Thursday, December 29, 2005

Triumphalism

The Purple Finger crowd has once again grown eerily silent about democratizing the planet. Hardly a word about those great Velvet Revolutions being inspired by the "transformation" of Iraq (they were all pumped up about Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and Egypt and now...) How about that Haiti?, some fine work there. Speaking of democracy, wouldnt it make sense for Israel and the US to "allow" Hamas to field a candidate, bring them into the process in Palestinian elections? US Congress claims because they are armed ( unlike Iraqi parties with militias?) and do not recognize the right of Israel to exist they should be banned. Again we are talking about the opaque power behind the "framing" of a debate. The perverted state of our own democracy is probably not what you would call a great advertisment either.

I know where there are some democratic movements being built, South of our border, but do not expect to hear much about them because in these instances the US is doing everything in it's power (short of direct involvement) to subvert them.

The Nation editors a few weeks backs said they would only support candidates willing to take a position in favor of troop removal, a stand which drew the ire of many stalwart dems. They won't cut and run. What if we cut and walked? or crawled? The standard presentation is : It was a mistake to go in (or to have gone in unprepared) but we can not now leave (honorably, practically?) until victory, or we have made things "right", or they can take over or some such. All crap. It was illegal to go in, and incredibly stupid. There is no such thing as "victory" (short of colonizing the region from Packistan to Libya) and even if there were, justifying the death and destruction just to save face is heinous. Our presence is the prime instigator of the insurgency by foriegn jihadists and inflames tensions between the Shias, viewed as US puppets and collaborators, and Sunni. There will continue to be political struggles and accompanying violence over power and resources regardless of our occupation, there will be revenge killings and minor turf battles for a long time to come, regardless of our occupation. The US should leave as quickly as possible and beg forgiveness from the Iraqis and the world for it's unilateral, preemptive rush to an ill concieved and poorly executed war and occupation and pay for reparations and rebuilding. We should refuse to take even one drop of the oil, even at 60 dollars a gallon. This humbling action should force us to learn a long over-do lesson about hubris and nationalist triumphalism. A huge tax increase to pay for the mess would help toward that end as well.

Monday, December 26, 2005

How to Win at Real Estate

I remember the indignation in Secretary of Slime Colin Powell’s voice when he declared “WE TAKE NOTHING BY CONQUEST” Actually that was what the newspaper declared when The US paid 15 million for the half of Mexico (including California and New Mexico) it won in the war. A new slave state (Texas ,all the way to the Rio Grande) was added to what would soon be the confederacy. It is a remarkable myth still propagated with fierce determination and swallowed hook line and sinker ( sorry about the fishing metaphor) by the “shining city on the hill” crowd.

Does this sound at all familiar? President Polk explaining the new policy of pre-emptive war to his cabinet in 1845: “up to this time we had heard of no open act of aggression, but the danger was imminent that such acts would be committed.” Having incited war by sending troops into what was recognized Mexican territory, Polk addressed Congress: “As war exists, notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, we are called upon to…vindicate with decision the honor, the rights and the interests of our country.”

It was our “Manifest Destiny” to grab the riches, and although they didn’t know at the time California, like Iraq, had oil they knew they wanted it . As an added bonus they could democratize the uncivilized Mexicans. Congress rushed to approve the war. “the bundles of official documents accompanying the war message,supposed to be evidence for Polk’s statement ,were not examined..” The more things change the more they stay the same.

The John Kerry Support The Troops speech of the time came from none other than Abraham Lincoln who had been accused of opposing the war: “The declaration that we have always opposed the war is true or false, according as one may understand the term ‘oppose the war’. If to say ‘the war was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President’ be opposing the war, then the Whigs have generally opposed it…But if ,when the war had begun,and had become the cause of the country,the giving of our money and our blood,was support of the war, then it is not true we have opposed it.” In other words, now that we are there, we can’t just cut and run.Good thing they didn’t have Swift Boat Veterans at that time because Honest Abe sounds a little French. Old Walt Whitman was no quisling: “ Let our arms now be carried which shall teach the world that,while we are not forward for a quarrel, America knows how to crush ,as well as how to expand.” A more straightforward Bush /Cheney. Thanks go to Howard Zinn’s Peoples History of the United States for trying to remind us.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Sermon

From Martin Luther King Jrs Christmas Sermon on Peace from 1967:

" I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself, I know where we can store that food free of charge- in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of Gods children in Asia, Africa ,Latin America and even in our own nation."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Uninteded Consequences

As long as I am hammering on this point, this quote from Robert Dreyfus in Cold War ,Cold Warrior, an essay in the Jan Feb. Mother Jones. "By tolerating ,and in some cases aiding, the development of these early activists ( Muslim brotherhood and the Islamic right in general) the United States helped give radical Islamism the structure and leadership that turned it into a global political hurricane."

