Friday, November 30, 2007

Soft Power

When the fabulously wealthy little nation of Dubai tried to unload some of those petro-dollars buying into the US port business a while back, a furious Nationalist hue was raised. "Security threats" and all that. Yet when Abu Dhabi want's to use some of the dollars American gas guzzlers have been sending their way in order to "rescue" Citibank we get a much different reaction. Either indifference or satisfaction at how effeciently capitalism operates. What happened to the fear of the New Caliphate? "Don't fly planes into our Towers of Power" we are saying, "simply buy the damn things". Less messy.

I obviously don't share the faith in this "invisible hand", but if knocking a half point off the interest rate is all the Fed needs to do to right the universe why not just set interest at zero and create Paradise on Earth? Free Money, Free People, Free Everything! What logic is operating here,and is it a problem if only a small handfull of economists understand this bizarre system?

Perhaps Chavez could have found a better metaphore when he said "It is not strange that when a submarine goes deeper the pressure is increased and can free a loose screw. The weak points are going to leave ,and I believe it is good that they leave." Again, like economics, my nautical knowledge is limited but if a submarine loses to many screws or has to many "weak points"isn't that a problem? Now Correa of Ecuador is following the trend of constitutional tweaking, inserting language to validate spending on social capital, on securing collective rights and enhancing the public trust.

What happened to the immigrants rights movement since March 2006? In the New Left Review Jesse Diaz and Javier Rodriguez repeat a familiar story :"Like any mass protest movement in the US, the immigrants rights movement ran the risk of being diverted into the Democrats' electoral machine". Mainstream Latino leaders as well as SEIU and the National Council of La Raza, Somos America Coalition and the Catholic Church thought they could compromise with the Rabid Tancredo Right and ended up with nada. With law and order capitalism/ zenophobia you end up with pro-amnesty forces lined up against "pathway to citizenship" forces and the Minutemen win. Corporations can put up with INS raids and token fines. Workers are brutalized. Families broken. Melted Pot.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Died and Gone to Heaven

Walking into the "Purple Room" at Powells amazing, four story book store in Portland was an ecstatic experience for an old theory freak like me. I only had two hours and I never left the one shelf! I finally was drug out with five new tomes including Hardt and Negri's Multitude, Deutschers The Prophet Outcast, and Chantel Mouffe's Return of the Political, ( all 'used' and for less than 24 bucks!) In Mouffe I finally find the origin of the name of one of my favorite blogs. "..the Aristotelian concept of PHRONESIS. This 'ethical knowlege', distinct from the knowlege of the sciences (episteme),is dependent on the ethos, the cultural and historical conditions current in the community." I can already see that the books strong argument for a post-modern approach to democratic revolution are going to open more cans of worms among my Marxist and Anarchist friends. Helmut is a big fan of Mouffe.

Civility is breaking down in Bolivia and Venezuela over constitutional reform initiatives (and, to stretch it a bit, Pakistan and France as well). Civility in Gaza ia a hazy memory. Though contingent factors naturally exist in both the Latin American cases, they are basically class conflicts with racial and nationalistic undertones. The quick jump to violence in these concrete examples make Mouffe's argument for a"discursive chain of democratic equivalences" somewhat problematic/idealistic because power never lets go quietly and the polarization and hardening of positions unfortunately seems to portend an eruption. Some might argue the Soviet Union "let go" but forget that millions died in the Cold War, or WWIII.

In his essay in The London Review,Resistance Is Surrender, the always provacative Slavoj Zizek does not put much stock in "the 'post-modern' route, shifting the accent from anti-capitalist struggle for hegemony, emphasizing the importance of discursive rearticulation." ( in fairness, Mouffe emphasizes "distributive justice".) He takes to task Simon Critchley's new book, Infinitely Demanding, which he characterizes as "nothing but the moralising supplement to a Third Way Left." Zizek creates his own contradictions by declaring in the first sentence that "one of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible" and then in the next to last paragraph praising the tactics of Chavez ( grabbing state power, "ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses, militarizing the barrios" and making the new party "function a vehicle for new forms of politics"). He disses the big anti-war demonstrations in Europe and America but then calls for the left to "bombard those in power with strategically well selected , precise, finite demands..". Stopping the war wasn't precise?

Speaking of Gaza, amid all the Annapolis hype and crazy posturing my wife and I watched a documentary last night about the Israeli police and military platoons which had to evacuate the "settlers" from Gaza a few years ago. That was a crazy scene, and then watching the Israeli bulldozers and trackhoes destroying the buildings before they left, knowing that the world would not recognize , much less help the newly elected Hamas government, exposed the real tragedy and lies surrounding the spectacle of the so-called"Peace Process". So sad.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rockin With Rudolf

So I wander into the little used book store on the main drag in Taos and there on a shelf in the back room sits Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker. It is an enthusiastic little polemic and contains both a great deal of value ( for those desiring a basic primer on anarchist thought) and a great deal of historical revisionism which probably should have been avoided.

