Sunday, February 23, 2014

What is to be done? No, seriously, what is to be done? Or, the Revolution will not be televised, but it will be streaming on Netflix!

It seems like a month can't go by without us being able to watch a revolution unfold. They are unsurprisingly chaotic, and completely and utterly destroying the idea that a spontaneous, leaderless, movement can take (or abolish) state power. That's the formula right now. Camp out in the city square and soon enough there will be a confrontation which eventually might create enough havoc to shutdown your country. Sure, this sort of "general strike," if we want to call it that, can throw state power up for grabs, but that just makes it easy for any organized social force with even a tad bit of popular support to step in and snatch it. Often times it is simply the opposition political party that has positioned itself to be at the right place at the right time. (If this is the case, you guys might as well have a "managed" democracy like us. Sure it's boring, but less people die. You need not ask who controls the state if you just want to know who controls the government.)

The Arab Revolutions are a mess. The Egyptian military is back in power. Libya is run by militias. Tunisia, which started the whole thing, is looking like the best of the lot, although some political assassinations nearly caused a spiral into chaos last year. Syria is a mess, as nasty bastards like Bashar-al Assad would shoot a kid in the face if it meant a minute more of political power. (It doesn't help matters that the most dedicated fighters in the Free Syrian Army appear to also be jihadist nutjobs.)

It looks like the unfortunately named "gas princess" is out of jail and ready to take charge of the bizarre Ukrainian opposition, which apparently has pro-west liberals holding hands with open fascists in order to topple a dickhead Russian-backed oligarch.

It's a slight relief to read about Venezuela where the forces of revolution and counterrevolution are, despite the media's best efforts, easy enough to decipher. There is an unmistakable class consciousnesses in Latin America that has a lot to do with the obscenely overt rule of that region's flamboyant, and violent, ruling class. 

I realize it's rather *privileged to write about such life and death situations from a position of comfort. But the only thing worse than snark from afar is self-righteous anecdotal proclamations about supposed truths from inside the fray. I think Marx, or maybe just some Marxists, significantly underestimated how hard people will cling to social identities. *Eventually it sets in, but shit, how many Americans making $30,000 a year still think they have more in common with their boss than the person who cleans the office? "We're both from the midwest!" Add more poverty, weak state structures, ancient religious arguments that have morphed into ethnic differences, etc., and you have a recipe for a gigantic mess.

This is the part where every leftist analysis says something like "correct leadership of the working class is needed to usher in a world socialist revoution!" Ok, sounds good. But I'm going to add a precursor, which is probably just as daunting- historical progression is not guaranteed. We have to fight for it. Do we do that through tiny "Leninist" groups all trying to poach the most politically conscious people from one another, or do we combine forces based on the 99% of ideas we all agree on? I'd say the latter. We have a whole group of people, who outnumber us by the millions, who still think that a limited social democracy is the best possible result for the future. And they are the ones with good politics. We've got our work cut out for us.

*I hate that fucking word in this sort of context, but try talking to an overeducated liberal who thinks they're a leftist without them belching it out- because it's always the answer to the question you weren't asking.

*I'm realizing that this "eventually people will realize they're being exploited" is an act of faith not terribly different than believing in a messiah coming, or coming back, to save all humankind. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When "Liberty" is Terrifying

The NYT profiled Dread Pirate Roberts, the alleged founder of the infamous "Silk Road" website:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/business/eagle-scout-idealist-drug-trafficker.html

The most interesting part about people like Dread Pirate Roberts (aka Robert Ulbricht) is their bizarre view of liberty. Aside from his alleged willingness to murder people (one would think murdering someone would be an attack on their liberty on a much grander scale than forcing them to pay income tax), he seems genuinely disgusted by the idea of some level of democratic oversight of basic societal functions:
For centuries, consumers have been taxed by governments or overlords of one type or another, rendering unto Caesar for as long as there have been Caesars. But if Silk Road were scalable, that era was over. Or at least imperiled. Anyone would have the option to sell goods undisturbed by regulations and without sharing a percentage of revenue with the state. And why stop at drugs? The system would work for legal products, too. The tools are there for a kind of subterranean Amazon.com.
That sounds great, right? But if we look at how the website actually operated, we see that Ulbricht didn't have any problem with an "overlord" taxing transactions, so long as it was someone clever and liberty minded- someone like, umm, himself:
The site acted as an intermediary, hosting the online market and holding money in escrow until buyers confirmed that products had arrived. D.P.R. would then release the payment to the seller, keeping 8 to 15 percent of the transaction.
While the ruling class of old recognized they could make a ton of cash through a societal structure maintained and perpetuated by governments long in control of people like themselves, this new breed of would-be titans are purists. They would have society run by Platonic philosopher kings in the mold of John Galt and completely abolish even the pretense of any democracy. To me, that's the direct opposite of liberty. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The people's man!

                                         (credit: mnhs.org)

 

 In very general terms, I talked a tad bit of shit about Minnesota's "greatest" governor Floyd B. Olson in CounterPunch a couple weeks ago (see post below). Somewhat surprisingly (I assumed most people thought of Olson as the name of a highway), I received a few emails, in state and out, informing me I pretty much had no clue what I was talking about. True, if you compare Olson to Mark Dayton (who I find likable), he comes off as a scary Bolshevik. But that's hardly a correct comparison. Olson was governor when labor was at the peak of both its consciousness and political power. In that context, he was more like a brake than a spearhead. He was a check on power. (He threw labor leaders in jail during the '34 Teamster Strike while business leaders were literally killing people on the streets for god's sake.) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised given Minnesota's bizarre compulsion to turn politicians into faultless martyrs. (Cough, Wellstone, cough.)

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A Short History of the Minnesota-Farmer-Labor Party

I wrote a brief history on an important, and relevant, part of our history for Counterpunch. Read it here!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Nearing the bottom of "The Atlantic" (hopefully)

"The Atlantic" and "Harper's" are both iconic magazines that are responsible for promoting the careers of many prominent writers. I have been reading them for years. They also both have a profile of John Kerry in their December issue. David Rohde did a individualist profile of Kerry, lauding him as an "activist" diplomat shaking up the stuffy old foreign policy establishment in "The Atlantic." In "Harper's," Andrew Cockburn rejects this sort on analysis completely and challenges the idea that there is such a thing as foreign policy at all. Kerry comes off as a power hungry but powerless hack who owes his position to back room politics much more than shrewd determination. Cockburn was actually communicating original thoughts and I turned each page with a new morsel of knowledge. Rohde's fluff would have fit nicely after a top ten vacation spot list on Delta's in-flight magazine. Reading the whole thing felt like choking down sugarless oatmeal. With a few notable exceptions, this is a good representation of the current trajectory of each magazine.