Monday, January 30, 2012

Another Fork in the Road

Sooner or later the question comes up: What about property relations? Occupy danced around the issue by convening in public or semi-public spaces and claiming first amendment rights to assembly. But those Leftists will always show up who want to push the issue and say: What about property with locks on the doors? In the case of Occupy Oakland yesterday, they attempted a squat in an empty Convention Center (which I believe is owned by the City) but nonetheless is differentiated from a park or courthouse lawn by those same locks.

In Argentina, after the 2001 economic collapse and capital flight, several empty factories with locks on the doors were occupied by the former workers and put back into production.This was private property and really called into question the relationship between the state and capital. We know how conservatives react to such an affront but what about more liberal or progressive factions? Here is a comment on the Dissenter at Firedoglake thread which calls the question:

"I know quite a few people who got involved in Occupy Oak when it got started: mainstream progressives. The local view of this–not what’s fed to the MSM–is that participation has steadily shifted to the “traditional leftist/anarchist” activists (the folks who belonged to the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade back when I was a Berkeley). Taking over Kaiser “because The People own it and The People need a place to sleep” is a big step beyond where the vast majority of the progressive crowd is, and this is annoying the vast majority of the folks who support the Occupy movement in general.

The OPD is definitely not past it’s ugly “Riders” past, shoots before asking questions, and should rightly–along with the very confused Jean Quan–be beaten over the head with their stupidity and inability to approach the situation without making it ten times worse.

But sorry folks, the Oakland Occupy “consensus” is detrimental to the cause because it destroys so much “capital” (as mentioned a couple of times above) that has been getting the movement closer and closer to getting actually positive mainstream coverage. I’m with them that we should do more to help the homeless, but they’ve hijacked the cause for their attitude and goals that even progressives have no problem calling “Trotskyite”…."

Our own local Occupy Missoula was quick to call for a condemnation of protester "violence" using this same logic of "mainstream" sentiment and political "capital" being wasted. My feeling about the Black Bloc is that they are often anti-political lifestyle "anarchists" running on testosterone and dystopia movies, headbanger music,energy drinks, etc..Burning flags is tactically stupid provocation. But legitimate anarchist questioning of private property and the desire for a militant escalation of tactics, such as squatting to start a social center, needs serious discussion. I think it is the next phase of a movement too focused on legalistic and electoral remedies.

It is a complex unity and consensus will be difficult, wrenching even. May Day is coming up. This was just a glimpse.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Too Many Kinds

I just heard Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel parrot the line "There are many different kinds of capitalism." A vast array of both liberal and conservative defenders of the profit system are using this tack and so I started compiling a (partial) list of the various "kinds". Here we go:
Anglo-Saxon, Mercantile, Industrial, financial, State Welfare, state guided, family,entrepreneurial,oligarchic,managerial/big firm, regional/national such as Chinese, Nordic, South Asian etc.., crony, vulture, hyper, mutated, raw, pure, corporate, neoliberal, new, conscious, natural, rogue, late. Whew.

The problem with these types of categories is taxonomic. There are not enough quantitative differences to become qualitative. Each "kind" bleeds into the other and as you add and add the difference goes from negligible to incoherent. Add a little state, subtract a little individualism, throw in a dash of democracy or corruption, stir. Still capitalism. They all breed with each other so they are all the same species and it is far more useful to talk about the traits they have in common than their comparatively petty differences. Unless you are just trying to muddy the water.

Speaking of muddy, Barry Lynn's piece Killing the Competition in the Feb. Harpers is an opaque paean to those "real", "open", markets you hear so much about but never actually see. "REAL MARKETS have equality between buyer and seller, perfect transparency and", I love this, " a tendency to deliver egalitarian outcomes."

Barry locates the Open Markets for us: "The revolutionary achievement of the American people two centuries ago was not merely to establish an independent republic. It was to prove that every citizen in that republic could be independent , economically as well as politically." Uh huh. Every "citizen". The "open markets proved to be as fundamental to our democracy as the ballot box." It's like being back in sixth grade.

Of course, "right from the beginning these markets proved hard to keep." You had the "lords of industry and the prophets of socialism joining hands to defend the "scientific" rationalization" but the people and Wilson fought them off and began "restoring some of the open markets we had lost". Unfortunately, "by the 1970's our open markets were once again under siege."

Even if you can get past the revisionism, the thing that jumps out is his lack of curiosity. He never asks WHY. How do you sell such complete bullshit to Harpers?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Trying To Stay Cool (through a Montana winter)

A portion of Occupy Missoula met last night to discuss: Money in Politics, or Why the People Have No Voice. This follows the Move To Amend action/rally last week where Missoula turned out almost as many folk as Washington DC! As we went around the circle explaining our positions on the issue (and in some cases their whole life story and political philosophy or lack thereof) I found myself grinding my teeth, trying to remain patient and understanding, trying not to roll my eyes as liberal after liberal repeated the familiar mantras of that mundane, frozen, self-deceiving/perpetuating creed.

