Monday, February 25, 2019

Class Struggle in China, continued...


Jasic Factory Struggle, Shenzhen China – Webinar by SACOM and Labor Notes, 2/21/2019

Synopsis of Webinar:
An effort to organize a union at a factory in Shenzhen, China has turned into a larger political issue.  The Jasic Factory makes large-scale welding equipment for the world market.  It is domestically owned by a Chinese businessman who also plays a low-level role in the local Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a member of the District People’s Congress.  There are about 1,000 workers there, of average skill levels, many with long-time service.  They went ahead, after permission from a few local officials of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), to organize a union in May 2018. 
 
Since then 50 workers or supporters have been fired or jailed, while students from ‘elite’ universities have been detained, expelled from schools or jailed.  The process has involved forced televised confessions.  The two local officials from ACFTU who told the workers to go ahead and organize a union have also been arrested.

Why the crackdown?  According to Michael Ma of SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior) – an organization in Hong Kong which is supporting the Jasic struggle – it is because of the fusion between these workers and students from top universities across the country. Chinese students in Marxist study societies in various universities have noticed that the treatment that workers receive from the state and the CCP is what Marxists have always opposed.  For instance, this involved students from the Peking University Marxist Society, who study Marxism and also have gotten jobs in factories to get closer to the Chinese working class.  The CCP is threatened because another interpretation of Marxism and socialism is being used by some highly-educated youth against the capitalists inside China.  This threatens the authority of CCP bureaucratic rule and also local capitalist and overseas imperialist profits.

The immediate issue here is having an independent union.  I might add that the concept of ‘independent trade unions’ and factory committees was part of the transitional demands of the Soviet Left Opposition and later, the 1938 Transitional Program of the 4th International.   This approach is not the same as the bureaucratic ACFTU version of unionism, which is basically to be in charge of labor discipline.  That is also the role unions played in the former USSR or Eastern European workers’ states.  As class struggle continues in China, the Transitional Program becomes ever more useful.

E.D. Friedman introduced Ma by describing a change in China since the rise of Xi Jinping in 2013.  Since then she says there has been increased repression directed against workers, against left political opponents, researchers and journalists, against any left opposition to the CCP version of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ Ma said the unique characteristic of the Jasic struggle is that A. it is local, not inspired by some NGO; B. It involved wide support from other students and workers in Shenzhen; C. The support group was large and could reach across the nation; D. their ideology was strong; E. the unity of students and workers was unique. 

Ma said that there are increased stresses in this region of China, as some garment factories are moving to even lower-paid parts of Asia, while other factories are moving into the interior of China away from the developed coast.  The reactionary and militarist ‘trade war’ initiated by the U.S. and Trump is also causing a slowdown in production.

As to what to do, a professor from Cornell mentioned that their University stopped relations with Chinese university officials because of this repression of students.  This had an impact on the CCP, which had to issue statements.  The International Confederation of Trade Unions and the International Labor Organization have not done anything as yet.  Only the Metalworkers Union in Germany have attempted to support the Jasic struggle so far.  To a question, Ma contended that corporate ‘social auditing’ is fruitless, as workers are not allowed to be honest with auditors and factories are prettified before audits.

Full story from SACOM:  http://sacom.hk/
Full story from Labor Notes:  https://labornotes.org/jasic

Other reviews on China on the blog, below:  “China on Strike,” “Two Sea Changes in World Economy,” “Is the East Still Red?” “From Commune to Capitalism,” “The End of the Revolution,” “The Rise of China,” “The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism,” “Maoism and the Chinese Revolution.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
February 25, 2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

WTF Series, #3 - Corporate Food


$15.4 Billion Write-down for Kraft Heinz  Stock plunges 28% to historic low; Market Capitalization goes from $58B to $42B 


    Do you know why?  Look at this sad list of their most famous brands in the U.S.:

