He thinks the key commodity is intellectual property.  His idea of the ‘realm of freedom’ that Marx talked about in the Gotha Program means that no one does any necessary work and has all the ‘stuff’ they could want. Like the 1% now!  Frase is a Ph.D. student studying in New York, so it kind of figures.  This is probably part of his thesis. 

This book is published by Verso Press & Jacobin.  The latter specializes in academic discussions of left politics and tries to be vague or on both sides of key issues.  Frase himself wobbles between Keynes, Marx and others.  I”ll try to plow through some of this, as there are tidbits of ideas here that are of interest.

Frase brings up the ‘universal basic income’ (UBI) as panacea in his #1, #2 and #3 scenarios, communism, rentism and eco-socialism.  He calls it a kind of transition belt that could turn capitalism into communism, a ‘transitional demand’ if you will, because it disconnects the proletariat from wage labor. Much as he identifies the welfare state itself as decomodifying labor.  He identifies the 4th International’s Transitional Program as ‘short term reformist’  - though it too is supposed to be a transitional process.  The problem with UBI is that Silicon Valley billionaires are also on board with UBI.  Why?  Because their scenario #4, exterminism includes warehousing the useless proletariat due to the fact there are no jobs, as robots, AI and computers do more work.  Guess how long it would take for people without jobs to be demonized by those who still have them? 

This technological fantasy with automation seems to be Frase’s continuing obsession.  He thinks full automation is actually possible and will leave humans with nothing left to do but non-alienated labor, though he doesn’t even call it that.  In full communism, we’d fight for status and ‘personal capital’ instead, though he does not point out that this might be seen as a residual of class society.   According to his reading of Marx, we’d have every toy and convenience available, and no one would have to do any unpleasant work ever.  Think about it.  Frase’s vision of communism sees no restrictions on production of any thing no matter how useless, because a replicator machine would make it for us.  This utopia of stuff ignores who programs and maintains the machines, who mines the minerals to make the machines, were do the raw materials come from to make each product, who moves it around; who grows the food, how is it grown, etc.  In effect, are there restrictions on resources?  Do we want to allow every single thing?

A list of real tasks will actually still exist even under communism, but they would change based on control of the conditions of labor.  That is what Marx was really talking about.  Would people be working this kind of labor 12 or 8 or even 4 hours a day?  Probably not.  In his misreading of Marx’s ‘freedom’ he confuses a full supermarket with the real necessities of education and childcare, housing, food, transportation, health care and clothing.  As even he quotes, present society already has everything, ‘unequally distributed.’  For instance, organic agriculture requires more labor than machine-intensive factory farming.  So 500 acres of pesticide and oil-based fertilizer mono-crops harvested by one tractor or combine is something he might favor.  But would communism or socialism? 

Frase’s version of socialism recognizes some of what he calls ‘scarcities,’ given the ecological limits of the world.  I do not think communism would jump over that reality either.  Humans will never be totally free, as aging and death mark our lives.  Marx was not unaware of that.  

In that context, he argues for the limited use of certain markets as a check on the plan, citing Trotsky's 1932 The Soviet Economy in Danger. He has the clever idea that if the drivers of Uber and Lyft organized on their own, with their own app as a cooperative, they could reap the profits that the capitalists at Uber/Lyft do.  Of course, this would still be undermining  and scabbing on workers with taxi medallions...

Capitalism’s strengths are its ability to develop technology and raise production.  Frase is obsessed by robotization and AI, and indeed the 2nd wave of the computer revolution is starting. As he rightly notes, capital will be able to put many more people out of work as this process unfolds, while communism/socialism would not proceed in the same way.  However, he ignores Marx’s position on the ‘falling rate of profit’ based on capital’s investment in fixed capital, which is what these robots and machines are.  In the end, surplus value profits come from human labor.  The crisis will not be caused by ‘underconsumption’ as he and Keynes claim.  Underconsumption will result because the capitalist rate of profit will ultimately drop, which results in layoffs and other means of immiseration of the proletariat. The machines are going to actually cut their throat – and ours, unless we overthrow them.

