Friday, May 31, 2019

Instead, sabotage!

“Native Tongue” by Carl Hiaasen, 1991

This book makes relentless fun of the bastards behind the corruption and destruction of Florida’s natural and social environment.  Greedy real estate interests cover the landscapes with overbuilt skyscrapers, absurd theme parks and golf courses with the help of local capitalist governments.  Alligator farms, snake pits and exotic animal cages desecrate a natural environment slowly being paved over from shore to wetland, from barrier island to orange grove.  Mangroves, cypress swamps, panthers, birds, fish and Seminoles better get out of the way of the money machine. 
No More Talk...

To oppose this circus of greed is a strange group of compadres – similar to Abbey’s The Monkey-Wrench Gang of the southwest desert.  They ultimately don’t believe in using reason or logic to persuade the despoilers - because it doesn't work.  Instead, sabotage!  A former governor hiding in the woods on North Key Largo with a panther collar around his neck, guns and gasoline in tow.  Two greasy redneck burglars with hearts of gold.  A rich old lady that plots to stop a shore-line golf course and condo development, sometimes using her pistol.  A dark-skinned cop that sides with them secretly.  A theme park actress who burgles her boss.  A former journalist and flak who tries to protect the environment with reason and bad publicity, then endorses different tactics.  And a dolphin that kills with love. 

This book, like other Hiaasen books with similar themes (“Sick Puppy” for one...) will make you erupt in chuckles so that people in coffee shops stop and talk.  One target of Hiaasen’s humor are overweight, pale tourists shelling out too much money for the junk that can be Florida.  His lead dickhead is a ex-Mafia snitch who becomes a successful theme park entrepreneur, aided by a steroid-sucking security thug.  The ex-Mafioso lies, cheats and steals in building his money-making tourist trap, while fabricating two ‘rare blue-tongued voles’ in order to extort money from the EPA and tourists.  This crude, golf-playing, obnoxious boss could be Donald Trump.  He is the familiar model of the unrestrained, sociopathic capitalist, a hyper ‘Scrooge’ whose only interest is lucre.
Florida Mangrove

Hiaasen was a reporter in Miami in south Florida, so he’s familiar with the types that run the state.  He has nothing but contempt for what they have done.

Other reviews on Florida or sabotage below, use blog search box, upper left:  “The Monkey-Wrench Gang,” “Hayduke Lives!” (Abbey) “Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands,” “Sick Puppy,” (Hiaasen) “Florida Will Sink,” “99 Homes,”  “Back to Blood,” (Wolfe).    

And I bought it at Chapman Street Books, Ely, Minnesota, USA.
The Kulture Kommissar
May 31, 2019

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Redder Badge of Courage

“April Morning," by Howard Fast, 1961

This is historical fiction about the heroic period and motivations of the American Revolution.  It is the dramatic story of the day before and the day of the confrontation on Lexington Green between British redcoats and Massachusetts farmers and townspeople.  The lead character, Adam, is a 15 year old boy, who maybe ‘becomes a man’ on that day.  It is comparable to a book many U.S. students read in high school, “The Red Badge of Courage” about the Civil War, but April Morning is better written and more believable.

The local farmers and townspeople in various villages throughout Massachusetts were organized in Committees of Correspondence – official anti-English bodies with a military arm that ‘trained’ with old birdshot guns, some rifles, even a blunderbuss.  Late on the night of April 19, an unnamed rider alerts the townspeople of Lexington to the approach of a large body of British soldiers.   They confusedly gather on the Green in the dark, argue, then decide to confront the British with words, partly led by Adam’s father Moses.  Moses is one of those people who tiresomely debates everyone about everything.  In this case he is dead set against a military confrontation.  And so they select a speaker to address the British, their Reverend.

In the cold early morning, 66 men and boys line up on Lexington Green with their shabby weapons held at ease. When the British get there, there is no ‘parlay’ or speeches.  The English fix bayonets, then open fire, killing Moses and several others, while everyone else runs for their lives, including Adam. No one shoots back. The rest of the day describes their use of exhausting ‘guerilla war’ tactics against the British, as the redcoats retreat on the road from Concord back to Boston.  This is where Adam gets his ‘baptism of fire’ and learns not to be terrified.

Of course there is a girl to impress; a mother, granny and little brother to return to; a dead Father to mourn.  The rural people did not want an invading English army, which had cruelly occupied Boston.  They resisted, initially in the most naïve way possible.  But eventually they inflicted a bloody punishment on the English army due to their extensive organization, political consciousness and anger.

This is a familiar male ‘coming of age’ narrative and would be an excellent replacement for “The Red Badge of Courage” in schools.  The problem is that ‘coming of age’ in this context reinforces the idea that warfare is ‘the’ key to masculinity – which it is not.  With that caveat… Fast’s writing is detailed, political and descriptive, to the point where you feel you have experienced what the rebels at Lexington went through.  

Fast himself was a member of the Communist Party for a time, was jailed for not naming names during the McCarthy witch-hunt, then quit the CP after the revelations about Stalin in 1956. 