His basic themes, expanded on from the classic works of Proudhon, Kropotkin and Bakunin, are that association with parlimentary politics (a la Marx/Engles and Lenin) is the ruination of labor movements and that centralized planning and control ( as in either The State or the "dictatorship of the proletariat") must be rejected in favor of an autonomous "freedom", or true libertarian Socialism. From the declaration of principles of the 1923 congress of the International Workingmen's Association we learn that revolutionary syndicalism is "against the government of men", instead it "sets up the management of things". Rocker examines the objective conditions throughout the different societies of the world at the time and the development of anarcho-syndicalist movements in each, always juxtaposing the failed, authoritarian nature of the Bolshevik revolution to the anarchist revolution of the CNT in 1936 Spain. ( The book was first published in 1938)

As someone with an abiding belief that the injustice of modern society can only be confronted with a modern, non-sectarian socialism born of a synthesis of the many branches of our best traditions, combined with the newest and as yet undeveloped thought, I am put off by Rockers partisanship.The simplistic, doctrinal blaming that Rocker indulges in to explain the failures and mixed fortunes of workers movements in the early twentieth century and the un-scientific leaps of logic do little to help us understand complex issues . A more serious examination would honestly confront the obvious theoretical contradictions and incongruities embodied in both classic Marxist and anarchist thought and attempt through a more critical analysis to resolve such questions.

As just one of many examples Rocker states "Anarchism...does not believe in any absolute truth,..but in an unlimited perfectibility of social arrangements.." yet just three sentences prior he makes the absolute claim that "the state can only be what it is :the defender of mass exploitation and social privileges,.. the creator of new monopolies." So apparently the state is the one "social arrangement" which CAN deny "perfectibility". My dictionary defines a state as :a politically organized body of people, and so I wonder what makes these people so unperfectible? Rocker actually seems to disdain politics as such ( what he believes are fine distinctions I find to be contradictions on this point) yet fails to explain where his "associations of workers" end and the polity begins or how society is distinguished from the "organization of collectives". Without politics we will need a new way to know where autonomous freedom ends and governing begins but this is left unexplored as well. It may seem like splitting hairs but power, like property ownership or wealth, is not annihilated simply by re-distribution and some sort of discursive system had best be in place for it's containment and management.

Anarcho-syndicalism stresses important libertarian principles which are essential in the "synthesis" I mentioned earlier, principles such as equality, self determination and democracy and a deep faith in the ability of the worker-citizen to build a just society. It confronts the legacy of Jacobinism within Liberalism and embraces the spirit and creative potential of the individual. It fails when it refuses to confront the dynamic tension which makes social development such a fluid process, and when it assumes justice will prevail simply because it must.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More Open Road

Day Two of The Journey: Woke up in Price Utah and headed towards Moab, Lordy, what an incredible piece of real estate. It was all I could do to stay in the car, in fact I faltered a couple of times and parked and struck out for a ridge to get a view despite the distance I knew I had to travel that day. I remember now the West that seduced me and has held me a willing captive all these years. Arches, Canyon Land, Bryce, Monument Valley, wow.

I started to get a bad feeling as I descended down from Manco into Durango and started seeing the mansions on every ridge. Durango was a one Safeway cow town when I unceremoniously left there thirty five years ago (the judge said buy a bus ticket and never come back, long story) but it too has been turned into EveryTown USA and despite my intention to look up some old haunts I got out as fast as the bumper to bumper traffic allowed. There to Pagosa Springs is a continuous stream of Land for Sale signs but once you drop south towards Chama you are back in the real deal all the way to Taos, the pass out of Tierra Amarrilla down to the RioGrande Gorge being a major highlight everyone should see . Taos itself has fallen prey to the bourgeois blues, all groovy boutique and expensive art,dining, being seen etc with that oh-so-multi -cultural liberalness and eco-friendly Western earthiness Missoula can only dream of. Cynical me.