Kraft – White macaroni & Cheese powder, fake cheese Singles, Mayo, EasyMac, salad dressings, sugary BBQ sauce
Heinz sugary Ketchup, Baked Beans
Capri Sun childrens’ fake juice
Classico sugary, salt-laden spaghetti sauce
Jell-O colorful and chemical childrens’ treat eaten by adults
Kool-Aid powder childrens’ drink
Lunchables – fatty bologna, white bread crackers, nuggets, cheese nachos fake school lunch
Maxwell House bland corporate coffee
Ore-Ida frozen Russet potatoes
Oscar-Mayer – mystery meat wieners, mystery meat cold cuts, carcinogenic bacon
Philadelphia Cream Cheese and sugary cream cheese treats
Planters Salty Peanuts
Weight Watchers processed ‘weight-loss’ Smart Ones
Velveeta fake cheese
Cheez Whiz fake cheese
A1 Steak sauce (steak!)
Boca tasteless non-meat Burgers
Cadbury mostly sugar low-cacao chocolates
Cool Whip fake whipped cream
Crystal Light fake weight-watchers drink
Claussen pickles
Grey Poupon mustard
Miracle Whip fake mayonnaise
Seven Seas processed salad dressings
Stove Top processed stuffing
Tang powdered fake orange juice
Taco Bell grocery items (fast food at home)
Toblerone mostly sugar low-cacao chocolate
Nabisco Premium tasteless white-bread crackers

Bloomberg called the situation for Kraft Heinz ‘an existential crisis.’  KH is the 3rd largest food company in North America and the 5th largest in the world.  

All that is missing is Spam©.  Nearly all of these food products are heavily processed, fake or low quality factory foods with little nutritional value or worse – excess chemicals, fat, sugar and salt.  They were mostly created in labs as ‘Frankenfoods’.  No wonder there is a corporate 'write-down.'  I grew up on some of this stuff in the 1960s and fed some to my kids later.  (Sorry kids - but now they are both vegetarians.)  It was inexpensive and ‘tasty’ food.  Many working-class people still do buy these brands, but it is damaging to our health.  I have turned to real food - organic, local, vegetarian or vegan - for years.  Many others have done so also, which is why the KH brand is failing.

The modern Kraft Heinz was put together by Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway and a hedge fund, and their cost-cutting measures ignored food quality.  Campbell’s Soup and General Mills are also flailing, according to Bloomberg– both issuing products that are set in a time zone in the edible past.   After all folks, who can’t make their own soup better than what Campbell’s makes?!  GM’s “Dannon” yogurt has more sugar than several candy bars, and more milk than you’d ever need.  Most of their cereals are various versions of sugar and food coloring.  All made in a lab.

Reviews on this subject, below:  "Salt, Sugar, Fat," "Foodopoly," "A Foodie's Guide to Capitalism," "Behind the Kitchen Door."  Use blog search box, upper left.

The Kulture Kommissar
February 23, 2019

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Red Atlantis Again


“Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking – A Memoir of Food and Longing,” by Anya Von Bremzen, 2013

This is not really a cookbook, although there are some classic Soviet recipes at the back.  It is more a social history that focuses on food. It is filled with conventional anti-Soviet clich├ęs most U.S. readers are used to – some true, some not.  Von Bremzen’s ‘boho’ mother was very anti-Soviet and her hostility is one side of the book.  In a visit back to Moscow in 2011 on “Victory Day,” she complains about ‘tanks and banks’ in ‘Putinland.’  There is no parallel reference to the more numerous tanks or bigger banks of the U.S.  Both author and mother seem to be apolitical people at bottom.
Food Politics

But the other side is the author’s very real social nostalgia growing up in the Brezhnev 1960s and 1970s as a ‘sad-eyed bulimic’ young girl, even attending an elite school just outside Stalin’s old dacha in the Kuntsevo Woods.  It is a look into how mostly urban people in Moscow lived during the workers’ state period. Given Anya’s grandfather was a functionary in naval intelligence, they probably lived a bit better than most. She and her mother emigrated from the USSR to the U.S. in 1974.

Food is central to Anya, though she was brought up on piano lessons, Rachmaninoff, Tolstoy and Pushkin. Von Bremzen writes about the various editions of ‘The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food,’ the enduring Soviet cookbook and their version of the U.S. “Joy of Cooking.” It was initiated by Anastas Mikoyan, the USSR's minister of food.  She comments on the joyous 6th International Youth Festival during the ‘thaw’ under Khrushchev as well as her beloved Moscow Central Market, a former farmer’s market, now a high-end bourgeois mall.  The book covers Red October Chocolate and the rest of the products produced by the USSR’s food industry, some of which still exist. 

