Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This year's greatest hits

In the liberal/progressive blogosphere, there is something of a tradition of bloggers choosing their own "best post" for the year. It's a bit of a kick to read what others thought was their best work. I'm never really sure what gauge to use to determine what my best was for the year. Probably one of my best-read posts was a repost of a portion of William Blum's writing (where he reports some observations by one of his Russian readers), thanks to my linking the post to my Tumblr (Dancing With Imperialism). In terms of readership, it was surpassed only by And you people are surprised why? I personally liked that one, as I think it captured the frustration at getting to feel the brunt of the effects of the Congress-imposed Sequester while those relatively privileged few were spared the hell the rest of us feel on a daily basis. Although Slayage For The People? was largely ignored by most who drop by here, it did get picked up by one of the message boards devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which pleased me quite a bit. I layed out something of an outline to something that I have actually worked on occasionally since, and shall work on more in a few weeks. There are facets of pop culture that can be interpreted from a revolutionary standpoint.

So it goes. I do appreciate those of you who still stop by occasionally. I wish I could say that I would return to the sort of blogging I could manage up through the first half of 2009, but regrettably those days have long gone. Occasionally some of you comment, and although I often don't remember to reply, I do thank you for adding to the conversation. I think that too many url changes and the loss of the bloggers who now make up my emeriti effectively ended whatever community once existed here. So it goes. I do seem to prefer Tumblr and Twitter these days, and would suggest following me there, if you are in need of a daily dose (more or less) of my particular brand of leftist blogging. I do hope that the upcoming year is a better one than this last year was. I found much for which to be hopeful, but also many reminders of how much is yet to be done. Onward.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A brief history of the EZLN

With the first of the year, and the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista-led rebellion in Chiapas approaching, I thought it would be useful to understand the origins of the EZLN. There are undoubtedly some lessons to be learned with regard to how to adapt revolutionary rhetoric and practice to local conditions, given that the Zapatistas did manage some tangible successes over the last few decades. The organization did not begin overnight, but rather evolved in the aftermath of the events of 1968, and began their buildup in Lacandon Jungle in 1983. When I tell younger activists to organize with the long-term in mind, and to expect many setbacks in addition to occasional successes, I mean it. I also mean it when I say that you have to expect that many of those you consider potential recruits may be difficult to win over, especially given the sheer level of institutional violence they have typically endured - until you prove yourselves, your just another one of "them". Trust must be earned, and it will take a great deal of painstaking effort to materialize. The Zapatistas made it by relating to and integrating with their potential base of support, and in the aftermath of January 1, 1994, by utilizing any and all mass media available to them to communicate their message in a way that was understandable to practically anyone. Their struggle also offered a beacon of hope at a time when apologists for the 1% were smugly declaring the "end of history" in which neoliberal capitalism was inevitable as the natural order of things.

Parts 2 and 3 in the series are also worth reading for additional context.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Short Primer on Dialectics

I thought this might come in handy as a brief and easily readable introduction.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Quotable: William Blum

Whatever we do on a purely personal level to try and curtail greenhouse gas emissions cannot of course compare to what corporations could do; but it’s inevitable that the process will impinge upon the bottom line of one corporation or another, who can be relied upon to put optimization of profit before societal good; corporate “personhood” before human personhood. This is a barrier faced by any environmentalist or social movement, and is the reason why I don’t subscribe to the frequently-voiced idea that “Left vs. Right” is an obsolete concept; that we’re all together in a common movement against corporate and government abuse regardless of where we fall on the ideological spectrum.

It’s only the Left that maintains as a bedrock principle: People before Profit, which can serve as a very concise definition of socialism, an ideology anathema to the Right and libertarians, who fervently believe, against all evidence, in the rationality of a free market. I personally favor the idea of a centralized, planned economy.

Holy Lenin, Batman! This guy’s a Damn Commie!

Is it the terminology that bothers you? Because Americans are raised to be dedicated anti-communists and anti-socialists, and to equate a “planned economy” with the worst excesses of Stalinism? Okay, forget the scary labels; let’s describe it as people sitting down and discussing what the most serious problems facing society are; and which institutions and forces in the society have the best access, experience, and resources to offer a solution to those problems. So, the idea is to enable these institutions and forces to deal with the problems in a highly organized and efficient manner. All this is usually called “planning”, and if the organization of it all generally stems from the government it can be called “centralized”. The alternative to this is called either anarchy or free enterprise.

I don’t place much weight on the idea of “libertarian socialism”. That to me is an oxymoron. The key questions to be considered are: Who will make the decisions on a daily basis to run the society? For whose benefit will those decisions be made. It’s easy to speak of “economic democracy” that comes from “the people”, and is “locally controlled”, not by the government. But is every town and village going to manufacture automobiles, trains and airplanes? Will every city of any size have an airport? Will each one oversee its own food and drug inspections? Maintain all the roads passing through? Protect the environment within the city boundary only? Such questions are obviously without limit. I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t have stars in our eyes about local control or be paranoid about central planning.
From Blum's most recent Anti-Empire Report. It reads like something I might write. Ultimately, it comes down to how do we maintain a complex civilization, the fruits of which are ones most of us deeply appreciate (e.g., electricity, running water, subway systems, etc.)? I'm not too keen on what the primitivists have to offer (among the only logically consistent anarchists I've tended to encounter) or what the various libertarians have tried to push. Like any other form of economic and social organization, centrally planned economies are not perfect, but they can work, and can be reformed as needed. Given the way various forms of capitalism have decimated our planet, I'd just as soon give some form of central planning another shot or two.

RIP Yusef Lateef

Was just checking my newsfeed on Blogger, and read that another great musician has passed away.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I think that's the term. In any case, I am certainly in the mood to do so, or at least share the posts of those who do.

Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism now has 11,000 followers.

I'm in the process of updating links as time permits. I've been adding a few new ones while removing a lot of old links that either don't work or are to blogs that are no longer active. Don't read too much into it - just one of those chores which must be taken care of periodically.I still honor reciprocal links. That won't change. But I am trying the blogroll more manageable. I'll probably switch to a simpler template eventually, as well. That probably won't happen for a while though.

I'm currently reading The Red Army Faction, A Documented History: Volume 2: Dancing With Imperialism. Like the other volume in the series, it culls together any available documents created by the organization, as well as provides a concise alternative history. As a leftist activist who grew up, for better or worse, in the shadow of a number of First World urban guerrilla organizations, it is helpful to have the rest of the story, rather than merely the portrayals made available in both conservative and liberal capitalist media, as well as from the speculation that would often appear in zines or idle conversation back in the day. Smith and Moncourt should have the final volume published by the end of the decade, I'm guessing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Shame on Seamus?

Someone sure thinks so. As for myself, I am generally a secularist for a reason - clerics and governments (and for that matter, corporate entities) have colluded for ages in one form or another to keep the rest of us down. Sometimes, clerics and religious movements will put on a front, pretending to be forces for progress, when the reality is radically different. I suspect it might not be a bad idea to ask some now-middle-aged ex-punk rebels and revolutionaries from Eastern Europe about their experiences. It wasn't uncommon for churches to host various punk concerts and happenings, but what happened after the Soviet Bloc fell? Did the clerics remain on the side of rebellion? Or, did they get in bed with the first neofascist parties and strongmen to come along? I suspect we know the answer. A lot of people became useful idiots for forces of oppression.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Oblique Strategies

Sometimes these work to cure my writer's block. Originally, these statements appeared on cards developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. The original printings now sell for far more than I'd ever want to pay. However, there have usually been random Oblique Strategies generators online for about as long as the world wide web has been around.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Correcting the problem of a dearth of self-taught Marxists

Yet one of the things I liked about the SWP was that, despite the branch culture which I have just described, there were also comrades who were self-effacing, articulate and principled. I think of well-known figures such as Duncan Hallas and Paul Foot, but the real strength of the SWP was far below, in the branches, almost every one of which had an autodidact Marxist, a worker who had never gone to university, a person who would quote obscure ideas of Marx or Lenin and use them to relate events happening in the world outside and to the tradition of the workers’ movement.