Some other U.S. based political fiction reviews below:  “Spartacus,” “Citizen Tom Paine,” (Fast); “The Road,” (McCarthy) “Red Baker,” (Ward)“Factory Days,” (Gibbs)“Cade’s Rebellion,” (Sheehy) “Amiable With Big Teeth,” (McKay)“American Pastoral,” (Roth) “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” (Baldwin) “Hayduke Lives,” “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” (Abbey) “Affliction," (Banks)“Gray Mountain,” “Sycamore Row,” (Grisham), etc.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it at Chapman Street Books in Ely, MN. 
Red Frog
May 28, 2019

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Spotless Minds

“American Exceptionalism and American Innocence – A People’s History of Fake News-From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror,” by R. Sirvent and D. Haiphong, 2019

This book was written for new activists.  It is not about how the bourgeois press covers U.S. politics, domestic or international.  It is a brief political history of the U.S. from a left-wing point of view, up to the Trump administration – so actually past the ‘war on terror.’ 
For new activists

The focus is on the colonial and imperialist character of the U.S. – topics that exist outside the mainstream of Republican and Democratic party thought. The authors argue against the idea that the U.S. is the most exceptional country in history, something put forward by corporate politicians and media to this day.  This is the elixir that allows repeated crimes by the U.S. to be committed, unseen or unremembered.  As such, it enables an essential political innocence for the population, especially some citizens of pink and beige skin.  Spotless minds, as they say.

The usual issues are taken up – native American genocide, African-American slavery and the dark sides of the American revolution, WWII and Korea.  The authors discuss Charlottesville, the ‘meritocracy’ and black wealth; imperialism and Black Lives Matter; U.S. inequality; the NFL and black labor; U.S. military involvement in Africa; ‘human rights’ hypocrisy; white saviors; the Russia-gate diversion; the failure of the ‘politics of inclusion’ under Obama; the faltering nation-state and its’ borders and finally, the repressive role of the U.S. military.

Quite a lot of topics.  There is a certain amount of repetition and mixing of topics within chapters.  There are 50 pages of end notes listing the quotes used, as they frequently quote other writers.   The style is rhetorical.  The book is inspired by the history of black radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s. This is not a book for people who have covered these topics before, as nearly all of this will be familiar to them.  It is a book for people who are unfamiliar with the topics of imperialism, racism and colonialism as they relate to the U.S. 

Of most interest to me was the current Democratic Party strategy of identity ‘inclusion’ – even into the most repressive institutions in the U.S. – the police, the military, corporate board rooms and the Democratic and Republican parties themselves.  ‘Inclusion’ means for instance celebrating browner people having roles in those institutions, while at the same time those institutions shape them.  Ultimately the skin color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality and even class of those included can no longer matter, as they carry out the role the institution has for them. Inclusion puts a smiley face … 
  on what the author’s call ‘racial capitalism.’

‘Fun’ facts from the book:
1.    Wesley Clark, former NATO commander, pointed out that the 2001 U.S. plan to intervene or overthrow governments in 7 countries in the middle-east and north Africa happened by 2007.
2.    The original native-American population of the U.S. was about 15M.  By 1890 fewer than 250k still lived on just 3% of the land.
3.    The white-supremacist legal system in the U.S. under Jim Crow inspired Hitler to create his own.
4.    During the Korean War, the U.S. leveled large parts of 18 of 22 northern cities and blew up every large dam.  Dracarys!
5.    The founder of Citibank became the richest man in the U.S. through trading slaves from New York to Cuba.
6.    “Oprah Winfrey has accumulated a billon-dollar fortune by prescribing individualist solutions for systemic problems.”
7.    Black Lives Matter sent delegates to Palestine – an example of ‘black internationalism.’
8.    A 1999 jury in Memphis concluded that MLK’s assassination was the work of various government agencies.  (See book reviews of the MLK killing below.)
9.    Matt Taibbi describing an NFL draft:  “creepy slave-auction vibe with armies of drooling, flesh-peddling scouts…”
10.  “…more wealth leaves Africa than enters it, by a figure of more than $40B.”
11.   $18B of the $32B in ‘aid’ to Africa in 2015 was used to pay outstanding interest to corporate lenders.
12. Dambisa Moyo:  “China treats Africans not as charity cases but business partners.”
13. Gaddafi presented a plan to the African Union for an African military alliance and a currency independent of the U.S. dollar - right before Libya was bombed by NATO.
14.  Vice Admiral Moeller said that AFRICOM’s true purpose is to maintain “a free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.”  (AFRICOM is the U.S. military organization in Africa.)
15.  U.S. nuclear arsenal contains almost 7,000 nuclear weapons.
16.  5 corporations control 90% of U.S. media.
17.  Most NGO’s are an arm of U.S. policy.  In Haiti, the “NGO Republic,” the NGOs number between 3,000 and 10,000 and almost run the country. 
18.  The Clinton’s role in Haiti:  Discouraged domestic food production; helped with coup against Aristide; aid money used to build hotels; opposed a minimum wage increase.
19. Even Jimmy Carter called the U.S. an ‘oligarchy.’
20. In 2017, Rachel Maddow spent 53% of her show talking about Russia-gate.
21.  One-quarter of all Democratic Party challengers in the 2018 midterms were former State Department, military or national security intelligence operatives.
22.  By 2014 Obama had transferred ¾ of a billion dollars in military weaponry to police departments.
23.  The increase of ‘black faces in high places’ has not changed the condition of the U.S. black proletariat.
24. Clinton recruited 50 GOP officials, billionaires and national security hawks to her campaign in 2016.
25.  “The concept of inclusion has fit nicely into the neo-liberal framework of individualism and meritocracy.”

