Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Dark Days


Has Representative Democracy Failed?

In the U.S. we may soon find out – again.  This Sunday’s election in Brazil of a near fascist, Jair Bolsonaro, indicates that the ‘democratic’ part of bourgeois representative democracy is in crisis.  Bolsonaro is a deeply anti-communist, anti-labor and anti-union figure.  He is intent on bringing terror and perhaps death squads and military force into Brazil once again, as was done under the military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 (as part of a U.S.-backed coup) to 1985.   Yesterday, left-liberal journalist Amy Goodman only commented on Bolsonaro’s homophobic, sexist and racist side as befits her identity politics, but Glenn Greenwald set her straight as to Bolsonaro’s essential animus, which is aimed at the Left in all its shapes.  Bolsonaro is carrying the flag of God too, as fundamentalist Christians and Catholics rallied around his candidacy.  He intends to destroy the Amazon rain forest in the interest of corporate mining, cane sugar ethanol, beef cattle and soy bean interests.  This will accelerate global warming, as these trees act as a massive carbon sink.
Bolsonaro and his "gun" hands.  The NRA loves him.

This victory is ultimately due to the failure of the formerly left-wing Workers Party, whose leadership slowly moved towards neo-liberalism and a closeness to the Brazilian capitalist class and all that entails, the 'appearance' of corruption included.  Neither Lula nor Rouseff were corrupt - it was a state lie engineered to remove them from power.

FASCIST ACTIVITY

This week the bloody fascist attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh; the MAGA-bomber and his inept attempts to send bombs to Democratic Party politicians; the killing of two black people by a racist at a Kroger’s in Louisville after trying to get into a black church – all are part of a pattern of increasing right-wing, racist and fascist activity in the U.S. that accompany this breakdown in bourgeois democracy.  Right now working-class people need to go beyond candle-light vigils, occasional marches or Facebook posts and join or form organizations that can defend our class and every part of our class. 

PROBLEMS IN PARADISE

Trump’s election through a deeply flawed U.S. electoral system, Orban’s election in Hungary, Putin’s re-election in Russia, the success of the Brexit vote, the recent election of Salvini in Italy, the past election of a far-right government in Poland, even the coming resignation of Angela Merkel in Germany after the success of a far-right party in Bavaria – all show that something is wrong in the very structure of parliamentary ‘democracy’ and the underlying capitalist economy and its war-making. 

The flip side is that the overthrow of the elected leader of Ukraine by NATO or State Department plans for a coup in Venezuela or Nicaragua, or the State Department embrace of the military coup in Honduras in 2009 show that even parliamentary democracy can be ignored when necessary by imperial power.  As has been true for many years...  The present caravan of destitute Hondurans is partly blow-back for Clinton’s support of the Honduran coup, along with years of destruction in Central America that started in the 1980s.  This is being compounded by food insecurity due to climate change, forcing starving farmers off the land.  The practice of the  U.S. government basically wrecking other countries is consistent.  Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine also come to mind.

We should be reminded that in 1933 Hitler was handed the Chancellorship by Von Hindenberg after the Nazi Party won a large minority of the German vote.  This ascension to power was later approved by another ‘democratic’ vote in Germany.  Mussolini was constitutionally appointed leader of Italy by its King Emmanuelle II in 1922.  It was all ‘legal.’  On the other hand, the Spanish fascists and part of the capitalist class ignored the election of the liberal left and started a class war that they won, with the dictator Franco staying in power in Spain from 1939 until 1975.  Again, even parliamentary democracy can be ignored when needed.  Right now it doesn’t have to be disposed of, as yet...

HERE IN THE U.S.

Here in the U.S. it is obvious that corporate money, gerrymandering, voter suppression and purges, bogus ‘provisional ballots,’ vote count manipulation, legal Party limitations that stop 3rd parties, first-past-the-post rules, felony limitations, polling place shenanigans, ID laws, post-office box prohibitions, Supreme Court votes, lobbyists, the mass of non-voters and media propaganda have all distorted the ‘democratic’ process of voting into something unrecognizable and alienating.  That is not to mention the restrictions on actual democracy in the Constitution, which are multiple.  Essentially the system now clearly serves the needs of the wealthy, the corporations, the upper middle class, the 10% and no one else.  It is no longer actually ‘democratic.’  This is not news to many and has been pointed out in book after book, many of which are carried at May Day.  

In the coming election in the U.S., observers say the Democrats will carry the U.S. House, but not the Senate.  Whether this is true or not, the factional war within the capitalist class will still result in a continuing stalemate of sorts, common since the rise of the Tea Party and the ascendancy of neo-liberalism.

Socialists of course would like a more democratic system, even under bourgeois democracy, and support whatever will make this system actually representative.  However, based on the failures of 'democracy' since the model of voting was promoted by the bourgeoisie to replace royalty in the late 1700s - another model of democracy is necessary. Certainly a theocratic dictatorship like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is not the way to go – it is only the way to go back. 

