Monday, January 17, 2022

Into the Archive Again

 “The Plot to Kill King – The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by William Pepper, 2018

Forget fake murder mysteries.  Forgot fake drama.  Forget unsourced conspiracies, conjectures and magical thinking.  This is the real stuff. This is evidence.  This is the definitive description of the victory of the security state in the 1960s.  The murder solved, after almost 50 years of legal trials, depositions, affidavits, testimony and just plain common sense.  The FBI, the military, the Dixie Mafia, the power structure of Memphis, the corporate media, even SCLC informants – all involved in the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

After all, who had motive, who had opportunity, who had the means, who had the power to kill a leader of the black community that was fast becoming a national and international anti-war leader and a fighter for the rights of labor – in short an anti-capitalist?   And then to stage an extensive and long running cover-up?  Some sad petty criminal?  A ‘fall guy”?  Another patsy? A guy who was at a gas station when the fatal shot was fired?  A man who declared his innocence for 30 years? Think about it.  J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, was the person who most hated MLK.  Hoover and the government considered MLK a 'communist.'  And 'the only good communist is a dead one,' as the quaint phrase went.  The trail of FBI break-ins, surveillance, media plants, disinformation and plots against King, tracked by even the corporate media, are only the tip of this iceberg.  If you had a real police investigation, Hoover would be suspect Numero Uno.  But alas, few want to go there. Below water in the coldest part of the iceberg is a scoped rifle in the hands of a racist, macho Memphis police officer, crouched in the bushes across from the Lorraine Motel.  With backup from military intelligence, the mayor and police chief of Memphis, the New Orleans mob, the chief doctor at the hospital, FBI handlers and FBI-influenced media and authors which to this day retail the flimsy ‘official’ story.

Here is the truth.  Searing as it is and instructive as it is to anyone who challenges the U.S. power structure.  Learn and be forewarned.  As Pepper says, “…with respect to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., no act, no matter how heinous, by any public official is unthinkable.” 

THE OFFICIAL STORY

Pepper initially believed the official story about James Earl Ray being the assassin.  However, after interviewing him years later in prison, he changed his mind.  The man was quiet, believable and not a bigot.  This book is the story of trying to prove the innocence of Ray, and since the state had no interest in doing that, Pepper had to instead prove who really did it.  In the process, familiar break-ins, bribes, stolen information, murders, planted and distorted news stories, legal maneuvers, frightened or planted witnesses, bought judges, intimidation and years-long FBI efforts to silence Pepper followed.  As people told him time and time again, ‘You don’t know who you are dealing with here.”

Throughout the book, I tracked 112 facts that contradict the official version of the assassination, which was based on the scanty evidence of one very drunk ‘eyewitness,’ a bag containing the wrong gun and some personal effects, and a poor and obstructed ‘shooter location.’  Ray initially ‘confessed’ under heavy intimidation, then quickly reversed his plea, and that was all the state needed to have him die in jail years later, although he was supposed to be eliminated quickly.  The ‘fall guy’ strategy worked to a T, using only 4 falsities.

Pepper’s investigation included a civil trial years later in which Lloyd Jowers, the City of Memphis and the Federal Government were declared responsible for the murder by a jury. Only one person from the local press covered the trial, almost completing a news blackout.  After the trial, it was attacked as a ‘fraud’ by FBI–influenced journalists who had not attended. At this trial, the King family worked to clear Ray’s name, as they too had come to believe that MLK was killed by the government with the help of the mob.

THE PRINCIPALS

Pepper, in a prior 1995 book “Orders to Kill,” named the assassin as Earl Clark, a sharpshooter and lieutenant in the Memphis Police Department (MPD.)  After getting further evidence, in this book Pepper names Frank Strausser, another MPD marksman, as the actual shooter, with Earl Clark kneeling by his side.  Lloyd Jowers, mob-connected owner of nearby Jim’s Grill, handled the rifle and payoff as part of the killing. The Mayor of Memphis, Henry Loeb; MPD chief and former FBI agent Frank Hollomon and Frank Liberto, local Dixie Mafia boss, all organized the hit locally.  Chief deputy to FBI head J. Edgar Hoover Chuck Tolson was their liaison with the FBI.  The FBI procured the weapon in Oregon, and oversaw Ray’s handler, a New Orleans mafia gunrunner named Raul Coelho.  The FBI broke Ray out of prison prior to the assassination as part of the set-up.  They then tried to kill Ray in prison after he was convicted, including setting up another prison break so they could hunt him down. This was only stopped at the last minute by the intervention of the Governor of the state.

Military intelligence groups – including Special Forces Alpha 184 - were involved, triangulating King from high rooftops around the Lorraine.  A military Psy Ops team photographed the killing from across the street on the roof of a fire station and their photos caught the real assassin. One of the many witnesses who saw Earl Clark jump down from the bushes after the shot and get into a nearby MPD car was killed that same evening by a local mob enforcer, Chess Butler.  Even the head surgeon at the hospital which had been pre-chosen to transport King, St. Josephs Hospital, a Dr. Breen Bland, was connected to the plotters and made sure King did not survive the emergency room.   The plot went according to plan.

