Archive for the USA Category

The Day After: Reflections, Concerns and Critique of the Boston Protest against White Supremacy

Posted in News, Politics, USA with tags , , , on August 20, 2017 by Z

Although I was left with an initially positive impression of yesterday’s march on the common and maintain that it was a positive event, a more sober reflection reveals some problems. We begin:

Fair Weather

This description applies to both the literal weather (sunny and mild, with pleasant breezes) and to the character of many of the protesters present. The image of Enlightened New England™ was definitely at work yesterday, and I would wager that a significant portion of the crowd was there because of it. What I mean, of course, is that the presence of many was the result of the overt character of the racism present in Charlottesville and not the result of the often invisible racism found in Boston. Clearly, Nazism is potentially far more harmful than the de facto segregation that characterizes Boston racism, a legacy of decades of racist practices in the real estate industry (some claim – not without reason – that these still occur to this day) and the peculiar way in which our public transit was constructed (it is noticeably more difficult to travel between black and white neighborhoods than it is to travel within them). Even so, Boston’s quieter race issues are still problems, problems I heard not a whisper about yesterday. Ask your average white Boston liberal about his or her black friends, and watch their jaw drop as they realize they don’t actually have any. Not discussing why this happens in a city with a history of anti-racist thought going all the way back to the revolution only guarantees that the problem will persist; we’ve gone from Crispus Attucks to Bostonians who don’t know Crispus Attucks Place is a street in their own city. The ugliest side of the busing controversy has vanished down the memory hole, and will likely come again if nothing is done.

Narrow Interests

This point concerns the lack of a broader perspective visible yesterday. This was evident in the number of anti-Trump (and only anti-Trump) participants. Trumpian cult of personality was out in force; the systemic issues that predate Trump and the disease of which Trump is a symptom (it’s not just racism, it’s not just sexism, and the primary force is likely not either) were not topics of conversation as far as I could see. Issues outside of the primary issue at hand (anti-fascism) got short shrift from the crowd at large. Speakers from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Mass Action Against Police Brutality, Democratic Socialists of America, BLM, etc. made valiant efforts to reach a crowd that saw only one issue. Calls for anti-war actions, hands off Venezuela, hands off the DPRK, détente with Putin’s Russia, Medicare for all, labor organizing, climate change all appeared to reach only the core of the crowd, doubtless already members of the groups the speakers represented. Even in the context of the primary goal of anti-racism, I never once heard the word reparations. (The “sound system” used by the speakers alternated between a bass guitar amplifier with a microphone plugged into it and a megaphone, so it is possible I simply didn’t hear a message that was in fact present, but if so, that is an issue in itself). I also saw several t-shirts professing fealty to Obama and/or Clinton, which may have been mostly symbolic, but if not certainly suggest that larger lessons have not been learned about the system as a whole.

A side note related to the above issue: a common refrain offered by several people (some speakers, some signs) was the need to get racists and fascists fired from their jobs. Ted Rall has suggested that this is a fundamentally McCarthyist proposition, and Life After Hate (a recovery program run by an x-skinhead) reminds us that some of these people can be reached. At the very least, it raises a larger issue that was not discussed at all – should employers really have the power to fire workers based on off the clock activity or political views? Is this not a massive amount of power to leave in the hands of the already dominant class? Is gainful employment a human right, or is it not? These questions must be answered if we are to have a coherent and coherently defensible position on this issue. No one talked about it. (My own take: getting someone fired in a capitalist society with a dysfunctional safety net and no attempt at full employment is tantamount to a slow death sentence by starvation and exposure; if this is the goal, have the courage of your convictions and pull the trigger yourself. We need no cowards on the left. This slow starvation is what the right does to the poor, to minorities, to its political opponents. We are not them. Let them keep the cowards who leave the trigger to others or to the market.  Better yet, let’s not become McCarthyists or murderers, and let’s not mistake a series of individual solutions for a comprehensive social solution).

Lack of Discipline

I am not addressing lack of discipline among the larger crowd, as many had rarely attended protests before and were present simply to voice opposition to the fascist elements that were present at Charlottesville; of course they lacked discipline. I am here referring to the core of experienced activists and also to antifa. Concerning the organizers and rank and file in their organizations, both praise and criticism are due. There was a well-staffed food and water tent and an organized list of speakers. Donations were taken, and there was a general plan for the day. Good. Now the bad – it appeared as though no one had prepared much for exactly the situation that developed. No plan appeared to be in place for the failure of the other side to show up. Absent a credible opponent, what were all these people to do? There was little back and forth, as the “free speech” event basically fell apart and had few attendees to begin with. That left some 40,000 people in Boston Common with not much to do. Where were the organizers passing out literature? I left with two flyers, I should have been weighted down by pamphlets. Where were the discussion groups focusing on exactly the issues mentioned in this very post? Given the turnout, nothing was going to proceed smoothly, but it could have at least proceeded somewhere.

On antifa: mixed results. There was no one to clash with, so many antifa members functioned as ordinary protesters who happened to have masks on. I witnessed one antifa activist being interviewed by a reporter for some small newspaper; he gave intelligent, clear and well considered answers. Someone burned a Confederate flag; fair enough, although I don’t really see the point. We already know we don’t like the Confederacy. I’m not sure anything was added by this. Interestingly, the only clash with police that I personally witnessed was not led by antifa, but by unmasked anti-police brutality activists asking the Boston Police “Who do you serve?” The situation did not escalate beyond someone throwing a projectile I couldn’t identify that failed to reach the police anyway. I was not present at the larger clash where arrests were made, and so cannot comment on it. The point I’m making here is that there was an evident lack of focus among the more radical factions present. What goals had they set? Under what circumstances would they engage? I could see no pattern. In particular, one masked activist grabbed an American flag being held by an older woman and tried to take it; she held on to it and was pulled to the ground instead. Apparently she had attended the “free speech” rally. What was point of trying to take the flag? She wasn’t fighting with anyone, her “event” was over and there was nothing to be gained, politically or otherwise. I’m not against more militant protest actions, but surely there should be some kind of objective, a list of priorities, and a sense of when it is and is not beneficial, appropriate or necessary. Does no one have any plate discipline? A smart batter doesn’t swing at everything. Anarchist enthusiasm is nice, but rules of engagement, organization, discipline are needed. Antifa: taking a flag from an older woman for no clear benefit is the kind of thing Chris Hedges might cite as to why he isn’t a fan. If you’re going to escalate to more militant action, you need discipline, you need clear objectives. You need to admit that sometimes Lenin was right. Defending clergy from white power idiots in Charlottesville was an admirable and admirably appropriate use of force. Grabbing a flag in Boston from an elderly woman not engaged in any physical confrontation was totally unnecessary and, frankly, stupid. No one should bring a knife to a gunfight, but one also shouldn’t bring a knife when there’s no fight. Given what happened in Charlottesville, having antifa is better than having nothing, but better is possible.

