Wednesday, November 28, 2018

History Is Not Over

“Welcome to the Desert of Post-Socialism – Radical Politics after Yugoslavia, edited by Srećko Horvat and Igor Štiks, 2015

One of the most important issues for leftists is the experiences of ‘actually existing socialism,’ ‘state socialism,’ or the workers’ states, some of the phrases used to describe the governments and economy of the USSR and Central and Southern Europe by different tendencies.  This time is rich in positive lessons for the future, as well as understanding the failures of that ideology and practice   In the U.S. ridicule and ignorance of this issue are the mainstream responses, given the deep, deep hostility to any form of socialism drilled into the population by our ruling class.  We are to forget the workers states ever existed. “Nothing to see here, go about your business” say the ideological police.
History Is Not Over

This book joins a small but important group of left-wing books in English about the breakup of the USSR and the Central European workers’ states. It focuses on the aftermath of the destruction and neo-liberal ‘transition’ of Yugoslavia from a multinational workers’ state with a mixed economy that made ‘workers’ self-management’ official policy.  The book consists of 14 contributions from people across the region on Yugoslavia after dismemberment and the current realities for Marxist and working class struggle given that history.  Some of the writers are connected to Slavoj Zizek.  Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia are the countries and EU/US ‘protectorates’ that emerged from the destruction of Yugoslavia, still sadly called by the loaded term: ‘the Balkans.’  Albania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania are also sometimes mentioned in the book. 

As they say, time does not stand still and so the victory of capitalism in Central and South Central Europe is not permanent.  Class struggle is automatically generated by capital, even in places where the issue seems ‘settled.’ 

Here are brief descriptions of each chapter contribution, which cannot do justice to the whole chapter of course:

  • Štiks/Horvat – The endless ‘transition’ to neo-liberal Europeanization for the subaltern countries of the former Yugoslavia will never end.  Across the zone it has produced impoverishment, public & private debt linked to foreign credit, deindustrialization and factory closures, depopulation, land grabbing and high unemployment, especially among youth. Reactionary ethno-nationalist governments have been the political result.  Direct democracy ‘plenums’ implicitly attacking neo-liberalism have been the left response, while more left political parties are another response to the pro-capitalist Nationalist and Social-Democratic alternatives .
  •  Umkovski-Korica – “Factories to the Workers!”  - A review of Yugoslav worker self-management as theory and practice. (A topic routinely ignored by U.S. Marxist Richard Wolff in his endless writings on worker-owned co-ops.)  Ultimately the practice of integrated Yugoslav development broke down due to the centrifugal pull of external capitalist and internal regional competition.  These are contradictions that remain after a revolution - between local, national and international aims and production. 
  • Živiković – While Yugoslavia had a controlled market economy prior to counter-revolution, the current debt crisis ‘is precisely a crisis of the market’ introduced by the ‘transition.’  The pursuit of interest-bearing loans by EU banks is connected to long-term profit declines in the advanced capitalist countries from production.  The new debt is caused by a rigid exchange rate regime (the Euro); seizure of the banking system by EU banks and the privatization of a large part of the economies. It has resulted in large debts to EU creditor banks.  The solution is a renewal of a “Balkan Socialist Federation” encompassing more than just the prior Yugoslavia. 
  • Grdešić – This chapter concentrates on working-class struggle, focusing on sectoral and company collective bargaining and the now weaker trade union confederations.  One Serbian federation came out against Milosevic’s war.  The focus is on several major union and labor struggles, especially Jugoremedija in Serbia, where workers took over the company in a years-long struggle, harkening back to the period of ‘worker self-management.’
    Jugoremedija fight for workers' control
  • Todorova/ Petrović/ Buden - 3 chapters concentrate on how the metaphoric ‘Balkans’ are treated by the EU as a place of backward and crude children, who need to be educated and led to the promised land. (All the while being robbed in the process.)  In reality the ‘humanitarian hawk’ wars in the 1990s were meant to destroy Yugoslavia and spread NATO and the EU, while installing local ethno-nationalist elites in power. That succeeded for now.
  • Nikolaidis – Focuses on Montenegro where the workers demanded new leaders for the League of Communists and instead got their factories closed and ethno-nationalist reactionaries as leaders.  So the ‘revolution’ was really a counter-revolution.  ‘The thieves became businessmen.’  ‘EU enlargement is primarily an imperialist project.’
  • Hamza – Focuses on Kosovo, the poorest country in the region.  Hamza considers the struggle against Serbian control to have been an anti-occupation struggle, which turned into the farce of ‘independence’ under ‘imperial (EU) democracy.’
  •  Velikonja – this chapter focuses on the nostalgia surrounding Yugoslavia (Yugonostalgia) and specifically Tito (Titostalgia), the ‘Che’ of the Yugoslav anti-fascist struggle and leader of a multi-national nation.  This fondness for Tito is seen, not as some attempt to go back to the past, but as a criticism of the reactionary and divisive present.
  • Kraft – A study of the large worker and student occupations in Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia.  Struggles for lower or free tuition and against the commercialization of education or interference by the EU.  Highlights labor events at Jugoremedija again, and the struggle to keep the Petrokemija plant open in Croatia.  These resulted in the formation of directly democratic ‘general assemblies’ and ‘plenums’ – the Balkan version of Soviets or councils or communes.  In 2012 in Slovenia workers and students took down the government in an ‘All Slovenia Uprising.’ (Occupy Slovenia was involved…)
    Occupy Slovenia
  • Baćević – A focus on student struggles in Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro & Croatia. Free tuition, the ‘right to the city,’ direct democracy through plenums and labor conditions for graduate students and professors were the immediate issues.  A free university – the ‘Workers & Punks University’ in Ljubljana, and a faculty organization – ‘Academic Solidarity’ – came out of these struggles.
  • Čakardić – All about the women’s struggle, inspired by the ‘Women’s Anti-Fascist Front’ which developed during WWII.  The author contends that conditions for women were better in Yugoslavia. Now socialist feminists have to combat an exclusive focus on “human rights, identity and juridical solutions’ promoted by liberal feminism, which ignore economic or social issues that the region’s women face.  Women’s entrepreneurship and ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ are not the main goals of a working women’s movement.
Prior reviews on this subject: “The Contradictions of Real Socialism,” “Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” “From Solidarity to Sellout….” “The Ghost of Stalin.”  Also reviews of books by ‘Zizek.’  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it at May Day Books excellent used / cutout/ estate gift book section!
Red Frog
November 28, 2018