David Renton
The reason this decline of self-taught working class Marxist intellectuals in the SWP has happened is overwhelmingly for objective reasons - the defeats the working class movement has suffered in Britain over the past 30 years under Thatcherism and then Blairism and now neo-Thatcherism, and the resulting wider decline of the revolutionary Left and its wider cultural institutions in society. It would have been more incredible and surprising in a sense if the regrettable shift that Renton describes had not happened in such circumstances.

One thing I would like to mention is that it is still possible to be a self-taught Marxist. Have access to an Internet connection, even if it's crappy? Check out the Marxists Internet Archive, which has full-text books available in HTML format - free, and easily downloadable. Need some free instruction? David Harvey has plenty to offer, including video lectures as a companion to Marx & Engels' Capital. Start with the classics, and work your way from there. For those wanting to venture a bit further, Ebookcollective has been compiling all sorts of reading material over the last couple years - first at Tumblr, and currently on Blogger. All it takes to become an autodidact is a commitment of time, if you're willing.

Some good starting points:

The Manifesto of the Communist Party - Marx & Engels

Capital Vol. 1 - Marx & Engels

What is to be Done? - Lenin

State and Revolution - Lenin

Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism - Lenin

Obviously, there will be some disputes as to what constitutes the canonical works that should be read and discussed by any Marxist, especially in the aftermath of the last few decades, and if Hobsbawm toward the end of his life is correct, there may never again (as there appeared to be prior to the mid-20th century) be widespread agreement on what should be considered canonical works, but the above should be ones that most of us will end up agreeing on as essential.

As something of an autodidact myself, I am quite used to keeping an online dictionary and Wikipedia handy, on the occasions where a bit of jargon gets tossed out by one of these authors  that I need defined quickly. The more academically oriented theorists and activists will naturally point out the disadvantages to being self-taught, and they probably do have some valid points. However, very few of us have the luxury of attending the universities that would offer the necessary specialized coursework. So, we do what we can.

But before I really begin to ramble, the main thing is to just dive in and read. The resources are conveniently at our fingertips, and with a little effort quite accessible regardless our socio-economic and educational backgrounds. Some of the blogs can be of use (and others will offer little more than mental masturbation). Bottom line is that we can learn at our own convenience, and on a shoestring budget. There really is no excuse, and now is as good a time as any.

For those following the continuing saga of the SWP

I have no idea how interested my remaining American readers have in the goings on of socialist and communist parties outside of the US (personally, I'd strongly advise having a keen interest, as we are supposed to be internationalists), however, it is worth noting that what has been arguably the largest leftist organization in the UK has been in the throes of turmoil for much of the last year, and given the piss poor way that the party's leadership has handled its crisis, it seems likely to remain in turmoil for a while to come. The latest shoe to drop was the resignation of David Renton. The guy who runs Histomat offers his own counterpoint. Make of it what you will.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bailout with benefits

That's probably the best way to characterize the ACA. I'm a little less cynical than Lambert, but not by much. We're still a long way off to universal health care, although closer to that worthy goal than we were a few years ago. In the meantime, the insurance conglomerates will make out like bandits. But we all know they were going to anyway, once they had their inevitable "too big to fail" moment.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Blast from the past

Talking Heads playing one of their signature songs, "Psycho Killer" back in 1975.

Friday, December 6, 2013

One person's terrorist is another person's liberator

Mandela was once considered a "terrorist". Ian Welsh is right to note that the term is itself meaningless, used to slag opponents.Want to score points in a political debate? Tar your opponent as a terrorist. Yeah, the points you score will be cheap points, but in our sorry state of political discourse, cheap is what you get. Anti-apartheid activists used to get called terrorist sympathizers an awful lot back in my day, typically by folks who themselves often had sympathies toward Nicaragua's Contras during the first Sandinista era, and had no problems with Raygun's cheap-shot "war" in Grenada. Mandela was a pragmatist. He may have wanted nonviolence as an ideal, but understood that the full weight of the political/military violence inherent in the Apartheid system (along with of course the economic and social violence that were that system's core) would require resistance by any means necessary.

A couple weeks ago, this happened:

In 2011, two women activists stood out enough to me that a penned a few words about them in When Women Lead.

The first one, Asmaa Mahfouz, had been instrumental in a revolution and the ouster of Mubarek. The hopes and dreams of the revolution have been more elusive. Maybe one day.

Then there was the elected leader of the University of Chile's Student Union, Camila Vallejo. She and her colleagues shut down the University. For months. In August of that year:
Wednesday saw the start of a two-day nationwide shutdown, as transport workers and other public-sector employees joined the burgeoning student movement in protest.
But unlike the US Occupy movement that began shortly after the Chilean general strike, Vallejo and her associates continued their political activities. And last Sunday as reported in The Guardian, Vallejo and comrades independent candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric and fellow communist Karol Cariola were elected to lower house seats in Chile's government.

Vallejo's political career is just beginning. At the top of her agenda is to pull Michelle Bachelet back towards her socialist roots and away from the neo-liberals should she manage to get elected to a second Presidential term.
When a spoonful of socialism is no longer enough, a huge dose of communism may be required.

Congratulations Camila -- and hope you are an inspiration to others of your generation around the world.
Linkage. This was one of those stories I'd intended to share a bit earlier, but just got too swamped at the wrong times, and hence my bookmark got buried. Of course it is useful to keep in mind that electoral politics is but one tactic among many, and yet many on the Left tend to write it off and write off those who choose to do so as sell-outs. What can be accomplished at the parliamentary level will inevitably be limited, and will require those who are elected as communists or socialists to make compromises in the process. Those outside agitators who are smart understand this, but also understand that without allies in power, they're limited as well. Better to have allies whose feet we can more easily hold to the fire when needed, than to be limited to the occasional spontaneous movement that folds the moment the police crack down. Better to be in a position to govern, to lead, and to put your ideas into practice than to be limited to armchair speculation and flamewars on blogs and message boards.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Let's take a trip down memory lane:

The religious right-wing in the US was nothing short of vicious in its treatment of Nelson Mandela and the ANC. Those of us who were in anti-Apartheid organizations back in the 1980s certainly have never forgotten. For those of you who might be a bit younger, it's a good idea to be reminded of the rather ugly history of a political faction - one in which a number of its major figures are still active, and still spewing bile.

The Specials - "Nelson Mandela"

RIP Nelson Mandela

Like many of you, I learned earlier this evening that Nelson Mandela passed away. He was truly a transformative leader, and one of many who inspired a generation of young activists around the globe at a time when anything seemed possible. His anti-apartheid struggle continues to inspire activists and militants in our current dark era, where it isn't always so clear as to what is possible.

Here's his bio:
Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. His father died when he was a child and the young Rolihlahla became a ward of Jongintaba at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni. Hearing the elder's stories of his ancestor's valour during the wars of resistance, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

He attended primary school in Qunu where his teacher Miss Mdingane gave him the name Nelson, in accordance with the custom to give all school children "Christian" names.

He completed his Junior Certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and went on to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute, where he matriculated.

Nelson Mandela began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University College of Fort Hare but did not complete the degree there as he was expelled for joining in a student protest. He completed his BA through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.


Nelson Mandela, while increasingly politically involved from 1942, only joined the African National Congress in 1944 when he helped formed the ANC Youth League.

In 1944 he married Walter Sisulu's cousin Evelyn Mase, a nurse. They had two sons Madiba Thembekile `Thembi' and Makgatho and two daughters both called Makaziwe, the first of whom died in infancy. They effectively separated in 1955 and divorced in 1958.

Nelson Mandela rose through the ranks of the ANCYL and through its work the ANC adopted in 1949 a more radical mass-based policy, the Programme of Action.