The saddest and most controversial aspects of this plot are that there is some evidence that 3 people in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) group accompanying King to Memphis were also helping the FBI.  One of them, Reverend Kyles, was the one that knocked on King’s door right before 6:00 PM, then moved far down the balcony away from King’s room.  Another was … Jesse Jackson, who according to testimony, arranged to have King’s room changed from a secure location on the first floor interior of the motel up to a room on the exposed balcony.  The man kneeling over King right after the kill shot was also connected to the government.  Jackson was on the right-wing of the SCLC and might have opposed King’s widening opposition to the Vietnam war, labor support and a pledge to bring thousands of poor people to Washington D.C. – something which terrified the ruling elite.

The First Book

DEJA VU

Anyone reading this book will remark that the whole cast of characters and modus operandi seems similar to the hits on John Kennedy in Dallas and Robert Kennedy in LA.  A southern city, the FBI, the mob, local police, the withdrawal of protection, a patsy, operating room manipulation, a shoddy cover-up, many bad facts, dead witnesses, a suppliant media, intimidation all around.  Interestingly, this book indicates that Hoover started a deathly ‘Prayer List’ that included both Kennedys and later King.  This was after the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s, as the Kennedys had turned against McCarthy, Hoover’s ally.  Witnesses in this book even saw mobster Jack Ruby and gunrunner Raul Coelho together in New Orleans.  Another close witness quotes LBJ as saying that he would never be humiliated again 'by that bastard,' a few days before JFK was killed.   Pepper did not want to go there, which makes sense for this case. 

Another dark secret is that the racist Mayor Loeb wanted to lure MLK to Memphis and to do that, he pushed the sanitation workers into a strike by ignoring their demands.  The crushing of two black sanitation workers in a garbage truck while they hid from the rain was also intentional, so as to create even more of a crisis. 

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

This is a description of how it actually happened.  The most direct shot to the balcony of the Lorraine was not from a cramped high rooming house bathroom with tree branches in front (as the official story goes), but from bushes right across the street, on top of a wall higher than the Lorraine balcony.  A number of witnesses confirmed the shot and activity came from there. The shooter, Strausser, a beefy bigot and thumper, practiced shooting at the MPD range all morning.  He parked at the nearby fire station, then went around into the empty lot. All normal police protection had been withdrawn from King.   With Strausser were Clark and Jowers - the latter got muddy pants from kneeling in the bushes.  A backup shooter was in the rooming house, along with the military teams on the other buildings.  James Earl Ray himself had driven to a garage to get a tire on his white Mustang fixed and knew nothing of what was going on.  Witnesses say the bundle with the decoy gun was dropped in the doorway of Canipe Amusement company next to Jim’s Grill right before 6 PM, by either Raul or one of the local mafia fixers by the name of Adkins. 

Just after 6 PM, Strausser shot King in the mouth with one shot.  Jowers immediately ran into his café, Jim’s Grill, and was seen by a witness as he brought the death weapon in and broke it down.  Clark jumped down from the bushes, ran up the street and got in an MPD car, and was seen by many.  Strausser left size 13 footprints in the muddy earth, and probably got away through the back lot.  The next day the police ordered the bushes cut down and trees trimmed, contravening any crime scene methods and making the supposed ‘shot’ from the rooming house unobstructed.  The police traced the rooming house registration and the bundle to Ray.  All other evidence has been ignored, destroyed or downplayed by Congress, law enforcement and the criminal courts.  The plot went off – the only hitches being Ray, Pepper and the truth. A ‘pay log’ for the plot, with Raul’s name on it, was later found, but the government could not admit Raul even existed.  It is actually amazing how sloppy and open the whole thing was, but they figured they were immune.  Pepper ultimately produced 70 witnesses that contradicted this government ‘open secret.'

This book is required reading on MLK Day or any other.  The gauzy “I Have A Dream” media representation of King trotted out once each year hides a far more radical reality, a “Christ-like” leader who was becoming a threat to the whole U.S. system - and was crucified by that same system. 

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “”Orders to Kill,” “They Killed Our President,” “The Strange Death of Paul Wellstone,” “Finks,” “The Devils Chessboard,” “American Made” and “Kill the Messenger.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

First published November 2, 2018

Now January 17, 2022, MLK Day

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Pograms or Programs?

 “The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution” Leon Trotsky, 1938

One of the greatest problems of socialist activity is to link the day to day demands, reform demands or minimum programs that exist in any struggle to a longer game.  The ultimate goal is to increase the strength of the proletariat and weaken the capitalists to the point where a social revolution will not be some distant goal, but an immediate possibility.  Demands that play a role as a transmission belt, so to speak.