WORKERS' COUNCILS

The other form of democracy is through the rule of workers' councils in workplaces and in neighborhoods.  Right now, parliamentary democracy – representative democracy – is limited or done away with based on the needs of the underlying capitalist economic system.  Any analysis of the failures of bourgeois democracy shows that it is the capitalist class which is behind it every time.  A more direct democracy – workers’ democracy – could involve everyone from the bottom-up, in their community and workplace.  After all, the working classes are the overwhelming majority worldwide.  If the main parts of the economy were socialized, the role of the rich and corporations would weaken and even disappear.  Expropriating that class and disarming their armed servants puts an end to their threat to the actual democracy of the majority. Building a form of this democratic dual power as the legislative one crumbles will be a sign that people are fed up with the way it is now.

The danger of a new bureaucracy or a dominant party would be dealt with through strengthening the councils so that they gradually acquire all power.  Any working-class parties should eventually ‘whither away’ or be ‘whithered away!’ 

While this sounds like a 'utopian' scheme at this point in history, the present situation or the dark past are not really promising.  At some point when the democratic crisis becomes intolerable – and that time is coming - a choice for a new system of democracy will have to be made. 

Counterpuch article 10/31 on workers' councils in Iran - being called for now.
Iranian Workers' councils

Book reviews on this topic, below:  "All Power to the Councils," "Facing Reality," "Workers' Councils," "October - the Story of the Russian Revolution," "Building the Commune," "Maoism and the Chinese Revolution."  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
October 30, 2018

Friday, October 26, 2018

Of Poetry & Plays


Poetry:  “Welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court,” by Chris Butters, 2018

Most poetry in the U.S. is apolitical, personal and exclusively aesthetic, or its just plain saccharine and banal.  "Precious" is the word that comes to mind.  Believe me, I’ve attended a good number of local poetry readings here in Minneapolis and it is sometimes quite painful or laughable or both.

Chris Butters is not that kind of poet.  A socialist who worked as a court reporter, he brings reality and feeling together in this poem about Brooklyn Criminal Court, a place where he worked for 30 years.  A witness, so to speak, to all the misery, injustice, fear, humor and bureaucracy of that institution.  

Butters has published prior political poetry books, including “Propaganda of a Seed,” and “Americas” and others.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He has been a radical activist for many years and his poetry reflects his social concerns.
Electrical Power Outage at Brooklyn Criminal Court
 This is a link to the written poem.  I can't find a way to upload the .mp3 file yet:    
Chris read it on NYC WBAI (99.5 FM)'s Arts Express radio last month.  Enjoy!

Butters’ poetry books will be available at May Day Books. 

AND.......................................................................................................................................



“The Visit,” by Friedrich Durrenmatt, a play by Frank Theatre, 10/29/2018

This is a play about revenge.  Durrenmatt was a Swiss dramatist who in style at least followed Bertold Brecht’s epic methods.  Frank Theatre, as is their wont, staged this at the industrial Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul, a train terminal full of vintage trains and tracks.  The play itself is set in a small, depressed town, Gullen, served by a few trains.  The train station is a key locale in the play.  So it fits…
The Visitor Comes to Town
This is one of the more disturbing plays you might watch, as it tells the story of a young girl of 17, Claire, who gets pregnant and is betrayed by her lover in two ways.  She is ultimately exiled from Gullen due to the pregnancy and the actions of her lover.  The baby later dies due to her poverty as a prostitute in another town.  She wants revenge, and after becoming one of the richest women on earth from fortunate marriages, she impoverishes the town for years unknown to them, then returns … by train.

Claire’s plan is to bribe the broken citizens of the town with a billion marks, IF they agree to kill the man who betrayed her.  And it works, as the citizens eventually vote to kill him and do so collectively.  The man’s wife and children are even in on the plan, yellow shoes and all. Your sympathy is with her, then with him, then – well really, death is not a just penalty for his actions.  But for the rich it is easily accomplished. 

Ultimately deeply cynical but also accurate, it proves money can buy almost anyone. But it also highlights the treatment of women, especially pregnant working-class girls, who in many countries were and still are shunned, sent away and in other ways mistreated - even forced to bear children.  At the time the play was first performed in Switzerland (1956) women could not even vote in that country - they gained the vote in 1971.

A creepy play - partially class conscious, partly feminist, partly reactionary, half funny, half sad…basically disturbing.  And not really Brechtian in theme, just in the staging and theatrical methods.  I say ‘partly reactionary’ because of the moralistic structure of the play – almost like a Brothers Grim horror fairy-tale that is supposed to teach us a lesson through the false extremity of its choice. 

The play is no longer running here, but it may open in your town some day.  Frank Theatre will soon be reprising “The Cradle Will Rock,” a proletarian and left-wing musical they first put on in 2003.  It became the basis of the excellent film by Tim Robbins called “Cradle Will Rock.” That movie added Diego Rivera’s painting of a mural for Nelson Rockefeller, hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and anti-communist agitation against the Federal Theater Project onto Blitzstein’s original play and the real events surrounding its performance. In 2003 those Frank Theatre performances were in a torn-apart Sears store - very prescient, given Sears recent bankruptcy.