After leaving the USSR, she and her mother invite ex-Soviet friends over to their apartment in Philadelphia for special events in which they try to recreate a typical Soviet meal for each decade, pre-revolutionary to glasnost.  This forms the food structure of the book.

Food, of course, is central to human and daily life, and its production is key to how a society functions.  In the USSR, because of the vast number of ethnicities and nationalities, the variety of possible foods was huge.  Besides Russian staples there was wine from the Caucasus; Sovetskoye champagne; Moldavian kebabs and feta strudel; central Asian quail pilaf; Kalmyk tea; Ukrainian borscht and sausage; a Georgian stew called chanakhi and a creamy walnut-sauced chicken called satvisi,; Armenian dolmas; Abkhazian apples and corn mush; Lithuanian sakotis cake; Koland melons; Korean kimchi (chim-che); Azerbaijani sturgeon salad; Byelorussian herbal vodka; Crimean fruit; Dangestan brandies; Baltic herring rolls.  

But at the same time, because consumer goods were low on the bureaucrats’ priority list, food was limited or of low quality, so a black market and informal ‘bhat’ relations formed to provide what the state would not.  With the looming end of the USSR under Gorbachev, food almost disappeared in cities as normal supply channels collapsed.  When Anya and her mother immigrated to the U.S., their ‘First Supermarket Experience’ in the U.S. was epic, given the choices.  But they also found U.S. food to be plentiful but bland or unhealthy.  Russian black bread made ‘Wonder Bread” seem pathetic.  Tangy Sovok mayonnaise showed ‘Hellmans’ to be substandard. Soviet sosiski were more flavorful and real than American ‘hot dogs.’

Von Bremzen tells some valuable family stories and retails some facts:
The cloth strait jacket - heavy, hot , hard to see and move, hard to wear.

*  On March 8, International Women’s Day, 1927 in Tashkent, 10,000 Uzbek women threw off their veils (a massive shroud of heavy horsehair) and burned them.  One of Von Bremzen’s Communist feminist relatives was there.  After that Muslim traditionalists raped and murdered some of these women for this act of rebellion.
*  Mikoyan (who she calls the ‘Red Aunt Jemima’) went to the U.S. and brought back the idea of the hamburger but without the bun, which became the ubiquitous Soviet kotleta.  He also introduced the ‘Eskimo pie’ to the USSR.  And then there was kornfleks and even ketchup.
*  The ruling nomenklatura had plenty of high-quality food, their own cooks, supply chains and farms.  According to evidence, Stalin became quite the gluttonous gourmand.  Though how that compares with the diets of today’s U.S. or Russian billionaire oligarchs is unsaid.
*  Russia turned away from Islam because Islam forbade alcohol, including the culturally significant vodka.  In 988 the king of the Rus adopted the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Church, which allowed booze.
*  The limitations of communal living in the cities were not so much in the ‘communal’ as in the tiny spaces that people had.  They slept on aluminum cots (raskladushka) in hallways, in kitchens, in closets and had no privacy.  It took years before Khrushchev and later Brezhnev began building identical apartment blocks that had a bit more room, but these were not in the central city areas.
*  The old Bolsheviks were quite abstentious in their food habits.  Lenin was against the working class drinking alcohol. Wiser heads prevailed and the alcohol tax monopoly was reintroduced in the 1920s.
*  Von Bremzen’s grandfather in naval intelligence confirmed the evidence that Stalin ignoring multiple warnings of a surprise German attack in 1941.  This led to 750,000 casualties, 3 million Soviet soldiers captured and Nazi armies at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow.  This ‘mistake’ almost ended the USSR.
*  Recycling was common in the land of the Soviets.
*  She retails the Sovok traditions of drinking vodka, which she calls ‘co-bottling’ – done in 3s, never alone, with a zakuska (appetizer) of sorts.
*  She asserts that ‘multi-culturalism’ - actually the right to self-determination for each nationality written into the USSR’s constitution - ultimately blew up the Soyuz (Union).  Historically, no national votes took place, only a meeting between Yeltsin and 2 other republic leaders.
Zakuski (Appetizers)

This book suggests that had if Soviets had paid more attention to the consumer sector instead of the military sector – i.e. music, clothes and especially living spaces and food - they might have maintained support among the working-class and rural farm populations.  According to Von Bremzen, standing queues (stoyat) are where people socialized, and quite plainly their discussions were not complimentary to the food regime.