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Our Niche is Full!

“Socialist Revolution,” magazine of the International Marxist Tendency, 10/2018 Issue

May Day Books is the only place in the Twin Cities that carries a large selection of left-wing periodicals, magazines, journals and newspapers.  This is part of why our ‘niche’ bookstore can claim uniqueness, unlike the cookie-cutter liberal bookstores that dot the Twin-Cities which sell almost the same stock as each other. 

One of the publications May Day sells is “Socialist Revolution” – an agitational / propagandist periodical that ends nearly every article with, you guessed it, ‘fight for the world-wide socialist revolution.’  In case you missed the point.
A Sample of the Stock

The lead story in the October SR issue is an excellent deconstruction of the Working Families Party (WFP), which is mostly centered in New York.  The WFP is a third-party that basically launders votes for Democrats.  In this election the WFP was thrown into confusion because instead of endorsing the rightist Democrat Andrew Cuomo as they usually do, activists forced the WFP to endorse TV star and ostensible Sanderite Democrat Cynthia Nixon.  Cuomo then demanded that the unions that back the WFP remove their endorsement of Nixon, and some did. 

New York has what is called ‘fusion balloting.’   Any party that gets 50,000 votes can retain a ballot-line, even if they are running the SAME candidate as another party – in this case nearly always a Democrat.  Given Nixon lost in the primary, the WFP is evidently stuck with her name on the ballot line and now has a dilemma of trying to dump her (she has basically endorsed Cuomo) by using arcane methods and add Cuomo, or keeping her on the ballot line and losing the 50K vote threshold. 

This is what happens to a party that has never run an independent labor candidate in 20 years, while pretending to represent the working class.  The WFP is a political placebo, a sugar pill so far in its history.  It started as essentially a weapon against Mazzocchi's Labor Party in the 1990s, which could have charted a more independent path for labor.

SR has an article on the elections and Kavanaugh, pointing out that nationalist authoritarians like Trump and drunken frat boys like Kavanaugh are what is produced by a system in decay.  Unlike the slavish love of the U.S. Supreme Court by liberals and conservatives alike, the Court is actually a political body that has, time and time again, shown its reactionary stripes dressed up in ‘legal’ decisions.  Kavanaugh will not change that, though he may make it worse.

SR also looks at Trump’s trade war and how it affects agriculture – normally not a subject socialists take time with.  But food is foundational to human life and society, as we know.  The U.S. capitalist state provides many welfare programs for the increasingly large corporate farms – 58% of subsidies between 1995 and 2005 went to just 10% of farmers.  SR stands up for the ‘legal’ and undocumented farm-workers and small farmers crushed by low wages and poor working conditions, or debt and slave contracts to big agribusinesses like Cargill, ADM or Monsanto. 

The majority of exploited farm workers are probably undocumented according to sources, which is one reason why U.S. food is so ‘cheap.’  These workers were still toiling in the fields in California while breathing the toxic smoke that rolled over the countryside in the Central Valley and LA these last two weeks.  All the while 1/3rd of California firefighters are prisoners risking their lives for $1 a day fighting these same fires.  Wage slavery anyone?