In 1952 he was chosen at the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign with Maulvi Cachalia as his Deputy. This campaign of civil disobedience against six unjust laws was a joint programme between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress. He and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign and sentenced to nine months hard labour suspended for two years.

A two-year diploma in law on top of his BA allowed Nelson Mandela to practice law and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa's first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo.

At the end of 1952 he was banned for the first time. As a restricted person he was only able to secretly watch as the Freedom Charter was adopted at Kliptown on 26 June 1955.

Nelson Mandela was arrested in a countrywide police swoop of 156 activists on 5 December 1955, which led to the 1956 Treason Trial. Men and women of all races found themselves in the dock in the marathon trial that only ended when the last 28 accused, including Mr. Mandela were acquitted on 29 March 1961.

On 21 March 1960 police killed 69 unarmed people in a protest at Sharpeville against the pass laws. This led to the country's first state of emergency on 31 March and the banning of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress on 8 April. Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in the Treason Trial were among the thousands detained during the state of emergency.

During the trial on 14 June 1958 Nelson Mandela married a social worker Winnie Madikizela. They had two daughters Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996.

Days before the end of the Treason Trial Nelson Mandela travelled to Pietermaritzburg to speak at the All-in Africa Conference, which resolved he should write to Prime Minister Verwoerd requesting a non-racial national convention, and to warn that should he not agree there would be a national strike against South Africa becoming a republic. As soon as he and his colleagues were acquitted in the Treason Trial Nelson Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike for 29, 30 and 31 March. In the face of a massive mobilization of state security the strike was called off early. In June 1961 he was asked to lead the armed struggle and helped to establish Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation).

On 11 January 1962 using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Nelson Mandela left South Africa secretly. He travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock outside Howick on 5 August while returning from KwaZulu-Natal where he briefed ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli about his trip.

He was charged with leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment which he began serving in Pretoria Local Prison. On 27 May 1963 he was transferred to Robben Island and returned to Pretoria on 12 June. Within a month police raided a secret hide-out in Rivonia used by ANC and Communist Party activists and several of his comrades were arrested.

In October 1963 Nelson Mandela joined nine others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. Facing the death penalty his words to the court at the end of his famous `Speech from the Dock' on 20 April 1964 became immortalized:

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

On 11 June 1964 Nelson Mandela and seven other accused Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were convicted and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment. Denis Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Prison because he was white while the others went to Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela's mother died in 1968 and his eldest son Thembi in 1969. He was not allowed to attend their funerals.

On 31 March 1982 Nelson Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town with Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni. Kathrada joined them in October. When he returned to the prison in November 1985 after prostate surgery Nelson Mandela was held alone. Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee had visited him in hospital. Later Nelson Mandela initiated talks about an ultimate meeting between the apartheid government and the ANC.

In 1988 he was treated for Tuberculosis and was transferred on 7 December 1988 to a house at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. He was released from its gates on Sunday 11 February 1990, nine days after the unbanning of the ANC and the PAC and nearly four months after the release of the remaining Rivonia comrades. Throughout his imprisonment he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.

Nelson Mandela immersed himself into official talks to end white minority rule and in 1991 was elected ANC President to replace his ailing friend Oliver Tambo. In 1993 he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on 27 April 1994 he voted for the first time in his life.

On 10 May 1994 he was inaugurated South Africa's first democratically elected President. On his 80th birthday in 1998 he married Graça Machel, his third wife.
More at The Guardian.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Message From A Comrade: The Kids Want Communism

Via I cite

Socialist Alternative candidate wins Seattle City Council seat

Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant, a “Socialist Alternative” insurgent, has unseated four-term incumbent Richard Conlin, with the latest batch of mail-in ballots nearly tripling Sawant’s lead to 1,148 votes.

A year ago, Sawant was running against the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat, House Speaker Frank Chopp, charging that the “Democratic Party-majority government” had slashed billions from education programs while bestowing tax exemptions on “rich corporations.”

On Thursday evening, however, the victorious “working class activist” Sawant was headed for a 36th District Democratic fundraiser sponsored by State Sen. Jeanne Kohn-Welles. Sawant’s tireless journalist booster, Stranger news editor Dominic Holden, is appearing on a post-election panel at the event.

The Sawant victory comes exactly 97 years after Seattle voters put their first outspoken radical into office, Seattle School Board member Anna Louise Strong. Strong would write about the Wobblies, oppose U.S. entry into World War I and eventually end her days in China, where she was on friendly terms with Mao Zedong.

While the Occupy Seattle organizer is about to occupy an office in the council chambers, ballots are still being counted in several close races. One big ballot measure is still hanging, while other contests appear narrowly decided.

That was one bit of news that caught my attention earlier this week. Marxist-oriented activists of various stripes need to do more of this whenever and wherever possible. Although I harbor no illusions of the electoral process as the be-all and end-all of achieving meaningful change, it does have a place and it does need to be a part of a broader Leftist strategy for turning the tide here in the US. It should also go without saying that Sawant has quite an opportunity here, but that she will no doubt be limited in terms of what she can accomplish. To have a record to run on for re-election, she will have to cooperate with other city council members who obviously don't share her disdain for capitalism. Cooperation, unfortunately, will run the risk of opening her up to charges of being a sell-out by at least one subset of her base of support. I would advise those who supported her candidacy to give her the space she needs to influence the direction of the city, and to be in a position to win her next election (again, remember, she will need to have a list of tangible accomplishments to her name come then), as well as create a space for her comrades to enter and win elections in her city. Obviously, politicians like Sawant should be subject to critical scrutiny - both self-criticism as well as from the rest of us, and their failures and successes should be analyzed carefully.

Many of us who make up the working class (broadly speaking what our friends from Occupy dubbed the 99%) have felt largely abandoned and betrayed by our various political institutions, and that has led to a form of cynicism that has invited a form of rugged individualism to take hold among the very people we need the most - not exactly the sort of thing that bodes well for rebuilding a vibrant Leftist front. If people like Sawant can get elected to offices and prove themselves to be effective in their efforts to better the lot of us working stiffs, the prospects for organizing us as a potent collective set of agents of change over the next decade become that much better.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

96 Years of Red October

Ninety-six years ago on Nov. 7, 1917, workers and peasants overthrew the capitalist government in Russia.

Sick of war and hunger, women textile workers in Petersburg went on strike on March 8, 1917, International Working Women’s Day. The holiday commemorates a 1908 march of women garment workers in New York City.

Five days later, czarism was overthrown. Workers, peasants and soldiers made that revolution, but capitalists controlled the new government.

For the next eight months Lenin’s Bolsheviks won millions of poor people to socialist revolution by demanding bread, peace and land. Despite Lenin and other leaders being forced underground, Bolsheviks won majorities in the soviets that sprung up everywhere.

These soviets overthrew capitalist politician Alexander Kerensky on Nov. 7 (Oct. 25 by the old Russian calendar). Many peoples, not just Russians, rose up to break their chains.

Peasants threw out their landlords. Bolsheviks exposed secret treaties among the imperialists that divided up colonies. This revolutionary energy helped overthrow Germany’s kaiser and end World War I in 1918.

Capitalist governments, including the U.S., then waged war against the Soviets on a dozen fronts. But the Red Army, organized and led by another Bolshevik leader, Leon Trotsky, was victorious.


Quotable - from one of William Blum's Russian readers

I can’t imagine why anybody is surprised to hear when I say I miss life in the Soviet Union: what is bad about free healthcare and education, guaranteed employment, guaranteed free housing? No rent or mortgage of any kind, only utilities, but they were subsidized too, so it was really pennies. Now, to be honest, there was a waiting list to get those apartments, so some people got them quicker, some people had to wait for years, it all depended on where you worked. And there were no homeless people, and crime was way lower. As a first grader I was taking the public transportation to go to school, which was about 1 hour away by bus (it was a big city, about the size of Washington DC, we lived on the outskirts, and my school was downtown), and it was fine, all other kids were doing it. Can you even imagine this being done now? I am not saying everything was perfect, but overall, it is a more stable and socially just system, fair to everybody, nobody was left behind. This is what I miss: peace and stability, and not being afraid of the future.