Some rely on passive waiting for a catastrophe – a war, an economic depression, environmental collapse, fascism – that might make a social revolution inevitable.  Certainly these things are in the cards. Others spend their time chasing every cause that arises, without a perspective.  As we know, the collapse of capital is not inevitable, even in its direst hour.  This is why the conscious use of a transitional program, revolutionary demands or ‘revolutionary reforms,’ as others have said, is useful.  They take longer strides towards the real solution.  The strategy of a ‘mass line’ attempts to do this, but it doesn’t have a transitional component that I am aware of.

I’m going to take a look at the original 1938 work that became known as the Transitional Program (TP) to see if it is still relevant, if it needs to be adjusted, if it would work in the U.S. context.  The TP document was adopted in1938 at the founding of the 4th International, titled “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the 4th International.”  As we know, capital did not die, though it was significantly weakened in this period.  The 4th International, and the currents that came from it, now exist as weak reflections of its former self.  Assassinations, the downturns in the labor movement in core capitalist countries, the prevalence of social-democratic or Stalinist solutions at the time, the ostensible victories against colonialism and the collapse of the USSR all played a role.  These components have affected the whole Left, not just the FI.  But presently there exists a somewhat new world context for the Marxist Left … 

SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC DEMANDS?

In the U.S, reform socialist Bernie Sanders and the social-democratic DSA, along with others, have come up with their own versions of ‘somewhat’ transitional demands in the U.S. You might consider the best known “Medicare For All” as some kind of a ‘transitional’ demand in the U.S.; just as are “The Green New Deal” (GND), “Free College,” “Jobs for All” and “Keep the Oil/Gas/Coal In the Ground.”  Two of them limit privatization and benefit the working class economically – in the medical industry and in education. One, the GND, creates competition for a key U.S. industry, while attempting to provide new jobs for those workers unemployed by its diminution.  Jobs for all creates economic security for every proletarian.  The last impacts every carbon industry in the U.S. and world – auto, oil, gas, plastics, fertilizer, transport, agriculture, cement - and indirectly ‘might’ encourage ‘degrowth’ and a break in the commodity economy.  No doubt gaining any of them would be a large advance in the present shitty U.S. context.  I’m not going to mention socialized day care, debt relief, shorter hours - 32 hours work for 40 hours pay, reining in the Pentagon or other issues.

Given the liberal pablum and aging clichés spewed by the Democratic Party leadership or the propaganda media, these demands seem radical, even though most people support them.  For the working class they are not radical at all, as normal self-interest would lead you to agree with them.  So what are their limitations, or better yet, how might they be used by a wing of capital?  Are they transitional, utopian, limited or perhaps somewhat capitalistic?

Medicare for All would catch up the U.S. to the Nordics, Europe and a number of other countries, while weakening the capitalist medical industry.  The Green New Deal is actually the perspective of a majority wing of the international capitalist class, which is orienting towards an explosion in ‘green’ technology to revitalize capitalist industry, much as railroads, the steam engine, the automobile or the computer once did.  Of course, minus the part about providing unemployed workers jobs or reining in carbon corporations.  Free college or cheaper college would also bring the U.S. up to the level of a number of other capitalist countries. Jobs for all does strike at the heart of the capitalist economy, as it needs a reserve army of cheap labor – illegal, desperate or unskilled – to maintain profits and pressure on the employed.  It also blunts privatization, as the government would do the hiring.  Keeping the coal/oil/gas in the ground is somewhat similar to the GND, except more radical, as it pushes the time envelope for adaptation and prevention of catastrophic global climate change.  Yet without putting the carbon companies under public and workers control, the only avenues to achieve this are consumer behavior, civil disobedience, legal challenges, tax and corporate welfare changes and market ‘competition’ … all of which are slow, incremental and narrow. 

The other issue is that as world police-man, the U.S. cannot afford social-democracy.  The U.S. is based on imperial violence and war industries.  Becoming ‘social-democratic’ would almost definately require it to relinquish its dominant global role in the world capitalist system as arms producer, enforcer and economic controller. 

TRANSITIONAL DEMANDS

In a way, these demands would bring the U.S. closer to the level of social-capitalist development in the Nordics, Europe, Canada and certain other countries.  The actual reality is that any gains in these countries are always being undermined by capitalist forces in each one.  Look at the U.K. which is slowly privatizing the NHS, just as Medicare here in the U.S. is being privatized through Advantage© plans and ‘direct contracting.’ In France, it is pensions that are being cut.  Name your country, it is going on across the world.  I.E. every single ‘advance’ is liable to be reversed – quickly or slowly – as long as capital remains in control of society. Nor do these demands address some issues like imperialist war, exploitation and debt.  This is why the real ‘long game’ is social revolution.  

So what does the mysterious original Transitional Program say?  Here is my list:

    1.   Sliding scale of wages and hours.

    2.   Seek leadership in the trade unions; create labor organizations when unions are inadequate; break with the conservative trade-union apparatus when it betrays.