Keeping current, SR has an article on Amazon that indirectly points out that the answer to Amazon is not an anti-trust breakup, but nationalizing Amazon.  Oligopoly and monopoly, to those not blind, are the end-points of capital, as ‘competition’ dies at the hand of normal market consolidation.  Instead of breaking up firms that will only reform later, the expropriation and nationalization of Amazon under workers control lays a basis for a socialized economy now. This is part of a transitional program, as is socialized medicine or a real 'medicare for all.'

SR, like many bourgeois economists, is aware that massive debt levels and the increasing value of the U.S. dollar are creating a situation that will result in another economic crash.  Countries like Turkey, Argentina, India, Brazil and South Africa are all experiencing currency issues.  Unmentioned is China, whose economy is probably contracting at this point due to the trade war, thus putting a squeeze on their hidden debt sector too.  Iran and Turkey are also targets of the trade war, not to mention Europe.  These all can trigger a debt crisis in each country.  The author, Hamid Alizadeh says:  “Total world debt today stands at an astronomical $217 trillion – 327% of world GDP – the highest in history.  But very little of this money has been invested in actual production.  In fact, investment rates are lower than the 1960s.”

What is significant here is that financial capital has slowed investing in the actual ‘productive economy’ and instead ‘invests’ in stock markets, real estate and bling.  The author makes the valuable point that 10% of all companies are ‘zombies’ – their interest on their debt is higher than their profits.  So when push comes to shove…

Other stories are about an evangelical joining the IMT after seeing poverty in Nicaragua; the reality of class-based ‘assortative mating’ where lawyers marry lawyers, doctors marry doctors, movie stars marry movies stars and rich people marry other rich people; the climate crisis; and an article on Lenin’s “What is To Be Done” that implies that party-building in Russia and in the present U.S. or Britain will follow almost exactly the same path. 

In the U.S. the last major event – the 2008 crash and Great Recession that followed – led to the rise of Bernie Sanders and a current of ‘democratic’ socialists that has found organizational expression in Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).  And through that, an invigoration of the Democratic Party, with DSA’ers like Ocasio-Cortez even getting elected. It did not flow to the small Marxist organizations, although it helped with some.  Another crash will no doubt ALSO not flow substantially to the small Marxist organizations, of which there are at least 10 in the U.S.  Without a present party-building strategy that is measurably successful and avoids a small group mentality, any rupture in capital can be ‘repaired’ in some way or another.  This includes by barbarism or fascism or increasing authoritarianism. It will not automatically lead to support for the most left organizations unless those organizations have some weight in the previous period. 

Other reviews of periodicals below:  'Monthly Review,' 'Jacobin,' 'Lapham's Quarterly' 'Labor Notes' and 'Granta.'   Also a report at May Day Books on 'Pakistan' by the SR's editor, John Peterson. Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent periodicals section!
Red Frog
November 25, 2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Only Acceptable Asian?

“Crazy Rich Asians,” directed by Jon Chu, 2018

Why would an actual leftist review such a sappy Cinderella story populated by millionaires and billionaires?  Because it's there!  The corporate film reviewers went wild for this romantic comedy, especially its ‘identity’ appeal.  So now we know that for them and Hollywood the acceptable Asian is evidently one with lots of real-estate backed cash.  Besides the loads of happy on-line review sites, here are some reviews by the more known film flim-flam commentariat:
Former Brit Colony Singapore is Owned...So Party Like It's 2018

* “Its keenest romantic impulse has less to do with Nick and Rachel’s rather pedestrian love story than with the allure of endless luxury and dynastic authority.” (NYT)
* “The result is hugely enjoyable, and hooray for Hollywood for making it happen.”(WSJ)
* “As much as this is a love story, “Crazy Rich Asians” is very much about powerful women at its center.” (Ebert)
* “Crazy Rich Asians” is a preposterously fun movie that delivers exactly what its title promises.” (Metacritic)
* “Has a movie title ever doubled better as its own elevator pitch? It’s all there in those three words: Mad money, bad behavior, a pin dropped on race and place.” (Entertainment)
* “In the guise of a bouncy romcom about insanely gorgeous rich kids enjoying their privileges, Crazy Rich Asians is making history:…” (Rolling Stone)

Oh, yeah, one Taiwanese-American called it a “muddled, shallow and empty step backwards for Asians…” and “intellectually, aesthetically, and sociologically featherweight…”

In this case, Cinderella is not a woman in a cottage sweeping up fire embers for her nasty sisters – it is a NYU professor of game theory who probably makes $150K or more a year.  All the Asians in Singapore speak excellent English, rarely Mandarin, and were ‘finished’ at Oxford, Cambridge or Cal State.  Everyone is filthy rich, while the lead characters live in mansions, throw multiple extravagant parties and outings and own huge chunks of Singapore’s modern real estate.