Von Bremzen includes recipes for:  Salat Olivier, potato salad with pickles; Kulbiaka, pastry filled with fish, rice and mushrooms; Chanakhi, stew of lamb, herbs and vegetables; Super Borshch, soup with beef, mushrooms, apples and beans;  Blini, pancakes with the trimmings. 

Other reviews on the USSR:  Travel series on St. Petersburg/ Leninsburg/ Leningrad.  Books: “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin,” “Reinventing Collapse,” “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” “Secondhand Time,” “Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” “Soviet Women.” Event: “Slavs and Tatars.”

P.S. Vegetarianism was frowned upon in the USSR.  A ‘vegetarian society’ was established in 1901 with influence from people like Leo Tolstoy, but in 1929 it was outlawed.  The Great Soviet Encyclopedia called vegetarianism a ‘false idea’ with ‘no followers’ in the USSR.’  The word itself disappeared from Russian dictionaries.  At that time, vegetarianism meant more than just not eating meat – it was pacifist and semi-political too, so it was seen as threatening.

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent used/cutout book section!
The Kulture Kommissar
February 20, 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Rebellious Little Bird


Monroeville, Alabama & To Kill a Mockingjay

Monroeville is a town in the southwest part of Alabama, below Montgomery and above Mobile.  It is the literary capital of the state, made famous by the most popular work of U.S. fiction according to a 2018 poll on PBS – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Nelle Harper Lee.  It was her home town and also the childhood home of Truman Persons (Capote,) her next door neighbor.  Capote was the writer of “In Cold Blood,” “Breakfast at Tiffanys” and many stories and a few novels, including another hidden, supposedly true-crime ‘non-fiction novel,’ “Music for Chameleons.”
The Old Courthouse - Nicest Building in Town

A visit to Monroeville gives you an idea of why Nelle left, though reading “Go Set A Watchman,” her first book, also explains her move to New York City. As anyone who has lived in a small town will tell you, they are ‘small’ in more ways than one.  Monroeville is a typical rural town, whose old town square remains with a selection of stately homes stretching out beyond it.  At the same time it is overrun on its south-side by chain stores and the 1960s concrete-block car-culture of gas stations, fast food joints, automobile repair shops and car-part stores.  The line of cars at the local McDonald’s drive-through window tells the tale.

I asked at the Chamber of Commerce if the county was dry, as I had not seen a bar or roadhouse after my long, thirsty drive.  They kindly pointed me to the Mexican restaurants out of downtown.  It seems only Mexicans would think of drinking here …

There is no bookstore in Monroeville, though I was told some books are sold out of an antique store down the block from the town square, the location of the old county courthouse and also the new county courthouse.  The old county courthouse and museum is well preserved, stately and run by the historical society.  It was the setting for the trial in Mockingbird and also the model for the set in the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck, who stayed at a hotel just off the town square that is now the library.  Nelle and Truman, given the paucity of entertainment in so tiny a burg, enjoyed watching trials from the court balcony.  This balcony was made famous by the book as the place where African-Americans were allowed to view the proceedings.

The Lee house and the Faulk house, where Truman was dumped on relatives by his mother, were on South Alabama Avenue, two blocks from the town square.  Both houses no longer exist.  The Lee’s is an ice cream drive-in, the Faulks, some rubble rock walls in an empty lot.  Boo Radley’s house two doors down is also gone under a gas station. But there is some truth in the Boo story, as one of Nell’s neighbor kids was kept in the house by his strict father as punishment for breaking some windows. 

I visited the courthouse museum and took pictures, while talking to a volunteer and a staff member.  I had not seen a copy of Lee’s early work, “Go Set A Watchman” in the gift shop, although numerous copies of Mockingbird were spied, so I asked if they had one.  They had one, seemingly under the counter.  The volunteer told me there is a coldness in town towards the female attorney of the Lee estate who allowed publication of that book in 2015.  The attorney does not visit the courthouse museum, perhaps because of that coldness.  And so Maycomb, ah, Monroeville continues.