Trump is dealt with as an extreme symptom of “American” exceptionalism, but not the cause. His case as a corrupt capitalist and vicious white nationalist is clear.

Other books on this topic reviewed below, use blog search box, upper left:  “American Theocracy,” “The Open Veins of Latin America,” “The Secret History of the American Empire,” “Why the U.S. Will Never be a Social Democracy,” “Whitewash of the Vietnam War,” “Land Grabbing,” “There Is Only One Race,” “How to Kill a City” and “MLK.”

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
May 24, 2019 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Warn the Saudis!

GoT - Where Are The Pitchforks?

The bind that a modern writer has when dealing with a fictional world like Westros set in some kind of endless medieval period ‘might be’ how to undermine that world.  In ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,” the role of the Westerosi peasants, laborers, townspeople, conscripts, prisoners and ultimately victims is almost non-existent. Barring short shit-throwing efforts against Joffrey and Cersei, they are merely objects to the lords and ladies of the 7 Kingdoms.  It is, after all, a ‘game of thrones’ centered on Westros– a title which clearly makes fun of the whole power and wealth-driven process.  Many people cheering for their favorite king or queen might have missed this.  GoT is much like the present, as is evident.  Yet the TV series and the books 'Game of Thrones' is based on leave the peasantry and townspeople uninvolved or bystanders – unlike actual history.  And so in GoT we are left with kingdoms.  The people have no independent ‘agency,’ as the academics like to say.
Where are the Pitchforks?

The only Westerosi forces that represent something democratic outside the kingdoms are the Wildlings, who recognize no royalty; and the Brotherhood Without Banners, backed by the God of Light.  And perhaps Jon Snow, who rejects his Targaryen claim to the throne. 

The narrative arc of the White Walkers and the Night King is clearly about climate change, not an 'othering' identity as some liberals have recently suggested.  This overwhelming existential danger ‘should’ have allowed the various factions – the 7 Kingdoms, the Wildlings, the Brotherhood Without Banners, the Dothraki, the Unsullied – to unite.  Like Trump and other climate deniers, Cersei and Euron Greyjoy had no truck with this.  The environmental danger was neatly disposed of with one unbelievable stab wound by Arya, so that wide social narrative fell apart and we were left with the little kingdoms again.  Without that tricky stab, the Night King would have won, as the climate change zombies had killed almost everyone.  Which they still might.

Daenerys had been pictured as a megalomaniac for a long time, so her legions of ‘supporters’ should not be surprised.  That would mean they have ignored the narrative of someone who wants everyone to ‘bend the knee’ or else.  She is the ‘queen’ to rule them all - shades of LotR.  This might disappoint the Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren fans, but then it says something revealing about them.  Ah, the limits of bourgeois feminism!
London after the Blitz or ...

Daenerys is like the U.S. military, which champions itself as a 'liberator' (because it freed the slaves in 1865) and then dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - a firestorm worse than this.  JRR Martin likened the dragons to nuclear weapons in prior interviews and writers' opinions do actually matter.  In that war the U.S. also incinerated many German (Dresden) and Japanese cities full of civilians through conventional bombing.  Later they heavily bombed 18 of 23 cities in northern Korea, then wiped out a bunch of villages in Vietnam to 'save them' while leveling Hanoi. More recently there have been several Iraq wars using massive bombing and artillery where the victims were again civilians.  These laid waste to cities like Baghdad, Fallujah and Tripoli.  Aleppo and Raqqa were recently destroyed by U.S. bombers to save them from Daesh, though civilians were allowed to leave – unlike Daenerys.   

To this day, gruesome military interventions are styled as ‘humanitarian’ efforts to free people from tyrants. (nearly always in order to put another tyrant in their place…)  If you didn’t like the ash-covered and body-charred city of King’s Landing then you shouldn’t be cheering for the military or royalty.  But in the U.S. this is second nature for part of the population.  Now we are waiting for more bombs to fall on Iran or Cuba or Venezuela or the Donbass or Chinese ships or ?  Unlike part of our population, JRR Martin does not like war or ‘good kings’ so this is partially reflected in this story.

Betting Pool - Spoiler
So who won the game, as the betting pools predicted? 

