If you want to understand the schisms on the left... understand that the CPUSA went apeshit attacking Dylan as a traitor for this performance.
A space for open discussion and blogging among communists and radicals.
If you want to understand the schisms on the left... understand that the CPUSA went apeshit attacking Dylan as a traitor for this performance.
This article first appeared on Kasama in English. The following is a translation into russian from Liva.
Посмотрите, что довелось испытать нашим братьям и сестрам – и только лишь за одну прошедшую неделю, перед Первым мая.
Бангладеш: Обвал восьмиэтажного здания фабрики убил здесь более 300 рабочих и работниц. Трещины в здании образовались еще за день до трагедии, но и владелец здания, и инспекция полицейского управления, и собственники фабрик-потогонок, находившихся в здании – все они заявили, что здание безопасно, приказав рабочим вернуться на свои рабочие места. Сотни человек вошли в эту смертельную ловушку. Причины этого преступления видны невооруженным глазом: беспощадная алчность эксплуататоров, коррупция субподрядчиков, соучастие правительства и полиции. Мы видим результат безумной жажды прибыли, овладевшей глобальным капиталом.
Почему же страх рабочих перед угрозой потерять рабочие места оказался сильнее страха за свою жизнь? Говорит ли это об отчаянии, нищете и беспомощности этих рабочих и работниц? Вскоре после того, как совершилось это преступление, в Бангладеш началось восстание рабочих и работниц швейной промышленности. Они вышли на улицы городов своей страны с красными флагами восстания и черными траурными флагами. По меньшей мере, две швейные фабрики были сожжены рабочими в ходе этого восстания. В репортажах из Бангладеш сообщают, что два владельца фабрик обратились за помощью к полиции – и вовсе не для того, чтобы получить заслуженное воздаяние за свои действия. Наоборот: они надеются, что полиция защитит их от наказания.
By Mike Ely
Just look what our brothers and sisters suffered through in this last week.
We know of four that reached the headlines – but we can say with certainty that there were many more, this very week, that remain unknown and unreported. Perhaps because they were farther from news reporters. Or because the owners successfully hushed things up. Or because the dead were merely in twos or threes....
the bold, clear, powerful, unapologetic voice for freedom at Woodstock.
During 1885 a circular passed hand to hand through the ranks of the proletariat in the United States. With the following words it called for class-wide action on May 1, 1886:
“One day of revolt – not rest! A day not ordained by the bragging spokesmen of institutions holding the world of labor in bondage. A day on which labor makes its own laws and has the power to execute them! All without the consent or approval of those who oppress and rule. A day on which in tremendous force the unity of the army of toilers is arrayed against the powers that today hold sway over the destinies of the people of all nations. A day of protest against oppression and tyranny, against ignorance and war of any kind. A day on which to begin to enjoy ‘eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.’”
A century ago, on May 1, 1886, a general strike broke across the United States. Within days it would culminate in the events forever associated with the name Haymarket. In 1889 the founding congress of a new, second, Marxist International named that day, May Day, for worldwide actions of the organized working people.
Through all the twists and explosions of these past hundred years, the tradition of May Day has developed and spread: as a day when class-conscious workers and radicals of all countries take stock of their situation, make their plans for the year ahead, celebrate internationalism, and declare their determination to carry their struggle through to the final goal of communism throughout the world.
In many countries, battles rage to proclaim May Day as a day of revolutionary struggle after years where it has been suppressed or gutted by revisionists.
in 1984 the newly formed Revolutionary Internationalist Movement issued its Declaration on May First and since then has called for celebrations and struggle on May First in countries across the planet under unified revolutionary slogans. Today, just as throughout the past century, May Day concentrates in embryo the leaps and prospects of the world revolution.
In light of this May Day tradition, we offer a look at the Haymarket events.
A friend of mine posted a quotation from Leon Trotsky, and I'd like to share some comments that it raises.
"Capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism."
Leon Trotsky, What is National Socialism?
by Mike Ely
I don't think 1930s fascism was a recycling or resurrection or manifestation of past "barbarism." And, looking at this more generally, the historic approach to fascism and politics embedded in the famous phrase "socialism or barbarism" is wrong. It is a misunderstanding of fascism, and is rooted in a wing of socialism that saw itself as the inheritor of the "civilizing" project (with all the pro-colonial blindness that such socialists often shared).