While I'm on the subject, we went to see the film The 11th Hour, a sort of sequel to Al Gores film filled with predictions of climate doom, disappearing species etc. The villains turn out to be "greedy" corporate bigwigs, much to the relief of the wealthy New Age liberals who all have solar collectors and energy-efficient light bulbs in all nine rooms of their adobe houses. Now,I'm not saying we shouldn't try for a "sustainable" lifestyle, I was impressed by the "Earthship" we toured with it's water catchment system , all off the grid living, idealistic young folk packing old tires with red earth. What I am saying is the film fell just short of pointing out the systemic contradictions when markets meet nature. The old saying was "if you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem" but the hard reality is you can be part of the solution but still be a major part of the problem. I am. You are. It is a shallow consolation to have "been right all along" as we devolve into chaos, destruction and misery (first for poor people) but if climate change doesn't condemn capitalism I can't imagine what does.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Back to the Dark Ages

"If it's torture, it's not constitutional." Or so says our new Attorney General in a classic Orwellian moment, and so we may assume that if it's constitutional , it's not torture and if it's not torture , it is constitutional. Isn't the rule of law a beautiful thing? Conservative pundit Rich Lowrey took a different tack on the NewsHour and just said waterboarding seemed acceptable to him, under the right circumstances. Said circumstances to be decided by psuedo-intellectual technocrats such as himself but we can assume they are inspired by the popular show 24. He said journalists had volunteered to undergo the procedure and found it somewhat less than tortuous.( it was pointed out by Mark Shields that when you know it's just a "demonstration" it tends to be a little less terrorizing) Rich says you do what you gotta do, as the French understood in Algiers. I would actually be willing to pay good money to test old Rich's endurance, terroribility, were he willing to back up his little hypothesis. Schumer, Fienstien et al got tired of quibbling over such semantic trivia ( organ failure, Big Pain, etc) and I'm glad Poor Kurt Vonnegut did not live to see this.

So what is it about the uniform? Cops and soldiers throughout history seem so ready to enforce the power of a ruling elite from which one would think them to be totally alienated, at least in terms of identity and values. A thousand examples exist where the uniformed individuals turn on the people and the class from which they come and enforce the States will. All revolutions hinge on this crucial allegiance but what determines it's strength? Why would the Burmese military turn on their monks? Why would Pakistani soldiers lock up human rights lawyers, Latin American soldiers torture their own people in service of a junta or Chinese soldiers fire on citizens gathered n Tiennamen Square? And on and on and on.

I just finished Go By Go, a novel by local author, jazz afficionado, and culinary critic Jon Jackson wherein Frank Little's murder is finally revenged. Jackson is best known for his detective series ( Fang Mulheisen) and he does an admirable job re-creating the rough and tumble Butte of 1917. The book is dedicated "To The Workers of the World" and methinks i need to buy Jackson a beer next time I run into him and see where his sympathies lie.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Love ,Art and the Open Road

Three things that give me strength when the trail gets steep and I am starting to stumble. My family and friends, especially that steady rock that is my loving wife, ground me so I can deal with the daily trials and tribulations which are the stuff of life in this universe. When I get to caught up in the politics and arguments , villians and vipers, I've got my hearth and home, dinner table and easy chair to realign my sense and sensibilities. Through all the ups and downs this clan remains tight, though we drift in and out of orbit , disappear and re-emerge back into each others lives like strange cosmonauts.

Art, really just the fact that it exists, reignites my faith in the larger project. Painting, sculpture, poetry, music, literature, dance, these are the tangible evidence that civilization and all that it implies are possible at least and the struggle against barbarity has some meaning. I don't know what "progress" is but some sort of trajectory seems to be implied in a Coltrane solo. Not that cave art wasn't sublime, but every couple hundred years or so a new door seems to open and a Shakespear or Ella Fitzgerald seems to step through the threshhold. And a reason is perpetuated to try to get us through another couple hunderd years.

Then there is that wonderous freedom that is the open road. I spent a lot of my life as a vagabond, enthralled with that ever moving horizon, and though I have settled WAY down for many years now I still hear that siren call. And I still measure satisfaction, at least in part , in terms of miles travelled. I am hopping in my little car early Tuesday morning and heading down into the high desert country of New Mexico where I've got a little work (enough to cover expenses and maybe a little extra) and a lot of country I haven't seen in a long while. I spent time in the Four Corners area, Durango, Cortez, Farmington, back in my cowboying days but I am going to see some new territory around Santa Fey and Taos on this trip. I can't wait to get a little truck stop coffee buzz going and watch those telephone poles whizzing by, the white line stretched out ahead in this amazing country I call home.

I'll be back in a couple of weeks, rest up a couple of days and then head to Portland to be with my oldest daughter and her husband for Thanksgiving. Get over to the ocean for a few days, try to look up my old buddy Billy Mac Kay, check out the Portland Wobblies, spend a day at Powells Books( my daughter says everything in the Purple Room -radical heaven- is on sale). I suppose I'll end up owing a few carbon credits but if the War Fucker In Chief would get us out of Iraq there might be a few to spare for old road warriors like myself.