We have Drogon to thank for melting that damn Iron Throne.  We have Jon Snow ‘doing the right thing’ and putting another mad Queen out of our misery, but he gets punished for this.  So Bran Stark, the mystic 3-Eyed Raven, ‘wins!’  He rejects war with Sansa, his sister, who gets independence for Winterfell and a crown.  6 kingdoms and counting! He won’t have a son, so no lord has to ‘bend the knee’ to a line of his creepy raven kids.  He’s a cipher who knows everything and does nothing.  They wheel him into meetings and wheel him out, like someone in a nursing home.  The Iron Throne is now a wheelchair!   The new-old Hand Tyrion Lannister, the compassionate dwarf, conducts a comic meeting about rebuilding King’s Landing – yet no mention of cholera or burying the dead.  From tragedy to farce.   

Arya goes off 'west' to find Ireland or Iceland on a Stark ship, which made no sense at all.  From assassin to explorer.

For killing Daenerys, Snow is exiled to Castle Black by Grey Worm, which is really quite a light sentence for a queen-slayer.  Jon gives up any claim to royalty, leaving the craziness behind, including Castle Black.  Perhaps he will find another Ygritte beyond the Wall in Scotland with Giantsbane and the Wildlings - who by no accident are also called 'the Free Folk.'  Jon's is an anti-royal path and he's about the only one. The Dothraki and the Unsullied go home, much to their relief I’m sure, as being cannon-fodder is an unpleasant duty.  Until climate change forces some of them to again cross the other ‘narrow sea’ and find refuge in Germany, France or England.  They are, after all, representative of Africa and the Middle East in this narrative, but have lost their blonde ‘savior.’

This agreement came about in some kind of “Runnymede” discussion among the remaining lords of Westros, tired of war and authoritarian rulers.  The writers (and Martin) were no doubt plumbing history to see how to ‘break the wheel.’  This happened historically when the English nobles got King John to sign the democratic Magna Carta at Runnymede (a ‘meeting meadow’ near London) in 1215.  No Magna Carta here surely, and no King John or Jon or Cersei or Daenerys.  Tarly, the Book Worm, nevertheless suggests democracy.  They all laugh at him.  Even Sansa has an indulgent smile.  Poor sweet boy.

So that is how royalty got its 'kind of comeuppance' on GoT.  Partial independence, a blank mystic king, more power to the lords and peace for a time. We will have to wait for all of them to be totally disposed of by revolution.

As to the complaints about the change in writing after the show-runners took over from JRR Martin’s text, there is an excellent article by Zeynep Tufekci in the Scientific American (here: ) that partly explains the change from ‘social’ writing to individualist, psychological writing that occurred in ‘Game of Thrones.’  Tufekci points out that many beloved characters continued even when their deaths were inevitable.  The “Long Night” episode should have seen most of them dead.  But most of the 'fan favorites' were still alive after this bloodbath.  Brienne of Tarth even gets mercy sex!  Tufeckci also spotlights the weak logic of ‘fate’ or genetics, the same fate that Bran ‘knows.’

C.G. Gibbs made this same point in 2015 about present U.S. fiction at a literary talk at May Day Books for his novel ‘Factory Days.’   At present the memoir, the family story, dysfunction, psychology, the ‘character,’ the ‘hero’ are still the center of much U.S. television, film and fiction.  Some have called the hyper-individualist memoir the ‘literary expression of neo-liberalism.’ Essentially, the socially-conscious early 20th century writing of people like Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Richard Wright, Jack London, Mike Gold, Jack Conroy, Meridel LeSeur, B. Traven, Agnes Smedley, Theodore Dreiser, James T. Farrell, Tillie Olsen and Edward Dahlberg became a thing of the past, especially as it relates to the working classes and capitalism.  African American fiction is about the only strain to partly carry on this U.S. tradition past the 1940s. 
The real pyramid had a vastly larger 'bottom.'

And so GoT is done.  In reality, any story set in a medieval economy and society, with so many situations, history and characters could never be finished, as it reflects the real world – which never stops.  Any ending is arbitrary.  Individuals die but history continues because society is not built on individuals but on the social relations of millions.  It should end up with the revolutionary destruction of the serf economy that Westros and the Iron Bank are built on, the subsequent advent of capitalism, which is 'in the egg' in King's Landing, and its eventual replacement by world-wide socialism.  But JRR Martin will have to write that story until he is about 92 years old. He’s 71 now…

Even the GoT documentary about how they shot the last season reveals the hundreds of extras, artisans, artists, organizers and technical workers needed to do this film or any film.  The actors, director and show-runners are only the few at the top of a very big pyramid.

Other reviews on GoT, below.  Use blog search box, upper left, under ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘GoT.’  Reviews on fiction books, type ‘fiction.’  A link to YouTube program 'Democratic Dimensions' where CG Gibbs discusses the present dearth of socially-aware fiction and the literary mafia:

A ‘tip of the hat’ to Barry Link for the Scientific American link.

The Kulture Kommissar
May 21, 2019

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What is Socialist Feminism?