This idea of "blowback" lies at the heart of the Left's critique of US foriegn policy and it is the one point the Right will not and cannot face but to deny it is to deny the past. Therefore they insist the past must be re-written. We now can observe the same impoverished, decrepit Cold-War mentality at work in Latin America where ,after so much horribly misguided intervention of the recent past, we see the US State Department and CIA once again at work de-stabilizing regions and creating new enemies. In Transitioning Venezuela by Tom Barry the US Agency for International Development is spotlighted in its dirty little program underway as I write. USAID underwrites the NED whose mission ,"promotion of free market democracies", actually means funding coup attempts of democratically elected officials who don't kow-tow to transnational corporations. Funding the Venezuelan opposition through its Office of Transition Initiatives ( talk about your Orwell-speak) money flows from the International Republican Institute, the Center for International Private Enterprise and the Solidarity Center ( AFL-CIO front) for propaganda through elite owned media outlets and payola for generals and corrupt politicians. Such an old ,familiar story it's like deja vu all over again. A USAID official told Congress: "The projection of Chavez's interests and HIS BRAND OF POPULISM only serve to undermine democracy in the region."

They wouldnt know a free-market or a democracy if it was shoved up their as... nose. They are pathetic pawns and sycophants of Big Capital which is as totalitarian a system as was ever devised. We are paying the price now in lives and treasure of their greedy meddling in the Middle East and if they try it again in Latin America the "opposition" may turn out to be a bit of a surprise.
John, if you read this, I can't access comments on your blog, something about "team members".

al Qaeda-ism

It is a rare treat to hear someone as knowledgeable and distinguished as author Loretta Napoleoni speak to a current and complex issue, especially when one lives in a small town in southwestern Montana. Formerly a Fulbright scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H.Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and Rotary Scholar at the London School of Economics, she is an expert on international terrorism and presented an interesting and rarely heard perspective on the war on terror generally and the making of al Zarqawi in particular. Most provocative was the assertion that the group structure of al Qaeda, dismantled in the US led war in Afghanistan, had morphed into an unstructured but self perpetuating movement based, in Marxist fashion, on an anti-imperialistic ideology.Groups from Packistan, Yemen ,Jordan,Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, This aspect of Arab/ Muslim unrest she separated from the Islamic extremism embodied in Salafism and Waahabism and its Jihadist manifestations seen now as part of the Iraq “insurgency” or the attacks in Madrid, London and elsewhere. “Al Qaedism” envelopes those affronted by the Western (primarily American) influence in Islamic territory, from its military presence to it’s collusion with corrupt Arab governments and from imported US cultural “decadence” to its support of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. These political grievances combined with an over all sense of wounded Arab pride over loss of power and honor feed the anger and anxiety over what is seen as a modern Crusade. This movement within Islam extends from Indonesia throughout the Gulf states, into Central Asia, the Arabian peninsula and into North Africa. Just as an example,a small territory like Palestine will contain Hamas, al Aqsa Brigade, PLO, IslamicJihad , Hezballah and others.The sects within this movement vary from the reformist Muslim Brotherhood to the most radically militant.

As a Marxist I share the Arab concern over these anti-imperialist elements while at the same time I obviously cannot support either their methods or final goals. ( If we may consider a return to an 11th century caliphate a goal) This is a difficult position to explain in the current atmosphere of fear and trepidation but I believe it is entirely consistent and defensible and I have tried on this blog to do just that. From colonial exploitation through the post World War II territorial restructuring which included support for Zionism and the formation of the state of Israel, Arab lands have been pawns in the game of Great Powers, and this dis-empowerment is extended through the failure of Arab nationalism and various leftist movements to change feudal power structures or improve the lives of the masses. Oil wealth and its relationships only exacerbate these trends. Add to this the negative effects of Western consumer culture which accompany capitalist penetration and the lack of democratic representation or opportunity for self determination and it is easy to explain but not excuse the movement towards militant religious extremism. Just as alienation and exploitation lead the proletariat towards fundamentalism and the forces of reaction in developed, industrialized societies this trend is exaggerated in oppressive, authoritarian regimes such as the Monarchies of the Gulf region or Emirates of North Africa.