Other plays reviewed below:  “Oil & the Jungle,” “Love & Information,” “Ideation,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “Revolt She Said. Revolt Again,” “Puntilla & His Hired Man, Matti,” “The Lower Depths,” “A Bright Room Called Day,” “The Good Person of Setzuan,” “Camino Real,” The Dutchman” and 3 written Sean O’Casey plays.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I saw it in St. Paul, MN, USA
Red Frog
October 26, 2018

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The City as a Luxury Commodity

“How to Kill a City – Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for the Neighborhood,” by Peter Moskowitz, 2018

As anyone knows who lives in a bigger city, gentrification is becoming obvious in the U.S. (and across the world).  Its not just in New York or San Francisco but in second-tier cities like Minneapolis, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, Atlanta or St. Louis.  Affordable apartments and homes are being torn down or upscaled into something only those with well-paying corporate jobs can afford.    Moskowitz defines gentrification as how pure neo-liberal market capitalism treats real estate – essentially wringing the highest profit out of every square foot, no matter the consequences.  This study focuses on 4 U.S. cities – New York and San Francisco of course, but also New Orleans and Detroit. 

Still Your City?

Moskowitz keys in on the profit angle, whereby having a neighborhood that is still ‘cheap’ in rents or real estate is essential to it being converted into something else, as long as it is geographically close to a neighborhood that is already going ‘up.’  “Buy low, sell high’ is the simple mantra.  Moskowitz calls it the ‘rent gap.’ So pockets of poverty or low-rent areas can become new investment opportunities, as long as they are close to where the action is.

It is usually urban black or Latino people that are the immediate casualties.  Throughout the book Moskowitz makes it clear that the real-estate system has been and still is racist.  FHA loans since the beginning under FDR were ethnically distributed, with black people red-lined.  Urban ‘removal’ that targeted minorities was initiated under Reagan, but continued under Clinton and even Obama in different ways.  His descriptions of New Orleans and Detroit both show how this works today.

In two of these mostly black cities, gentrification is the result of disaster capitalism - Katrina ‘remade’ New Orleans, while bankruptcy is remaking Detroit, both into something else.  In San Francisco it is the result of the invasion of the Silicon Valley salaries.  In New York, it is the problem of being the homeland of Wall Street and a good chunk of the U.S. ruling class and now part of the international capitalist class.  Regarding the latter, empty ‘bolt-holes’ of the cosmopolitan rich fill some apartment blocks.

Gentrification, like climate change, doesn’t happen overnight, but anyone paying attention can see its signs.  Much has been made of the arrival of mostly white hipsters, artists, coffee shops, bike shops and lanes, museums, health clubs, hip restaurants, even light rail as the ‘causes’ of gentrification.  As Moskowitz astutely points out, they are only the results.  Even the hipsters and artists will be moved out once the neighborhood reaches ‘peak’ development. Phase Zero in gentrification is actually planning and cash by capitalist firms, banks, foundations and non-profits, along with government plans for re-zoning, permits, variances (including eminent domain), bond issuances, tax breaks and government loans.  Running a freeway through a low-cost neighborhood can be part of the process too.  The politicians of both parties, along with the corporate leaders of each city, along with a host of ‘non-profits’ based on neo-liberal ideas, form the power base for the process.  No city is immune.

For governments and the politicians, the idea is to attract deep pocketed corporations and individuals into the city so as to prop up the tax base.  This is done given the collapse in federal and state funds for cities.  Part of this process is that Section 8 housing vouchers and public and subsidized housing have been nationally downsized, eliminated or mismanaged.  What this does is force people with working class incomes to move to the suburbs.  Engels pointed this out in 1872 in “The Housing Question,” when he discussed Haussmann’s conversion of Paris and the ouster of the Parisian proletariat.  Rosa Luxemberg, the Polish-German Marxist, noticed this same process in Berlin, where grand avenues, theaters, statues, parks and other upscale amenities were built to attract the rich into that city. Luxemberg wrote that building like this absorbs masses of extra capital.

Only the ‘attractors’ have changed since the 1800s, but the underlying process of catering to the rich remains the same.

In the process, Moskowitz looks at the intentional creation of suburbs and ex-urbs in the U.S. through highway construction, FHA / VA loans and cultural promotion as one way to revitalize the real estate profit system, giving capital a new outlet.  Now that cities are more lucrative, working class people and recent immigrants without much money are being forced into suburbs where transportation, support services, culture and community are almost non-existent.  The majority of poverty in the U.S. is no longer in cities, but in the suburbs (and rural areas) surrounding the cities.  Engels and many capitalists understood that owning a home made workers less likely to strike or to take risks.  Individualism, automobiles, consumerism and malls are the replacements.  These were the political and economic rationales for the construction of the suburbs - they were not just ‘natural’ outgrowths.