Now “Go Set A Watchman,” (full review below) is more of a personal description by Nelle of her time in Monroeville, including some first encounters with a boy which do not go well and her arguments with her father.  Her father, a.k.a. Atticus Finch, was actually a segregationist who believed black people were ‘children.’  He supported segregation, opposed black voting rights and attended White League meetings, though he said it was ‘just to keep an eye’ on the real racists.  So the reveal of the book was that the educated white middle class of the south were not ‘saviors’ but part of the oppressive system of Jim Crow.  This is one of the secrets of Monroeville's middle class. 

Finch, a lawyer, does defend an African-American man unjustly accused of rape by a white girl from a destitute white family outside town, the Ewells.  Nell explains their shabby financial situation in Mockingbird.  So ‘equality before the law,’ a liberal standard, is upheld in Mockingbird.  But the laws of Jim Crow – and there were many – were not questioned by her father.  After all, many times the worst crimes are those embedded in the law.  The class question that comes to mind is if the ‘slatternly’ Ewell girl had been a member of one of the prominent business families in town, would the trial would have gone quite the way it did?  I doubt it.  It is even possible that the false accusation was an attempt by this lower-class family to gain respect and support from the more upper-class whites in the town.
Harper thinking about Monroeville

The volunteer told me not to read ‘that’ book (Watchman) while the staff member said she considered it more badly written than Mockingbird (true…) and a ‘prequel / sequel’ to the second book.  I told them that I had a different take on the Watchman book than they, as it is far more truthful than the later glossy version.  From their unease in this discussion, I did not ask the second question, perhaps even more embarrassing to Monroeville.  Was Nelle Harper Lee a lesbian?  This is a common question, and almost no one who looks into this issue thinks she was heterosexual. 

She / Scout grew up a ‘tomboy,’ didn’t get along well with the Monroeville boys, hung around with an effeminate male friend Dill who became a famously gay friend Truman, wore baggy pants throughout her life, dated once or twice, never married, didn’t wear makeup or jewelry, … so the suspicion is there.  It is seems to be the sub-text of her life. There will be no absolute proof, but the evidence is multiple.  Even using the pen name of “Harper” as a first name suggests a male author, which might be beneficial in a male-run industry, but also indicates something else.  Being a closeted lesbian from a small bible-belt southern town in the 1950s must have been suffocating. I spared the ladies their feelings.

All of which explains why Nelle moved to New York when she was able, got a job as an airline ticket agent and began writing Watchman for 8 years, before her publisher friends told her to just concentrate on the trial story.  And so she did.

P.S. - I have a suspicion the writer of the "Hunger Games" series was aware of the potency of the 'mocking' bird in southern life and literature, but realized it needed a bit of a punch. 

P.P.S. - Here is a link to a letter written by Lee that shows her anger at Monroeville and the museum: 



Other reviews on this topic, below: "Go Set A Watchman," "White Trash," "Southern Cultural Nationalism," "The Neo-Confederate States," "Struggle & Progress," "Why the South Lost the Civil War," "Hunger Games."  Use blog search box, upper left, to find these articles.

The Cranky Yankee
February 15, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Feast or Famine?


“The Hedonism Handbook – Mastering the Lost Arts of Leisure and Pleasure,” by Michael Flocker, (2004)

The author’s name reminds me of a movie.  “Hey, Flocker!” 

At any rate, the reason I read this book is to answer the question, is this the new “Right to Be Lazy” that was written by Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law so long ago?  Or the new manifesto from the Situationist Internationale? Or just some middle-class comedic fantasy?  Lafargue’s book was written in 1883.  It addressed workers as to the benefits of a ‘slow-down’ in the work process and for them to turn to socialism.  Even in the 1800s, labor was constantly under the whip of long, long hours, hammering assembly lines, child labor and tyrannical bosses.  This was the period of the ‘Protestant’ work ethic utilized by capital, which meant that the only good worker was an exhausted worker. 
The Middle or Upper Class Version

Today, as the U.S. has become the most workaholic society on the globe, the issue remains the same.  Short or no vacations, high-intensity labor, consistent short-staffing, digital connectivity 16 hours a day, the need to work overtime to make more money, or the need to work 2-3 jobs – it all adds up to a tiring shit-storm.  Many white collar workers are slaves to software and hardware, which controls their work pace.  Then there is the possibly long, ugly commute home.  And if you go home and take care of children?  The second unpaid shift starts. No time, as they say.  No time at all. 