Problem is, nobody believes it, they will say that I am a brainwashed “tovarish” [comrade]. I’ve tried to argue with Americans about this before, but just gave up now. They just refuse to believe anything that contradicts what CNN has been telling them for all their lives. One lady once told me: “You just don’t know what was going on there, because you did not have freedom of speech, but we, Americans, knew everything, because we could read about all of this in our media.” I told her “I was right there! I did not need to read about this in the media, I lived that life!”, but she still was unconvinced! You will not believe what she said: “Yes, maybe, but we have more stuff!”. Seriously, having 50 kinds of cereal available in the store, and walmarts full of plastic junk is more valuable to Americans than a stable and secure life, and social justice for everybody?

Of course there are people who lived in the Soviet Union who disagree with me, and I talked to them too, but I find their reasons just as silly. I heard one Russian lady whose argument was that Stalin killed “30, no 40 million people”. First of all it’s not true (I don’t in any way defend Stalin, but I do think that lying and exaggerating about him is as wrong)*, and second of all what does this have to do with the 70s, when I was a kid? By then life was completely different. I heard other arguments, like food shortages (again, not true, it’s not like there was no food at all, there were shortages of this or that specific product, like you wouldn’t find mayo or bologna in the store some days, but everything else was there!). So, you would come back next day, or in 2-3 days, and you would find them there. Really, this is such a big deal? Or you would have to stay in line to buy some other product, (ravioli for example). But how badly do you want that ravioli really that day, can’t you have anything else instead? Just buy something else, like potatoes, where there was no line.

Was this annoying, yes, and at the time I was annoyed too, but only now I realized that I would much prefer this nuisance to my present life now, when I am constantly under stress for the fear that I can possibly lose my job (as my husband already did), and as a result, lose everything else – my house? You couldn’t possibly lose your house in Soviet Union, it was yours for life, mortgage free. Only now, living here in the US, I realized that all those soviet nuisances combined were not as important as the benefits we had – housing, education, healthcare, employment, safe streets, all sort of free after school activities (music, sports, arts, anything you want) for kids, so parents never had to worry about what we do all day till they come home in the evening.

From William Blum's most recent Anti-Empire Report. I don't harbor too many illusions about the USSR - a lot of us who were leftist activists back around the early to mid 1980s were ambivalent about the Soviet government, at best - but I notice a pattern emerging when reading reminiscences. What replaced the Soviet system in the neoliberal era has been nothing short of catastrophic for the workers.

Einheitsfrontlied 1934 (The United Front Song)

The United Front song, Einheitsfrontlied 1934 an anthem of the German labor movement in solidarity against the rising powers of the Nazi party. Lyrics written by Bertolt Brecht, music composed by Hanns Eisler

"And while a man is flesh and blood
He will ask, if you please, for bread and meat
And windy words won’t be enough
For words aren’t good to eat.

Then left, two, three! Then left, two, three!
Comrade, here’s the place for you.
So fall in with the workers’ united front
For you are a worker too.

And while a man is flesh and blood
He won’t be driven till he drops.
He will want no slaves beneath his feet
And no masters up on top.

Then left, two, three! Then left, two, three!
Comrade, here’s the place for you.
So fall in with the workers’ united front
For you are a worker too.

As long as there are two classes
Proletarians must agree
It’s the task of none but the working class
To set the worker free.

Then left, two, three! Then left, two, three!
Comrade, here’s the place for you.
So fall in with the workers’ united front
For you are a worker too.”

Hanns Eisler/Bertolt Brecht
The above courtesy of #Cultural Marxism

Friday, November 8, 2013

A conversation that will not go away...

if for no other reason than that its time has clearly come, even in the Belly of the Beast. A fragmented Left does no good for any of us. Hell, even rear-guard efforts to maintain the few gains made by our predecessors from up to a few decades ago are not served by our being fragmented. It's blindingly obvious, plain as the noses on our faces, and as certain as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. I've been posting or linking to quite a few missives on the topic of Left unity over the last few months, and the blogger behind pink scare is offering a few thoughts as well: Some impromptu thoughts on left unity in the US.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Statement for ‘Revolution and/or Poetry’ by Keston Sutherland

Once upon a time, Ezra Pound: ‘The common or homo canis snarls violently at the thought of there being ideas which he doesn’t know. He dies a death of lingering horror at the thought that even after he has learned even the newest set of made ideas, there will still be more ideas, that the horrid things will grow, will go on growing in spite of him.’ Earlier but closer to us now, Rosa Luxemburg: ‘No coarser insult, no baser defamation, can be thrown against the workers than the remark “Theoretical controversies are only for intellectuals.”’ The most influential modernist poetry fashioned its aesthetic priorities on the dogmatic basis that the majority of people are stupid. Pound’s assurance to the loyal cognoscenti of BLAST, that ‘of course the homo canis will follow us’ because ‘it is the nature of the homo canis to follow’, is not just a festering scrap of leftover Nietzsche, but also a defamation of working class experience. Its judgment (posing as a rollicking mannerist exercise in fascist ribaldry) is that the power of art to move is the same power that keeps stupid (working class) people unfree. Where it moves, they must follow. Art proves the necessity of blind compulsion. Its power depends on the unequal distribution of intellect as the condition of aesthetic possibility; its immortality depends on the inexorability of that unequal distribution and the power of art to exploit it. Luxemburg’s account of the worker whose living labour is already theoretical is the true blast. What might be the complexion and activity of a poetry that started from the principle that all people are equally intelligent? How might poetry shape its technical priorities and depths of feeling in response to the proposition of Jacques Rancière, that ‘there is inequality in the manifestations of intelligence, according to the greater or lesser energy communicated to the intelligence by the will for discovering and combining new relations; but there is no hierarchy of intellectual capacity’? What would a poetry sound like, how would it move, whose principle is that radical egalitarian activism—activism aimed at abolishing social hierarchies—depends on the communication of energy to the intelligence?

Read the rest of the statement here. h/t wood s lot

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sometimes you have to stop traffic

It's good to see students loudly protesting a real reactionary.

Can the Left Learn Anything of Value from the Tea Party?

As I noted a few days ago, Jodi Dean seems to think so:

The Left needs to study the Tea Party carefully and ask whether we can learn from them. After all, a radical group with the support of less than a quarter of the US population has been able to shut down the government, to hold it hostage to its demands. It should give us pause that the Right is doing what the Left talks constantly about doing, but with no results. Here are some possible lessons:

 1. The party form still matters. The party form is operative for the Right. The Right uses both the Republican party as well as the Tea Party as a subsection of the Republican Party. In other words, an organized far right has been able to lasso the Republican Party and bend it to its will. What would it take for the Left to do the same? Perhaps identifying 30-40 Congressional seats that are worth trying to take. In addition to confronting weak Republicans, this would mean forcing Democrats into primaries instead of continuing to roll over and piss on ourselves whenever there is an election.

 2. We don't need a majority -- we need a solidarity, committed minority. The Tea Party is able to hold the entire country hostage because it is acting in a relatively unified fashion. These Republicans are ideologically committed. What if the Left did the same? This might look like refusing to approve a budget until the cap on Social Security withholding was completely eliminated, until US corporations were not allowed to use off-shore accounts, until the OTC market in derivatives was abolished. It would, of course, require us to agree on a few issues that would be our lines in the sand rather than continuing stupidly to go round and round each insisting on her pet issue.

 3. We can't be afraid of controversy -- this is what has happened as the Left turned into liberals. Everyone became tolerant and neutral. This has got to stop. Our movement diminishes because there is nothing to follow, no primary current. This was starting to change with Occupy. The components are there with the anti-foreclosure movement, but we lost our way in trying to be all things to all people. This made us nothing.