In New Orleans, 100,000 black people have never returned to the city.  A tobacco pipe-like shape in the central city is now being re-developed, while other areas are being ignored.  The 9th ward is still beleaguered.  The public schools, which were mostly staffed by black teachers, have been destroyed, to be replaced by non-union charters.  The process is all intentional, from the governor of Louisiana down to the City Council, from both parties.  Many long-time black residents feel that it is no longer their city, no longer the same New Orleans.  The process is also happening in Detroit, where a central core of 7.2 square miles is getting all the development funds, mostly inhabited by white professionals, while many square miles around the core continue to decay, mostly inhabited by working-class black people.  Local billionaires from Quicken Loans, the Kresge Foundation, Rock Ventures and the Kellogg Foundation basically run the city through a ‘non-profit,’ Midtown Inc., with the government of Detroit tagging along.  San Francisco is a well-known story, as sterile Silicon Valley corporations and their employees price working-class bohemians, artists, Latinos, hippies, blacks, Asians and gays out of their own city - all with the aid of the city council and many voters.

New York is another familiar tale.  Moskowitz now describes the Greenwich Village neighborhood he grew up in New York as an “upscale mall for international oligarchs.”  Union Square, the site of many worker protests, is now surrounded by chain stores, and controlled by a public-private entity where entry into the park itself is even difficult.  Williamsburg in Brooklyn has been turned into a bland consumerist Disneyland too, full of the same high-end or mass chains and tall steel and glass apartment buildings.

Moskowitz goes into great detail about the history of gentrification in New York, which really started in a plan in 1929.  In 1961 much of the city was rezoned to remove factories and industry and replace them with residential lofts or stores.  The 1975 near bankruptcy of New York accelerated the process, resulting in the closure of 34 fire stations, allowing massive fires in low-rent neighborhoods and human flight.  Later Mayor Bloomberg rezoned 40% of the city himself, eliminating more production facilities.  Deindustrialization in New York, as in other cities, was intentional.

While Moskowitz thinks New York has laws and public housing that slow gentrification, every mayor, even ‘liberal’ Bill DeBlasio, is helping the real estate development machine progress – no matter how much DeBlasio prattles about ‘affordable housing.’  (A similar lying and deceptive phrase thrown out by Democrats everywhere, including in Minneapolis.)

This book is great coverage of the issue from a left-wing point of view.  Its one flaw is that it sometimes obscures class.  It mostly stratifies people by ‘poor,’ ‘middle-class’ and rich, with poor being a stand-in for black, middle-class being a stand-in for white and ‘rich’ being a stand-in for ‘very white.’  There is a little sense in the book that working-class people of every ethnicity and several income levels are being impacted by gentrification.  The ‘working class’ only shows up occasionally, yet he still thinks factory workers are ‘middle class.’  Moskowitz uses a mostly Marxist template to look at real estate rentier economics, but his class understanding is muddled.

Moskowitz has a list of programmatic demands that seem somewhat limited and discusses resistance individuals and groups that have little mass community power as yet. Gentrification is class war and in some places, a new form of colonialism.  This book helps you understand that.

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “Nomadland,” “Cade’s Rebellion,” “The Beach Beneath the Street,” “Rebel Cities,” “Tropic of Chaos, “Tales of Two Cities,” “Last Man in Tower,” “The Minneapolis Spectacle,” and “The Shock Doctrine.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

October 23, 2018

Friday, October 19, 2018

Road Warriors

“Nomadland – Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” by Jessica Bruder, 2017

In a recent drive across the northern plains of the U.S. I noticed something dark.  Wedged in among the tourist vehicles of various kinds were what seemed to be the ‘homeless on wheels.’  RV parks that advertise a $60 monthly rate, or rates for a whole winter.  RV parks where the occupants had been obviously staying there for a long time.  Vans that were full of more stuff than a normal camper would need.  A Motel 6 on a rainy, cold night in Wyoming where I meet a grey-haired man who normally camps in the Arizona desert for the summer. What’s going on? 

Not Trailer Trash

Bruder followed these people for 4 years.  She tented, then got her own camper van and detailed a new sub-culture that has grown up since the 2008 housing and foreclosure disaster.  What she discovered is that these ‘new Okies,’ gypsies, houseless ‘rubber tramps’ and ‘workampers’ form an itinerant workforce traveling the U.S., staffing Amazon warehouses, Forest Service campgrounds, Crystal Sugar beet harvests and other no-rent jobs, working for not much more than minimum wage.  They are nearly all older white people - 'the unbearable whiteness of vanning' as one joked. This book is similar to Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel & Dimed,” as Bruder also works for short periods at some of these jobs too.  She most closely follows Linda, a woman in her ‘60s who can no longer afford an apartment, and who buys a small trailer to live on the road, working for as many months as she can.  Linda ultimately buys a bit of cheap Sonoran desert near the Mexican border to build a sustainable ‘Earthship’ house, but she seems to be one of the few.