    3.   Factory committees.    

    4.   Open the books.

    5.   Workers control of industry.

    6.   Public works to end unemployment.

    7.   Expropriation and nationalization of certain industrial sectors.

    8.   Expropriation and nationalization of banks.

    9.   Create a public national bank.

    10.               Union defense guards; a workers’ militia.

    11.               Sit-down strikes.

    12.               Alliance of workers and farmers.

    13.               Nationalization of land; collectivization of agriculture.

    14.               Struggle against imperialism and war.

    15.               Workers and farmers government.

    16.               Soviet democracy, growing out of factory committees and other forms of dual power.

·  For capitalist ‘developing’ countries, the TP also advocates agrarian revolution and national independence.

·        For fascist-run countries, the TP advocates, of course, democratic demands but also a united front against fascism, not a popular front with liberal capitalists.  All this is very difficult in a fascist state. 

·        For the deformed or degenerated workers’ states (the USSR at the time), the TP advocates a political revolution against the bureaucracy; legalization of pro-Soviet parties; a real planned economy; opposition to secret diplomacy; workers’ control of enterprises; right to strike; a united front with the bureaucratic layer against capitalist counter-revolution; Soviet democracy.

·        For general political/theoretical struggle, the TP advocates: against liberalism, pacifism, social democracy, sectarianism, Stalinism, anarchism.  The TP advocates turning to women workers and youth under its banner.

 It is a somewhat complete program, but a bit dated.  Let’s briefly look at the 16 points:

#1 - A sliding scale of wages and hours is based on a rise in unemployment and a rise in prices, so the ‘slide’ would compensate by wages going up and hours going down with the same pay, which would provide jobs for the unemployed. (Similar to the demands of 32 for 40, or higher wages or a living wage.)

#2 – Union points.  Seem logical and has happened already in various forms.

#3 - Factory committees (and warehouse, office, mill, retail, transport) are seen as an incipient form of dual power and a training ground to run a planned economy and businesses.  Quite advanced for the U.S. at this moment, especially given the weakness of the left in industry.  Best to call them ‘workplace’ committees.

#4 – Open the books could be a demand by any union in negotiations with a corporation or company.  It would also apply to government bailouts.

#5 – Workers’ control is a demand somewhat similar to cooperatives, workers’ ownership or actual ‘control’ by a factory or office or warehouse or mill or mine or retail store committee of their working conditions.  The union-based Labor Party had a demand close to this, regarding ‘democracy on the job,’ but it goes farther.

#6 – Public works was partly done in the U.S. during the depression.  Still applicable.

#7- #8 – Nationalization and workers control would actually stop criminal corporations and banks in their tracks.  Still relevant, but a big move in the U.S. context presently, though it is becoming more common to advocate.  In practice it happened during the 2008-2009 crisis for the banking and auto industries, but they didn’t call it that, nor was there any ‘workers’ control’.

#9 – A public bank has become a common demand, especially through the Post Office.

#10 – Union defense guards existed in the 1930s.  With the rise, again, of fascist militias and union-breaking in the present U.S., a workers’ militia is not out of the question at all.  We’ve seen small community examples of it, though not yet connected to unions.

#11 – Sit down strikes are uncommon, but still an excellent tactic to prevent scabbing.

#12 – An alliance of workers and farmers sounds good in some countries.  In the U.S. many farmers are now multi-millionaires, vote Republican, have huge debts to banks and owe their business to some Ag conglomerate contract, but still protect wealth.  So perhaps an ‘alliance of workers and small farmers’ might be more appropriate.

#13 – Nationalization of land would end rising land prices and be an aid to new and small farmers, cooperatives and communes. Nationalization might also help with city gentrification, as cities are basically run by landlords and real estate developers.  There is no primary demand related to housing in the TP, only in the text.  On collectivization, studies and experience have shown that small scale farming can be very productive, preferably under cooperative and agro-ecological methods.  So ‘collectivization’ might be reserved for the many large farms where farmworkers now greatly outnumber owners.

#14 – Being against imperialism and war is up to date.  Some things never change.

#15 – ‘Workers and farmers government’ as an immediate transitional demand would best operate when dual power has arisen already, so it’s a bit for the long end now.  ‘Farmers’ might be replaced by ‘small farmers’ or some other middle-class entity, like small shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, contract workers or professionals.  This TP demand is a non-sectarian way to bring other sectors of the population over to social revolution.

#16 – ‘Soviet’ is a Russian word, so in the U.S. we’d use assemblies or councils as the form of dual power, growing out of workplace and neighborhood committees, leading to a workers government based on assemblies / councils. 

There is nothing about climate change in the original TP; housing is in the text but not as a larger demand except in the context of land; culture is not an issue, nor is the media or the internet; surveillance is not discussed; nor are the public police or secret police; nor migration except in the context of internationalism; nor the larger issues of racism/ sexism/ etc. except as related in the text. 