Conclusion

On the whole, I still consider the protest a success, and I’m glad I participated, but the consequences of the breakdown of working class organizations in the US were on full display. I can’t help but wonder if deindustrialization itself isn’t at the root of this. Industrial labor conditions workers to be disciplined as they are exploited in a way they now aren’t by the new “gig economy.” Perhaps uniform conditions of labor gave us a discipline that variable ones don’t, a discipline that was once reflected in the character of our own organizations, but is now vanishing. The ability and willingness to take orders can have great benefits if we want it to. A disciplined protest can be very effective; there is a hard limit to the potential of the occupy formula, and we are in a situation where that limit must be broken if we are to have effective action. I’m not against more free form actions; as ol’ Slavoj might say, my god, it’s better than nothing (and so on and so on), but I think we can do better.

Protesting Racism in Boston Today

Posted in News, Politics, USA with tags , on August 19, 2017 by Z

I just returned from Boston Common, where some 20,000 or so of us (probably more) showed up to protest an assortment of “free speech advocates,” whose numbers included some adherents of ideologies not noted for their support of free speech. I’m prepared to take the organizers at their word that it really was a free speech rally; if it was, they ought to declare it a success, given that the less than 100 or so fascist, fascist-adjacent and miscellaneous attendees had their opportunity to speak and the 20,000 or so of us there exercising our right to free speech had our opportunity to articulate the anti-fascist position. Although, from what I could see, that lonely 100 appeared to leave without saying much of anything. The declaration of the KKK that they would be there was apparently some sort of jest, as I didn’t see a single one. It was kind of anti-climactic; victory by default. The only hint of confrontation was middle fingers directed toward a van being escorted out by police, and a single projectile (Some kind of pastry? I couldn’t quite see) thrown at the rear window as it drove away. Speakers from several organizations were present and did quite well, although the sort of technical difficulties common to large protests were of course also present. The best sign I saw featured a black marker drawing of Hitler shooting himself, accompanied by the words “follow your leader.” One woman with a rainbow flag had a very friendly service dog, whose platform included planks dedicated to tail wagging, kisses and enjoying the sunshine. I saw people of all ages from a wide range of political perspectives and organizations, though the core was of course made up of stalwart revolutionaries. We began, quite appropriately, in front of the monument by the state house dedicated to the 54th Massachusetts. It was, all told, a good day.

 

Update: crowd estimates made by people who could actually see the entire protest are now up to 40,000, double my estimate based on what I personally saw yesterday.

Anti-Trump: Catalyst for a New Organized Left, or more Dead-End Cult of Personality?

Posted in Capitalism, Elections, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , on January 20, 2017 by Z

As anti-Trump protests sweep across the USA, I am reminded of the signs of ill health I saw in the Bernie Sanders camp at the end of the primaries (link here).  Just as Bernie’s cult of personality threatens to act as a barrier to genuine political consciousness for many of his followers, so too does the photo negative that is Trump’s own cult.  I hope there are protesters out there trying to use this outcry to educate and organize, but much of what I’ve seen today (as presented by mainstream media, so that’s something to bear in mind) seems focused on Trump the individual; his vulgarity, his character, his personal history – not the broader social trends and policy direction in which he is situated.  Assuming Trump maintains his apparent course, we’ll have four years before this potential resistance begins losing people who failed to learn any broader lessons, meaning we have four years to teach those lessons.  There were organizations participating today that definitely understand this.  With luck, the cheeto-in-chief will provide enough vulgar provocations to maintain this anti-Trump coalition, which has at the very least already provided more opposition to any looming Trump disasters than was faced by the previous administration, which certainly dealt enough damage of its own.

Put on your helmets and strap in.  It looks like we’re going full accelerationsim.  At the very least, it will be interesting.  Probably very unpleasant, but interesting.

Belated Holiday Greeting and Assorted Grumbling (Did somebody say Putin?)

Posted in Elections, Europe, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , on January 15, 2017 by Z

My assessment of the holidays can be pretty fairly summed up by the following:

 

Much more efficient than a bunch of words.

On the upside, if it turns out I forgot to give someone a gift, I imagine I’ll be able to get off the hook by claiming Putin hacked my amazon account. “Wow, sorry man. I didn’t forget; it’s those damn Russians. They must have changed the shipping address to the Trump tower!”

Can you believe 50% of Clinton voters think Russia “tampered with vote tallies” to elect Trump? Even the “free” press hasn’t claimed that. If anyone needed it, this should serve as final proof that Democrats are just as dumb as Republicans, who of course were overwhelmingly likely to believe Iraq was involved in 9/11, despite no news outlet actually making that claim. Republicans clearly aren’t the only ones not actually reading the articles. The Dems, too, are absorbing suggestive headlines at an alarming rate and verifying nothing. I’m also getting a little fed up with the hyperbolic accusations that seem to be levied at anyone questioning the Evil Russia story. On the other hand, it is remarkable that the Democrat talking heads have managed to achieve red baiting without reds. I was sure that was against the rules (Walter: “Without a hostage, there is no ransom. Those are the fucking rules!”), but apparently not (“We still want the money, Lebowski.”). Hey, maybe I can get paid without working.

