Friday, August 31, 2007

Some Unanswered Questions

I went back to an old post and found these questions by Wiser Man Than I directed towards yours truly. Talk about pointed, these questions, formed after some of his reading, are the crux of some of the most controversial issues discussed by Marxists since he wrote his thesis. First:

"Labor reform, as opposed to revolution, is counter intuitive. Is my understanding correct and do you agree with Marx on this one?"
First, I assume you are referring to Marx's belief that reform in general was counter productive, which opens up the whole can of worms of "left wing" communism, of unions or even 'progressive" politics in general. Are Marxists waiting for or encouraging such a crisis or rupture that the revolutionary consciousness is released like a magic gas? Wouldn't any relief directed toward the working class just delay such a crisis? Must the poor suffer even more before gaining "salvation"?

It is true that many early Marxists interpreted the economic formulations of Capital as deterministic "proof" that capitalism simply created the conditions for it's own demise (over accumulation, decline of profit + class conflict = socialist revolution). When world revolution did not occur and the Soviet Union turned into a dictatorship of bureacratism, several competing narratives emerged to explain capitalisms resiliancy and some did a closer reading of Marx's work on political economy to see what the others had missed . While Gramsci developed the concept of hegemony, some delved off into Marxist philosophy,(the Frankfurt School) to see if the answers lie in a psychological or sociological terrain. One of the more interesting synthesizers was Mandel,(who I am currently reading) who revived the work of Kondratieff and the concept of economic "long waves" and insisted on an "open Marxism" which could assimilate the new objective, concrete, conditions of the specific historical moment in it's analysis. (techno innovacion,social forces, CLASS CONCIOUSNESS, monetary system, ideology etc etc.. In other words, a complex matrix which included rate of profit, but much ,much more. Marx could not see these "waves" of course,because he wrote at the end of the very first one.

Having discarded the strictly "determinist"aspect of Marxist theory, we are still left with the practical question, to reform or not to reform? In light of the theory of "waves" I think we must look at all efforts towards reform and judge them by their organizing possibilities. Are they radicalizing in their methods, do they have an internal logic which makes clear the necessity of ending capitalism or not? Seen in this way, anti-war organizing only makes sense if it looks to the cause of wars in general and looks to "end the next war". Anti-poverty reform is valuable if it awakens people to the ultimate cause of poverty, the wage and profit system. Human rights struggle only has value to the extent it makes clear the issue of economic justice, in other words, if in each case it points to systemic and structural cause and enhances class consciousness. Our union organizing only makes sense if we point out our ultimate goal is to end the need for unions.
Working for progressive candidates only makes sense if at the same time you reminfd voters they cannot vote for a democratic economic system.

This in part answers Wisers other great question "Is socialism inevitable, Is revolution required for that which must eventually arise anyway?" Here it is a question of defining "revolution" and opening a territory for new models and forms of resistance. On one end we have the Bolivarian Revolution which hopes to work in a constitutional and democratic framework, we have the Cuban revolution, with it's authoritarian and statist tendency and we see innovative revolutionary practices such as workers councils, the occupied factory movement , collectives, Paracons, and other horizontally organized social experiments. I think it important to remember that historically speaking , the same conditions which hold promise for socialist revolution also provide openings for extreme right wing movements such as fascism and nazism or left wing abberations such as Stalinism. So, no, socialism is far from inevitable. It requires an amazing amount of work and sacrifice.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Continued Ranting on the Subject of Spudheads

Just struck a nerve I guess, and I happen to live right next door, but this article from the AP on self-hating Larry illustrates a broader point. The quote: "Idaho Republicans possess a fiercely independent streak, characterized by a heavy dose of libertarian values and distrust of the federal government and the media. They generally hold deeply religious beliefs and conservative values."

Sounds just like a state full of John Waynes! Except that he was an illusion, a myth, as is this meta-narrative being enforced by the corporate media. Rather than showing any semblance of "independence", the all white citizens of Idaho are cravenly subserviant to the extractive industry lobby and the political machine (with accompanying ideology) they have built. They think (if that's the proper term) with one mind. The reason Larry Craig WAS on Mitt Romney's campaign was due to the one mind Mormons that predominate in the "Famous Potato" state. As for "libertarian values and distrust of the federal government, they are one of the most federally subsidized states in the nation and every young Idahoan dreams of joining the federal military so they can go kill "terrorists". And if "libertarian" refers to the large white-supremacist movement and NRA membership, with their links to Christian Millenialism, then John Trochman is our modern Payne. As for deep belief in magic and "conservative social values" it is true they are by and large racist, sexist and homophobic. There. I read Don Young and Murkowski are fighting for their political lives as well. Sweet revenge.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Goodbye Larry and Good Riddance