It is in this way a Marxist can sympathize with and even support an anti-imperialist resistance with nationalist goals while rejecting its tactics, anti-Semitic rhetoric and allies.Edward Saids’ treatment of Orientalism showed us Western involvement cannot be divorced from the historical conditions and any attempts at regime change, nation building or the spreading of democracy must be considered in the context of geopolitical competition for energy resources and past as well as continuing cold war politics. A figure like al Zarqawi could only gain status as a “revolutionary hero” through the perceived status inadvertently bestowed upon him by the Empire which uses the language of a new Crusade. Only through defeat of this empire on a global scale can there be emancipation of those oppressed by the forces of capitalism, the feudal dictatorships and religious or State totalitarianism.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Imagine This

It occurs to me that a defining aspect of the reactionary mindset is the inability to imagine. Like John Lennon asked us to imagine no religion or no country. The current times demand that we imagine what it would be like to be picked up by unidentified or uniformed individuals, to have a bag placed over your head and to be whisked away to some secret, unidentified location to be tortured for information you do not have. You cannot contact anyone, no one knows where you are. You have no idea who they are or what they want. Is anything more terrifying than this thought? Can you imagine it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

24

There is a tv show our family watched for a couple of seasons (quality time,you know) called 24 hours where the hero continually saves the world while a clock ticks down, in essence the perfect dramatization of the "ticking time bomb" scenario all these theoretical discussions about torture are based on. Since there is no real distinction for most people between reality and television we are all basically living now on "The Survivor" and only the hardest, leanest and meanest will be successful in confronting The Challenge, currently known as Facing Down Evil. As the clock ticks down to final doom, we must be Real Men and do whatever it takes, torturing, spying ,killing and lying. We cannot let Fear be a Factor. The Enemy laughs at pussy liberals and leftists and academics and queers who worry about Rights and Justice and shit which are just abstract concepts after all, not like real guns or real blood. The tough ,pragmatic realists are resigned to having to save and protect the apologists and appeasers (many of whom wear glasses and are smallish) though they are none to happy about it. After all, survival of the fittest. The hero Jack on 24 will do anything, anything, without blinking. We would all put our lives in His hands, this old testament, unflinching savior. In the society of the spectacle the tv and the bible and the conditions of development ,production and distribution all coalesce around that image played over and over of the Great Towers crumbling down, struck by technological prowess used for Evil. The clock was ticking and we could do nothing, we couldn't change the channel. Everything changed and nothing changed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

They Did it Too

The conservative blogoshere, in explaining away the Big Brotherish tendency of the Cowboy In Chief ,has adopted that clever rhetorical strategy used by seven year olds the world round, They did it too! Sure Bush may have stomped on the Constitution but "he conferred regularly with Democrats". And sure they are monitoring what people do in libraries but "Clinton did it too". And sure they based their decision to invade on faulty evidence but "the dems saw it too" ( note: they actually manipulated the evidence but my point is..) or ,sure we were torturing people and doing secret renditions but "Clinton did the same thing". If Nancy Pelosi or Rockefeller or Clinton was in on it, send them to jail to. Delay, Abramof and Scanlin are going to have lots of company but fortunately for us, prison building is a booming industry.

Texas Senator Cornan didn't try that clever strategy on the News Hour last night, preferring the tried and true obfuscation tactic and outright disinformation ( the authority is in the Constitution blah blah you need to act fast blah blah) which has been so effective. Bush, meanwhile, said "Congress gave him the authority" and besides, we were only spying on "known al Qaeda operatives and supporters". As if they werent all rounded up a long time ago and sent to secret prisons to be tortured.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Victory

Loretta Napoleoni, author of Insurgent Iraq :AlZarqawi and the New Generation will be speaking at the local bookstore tommorro night so Im blasting through it on this frigid December day. I am reminded of the ties that bind. Describing Zarqawis' entry into the Jihad:

"Thus, like many Arab youths, bursting with energy,Ahmed Fadel's (Zarqawi) decision to become a mujahed was taken without a true understanding of the politics involved.He was motivated to be part of a major initiative, to abandon the marginalization of his life." Mix in a little indoctrination and slick recruitment... one could "put away the frustrations of daily life in the poor suburbs"..."captured by the heroic image and romantic status".

This describes to a T the young national guardsmen interviewed by Tom Brokaw last night, several of whom were wounded and had Traumatic Stress Disorder, who lost one of their childhood buds, were scarred and damaged but claimed it was the best thing they ever did, gave meaning to their lives, hoped to re-enlist, didnt know what else to do with their boring lives now that they had experienced war etc etc...

After reading Patrick Cockburns interview in NL Review 36 I came up with this, to help me sort it out somewhat. It would be like driving in the Bitterroot Valley (where I live) and going through some towns that were Protestant controlled and some that were Catholic ( think N.Ireland) Larger towns, like Hamilton, might be Protestant domain but have enclaves of Catholics, say between 3rd and 6th streets between Ravalli and Adirondack. Within the Catholic group would be subgroups loyal to a tribe, maybe Italians (Tikriti or Turkoman) and within that a further clan division, the Rossinnis. Within these religious groups would also be more or less radical sects, Wahhabi or Salafi Protestants with their own agenda.These groups could unite if the valley was attacked by North Dakotans but otherwise they would fight for autonomous power between themselves. There are also the political parties in this mix, Dems, Repubs, Greens etc only membership falls along basic religious/tribal lines.Now lets say all the irrigation water belongs to the Protestant O' Reilys in the north end of the valley and the Catholic south is a desert. All the infrastructure in the valley is destroyed from war and twelve years of economic sanctions imposed by the North Dakotans, everything of value has been looted ,there is no clean drinking water and infant mortality is skyrocketting, no sewage treatment and the electricity is on for two hours then off for four so you can't refrigerate anything (your elk thaws) because also it is 115 degrees. There is 60% unemployment, kidnapping and sectarian murder, crime ,and if your car is stolen you go to the stolen car mart on DeSmet Ave. to buy it back.You don't make much fuss because the vendors have automatic weapons. In come the North Dakotans who want to hold elections so they set up polling stations, put little bottles of purple ink around and tell you to get democratic. Did I mention the several thousand Catholic fundamentalist suicide bombers from Idaho?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Justice for All