The unRed baiting going on is particularly interesting because it centers on accusations that Russia influenced an election in another nation, which the US did in spades following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the US intervened in Russian elections (see above) to keep Boris Yeltsin in office – because he was propping up the disaster of shock therapy and the slapdash privatization favoring former managers and party officials that it entailed (and embezzling a little something for himself, as well). That’s the same Boris Yeltsin, by the way, who selected one Vladimir Putin as his acting prime minister and successor, meaning US intervention in Russian elections is what set the stage for Putin’s current role in the first place. Putin is not some epic evil that passed through a membrane from another reality – he is simply a politician caught in the unenviable position of having to navigate the wreckage that is post-soviet casino capitalist kleptocracy by playing various oligarch factions against each other while riding assorted waves of popular discontent ultimately traceable to the gross mishandling of the soviet breakup by Yeltsin and co. He isn’t Putin, Bringer of Homophobia (Russia has a population that has long had a sizeable homophobic contingent – even before ol’ Vlad), he’s just the leader of a dysfunctional semi-democracy trying to rebuild itself following Yeltsonian idiocy. His popularity in Russia largely stems from the simple fact that he presided over a vast improvement in the Russian standard of living, which had plummeted after the Soviet breakup due to the aforementioned shock therapy reforms, which led to a catastrophic drop in GDP and hyperinflation that would have shocked a Weimar German. Large scale barter economies existed throughout Russia during those years, so useless did hyper inflated currency become in certain areas. We didn’t learn any of this in the US, of course. Obviously, we assumed, the arrival of American style democracy meant everything was instantly ok in Russia, so there was no need to actually look at the real conditions – at least as far as our media was concerned. Those unfamiliar with Russia’s internal politics may be forgiven for not realizing that absent Putin’s maneuvering, the leaders of Russia might well have been Zyuganov’s communist party – decent folks, but generally not full of new ideas – or contemptible fascist cartoons like Zhirinovsky or Limonov – not decent folks at all. I, of course, would have preferred Zyuganov over Putin, but many who currently rant about Putin-as-anti-christ would probably like Zyuganov considerably less. No one outside of the neofascist right wants Zhirinovsky or Limonov in power. I wouldn’t want those nuts in charge of so much as a Dairy Queen, never mind a nuclear armed world power. Whatever objections one may have to Putin (and there are perfectly valid objections among which one may choose), realize that Putin is a vital rearguard against far, far worse. You think Trump’s bad news? Be glad Putin has largely neutralized Zhirinovsky.  The fantasy that Putin is all that stands between Russia and utopian democracy under the mild and benevolent Garry Kasparov is exactly that. “Blame Putin!” is ahistorical nonsense. Russia’s problems, as with those of any nation, are far larger than any one individual, and all possible systems are not available in every historical circumstance. Frankly, given the conditions Russia endured during the 90s, it’s amazing any pretense of democracy exists there at all.

Finally, can someone please explain why so many of the right wingers I’ve come across lately are obsessed with Saul Alinsky? On at least five occasions recently (internet and real life), I’ve witnessed a slew of complaints aimed at “Campus radicals” allegedly acting as his disciples. Do young leftists these days actually read Alinsky? I was one of those “Campus radicals” and I’ve never read a single word of his, nor have any of my fellows, then or now. Based on what I’ve been hearing, you’d think the man was the only left leaning author available. I’m sure he’s a nice guy (actually, I have no idea) but next to the vast number of far more important thinkers out there, he always struck me as a footnote; a man of his era, with little relevance beyond it, the kind of guy liberals read when they want to convince themselves they’re on the cutting edge. Why don’t these people pick on Marx or Fanon? Maybe Gramsci? Surely the right could get some mileage out of mocking Mao’s lil’ red. Even our marginally coherent political tribalism is lazy these days.

Finally, as recently as a week ago it was over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In New England. In January. I went outside in sandals and it was no problem. This is definitely the golden age of global warming. We’ll no doubt look back fondly on this mild weather in the future, as we drown / burn / starve, etc. Ah, nostalgia.

Diet Left

Posted in Elections, Politics, USA with tags , on July 12, 2016 by Z

berniecaves

So there it is: the diet left has chosen to bow down again.  This came as no surprise to me, of course, as the signs of a by-the-book Democratic Party attempt to coopt yet another movement became visible quite awhile ago.  It now appears as though the “Bernie or bust” faction has fallen to internal bickering over whether Bernie is a coward, is sincerely on the Clinton train, or is attempting some sort of last ditch Byzantine plot-within-plot.  This is a bad sign, in so far as it indicates a continuing preoccupation with cult of personality (not to mention a waste of time debating something totally irrelevant).  Even so, my bet is that a significant number of people will not follow Bernie’s lead; the apparent conviction of the Democratic Party leadership is that everyone will go ahead and fall in line.  The thing is, there are material forces at work that will not be banished by Bernie’s capitulation.  Hopefully, this will result in the center rediscovering, to its irreversible detriment, that history both exists and is not over.  Say no to the diet left.

Brexit, Trump, Hillary, Neoliberal Multiculturalism and Robespierre’s Mistake

Posted in Capitalism, Economy, Elections, Europe, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , , on July 2, 2016 by Z

Most people who intended to comment on Brexit have already done so, but something about the situation made me want to wait. What follows is the result of that delay. Hopefully, it’s coherent enough to read.

First, a note about Brexit: this is a non-binding referendum, as many powers that be are already pointing out. It is still possible, even likely, that the democratic process that produced the Brexit vote will be overridden via undemocratic, unaccountable forces in the EU, much like what occurred in Greece. In addition, there is the very important point made by Yanis Varoufakis, who cited the interconnected nature of modern global capitalism and the UK’s geographic position when he referred to the EU as “Hotel California” – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. In other words, suppose the right wing of the Brexit faction gets all that it wants and more; suppose the immigrants all leave, reducing downward pressure on wages. Well, the corporations in that case would simply go where wages are lower. There is no escape from austerity to be found in scapegoating, unless you’re also prepared to nationalize those corporations before they can leave (which the UKIPpers certainly are not), and if you’re willing to do that, there’s no reason to be scapegoating immigrants in the first place, even if you’re the special sort of malicious that likes that kind of thing. Global capital is just that: global. It is not so easily sidestepped, and its consequences cannot be canceled with a vote alone. The center-left and all points to its right have, of course, already done their best to marginalize the left wing of the Brexit faction. However, assuming there actually is a Brexit, here’s my (American) take on it:

The popular discourse around this issue has been (and continues to be) dominated by two political forces: those of the center left, and those of the far right. Right out of the gate, we have a glaring, and instructive, omission: the left. Apart from a handful of alternative media interviews, supporters of a “left exit” have been ignored at best, called bigots and xenophobes and enablers of the far right at worst. And why not? Mass media and the two largest parties permitted the issue to be framed as one of immigration and economic stability; the choice was presented as a (false) dichotomy – limit immigration (and be racist) at the cost of economic stability, or remain, do not touch immigration (and don’t be racist) and insure economic stability. This is the center-left formulation, which of course overlooks all of the racism built into the already existing system. The far right (UKIP) formulation maintains the same narrative when it comes to immigration (though they dispute the racism charge), but reverses the economic stability element. The Brexit campaign promises a better life for the British working class (which a left exit might deliver, but the UKIP exit almost certainly won’t, i.e. the right exit claim is basically a lie), while the remain campaign tells some version of the truth – that choosing to remain will cause the lives of working Brits to get worse at a slower rate than they would with a right exit (the remain campaign doesn’t really acknowledge the possibility of a left exit because the remain campaign is fundamentally a creature of the center and opposes the left). In other words, one side lies when it promises a better life; the other tells the truth about a steadily worsening one. No one who wants to suggest actually sticking up for working people and challenging the power of the elite is allowed in. Of course they’re kept out; a true exit taking a leftward turn would mean the total abandonment of empire, an end to the plundering, through neoliberal globalism, of the third world (and even much of the first). This would require that resources needed to secure the future of the working class would need to come from inside the UK, from those who currently control them… the capitalist class. They aren’t going to let that happen. If the plunder dries up, the illusion is shattered, the imperial system gone, the only remaining choice laid bare as that first articulated by Rosa Luxemburg: Socialism, or barbarism?

A few points regarding the EU:

  1. The EU is not, and never has been, a democratic organization. Like it or not, Brexiters pointing this out are correct.
  2. The EU is a creation of neoliberal capitalism. As we saw in Greece, it lines up time and time again against the people and for the elite. The freedom of movement touted by many as a major advantage of the EU has a dark side: it allows free movement of labor between nations with vastly different costs of living and levels of poverty (in part because the EU makes no meaningful effort to empower the lower classes economically, and no effort of any kind to empower them politically). Because of this, EU freedom of movement can be (and is) exploited by the capitalist class to encourage a race to the bottom in wages. At the same time, the EU limits the ability of member states to strengthen worker protections, and even pressures them to remove said protections – as is happening in France right now. (Even after Brexit, it is likely that this freedom of movement will not be meaningfully altered for the UK – it will probably be required to retain access to the single market – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave).
  3. The role of EU institutions such as the European Central Bank has been to move and manage economic crises around Europe for the benefit of bankers – this is why Syriza was thwarted in Greece. This is why Varoufakis could not get a sensible deal for the Greek people. While the UK is not in the Eurozone, it is nevertheless strongly influenced by Eurozone economic policy – London is a financial center, and the Euro is the most important currency in the region.

There are plenty of reasons the left might want to leave – EU rules block left wing change just as surely as they block right wing anti-immigrant change. The EU is not a leftist institution, only a liberal one. It will not permit serious challenges to the dominance of capital, and is actively pushing its member states toward austerity. It will not be reformed from within, as this would require all member states, including those with far right governments, to agree on a new EU constitution. Reforming the EU is probably as realistic a goal as reforming the Democratic Party. Absent a Bakuninesque spontaneous popular uprising, I don’t see how this could be done without an army, at which point it’s no longer ‘reform’. Bottom line: There’s no reason to be mad at the Brexiters. Some are also UKIPpers, and you can be mad at them for that, but left exiters are making some version of the following calculation: Leave now and risk a major battle against the right to secure a left exit while the left still maintains some rough equality with the right in its political clout, or remain, accepting a status quo where the resources of the working class and other left constituencies are guaranteed to gradually diminish, making the likelihood of victory over the right more remote the longer the fight is delayed. Is that the wrong call? What is to be done? In any case, what reason could there possibly be to actually support the undemocratic playground for capital that is the EU? Let us remember that, contrary to what the remainers seem to think, Brexit didn’t and won’t create rampant xenophobia and bigotry. Those things already existed long before this vote and have been festering and growing for years. The EU isn’t protection against nativism; it is part of the context in which nativism has again become prominent. It doesn’t expunge racism; it legitimizes an “acceptable” level of it by institutionalizing it – as exploitation of Eastern Europeans as cheap labor, as squalid refugee shelters in Calais, where the victims of imperial meddling in the middle east rot in legal limbo, as the bodies of North Africans sinking into anonymous graves beneath the Mediterranean. When you silence the left, substitute neoliberal globalism for internationalism and in the process bleed the workers, the only place left for them to go is, unsurprisingly, the only ideology outside of neoliberal globalism that you didn’t silence: nationalism. The perfidious Blairites and their Tory tag-alongs, the same drivers behind Remain, are responsible for UKIP. The left too is responsible, for repeating the mistake of the interwar socialist parties; they provided no viable alternative, allowing themselves to be drawn into the web of centrist compromise, in the end compromising only their integrity and credibility.

[Another point in Brexit’s defense: it has prompted calls from Sinn Fein for the return of Northern Ireland to the republic where it belongs. Sadly for my mother’s people, Eire is currently dominated by Fine Gael, scions of the Free Staters and Blue Shirts, who will no doubt shoot down any suggestion from Sinn Fein purely because it comes from Sinn Fein. Still, it’s nice to see the loyalists glance around nervously. Sweat, you bastards. Connolly’s watching.]