The tension is between the capitalist needs of a ‘good match’ for the overly handsome ‘Number One’ son, and ‘love.’ This trope started with Shakespeare in Europe in the 1300s with “Romeo & Juliet,” but is now common in many movies about love in the global South.  Can love overcome class or caste?  Religion or nationality?  Of course!  This happy myth is part of modern capitalist cultural life. The scorned NYU professor takes on the dowager empress and her deceptively kind mother, putting her tough girl dress on, and wins the grudging acceptance of the hard-boiled real estate tycooness.  And the hand of the prince!  Unlike actual statistics, which say same-class marriages are actually much more common now than in the immediate past, even in the U.S.  So the film works as a fairy tale drawn over reality, but then, duh!
Real "East" Asian Wedding in India - $100M cost, and Hillary Is Invited

But the real star of this film is not this unlikely marriage, but the wealth.  It might come as a shocker to some U.S. viewers that not everyone in Singapore (or Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul) still lives in a hut or tenement.  The continual feast of pools, exotic hotels, skyscrapers, extravagant houses and big boats is the real eye-candy, not just the handsomely dressed and ridiculously good-looking men and woman who seem almost – Western. The best joke of the film comes out of this.  At a table over-loaded with food at a nouveau-riche house in Singapore, the chubby father admonishes his spoiled children to eat because there are ‘kids starving in America.’  My audience laughed, as it is always good to see how others see us.

No workers are shown in the film except servants.  The Government of Singapore was birthed by the British, as it was a colony of their empire, which explains the accents.  One party, the PAP, has controlled the government since 1959, a party fond of the death penalty, killing drug users and violating freedom of speech, but also the essence of stability and a weakening ‘meritocracy.’  Housing prices are extremely high in Singapore given all that glitz, so those who have less money must commute long distances.  The working-class in Singapore is accompanied by many foreign workers and a growing underclass, especially after the 2008 economic crash.  The middle-class is shrinking.  None of this found its way into the film. 

Instead, $1.2M diamond necklaces and lots of parteees!  3 people in Singapore are part of the controlling organizations of the international capitalist class, so the 'fumes' of this wealth are reflected in this movie.

P.S. – NPR just did a segment on ‘love matches’ in India across caste, class or religion lines.  Some who marry across these lines have to go into hiding in safe houses, in fear of the violence of their intolerant relatives.  Others have to put up with abuse, isolation, violence and the loss of jobs or apartments.  

Other reviews on Asian topics or by Asian writers:  “Postcards From the End of America,” “The Sympathizer,” “The New Black,” and mentions of China, Pakistan, India or Vietnam.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I saw it at a $2 theater!
The Kulture Kommissar
November 22, 2018

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Blood Simple

“Red Harvest,” by Dashiell Hammett, 1929

The ‘hard-boiled’ detective genre is a staple of U.S. culture.  It is beyond me why, but I’ll take a stab at it.  Hammett was a sergeant in both World War I and II, and between that, a thug for the Pinkertons.  This book reads like a combat novel, with 3 gangs of mugs fighting a group of crooked coppers for control of a city.  The book was ostensibly somewhat “Marxist” because it depicts the wholesale corruption in Personville – a place that is based on the sad 1929 copper-mining town of Butte, Montana.  It is still the period of ‘primitive accumulation’ when theft and crime make initial fortunes and the unions have been crushed.  The corruption involves the owner of the biggest mine, a chubby, pink-faced muckademuck who hires our 190 pound, tough-guy private dick to clean up “Poisonville” even more.   Even though this capitalist is a lousy fish-eater himself, with his fingers in every poisoned pie.
The 'Black Hands'

No one works in Poisonville except a bunch of croakers who run illegal booze, gamble, blackmail, handle protection rackets and prostitutes or kill for a lot of coin.  The only ‘working man’ is a Wobbly who is completely extraneous to the story and for no reason at all is later suspected of croaking a former flame with an ice-pick.  Drinking whiskey and gin is constant, so ice-picks are useful to the duffers and dinguses guzzling the hooch. Only one bird is in the story, a greedy boozer and hop-head who monkeys with every criminal and lunger in town.  Everyone talks like they are spitting icicles in July, and they love to drive their jalopies, heaps and boats at high speed while shooting their gatts.  It seems no one thinks they will get shot in return.