Hedonism Handbook
Flocker is the New York-based author of the “Metrosexual Guide to Style,” and at one time did red-carpet events and celebrity interviews - all of which should produce suspicion.  But he’s a funny tongue-in-cheek writer, making whoopee out of our over-worked society in clever and insouciant ways.   He’s sort of a junior Tom Wolfe, though he aspires to be Gore Vidal. The succinct description of this book is ‘Ape the rich, but not too much! You see, he’s a ‘Great Gatsby’ kind of guy. He uses Aveda hair control paste, if you must know.

As he doesn’t know, different classes have to ‘relax’ in different ways.  He does have a section on the working stiffs in cubes and workplaces, advocating doing the essential and not everything.   But I suspect this section is mostly aimed at harried managers.  He is especially an opponent of perfectionism – the idea that you have to be perfectly good, which is perfectly stupid.  Behind this is the dim understanding that your work is not your life – it’s a job, you are being used, so stop trusting the outfit you work for.  Do what you need to get the job done. The impact of the book goes beyond setting up one room in your house as an ‘Oriental’ opium boudoir smacking of French Colonial rule, which he suggests – perhaps with his tongue stuck right through his cheek.  Reading the book might get a regular ol’ wage worker to back-off and jack-down the hurry and laugh instead.
The Original Thing

RIGHT TO BE LAZY
Lafargue on the other hand wasn’t advising the tired corporate manager, factory owner, businessman or land lord to sleep past noon, drink more champagne, visit his mistress or contemplate the natural marvels of his suburban McMansion, as Flocker does for the modern ‘lords.’ Lafargue wrote his essay against the ‘right to work’ idea pushed on wage workers, which was a dialectical corrective to the worship of work pushed by the capitalists of the time and even by some leftists.  Lafargue spoke against the ‘dogma of work’ which made humans into ‘machine slaves.’ 

Lafargue enjoined workers to ‘enjoy,’ not to suffer like the Christian parsons encouraged.  Work was supposedly a cure for sin and vices according the capitalists and the church.  Hunger was even embraced by a priest of the Anglican Church as a boon to work. Holidays were suppressed.  Ultimately this love of suffering led to drained human beings and physical damage.  Lafargue opposed bourgeois moralism and set against it the Cooperative Commonwealth, where “human passions will have free play.” 

Flocker also notices the repressive and hectoring spirit of religion, especially the role of Christianity in the U.S., still a promoter of workaholism.  But he does not name the sprite behind it all, capital.  After all, the enthusiastic pats on the back might stop if he took that tack.  At this point in developed capitalist societies there is so much food, possible luxury, commodities, entertainment, booze and drugs that 'hedonism' has become the subtext of the whole consumer culture. 

The overwhelming misery of factory and associated work in Lafargue’s time was christened ‘progress.’  And indeed it was – for some.  So while Marx and Engels understood that labor actually created human beings, Lafargue added that too much labor results in destruction.  The point of communism shared by them all was to abolish overwork and to use the technology and science developed by capital to reduce working hours to a rational minimum.  Lafargue figured about 3 hours a day, with the rest reserved for ‘leisure and feasting’ instead of the ‘religion of abstinence.’ 

Of course, not every class was working that much.  As Lafargue notes: 
“The women of fashion live a life of martyrdom, in trying on and showing off the fairy-like toilets which the seamstresses die in making.”  
And:
“To fulfill his double social function of non-producer and over-consumer, the capitalist was not only obliged to violate his modest taste, to lose his laborious habits of two centuries ago and to give himself up to unbounded luxury, spicy indigestibles and syphilitic debauches, but also to withdraw from productive labor an enormous mass of men in order to enlist them as his assistants.”
Things have not changed that much.  But his point is that we should not let the upper classes ‘own’ time.

As can be seen in the U.S., capitalist automation, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and computerization result in overwork for the employed.  For displaced wage workers they now have to get 2-3 jobs, hipsterly called ‘gigs’ or ‘side hustles.’  (Oooh!  How cool!)  This is an obvious contradiction that is worrying the policy wonks of capital even now, so they have come up with the warehousing placebo, the Universal Basic Income (UBI). 

The working class has little alternative but to work in order to survive.  However, we should raise our heads above the grindstone and see who created this situation and why it shouldn’t continue.