The other hidden side of this is that combined and uneven development across the world means that some people in the U.S. don’t see the Dickensian conditions that exist surrounding this utopia of robots and intellectual property.  Even up to the prevalence of many different forms of virtual slavery!  Frase says that ‘we’ are moving away from the model of ‘industrial capitalism,’ i.e. the same shibboleth about the post-industrial society we’ve heard before.  Few actual Marxists have waited for capitalism to automate everything before moving forwards.  By this stagist logic, socialism and communism is only possible on that basis.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ has now been changed to ‘from each according to their status, to each according to their lack of work’ or some such thing.

In scenario #2, 'rentism,' is Frase’s description of abundance for everyone, but under a ruling class –– an impossible contradiction.  Frase thinks that the key to all modern commodities is intellectual property.  And indeed, these ‘patterns’ are key to the software, drug and auto industries already, along with many others, and are a large bone of contention with China.  His version of authoritarian capitalism posits abundance for everyone in the world, but somehow the capitalists want to continue to rule because they love power.  This psychological analysis ignores the material basis of power and the actual nature of capital, which is based on exploitation and commodity production, not removing scarcity.  It may seem this way to some middle-class elements in the highly developed world now, and that is the template Frase is now ‘imagining.’ In this scenario, UBI again comes to the rescue. 

Lastly is Frase vision of barbarism – or exterminism – where the unnecessary proletariat and farmers are first warehoused, then jailed, then separated, then ultimately killed en mass.  How this differs from the present wars, famines and diseases is not clear.  Except many more people will be unnecessary in the full barbarism scenario. 

Frase’s book is loaded with cultural references and quotations from other thinkers and here is its strength.  Its political outlook seems to be clouded by the prism of some sort of middle-class communism.  Enjoy!

Reviews of Hunger Games and Divergent and many other dystopian books or films, below.  Review of Rise of the Warrior Cop and Capital in the 21st Century, below.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
April 17, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

'Sentence First, Trial Later'

Coleen Rowley on Russiagate and the Anti-Russia / Anti-China War Hysteria

If you haven’t noticed in the last few weeks, the capitalist propaganda machine has jumped the shark.  Colleen Riley, former FBI agent, counsel and whistle-blower, one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year in 2002, spoke in Minneapolis at Left X-Change on Tuesday.  In her forceful style, she discussed her knowledge of Robert Mueller, her attitude towards the allegations of poisonings and gas attacks by Russia, and her perspective on the danger of war between 1 or 2 nuclear powers and the U.S. 
 
Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Whistleblower
The U.S. and British press have swallowed wholesale Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s claim that the Russians would use, out of the blue, a rare toxic agent on a former spy.  This resulted in hundreds of Russian embassy staff being kicked out of a broad range of countries. Now the U.S. press has pushed – for the 3rd time – the idea that the Syrians have used gas in a rebel stronghold that they were slowly leaving.  The first two 'gas' reports were debunked later by careful analyses.  According to Max Blumenthal, most of the present information has come from SAMS, a medical unit that has been called 'Al Quaeda's MASH' unit by former members.  SAMS is funded by USAID...  Neither of the present allegations has been proved as yet, but that has not stopped the slavish stenographers of the bourgeois press.  Nor the war-mongers in the Trump administration, made up of a 'united front' between the newly resurgent neo-cons like Bolton and the neo-liberals in the Democratic Party.   Rowley warned that citizens should watch out for renewed war in Syria, this time with the Syrian government and Russia as the targets.  Rowley reminded everyone that Russia is a nuclear-armed power, not a bunch of stateless terrorists.  She called the situation almost worse than the Cuban missile crisis.   

Rowley pointed out that Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. all have an interest in regime change in Syria.  The new strategic posture by the Pentagon defines Russia and China as the main military adversaries of the U.S. The 'Defense' Department is no longer primarily targeting terrorism.  According to Rowley this is pushing Russia and China closer together, as they oppose a unipolar world run by the U.S.  But it also increases the danger of a real war.  The sanctions against Russia are part of the economic war.  Even Trump’s trade war against China is part of this hostility, as China’s economy is #2 and might even become #1 according to Rowley.
 