“Socialist Feminism and the New Women’s Movement,” by Socialist Alternative (Christine Thomas, Erin Brightwell, Kelly Belin) – 2019

This is a basic primer on the history of feminism, with a Marxist take on the reason women are an oppressed group in capitalist society.  It first discusses Engel’s seminal work ‘Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ and ‘the world historic defeat of the female sex’ with its origins in the development of class society. 

It tracks the divides between different kinds of feminism – which the authors label as mostly ‘liberal feminism.’ I would describe the varieties as liberal, anti-male, proletarian and socialist.  All of them overlap on certain issues, like abortion and women’s rights.  Liberal feminism concentrates on promoting the needs of upper-class women.  Anti-male identity feminism blames all men as the enemy, as part of the patriarchy.  Proletarian feminism focuses on the needs of proletarian women and families, like daycare and equal pay or equal work opportunities.  Socialist feminism locates the center of oppression for women not in the patriarchy alone but in the profit system, in which the patriarchy is embedded.

The authors discuss the ‘three’ historic waves of the women’s movement, with a socialist take on each.  They cover the #MeToo movement, the renewed push to outlaw abortion behind the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, the recent teachers’ strikes, conservative anti-female religion, continued violence against women and the chauvinism of Trump.  The recent strike by Google workers regarding sex harassment on the job is one bright spot.  Black feminism, NOW, the Hyde Amendment, women CEOs, ‘lean in’ and ‘glass ceiling’ feminism, women in trade unions, A. Kollontai and the Russian Revolution all come in for attention.  

If you’ve ever wondered why, even after 233 years as a nation, the U.S. is still backward on the issue of gender, then a socialist understanding, as represented in this thin book, might help.  At a recent trans-feminist book reading at May Day Books, I commented that capital profits both economically and socially off the second-hand status of women.  The attendee I was addressing looked at me stunned and never replied.  Perhaps this had never occurred to her.  She needed to read this short book!

Other reviews on this subject below, use blog search box, upper left: “Feminists and Feminists,” “Fortunes of Feminism,” “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” “Marxism and the Oppression of Women,” “Stitched Up,” “Shopping World,” “Mistaken Identity,” “The Unwomanly Face of War,” “Really? Rape? Still?” “Reflections on the Olympics 2012,” “Women in Soviet Art,” 'Three Essays by Alexandra Kollontai."

And I bought it after a forum by Socialist Alternative at May Day Books. 
It is a part of a large collection of small books/pamphlets that May Day has, authored by various left organizations.
Red Frog
May 18, 2019

Monday, May 13, 2019

Plan This!

“The Peoples’ Republic of Wal-Mart – How the World’s Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism” by Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski, 2019

The tongue-in-cheek title suggests an obvious fact that many, including socialists, overlook.  We are used to thinking of large corporations and banks needing to be ‘broken-up,’ as they are part of the dangers of capital.  This is economics’ nerd Elizabeth Warren’s position, channeling the archaic 1901 politics of Teddy Roosevelt.  Yet if ‘trusts’ needed to be busted around the turn of the century, and now oligopolies need to be ‘busted’ up again more than 100 years later, what does that say about the capitalist system?  It says it produces oligopolies and monopolies like cows produce calves.   Bust ‘em up, they reform again, as capital always consolidates.  This has happened throughout capital’s history.  So the real answer is, don’t go back, go forward.
Tongue only Partly in the Cheek

Phillips/Rozworski use socialist thinking to turn ‘trust-busting’ on its head and ‘go forward.’  What they show is that capital naturally leads to planning inside corporations and even in parts of the economy outside.  Planning is one basis for socialism, the others being democratic control by the working class through councils.  The third is ending the profit motive and private ownership of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy.  The authors do this by carefully looking at how Wal-Mart, Amazon and other large corporations are internally completely-planned entities that span the globe, larger than the economies of many countries. 

This planning has been greatly aided by the advent of digital ‘big data’ – i.e. the computational logistical abilities to know what is happening between cash register and raw materials suppliers on an international basis. They argue against neo-liberals like Mises and Hayek of the Austrian school, who maintained that socialist planners would not be able to ‘know’ what was going on in so complex a process.  Only through the ‘free market’ version of prices would information be understood regarding supply and demand.  This was called the ‘socialist calculation’ debate. The authors argue that computerization, information data and worker-involvement can make that argument even more obsolete – though it was obsolete before, as history has shown.

Phillips/Rozworski borrow a 1950s insight from CLR James, who posited that socialism was already existing in parts of the capitalist system, 'in the egg.’  Many capitalist governments already attempt to plan in certain non-profitable sectors.  So why shouldn’t the 6 largest banks in the U.S. be nationalized?  Why shouldn’t Facebook or Comcast be taken over as a public utilities?  Why shouldn’t the massive logistics entities of Amazon, Wal-Mart, GM and the rest be seized and run by the working-class, which would then allocate the surplus to society, not the billionaire class, instead of being broken up?