Because so many of these people fight the crazy conservative onslaught daily, from relatives and co-workers and internet comment threads, and feel as though their "progressive" backs are up against the wall, for me to challenge them from the Left in these settings seems almost cruel at times. But challenge I must.They search for positive actions around which to build unity but fail to reflect on the history or theoretical basis of their pre-suppositions. They believe in their hearts that Occupy is bringing new life to a populist revolt and so they demand their government be more accountable. With Rachael Maddow and Thom Hartman and Bill Moyers and Stephen Colbert on their side, they just know their anger can be translated into better policy.This time it will really happen. This time will be different. Somehow.

It was ironic to me that on the television below Barack Obama was delivering the quintessential Liberal Clarion Call, inveighing all the poll-tested catch phrases of "fair play" and "level playing fields" and "American values", acting as though he was honestly unaware that every President for fifty years had not stood on that same podium and used the same tired cliches and received the same elite applause.

I didn't do a very good job explaining the capitalist state or hegemony or the current crisis of democracy but at least people were receptive to the idea of asking for "what they really desire."To think a little bit more expansively, try using their utopian imagination, to be a bit more daring in this little free space we have carved out for Tuesday evenings.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Euro Trash Pres.

In his acceptance speech Newt makes it clear he won't go for any Saul Alinsky Left Wing Euro-Trash Socialism. Even if it means abolishing the Fed! Their "football" is played by girls, for God's sake. And after he's elected,you won't see a lot of THOSE people driving around in Cadillacs cashing their food-stamps either (wink wink). And by shrinking the State he will make capitalisms troubles go away.

But what is this State apparatus, this government, this administrative bureaucracy everyone hates? A mystery.As Richard Seymour tries to unpack the British form:

"The mystery of the state would not go away, because the state would not go away. Far from retreating to the perimeters of the 'economic', guarding its boundaries but otherwise allowing 'civil society' to go about its business in laissez-faire fashion, it was everywhere, pro-actively formulating and implementing agendas and strategies, domestically and overseas. War, sanctions, special forces operations, internment, deportation and special rendition are only the most brute, mail-fisted manifestations of the state. What about the coordination of ideological agendas on 'Britishness', 'integration', 'culture' and so on? What about the coordination of bank bailouts, and subsequent austerity programmes? What about 'workfare' and privatization? In fact, it seemed increasingly apparent that whereas the capitalist class itself was constantly divided, constantly at its own throat, rarely capable of sustained class initiatives by itself, the state was always there doing something that in one way or another furthered the reproduction of capitalist relations in new ways. And insofar as it did this, it seemed to be not just a state but a capitalist state.

Part of the mystery dissolved there and then. It had been a mistake to try to penetrate the core of the state as a sui generis form. There can be no general theory of the state. The state is not an eternal form that recurs through successive ages, modes of production and social formations, and to read it as such tends to lead to a Hobbesian view of the state as an instrument for the suppression of 'anarchy' (social conflict). At most, one can have a general, descriptive outline of what distinguishes a state apparatus (special bodies of armed men, etc), or a genealogy of types of state, noting the factors that recur (though even these factors will have an entirely different content, and stand in different relations to one another, depending on the historical epoch in which they are embedded). But it is possible to have a theory of the capitalist state, and the best way to approach it seems to be confront the state in its setting, the social formation."

These election cycles often present windows into the social formation of the state. Each politician who wants to go to Washington declares his disgust with "Washington politicians". So there is the wanting to be the thing you despise (every manager gets to feel this at some point).There is the whole acting through something you know is a farce aspect, like negotiating with a used-car salesman.(Everyone hates negative ads but they are influenced by them)

Yes, as Steve Earl put it:"With an empty feeling in my chest, wondering what it means."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Noam Gets It Right

"Any good capitalist democracy needs to keep the rabble in line. To make sure that they are atoms of consumption, obedient tools of production, isolated from one another, lacking any concept of a decent human life. They are to be spectators in a political system run by elites, blaming each other and themselves for what is wrong."

Noam Chomsky

"The Spectacle is the bad dream of a modern society in chains and ultimately expresses nothing more than it's desire for sleep."

Guy Debord

"As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than their rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them."


"Fight for your mind!"

Ben Harper

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Move To Amend

Much of our local Occupy Missoula efforts are being directed into the nation-wide campaign to amend the Constitution so that corporate "person-hood" is abolished. Progressives believe that, especially since the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, elections, and by extension,politics more generally, are corrupted by the influence of corporate money. Because corporations are "persons" with first amendment rights to free speech and since money has been ruled to be speech yada yada..

What I personally find interesting here is the confused discourse about free agency and individual sovereignty or autonomy on display. If I insist that "citizens" minds are colonized by capitalist ideology so that the only choices they find rational are within that limited ideological range, I am told this is far too simplistic, that people are aware of ideology and besides, no one is in a position to make such judgements about others.(just my ideology speaking "through" me)

Yet it is accepted at face value that a barrage of simplistic corporate election advertising and "messaging" in fact determines peoples attitudes and beliefs and causes them to vote for one or the other candidate (irrationally).

So how aware are we of ideology? How susceptible? If Rick Perry spent 200 billion dollars on 24/7 advertising for five years would you HAVE to vote for him? (in a sort of hypnotic trance?). Obviously such persuasion, or the "manufacture of consent/desire" works or they wouldn't spend those huge sums on it.