A modernized TP seems to be necessary, as capital has become more complex, older and more vicious than it was even in 1938.    

The Pathfinder edition of the TP / ”Death Agony of Capitalism of Capitalism…” has introductory articles by Joseph Hansen and George Novack of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party; discussions with Trotsky; a program for Black Liberation; a strategy for revolutionary youth, pre-conference documents - all related to the original TP.  

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 15 year archive: “The Socialist Challenge,” “Levers of Power,” “The Struggle for Power,” “Lenin’s Last Struggle,” “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?” (Zizek); “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives” (Cohen); “Viking Economics,” “Why the U.S. Will Never Be a Social Democracy,” or the words ‘transitional’ or ‘program.’

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

January 15, 2022  (Middle of the Winter!)

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Soviet Strike Film

 “Dear Comrades”directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, 2020

This is a fictional, black and white account of the massacre of dozens of workers in the Soviet city of Novocherkassk in 1962 after a rate cut at the local factory and a nationwide hike in food prices.  Novocherkassk is just northwest of Rostov near the Don River.  The town was already struggling with food shortages.  It produces a strike of thousands at the massive Budyonny electric locomotive plant in the city, which spread to other factories.  In response the film pictures an almost comical mix of inept local bureaucrats and Moscow heavies who, in spite of some resistance, eventually do the wrong thing.

Dorogiye tovarishchi

One of the local Party leaders had cut piece-work wages at the same time as food prices were raised.  The stern regional Don Party leader is irritated by this, especially after he hears that many of the workers are supposedly former criminals - although there is no evidence of this in reality.  After strikes, the occupation of the factory by the workers, some rioting in the city and the escape of the local Party committee to avoid talking to the workers, the city is sealed off by the military and the KGB.

LYUDMILA

The key character is a local Party functionary, Lyudmila, whose young daughter Tamarka is among the strikers.  At the key meeting of the Moscow leadership’s Government Commission and the local Party to discuss the situation, Lyudmila blurts out that all the ‘hooligans’ should be arrested and dealt with severely. She is asked to write up her recommendation, which is where the title of the film comes from, as her recommendation begins “Dear Comrades.”  No one suggests reversing the rate cut or restoring old food prices, or any other amelioration. 

The local Army commander refuses to issue ammunition to his soldiers because the Army is for defense only and not allowed to fire on Soviet citizens.  He is chastised by the Moscow delegation, being ordered to do so. (He was punished for this later, but not shown in the film.)  Central Committee member Mikoyan attempts to get them to let things simmer down, then talk to the workers.  He is contradicted by Central Committee member Kozlov and goes along with the subsequent approach.  The approach was also approved by Khrushchev, though this is not shown in the film.   

Lyudmila’s apartment is filled with several pictures of Stalin, while her aging father, who is living with them, is a former White Cossack.  Lyudmila says that price rises didn’t happen under Stalin.  Tamarka says they have the right under the Soviet Constitution to protest and speak, and that Stalin was a criminal, as shown by the 20th Congress.  Lyudmila screams at her and the daughter storms out of the apartment.  

Thousands of workers march to the central Party headquarters in the central city, walking around and over tanks, sometimes helped by the soldiers.  They arrive and the military forms a line in front of the building, arresting some who get inside.  The KGB is in the crowd in civilian clothes, taking pictures of ‘instigators.’  Lyudmila notices a KGB sniper going up on the roof of the building.  The massive crowd is angry that no one has come to negotiate with them.  The military shoots over their heads as the crowd gets angry and then shots start hitting the workers.  According to later statistics, at least 26 workers were killed and 87 injured, although Solzhenitsyn’s figures from witnesses are higher, closer to a 100 dead. In the film we find out that KGB snipers in internal security did the killings, as the shots were well-directed. 

The crowd stampedes, including Lyudmila who is looking for her daughter, and many are killed.  The bodies are thrown into the back of trucks and only a few are sent to the local morgue, while others are taken out of town and secretly buried in unmarked graves.  The square is repaved as the blood will not wash out.

The KGB gets everyone in the hospital and city to sign documents that they will never mention the ‘incident’ to anyone, on pain of prison or execution.  Only in 1992 was information about the shootings publicly released in Russia.

Lyudmila is distressed and eventually talks to a ‘friendly’ KGB agent, who had come to her apartment checking on her daughter, into finding her daughter’s body.  It was not in the hospital or local morgue and she seemingly discounts the idea that her daughter is hiding with a friend. At a local village cemetery she ‘thinks’ she has found the body, becomes distraught and drunk.  Later her daughter Tamarka appears on the roof of the apartment building, and they are reunited. Lyudmila pledges to ‘do better’ in the future, probably chastened about her idiotic and cruel comment at the meeting. 