Phillips/Rozworski have a section on the history of the British National Health Service and how from 1948 to the 1970s the NHS slowly developed a successful national plan to improve health in the U.K.  Since then there have been constant efforts by neo-liberal Tories and “New” Labour politicians to marketize and un-plan the NHS. Which illustrates the unending poisonous role of the capitalist class, who like undead monsters continually attack social gains.

The authors include an excellent section on planning in the USSR, which allowed it, especially under Khrushchev, to become the 2nd largest economy in the world – much as China is now.   They track how this ‘planning’ stalled under Brezhnev's bureaucratism.  The early Bolsheviks had no roadmap on how to socialize the economy and so planning developed haphazardly in response to the exigencies of the Civil War under ‘war communism’ and later, the NEP. The authors point out that the violent authoritarianism and caprices of Stalin actually impeded planning and information.  Going beyond the clichés of aging socialists against technology, they cite the progressive work of economic planners and cybernetic experts like Leontiev, Kantorovich, Lange, Bogdanov, Bukharin, Popov, Glushkov, Cockschott and Beers.  What was key to these computational planners was not finding a perfect algebraic algorithm, but a practical one that worked in understanding parts or all of an economy.

The authors include a section on the failure of planning in Yugoslavia, which was based on ‘market socialism’ that had enterprises competing with each other, ultimately leading to a centrifugal flying apart of the regions that made up Yugoslavia. Other books that analyze what happened in workers' states like Poland and the USSR indicate that enterprises and sectors ignored planning too except in relation to themselves, so a similar situation as Yugoslavia. The authors also have an excellent section on the creation of a primitive ‘socialist’ internet in Chile in 1970 under Salvador Allende, which aided in national planning against a capitalist truck strike that sought to bring down Allende. 

An economy is a complex entity, and a world economy is even more complex.  Basic transitional and revolutionary demands about workers control or nationalization only begin the conversation.  The question in the real world becomes HOW. Besides capitalist ideologues, opposition to national, regional or international planning comes from small businessmen and the quaint middle class, who think that only a small-scale solution is possible.  But that ‘solution’ disappears when you consider the scope of economies today.  Pure localism only goes so far in addressing the issue, as it lacks economies of scale and information, so the authors dismiss it.   

Capital, as Phillips/Rozworski point out, creates a situation where ‘what is profitable is not always useful and what is useful is not always profitable.’  This irrationality is not affordable anymore, yet capital itself is setting the stage for its own replacement, weaving its own organizational, robotic and digital rope so to speak.  This is an excellent book that every leftist should read, as it lays out the technical basis for democratic planning, nationalization, workers control, equality, stability and socialism.

Other reviews on this subject below, use blog search box, upper left:  “To Serve God and Wal-Mart,” “New Dark Age,” “In Letters of Fire and Blood,” “Cyber-Proletariat,” “Welcome to the Desert of Post-Socialism,” “The Courage of Hopelessness,” (Zizek) “From Solidarity to Sellout,” “Facing Reality,” (CLR James); “Cypher Punks,” (Assange); “The Contradictions of Real Socialism," "No Local."

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
May 13, 2019

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Details, Details...

Why the U.S. Will Never Be a “Social Democracy”

The most powerful left organization and current in the U.S. right now is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).  They have the largest organization in nearly every city; they have elected members to Congress and the Chicago City Council; their journal “Jacobin” and their publishing ventures provide an ideological guide to the future.  They have become a pole of attraction for many young and even older socialists.  Certainly the Sanders’ campaign opened the door for DSA.  DSA’s main planks are popular and somewhat transitional demands - $15 Now; the partly neoliberal 'Green New Deal'; Free College; Medicare for All; Oppose Charter Schools; perhaps nationalize certain sectors of the economy.  Several of these are large advances against capitalist privatization and should be supported.
Not the Society of Equals

Behind this is DSA’s main ideological prop - their promotion of the “Nordic” social-democratic models – Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and aspects of this model in the rest of Europe.  Even Canada has socialized medicine, socialized car insurance, price-controlled drugs and a labor party, the New Democratic Party.  DSA’s appeal is that this model can be translated to the U.S.  And certainly, who in their right mind wouldn’t like a more progressive, financially secure, planned and humane society, a more mixed economy with widespread equality, with large labor and left parties, such as these countries exemplify?  Sign me up!

However, the Republican Party and majority elements of the Democratic Party are against this perspective, saying that “America’s” individualist culture is unique, its ‘frontier’ culture is unique, its religiosity and economy are unique, so social-democracy, or as DSA prefers, ‘democratic socialism,’ would never work.  I don’t think any of these reasons hold water, though some do relate to the larger problem.