This is a new ‘mobile’ precariat living in RVs (recreational vehicles!), vans, pickups with covers, trailers and even sedans. They hide on city streets, in WalMart parking lots, in 24-hour business lots, at rest stops and truck stops, state and national campgrounds, private RV parks, in unincorporated wilderness or desert.  They have mail forwarded from postbox forwarding services.  Due to recent right-wing changes, in some states without a permanent address they can no longer vote, as a business address is not acceptable.  Their social-security checks average a small $550 a month. Their children, if they have any, are also in financial straights.  Most don’t see a way back to a permanent home. For them, the ‘American dream’ has become a fraud.

This sub-culture has web sites and annual meetings, especially the big one in Quartzsite, Arizona. They have a camp-fire ‘freedom philosophy’ of sorts and many, many survival skills that they teach each other.  They try to stick together to help each other, even the ‘loners’ and introverts.  You can learn a lot about how to become a mobile gypsy in this book, as there is info on van and RV roof solar panels, the benefits of hybrid vehicles, how to avoid police or nosy people, tricks on how to make your vehicle look like no one is sleeping in it, where the jobs are, where to shower, internet survival, how to stay warm, etc.

Most interesting is how various businesses, like Amazon’s ‘Camperforce’, the US Forest Service and their private contractor California Land Management, or Crystal Sugar in the Red River Valley recruit older workampers en mass to do physical jobs.  They understand that these gray-haired workers are desperate but also hard workers, punctual and experienced.  Reading about walking dozens of miles through Amazon’s huge warehouses, suffering carpel tunnel, back strain and boredom, with Ibuprofen dispensers freely available, tells you something about how the cheap crap at Amazon.com comes your way.  The workampers call it a form of slavery, which it is - wage slavery.  Of course, that is AFTER it is manufactured by lowly-paid Chinese, Cambodian or Bangladeshi workers on their side of the Pacific Ocean, so the model is consistent on both sides of the ocean.  Linda is especially repulsed by the disposable crap that Americans buy when she works filling shelves at Amazon… even the sex toys.  It all has landfill potential…

This is first-person journalism of the finest sort, but goes only so far. It is missing statistics, a more detailed analysis of why housing is a privilege in this country, or even a hint of a solution to houselessness or shelterlessness in a capitalist society.  Bruder works hard to show the sunny side of workamping, but also can’t avoid the pitfalls – cold, heat, poverty, car problems, medical care and legality issues.  For instance for dental care, many workampers cross the border into Mexico, just as Minnesotans have gone to Canada to get cheaper drugs.  Given corporate city councils are now cracking down on unlicensed ‘camping’ while encouraging gentrification; and state governments are demanding permanent addresses to vote, being ‘homeless’ is now being further criminalized or made invisible.

If police see a ‘Quartzsite’ camp sticker on a vehicle, they know the inhabitants might be houseless. Bruder says that the Arizona town of Quartzsite has 73 RV parks, with 40,000 people living there between December and February in various configurations.  This ‘old rush’ or ‘Jurassic Trailer Park’ encampment of nomads can move from Quartsite to a huge federal land area called “La Posa” which allows camping for 7 months for $180.  While Bruder says that ‘class lines’ are blurred at Quartzsite, I would guess they are only put in the background so as to lessen conflict.  Oldsters with $100k of RVs or trailers with all the toys, parked near people with white Econline vans they bought for $2,500 can only induce a rolling of the eyes.

This is a quick and illuminating read.  It introduces you to a world you might not be familiar with, until you have no choice.  Rent, utilities, mortgages, real estate taxes or house insurance are some of the biggest costs everyone faces.  For working class citizens, there is no barrier anymore to rises in every one of them.  Rent and building controls are not solutions on the radar of bourgeois politicians, nor is the socialization of the land. Nor are the corporate politicians talking about putting people in empty houses or apartments, or building actual 'affordable' housing instead of just pretending.  Rising interest rates, home prices and real estate taxes are all built into rentier capital’s control of land, either through the banking, real estate or political sector.  That is, until there is a recession. These van dwellers have decided to dump them all, either voluntarily or more frequently, necessarily.  They are perhaps our road warrior future…

Other reviews on this topic:  “Cade’s Rebellion,” “Rebel Cities,” “Reinventing Collapse,” “The Lower Depths,” “Famished Road,” “Hillbilly Elegy," and "The Precariat."   Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

October 19, 2018

Friday, October 12, 2018

Strange Fruit


“Slavs and Tatars – Red-Black Thread” – Lecture at the Walker Art Center, 10/11/2018

An upscale liberal artsy crowd showed up to hear this presentation by an unnamed member of ‘Slavs and Tatars,” (S&V) an intellectual group that studies cultural life “east of the old Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China.”  Or as they call it, “Eurasia.”  This is the first time this group has addressed a question that relates to the U.S.   What was the question?  The connection between Soviet communism and the black struggle in the U.S.  This is a topic familiar to anyone in the Marxist movement, but was probably total news to the upscale white hipsters and oldsters sitting in the audience, as well as to the black people who attended.

Believe it!