Rowley explained that Robert Mueller, now the savior of the Democratic Party, was an incompetent and corrupt FBI director, who ignored much information about Al Qaeda’s terror plans prior to 9/11.  He directed the flawed Anthrax investigation, covered for torture in the CIA, promoted the Iraq war and blocked investigations into the ties between the Saudis and the 9/11 bombers. He supported lame entrapment methods to pretend the FBI was doing something about Islamic terrorism. He supports unbound NSA surveillance by the state.  Mueller even supervised the corrupt Whitey Bulger 'informant' scandal in Boston.  This is the person who is going to save the country from Trump!  And the person that liberals are organizing to support in mass demonstrations if he is fired.  Mueller, James Comey and Mueller's boss Rosenstein are all very close, according to Rowley. She encouraged the audience to back off from the tribal party partisanship and to look at things rationally and remember history.  Emotionally-charged pictures from unknown locations are no substitute.

As anyone who has actually looked into the Russiagate story, there is little hard factual evidence that Russia ‘hacked’ the election so far.  The definition of 'hack' of course is left vague.  They probably funded a troll farm based in St. Petersburg. The Facebook sale of 87 million users data to a firm working for Trump, Cambridge Analytica, makes the Russian 'troll farm' look like amateurs.  The evidence of a Russian ‘hack’ of the Democratic Party’s servers has been revealed to be fraudulent as well, though certainly the facts about Democratic Party rigging were not untrue.  The overall impression is of an extremely convoluted and murky case which the Democrats are desperate to follow in order to legally remove Trump.  This is really the sole strategy of 'the Resistance,' while ignoring so much else.  Rowley specifically named the Steele Dossier memo as specious and denounced the FISA court that approved wiretaps related to it.  She reminded the audience that Time Magazine publicly crowed about the massive U.S. help that put Boris Yeltsin into office in Russia, so hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Rowley pointed out that the ‘new McCarthyism’ targets anyone who opposes the aggressive U.S. government line as a Russian agent, a “Russia Today (RT)” clone.   She appears on RT regularly, along with a host of other dissidents – Lee Camp, Chris Hedges, Jesse Ventura, Ed Schultz, Larry King, George Galloway, Max Keiser.  Responding to a question, she said that there probably were real issues of money-laundering and bribery related to Trump's businesses, but this kind of behavior extends to nearly every international businessman on the planet.  Even the raid on Trump’s attorney regarding the Stormy Daniels scandal seems familiar.  As Rowley pointed out, Clinton was first targeted for “Whitewater,” which morphed into the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Russia-bating and Putin-baiting is now part of the politics of all liberals, some leftists and even some anarchists.  This is an easy way to take the 'war' temperature, as demonization now penetrates beyond the usual die-hard patriots like John McCain.  Pro-Palestinian activists were recently Russia-baited at a public meeting they attended.   

Yours truly was RT-baited by an anarchist at another meeting after I pointed out that Russia's real 'crime' was interfering in two attempts at regime-change by the U.S.  I tried to remember if I’d ever seen organized anarchists at an anti-war demonstration. I do not recall any, nor did friends of mine. Let me know if you ever saw a formal group of anarchists attend - I’ll buy you a beer at Palmers if so!  If true, it seems to indicate that organized anarchism has no international program opposed to imperialism or war.  They share this with liberalism and some social-democrats.  There is no need to mention conservatives and fascists in this regard, of course, as they have rarely seen a war they didn't love.

P.S. - Patrick Lawrence reprinted part of Sharmine Narwani's report in Eastern Ghouta from last month, which detailed a chemical lab in the Islamist rebel area.

National Anti-War Spring Actions - "Stop Endless Wars" Sunday, April 15, 1:30 P.M. Rally; 2:00 P.M. March.  Hennepin & Lagoon, Minneapolis.  Sponsored by Minneapolis Peace Action Coalition.
Red Frog
April 11, 2018

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Reconnections

“Lost Connections – Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions,” by Johann Hari, 2018

You know the feeling you get when you read something you already knew, but it confirms in detail what you’ve always known?  This is the kind of book this is, at least if you are suspicious of the capitalist pharmaceutical industry and bourgeois psychology.  Hari is a person who suffered from depression for years, then became a journalist and ultimately looked into the mystery of why his anti-depression drugs didn’t work.  Hari was a somewhat naïve, internal and apolitical person until he went on this journey.  This is his answer, based on many miles of travel, interviews, research citations, depression stories and his own experience.
You're Worth It!