In her essay Reframing Justice in the New Left Review 36 ,Nancy Fraser makes this salient point.
“..an adequate theory of justice for our time must be three-dimensional. Encompassing not only redistribution and recognition, but also representation, it must allow us to grasp the question of the frame as a question of justice. Incorporating the economic, cultural and political dimensions, it must enable us to identify instances of injustices of misframing and to evaluate possible remedies. Above all, it must permit us to pose ,and to answer, the key political question of our age: how can we integrate struggles against maldistribution, misrecognition and misrepresentation within a post-Westphalian frame?

Modern social movements use the word Justice as a focal point around which to rally those with moral concerns about conditions of oppresion including poverty, tryanny and inequality. Our local group Community Action for Justice in the Americas use it in this overarching way, anti-war slogans such as No Justice No Peace use the broad brush as well and our nations' Pledge of a
Allegiance makes the claim our Republic stands for Liberty and Justice for All.
Inspired in part by Arundahtis’ poetic description of our struggle as one for an “expansive, magnificent concept of justice”, I have been searching for definitions and analysis that could provide a framework for building a peoples power built on just the type of “integration”, or synthesis suggested here by Ms.Fraser. Lets look at some of her descriptive terms in more detail.

She begins her essay by describing the Keynsian-Westphalia frame, in the not –so –long-ago heyday of Social Democracies, as the space where disputes concerning justice were presumed to take place. "Keynsian" described the economic sphere while "Westphalian", after the Treaty of 1648 which established some key features of the modern international state system, describes the territorial dimension. Her argument is that in the era of “globalization”,or transnational migration of capital, culture and opinion, the questions of where citizens seek remedies for injustice and how that space is determined are crucial to our struggle. If the social processes shaping our lives routinely overflow old territorial borders where do we go to contest injustice?

Maldistribution is the area materialists are most focused and it has always seemed the most logical place for the spark of change to first ignite. Various Marxists, socialists, anarchists etc. will argue that the economic dimension is where equal participation is in the first place subverted but Ms Fraser is persuasive in showing it to be but one equal leg of a triangle of injustice. Recognition is best thought of as the area of rights and respect and forms the second leg. But these “first order” questions of substance, such as how much economic inequality does justice permit or what constitutes equal rights, questions once expressed within the old territorial frame, are now joined by second -order, meta-level questions of representation. What is the proper frame (globally) and who are the relevant subjects entitled to a just distribution or equal recognition? This third dimension is the political and here Ms.Fraser finds that misrepresentation, in the form of misframing, is globalizations characteristic injustice. As she explains,who sets the frame determines who is a member ,with rights and recourse, and who is a non-member with none, a non person in effect. She calls for a radical participatory democracy to determine the shape of the new frame for a globalized world, a shape formed by institutions, laws and political space. Membership to this new democracy would be based on the “all-affected principle” which holds that all those affected by a given social structure or institution have moral standing as subjects of justice in relation to it.

One issue I see is in" specifying a procedural standard by which we may evaluate the democratic legitimacy of norms.” Ms.Fraser concludes “the latter are legitimate if and only if they can command the assent of all concerned…” If she refers here to absolute consensus by “all-affected” I fear the process would be unsustainable. A more representative form of democracy, if not majority rule then some other fair standard might necessarily be employed but I certainly applaud her commitment to parity. I also think this question of “framing”, while seemingly abstract, to be of paramount importance for understanding the multi-tiered problems and challenges for those seeking justice in this modern, expansive era.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Happy Holidays

All you pinko athiests by now have figured out you are in the epicenter of the Santa Battle, the newest front in the Culture War. The American Exceptionalism (beware, those who accept this concept are Blame America Firsters and will be advised to Love It or Leave It) that brought us Lincolns "last, best hope of earth", Madeline Albrights "indispensible nation" and many other such"City on the Hill" type pronouncments, is deeply rooted in a Protestant Millennialist nationalism that provokes the ire of the conservative defenders of Christmas.With God firmly on our side, this crowd is outraged they should be asked to bow before some false idol of multicultural political correctness. To do so would in effect be to deny our "calling".