I. Remain, Hillary and Neoliberal Multiculturalism

Professor, political scientist and all around brilliant guy Adolph Reed has observed a phenomenon in recent years that he calls “neoliberal multiculturalism.” It short, this refers to the use of previously left wing politics connected to various liberation movements (black, latino, women, etc.) by establishment forces. Reed summarizes the effect as a sundering of select identity groups from class as identity politics, but not class politics, are assimilated in warped form by the liberal wing of the elite. Reed describes the result as a widespread neoliberal position in which the idea of equality is reduced to the notion that as long as the 1% contains demographic proportions similar to the general population, everything’s ok. In other words, the neoliberal concept of equality is a 1% that is 12-13% black, 14% latino, 50% women, etc. leaving the working class portions of those (and all other) groups behind to rot. (These percentages, obviously, refer to the US population. If you want to look up the appropriate numbers for the UK, I won’t stop you). Here in the states, we might call this Clintonian multiculturalism. In the UK, it is at the heart of Remain. This is why calling for a vote to stay the course on a steady decline appears defensible to the UK establishment. A compromise with the EU is analogous to the compromise the Democratic Party made with capital in the US a long time ago (and Labor with the Thatcherites); it is this compromise that led directly to the neoliberal multiculturalism Reed despises. Put simply, it goes like this: “You (Dems, Labor) stop with all this ‘class’ business and we’ll let you keep working for minorities and social issues.” They accepted this deal, which in the context of the time may have seemed reasonable; income disparity was less pronounced, and the threat of the Soviet alternative forced the establishment to keep up the appearance of worker’s rights. Absent that alternative, however, the situation has steadily deteriorated. Left of center social issues have come to be associated with neoliberal economics, as the mainstream parties that represent these social issues are also neoliberal. What we have now is the social issue equivalent of the old lie that free markets make free people. Now free markets, apparently, make tolerant people as well. A population that no longer sees the necessary links both racism and sexism have with class can be tricked into seeing Brexit as a moral binary between bigotry (which predates neoliberalism by millennia) and tolerance (which also predates neoliberalism by millennia), emptied of all political economy and devoid of historical context, despite that the relevant context is not only recent, but current. In the US, the same blindness has been applied to the Democratic primary, where the mainstream media has treated Bernie Sanders’ attempt to talk about class as though it was a sign that he rejects all other struggles, despite the naked absurdity of this infantile assumption. It allows the political establishment to pretend Hillary Clinton is on the left because she’s a woman, or pays lip service to the black leadership class (while supporting the mass incarceration of the black working class). There will no doubt be a similar myopia in the presentation of the general election, which is shaping up to be every bit as absurd, hyperbolic and fearful as the Brexit “debate.” The artificial separation the neoliberal center-left has imposed between class and identity has exacerbated divisions within the left that should have been surmountable. It has fractured the coalition we need, and should have had.

The great heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, neoliberal multiculturalists imply, weren’t fighting for working class minorities, but rather for the opportunity for their own elites to join the white elite. Never mind, of course, that both MLK and Malcolm X just so happened to be assassinated when they were starting to talk about the relationship between race and class. (Leaders who talk only about race and don’t mention class seem to live significantly longer). This neoliberal multiculturalism is also at the root of the current plague of upper class white liberals in cities with strong tech sectors just dying to explain how the app they’re developing plus the glorious free market will somehow save all of the brown people. It’s why you meet people who describe themselves as “progressive libertarians.” In rejecting class politics in favor of identity politics, the left in the US and Europe severed the connection between the two in the minds of their political class and, increasingly, their constituents. The result: postmodern liberals – pro-gay, pro-minority, pro-woman and utterly disdainful of the working class without realizing that the working class contains at least 95% of all of those other groups. This combination is now bearing bitter fruit.

II. Right Exit, Trump and What Happens when the Left Cedes the Field

In both the US and UK, the immediate political consequence of neoliberal multiculturalism has been the “New Democrats” (Clintonites) and “New Labor” (Blairites). Class as a political consideration has been sent to the back of the line by both. The real left (people like me) were, of course, already sidelined long before these developments either through marginalization (in the UK) or recurrent, punitive red scares (in the US). The move away from the working class while retaining an increasingly skewed and superficial interest in minorities and social issues has contributed greatly to both Trump and the right exit camp. By dropping class as an issue, the New Democrats and New Labor effectively abandoned a key demographic: the white working class. Because the white working class is, well, white, it could not be retained solely through appeals to race or gender. With the nominally center left (neoliberal) parties working against their interests (and placing all of the blame on them for the persistence of racism despite their being the least powerful white people around – look at yourselves, white liberals; you’re probably more to blame), they had nowhere to go. The left was nowhere to be found with the alternative that should have been provided. Instead, these workers went to nationalism, the only game in town outside the neoliberal consensus. In the US, this is why the Trump phenomenon is largely a white problem, and also why there are so many who prefer Sanders to Trump, but Trump to Hillary. When even a vaguely left option is presented, many jump at it, but for the most part the left has ceded the field, leaving it by default to the nationalist right. Meanwhile, working class minorities had even fewer options – they couldn’t go to the nationalists, and so had no choice but stay with the neoliberals, who had stolen and twisted their causes in the absence of meaningful objection from the left, which continued to be marginalized or to compromise with the center. If the white working class is racist and xenophobic, then you (center-left neoliberals) made them that way. In short, the arrogant mainstream liberals bemoaning the foolishness of the unwashed and assuming that no motivation other than hatred and xenophobia could possibly underlie a Brexit or Trump vote are the very reason these entities exist as anything other than an irrelevant fringe. Trotsky believed that fascism was the result of a failed revolution; it looks like crude nationalism may be the result of a totally absent one. But hey, keep ignoring, insulting and dismissing Trumpeters and right exiters; clearly, the center-left refusal to even try to understand the situation is working very well. Where, oh where, is the left alternative? Its mainstream expressions in Sanders and Corbyn are under constant attack. Congratulations, center-left – you’ve succeeded in marginalizing the only currently viable alternatives to what you claim to hate. In the US, this is compounded by an unbelievably cynical and utterly transparent effort to herd the berners into the Clintonian fold.