Barbarism, for those new to this as a political-historic term, was a term used to describe clan-based societies before feudalism -- like the Germanic tribal societies fighting the Roman empire, or the African societies confronting European colonialism. Earlier societies (what we generally call "hunter-gatherer societies," were once called "savagery.") In other words, in popular speech, "barbaric" is generally descriptive term (something brutal, amoral, unrestrained) -- but for both Marxists and those embedded in European culture, barbarism has been a much more specific term, referring to a threatening, nihilistic world of barbarians threatening "Western civilization."
There was, in human society eight or ten thousand years ago, a moment when class societies first started developing out of earlier tribal/clan societies. And that process was accompanied with important developments of civilization (literacy, laws, infrastructure, medicine, intensified commerce, urban life, replacement of barter with money, the diminishing of constant violence through the development of distinct official bodies of armed men, etc.)
We should not be cultural relativistis who mistakenly see all societies as equal, and who don't see any overall progress in human social development. But, regarding the term "barbarism" itself: We should find a way of discussing pre-class societies that doesn't act as an extension of reactionary European narratives.
We had a healthy even heated debate among Kasama moderators today about how to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher. Afterwards, wandering around, thinking over what others had said, I stumbled upong this gem of an essay from AWOL (Angry Women of Liverpool).
With a special wave to my comrades here at Kasama! Here is an excerpt (it is the last part of the essay):
Where do you stand on singing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead?”
"Tough one. The history of witch persecution is fraught with the very foundations of modern capitalist and patriarchal oppression, as anybody who’s read Silvia Federici knows. But there are so few songs you can sing joyfully about the death of somebody thoroughly deserving.
"You want a proper argument in defence? Give me a minute.
"OK, got one. The cultural connotations of “witch” in the modern day are so fragmented, having passed from fairy tale and myth through church/state persecution, a modern reinvention as “Wicca”, developing into a full-fledged sub-culture with often positive portrayals in TV drama and children’s literature, it could be argued that the word “witch” is now primarily a fairly neutral term for a female magic-user and serves only to denote the profession of the woman in question, not her moral status. After all, the song takes care to distinguish: “Which old witch? The wicked witch,” suggesting that wickedness is by no means assumed by the term’s use.
"If Glinda, the good witch, can allow the munchkins their song of triumph over the ruby-slippered menace that has oppressed them for so long, who am I to begrudge it?"
A wave of celebration has washed over Britain and many other places. Margaret Thatcher, a symbol of reaction, selfishness, capitalism and imperial war, has finally died. People wish her legacy could be shoveled underground with her.
There are many reports of celebration (including here in the U.S.)
A personal note
I generally don't celebrate the death of reactionaries (outside war). For a number of reasons..... BUT this is an exception - and not just for me.
In this moment, in my heart, I just feel like an ex-coalminer. I remember in my gut the fury and frustration and impotence, as this Prime Minister crushed the coal miners of Britain... their communities, their allies, their children, their lives, their hopes, their expectations. It was a slomotion crushing -- painful, inexorable, deliberate, and (like her) intended as a class "lesson" from a brutal instructor. It was both violent force of the police but also the demoralizing mobilization of a visible, ascendent rightwing social force determined to remake their society.
I do not forgive this. I do not forget this. It was a war -- a class war. And her utterly heartless and deliberate actions left us all with a deep and deserved hatred.
She is dead. To hell with her. We celebrate. And we look forward to the day that everything she stood for and fought for follows her to death.
The following appreciation first appeared on Louis' blog The Unrepentant Marxist.
As a film critic by avocation and one with little use for Hollywood, I had mixed feelings about Roger Ebert but mostly tilted toward regarding him as part of the Establishment. Now with his passing and after I’ve had some time to review his career, particularly those aspects of it that were reflected in the Marxism list archives, I am tilting in the other direction, especially after taking into account what he had to say about Hugo Chavez. On October 31, 2003 I posted his review of “The Revolution Will not be Televised”:
"Why was Chavez not our friend? It all comes down to oil, as it so often does these days. Venezuela is the fourth largest oil-producing nation in the world, and much of its oil comes to the United States. Its price has been guaranteed by the cooperation of the nation’s ruling class. Chavez was elected primarily by the poor. He asked a simple question: Since the oil wells have always been nationalized and the oil belongs to the state, why do the profits flow directly to the richest, whitest 20 percent of the population, while being denied to the poorer, darker 80 percent? His plan was to distribute the profits equally among all Venezuelans."