The presenter was a young man who had lived in Moscow and seemed to originally be from one of the ‘southern’ parts of the former USSR – Belarus, Tajikistan, Moldova, Uzbekistan – one of those.  He now lives in Berlin.  The slant of “Slavs and Tatars” seems to be a post-modernist one that relies on linguistic, visual and historical elements to show syncretic connections where perhaps none were seen before.  In this case, the identification of Russians with U.S. black people.  As he pointed out, Russians are not really Europeans, in spite of the efforts of Peter the Great.  He insisted the Mongolian ‘steppe’ dominates – a nowhere land somewhere between desert and farmlands.  What we might call a prairie – Montana on steroids, not Rome replicated.

He cited certain cultural similarities between Russia and the U.S.  Slaves in Russia were white serfs.  This white slavery existed in Russia, but was abolished in 1861, two years before the U.S. Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.  The ‘black people’ of Russia were the peasants – as they tilled the the black soil.  “Black Russians” were also a reference to the minority people’s of Soviet Central Asia from the Caucasus region, not just a drink of vodka and coffee liqueur.  So the irony is that in this context “Caucasians” are black.  He also insisted that there are emotional similarities between Russians and African-Americans. All together it indicates that both Russians and African-Americans are the ‘Other’ in European, ‘American’ or Atlanticist eyes.

The S&V’s basic contention is that Marxism and Islam are connected and the latter has now replaced the former as the ideology of the oppressed.  He used an example of the revolts in the banlieues (working class suburbs) surrounding Paris in 2014.  In the 1960s and 1970s these Arab youth might have been Trotskyists, but now they drifted to Islam with the weakening of socialism. As Vijay Prashad pointed out in his book, “Death of the Nation...,” this has also happened in the wider Middle East.  He put up pictures of Marx and Mohammed as twins; Lenin as a black man; Claude McKay as a religious symbol; of the somewhat similar images of the Soviet hammer and sickle and the image on the Iranian flag; of the first stamp memorializing Malcolm X, issued by Iran (Malcolm was a Muslim of sorts, after all…).

He related stories of visits to the USSR by Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Claude McKay, all prominent black writers and social activists.  Robeson, a singer best known in the U.S. for his work in "Show Boat," was considered a ‘rock star’ in the USSR, unlike in the States.  Claude McKay, a Harlem Renaissance figure (later author of “Amiable With Big Teeth…”) met with Zinoviev and Bukharin, leaders of the Soviet state at the time.  McKay’s anti-racist political works were translated into Russian, and later translated back into English because the originals were lost.  Hughes journeyed to the Soviet ‘south’ – Central Asia – to see cotton production and the minority peoples of the USSR.  Unlike in the U.S. at the time, the cotton workers in these republics were in charge of their own work, not sharecroppers working under Jim Crow.

The speaker made a point of showing that ‘affirmative action’ for Soviet minority nationalities and anti-imperialism were first introduced as legal principles by the USSR in the 1920s, through Soviet laws and the documents of the 3rd International.  He also showed how for the first time Muslim women were legally allowed not to wear the veil and to have a higher role in society.  Hughes was most fascinated by older dances performed only by young boys, as Islam would not allow women to dance in public. Hughes, a gay man in the closet, saw some of the last dances like this.

The presenter flashed an election poster of the Black Belt through the south, which was at one time a strategy of the U.S. Communist Party in their 1932 presidential campaign, when they ran steel leader William Z. Foster and James Ford, a black man.  The ‘black belt’ was a connected geographic area through the south that held a majority black population.  The CP at this time saw black people as a separate ‘nation’ that could declare self-determination and independence.  This line was later changed after ‘3rd Period” Stalinism ended due to the sectarian failure in Germany, and the party swung to the popular-front strategy – an alliance with the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie that it follows to this day.

What the lecturer did not talk about was the pressure put on the racist U.S. policy of Jim Crow by the USSR internationally and domestic socialist forces, including the Communist Party.  The treatment of the U.S. black population became an international embarrassment for the U.S.  This is one of the reasons why local favorite son Hubert Humphrey finally proposed a civil rights position for the Democratic Party at the 1948 convention, causing the delegates from Mississippi and Alabama to walk out of the convention.  Humphrey was at the time Mayor of Minneapolis.  Humphrey said it was time to “get out of the shadow of states rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunlight of civil rights.”  Of course, it wasn’t until the 1960s that black people’s movements forced Jim Crow segregation and voting rights barriers to begin to be lifted – almost 20 years later.  While liberals pat themselves on the back for a small section of Democrats to finally – in 1948 – decide to oppose Jim Crow, it was the internal and external pressure of black people themselves, the domestic socialists and the international USSR which finally forced the liberals’ hand under Lyndon Johnson.  The role of the USSR in promoting national liberation struggles in Africa also played a role.

As can be seen, Communists were ahead on this issue, as on the issue of women’s rights.  “Strange Fruit” indeed … by the way, written by a Jewish Communist, Abel Meeropol.