"God, Senator Albert Beveridge declared during the debate over the annexation of the Phillipines,' had marked the American people as His chosen nation to ...lead in the redemption of the world.' John Hay, Mc Kinleys Sec .of State, described the Indian Wars as 'the righteous victory of light over darkness...the fight of civilization against barbarism." Its not much of a stretch from there to Saint Ronalds second inaugural( via Peggy Noonan) where he described Americans as "one people under God, dedicated to the dream of freedom that he has placed in the human heart,called upon now to pass that dream on to a waiting and hopeful world" and of course to Bushs' "we have been called to help the spread of freedom by the Maker of Heaven and the Author of Liberty." It is just this delicate mix of religion and politics which Sistani hopes to sustain in Iraq,but one I thought we had abandoned in the modern pluralistic democracies long ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Two Fronts

Two exciting movements in the world of anti-capitalism, the events in Tokyo where protests have again broken out against the unjust, undemocratic structure of the World Trade Organization and the social movements of Latin America which are making great strides toward worker emancipation through electoral processes and grassroots organizing. It is sometimes difficult to recognize areas where this movement for justice and against neo-liberal capitalism is making gains but wherever in the world these trade ministers try to meet a great opposition is now there to greet them, a phenomenon that has developed in the last decade. And though most Americans remain unaware of the movements in Latin America, this to is soon to change. One lesson we should take away from our experience in Iraq, any anti-war movement that does not make the linkages to the hegemonic ambitions of imperialist power will not remain cohesive or coherant and will simply be incorporated into the general Spectacle. What could have been a powerful third front in the struggle for justice is now devolving into PR battles and politics.

Whole Cloth

I guess it was those images of rampaging racists in Austrailia that prompted this wondering about the durability of what is refered to as the "social fabric". Instances of total breakdown in order and civility, if only for brief flashes, have been in the news lately and here I am thinking of the scenes of rioting in the streets of France and the looting and violence in New Orleans following the hurricane but this could certainly be extended to include the looting of Baghdad, race riots and soccer meelies. Or to the extreme edges such as Rawanda, Somalia, Uganda and other hells on earth.

We assume this thing we call civilization has some solid foundation, a certain social order and contracts and a system of laws to prevent that return to the jungle but it seems evident the heart of darkness lies festering just below the surface. I can explain racism, even note its role in Marxist theory, and I think we can explain rage, the sort displayed by those drunken Aussie bigots. But it is still shocking to me to see how thin the veneer of civility is and how close utter chaos.

In my effort to explore the possibility of synthesis/synergy between groupings of those who self identify as anti-capitalists, I have been delving into the realm of economic theory. There is of course way to much to learn so I am trusting my instincts and skimming the material but I am finding many historical divisions still exist and the arguments of various disciples ,if anything ,have hardened. I am woefully uneducated in this discipline and am much more comfortable with (and enjoy discussing) the philosophical and political aspects of revolutionary theory but feel some knowledge of the various strains of socialist and anarchist economics is crucial. It is these sectarian splits which seem to be at the root of disagreements on tactics, strategy and visions for a future society. I wonder to what degree these historical models can prove use useful under modern circumstances and whether I need to become an economics expert to be an effective advocate for radical change.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fight For Your Mind

Indulging my masochistic tendencies, I listened to Hannity again on the local clear channel. He was doing a "Tookie Death Watch", interrupting the anti-liberal diatribe every so often to announce the hours, minutes and seconds till Tookie Williams was executed. Compassionate conservatism.

In a transperant effort to demonstrate his newfound knowledge of the intracacies of the Iraq resistance, Pres.Bush explains how it is composed of "rejectionists, Sadaamists, terrorists, ex-baathists"( he may have had a few more "ists"I've forgotten) Whatever happened to " Kill em All and Let God Sort em Out"? That was how VietNam era warriors rallied, screw the psuedo-analysis. Much more honest and straightforward I might add.

How can we avoid collaboration? By understanding it's nature. "the Spectacle is a permanent opium war waged to make it impossible to distinguish goods from commodities, or true satisfaction from a survival that increases according to it's own logic. Whereas at the primitive stage of capitalist accumulation 'political economy treats the proletarian as a mere worker' who must recieve only the minimum necessary to guarantee his labor-power,and never considers him ' in his liesure,in his humanity'these ideas of the ruling class are revised just as soon as so great an abundance of commodities begins to be produced that a surplus'collaboration' is required of the workers. All of a sudden the workers in question discover that they are no longer invairably subject to the total contempt so clearly built into every aspect of the organization and management of production; instead they find that every day, once work is over, they are treated like grown ups ,with a great show of solicitude and politeness, in their new role as consumers. The 'humanity of the commodity' finally attends to the workers' 'liesure and humanity' for the simple reason that political economy as such can now-and must- bring these spheres under its sway. Thus it is that the totality of human existence falls under the regime of the 'perfected denial of man'. Debord

Monday, December 12, 2005

Clean Gene

It could be said my political life began with Eugene McCarthys' presidential campaign, when I spent a couple of months canvassing for the enigmatic anti-war candidate at the tender age of fifteen. Gene forced the dems to face a crucial test, their failing of which still has ramifications today. His challenge of Johnson was nearly unprecedented, Robert Kennedy was murdered, Humphrey was a loser, Nixon was one of the most vicious, depraved, calculating and corrupt republicans ever ( and that is saying something) Tumultuous times indeed.