Perhaps I should not be so hasty to judge but Larry Craig is such a hateful bastard I want him to roast even if he's innocent of this particular crime. (soliciting sex) My anonomous reader clucks to himself. Living in the Rocky Mountain west and being involved in environmental issues I have run up against corporate whores like Larry and his buddies (Helen Chenowith, Ted Stevens, Tom Tancredo, Conrad Burns, etc..) who pander to the religious right, the gun-nut libertarians, sagebrush rebels and assorted marginalized, double- wide whackos to promote their zenophobic, racist, profit-loving agendas. Whether it's finishing off endangered species for the mining, timber or agriculture lobbies or hacking up the landscape for Big Gas and Oil, these "cowboys" are all hat and no horse. They also turn out to be drunks, womanizers or repressed closet gays who manage to maintain their "Good Christian Family values " facade because their constituents are more gullible than labradors.

Im sure Larry's defense will be that he was to drunk to know what he was doing. Helen is gone, Conrad is gone , Tom is gone and soon Larry will join them.Ted Stevens is under investigation for some greedy little scamming of the tax payers money. Perhaps Dennis Rehberg is not to far behind.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Nobel and Knowable

"To conquer conscious control over it's social existence has today become a matter of life and death for this species. In the end it will succeed in realizing the noblest of all it's aspirations: the construction of a humane, classless, non-violent world socialism." Ernest Mandel

Either socialism or barbarism, as Rosa explained, and we are sure seeing plenty of THAT. Chomsky gives a pretty good run-down of the US role in a new ZNet article Cold War II. Even more acerbic than usual it starts: "These are exciting days in Washington..."

Im going to assume The Atlantic magazine is mostly picked up by concerned liberals and a quick look at the first few pages is instructive.The first two page spread is by Chevron where they explain: "True global security will be a result of cooperation and engagement, not isolationism. When investment and expertise are allowed to flow freely across borders, the engine of innovation is ignited, prosperity is fueled and the energy available to everyone increases."
Remember when they were just tring to convince you you would get laid more often if you had brighter teeth or whiter shirts? Now you get a lecture from Milton Friedman!
Next you get a full pager by a pharmacuetical corporation, then Merril Lynch, GE and a couple of car companies.

The article Snow Fall is about the world wide fall in prices and increased supply of cocain, despite the 4.7 billion Plan Columbia has cost since it's inception. Tied in with repression, murder, displacement, political chaos etc.. the article quotes the US State Dept. saying "it cannot reliably tally coca production." This after spraying an area the size of Delaware and Rhode Island with poison.

Next page, an ad by Altria Group, parent company of Phillip Morris, with this enlightened sentiment: "Responding responsibly to the evolving expectations of society, shareholders and governments is something we think is crucial to our future. Perhaps now more than ever." What happened to cigarettes will make you more like a cowboy on the open range?

The next page gives us a blurb on the situation in Karachi (not good) and a rundown on a report that warns us "without meaningful change in the countries educational system, the madrassas and the violent extremism they encourage are likely to become even more powerful." Change the structure of education or the structure of meaning? Next an ad for BMW , followed by a couple more oil companies. NPR keeps advertising some book (every half hour!) called Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism. See how they set up the frame, the false dichotomy? These guys are always thinking! They know if they lose the liberals it's game over.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Militant Research

More heavy lifting in the "intellectual production" category, this time a book Che Bob recommended called Constituent Imagination. Published by , you guessed it , AK Press, it is edited by Stevphen Shulkaitost and David Graeber with Erica Biddle. Some essays are dense as plutonium, such as the essay by the Colectiva Situations and Antonio Negri's piece, others are quite accessible but all in all it is worth the read .

Negri captures a sentiment of mine when he says "The term 'democracy' is not a happy one for sure, but we have no others". His general thesis in Empire, written with Hardt, is that "In modernity, the development of capitalism developed via the state; but today, in post-modernity, capitalism has re-appropriated the whole of the social fabric at the multi-national level, and only resorts to nation-state intervention when necessary." Personally ,I agree with Arrighi's critique that Negri is jumping the gun a bit and is identifying one possible trend, but state intervention continues to be "necessary" pretty much constantly, especially now in our condition of permanent war.

Something else I have run into in my reading of late is the different methods of dealing with power.Negri speaks of "making power" rather than the taking of power, as in Mandels Marxism. Solnit and a lot of these anarchist variations speak of "dissolving power". This is embodied in the term "potencia" but like other horizontalist terms it is somewhat sublime.

On the other end of the "density" spectrum is the lingo of the IWW, which is very old school and jingoistic, in my opinion sacrificing nuance and depth for accesibility. Reminds me of ISO polemics and their funky little paper.

This concept of "militant/active/radical research"..which.."becomes a political tool to intervene in the processes that are moving us towards a neoliberal world" needs to be explored and I still like the idea of theatre, pranking, clowning to create our own "situation".