Hammett is really a conservative authoritarian whose only vision of the world is violence, death and corruption.  If you don’t have a rod spitting pills in a crush-out, you’re a gimp who should go hide in the hoosegow. This is perhaps why detective ‘noir’ is so revered in popular culture, given our society has to romanticize and normalize military-style violence and macho.   The book ends with the National Guard being sent into Poisonville to restore ‘order,’ end the rumpus and put the town back in the mitts of the mine owner, who also plays the politicians in the state.   Not really Marxist, but certainly a right-wing bull’s fantasy.

So this book is really the bunk, not the hunk it might have been.  The macho dick spends his time setting one group of mugs against the other, and the bodies fall like a 24 hour blood waterfall.  The trope that ‘heroes’ or anti-heroes never get killed no matter how much mayhem matriculates around them is de rigueur here, a template for every war movie, cop saga, CIA fantasy, sword epic or super-hero sham since.  The plot is so convoluted you won’t know who is who.  The absurdity is such that you will be rolling your eyes harder than the day the hogs ate your kid brother.  So now that I’ve given you the dirt on this tired rumpus, maybe you’ll get your dogs off the Chesterfield and take your lying eyes and paste them on something that really tumbles and not this shite.

Right-oh and ta-ta!  
P.S. – Slang ages, but not completely.  Most terms taken from the book.


Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice” and even the Cohen’s film the “Big Lebowski” make fun of this genre.  But then both were based on the weedy 1970s when the dick shtick was coming apart at the seams.  The moody 1970s film “Chinatown” is LA noir too, but there’s no resolution at all in normal channels, nor does it have such high levels of unreality – so it is actually somewhat subversive. Red Harvest is the basis of two films:  Blood Simple” and “Millers Crossing,” both by the Cohens, who now seem to be the inheritors of some noir cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Peckipah or Quentin Tarantino.  Their most recent Netflix retro-cowboy fantasy, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” is another stupid and nihilistic take on the genre.  A clever and morbid death film. I just have to wonder what the point is anymore.

Other reviews on this topic of crime and genre:  Deadwood,” “Redbreast,” “Blood Lake,” “Polar Star” “Gone Girl,” “Prudence Can’t Swim” “The Meta-Meaning of Ridiculous Cop Shows” “Sycamore Row” "Red Gas" "Fargo" and “Hells Kitchen.

And I got it at the library!

The Kulture Kommissar

November 20, 2018

Friday, November 16, 2018

Spa Treatments

“Richistan – A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich,” by Robert Frank, 2007

This 2007 book is a grand tour through the isolated provinces of wealth – by a Wall Street Journal reporter, right before the 2008 crash.  Since then, “Richistan” has only gained more wealth.  The book is mostly Robin Leach and his “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” with a slice of analysis, like American cheese within a massive Wonderbread sandwich.    But since most U.S. citizens have no clue how RICH the upper class is, the Wonderbread might be useful.  As capitalism gets more and more unequal, it is becoming harder and harder to hide.  ‘Conspicuous consumption,’ as Veblen noted, is back.

American Toxic

Did you know you could make $100K as a ‘butler’ in the household of one of these kings of capital?  You see, life gets complicated the more investments, houses, mega-yachts, jets, cars, lawns, jewelry, software, children, vacations, paintings, real estate, concierge doctors and staff you have.  Someone has to organize all this, and the millionaires and billionaires aren’t going to do it all.  This is not Downton Abbey butlering, this is going to school to be a “Certified Household Manager.”  There are still many job openings, so apply soon.

The most value in the book is Frank’s description of the different layers of the U.S. version of ‘Richistan,” which a Marxist would call the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie or the upper classes.  About 11% of people in the U.S. had assets of over a million dollars in 2004, which, if you assume each household has 3 people, that is about 33 million in these households.  By millionaire, this means disposable income, not house ownership. As of now there are 330M people in the U.S., so roughly a bit more than 10% of the population were in millionaire households in 2004.  Little has changed since then, except the numbers for the upper classes have gotten larger. This ‘parallel country of the rich” has 4 layers according to Frank.  It is mostly energetic ‘new money,’ not inherited and staid ‘old money’:

  1. Lower Richistan – made up of professionals like doctors, lawyers, bankers, corporate executives and money managers.  Half of their wealth is from salary income, the rest from Wall Street equity and profits from smaller businesses. 7.5M households in 2004, $1-10M.
  2. Middle Richistan – made up of some salaried, but more entrepreneurs, larger business owners and owners of big chunks of Wall Street or real estate equity.  2M households in 2004, $10-100M. 
  3. Upper Richistan – made up of entrepreneurs who own or sold companies, CEOs, hedge fund owners, who have even more real estate and Wall Street equity.  Population in the 1000s, $100M and up.
  4. Billonaireville – In 1985, there were 13.  In 2006 there were 400.  In 2018 there are now 585.  Income from owning companies, subsidiaries, holding companies, investment funds and foundations.  Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, David Koch, Michael Bloomberg, Sheldon Adelson, Phil Knight, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Forest Mars, John Menard Jr. and the Walton family - a familiar list of scumbags.
Frank’s understanding of the various strata of these classes is that they are not all conservatives – many are centrists or even ‘liberal.’  Both the Democratic and Republican parties benefit from their largesse.  Lower Richistan voted for Dubbya Bush but no doubt they have now moved into the Democrat column.  Frank uses a recent example of 4 rich Democrats who changed the agenda in Colorado.  The upper class is internationally-oriented, especially the farther up the food chain you go.  They are not all ‘nationalists’ except when it comes to calling in the military to defend their overseas properties or wealth.  Many gained their wealth as ‘Instapreneurs’ who invented and sold their business in a ‘liquidity event.’  According to Frank’s 2005 figures, of those above $10M, only 3% were celebrities and only 10% were of ‘inherited wealth’ – which seems low.

Frank profiles various rich people – a merchant who made millions on toy ceramic villages; a workaholic owner of vacation properties for the upper class; a tech millionaire who lost it all in the 2000 Dot-Com crash.  Donald Trump even gets mentioned, as he hosts gala ‘black-tie’ balls at Mar-A-Lago for the new rich.  Of most interest is a billionaire in Texas who uses a better method of ‘social investing’ to build wells, solar installations, farming projects and schools in Ethiopia.  According to Frank, his methods reveal the incompetence and waste of the large NGOs.  But he’s an exception to the rule, as people like Bill Gates try to privatize education with their millions in donations, which only helps the privatizers.

Expropriate This!
These rich try to pretend they are ‘middle class’ and ‘just regular folks.’ They are sometimes dismayed and dwarfed by the massive size of their mega-houses and mega-yachts.  They send their wastlings to ‘rich kid therapy’ camps to try to prepare them for being multi-millionaires.  These are ‘rich people’s problems’ you will never have.  But you do know about debt, which is also oddly growing even for the mega-rich.

Frank makes much of the economy that now surrounds Richistan.  Upper-end businesses that cater to them – boat-builders, jet manufacturers, mansion builders, unique vacation planners, couture houses, high-end jewelry stores, hedge funds, automobile manufacturers like Rolls Royce – are doing very well.  This is the real ‘trickle-down’ economics, but it only trickles to a small segment of the population.  Like those well-paid ‘household managers’ mentioned previously.  Marx even commented on this kind of spending 150 years ago when he had to consider whether it would provide enough investment and growth to save capital.  He concluded 'no.'

As to the future of Richistan, Frank laughingly quotes Andrew Carnegie as to a prospective “reconciliation between rich and poor, a reign of harmony.”  He thinks that the rich can help ‘reform the education and health-care systems.”  This is Frank’s ‘hope.’ Given he wrote this in 2007 and the king of ‘hope’ was elected in 2008, and inequality between the classes, education and health care are worse now, I’d say ‘hope’ is a weasel word.

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “The Servant Economy,” “Rich People Things,” “Understanding Class,” “Capital in the 21st Century,” “Look Who We’re Calling Comrade!” “Creative Destruction,” “Revolutions – Lapham’s Quarterly.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent used/cutout book selection!
Red Frog

November 16, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Empty Churches - Nuns or Nones

The Rise of the ‘Nones’

Across the street from my house stands an impressive church, constructed in modern Scandinavian design with a lofty roof.  The Lutherans who used to inhabit it grew old, their congregation smaller and they sold the building, unable to maintain this magnificent structure.  After months of emptiness, it was finally purchased by a fundamentalist Oromo Christian congregation made up of local residents, many formerly from Ethiopia.  Their SUVs, vans and new cars line our streets Sundays and even Saturdays.  They seem to be enthusiastically religious, which is somewhat typical of new immigrants to the U.S.  After all, churches provide a kind of weird community, some bad entertainment and a large tax-free building!
Perhaps a good place for the homeless...
However, the local Minneapolis Star Tribune has been running a series on the ‘Rise of the Nones’ – i.e. people who have given up on organized religion.  At this point, about a quarter of U.S. residents describe themselves as such.  They might practice yoga, they might be agnostics, nature-worshipers, pagans or ‘spiritual;’ they might be consistent atheists, or they might just spend their Sundays resting, working, being with their children or drinking coffee and reading the internet.  When you work your whole life for an employer stealing your time, a church stealing 2-3 more hours to ‘think magically’ is a no-go. Certainly my Sundays have been very enjoyable and useful, as I have not attended a church since I was 17.