4. Popular opinion is against the Republicans. Some pundits are saying that this is because they have gone too far, aren't playing by the rules, etc. Perhaps. But it might also be because the content of what they are fighting for is completely fascistic -- bringing down the government rather than providing people with health care. What if a group that was fighting for the people was behind the shut down, a group that was willing to stop payments to creditors until social programs were replaced, infrastructure was rebuilt, new jobs were created, and any company relying on government subsidies was turned into a public utility or commonized?

We constantly hear that radical change is impossible, that revolution is impossible, but here we have a cold civil war, the shut down of government as part of a radical political agenda. Change is possible -- it is being done, but by the enemies of the people.

Make of it what you will. My thoughts are ones that are at least in part expressed quite well by some of the commenters. In particular, it is worth remembering that the Tea Party, while capitalizing on an existing fascist (or Ur-Fascist to use Eco's terminology) undercurrent in the US, was largely a success due to a handful of astroturf organizations with deep pockets. Without the huge outlays of corporate money, the Tea Party would have amounted to little more than a minor movement. Assuming that we see more of a concerted effort to create a more united Left in the US, it is safe to say that we won't have the benefit of relying on the largess of billionaires. If you think George Soros or soon-to-be-former Mayor Bloomberg will contribute to any sort of Marxist-based cause, you are living in a land of delusion. Nor will we likely have the material support of any leftist or left-leaning governments or parties - moral support perhaps is about the best we can hope for. So it will have to be on us to build what we want to build.

It is equally worth considering what movements are - they are coalitions that consist of various factions. Those factions are not in 100% agreement, even if on the surface they can present a united front of sorts. The Tea Party seemed to me to be at least in part Christian extremists, white nationalists, libertarians, and business owners. Some overlap across those categories is to be expected. Whatever else we might note, they do have in common that they benefited disproportionately from a system in this country that is economically and socially unjust. They've been held together by a few common enemies - a President (who ironically enough is a corporatist), a bailout for the health insurance corporations under the aegis of reform, and changes in demographics which will be unfavorable to their maintenance of privilege over the long haul. A Left front would have to be able and willing to unite a variety of Marxian factions that have largely been more effective at fighting each other than fighting the powers that be. We've seen leftist factions unite before to achieve revolutionary victories (e.g., The October Revolution in Russia) and electoral victories (e.g., Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in the late 1990s; Evo Morales in Bolivia last decade). The factions that made up those winning coalitions were not in 100% agreement, but were willing to set aside theoretical differences long enough to secure their common goals. If it has been done before, it can be done again - even here in the Belly of the Beast. We can unite a good many factions that actually hold more in common than we sometimes want to admit.

A party organization is going to be a must. Spontaneous movements (such as Occupy most recently) tend to quickly fall apart. That party must be willing to achieve its goals through multiple methods - some electoral, some outside the electoral system. Given the material conditions in the US currently, I think it is safe to say that we're not quite at a point where revolution is feasible. Hence, for practical reasons, our actions will be necessarily reformist in nature. We will also have the challenge of winning over a working class that has bought into a number of rightist memes - rebuilding the trust of this very important class of low-wage workers is going to be a must. It will not happen overnight. On the electoral front, I am convinced that running presidential candidates is a waste - but working at a local level (and offering tangible material support to those in other locales doing likewise) to elect school board members, town council members, and state legislators is potentially doable with a good deal of elbow grease. Outside the electoral front, there is still no substitute for feet on the ground when protests and agitation are necessitated. Where the system has failed, why not fill the void? A good deal of community organization can be done on a shoestring budget. And although I will advocate for the concept that "our word is our weapon," some sort of paramilitary presence would be worth at least consideration, as after all the material conditions may one day change and we don't want to be mowed down by already well-armed right-wing thugs. Any party leadership will need to be truly controlled by and held accountable to its membership. That would have to be non-negotiable. Party elites are the last thing we would ever need. Any party leadership will need to understand that economic and social justice go hand in hand.

Anyhoo, these are just a few thoughts. I had commented once recently that although we're hardly in the best of times, but Big Darkness has finally receded. We're in a better position than we were, say, a decade ago when I began blogging. A conversation about income inequality would have been unthinkable in the aftermath of the 1990s, but is now front and center thanks to a well-publicized spontaneous movement that arose in the aftermath of the Great Recession. At least those who might want to organize and unite have tangible evidence that there is interest in an alternative to the various flavors of neoliberal capitalism that we've been told by our elites was inevitable (remember the End of History?). The question becomes, are we willing to lay down any differences enough to make a new world possible?

Monday, October 28, 2013

What a strange performance

I really have no idea as to what Armstrong is getting at with his latest missive, but I do have the feeling he's plugging some left/right coalition (he drank the libertarian Kool-Aid as I recall). If the Netroots fell apart, which I am not entirely clear I buy, it would be for the usual reasons coalitions tend to fall apart - they are made of diverse and divergent factions that pull apart once either they succeed or fail at obtaining their objectives. A lot of what got called the "left blogosphere" was not leftist in any real sense of the term (Armstrong would have been well to the right of most Democrats I have known), but was opposed to the pseudo-fascism exhibited during the reign of Bush the Lesser. The Patriot Act, the War on Terra, the rollback on civil rights and liberties more generally have all been well-documented and thoroughly discussed. Those were the issues that would have brought so many of us who otherwise had little in common together. After those got somewhat sorted out, what was the point of standing together? Indeed, the answer was pretty apparent after Obama was elected, and some things changed for the better (some mild movement toward universal health care, a less toxic environment for those in the LGBT community), while others got worse (NSA, anyone?).

I'm not sure I want to find out what sort of "revolution" Armstrong is pushing. No doubt it is something that would involve a different flavor of neoliberalism than what we're dealing with already. I would advise staying far, far away from anything involving libertarians, whose notions of "freedom" do not jibe with either progressive or leftist worldviews. There are better ways to get a point across regarding the current surveillance state, income inequality, etc. In the meantime, to quote Willow Rosenberg, "Bored now."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RIP Lou Reed

Just caught the news a bit earlier this afternoon. He had been in poor health, and had a liver transplant earlier this year.I was in my teens when I would have first heard of Lou Reed and his earlier band, VU. Once I got familiarized with those classic recordings, much of what I was listening to right around the turn of the 1980s made so much more sense. There was a period between the late 1960s and early 1980s where pop musicians were relatively willing to explore what the avant-garde had to offer, and Lou Reed was right at the ground floor of that movement. One really could not listen to much of what became part of pop's "New Wave" of the 1970s and 1980s without hearing the influence of Lou Reed and his various conspirators. We are losing our innovators, slowly but surely.

Dangerous Minds has its own tribute, which includes an early film of VU and Nico in Andy Warhol's film A Symphony of Sound.

Links with the Sunday morning coffee

Theses on austerity and how to fight it

A revolution is not a dinner party, but it might be a tea party

Both offer some food for thought. Each author is batting around a few themes that have occupied my interest, but on which I regrettably don't quite have the time to devote to writing. The latter, in particular, I would like to comment on further if time permits.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Russians' views of communism appear to be strikingly positive

I found this summary on Jodi Dean's site:
 About 60 percent of Russians believe there were more positive than negative aspects to life in the former Soviet Union, an opinion poll suggests.

Of the 1,000 people whom Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) interviewed by telephone in a survey last month, 14 percent said the word communism had percent “very pleasant,” “positive” or “wonderful” connotations for them and 12 percent said they were nostalgic about the Soviet era.

Communism was just a thing of the past for 11 percent, but the same proportion believed communism meant good and stable life.

To 7 percent, the word communism gave a sense of “disgust” or “sad associations” or meant “something negative” generally.

For 5 percent, it stood for dreams of a “radiant future” that had never come true (“it’s a great pity that we never came to see it”).

Asked by pollsters to explain the meaning of the word communism, 23 percent said that for them it meant a just society where everyone is equal and all property is common.

For 9 percent, the word primarily stood for a specific economic and social system, while for 8 percent it represented a life better than today’s (“we were better off, people were taken better care of,” and “people were more plain and life was more plan as well”).