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another Week Flies By

While I was messing with this computer Wiser Man than I scooped me with the "one in four read no books at all" story. A paragraph that caught my attention which he did not mention went :"Southeners who do read however, (they were the worst region for reading) tend to read more books ,mostly religious books and romance novels, than people from other regions...those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently."

I'm not going to read to much into this but suffice to say I am still recovering from the four years I recently spent in N.Carolina. Next to this article (Im reading the Butte Standard) was one which read : Credit Crisis Bush tries to Calm Investors as Fed Bolsters Market with Cash Infusion Market Socialism won't work any better than the Neo-Liberalism they try to force on every poor developing country but at least they could call it what it is in the mainstream press.

Here is a bumper sticker I saw at the grocery store the other day: "Reintroduce Grizzlies They Will Make Good Wolf Bait"

I heard a great talk by Chris Hedges called Christian Totalitarianism in which he de-constructs the right-wing fundamentalists and their destructive effect on our so-called democracy. His assertion that this extremism is born of economic hardship (he cited the burgeoning movement in the rust belt, Ohio in particular) seemed a little dubious. I saw this strain thriving among middle and upper middle class southerners and it has deep roots in parts of the Rocky Mountain west that have had steady economic growth. I see it more as a cultural reaction to modernism but am sure economics play a partially determinate role.

Ill leave you with an original poem: The Weapons of Mass Destruction

The weapons of mass destruction, were in a little house (so white)
It was really hard to find them cause they were in a little house (so bright)
We searched and searched forever, (no light) but we never could forget
the axis was always evil (our plight)
Now I just want to forget.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction, they must be somewhere now
The Weapons of Mass Destruction, we'll never know just how
we lost so many weapons.....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where Is Ike When You Need Him?

How many folks benefit from the arms industry? Lots! Capitalism knows how to reproduce support.
"Washington has been insisting that there is no military solution to the region's trauma," Smith writes. "Yet it is proposing not only $20 billion in weapons to the Saudis but another $13 billion to Egypt and $30 billion to Israel -- a total of $63 billion for weapons in a part of the world already awash in modern arms. And this total apparently doesn't include $40 million in guns, bullets, rockets, missiles, small arms ammunition, night vision goggles, and spare parts for the Lebanese army this year and another $280 million for 2008. Nor does it include the $3 billion Iraq is spending on weapons and ammunition -- all of which are contributing to the current mayhem in these two countries."

How many people "Support the Troops"? Lots. Nationalism knows how to keep us in line but these soldiers have busted through the Fog of War. (they read some history)
"Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere.There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers.The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take... In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self repect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are , an army of occupation ,and force our withdrawal."
Buddihka Jayamaha is a US Army specialist, Wesley D Smith is a sergeant, Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant, Omar Mora is a sergeant, Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant, Yance T Gray is a staff sergeant, Jeremy A Murphy (shot on Aug 12 , survived) is a staff sergeant

Thanks to Common Dreams for these quotes. Can an anti-imperialist support the troops, support the resistance and oppose religious fundamentalism?

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Two Faces of Hope

The terrible smoke from local forest fires drove us out of here for the last couple of days so on our way out of town I stopped at the wonderful Book Exchange and picked up some beach reading. (We went to Lake Couer d'Alene, heart of awl, in Idaho) One was a short collection of essays by Rebecca Solnit called, simply, Hope in the Dark. Written in the despair that followed the amazing activism in the Spring of 2003, it is a call to renewed organization and agitation and a reminder that we can't always know the results of our actions of struggle and resistance.

The other book I picked up that day is The Legacy of Ernest Mandel (I know,I know, I have a "narrow focus") which is a great introduction to a theorist and activist of whom I had little knowledge. But what a wonderful surprise! A direct heir to the Trotskyist foundation of revolutionary socialism, his writing and lifelong activism exude the kind of hope Solnit writes of despite the vast differences in approach. As an economist and social scientist, Mandel worked through a Marxist lens to form critical analysis of both "late capitalism" (the title of his most famous work) and of Soviet bureaucratism. Because of my poverty of economics training ,I struggle with all the formulaic jargon of "social product" and theory of value,etc. but I think the spiritual Marxism, the revolutionary humanism and allegiance to Enlightenment values (with all the tension that entails) for which he dedicated his life should be an inspiration to all of us trying to find light "in the dark". Coupled with my recent reading of Murray Bookchin I am discovering my own (till lately unknown) theoretical roots.