Now I ask you. Doesn’t this sound like an excerpt from a review that I might have written?
Let's start here... I am proposing we explore and adopt (provisionally) the following view:
The fundamental contradiction of capitalism is between socialized production and private appropriation. It has two forms of motion (at the level it erupts into view): First the class conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The second is the antagonism between the organization of production within individual factories and corporations and the inherent anarchy of production in society (caused by rival centers and loci of accumulation).
And if we deny the "anarchy-organization" form of motion, we lose an understanding of conjuncture and event -- about the ways the workings of capitalism constantly create wars and crisis that drive people toward revolution.
I just got word (from Bill Martin) that Roger Ebert has died -- presumably of the cancer that he fought for so long.
Roger was one of the most prominent film critics in the U.S. (based here in Chicago). He was a firm anti-racist, a lifelong progressive, and a deeply thoughtful observer of the cinema.
He was also a generous person -- miles away from the cranky world of some leftwing critics. He genuinely loved people, life and (of course) the movies.
""I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine... Mad's parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin—of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad magazine."
My family and I love film... we watch it often (and in the actual movie house when we can). And we rarely made up our minds without asking "What does Roger think of it?" He always took a broad view, one that was respectful toward wider mass audiences, and that took pleasure in the diverse ways that movies brought conflict and ideas to life.
There was certainly a lot to disagree with in Roger's commentary -- how could there not be? And now may not be the time to dig into all that.
One point to raise: He energetically waded into controversy when he declared (in 2005) that video games are not art -- saying "video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful," adding however that "the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art."
That opinion aside (and perhaps ironically), Roger's work speaks to some issues we have recently been discussing here on Kasama which started over how to evaluate video games (and in which we assumed they should be approached as a form of culture and folk art)..... a discussion over how to view our culture and its conflicts, and how to nurture (within it) those currents that have a bright sparkle of rebellion and creativity about them.
Here is the first published remembrance I have seen, I imagine that others will follow. But for now, the first one will do.
[The picture above accompanying this post is the first "big bad" you encounter in Bioshock Infinite: the "Mechanical Patriot" is a hateful, murderous and decrepit George Washington, one of the "Founders" worshipped in the rightwing theocratic distopia of Colombia.]
Curtis Cole wrote a detailed and highly critical review of a new video game, Bioshock Infinite. He concluded that because of the way the game ultimately depicted the underground resistance (the Vox Populi) that it was (overall and ultimately) "false progressive" and really promoted reformist accommodation to capitalism at best.
I find Curt's essay to be thoughtful, but its verdict is pretty one-sided and overly negative. I have tried to explore why we can't judge cultural works solely through a close textual read of their plot and details.
That previous thread was started by Curt's post "Bioshock Infinite (A Class Perspective).
At this point, our discussion is no longer mainly about just that particular video game -- but how we evaluate all kinds of events and people around us.
by Mike Ely
The core argument Curt makes is this, so let me try to unravel it:
"This contextual approach then carries over into the game itself and is one of the reasons why I created the label False Progressive: because at the end of the day everything in our media culture has a narrative to it. Since we live in a bourgeois society, with bourgeois artists at the forefront, the class character of the vast majority of media/cultural commodities have a bourgeois slant to them. I believe that this slant, so thoroughly imbedded as it already is, can affect the political development of the viewer/gamer which enjoys its activity."
If we use this approach we might as well declare "Everything in our culture sucks and serves capitalism. So the only issue with each work is how exactly this particular piece sux." The final verdict and outcome of any investigation would be assumed -- before we even start.
The press and the U.S. government have been hysterical about both North Korea and Iran potentially having deliverable nuclear weapons.
In any discussion of this, we have to start with a very basic historic and military fact that is almost universally ignored in the public discussion around us: The U.S. is the only power in the world that has ever used nuclear weapons (in the bombing the civilian cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945). And the U.S. has used nuclear weapons every day since... to threaten countries all over the world with its massive (unmatched) arsenal of nuclear weapons.
About North Korea...
by Mike Ely
I have been asked several times about controversies that have emerged among revolutionaries over "What is the principal contradiction on a world scale?"
I would like to start commenting on this topic by giving some background, so that more people can understand what is involved, and have a common sense of the history of these important questions....
by Mike Ely
Hmmmm..... Into fighting the rightwing theocrats? Hate racist bigots? Furious over the smug conservatism of empty lives? I have two words: Bioshock Infinite -- the first person shooter video game that just dropped.