Other reviews on this topic: ‘In Letters of Fire and Blood,’ ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft,’ ‘Time Wars,’ ‘Marxism and the Oppression of Women,’ ‘The Precariat,’ ‘Modern De Facto Slavery,’ ‘Marxism is Abolitionism,’ ‘Factory Days / Office Lights,’ ‘New Dark Age.’  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it at the library!
The Kulture Kommissar
February 12, 2019

Friday, February 8, 2019

Maoism in Retrospect


“You Say You Want a Revolution – SDS, PL and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance,” edited by John Levine and Earl Silbar (2019)

This is a book of remembrances by 23 activists from different U.S. cities radicalized by the 1960s and their involvement with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Progressive Labor Party (PL).  PL was for a time the official Maoist organization in the U.S., which happened when it split from the Communist Party in the early 1960s.  This is the first book that concentrates on PL, adding to a number of memoirs on the New Communist Movement, RU/RCP, the SWP and the CLP in the 1960s and 1970s.

The book’s value is in the individual, but at the same time, common stories they share.  The amount of useful left-wing work described here is extraordinary – the first demonstration against the Vietnam war; the first trip to Cuba; the formation of the first anti-imperialist student organization, M2M; PL’s strong role in campus SDS, an example being the San Francisco State strike; activism in the reactionary U.S. south and work in the U.S. army against the war; opposition to HUAC; work at a GE plant and glancing references to Bill Epton and the Harlem Rebellion.   The list is multiple. 

But Not Like the Beatles...

There are a number of general themes.  One is the fondness most ex-members and fellow travelers seemed to have had for Mao ZeDong at the time, a fondness that has faded or disappeared.  The second is an understanding of the difference between the more middle-class hippie counter-culture and the more working-class political protest culture of the time.  The third is the growing awareness of PL’s very undemocratic and sectarian functioning.  Very few of the writers link this to PL’s historical and ideological roots - a number think the problem might be ‘Lenin.’  No one mentions Stalin.  The concept of ultra-leftism is never mentioned either.  

Fourth is the important role PL played in their political development, a ‘basic course’ in Marxism and class understanding that countered the middle-class ‘youth’ or adventurist politics of other factions in SDS.  Most importantly, the continued participation in progressive efforts by most of these individuals gives the lie to the corporate myth that every ‘60s and ‘70s radical ‘sold out.’  They did not by a long shot.

The memoirs mostly focus on the period between 1967 to 1970, with minimal references outside that time period.  PL’s efforts in the 1970s against the war, the Detroit Mack Avenue sit-down, the Boston busing project, nationwide efforts against racist IQ tests and anti-racist / anti-fascist work in INCAR are not mentioned.  The remembrances are centered in 5 places – Texas, San Francisco, Iowa, New York and Boston.  Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, LA, Philadelphia and other cites where PL had branches are not included here. 

Like the rest of the Maoist/ Trotskyist/ Marxist/ Stalinist hard-left of the day, within PL most members and supporters did not really know what was going on outside their own city unless they read the ‘heroic’ distortions in Challenge/Desafio, PL’s newspaper.  Nor did they know what other left groups were doing, so the ability to have a national and even international organizational and political understanding was impaired. 

There is one very funny and obnoxious remembrance here, wedged in among the more straight-forward.  This is a valuable book for present activists or cadre who want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Maoist left of that day, issues which also reflect on present organizations and politics.  After all, this is not the first go-round…

Full disclosure:  I was a ‘grunt’ member of SDS/PL/WSA/INCAR from 1971 to 1978(?), then went on to join the OCIC, support the Spartacist League, join the Marcy-inspired RCL(I), join Socialist Action, join the Communist Party and lastly join LPA, then the Labor Party, before volunteering at May Day Books.  At present I see Marxism as the best approach to politics.  I'm refraining from analyzing PL from a more personal perspective in this review.

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “Heavy Radicals,” “Revolution in the Air,” “The Communist Necessity,” “A Threat of the First Magnitude,” “Maoism and the Chinese Revolution,” “Is the East Still Red,” “The Fall of Bo Xilai,” “The Rise of China.” Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books! (Only Mpls. bookstore to carry this book right now!)
Red Frog
February 8, 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

WTF Series, #2 - Pigment Not Race

Are ‘White’ people white?  Are ‘Black’ people black?