Kazakh Oil Workers Strike

STRIKES and REPRESSION

This film is made in Putin time, still a period of nostalgia for the Czar, Kerensky or Stalin.  The most right-wing sequence is the grandfather reading a letter of how the Reds murdered White Cossack civilians in 1923 during the Civil War.  As is well known, the Czarist Whites were accomplished murderers themselves, but Lyudmila has an incomplete response to her father.  The military general admits, after a gruesome depiction of how to tie up a victim for execution, that if he was a worker, he’d have been in the crowd too.   Strikes were illegal in the bureaucratic workers state that was the USSR, but technically you could ‘have your say.’

While not in the film, over 200 were arrested, some sentenced to 15 years, while 7 more were executed.  On the internet, there is a picture of former KGB officer Vladimir Putin laying a wreath at a Novocherkassk memorial to victims of the massacre in 2008.  Irony!   

Killing demonstrators in many capitalist countries is routine and has happened in the U.S. too, along with ‘pogroms’ against African-Americans and Chicanos.  Just this week the corrupt capitalist rulers of Kazakhstan killed and wounded around 200, imprisoning thousands in a strike wave led by oil workers, many of whom work for U.S. oil firms.  ‘Ironically,’ Putin is sending in troops to put down the Kazakh workers’ rebellion.  The military government of Sudan is shooting demonstrators week after week as it clings to power.  Israeli soldiers take out a Palestinian teenager every day it seems, when they aren’t bombing Gaza or Syria.  It’s all business as usual on the ‘fringes’ of the world imperialist economic core.

In the Novocherkassk case, the leaders of a ‘socialist’ workers society killed proletarians who carried banners of Lenin and the red hammer and sickle flag.  It is notable that in this time period massacres like this were a rare occurrence.  Shooting workers has also occasionally happened in other so-called ‘socialist’ societies as we know, with dire consequences. 

(Note: The lead actress, Yuliya Vysotskaya, is originally from Novocherkassk and married to the director.)

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 15 year archive, using these terms:  “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives” and “War With Russia,” (both by Cohen); “Enemy at the Gates,” “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking,” “Democracy, Planning, Big Data,” “The Ghost of Stalin” (Sartre); “Ivan’s Childhood,” “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin,” “Women in Soviet Art,” “Life and Fate” (Grossman); “Soviet Women,” “The Unwomanly Face of War” (Alexievich); “Reinventing Collapse” (Orlov); “Slavs and Tatars,” “Polar Star,” “The Red Atlantis,” “Lenin’s Last Struggle” (Lewin); “Fear” (Rybakov); “The Struggle for Power.”

The Kultur Kommissar

January 11, 2022

Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Second Rehearsal - Part Duh

 “Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age” edited by C. Barker, G. Dale, N. Davidson, 2021

Part II:

This is a follow-up to the prior review of this book on recent proletarian involvement in social upheavals, focusing on the theoretical conclusions of Neil Davidson, now deceased.  The book counters the narrative that the working classes are moribund, weak and no longer a possible revolutionary subject.

Tunisian political revolution.

This is Davidson’s analysis: 

Lenin pointed out that the moment of revolution is marked by 3 things:  1, a crisis, leading to fissures between the ruling class and the population and even within the ruling class; 2, increased suffering by the majority of people; and 3, increased activity by the masses of people. Trotsky maintained that it was not always ‘increased suffering’ but sometimes a lessening after a long period of oppression that stimulates opposition.  Gramsci added that a significant downturn in living conditions after a period of prosperity might function in the same way.  Althusser and others have pointed out that many contradictions and groupings have to cohere into a single oppositional / revolutionary current for any chance at success.

Trotsky’s concept of “uneven and combined development” is occurring all over the world still, as capital inserts itself into village, almost feudal, patriarchal, bazaar-based, theocratic, slavish, ethnic, war lord and autocratic social structures – just as Czarism or Chinese tribute society were grafted onto capitalist development in an earlier period.  This patchwork development can actually increase class conflict, as many of these ruling classes do not have the sophisticated economic and cultural flexibility of more mature capitalist economies.

Yellow Vests in Paris

Exploitation and Oppression  

Davidson addresses the question of how exploitation and oppression interrelate – i.e. the link between exploitation of the proletariat and damages to small holders or small businessmen - and the oppression of specific skin color, ethnic, national, religious or gender groups. The answer is that the capitalist mode of production produces exploitation and oppression in various forms, as it functions as a totality. Not all workers are even exploited in the sense of commodity surplus value, though their labor might be.  Davidson goes on to investigate this relationship between specific oppression and exploitation in detail.  In the process he quotes Terry Eagleton as to the limits of ‘classism’ – as class is an economic category, unlike skin color or gender.  People’s experience of class may be lived through skin color or gender, but that is a different thing.

Davidson discusses whether gender or skin color discrimination could ever be gotten rid of under capital – the Nordic social-democracies being the closest example.  He concludes that in practice and in history, no.  He also addresses the limitations of academic ‘intersectional’ theory, which does not treat society as a unified whole.  This is why arguments against identity politics and intersectionality are essential to unifying a revolutionary movement.  Marxism understands the world as ‘one.’