Six percent said communism represented good and stable life for them, and praised the official Soviet era principle “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”

Five percent dismissed communism as a utopia or fairytale.

Respondents were also asked to explain what they might see as positive and negative aspects of the Soviet system.

In response, 33 percent credited it with good social security guarantees, stability and good care of people, 14 percent said it had been a system of justice and social equality, 9 percent said the Soviet Union was a land of rule of law and discipline, 7 percent praised the country’s guaranteed employment, and another 7 percent claimed that people were more willing to help each other then than they are today.

On the other hand, 9 percent criticized Soviet-era restrictions on rights and liberties, 7 percent accused the Soviet system of suppressing personal individuality, another 7 percent said shortages of basic consumer goods were that system’s main defect, 6 percent slammed abuse of authority in that period and 5% condemned the repressive rule in the Soviet Union.

By and large, 59 percent of respondents believed there were more positive than negative aspects to communism. In that category, 69 percent were people aged 60 or more and 47 percent people aged between 18 and 30.

Moreover, 43 percent would have welcomed Russia’s re-adopting the communist ideology, 38 percent were not happy with the idea, and 19 percent were undecided on this point.

60 percent of Russians want communism back.

Assuming that the methods used for collecting the data were sufficiently adequate (some form of probability sampling, such as random sampling, and neutral wording in the questions asked of respondents), the data from the survey appear to paint an interesting picture of where the Russian people are at about two decades after "Shock Therapy" was imposed upon them under Yeltsin's regime, and during the subsequent rule of Putin. I have periodically read of how older people from the former Soviet Bloc have waxed nostalgic for the former communist systems under which they lived. And indeed, in this survey, quite a number of elderly respondents expressed wishes for a return to a communist system. The findings also seemed to suggest that Russia's Millennials, who were either not around or not old enough to be politically conscious during the waning days of the USSR, and hence not around for whatever baggage the Soviet system may have had, are open to communism as an alternative to the system currently in place in Russia. Pair that with findings in the US that our own Millennials seem to have disproportionately positive views of socialism, and one could argue that there is a psychological opening for Marxist-oriented political parties and organizations if they are willing to take advantage and mobilize their respective populations.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Study: Half a million Iraqis died from war-related causes since US invasion

Here's the clip:

Nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, according to an academic study published in the United States on Tuesday.

That toll is far higher than the nearly 115,000 violent civilian deaths reported by the British-based group Iraq Body Count, which bases its tally on media reports, hospital and morgue records, and official and non-governmental accounts.

The latest estimate by university researchers in the United States, Canada and Baghdad in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown.

It also differs from some previous counts by spanning a longer period of time and by using randomized surveys of households across Iraq to project a nationwide death toll from 2003 to mid 2011.
Linkage. Since a number of us expressed outrage at not only the Iraq invasion but the genocidal level of carnage that ensued at the hands of the US and its so-called "Coalition of the Willing," it seemed fitting to share with those of you who are still around the latest effort by academicians to estimate the death toll. Although employing a different methodology, the numbers seem to square with the estimates of previous studies that had employed cluster sampling methodology (the margins of error in each of those studies could easily include one half-million dead as a plausible number).

As an aside, those of us who protested this travesty back in 2003 were not heard by those who had the power to stop it from happening in the first place. The aftermath of that invasion should have led to the conclusion that we really, really need a Left in the US that actually has some tangible power to stop atrocities. So far, those who grasp that particular reality are barely recognized by their peers, and we remain as a political force more a diaspora than a movement. It wasn't always like that, nor need it remain that way as some sort of inevitability.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Quotable - Alain Badiou

After the sweeping movements of the 1960s and 1970s, we have inherited a very long counter-revolutionary period, economically, politically and ideologically. This counter-revolution has effectively destroyed the confidence and power that were once able to commit popular consciousness to the most elementary words of emancipatory politics – words, to cite a few at random, like “class struggle”, “general strike”, “revolution”, “mass democracy”’, and many others. The key word of “communism”, which dominated the political stage since the beginning of the 19th century, is itself henceforth confined to a sort of historical infamy. That the equation “communism equals totalitarianism” should come to appear as natural and be unanimously accepted is an indication of how badly revolutionaries failed during the disastrous 1980s. Of course, we also cannot avoid an incisive and severe criticism of what the socialist states and communist parties in power, especially in the Soviet Union, had become. But this criticism should be our own. It should nourish our own theories and practices, helping them to progress, and not lead to some kind of morose renunciation, throwing out the political baby with the historical bathwater. This has led to an astonishing state of affairs: regarding a historical episode of capital importance for us, we have adopted, practically without restriction, the point of view of the enemy. And those who haven’t done so have simply persevered in the old lugubrious rhetoric, as if nothing had happened.

Alain Badiou (h/t)

The whole column is worth reading.

Monday, October 14, 2013


Today is also known as the Day of Indigenous Resistance. We could also, as I have no doubt mentioned before, called it Genocidal Slave Trader Day - as that would be an apt enough description of Columbus and those who followed in his wake.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Looking for some new left blogs?

Look no further. Quite a number are twitter feeds, which of course makes sense, and many, like this blog, are unaligned to a particular party, which also makes sense given the current state of the left (we're waking up, but still have a long ways to go before we're a force to be reckoned with in the US and UK).

Glen Ford on our government's shutdown theatrics

The government shutdown battle is more like a Civil War reenactment than the real thing. A face-saving bargain will soon be struck, returning 825,000 furloughed federal employees to their jobs at wages that have been frozen for the past two years – not by the Republicans, but on President Obama’s orders. The clock has been stuck with both hands on “austerity” since Obama came fully out of the closet as a GOP fellow-traveler following the 2010 midterm elections. From that moment on, Republican-imposed gridlock has been the only barrier to Obama’s long-sought Grand Bargain to eviscerate entitlement programs. When the current theatrics are over, Obamacare will remain intact and the president will be back on his ever-rightward stride. The GOP will take Obama up on his offer, earlier this year, to cut Social Security and will probably be offered other bits and pieces of the social safety net in the interest of “shared sacrifice” and domestic peace.

Linkage. (h/t)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A stupid question that I will try to briefly address

I've had only a few minutes to peruse the following article: Why Aren't Those New Millennial Liberals Protesting a Shutdown?

It is the dumbest question that I have seen raised thus far during the government shutdown debacle. For some reason, the author seems to misunderstand both the generation and the nature of the battle. Those who are actually liberals, as opposed to leftists (and that is a very important distinction to make) have a different idea of activism than many of my liberal friends and acquaintances from what amounts to a generation ago. In this day and age, an activist who is attached to the Democratic Party and regularly reads and posts to blogs like Daily Kos is probably convinced that retweeting, sending emails through organizations like MoveOn.org, and such is sufficient for changing the world. There is an open derision to actually getting into the streets and holding signs and yelling. They may have dug on what some of the Occupy message was all about, but they were and still are more interested in coopting that message into the confines of the contemporary Democratic Party, which has been a largely neoliberal, somewhat centrist party for at least the last two decades. As for the sorts of leftists who would make up Occupy, why would they get involved in something that seems like a partisan squabble, and one in which they were already shut out long ago? I think many of us who are in the anticapitalist left have decided that this is not our battle. We have much more important battles instead. We might take the streets, but if we do, it will be specifically in the service of a cause devoted to ending economic and social inequality, not propping up a party that has been at best ambivalent in its treatment of those who are most in need.

Look, I would love to see the left involved in the nuts and bolts of government. However, between our historically being shut out of power by the two major parties and a very unfortunate aversion to power that many of my comrades seem to have developed since 1968 (and we need to get rid of that albatross), involvement in Capitol Hill matters is not going to happen any time soon. Asking us to stand with the Democratic Party will be a difficult proposition - liberals and leftists have historically been hostile toward each other. I have seen absolutely no evidence that has changed in recent years. Although I could imagine conditions under which a Popular Front approach might be advisable, we are not yet in that moment. There will be some serious arguing I suspect to even get to a point to where we could bridge the gap that exists between us. A barely read blogger like me will not be the one who facilitates that series of conversations. Leftists will undoubtedly and correctly insist on being treated as equals and not as a bunch of aimless hippies (seriously, the 1960s was a long fucking time ago). There will also be some concern on our part that we will merely be coopted into a party machine that has no intention of acting on the sort of real changes we want to see.