Vonneguts book A Man Without a Country recieved a mixed review from A Wiser Man Than I but I find it filled with the usual Kurt gems. (my politics may have prejudiced me)
For example, he informs us the oft quoted "religion is the opium of the people" is a "casual truism,not a dictum". Marx himself had used opium to control pain."He was grateful for the relief it had given him. He was simply noticing, and surely not condemning ,the fact that religion could also be comforting to those in economic or social distress."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

War Tunes

World War I produced some rousing ,popular songs but this phenomena has diminished with each sucessive war. The only genre of patriotic anthems for the VietNam ,the Gulf War and now Iraq (ok, it's an occupation) is country western, which is basically the special olympics of music. So it is no surprise that our local radio station, which plays country western, also carries the Limbaugh and Hannity call- in shows and the overall level of discussion is, well, refer to a couple posts back about Budlight and breasts. Our Republican Senator Conrad Burns is a real Budlight country western guy.His only qualification for running for high political office was a drawl cultivated as a radio announcer himself, doing the agriculture report. ( price of beef, bushels of wheat, hog futures etc..) Conrad now finds himself mixed up with Abrahmoff and listed in a new report by Citizens for Resposibility and Ethics in Washington (oxymoron?) as one of the thirteen most corrupt members. Therefore , country western music ( Im not talking about Hank Williams here) must be stopped, banned, curtailed.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Rose is Still a Rose

It is hard to discuss things when the terminology is so poorly defined. Labels, names and characterizations have just become another front on a linguistic battleground where obfuscation is a very effective tactic. Take away peoples ability to discuss anything meaningfully and they are totally disarmed. Take our political classifications. Right and Left. Liberal and Conservative. Democrat and Republican. On the left there are two very basic differences determined by ones economic philosophy. If you do not accept capitalism as the best way to organize an economy you are a big L Leftist, not a liberal and you may or may not be a democrat. If you still accept capitalism as the best way to organize but are socially liberal you are still refered to as being a lefty and are probably a democrat. Of course there is enough gray area in social issues that moderate conservatives and and moderate liberals often have no differences between them, so right and left lose any meaning altogether, as does "friend or foe". A progressive may desire reform of capitalism to make it more equitable or just be very liberal on social issues but he is ok with government playing an active role in promoting "the general welfare" of citizens and so is lumped in with lefties. The right on the other hand is not as burdened with all these gradiations. They all believe in capitalism and they are all conservative, with some variation in their degree of libertarian leanings. Their view on the role of government is entirely situation dependent and their support of Republican policy varies widely. They can be wild spenders on the military and corporate subsidies. They can be "pro-choice" on abortion and "pro life" on the death penalty, "pro- death" on assisted suicide and "ant-choice" on stem cells. Or visa-versa.

To muddle this up even more, throw in the concept of class with it's economic and cultural conotations, the idea of white collar and blue collar workers and you see why there is no longer much value in these descriptives. The working class right-winger who believes the government should protect his industry is as prevelant as the wealthy left-winger who sends his kid to private school. And with the general shift to the right in American politics, someone like John Mc Cain who is described as a moderate would have been an extreme right-winger just twenty years ago. In 1912 ,the Socialist candidate Eugene Debs got 900,000 votes. Now the anti-capitalist left has no political voice at all.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Redneck Pride

While I am on the subject of anti-intellectualism, anti-leftist cultural identity issues, here is an e-mail I got on thirty things you'll never hear a Montana Boy say:

30. Nope, no more for me. I'm driving.29. I'll take Shakespeare for 1000, Alex.28. Duct tape won't fix that.27. Come to think of it, screw Bud Light, I'll have a Heineken.26. We don't keep loaded firearms in this house.25. You can't feed that to the dog.24. No kids in the back of the pickup, it's just not safe.23. Wrestling's NOT fake.22. We're vegetarians.21. Do you think my gut is too big?20. I'll have grapefruit and salad instead of steak & potatoes.19. Honey, we don't need another dog.18. Who gives a damn who won the Super Bowl?17. I'm voting for Nader this year.16. Too many deer heads detract from the decor.15. I just couldn't find a thing at Wal-Mart today.14. Trim the fat off that steak.13. Way to go Bush! Sign that Kyoto agreement now!12. The tires on that truck are too big.11. I've got it all backed up on the C: drive.10. I'm gonna buy a Ford Aerostar instead of that Dodge Cummins Diesel 4x4.9. My fiance, Rose, is registered at Tiffany's.8. I got two cases of Perrier for my rodeo belt buckle!7. Checkmate.6. She's too young to be wearing a bikini.5. Hey, here's an episode of "The Dukes of Hazaard" that we haven't seen!4. I don't really have a favorite NFL team.3. Peace.2. Those shorts ought to be a little longer, Honey.1. Let's hire the gay guy.