Actually not usually.  These are social constructs, based on racism.  First remember this biological fact:

1.     There is only one ‘race’ – the human race.  Look it up.

There is no such thing as ‘multi-racial’ or a need to check a box that asks, “What race are you?”  ‘Bi-racial,’ ‘mixed race,’ ‘interracial,’ ‘races’ and every other word or phrase that implies there are multiple races are bogus.  These commonly used words by the U.S. government, corporate HR offices, universities, the bourgeois media and even diversity liberals and ‘leftists’ just enforce racism. It was the colonial race theorists of the 1600s that insisted on there being different biological races, with different intellectual inheritances, so as to justify settlement and oppression.  The whole thing was based on bad science.

Makeup World

What we are left with visually are skin colors and some physical variations of faces, body types and height – basically trivial things given the real variations that could exist in DNA.  These latter variations also exist within different skin shades as we know. Skin shades are based on protecting the body from skin cancer in Equatorial and sunny climates, so it’s more of a geographic indicator than anything else.  Which is why the racists like to codify it and the class system likes to institutionalize it.

So are ‘white’ people really white?  Well no. Check ‘em out next time you look at one. As an example, Johnny Winter was an albino blues-rock guitar player from Texas with long white hair.  He maybe qualified as ‘white skinned’ but most ‘white’ people are not albinos. Then there are those scary white girls with ‘porcelain’ skin, who are still not really white.  Pale-faces, maybe…? So-called white people are actually mostly cream colored, beigy or light brown, sometimes badly tanned, sometimes pinkish or reddish when they get sun, a sunburn or drink too much, but they ARE NOT WHITE.

We are not including mimes, of course.  They are white.

So are all ‘black’ people really black?  Well not usually.  Most of the time so-called black people are various shades of brown, from very light to very dark.  This is no secret.  Yet Barack Obama was always called ‘black.’  He wasn’t – partly because his mother was not a Kenyan.  Are we now using the ‘50% or below’ rule to define people?  Is that a big improvement over the racist ‘1% drop of blood’ rule that was used by Jim Crow?  Same with Kamala Harris, whose parents are Indian and Jamaican.  She is already being called ‘black.’  She’s not, she’s light brown.  Look at her!  Call her ‘light brown’ if you must. Again, the 50% or below rule!

Unless you are an upper-middle class Catholic kid from Covington High School in Tennessee who wears blackface to your high school basketball game.  Then you’re black.

If you’ve noticed, Asians are not ‘yellow’ either. Where the fuck did the ‘yellow peril’ shit come from? Many Japanese or Koreans have lightly colored skin, and unless they have jaundice or are exceptionally sallow, they are not ‘yellow.’ That Japanese Marie Kondo woman could be your little ‘white’ mother!  Down towards the equator in the Philippines people get darker, and for good reason.  “East” Asians from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh are various shades of brown, to the point where some even look ‘white.’

MAC Makeup for the color-challenged

Nor are native Americans ‘red.’ After all, ‘redskin’ comes from the bloody mess left when native American heads were scalped by Europeans. (Thank you Washington NFL team for reminding us of that…) Indigenous peoples are varieties of brown, getting darker in Navajo or Apache country in the Southwest U.S., which makes sense.

Latinos are also various shades of brown from light to very dark, given the history of slavery and colonial rule over the indigenous in Latin America.  Some Latinos in Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia or Argentina – even Puerto Rico - are virtually 'light,' especially those closest to Spanish or Portuguese origins.  This is because their families did not intermarry with various indigenous or Latino-African people in Latin or Central America or the Caribbean.

The issue of parents or children with different ethnic or skin tone backgrounds doesn’t fit into the present ‘classification’ system.  Given the increased migration, transfers and mingling of peoples for years now, this system is outmoded. There is no box to check for all the variations!

Only a portrait painter or a makeup artist needs to keep track of these subtle and detailed variations in skin tones.  I’m sure they have better names for all the subtleties.  But now we have to too!  This whole racial, color-coding thing is really a SOCIAL and economic construct, a box if you will, a trap actually.  It is all bullshit.
The Guardian on skin shade 'colorism':  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/08/colorism-series-editors-note-why-we-asked-black-women-taboo

The Cultured Marxist

Mediterranean complexion?

Athens, Georgia

February 4, 2019