III. Robespierre’s Mistake

Learning is hard. If it wasn’t, those on the left who still call for compromise with the center, whether in the form of lesser evil Democrat voters or EU supporters, wouldn’t. Even so, learning shouldn’t be this hard. Robespierre was probably the first to make this mistake, at least in the modern era. Faced with a profoundly confusing political situation, he was beset on both left and right. Unable to satisfy rivals on the left, the sans-culottes and enrages, representatives of the popular movement as opposed to the more educated political clubs (such as Robespierre’s Jacobin club), he was nevertheless too concerned with their welfare to find support from the middle class. He attempted to compromise, but inevitably ended up acting against both factions and satisfying neither. Having moved against those on his left, he found that they would not help him against those on his right. For him, the consequences of compromise with the center were total. He had once noted that the revolution might one day consume him; indeed it did. It isn’t so hard to understand why Robespierre made his mistake – he was, after all, arguably the first to make it in the era of modern politics. But why do leftists throughout the western world continue to repeat this mistake today? Whether settling for Clinton or huddling under the leaky umbrella of the EU, afraid to clash with the racists in a true battle for a left exit, why do so many on the left abandon their fellows to compromise with the center? They should know better. They should know that the center will not return the favor, will not help them in turn. Robespierre paid with his head. The least we can do is keep ours. The center is falling apart. Either the left can rescue the working class from neoliberal multiculturalism and form a coalition able to deliver socialism, or there will be a period of triumph for the racist right caused by our inability to do so. Maybe we’ll win after that, but I’m inclined to think it’s do or die. Failure means barbarism.

IV. Final Note

After reading this, one could be forgiven for thinking I believe Brexit has significant positive potential. Sure, it could, but there’s little reason at present to believe it will. The most likely outcome is that it will be ignored, canceled or technically carried out but with no meaningful changes to British economy or government. Even if a real effort at a true Brexit, whether of the left or right variety, is made, the gravity of market forces and global capital dependencies will simply hold the UK in economic orbit around the EU anyway. Varoufakis has it right: you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. The elite are already trying to adjust to the unexpected script changes fired at them by Brexit, but adjust they shall, unless something else happens. Still, forcing them to go off script is far better than just going along. It might well be meaningless, but it had to be tried, and no good leftist should accept the EU as it stands; so Brexit it is.

On trendy pseudo-responsibility and its commodification

Posted in Capitalism, USA with tags , , on June 11, 2016 by Z

A few days ago, my girlfriend came home with a story.  She had stopped at a place called “Sweetgreen” (one word) on her way home from work.  Apparently, “Sweetgreen” (one word) is some kind of salad and yogurt place for the hip and health-conscious urban sophisticate consumer with adequate disposable income.  Fond of salad and yogurt, particularly when one or both happen to contain bacon (I don’t know if they did in this particular case), she placed an order.  Based on her description, it seems the clerk was an unduly alert and enthusiastic young lady with a penchant for upward inflection at the ends of her sentences, the sort of customer service professional my girlfriend has been forced to work with in the past and often describes as “wretched.”  (She’s not known for patience in the face of annoyance).  Her order was prepared with the usual “this isn’t fast food but it is fast food but it isn’t fast food” efficiency no doubt familiar to patrons of “Sweetgreen” (one word).  The funny part came next: she opened her wallet to pay – and was informed by the clerk that “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t accept cash.  Uh, why?  Apparently (according to the clerk) because cash is not sustainable.  But, the clerk noted, you can pay with apple pay on your smartphone!  Or a credit card, if you still use those things (come on, they don’t even have apps for those!)

Wow.  “Sweetgreen” (one word) doesn’t take cash because cash is not sustainable.  Apparently, paper money is doomed to destroy the environment, but the massive coal and nuclear powered energy infrastructure necessary to maintain the elaborate electronic payment systems “Sweetgreen” (one word) prefers are somehow sustainable and will save us all.  It’s remarkable how many people seem to be convinced that electricity comes from some kind of magical green-friendly no place, like a happy meadow where gumdrops grow from the sunflowers.  Even if we had 100% wind and solar tomorrow, the maintenance of physical infrastructure like copper wire (mining, smelting) and the rubber to cover it (chemicals galore!) would still probably be less sustainable than simple paper bills, which come from trees that can, if I’m not mistaken, grow back.  (And we haven’t even touched on the level of pollution, social chaos and even armed conflict endemic to many regions of Africa where a large share of the rare earth metals needed to make devices like smartphones are mined, or the worker suicide plagued factories in China and Southeast Asia where they’re assembled!)  There’s also the issue that those most likely to lack smartphones and credit/debit cards are of course the poor, who are therefore likely not able to patronize “Sweetgreen” (one word), but no one seems too worried about that.

What then, is the reason for this compulsive attachment of poorly thought out pseudo-responsibility to acts of consumerism?  Is it simply a marketing tactic, begun (probably) by Starbucks, and now necessary for all others to avoid being outcompeted via the logic of capitalism?  Slavoj Zizek suggests a more complex picture.  I might think we could call it quits here, but “Sweetgreen” (one word) is doing something a little different from the more familiar cultural capitalism Zizek describes.  They aren’t just offering some kind of one-for-one personal moral redemption for the individual consumer; they’re actually making an unambiguously authoritarian decree.  It isn’t “buy one of our salads and we’ll do something nice for the less fortunate,” it’s “engage with us on these terms or be cast into the outer darkness, you enemy of sustainability!”  That the poor are de facto excluded from the ethical light of “Sweetgreen” (one word) may be taken as especially instructive; this is a form of class-ignorant yuppie slacktivism.  It’s doubly slacktivist in that not only does the business carry out your slacktivism for you, it tells you what the issue is and has already done obviously lazy and totally inadequate research in order to identify it.  It is both smug and lazy on your behalf, bestowing upon you a sense of righteousness at the expense of the excluded unwashed.  Ah, bourgeois virtue!  Of course, it’s also quite possible that it’s just a cynical marketing ploy existing only because the management prefers electronic payment for totally selfish reasons and grabbed at the first eco-friendly sounding excuse within reach.  But then, that’s arguably also a bourgeois virtue.

Is this Election Stuff still going on?