The presenter discussed the intersectionality of ethnic and gender issues as related to developments in Soviet Central Asia, and rejected neo-liberal and capitalist ‘multiculturalism’ as a solution to ethnic differences.  He contended that multiculturalism is merely a dodge and a melting pot, while the old Soviet policy of ‘multi-nationalism’ allowed communities to exist without being forced to disappear.  This was also how so many religious, linguistic and ethnic groups across the world co-exist successfully.

All in all, a somewhat leftward event put on by the Walker, which probably signals a small shift in the appreciation of Marxism – even though the speaker thinks Marxism is old hat and most of this middle-class audience finds Marxism to be laughable.  Well, the jokes on them...

Other posts related to this subject:  “Amiable With Big Teeth…,” “Death of the Nation…,” “Souls of Black Folk,” “Southern Cultural Nationalism…,” “33 Revolutions Per Minute…,” “Malcolm X…,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “Black Radical – the Education of Nelson Peery,” “I Married a Communist.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog

October 12, 2018

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Look Out for the Federalist Society Majority

What is Behind Rape, Assault and Harassment

The outpouring of anger over sexual assault, rape and harassment by many women and some men after the Kavanaugh hearing reveals a dark secret about the U.S.  And if this is happening in the U.S., what is the scale in the rest of the world?  Cairo, Egypt was just named the sexual assault capital of the world, as 99% of the women there have been affected in one way or another.  And then there is India…where statistics show 39,000 reported rapes per year and the unbelievable figure that 99% of all Indian rapes go unreported. (That is almost 4M rapes if you do the math.)
Constitutional Drunken Frat Boy and Federalist Society Member

A friend who lived in Hungary for many years pointed out that ‘rape’ was almost unknown in Hungary when it was a workers’ state.  Drunk husbands beat their wives but sexual predations on wives, co-workers, friends and acquaintances, neighbors or strangers were almost unknown.  In other workers’ states this was also true. This is significant and being missed by the ‘concern’ liberals and media who seek only to have everyone tell their ‘story.’  “Telling your story” has become the main liberal method of fighting back in this capitalist society.   It is as if psychology is the only issue.  It is as if no one has remembered that the U.S. does not even have an equal rights amendment, while other capitalist countries do.

Telling stories is a start, but only that, yet that is where NG(P)R/ G(P)BS/ CNN/ MSNBC media stops.  But why are women, even in the ‘liberated’ U.S., second-class citizens that men can do with what they will?  Why do many institutions in the U.S. turn a blind or partly-blind eye to sexual predations?  The military, colleges and frats, employers, religious institutions and cults, health clinics and doctors, the mass media, the film industry - and most of all the judicial system, including the police - all play a role.  It is pretty clear that sexual assault is a systemic and institutional problem, not an individual problem of drinking or nasty, vicious men.

Brett Kavanaugh is part of the legal system that is asleep at the wheel, and now he runs it.  Right now, hundreds of thousands of rape kits lie mouldering in police basements.  Many more rapes are not reported for this reason and the fact that police and prosecutors don’t treat sexual assault as a crime.  “He said, she said” seems to nullify any serious attempt to bring rapists to justice, even though statistics show that only a very small number of accusations are untrue.  It should be “She said…” like any other crime.

But over and above the institutional support for women’s second-class sexual position is something even deeper – the profits to be made off of women’s second-class labor situation.  The most obvious is that sexual aggression is a non-financial reward for some men. And that divides the working class from itself.  It also enforces the class position of upper-class men, as in Kavanaugh’s instance or those of other rich misogynists too countless to name, many that have been in the news.  But most immediately, in a profit-based society the lower cost or free labor of countless women is an immediate boon to the bottom line of capital.  THAT is the real secret to why women under capital are second-class, and why the example of Hungary and other former workers’ states is so germane.  Women in the former workers' states were legally equal, economically advantaged and the culture of the country promoted their interests to a certain extent, even given the relative consumerist poverty and the time period.

In the U.S. the free labor provided by mostly women in human upkeep, reproduction and caring activities around family or the sick or elderly at home is something not born by capital.  The lower wages paid to mostly female-staffed jobs like waitresses, home-health care aides, cooks, teachers, nurses, sex workers, child-care workers, secretaries, clerks, bank tellers, cashiers, paralegals, receptionists, house-cleaners, sales people, maids, nannies, personal shoppers, female prisoners, garment workers and others is no accident.  The material needs of the profit system entail a certain level of caste-like ethnic and gender-based job coding, which is both profitable and also divides the working class as an added bonus.  ‘Male privilege’ is useful to capital, both culturally and economically.  It is not a cultural problem alone.

If the movement against sexual harassment, rape and assault only stays at the level of ‘telling stories’ it will not be able to confront the systemic forces behind the stories. It has to look at the institutions involved, especially the prosecutors and police who have given repeat rapists a license to continue.  (Many rapists continue if they are not caught…)  And it has to go beyond that to the economic benefit of women’s second-class status to the economic system.  Which is why unionization and workers power on the job is essential.  But this will certainly never enter the dialogue of the mass media or the Democratic Party, as it undermines their whole reason for being.  