Theodor Adorno famously said "All are free to dance and enjoy themselves...but freedom to choose an ideology- since ideology always reflects economic coercion- everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same." Going back to Chomsky, when he claims there is a "democracy deficit"(as evidenced by polling which runs counter to policy) is he not claiming people ARE rational agents, but that their representatives are simply unresponsive? Isn't this directly counter to the notion of "manufacturing consent"?

The fact is, capitalism doesn't need it's own SuperPac. It's ideology is disseminated 24/7 every day FOR FREE through each and every cultural exchange, through the education system, through kinship networks, at work, etc etc... A barrage of advertising might persuade Joe Sixpack to support either Venture or Vulture capitalism (though the difference will never truly be clear to him) but whether corporations are persons or whether they can spend unlimited amounts of money on elections doesn't really matter at all because Joe will always choose the same ideology.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Creative Destruction

The process within capitalism whereby the old is replaced by the new has been called "creative destruction" since Marx coined the phrase. This is what Romney is actually defending without actually saying it in so many words. I doubt that Perry has heard of it. It is most commonly associated with economist Joseph Shumpeter but I like this description from Marshall Berman:

The truth of the matter, as Marx sees, is that everything that bourgeois society builds is built to be torn down. "All that is solid" — from the clothes on our backs to the looms and mills that weave them, to the men and women who work the machines, to the houses and neighborhoods the workers live in, to the firms and corporations that exploit the workers, to the towns and cities and whole regions and even nations that embrace them all — all these are made to be broken tomorrow, smashed or shredded or pulverized or dissolved, so they can be recycled or replaced next week, and the whole process can go on again and again, hopefully forever, in ever more profitable forms. The pathos of all bourgeois monuments is that their material strength and solidity actually count for nothing and carry no weight at all, that they are blown away like frail reeds by the very forces of capitalist development that they celebrate. Even the most beautiful and impressive bourgeois buildings and public works are disposable, capitalized for fast depreciation and planned to be obsolete, closer in their social functions to tents and encampments than to "Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, Gothic cathedrals"

The "creative" part of the concept is a close cousin to the mystical "wisdom" of the Market or direction of a guiding "invisible hand"( Adam Smith) ,an ordering Cosmos in laissez- faire ideology as expressed by the Austrian school( von Mises), Hayeck and later Chicago School economists ( Friedman) and now market libertarians like Ron Paul. It is a Force, either of the social-Darwinian-natural-selection variety or of some Higher Power.

What is interesting is how little interested in all this the citizens of the little town in S.Carolina, home of the now-famous "vultured" factory, are. They are used to being blown about. First their slave-based agricultural economy is torn from them, then the textile mills shut and jobs shipped off. Now different manufacturing plants come and go and the suppliant workers just go with the tide. It helps that they are very religious and believe what they see on television.
But it's the only life they ( and our new friend Patrick) can now imagine, waiting to see what factory the Invisible Hand shuts down, which one It puts up, who buys a new pick-up, who gets food stamps, who gets cancer. Just wait and see.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tanned, Rested and Ready

Just back from a great vacation to the Occupied Territory of Hawai'i with sand in my hair, ears and other orifices. Lots of snorkeling ( or as my daughter coined it, dorkeling) with whales, turtles (including the rare hawk-billed!) and fishes, lots of hiking and boogie boarding and hot-tubbing in my never ending quest to relate to bourgeois culture.

So where are we these precious weeks later? See E. J. Dion's piece (link is screwed up) Deep in an intra-party debate over modern capitalism! Newt is joining Sarah P, decrying "crony capitalism where people pay each other off at the expense of the rest of the country." This is not "free enterprise" somehow. You hear this same nationalist-fake-populist rhetoric when talking drill-baby-drill, as if all the oil under "our" soil goes to good, hard working Americans.

Rick Perry has also jumped aboard, talking about a Bain Vultured company: "150 people lost their jobs there. And they made 20 million off of management fees."

Ron "We Are All Austrians Now" Paul sides with Mitt, saying: "I don't think they understand the Market." And of course the US Chamber of Commerce is also nervous, saying it is foolish for Republicans to attack Romney's record as a venture capitalist. Perry is a fool but Newt is shrewd and hopes to straddle the line between "understanding" and worshipping the Market. Joe Sixpack is just getting confused. Romney then gets to reach into his back pocket and beat them with the "class warfare" cudgel, saying: "The country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy."

Of course, Joe the Plumber is a LITTLE envious of the new pick-up his venture capitalist neighbor is driving but... feels guilty. Mitt's words beat at the back of his exhausted skull: " I believe in a merit nation, an opportunity nation, where people by virtue of their education and the hard work and the risk taking and their dreams, (here is where he does the little head tilting Mormon smile) maybe a little luck, could achieve great things. And by the way, as they were successful, they didn't make the rest of us poorer."

Luck means God's favor, of course, and maybe Joe, you're just not leading a righteous enough life. And wealth is not zero-sum, the rising tide even lifts Africans. Once they sign up.