And that is militarism.  The real reason that the U.S. will never become a social-democracy similar to the ‘Nordics’ is that the U.S. is the ‘policeman of the world.’  This is the U.S.'s necessary role in world capitalism and imperialism.  Some state has to do it!  A cursory look at the present Trump-Pompeo-Bolton-Abrams violent craziness and the near past under Bush(s)-Clinton-Obama indicates this.  Bi-partisan regime change, bombing campaigns and invasions, massive military budgets, a 1,000 military bases around the world, the world’s largest arms industry, covert CIA activities and on top of that - sanctions, embargoes and trade wars against China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and even against Mexico, Canada and EU countries.  This indicates a military and political state intent on controlling every single event on the globe in its own interest.  Why?  Are they just mean people?  Are they just sociopaths?
Symbol of Norwegian Labour Party

No.  Unlike the Nordics, U.S. corporations dominate a good chunk of world trade and production.  U.S. banking and industrial sectors all have worldwide economic interests, while controlling international organizations like the IMF and WTO.  The dollar is the world’s ‘reserve’ or main currency.  This is what the U.S. military is actually protecting.  As an obvious example, the oil in Iran and Venezuela make them consistent targets because their governments do not allow U.S. oil corporations to control that oil.  Libya's plan to organize African and Arab countries to go off the dollar standard contributed to its destruction by NATO.

So for both factions of the U.S. ruling class, militarism is perfectly rational – and also a profitable method of Keynesian tax-driven ‘pump priming’ by the government.  As Smedley Butler pointed out in 1935, protecting corporate profits is the U.S. military’s role.  The U.S. military also provides protection for ‘allies’ – including the EU, Japan, Israel and the Gulf states.  The financial interests of the Nordics do extend across the world, but in not such a massive way.  Nor do they need to militarize their societies, as they have the U.S. military and NATO to play that role.  Which is why Trump is demanding they pay their fair share for ‘protection,’ much as any mafia Don would do.

So the mentions of a ‘unique’ economy and a ‘unique’ frontier psychology are relevant in a way the right-wingers don’t expect.  The new ‘frontier’ is the world.  Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are the frontiers for JSOC and military drone strikes; for U.S. battle-carrier groups, for U.S. airforce bombers.  This is nothing but the extension of ‘Indian country’ warfare to other continents.  The ‘unique’ economy is really a reference to imperialism.

In the economic realm capital allows small sectors of a country or the world to be more ‘socialistic.’  Just as worker-owned or producer-owned cooperatives or a state bank (North Dakota) have a small space in U.S. society or in countries like Spain (the huge Mondragon!), so too does capital allow some space for national welfare states or state-owned entities in oil, banking or health care.  This is just as long as they play ball with the more capitalistic part of the world economy - which means they cannot grow too large.  But even now these sectors are always under constant undermining and pressure by capitalist privatization.  Look at the unending pressure on China's partially planned or state-owned entities or the British NHS, which Brexit will make worse.

The timidity of ‘democratic socialists’ to address some of these international issues suggests that they know the role of U.S. militarism deep down.  AOC, a leading heroine of DSA, just refused to oppose the bi-partisan regime-change plans of Trump in Venezuela.  They downplay these military issues to the point where the old adage, ‘politics stops at the waters edge’ or the Mexican border rings true.  Sometimes pressure from the bottom leads to some action on this front, as Sanders work against the Yemen war waged by the hated House of Saud proves.  (Republicans also voted for Sanders’ resolution.)  Sanders has also attempted to blunt Trump's coming attack on Iran.  But it seems social-democratic opposition to militarism is never consistent or broad.   Most DSA members are against war-mongering by the U.S., but whether this gets translated into actual DSA politics is up for grabs.

On the domestic side, few note the relationship between militarism and our gun culture, school shootings, right-wing fascist and police violence, police militarization, the domestic gun industry and a television and film culture that glorifies all of this. 

That is THE one big “if” to the democratic socialization of the U.S.  The other, of course, is that a capitalist-controlled party like the Democrats will not usher in democratic socialism, no more than a donkey can give birth to a dragon.  Any cursory study of Nordic history shows that massive labor movements inspired by Marxism formed Labor and Social-Democratic parties, which led the fight for social-democracy there.  The Nordic model did not come from capitalist parties, but actually was built against the parties of capital.  So ... details, details...

Jacobin is for sale at May Day, along with many other left periodicals.

Other reviews on this subject below – use blog search box, upper left:  “War is a Racket,” (Butler)“Viking Economics,” “Up From Liberalism,” “Sanders, A Left View,” “The Democrats – a Critical History,” The Unwelcome Guest,” “Dirty Wars,”(Scahill) “Look at the War Monger Facts” or the word “Jacobin.” 

Red Frog
May 8, 2019

Friday, May 3, 2019

Identify This!

“Mistaken Identity – Race and Class in the Age of Trump,” by Asad Haider, 2018

At this point in history, the ideological battle between the actual left and liberalism is over various forms of ‘identity’ politics.  This book is both a philosophical and historical blast against what identity politics has become.  Essentially it is now a tool of a wing of the capitalists, represented by the Democratic Party, to hide class and economics as issues.  It is how modern neo-liberalism appears, in both right and left forms.