At its heart, the book is pretty simple.  Drugs don’t work because the overwhelming cause of depression is not in a lack of serotonin or dopamine, which is the myth the population has been fed by academe, the government, but primarily by the industry itself.  Nor are the drugs people are prescribed by doctors – Paxil, Prozac, Xanax, Zoloft, Effexor, Duronin and Celexa – even able to increase these biochemicals.  The whole approach is basically a profitable charade, though it might result in temporary improvements, as these are powerful drugs.  Tests indicate that about 1.2% of patients improve with these drugs. They are only for short-time use, though they are prescribed for years sometimes. 1 in five adults and 1 in four women is taking an anti-depressant in the U.S. while 1 in 10 boys in high school are on drugs to ‘increase their attention.’

Hari identifies the real sources of depression and anxiety in 9 separate effects generated by the present social structure.  He tiptoes around the topics of capitalism, neo-liberalism, profiteering or Marx’s concepts of alienation and commodity fetishism, but they are there between the lines.  He discusses ‘affluenza’ without naming it that. Then he proposes real ‘prescriptions’ unlike anything most conventional doctors are even trained to prescribe.

These are some of the issues Hari dug up:

  1. Depression and anxiety are two parts of the same thing.
  2. Unhappiness and depression; worry and anxiety are all on a continuum.
  3. Placebos work for awhile, which indicates the link between mind and body.
  4. Emotional stress creates physical sickness.
  5. No one knows how anti-depressants actually work.
  6. Most tests are funded by pharmaceutical companies, which ignore negative or neutral results.  Sometimes they outright lie.  It only takes 2 tests showing positive results for the FDA to allow a drug.
  7. U.S. drug regulator's salaries are 40% paid by drug companies.  In the U.K. it is 100%.(!)
  8. The ‘grief exception’ was gotten rid of in the last 2015 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) to keep the ideology of ‘chemical imbalances’ in the brain consistent.  Previously, if someone close to you died, and you got depressed, the DSM did not recommend drugs.  That is no more.  You are now ‘sick’ if you grieve.
  9. Neither Freudianism nor purely biologic pill approaches work.  There is a third approach, which Hari identifies as consisting of ‘social prescriptions.’ It is because depression and anxiety are caused by life experience and can be reversed. 
  10. The psychology professions conventional view of the two types of depression: ‘reactive depression’ (sources outside the person) and ‘endogenous depression (internal to the person) are meaningless.  All types of depression – psychological, social and biological – are linked.
Hari, after looking at many psychology studies, identifies 9 long term environmental stressors which lead to depression and anxiety:

A. Lack of control over your job or meaningful work. 
B. Lack of real connections with other people, i.e. loneliness.
C.  Lack of meaningful values – instead valuing money and buying things, which is the standard definition of materialism.
D.Childhood traumas.
E. Lack of respect or real status in a community, the result of increased inequality.
F. Disconnection from nature.
G. A lack of a future, i.e. the future is dystopian or consists of only living day to day with no good prospects.
H.  Brain ‘plasticity’ – i.e. the brain changes in real time to adapt to whatever stressors, impacts or tasks are set before it. Brains are impacted by depression or anxiety, but can also change back.
I. Genes lead to an increased sensitivity to depression or anxiety, but genes are not determinant.