Posted in Bad Faith, Elections, Media, Politics, USA with tags on June 8, 2016 by Z

I kid.  Of course it is.  There’s perhaps less to talk about now, since the lack of exit polls this time around means no fun fraud spotting in Cali or Jersey.  It all seems so dull, though it is fun to note that the response of our “media” to the realization that the exit polls weren’t within the usual margin of the actual results wasn’t to question the legitimacy of the vote (as they would do in many other nations), but instead to conclude that exit polls are no longer necessary.  Not very subtle, guys.

Moving on to the people whose opinions actually have some effect on policy, Lee Fang over at The Intercept has a short piece up on Pfizer chief executive Ian Read, who “said that he cannot ‘at this moment distinguish between the policies that Donald Trump may support or those that Hillary Clinton may support.'”  Don’t feel bad, Ian.  Neither can I.  So here we are, barring some sort of maple flavored Vermontish surprise, back at our usual party A versus party a “democracy.”  (Let’s ignore Bernie’s military Keynesianism again for the moment.  We all know it’s there).  At least we’re familiar with this position, as we approach Bad Faith 2016.  There is one slim hope still ahead – that protesters at the Dem’s convention may ’68 the lot of them.  We’re due.

Look on the bright side…

Posted in Capitalism, Economy, USA, Web Satire Round Up with tags , , on June 6, 2016 by Z

I found these on an out of the way forum recently; I think they go well together.  Happy summer.

debtjoke directdep

I Have Returned

Posted in Announcements, Elections, Media, News, Politics, USA with tags , , , on April 9, 2016 by Z

I have returned.

Actually, I never went anywhere at all, but I do believe I’ve found the time to get this place moving again, if only just barely. Wrong With Sartre is back; the irregular posting, unreliable moderation and slow comment section very few of you were used to has risen again.

Recognizing that a blog in the age of TwitFace is at least mildly anachronistic and that just about any contribution to the “discourse” of the internet is like throwing a message in a bottle into a sea composed entirely of messages in bottles, I’m likely going to be a little more free form in my prose from here on out, though I will try to maintain some scholarly rigor where appropriate.

I’ve been watching this election stuff play out, so let’s reopen with some primary rambling. Many of my friends are quite enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders, which is fair enough when you consider the context (i.e. the American political spectrum as it now exists). True, he’s not a socialist (get back to me when he calls for worker control of the means of production. I’ll wait.), but a euro-flavored FDR is as close an approximation as the system can produce. Recognizing this unfortunate circumstance, I can’t summon up any anger at those prepared to go all in for him. In any case, it is probably the smart play; pushing the Dems to the left, even if only slightly, even if only temporarily, may create intellectual space for some to find the actual left. Who knows, maybe a rift in the Dems themselves is even possible. There are of course those who fear Bernie’s mislabeled Keynesianism may damage socialism in the long run, and their fears are not without merit, though I feel I must point out that further damage to socialism in the US is a laughable threat at best. Socialism in the US has already been through Blair Mountain, the Soviet Ark, HUAC and a raft of ill-conceived but mind bogglingly effective misinformation, not to mention the dubious legacies of certain self-identified socialist regimes. It’s difficult to believe that Bernie’s nomenclature confusion is capable of an inadvertent death blow at this point (there is also the increasingly likely bitter truth that, in light of the European socialist parties’ craven capitulation to austerity, communism and anarchism may be the only remaining positions with any integrity. If the establishment is intent on packing us all into brakeless freight trains barreling toward Lenin and Bakunin, so fucking be it. Game on, shitstain).

What was I saying? Oh, right. Bernie. I voted for him in my state’s primary, and I’ve tossed some cash his way, despite his military Keynesianism and social democratic (not socialist) economic perspective. He is as far to the right as a candidate can be and still have a fighting chance for my vote – in so far as that’s even worth anything in a neoliberal duopoly. A solid threat from a populist small donor funded campaign is also a good precedent to set. I do find myself liking his supporters, or at least those of them who recognize the need to show moral courage in the face of lesser evilist crackpot realism by proclaiming themselves “Bernie or bust” (i.e. no support for the center-right Clintonian scourge). I even saw one guy phrase it this way: “Bern it up or burn it down.” Magnificent.

The Bernie situation has also produced an MSNBC(!) interview with Susan Sarandon in which the concept of sharpening the contradictions is mentioned. Is this the same USA that played host to “Russian spy,” the schoolyard game of my late Cold War childhood? You know, the game in which the poorly defined rules call for one player to be designated a “Russian spy,” then promptly chased around the field by other children with improvised weapons? (My grandfather’s family, mostly Volga Germans, came here from Russia, so guess who was often assigned the titular role).

In any case, Harry Belafonte has gone to bat for the Sandman, and who am I to argue with the King of Calypso? I’m willing to see where this goes, even if I suspect the answer is nowhere.

Well, that was quite a comeback rant. Let’s slow things down a bit and cover some specific things that have been driving me up a wall about the primaries.

I. The sheer level of contempt for the American people from our own political class.  Sure, this is not and has never been much of a secret, but it’s been so out and obvious this time around, I can’t help but mention it. They’re not even trying to cover it up now. We’ve got Rahm Emmanuel calling half his party’s voters “retards,” Gloria Steinem implying that young women are only interested in sex, so much suspicious activity around polling places and caucus sites that there’s a whole blog now dedicated to possible election fraud for just this year, just the primary, just for Democrats and we’ve got campaign claims and rhetoric that can only be coming from people who believe we have not only no historical memory, but also no capacity to reason. To wit:

  1. Claims from Clinton lackeys that Sanders has run a “negative” campaign. Are we seeing the same material? All he’s done is mention things Clinton has actually done. If we’re to believe that’s negative, that would imply that we don’t like what Clinton has done … which would be on her, am I right?
  2. Near universal deliberately obtuse idiocy on the part of the media. Nothing more needs to be said here. (If someone could possibly bullseye Chuck Todd’s face with a pie or something, that would be great).
  3. I tend to run significantly behind on social media news, and so just read up on the “Bernie Bros” thing recently. It’s remarkably similar to the “Obama boys” thing from the 2008 mess, and The Intercept has suggested it may be largely made up. But let’s assume it isn’t. Let’s assume there really is a horde of contemptible misogynists supporting Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is running on (among other things) pay equity for women, paid maternity leave, protecting abortion and tuition free college (more than 50% of college students are women these days, so this is also a women’s issue). This would mean that Bernie Sanders has somehow convinced a horde of contemptible misogynists to vote for possibly the most openly feminist agenda any major party candidate has ever proposed (admittedly not a high bar), which would make him potentially the most effective ally the feminist movement has ever had in the US (see above RE: bar). So which is it? Is this story largely fantasy, or is Bernie able to rally anti-feminists to feminism with a wave of his hand?  (Not to mention how … interesting … it is to hear accusations of sexism coming out of Bill Clinton. It seems odd that Hillary would assign that task to him. Was Cosby not available?)