Haider, being Arab, selects the issue of ‘race’ as his fulcrum, though he also discusses gender issues, mostly with the help of Judith Butler, a Marxist feminist.  He starts by looking at the Combahee River Collective (CRC), which was a 1974-1980 black, lesbian, feminist and socialist organization that maintained issues of class, color, gender and sexual orientation were in a historical matrix, combined.  He identifies them as the first to use ‘identity politics’ and ‘intersectionality’ as phrases.  This was in the service of the CRC’s anti-capitalist work – something that has been white-washed. They believed that only getting rid of capital would ensure a path to equality.

Haider maintains that what liberal and middle-class elements did with these ideas was to individualize them, isolate each ‘identity,’ create a victimhood narrative and hierarchy, and finally divorce them from economic and class issues.  “Class” is almost never taken seriously by identity radicals, as you might note. The resultant “safe spaces, ‘micro-aggressions,’ 'trigger warnings," overwhelming white guilt and the policing of language instead turn the color or gender issue into an apolitical and individualist dead-end. Politically, electing a darker-skinned person or a woman or a gay person became the end game.  This has created modern versions of black nationalism, middle-class gay/lesbianism and bourgeois feminism. It is a form of liberal totalitarianism mirroring conservative totalitarianism.

Haider attempts to resurrect the real history of black radicalism, when ‘reactionary black nationalism’ (or ‘cultural nationalism’) was defeated in the 1960s and 1970s by dark-skinned left-wingers like CLR James, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka and Marxist organizations like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.  Certainly MLK’s evolution also pointed away from black nationalism, which was embodied at the time on the right by Ron Karenga’s “US” organization and the Nation of Islam.  (US eventually gave birth to Kwanzaa.)  Haider quotes Marxists like Noel Ignatiev, who looked at ‘white skin privilege’ in the 1960s and saw that it was actually materially detrimental to white workers.  As Haider puts it, “The fight against white supremacy is central to the class struggle” because of this.  This counters a main tenant of identity ‘radicals.’

Black Socialists Today
Haider also looks at the reactionary white guilt politics of the Weathermen regarding identity, this back in the 1960s.  The Weathermen wrote off the working class as a whole.  Taking an international tack on various ethnic and national ‘diasporas,’ Haider covers the progressive English politics of Stuart Hall and those of French philosopher Alain Badiou.  Badiou notes that military ‘humanitarian interventions’ are actually based on twisted Enlightenment ‘rights’ arguments and victim narratives.  Haider locates the beginning of 'race' laws in the U.S. after the 1676 Bacon's Rebellion, which united indentured servants, workers and small farmers of all skin tones against the government and planter class.  "Race" is how the lower classes are divided against themselves.

Haider points out that some branches of Black Lives Matter are dominated by black cultural nationalists or elite liberals of color who celebrate small business, anti-union organizations like "Teach for America" and even charter schools.  He rebuts Frank Wilderson’s ‘Afro-pessimism,’ which alleges that an unending ‘antiblackness’ is the real problem worldwide. In the process he quotes historian Barbara Fields to refute Wilderson:  “…as though the chief business of slavery was the production of white supremacy, rather than the production of cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco.”  In effect, the disappearing of economics. Abracadabra!

Haider uses his personal experience at a 2014 strike against higher tuition and privatization at UC Santa Cruz to illustrate how black nationalist separatism split a large coalition of many nationalities fighting against the tuition hike and helped the administration.  Economic issues became ‘white’ issues!  His experience led him to this conclusion:  “This experience showed me that identity politics is … an integral part of the dominant ideology; it makes opposition impossible.”

Haider admits into evidence the struggle against the police murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in 2015, when a mayor and police chief of color mobilized against an uprising by the African-American population.  Obama’s presidency is Exhibit A that merely having an elite, mixed ethnicity person in the Presidency did not change the essential situation of the darker population.  Just on the issue of police violence and militarization, it was still happening under this ‘black’ President and his dark-skinned Attorney General and Homeland Security chief.  Identity radicals find themselves supporting ‘black,’ gay, Latino or women police and even certain police murders of 'white' people – evidently unaware of the role of the police in this society.
As anyone who takes a second to think about it, the issue of class cuts into every single identity, bar none.  Humans live their lives in a ‘matrix’ of identities, not just one, but our material and institutional roles are the most decisive.  Philosophically, the dialectical answer to the white, nationalist and Christian identity politics of the Republican Party, the Right or the fascists is not exclusive identity politics.  It is to defend oppressed 'identities,' yet make demands that can cut the Right from any working-class voting base – transitional and anti-capitalist class demands. In other words, a winning strategy.

Other reviews on this topic, use blog search box, upper left:  Detroit,” “A Threat of the First Magnitude,” “Go Set a Watchman,” “Struggle & Progress,” “Annihilation of Caste,” “Souls of Black Folk,” “Are White People White?” “Black Radical,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “Revolution in the Air” “Malcolm X,” “The Dutchman,” “Red Hook Summer,” or words like ‘racism’ and ‘Panthers.”

May Day carries writings by the Combahee River Collective, along with many other books on how to actually fight racism.  Here is a link to a new organization, Black Socialists of America - BSA.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
May 3, 2019