A cursory look at this list shows that the present form of capitalism is the prime cause of depression. Hari doesn’t call it that, but he identifies its various aspects.  A. His statistics show the overwhelming majority of people – 87% - either hate their jobs or just work for a paycheck.  Most blue, pink and white collar workers are basically minions, with little to no control over their jobs.  B. The second item indicates that capitalist individualism has run rampant, destroying the human social groupings that used to exist in society.  Hari thinks the concern with the egoistic 'me' is a dead-end.  Facebook is no substitute unless it leads to face-to-face interactions on a continuous basis.  C. Capitalist advertising tells us we won’t be happy without buying some new crap.  Tests reveal that the more materialist people are, the unhappier they are.  D. Childhood traumas – sexual or physical abuse; constant parent negativity or verbal abuse – play a role.  Families under financial or social stress, or with twisted ideas promoted by the more backward parts of society, break down and much of it lands on the children.  E. Inequality in all neo-liberal societies has only gotten worse, so most people have been pushed into a subservient position and this affects their emotions. In studies of various countries, there is a direct connection between social inequality and increases in depression.  The growth of the precariat is a prime example. As one person said, “I don’t need a social worker, I need a social worker’s wage!”  F. As the natural world is being destroyed, and more people are pushed into cities or into rooms in cities staring at screens, the long-time human connection with nature is being severed.   Under capital, nature is merely a commodity, to be used up for ‘free.’  G. It is no accident that dystopian films or fiction, not just environmental or economic realities, give us a negative vision of the coming ‘future.’ The world seems to be headed into an impasse.  H. &I.  As to genes and the brain’s chemicals, according to Hari’s studies, they are not determinants.  This is not the line of the drug companies however.

The profiteers who run the drug companies do not want this kind of ‘diagnosis,’ of course.  Most drug companies are criminal enterprises that should be nationalized and put under workers control, but this government protects and coddles them.   These greater issues Hari does not comprehend.  From this list, Hari has left out traumas like war or rape, major accidents or disasters like hurricanes, fires, droughts or floods.  The increase of these is related to global warming.  So ‘childhood’ trauma should really be refined as general ‘trauma.’  People over-medicate with bad food, dangerous drugs, excessive alcohol, obsessive sex, internet/game addictions or ‘retail therapy,’ which all have their own consequences.  Even the explosion in pet ownership is part of this.  They are attempts to reconnect or to temporarily dull pain.  Hari does point out that a good number of overweight women eat to protect themselves from the attentions of men, as they have been raped in the past.

Hari’s prescriptions are social solutions, and while he is afraid to use the word ‘socialism’ they seem to lean in that direction:
  1. His suggestion about lack of control or meaningful work is to form worker-owned cooperatives. 
  2. His suggestion for reconnecting with people is joining decent groups and staying with them, not pretending your life is purely individual.  Family is not enough.  What is needed is a wider connection with society, your neighbors, your co-workers, your co-thinkers, which means Margerat Thatcher was wrong.  "Society" is the key.
  3. His suggestion to defeat pure materialism is to try to buy less in this commodity-based society. 
  4. His prescription for avoiding trauma is to reduce stresses throughout the society.  Hari recognizes that humans have to work, but suggests a Universal Basic Income to reduce the stress of economic inequality.  (He thinks it will be instituted without taking away other benefits…) 
  5. He recommends gardening and spending lots of time in nature as a way to break from the pressures of urban environments.  The massive concentration of people in large cities, which is the natural process of capital, has exacerbated this problem.
  6. Of course, dealing with the lack of a future means a whole change in society, not the endless ‘now.’  His example, indigenous Crow elders whose memories stopped when they were imprisoned on reservations, was key.  Native communities that are reclaiming their languages, traditions, economies and work are the ones that have reduced the suicide rates the most.
Hari mentions meditation and other methods as non-drug alternatives, though these seem to be lowest on his list.  He also mentions LSD and psilocybin therapies for people with more serious situations.  All of these psychological, environmental and social changes can change the brain.

Hari’s book has been praised by all the usual left-liberal suspects, even right-centrists like Hillary Clinton.  I am of the opinion that most of them do this only because they do not know where this analysis leads.  It undermines the whole psychology profession, drug industry and medical establishment regarding the issues of depression and anxiety, but goes beyond that.  As such, I am only waiting for him to be accused of being a very tricky and sophisticated Russian agent.

Relevant books reviewed below, use blog search box, upper left:  The Precariat; Capital in the 21st Century; Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television; Salt, Fat, Sugar; The Truth About Drug Companies; Missoula; Propaganda.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

April Fools Day – You might be a fool to think Christ actually ‘rose’ today.