As for Occupy - it has had the same problems that all spontaneous movements have historically had. Lenin had plenty to say about that - I would strongly recommend What Is To Be Done as a text that offers ideas that could be adapted to our own particular circumstances. In the meantime, expecting the anticapitalist left to be some sort of Tea Party equivalent is silly and counterproductive.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

White supremacist groups will be with us for a while

True, the millennial generation is one that offers much to give hope to those of us who have spent our lives toiling through several bleak decades. However, this article offers a reminder that the next generation of Hitler Youth wannabes is in development as we speak. Those of us who might have spent some time in the front lines dealing with neo-Nazi skinheads back during the old punk era need to mentor the next generation of those who will have to be on the front lines. There is no time like the present.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Quotable on Climate Change

Instead of waiting for the environment to enact some terrible moment to galvanise us into action we need to construct a shock of our own, a social shock where we collectively take action. We are already doing this, but we need to do more. The people need to rise before the seas do.
From The New Left Project's post, A Brief History of Climate Change, wherein we are reminded that we've already had one summer in which the North Pole has been briefly ice-free.

By the way, not only would I say that we should construct our own social shock now (or at least really damned soon) before some environmental cataclysm, but we should do the same thing before the next economic cataclysm. We on the left are going to be required to address not only economic inequality and social inequality on a global scale, but also the consequences of what our capitalist system has inflicted upon the very planet upon whose resources we need to survive as a species. It is all connected, as are we. The sooner we get hip to that basic fact and act collectively, the better.

A post worth reading

Daddy What Did You Do During The War (On Terror)? offers a bit of light in an otherwise dark period. For those of us who remember 2003 and its aftermath, there is no way to sugarcoat the fact that even with the largest mass protests in human history, the genocide perpetrated at the hands of the US and its allies in Iraq would go on unabated. That moment March 19th/20th hit, our hearts sank. But a lot of people awakened, and that awakening has and will have long-term repercussions. There are indeed some cracks in the system that those of us on the Left can exploit. Occupy and a number of other efforts are merely the beginning.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sy Hersh says it

You American journalists are a bunch of cowards. Although I think that is a given at this point in time, and although I doubt anyone having a moment of clarity would deny it to be true, it is still refreshing to read and hear.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Interesting, yet bleak takes on contemporary fiction

How Well Does Contemporary Fiction Address Radical Politics?

a note on the absence of left utopias since 1992

Maybe not exactly the sort of wake-me up one would want with the morning coffee, but might as well give what is written some thought. The first article seems to attempt to look for a balance between bleak and hopeful. The other post basically offers bleakness, and a warning: dream big or continue to be crushed by capitalism.

Aphex Twin sez: "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Two Years After "Occupy"

Here's an interesting take on where we're at two years after Occupy Wall Street made its presence felt (h/t). I have certainly supported Occupy - although quite critically, as I tend to do with spontaneous movements in general. However, whatever its shortcomings, Occupy has changed to conversation, and has re-awakened a Left that had been largely moribund. It may well be that something Hobsbawm said prior to his death will ring true - in a decade or two we'll notice some partial successes have been achieved that are traceable to those encampments at Zuccotti Park on September 19, 2011. There is a sense of optimism that I have noticed in those intervening two years, a change in the national vocabulary, and a realization that another world is not only possible, but is already quite doable (albeit so far primarily in small steps rather than in giant leaps forward). Our challenge in the socialist and communist Left will be to learn from what the Occupiers did correctly as well as their mistakes, and build on their successes while avoiding their shortcomings, and with those lessons learned, continue adapting our ideologies to the concrete realities of 21st century life.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


“A friend of mine took me to a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] meeting, six or seven months after I was here. At the end of the meeting they announced that buses were going to Montgomery, Alabaman, to demonstrate. I went there, got beaten up, thrown in jail.

They let you make one phone call, and I called the Ugandan Ambassador in Washington, DC, talked to him, and he said, “What are you doing interfering in the affairs of a foreign country?” I said, “What? We just got our independence! This is the same struggle. Have you forgotten?” Anyway, he got me out.

Two or three weeks later, I was in my room. There was a knock at the door. Two gentlemen in trench coats and hats said, “FBI.” I thought, “Wow, just like on television.” They sat down. They were there to find out why I had gone – because this turned out to be big – it is after Montgomery that King organized his march on Selma. They wanted to know who had influenced me. After one hour of probing, the guy said, “Do you like Marx?”

I said, “I haven’t met him.”

Guy said, “No, no, he’s dead.”

“Wow, what happened?”

“No, no, he died long ago.”

I thought the guy Marx had just died. So then, “Why are you asking me if he died long ago?”

“No, he wrote a lot. He wrote that poor people should not be poor.”

I said, “Sounds amazing.”

I’m giving you a sense of how naïve I was. After they left, I went to the library to look for Marx. So that was my introduction to Karl Marx … The FBI.

-- Mahmood Mamdani

Something that might have some merit

Get past the title, which skeeved me out a bit, and read the content. The post itself is a few months old, but the ideas behind it are quite relevant: put a socialist (the real deal, as opposed to some liberal with a couple socialist-sounding ideas) in the race for the 2016 Democratic Party Presidential nomination. I could see how the author's proposal would easily meet with very stiff resistance among some factions of the socialist/communist political sphere, and some of that resistance might also have some merit. Obviously a genuinely socialist politician would not get the Democratic Party nomination, and would in fact be largely marginalized by the corporate media (when not openly mocked), and essentially out of contention by the time the first set of caucus and primary states held their votes. I'm less concerned about being corrupted by the DP machine, especially if those who actually put their weight behind such an effort keep their focus (no CPUSA nonsense!). But for that short window, there would be an opportunity to articulate a socialist vision to an audience that normally does not get access to such ideas, and some opportunities for organizational infrastructure building and networking would open up - and we desperately need that. In other words, the ideas in that post would give the Left in the US a nice shot in the arm for the short and medium term. I would advise not dismissing out of hand the proposal. Instead, why not try it, examine and debate the results, and adjust our thinking and tactics accordingly?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A cautionary tale

I have my reasons for being rather suspicious of various efforts to create left/right coalitions against the current political status quo. Of course I could point to the experience of those involved in the National Bolshevik Party that emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. Although the rightists were purged, as near as I can tell, early last decade, the party's reputation continues to suffer. But even closer to home, it's pretty obvious that right-wing elements have been infiltrating and corrupting various leftist and left-leaning organizations for the past several decades. For one detailed history and analysis regarding right-wing infiltration in the US, read Right Woos Left by Chip Berlet. It's a bit dated, but does give, from a liberal/progressive angle, a detailed accounting that should, I hope, give pause to any avowed leftist or progressive who advocates for the Pauls (Ron or Rand) as our last great hope against the US war machine, or who quotes at length from Alex Jones' various websites, etc.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chile: The Other 9/11

Go forward knowing that sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.