Not pledging your fealty to some religion is politically fraught however.  Atheists are even more disliked than gay people or Muslims in the U.S., if you believe the surveys, so don’t mention that while running for office.  Socialism has a higher rep than atheism in the U.S., which is certainly an improvement over socialism’s past.  Yet atheism is the theoretical opposite of religion, its anti-thesis, so it actually is the greatest threat to religious faith on an ideological level.  Philosophy starts where religion ends, as do science and reason.  And religion is ending.  As Slavoj Zizek noted, the theoretical synthesis that rises above the false conflicts of religion is no religion at all.

The Trib seems to be worried, along with local ‘faith leaders,’ because one of the pillars of ideological capital is organized religion.  Organized religion itself is at fault in this decline, of course.  If you look at the reactionary role of evangelical Christians like the Southern Baptist Convention in U.S. politics, it is abominable.  They are one of the primary mass bases for the vicious Republican Party and its control of the South and rural areas. They even have their own large sex abuse scandal.  The evangelical yellers shilling for your money on TV don’t help either.  Even weird offshoots like fundamentalist Mormons, who wear odd underwear, believe in multiple wives and having sex with young girls doesn’t give religion much heft.  Or the idiotic essential myth of the Scientologists, who believe everything started when the earth was occupied by aliens.  The Catholic Church has become a pariah for its hosting of the largest group of pedophiles in the world.  This scandal is world-wide.  Like Christian evangelicals, the Catholic Church’s positions on abortion, divorce, contraception, the role of women, pre-marital sex, masturbation, planned parenthood, pre-marital children, homosexuality – all medieval.  Even their occasional opposition to capital comes from a preference for a pre-capitalist economy – when the Church was the benevolent ruler of serfs.  The new Pope was ‘hired’ to deflect an understanding of these basic Catholic teachings. 

Islam world-wide has ‘puked on its own shirt,’ as its generally hostile approach to women’s rights is obvious in many countries in which it dominates.  The embrace of bloody mass terror by fundamentalist political Islam has made religion seem to be the idea of madmen.  Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Gulf theocracies emphasize the point.  Some schools of Islam support female genital mutilation, which doesn’t help their brand either. The “Jewish” state of Israel has endorsed creating Bantustans for Palestinians, which hasn’t helped Judaism’s reputation.  The rabbinical men in Israel who are unable to do anything but read the Torah even have to be trained to earn a real living. Or the dominant Hinduvata corporatists in India, worshiping cows and polluting the Ganges on a regular basis, who insist all religions other than Hinduism are evil.  Even Buddhism now has its own recent crime, as seen in the bloody ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar by ‘liberals’ like Suu Kyi.  This follows a similar event in Sri Lanka.  The sexual cults formed by Christian, Buddhist or Hindu gurus are well known, including the Rajneeshee sex cult in eastern Oregon or the 'hot yoga' sexual predator Bikram Choudhury.  Which reminds you again that fundamentalist religions have a DEEP problem with sex and women.  (The film “Wild Wild Country” is about the Rolls Royce guru and his Rajneeshees.  Netflix has a documentary on Bikram.) 

Fundamentalist religion is digging its own grave, and this has resulted in the collapse of religion in countries like Ireland or Iran and now the U.S.  Certainly in Europe religion is pretty much already buried – again except for recent immigrants.

Take a look at this chart which has information on the issue of class and religion.  A recent NPR media lie is that Trump’s base is ‘working-class, rural white men.’  It ignores the dominance of large farmers, ranchers and small town merchants and businessmen in these communities, along with the professional strata of lawyers, doctors or dentists that most small towns still have.   This is part of NPR’s job, which is hiding businessmen’s role in reactionary politics, including in the Republican Party.
This Pew Research Center chart is another refutation.  It reveals that the upper class is the most religious and the working class the least.  For the most part, the more educated, older and wealthier you are, the more religious you are.  On the ethnic or color side (here mislabeled ‘race’), even Latino/a U.S. residents, who were reliably Catholic until recently, are also leaving the fold.  The Catholic Church has been one of the biggest losers. The figures belie the Pew Survey's stock line that the unchurched: ‘cross all incomes and education levels’ equally. 

Religion is a product of certain material circumstances.  It is essentially a ‘political’ cloak that needs to give itself an appearance of ‘godliness’ in order to gain authority.  Yet Christian Socialism used to be a current, as was Liberation Theology.  Both have largely disappeared.  It is clear that being ‘spiritual’ is not a barrier to political action, though it might become one has any class struggle gets more intense.  Nor is being religious, as some African-American, Latino, Arab or Native American preachers have shown in their struggles against racism, deportations or the government.  But the larger currents of religion are dying and this bodes well for reason, science, Marxism and the working class. 

For other reviews on religion, type:  FGM,” “Ireland,” “God is Not Great,” “Violence” (Zizek), “Libertarian Atheism and Liberal Religionism,” “Annihilation of Caste,” “Jude the Obscure,” “Spiritual Snake Oil” "The Dark Side of Christian History" and “Islamophobia.” Use blog search box, upper left.