What was fascinating were the points of divergence in these two works dedicated to hope. Solnit, who in a more post-modern vein takes great pains to avoid labels, finally confesses to having anarchist tendencies in line with the new "horizontalism" and associates more broadly with the "anti-corporate globalism" struggle and other "progressive" causes (environmentalism, indigenous rights,fair trade etc) than with world revolution or the Left per se. In what I criticize as a sentimental, "New Age" approach, she says :"When we talk about a movement we are not talking about a specific poulation or a specific agenda but a zeitgeist, a change in the air." All in all it smacks of liberalism with it's "pathological pacifism" and reformist tendency. While I dont dismiss her efforts in dealing with real issues, nor have a problem with incremental change as a tactic, it is telling that in many of the instances she cites as reasons for hope in 2003, things are now reversed in 2007. Mandel ,on the other hand, remained an unapologetic Marxist to the end and when others were scurrying for new labels or modifiers he was doing the hard work of analyzing the complex structures of capitalist logic and opening avenues for new inquiry. Im honored to call them both comrades and am more convinced than ever of the truth of my path.

Here is a taste of the Ernest Mandel we need in our present struggle: " Socialists believe that Doomsday can still be averted if we increase the degree of rationality of our collective behavior, if we strive to take the future into our own hands. That is the freedom and self-determination we are fighting for. To believe that humankind is incapable of it is not 'being realistic'. It is to assume that men and women are congenitally unfitted for self -preservation. But that is utter superstition, a new version of the myth of 'Original Sin' " Hope, all the way baby.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Emma Would Be Proud

The Wobblies are back! The Missoula chapter of the IWW was re-born last night and I got my first union card, a lovely black and red, I might add. Folks might remember that Missoula was the sight of a celebrated free-speech fight in 1909 initiated by Wobblies there to organize local loggers and other timber workers. As described in her autobiography Rebel Girl, Elizaebeth Gurley Flynn was joined by such stalwarts of the workers movement as Jack Jones (no relation), St.John and Frank Little ,who was to die at the hands of goons hired by mine owners in Butte eight years later.They packed the jails till the city (and the business interests which controlled them) finally gave in.

We will humbly stand on the shoulders of these giants and continue the struggle for which they gave so much. There is lots to do in terms of education, building coalitions and finding allies amongst the other local groups working for social, environmental and economic justice but we are going to be a force to be reckoned with and Missoula is going to be seeing a lot more red and black.

Dow Jones lost a couple hundred MORE points today so expect Brittany Spears to flash that money maker or Pat Robertson to take a pot shot at Chavez.Something ,anything! Distract and deny. Another lovely day in Operation Iraqi Freedom Land as well, bombings, kidnappings, helicopters crashing and leaders all lunching. So it goes.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Still Alive and Well

Sometimes it's kinda hard to tell but Im still alive and well! I hope I can interest some of you in renewing your regular "readership" on this blog, I thrive on your input and the discussion it (usually) stimulates. I leave blogging in the summer because my job completely absorbs me and my time and Im also starting to think it is an unconscious mechanism for maintaining what little sanity I have left. I see very little media and spend very little time around a computer for a few months and there is definately something "healthy" about that.(another discussion,perhaps, for another time)

On the other hand I still believe in the power of this new medium(blogosphere) to further the revolutionary project to which I am wed and so I look forward to another fall and winter of sharing my thoughts and perspectives and trying to build a movement for radical change. And So:

Much of my research lately has centered around the contradictions (conflicts?) between existence in capitalist society, culture and (their motor) political-economy and living what I describe as an Authentic Life. One aspect of this contradiction is described well in the phrase "a shift in the structure of experience" which I found in a poem by Anne Winters called The Displaced of Capital

"A shift in the structure of experience..."
As I pass down Broadway this misty late-winter morning
the city is ever alluring, but thousands of miles to the south
the subsistence farms of chickens ,yams and guavas
are bought by transnationals,burst into miles
of export tobacco and coffee; and now it seems the farmer
has left behind his plowed under village for an illegal
partitioned attic in the outer burroughs.Perhaps
he's the hand that emerged with your change
from behind the glossies at the corner kiosk;
the displaced of capital have come to the capital

Used without permission (sorry) google it and check out the rest

She speaks of the more obvious manifestation of such a "shift" while I have been contemplating the more subtle and to me more frightening shift described in the Marxist-New Left tradition as alienation and explored in depth and labeled The Spectacle by Debord and others. Several questions arise when we speak of this change in the "structure of experience", questions at the heart of much violent conflict and "resistance" to modernity. These questions are about power and the control of meaning, about who and what mediates between us and authentic experience and about the role of an individual as producer, consumer and citizen in a post-Enlightenment,post industrial world.

We all realize the obvious forms of mediation as we are propagandized by a corporatocracy and it's government agents, we all know about the procedures of Madison Avenue, the New York Times and Tony Snow. But how deep reach the tentacles of the "lifeless, bright ,sameness" of the Market? How do the "deadly solicitations" of a commodified culture affect our ability to reason, to find meaning or develop an ideology or philosophy to live by? How is our language , history and even spitituality transformed by commerce and commercials, business and busy-ness?

Just a few light topics to get things started again fellow thoughtstreamers!