That’s enough; I’m getting tired. Moving on.

II. The whole “Anyone but Trump!” thing.

  1. “Trump is a fascist!” No, he isn’t. “Fascist” doesn’t just mean an authoritarian you don’t like. It involves a theoretical foundation steakpile just doesn’t have. He doesn’t even have all of the standard fascist negations – anti-marxism (check), anti-liberalism (check, in a selective social issue only sense at most), anti-conservatism (definitely not). Is Trump a jackass willing to rally racists, sexists, homophobes, etc. to his cause?  Yes, he certainly is – but he’s no Mussolini. What he is is the American Berlusconi. He’s bad, yes, but let’s be accurate. We don’t need to further destroy the definition of a word needed intact for historians and political scientists just to signal that we disapprove of an asshat.
  2. Err … he’s actually to the left of Hillary Clinton on trade … and foreign policy … that’s why neocons prefer her to him.
  3. He has mentioned cooperation with Russia. While I doubt he’s aware of this, the idea of US – Russia cooperation was shared by two of our more intelligent presidents, Lincoln and FDR. Lincoln pursued a policy of friendship with Russia so strongly that the Russian Baltic fleet was sent to the east coast and the Pacific fleet to San Francisco during the Civil War with sealed orders. The orders, to be opened in the event that Great Britain or France entered the war on the side of the Confederacy, instructed the admirals of both fleets to report to Lincoln for orders. It’s also interesting to note that before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, Tsar Alexander issued an emancipation manifesto, freeing the Russian serfs. Huh. FDR, dealing with Stalin, set in place agreements for the postwar era that, had Truman not largely ignored them, might have prevented or at least minimized the Cold War. Huh again. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am an unrepentant Russophile who plays the balalaika, so there’s that to consider).
  4. While Trump’s statements are absurd and often disturbing, the fact remains that he basically has no record to speak of. In that sense, he’s a wild card; he might in fact be terrible, but he might also throw us a curveball by being all bark and no bite. The remaining republicans (including Hillary) on the other hand, all have proven records of near constant war mongering, wall street cronyism, influence peddling and general oligarchic myopia.
  5. The lesser evil has, especially in recent years, proven itself to be the more effective evil. Remember when W still occupied the white house? Remember how we had that large, vibrant anti-war movement with all those protests? (Well, if you watched the TV news, you probably didn’t see it, but trust me, it was there. I’ve got the memories, I’ll be happy to fill you in). Remember how that anti-war movement kept going after Obama was elected? No, you don’t, because the anti-war movement essentially dissolved as soon as the last ballot was cast in 2008. No one turned out to protest the war once the lesser evil was in charge, and what happened? The lesser evil ramped up drone strikes, kept troops on the ground, maintained Guantanamo, extended drone strikes into Pakistan, maintained and expanded domestic surveillance, indefinitely detained people without charging them and even claimed the right to kill citizens without trial (see NDAA). The greater evil would have faced major resistance every step of the way, but Obama got it all done with nary a whimper from his own party. It’s not inconceivable that a greater evil facing serious resistance might actually be better than the lesser evil acting with the tacit approval of the ones who should be resisting.
  6. You do realize that Ted Cruz is a Dominionist, right? I repeat: TED CRUZ IS A DOMINIONIST.

NOTE: I’m not suggesting that it’s ok to vote for Trump. I’m not sure there’s enough soap in Christendom to clean the hand that pulls that lever; I’m merely pointing out that one orange blowhard isn’t the apocalypse. Let’s try to maintain some kind of perspective, here – this country survived Warren G. Harding; we can handle Trump if we have to. And Ted Cruz IS A DOMINIONIST.

III.  Generational “analysis.”  The worst offenders here are center-left progressive media on the internet. I’ve been hearing a lot of generational explanations for the nature of the division of the vote, particularly on the democratic side. The whole “young people support Bernie because they get their news online instead of from the TV networks” line has popped up all over the place. This is stupid for the following reasons:

  1. The internet was largely constructed by boomers, and we Xers drove its early growth.
  2. This approach ignores the most obvious and historically consistent explanations, which, as usual, pertain primarily to economic class. Why should this also appear generational? Because the older generations are more likely to be established in the upper classes. It’s not complicated. This focus on generational differences is just another case of covering up class and pretending it’s not there. Why are young people struggling? Is it because they’re damn dirty millennials with no work ethic who don’t understand how the world really works? Or is it because they’re being forced into the ranks of the working poor through high youth unemployment, colossal student loan debt and flat wages? Generation gap politics, if you’re willing to scratch the surface a little, generally reveal themselves as just another way to avoid talking about class. The young aren’t mad because they’re young; they’re mad because they’re working class. I’ll freely admit that I’ve made my share of millennial jokes – why would anyone want to wear skinny jeans – but these kids have been screwed over even more than my generation. (And I probably shouldn’t call them kids; as a Carter era Xer, I’m barely older than them anyway, but it’s not my fault – pop demographers told me to hate them!).
  3. Anecdotal? Yes … nevertheless, let me point out that my retired boomer father spends significantly more time online than I do. Why? He’s retired. In fact, he’s probably reading this. Hi, dad! Sorry I’m still an insufferable smartass.
  4. Many of those online news sources aren’t any better than the major networks. For example, many of them utilize intellectually lazy “generation gap” analysis.

Wow, kind of lost my train of thought there. In any case, no savior is likely to spring up from all of this, but the more nakedly undemocratic it all becomes, the better. Look at that emperor pose!