Keep in mind this came from Budlight Buttians. Our local radio station carries Limbaugh and Hannity.Seans' guest today was G.Gordon Liddy who was promoting his new holiday calendar.The theme this year is Stacked and Packed, large breasted scantily clad young women carrying weapons of various kinds. See #s 26, 16, 6, 3 ,2 above.

An Odd Patriot

Lonestonerevolution posted a while back on that curious expression of nationalistic zeal, patriotism, and then I happened to start a book by that old contrarian, Orwell. In 1940 he wrote: "Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred, and always stronger than any kind of internationalism. As a positive emotion it is stronger in the middle class than in the upper class... in the working class patriotism is profound ,but it is unconscious."He is referring here to the British and because this patriotism is a unifying force,because "the nation is bound together by an invisible chain,... it follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes appears". Threatened by Fascism he found this cultural characteristic a good thing and felt England best resembled a "stuffy ,old Victorian family".

In an inverse relation to patriotism were British attitudes towards intellectualism. Orwell himself is the quintisential, cranky, non-intellectual intellectual. "The power-worship which is the new religion of Europe, and which has infected the English intelligentsia, has never touched the common people. It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense left"...and "generally negative, querulous and lacking at all times any constructive suggestion." Irresponsible, carping, emotionally shallow, Europeanized and separated from common culture, ashamed of their own nationality, squashily pacifist. "Almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during 'God Save the Queen' than stealing from the poor box". Purely negative creatures, they" took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence." Sounds a little like Rush Limbaugh.

To that other great revolutionary Lennon, thanks John for helping to turn me on. You still rock.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Troutsky and The ISO

First,I just have to say, the sunrise out my window, the beautiful golden light on the fresh snow,all contrasted against the most intense blue sky of this freezing morning,is at once as sublime and stark as a Coltrain riff.

We are talking about praxis over at lonestonerevolution and Im reminded of my experience with a socialist organization, the ISO. When I saw the notice for their meetings at the university in Greensboro, North Carolina I thought right on, an opportunity to find comradship, learn, and hopefully organize actions to build a movement or party or something in opposition. The first thing that struck me on arriving at my first meeting was I was by far the oldest one there and likely the only non-student. This was an area losing manufacturing jobs by the thousands, whose working class was used and abused,whose unions were under constant attack. Where were the workers?The format was a talk on a pre-arranged subject having to do with basic socialist theory or practice followed by a question and answer period aimed at converting "newbies", disgruntled or curious students with little or no background knowledge.Basic questions were handled by a select group of young people well versed in straight party doctrine while the more technical questions went to two university professors who obviously acted as mentors and "vanguard". Curmudgeon that I am, I would poke and prod for a slightly more elevated level of critical analysis. I didn't drive an hour and a half through the rain for simplistic capitalism bashing or ISO spin on current politics, I wanted to talk about why the world revolution had failed or argue about the negation of the negation or the theory of labour-power but the profs would shake their head and say "this is not a debating class".There was never any question of organizing general strikes or boycotts because the consensus was the struggle was not at that level. I was less convinced but found no space for argument.Every week they expected each comrade to take a stack of their little dogmatic paper and sell them for a buck. I worked on a construction site with guys who wouldn't know Eugene Debs from Charlie Parker, and besides ,I was a little embarrassed by the often simplistic and overstated content of the thing.

To their credit, they were engaged in populist actions such as anti-war demos, anti-trade agreement activities and civil rights battles, all good arenas for recruitment, agitation and education. They had a strong presence in DC at the big marches as well as statewide protests and at university or community forums they were a strong and articulate voice of opposition to the reactionary as well as moderate, liberal line. One of the strongest feelings of hope and solidarity I have experienced was marching with a huge socialist contingent in Miami just before Timoney let loose with his shock troops and the beatings began. I enjoyed drinking beer with the group after meetings and trying to corner individual students for deeper discussions but when, in my favorite role as devils advocate, I would question their support of Hamas, or Castro I was confronted by the leaders and told my criticism was counter-revolutionary. I was a subversive subversive. On the one hand I felt the level of struggle in the area was such that they could be far more active organizing the workers but I also felt they could be far more engaged in the necessary theoretical and intellectual work that needed to be done.They seemed to think theory stopped at Trotsky.They totally missed the point of "endless revolution". My critique was unwelcome.