U.S. Anti-police racism Demonstration

Revolutionary Conjunctures

Davidson goes on to discuss his ‘4th actuality’ – revolutionary conjunctures, where revolution is possible, but the issue of taking state power is not always advanced.  He thinks recent conjunctures happened in 1917-1923; 1943-1949; 1968-1976. These conjunctures are extended processes, are international, and give rise to a revolutionary situation.  Some crises, like 2007-2009, led to various partial international movements against capital, but he thinks not to a revolutionary conjuncture.

Davidson mentions the greater ability to use violence by present capitalist states; their surveillance powers; their hegemonic control of the narrative; their level of international organization – which are different than in the past.  But at the same time the enormous growth of the world proletariat, the maturation and decay of capitalist profiteering; the slow environmental collapse; the continued threat and reality of war; the exhaustion of the bourgeois democratic governing narrative; the rise of authoritarian ‘democratic’ governments; the issue of rising inequality and anti-competitive oligopolies; the necessity of mass migration – all indicate a weakening of the ruling classes and their system. 

He ends with the watchword:  “Be ready for the unexpected” as a revolutionary situation might evolve out of something quite unpredictable…  The benefit of this book is that it takes seriously the issue of revolution – a topic ‘mentioned’ but not really investigated by many.

Prior reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 15 year archive, using these words or names mentioned in the book: The word ‘revolution’ or “McNally,” “Lukacs,” “Trotsky,” “Althusser,” “Harvey,” “Lenin,” “Roediger,” “Graeber,” “Marx,” “Jameson,” “Gramsci,”  “Du Bois,” “Butler,” “Moody,” “Fisher,” "Klein," “Berger.”   

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

January 8, 2022

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Rehearsals and Rejections - Part I

 “Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age - 1989-2019," edited by C. Barker, G. Dale, N. Davidson, 2021

This is an almost excellent account of certain class struggles since the late1980s, best for those socialists, unionists and activists stuck in the past.  It tracks the involvement of proletarians in uprisings across the globe. It is a follow-up to a prior book that covered the period prior to 1987 in the same way.  While marred by a Schactmanite ‘state capitalism’ analysis, its real focus is on how workers and proletarians became active in political upheavals within the context of capitalist and workers’ states. It is also an indirect criticism of ‘movementism’ – which has no broader goals or organization, just immediate actions based on ‘throwing the bums’ out.  Movementism essentially relies only on ad hoc organization and reformist demands.

The great interest of this book, no matter your politics, is that it investigates recent world social struggles in some detail – including unfamiliar ones.  It is really quite enlightening and optimistic.  It shows how the struggles nearly always went only so far - let’s say getting rid of a dictator or corrupt imperial lackey, but not his system, cronies, economic relations or ideas.  Or why an anti-bureaucratic labor struggle turned into a pro-imperialist and capitalist one, as in Poland.

INCREASE in SOCIAL UNREST

One of the key points the editors make (who, as of publication, were connected to the International Socialist Organization, (ISO) a Schactmanite Trotskyist group) is that research indicates there has been an increase in social unrest across the capitalist world since the onset of neoliberalism.  This includes demonstrations, riots, street battles with police, strikes and general strikes, occupations, the taking over of squares, cities and geographic areas, council formation, communes, insurrections, political revolutions and attempts at dual power.  Almost none have come to the point of a successful social revolution - as yet.  They do not analyze rural struggles like Rojava, the Naxalite areas in India or Chiapas. 

In the context of dialectics, the increase in quantity is significant.  Their analysis agrees with the ‘protest’ tracking of John Bieber, Mark Buchanan, Peter Turchin and Jack Goldstone. Their methods jive with complexity analysis and the ‘power law’ – which says the frequency of smaller events are inevitably followed by larger and even larger ones, though with less frequency as size increases.

In a certain sense, they note the victory of imperialist-led bourgeois ‘democracy’ as a template across the world in this period weakened some capitalist autocrats, but not others.  Some of these mass movements forced ‘duly elected’ capitalist presidents out of office, sometimes replacing them with reform governments.  Business electoralism is a fraught system, even in the U.S., which is why there is now a bigger rise in corrupt authoritarian ‘democracies.’  The general degeneration of ruling-class electoralism is not covered in this volume.

CENTRAL EUROPE, AFRICA, ASIA, MIDDLE EAST

This book, written by various comrades in each country, starts with the reactionary rejection of the bureaucratic workers’ states in the former USSR and Central Europe, focusing on Solidarnosc in Poland, so the numbers are somewhat off.  But they do include the purely proletarian demands against the bureaucracies versus later Solidarnosc demands for a ‘free’ market, privatization and bourgeois democracy. 