As to the Kavanaugh hearing itself, as pointed out by others, the outcome was a forgone conclusion.  However, if the Democrats had not shown up to produce a quorum in the 'Justice' committee, no hearing could have proceeded on this reactionary Constitutional dinosaur.  That is, if they were really serious...which they are not.  Nor are they serious about fighting sexism except in the most symbolic or  bourgeois ways.

Other reviews on this topic:  “Missoula,” “FGM,” “Really, Rape, Still?” “Revolt She Said. Revolt Again,” “Celebrate Indian Women,” “Class Action."

Red Frog

October 7

Gilette, Wyoming

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

I Read It So You Don't Have To


“We’re Doomed, Now What? – Essays on War and Climate Change,” by Roy Scranton, 2018

This seems to be another academic’s quota filler for a research/publishing requirement.  Scranton is a volunteer military soldier in Iraq, who drove trucks and military vehicles through Baghdad for 1 year.  He’s also a pessimist on the environment.  He’s now also a literature professor.  So he’s put together this series of essays on both topics from 2010 to 2018, adding a literary analysis of ‘traumatized military hero’ literature.  He stuffs in an unrelated essay on a poet who irritated some by ‘tweeting’ “Gone With the Wind” to try to get the Margaret  Mitchell Foundation to sue her.  Odd. And another about the protests around Eric Garner and Michael Brown and being in Moscow.  For my money, the only original stuff is the essay on ‘trauma heroes,’ which could be seen as another branch of the disfunction memoir.
Point of No Return Noted

Scranton took some kind of upscale cruise to the Arctic to report on the melt - like many other people have already done.  If repetition was one of the keys to knowledge – which it is – then maybe his reporting might be interesting.  He also takes a tour through toxic oil-and-gas -saturated Galveston, Texas neighborhoods, where ‘environmental racism’ is not a phrase.  The key takeaway here is that Scranton feels that the point of no return has passed on the environment. This is no doubt now true.  Initially he endorses no plan of action, except believing in ‘neo-humanism’ or ‘post-humanism.’ Really.  This seems more like some form of bad Buddhism or apocalyptic Catholicism than anything else.  But it is definitely post-modernism.  Is he a ‘Deep Green’?  No.  He joins ‘adaptionists’ like Dimitry Orlov, who at least has some skills to pass on for the environmental apocalypse while he floats around on his yacht.  Scrantion sees that reliance on ‘the market’ is already failing.  Only at the end does he state that an eco-socialist solution is the only way to stop runaway climate change.  So the book title is never really answered fully.

Scranton’s take on war is also blurred.  Initially he promotes war as normal, inevitable and manly and describes his experiences.  He goes on to show how veterans are now holders of impressive ‘cultural capital’ that vets can bask in.  After all, he was a kid when he joined, and it proved a lasting event in his life. Then he turns hostile to the destructive invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is the position he maintains now.  He covers the bases and everybody should love that - or not.   His journalistic return to Baghdad during a trip for Rolling Stone 10 years after his tour of duty in 2004 exposes the U.S. sectarian approach in the first election there, but this is not news either. He intersperses these musings with poetic paragraphs that only induce rolling eyes. 

What is missing by Scranton is an understanding of the economic system that promoted the war on Iraq or the war on nature – capitalism. He’s the goldfish who doesn’t know he’s in an aquarium.  He mentions capital in passing, but is more concerned with the moral and ethical ramifications of doom.  He says he’s a terrible environmentalist, who can’t give up meat or flying and ignores many other personal issues like over-buying or recycling.  But then he's in the professional middle-class. Scranton should know he is not the source of global climate change, but stoping meat eating is not really that hard. Ah, guilty people are so plentiful and useless.  On a similar tangent, do white people who oppose institutional racism moan about how difficult it is to not be a bigot?  Or men fighting sexism complain that they still think women are only sex objects?  Not normally.

I’m being a bit unfair, as he redeems himself with his review of certain celebrated ‘wounded warrior’ books like “The Yellow Birds” (reviewed below) or right-wing movies like “American Sniper.”  Essentially they personalize the war down to the misery of the returning U.S. soldier, ignoring the greater misery of the Iraqi and Afghani people.  Politics and economics fly out the window for this accepted form of ‘the war story.’  Scranton calls this “the trauma hero myth.”  He even takes a crack at how literary MFA’s perpetuate this myth, a position dear to my heart.  His Iraq war experience tells him that war is not a 'mystical' event, unable to be understood normally.  Nor can you 'aestheticize' war and turn it into something culturally acceptable.  These points are also invaluable in combating imperialist pro-war literature or film.

If you are interested in war or environmental essays, and haven’t had your fill yet, this book may interest you.

Reviews related to this one: “The Yellow Birds,” “Matterhorn,” “Soldiers in Revolt,” “The Five Stages of Collapse,” “Reinventing Collapse,” “Marx and the Earth,” “Catastrophism,” “This Changes Everything,” “Collapse.”

And I Bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

October 2, 2018

Ashland, Oregon