I'm only a few hours into it... and of course the long awaited plot twists lie ahead (which may have 1984 spine snapping betrayals involved). But regardless of that... here is something that (with humor and intelligence) skewers what is ugliest about this shining city on the hill... uh, well, actually (in this case) floating high in sun-soaked clouds.
The value here is not merely that this is entertainment suitable for those of certain our (uh) politico-subcultural proclivities... but that this game could help us think about ways of presentation that actually touch people today.
Here comes a spirit of a disdain for the right and the complicit, a troubled wide-eyed stumbling through our society as if seeing it with newly awakened horror.
The landscape of the U.S. these days is often dominated by a belligerent foaming vengence movement of white Nativists and religious theocratics -- whose ravings disproportionately define the debates of the society. Against them stand... what? Who?Maddeningly, dangerously, there seems nothing firm, or visible, or radical, or visionary.
This causes an abdicated space here for radical voices to potentially claim -- voices that could emerge forcefully from their current marginalized void -- speaking for and to those who hate the buy-and-sell of capitalism, the nauseating consumer culture that ruins the planet, the veiling by lies (that makes people illegal, aliens, and invisible), the rampant self love of bully patriarchs, the patriotic sneer of a uniformed global lynchmob... In short, everything that the word America is tagged with.
People (truly millions at least!) want some counter-pole that has spine, and bite, and punch -- for a rejection of this American revanchism (either of the openly racist, or the mindlessly Christo-wackjob, or the cynical Ayn Rand gimme-gimme.... or some evil mix of all three).
And we need to find ways to radiate that contra-vibe, imbue it with a communist vision.... and, then through work with many others, back it with substance (built out muscle, bone and ideas of a maturing movement).
More on claims some make of having (and promoting) "the science of revolution":
Marxism (at its best) is scientific.
But there is not some "science of revolution" lying in the spoon drawer of sciences (along side the science of biology, and the science of evolution, and the science of physics.) That picture is a misunderstanding of science, and a misunderstanding of Marxism.
Historical materialism is the part of Marxism that aspires to a scientific approach to history and the liberatory potential within society... while dialectics (another part of Marxism) concerns philosophy and methodology, and while the larger world of communist works form (within Marxism) a kind of bulging tool-chest of experiences, political strategies and analyses.
I have often said that I think it is possible for communist thinking to be scientific -- but most that I have encountered is not.
A commentary on the Revolutionary Communist Party...
But really on this: How do communists discover what to do now?
There are two different (and competing) sources of interest in the RCP (as the Fire on the Mountain blog recently pointed out)....
by Mike Ely
I think we should discuss how revolutionary alliances contribute to victory in a country... how we conceive of these alliances, and how we determine what they can be.
Mao's Block of Four Classes has become controversial -- because it is a concrete example of a revolutionary alliance and yet it seems to affront all kinds of workerist assumptions.
So it is a timely subject and it is a necessary one for two reasons:
First: No broad alliances means no revolution. Broad alliances that are not (ultimately) led by revolutionary forces also means no revolution.
Second: there are political conceptions that (basically) assert that class analysis negates the need for alliance. That socialist revolution is "workers power" and therefore you just need workers. So there is a "class against class" assumption -- where we (the workers) gather over here (under our identity banner), and the pro-capitalist forces gather over there (under their various banners of white and American identity) and then we go at it.
The mediations between classes, politics and power
What broad alliances are needed? Well, on one level Marxism describes them in class terms (and we will discuss, for example, the worker-peasant alliance -- and its differences with a "worker only" view of socialist change). But in practice, that class nature is not expressed in explicit ways -- alliances are around goals (expelling the Japanese, ending World War 1, seizing land for the landless, transforming a socialist wage system in communist ways, etc.) In other words, revolution requires broad alliances around the goals and ideas of the particular revolution -- in each country, time and phase of the process.
And while the underlying contradictions of a revolutionary change are rooted in structures of class and national oppression -- the alliances themselves are not reducible to those structures. The alliances have to be built on the textured and shifting terrain of real politics, real events, real conjunctures.
And so, while we use class analysis to identify potential allies and likely enemies of a revolution -- the actual alliances we form may not correspond to those potentials, they may prove to be surprisingly different because of specific factors that emerge (for example 1930s Europe and its political landscape was radically changed when the Nazis started overrunning all the countries.)