-- Salvador Allende, from his final speech.
Today marks 40 years since the democratically elected government of Chile and its President Allende were overthrown in a US-backed coup that resulted in Allende's death. Countless thousands of people were executed, "disappeared", and/or tortured during Pinochet's reign of terror that subsequently followed September 11, 1973. As Socialist World noted a few years ago:
Under the iron heel of Chile’s military dictatorship, a laboratory economic experiment was conducted. The neo-liberal policies of privatisation, open markets, de-regulation and private pension schemes were all first tested out in Chile following the coup. They were then applied in the 1980/90’s and continued in this new century, by the ruling classes internationally. The ‘Chicago Boys’, economic students of Milton Freidman, arrived in Chile in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup. The military regime gave them a free hand to test out their theories. These were the policies later to be pursued by Thatcher, Reagan and other capitalist leaders.
In addition to remembering those who perished, and listening to the voices of those who survived, let us use this day as an opportunity to begin building a better world for ourselves and for our children.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Obama administration, public opinion and the drive to war

It is not necessary to glorify the past to take note of the transformation that has occurred in bourgeois politics. During the Vietnam War, congressional hearings were a serious undertaking. Certain politicians made an appeal to broader popular sentiment, and the media served as a mechanism for exposing government lies and secrets. Prior to the 1991 vote in Iraq there were extensive hearings. Even in 2003, the Bush administration made more of a pretense of establishing a case for war, though based on complete lies, with a lengthy build-up to the invasion of Iraq extending over several months.

Now, a decision to launch a war with incalculable consequences—including the possibility of sparking a civil war throughout the Middle East and a direct conflict between the United States and Russia—is made without any serious public debate. The proceedings on Capitol Hill, which will likely be wrapped up within a week, were staged only after the failure of the vote in the British Parliament last week.

The decay of democratic and political forms is an expression of a social process—above all, the extraordinary growth of social inequality. The state is run by a military and intelligence apparatus, in league with a financial aristocracy, determined to implement deeply unpopular policies at home and abroad. It exists as a permanent conspiracy against the rights and interests of the vast majority.

The Obama administration represents a certain culmination of this process. The “candidate of change,” the “transformative” president (as at 2008 statement by the International Socialist Organization put it), is leading the most right-wing government in American history. Elected in large part due to antiwar sentiment, Obama, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has overseen an historic expansion of militarism, including an international policy of drone assassinations and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria.

The pro-Democratic Party organizations representing more privileged sections of the upper-middle class, which organized and led antiwar demonstrations in the early years of the Bush administration, have become pro-war. Supposedly “left” organizations such as the ISO and its international co-thinkers, along with their coterie of “liberal” academics, have prepared over the past two years the ideological justification for war, presenting as a “revolution” a US-engineered civil war that is dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.

Opposition to war now shifts decisively to the broad mass of the people—the working class. That there is general hostility to what is being planned is undeniable. As for those who supported Obama, there is an overwhelming sense that they have been lied to and sold a bill of goods.


Richard Seymour on the potential of a "humanitarian" intervention in Syria

It is true that hundreds of people are dying grisly deaths every day in Syria. It is also true that war crimes, some committed by the revolutionary forces, are a routine occurrence. It is true that most of the weapons used by the regime are indiscriminate in nature - shelling, cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs. Still, I think there's something specifically obscene about this type of attack. It solicits attention; and it says 'fuck you'. I don't claim to know who carried out this attack. And the fact that we have bounced into 'humanitarian' war before, on the pretext of certain salient atrocities, is reason enough to maintain a wary caution about official attributions of responsibility. Still, this atrocity has been used to push the button for 'intervention'. And, as we all know, 'intervention' solves all problems everywhere, ever.

What are the possible justifications for war, then?

1) Punishment. This strikes me as the most futile idea in the history of war. The concept of punishment has always been futile, but in this case it is woefully underwhelming and incredibly vague. How much 'punishment' exactly would be sufficient? If you bomb a police station or a barracks, is that enough? If you bomb a palace or two, will that do it? How much is enough to express the disapproval of 'the international community' at the use of nerve gas? Yet, staggeringly, this is the main justification for war being reported. I now suspect Robin Yassin-Kassab was correct when he said that the idea was to save face.

2) Tilt the balance of the war in favour of the opposition. It seems highly unlikely that this would be the goal of any such intervention. After all, it would take more than a few scuds to do that. As I said, the balance of forces is necessarily, though not exclusively, a political problem. And indeed one aspect of that political problem is likely that significant sections of the Syrian population regard the revolutionaries as too dependent on external support. If the US intended to overcome that, it wouldn't be enough to bomb a few targets; it would have to start funnelling arms in a serious way directly to the opposition. It would have to start sending in special forces to start training opposition fighters, and bring a load of cash to buy favour and keep the influence of well-organised jihadis at bay. It would have to think about bombing strategic targets. Given how entrenched the regime appears to be, it would have to seriously consider the possibility of significant aerial and ground commitments. 'Mission creep' would be an obvious peril, and the military leadership of the US is, I suspect, profoundly wary of this.

3) Regime change. This is the most obvious goal in a way, but it seems unlikely again. They would need a government-in-waiting, and the opposition is too fragmented to be that; the bourgeois leadership doesn't have sufficient control over the base, and is too divided among itself. The Obama administration has recognised the opposition as the legitimate government of Syria, but it has been extremely lukewarm. So if regime change did become the goal, they would have to find a way to knock the opposition into their desired shape - the 'interim government' that Hollande claims it is - and fast. Then they would have to be prepared for precisely the sort of escalating commitment that the Pentagon and imperial planners would do a great deal to avoid. This is to say nothing of whether such means would actually reduce the amount of civilian incineration and slaughter, which seems extremely unlikely at best.

4) 'We have to do something'. This argument isn't an argument. It's just one step up from 'think about the children'. If you're thinking 'we have to do something', just do yourself a favour and fill your mouth with cake or something. And anyway, as I was saying, who is this 'we', mammal?

Linkage - yeah, I realize this post is a few days old, but it does essentially lay out the problems with the war talk going on right now.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Socialists Who Made the March on Washington

Of the many reasons why socialism never became a major political tendency in the United States, as it did in Europe, is that working people—more precisely, white working men—gained the franchise here during the Jacksonian era, well before socialism had developed into a mass movement in Europe or America or anyplace else. In Europe, by contrast, it was chiefly the agitation of socialist parties in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the creation of universal manhood, and in some places womanhood, suffrage. Socialists brought ordinary Europeans the vote, which powerfully legitimated socialism for tens of millions of Europeans.

No equivalent legitimation happened in America. While there had been socialist movements and sects throughout the 19th century, the American Socialist Party wasn’t founded until 1901. That party, the Communist Party, and their various offshoots attracted thousands of activists during the 20th century, and their most enduring and significant achievement was to have seeded and helped form the movement for civil rights that led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which went beyond Kennedy’s initial proposal to also ban racial discrimination in employment) and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But despite their central role in the movement that led to the extension of the franchise to Southern blacks, American socialists experienced no gains for their movement equivalent to those their European counterparts had won. While Randolph, Rustin, and King were all democratic socialists, as were many of their colleagues and lieutenants, they did not march for civil rights under a socialist banner. To have done so would have been to make the attainment of civil rights all the more difficult. Nonetheless, the power of their economic perspective has been felt in black America from their time until this day. For decades, the proposed budgets of the Congressional Black Caucus spelled out what was essentially a vision of a social democratic American economy.

That vision, of course, was not realized. Accommodations were desegregated, but just as Randolph and his associates feared, the number of Americans who could afford to use them—who could afford college and medical care, to cite just two institutions that are legally open to all regardless of race and nonetheless beyond the reach of millions of Americans—remains well below any decent standard. Capitalism devoid of social democracy, the socialist planners of the march believed, would never produce the broadly shared prosperity that was needed if blacks and other racial minorities were to win more equal economic opportunities. Fifty years after the March on Washington, those socialists’ presentiments have been tragically borne out.
Linkage. This passage includes the closing paragraphs. Read the rest. Part of what attracted my to socialism - broadly speaking - was its commitment to economic equality as well as for civil rights. It was that way back when I was growing up in the shadow of the New Left back in the 1980s, and it is still true today. Keep in mind that the struggle for equality for all - economic, racial/ethnic, gender, etc. - is going to continue for the long haul. For the last couple decades especially, our elites of done their best to decouple civil rights from the economic issues that affect us all. As a divide and conquer strategy it has worked, and we are all suffering together - except of course for the 1%, who are making out like bandits while we fight each other. It did not have to go down like that, nor does it have to continue to go down like that. Something to think about.