Written on a Sunday morning.
Red Frog
November 13, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

Global Class War

“Can the Working Class Change the World?” by Michael Yates, 2018

This is a short book that does not answer the question in its title.  It should have been called “The Working Class Must Change the World.”
The first part of the book is a basic analysis of capital from a Marxist international perspective.  Sort of a primer that looks at how profit is created through labor and inputs from nature.  It includes a brief description of the class structure and how different strata intersect – or don’t.  The second part is a look at some of the main forces working people have used to combat capital – unions and labor parties, revolution and the workers’ states created by them, along with a focus on small farmers and peasants.  The third is ‘why’ working class people must replace capital with a sustainable, planned and equal society worldwide.  A society of ‘we’ not ‘I.’  Basically Yates sees it as unavoidable or things are only going to get worse.
Yes, because middle-class liberal won't do it.
Yates looks at all the divisions within the working class, divisions that capital uses to ‘divide and conquer.’  Gender, caste, ethnicity and color, language, religion, geography, nation, skill sets, income levels, age and imperialism all impede an understanding that humans are actually similar.  Yates points out that these differences are all intimately intertwined with class and economics worldwide.
So anyone buying this book will be asking – where are the material sources of optimism for all those who labor?  What are capital’s weaknesses now?  And what are its non-material and theoretical weaknesses?  Clearly, his brief history shows that the working classes HAVE changed the world in the past, in many, many ways and have been the main force for social progress since the 1700s.  Yates’ present examples of progress click on some familiar groups that have made headway recently, like Occupy, BLM, continuing Swedish or German labor power, Indian Naxalites or the MST in Brazil.

But the main question remains.  Just in this country, a cursory look at the weak, divided and politically confused U.S. working class makes the Marxist insistence that those who labor will one day embrace the abolition of wage slavery – to be somewhat pessimistic.  The book “On New Terrain” by Kim Moody actually gives some material reasons why labor might be able to grow once again in the ‘global north’ due to long supply chains, connecting technologies, vulnerable just-in-time methods, corporate oligopolies and heavy urban and sectoral concentrations of workers.  One thing Moody did not include is the weakening Rightist grip on the U.S. South.  On the ideological level, capitalist institutions are in low repute everywhere.  The corporate faction fight between Democrats and Republicans is just more evidence of that.  The ‘global South’ is certainly more organized and active than anything in the wealthy capitalist countries, and that will continue. This is where I certainly look.  Only in parts of Europe does labor still hold many institutional cards.  Yates has almost nothing about these issues.

This book is a good primer for those who are unfamiliar with the labor movement or socialism.  It includes a concentration on the question of food, as agriculture is ignored many times by leftists.  It ignores rentier or financial capital.  It is aware of the ‘metabolic rift’ between nature and society created by capital that Marx understood.  It looks to indigenous peoples’ early communism for a guide to the future and gives a list of programmatic demands.  It ignores the question of what forms of organization the actual Left can take to grow.  The military question does not come up.

Yates does not seem to directly address the question – why the working class or even an economic focus?  The working classes, including small farmers, are the vast majority in the world, so ‘democracy’ demands a proletarian and peasant focus.  A large aggressive proletarian political party would dominate any representative society, even one where it was forced to go underground.  Working class labor is far more essential than many of the highly compensated, lauded and worthless occupations that dominate capitalist societies.  Just think of the useless lawyers, corporate managers, advertising executives and sales people modern capital has created, just as a start.   Because of workers’ inherent power, withdrawing labor is one of the most powerful forces there is.  The world-wide ideological campaign against ‘communism’ has limited unity and organization since 1991, but that shows signs of weakening in some places – even in the U.S.  Instead, political polarization is now becoming the norm.  The neo-liberal bourgeois center is crumbling as its cruel and incompetent face is exposed.  Another serious economic collapse similar to 2008 could spell the death knell for capital on a world-scale, but it also might usher in barbarism once again.

Just to be cranky, I sometimes look to see if there are scratches on used LPs I buy.  Perhaps I need to start reading a few paragraphs in books before I buy for the same purpose.  But for you, this book might be dynamite!

Other reviews on this topic, or by Yates:  “On New Terrain,” “In and Out of the Working Class” (Yates), “Reviving the Strike,” “Embedded With Organized Labor,” “Save Our Unions,” “Re-Building Power in Open Shop America,” “Class Against Class,” “Southern Insurgency,” “Is the East Still Red?” ”From Commune to Capitalism,” “The Rise of China,” “The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism,” “Walking With the Comrades,” “The God Market.”
And I bought it at May Day Books most thorough selection of Left books!

Red Frog

November 9, 2018