It continues by looking at mass ‘extra-parliamentary’ labor, union and people’s involvement in the somewhat familiar events in South Africa, concluding in the defeat of apartheid in 1994 and the continuing struggle against capitalism there.  They track the political upheavals and experience in the Congo/Zaire from 1991 to 1997 and the overthrow of Mobutu; in Zimbabwe in 1996-1998 and events that eventually led to the unseating of Mugabe; in Burkina Faso in 2014 against a military dictatorship; the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia in 1998 by a mass movement.  Moving to Latin America, they analyze the overcoming of the Bolivian conservative government by social movements in 2000-2005, that led to the election of Evo Morales; the violent mass upheaval in Argentina in 2001 which threw out an elected president over years of neoliberal IMF and ‘structural adjustment’ programs; in Egypt in 2011, in a tragic political revolution that threw out Mubarak only to end up with a ‘restoration’ coup and the elevation of Abdel al-Sisi in 2014.   

These mostly mass-based left-wing upheavals clearly show an intimate connection between economic, social and political demands, not their separation, contrary to syndicalist or economist ideas.  It also shows that the involvement of a significant or overwhelming mass of proletarians is essential to any significant change.  A simple lesson, but one lost on many activists.  Picket lines of 50 go almost nowhere.

Bolivia 2003-2005 

LATIN AMERICA

As a specific example, the authors track the 2003 & 2005 ‘gas wars’ in Bolivia, which led to Morales’ win.  The resistance was based on thick networks of unions, indigenous proletarians, former miners and peasants who called for a transitional demand: re-nationalizing Bolivian gas, along with a broad left program.  The authors take a careful look at El Alto, a proletarian suburb near La Paz that was the seat of this class struggle. In order to succeed, the movement united every ethnic and labor sector, from local neighborhood councils to national labor and peasant groups.  It represented the actual creation of a mass ‘workers front,’ something the great Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariatequi advocated.  However it has not expropriated the bourgeoisie, even though Morales’ MAS calls itself socialist. 

In Argentina in 2001, the struggle introduced highway barricades manned by the unemployed; factory occupations and takeovers as collectives; popular assemblies that formed a sort of dual power and united left formations (Trotskyists and the Communist Party) that contested for electoral power. Autonomists (anarchists) and Maoists refuse to participate in the political struggle, even with flawed but successful examples like Lula, Morales and Chavez in front of them.  The significance of united fronts among leftists becomes more apparent in Latin America.  Presently in Argentina the actual Marxist left is once again a large force, as part of a proletarian united front.  What follows is a discussion of the first reformist ‘pink tide’ in Latin America, which was turned back.  A second – in Chile, in Honduras, in Peru and Bolivia, the survival of Venezuela, even the weakening of Bolsonaro in Brazil, is upon us again.

THEORY

Neil Davidson ends the book with a theoretical take on these experiences, citing Engels and Marx on the alternative outcomes to a victory of the working class:  a, war, b, “the ruin of the contending classes” and c, permanent economic collapse.  Now we have somewhat different negative consequences according to Davidson:  an environmental holocaust; global corporate autocracy or nuclear war.  He does not mention a key role for the issue of falling profit rates, world-wide debt levels and economic stagnation / depression.

The steps and 'stages' towards revolution

Davidson discusses Lukac’s reconception of Lenin’s approach to revolutionary logic, based on 3 ‘actualities’: 

    A. Material pre-conditions.  Davidson thinks these conditions are absolutely present now, across most of the world.  Instead reformists grasp the 2nd International / CP / Kautskyist idea of stages or phrases which must be gone through - until capital controls every nook and cranny of the world.  Then the time will be ripe … in that distant future.  This was also the position of Samir Amin and some others who follow Mao Zedong.    

    B. Revolutionary preparedness. Davidson considers voluntarism and Guevararist guerillaism as failed approaches to revolution, but neither is passive waiting.  He quotes Gramsci as being only able to predict ‘the struggle’ - not when it will mature into a revolutionary situation.  It is the linking of partial struggles in a transitional, empowering way, which unites the working class towards the broader goal of social revolution.  This ‘linkage’ is the prime problem for the Left.  It does not involve either shouting ‘socialism’ at every moment or wearing out cadre in tailist and unfocused hyper-activity around every single issue. 

    C. Revolutionary situation.  That short period of time – that moment - that actually would allow a powerful and united working class to overthrow a weakened capital.  It might only be a matter of months. Lenin in 1917 saw that the post-Czar provisional government was capitalist, and turned against it.  It continued the war, stood up for the landlords against the peasantry and starved and exploited the workers. At the same time the Party still worked with other left forces.  Yet when the masses turned to the Bolsheviks, he knew the moment had come.

(Review to be continued…)

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 15 year archive: Use terms like “Lenin,” “Samir Amin,” “Che Guevara,” “Karl Kautsky,” “Lukacs,” “Mariatequi” “South Africa,” “Poland” or the word “revolution.”    

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

January 4, 2022