Here in Montana, I feel the level of struggle is even less advanced and the working class even less aware of the contradictions of their situation or their options for change than in NC. but that is just one opinion and a process is needed to explore this crucial question.The general situation, an unpopular war, rising inequity in terms of wealth, priveledge and power, a growing revolutionary movement in Latin America all present opportunities to agitate for radical change but the reality is that reactionary social forces are ascendant, using effective economic, religious, mass media, in short hegemonic ,strategies ,("molecular'integral, invisible control) which call for a well crafted, multi-faceted and equally integrated response. We need action to keep motivated , but only action that has strategic value. As Marx pointed out in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, we need to avoid letting our "good intentions to 'go ahead' outweigh the knowledge of facts".On the other hand we cannot let "the greatness of the thing" keep us from beginning.There is little energy and no time to waste.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Masstige

This is a new term by our friends over on Madison Ave. to market prestige for the masses. Hard for a fishing guide to wrap his mind around perhaps, but this campaign manifests itself as a program for renting designer handbags by the month. As the young ,female, status -conscious project manager described it on the radio, rather than spending the two hundred dollars a month she normally does for these handbags, she could just rent one for a fraction of the cost and still remain fashionable. Is this a great country or what?

Boz Scaggs sings: So much desire in the world today, so much of everything you can't give it all away. You could be happy but your feeling so bad about what you never had. You ca't look at nothin without wantin it. who was it told you, you had to have everything you see?


Far from being the prescriptive, rigid, dogmatic thought system characterized and sucessfully demonized by its opponents, I believe as Garaudy does that "Marxism contains within itself, in its very principle, infinate possibilities of development and renewel."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Co-management

Thanks again to the Mutualist for some great links concerning self-management principles, co-operatives, co-management and other models important to those of us looking for new economic systems. What I find impressive is the fact these are not propadandistic promotion pieces but self-critical examinations of facts as they exist on the ground. From the invaluable Venezuelanalysis comes these honest and necessary questions:

And, indeed, this kind of partnership between workers as private owners and the state as owner is certain to produce one problem after another. Who owns the means of production in such a hybrid? Who will invest? Will the state and the cooperative invest in accordance with their existing ownership shares? What if the cooperative is not able or willing to do so? As long as these relations are not changed into true relations of co-management (a partnership between workers as producers and society), it is not difficult to envision one of two alternative directions emerging: (a) the transformation of state property (legally or, simply, in fact) into the private property of particular workers or (b) the restoration of capitalist relations with the workers relegated to the position of wage-laborers who are also share-holders. In either case, the idea of co-management is discredited

Many of us are looking for signs of anti-capitalist hope in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. A clear explanation of the failure of worker co-management in Germany and self-management in Yugoslavia needs our attention.How do we prevent workers from becoming the neo-liberal capitalists they replace, how to keep from being co-opted and incorporated ourselves? Within the forms of democratic, participatory and protaganistic forms of production and divisions of labor, combined with some form of state and or worker ownership lie answers.

Michael Albert demonstrates his willingness to engage in this necessary critical examination with a look at Argentinas' defensive workplace projects or 'factory recuperations". These are factories abandoned by capitalists and managers and re-opened by the lower tier workers. Albert confronts the empowerment conundrum within hierarchical structures and the problems associated with competition within a market such as motivation, training and re-investment.

I would love to join my comrades in making a recuperated factory work again for the benefit of the workers and society rather than the profit of a few. Instead my job for now is to learn as much as I can and share with others.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dharma Wheel

Or like in the movie Groundhog Day , I sometimes feel like Bill Murray, unable to get off the merry-go-round. "We are living in a moment of crisis...in every branch of our spiritual and material civilization we seem to have arrived at a critical turning point.This spirit shows itself not only in the actual state of public affairs but also in the general attitude toward fundamental values in personal and social life. There is scarcely a scientific axiom that is not nowadays denied by someone. At the same time almost any non-sensical theory would be almost sure to find believers and disciples somewhere or other." Max Plank 1933

I don't know that our current crisis compares with the one of which he laments for history only helps us look in one direction (and that with certain reservations) and an observer of ones own time is unreliable at best. It does seem though that there ought to be some consequences for being wrong, over and over and over. Some grand tribunal ,perhaps, that says you know what, you supported segregation, Barry Goldwater and the war in Viet Nam, you don't get to have an opinion or certainly make any more decisions for the rest of your life. Because you just can't be trusted. Game over. But no, they keep voting for Reagan and Bush and suppporting the contras and the war in Iraq and breeding more little patsies for the status quo. Half of them dont accept Darwins theory of evolution, according to recent poles. According to my own pole ,three quarters of them don't understand it. A little harsh, yes, but Iv'e been reading neo-con blogs and...