Category Archives: neoliberalism

The hemisphere is on fire

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Forty-nine years ago this week, Salvador Allende took office as president of the Republic of Chile, setting Empire into motion with a series of diabolical plans. While wages went up and prices went down in Chile, economists in Chicago were salivating at the possibility of instituting a new form of governance called neoliberalism, a nightmare born into the world with the blood-soaked hands of a fascist dictatorship backed by the CIA, the Pentagon, and, of course, Wall Street.

While the forces of life were set in motion – gathered in the streets, the workplace, into assemblies – the forces of death were grasping at all bureaucratic straws to try and roll back the progress of real democracy. The lawyers were maneuvering in the courts and cruel politicians were maneuvering in congress, but it took a brutal military coup led by a US-trained reptile to push humanity back for the next 50 years.

The bodies piled up in stadiums and mass graves. So many that it became difficult, as it often is in any war, to put faces and stories to the dizzying number of martyrs. Yet one victim loomed larger than any. Democracy was the first victim on September 11th, 1973. No matter the will of the masses; under neoliberalism they would all become slaves.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a flurry of financial crises, and the complete shifting of hegemonic power, democracy became a macabre corpse put on display, on flags and on newspaper headlines. Her broken body was used to justify endless imperial wars, sanctions, coups and regime change. The very surface of the planet itself began to rot under this regime. It became a hothouse for fascism and disenfranchisement, for sad and lonely people.

Forty-nine years later, and the hemisphere is literally on fire. The Amazon is burning, California is burning, and the ice caps are melting. Fires from molotovs are lighting up cops in Santiago. Barricades are aflame in Bolivia. Argentina shivers from the fires lit by indigenous torches held high in the streets of Ecuador. This winter, the houseless in New York will hold their hands towards this flame to warm themselves with the promise of change.

The ghost of democracy has been haunting the western hemisphere, but terrific spells have been cast and she is stirring into existence again. The altar was set by millions taking to the streets in support of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela – not just in Venezuela but across the world. The resurrection began with hundreds of youth in Chile leaping over turnstiles to protest fare hikes, a spell so powerful that it reverberated 5,000 miles to Brooklyn, where hundreds of youth did the same to protest a crumbling infrastructure felt most keenly by the fists of cops landing on Black and brown children.

The spell is convoked by thousands of voices singing Victor Jara.

The spell is convoked by thousands of voices chanting: se siente, se siente, Allende esta presente.

It is a promise articulated by a woman in the streets with a weary face, holding a sign that says: Neoliberalism was born in Chile and will die in Chile.

As we go into the year 2020, a scary year, it is necessary for us to hold hands and keep chanting, for us to join hands with our family elsewhere in the world and put our hearts and bodies to the task of resurrecting democracy. It will be the most difficult here, in the belly of the beast, where democracy never took root in a country where 30% of the labor force was once enslaved, where certain human beings were only counted as three-fifths of their white counterparts. Empire has no interest in its denizens meeting each other to pursue justice, equity and liberation. Yet, it is in the whole world’s best interest that we learn how to do this thing, and that we learn to do it well. The process will not be easy, but it is urgently needed.

Here’s to fires burning in all the right places.

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Graffiti in Beirut – September 2014

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They call it “conspiracy theory” as an excuse not to listen to what the people are trying to tell them.

 

How I See Victory Day (as an American)

Red salute to the millions who died in the fight against fascism! Tragically, it seems there are more martyrs to come.

Emboldened by US backing of their newly-installed government in Kiev, fascists brutally murdered at least forty anti-fascists in Odessa this last week. The response should have been unequivocal – ¡No pasarán! – but immediately following the tragedy, the spin machine was kicked into full gear. Who could say who actually killed the protesters? Who could say they did not kill themselves with piano wire? And here comes the anti-communist “Left” squad with truncheons, beating back people who mourn the death of these martyrs with their famous slogan: Neither Moscow nor DC.

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Positioning the United States, which is undoubtably at the helm of our planetary slide into darkness, as a comparable threat to Russia, encircled on all sides by the American war machine, is laughable, if not actively malicious.  According the latest SIPRI report on military expenditures, The United States spent $640 billion on “defense” in 2013, while Russia, with its conscripted military, spent a little more than 13% of what the US did.

But to frame this tragedy as a conflict between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian forces is to buy into the idea that Ukraine is standing bravely, on wobbly fawn’s legs, against the giant monster of Russia. Another way to frame the debate would be that a US funded coup brought a fascist, pro-austerity government into power in Kiev, and mobs of brownshirts are mopping up localized resistance against the fascists in parts of East Ukraine, going as far as to torture and burn them alive. If the Russian government is offering assistance to these  antifascists, among them communists, then shouldn’t we as antifascists even be a bit glad? And yet…

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see: https://twitter.com/keithgessen/statuses/462609427930308608

Even if there were anti-government protesters – *cough* excuse me, I mean to say Pro-Russians – shooting at pro-government protesters – *cough* excuse me, I mean to say Pro-Ukraines* – does this excuse the butcher of 40 armless civilians and then the arrest of hundreds more? I missed the numbers of those killed outside of the House of Labor that day… how many were there?

But for socialists, those who aspire to instill change in our world, who believe the system is fundamentally unjust and stacked against the world’s oppressed supermajority, the insistence on condemning “both imperialisms” is clearly an excuse to do nothing. A cop-out.

Warning flags go up when one hears the following: Yes, but isn’t Putin bad? You’re not saying you’re a “Putin-understander” are you? Saddam did gas his own children. Ghadaffi was leaning towards market reforms, wasn’t he? Iran makes its women wear hijab. It’s not purely socialist. Etc. Chances are these are people who cannot be arsed into marching to support the people being lynched in Ukraine. And if they were, well, they’d feel compelled to hand out flyers while marching explaining that yes, Putin is bad too. When you give credence to the imperialist narrative, you give people excuses not to act. What’s the point? Both sides are clearly in the wrong, and the offender bears the brunt of the barbarity.

This is false propaganda. The American fantasy of a hulking bloodthirsty Russia must be dispelled. Let the Russian left worry about Putin. The American left should be worrying about their own president, their own two-party mock democracy, the oppressed nations of African Americans and the Native Americans, the shadow, superexploited workforce they call “illegal”. And, more pressingly, the billions under surveillance, millions under occupation, drones butchering children, and yes, tax money going into the hands of fascists in Ukraine, who make molotov cocktails and strangle pregnant women to death.

There are fascists marching in Ukraine now. They are doing better than that, they have been installed and recognized by NATO and her allies. They are emboldened. They are firing on their own civilians who march for Victory Day, the day commemorating the unquantifiable sacrifice made by the Soviet Union in smashing Nazi Germany. Forty million killed as USA and UK sat back on their hands and watched, intentionally hoping the two would cull each other’s numbers. When the Ukrainian people hope to beat back the tide of austerity and god knows what else, they are labelled “Pro-Russian”. When they object to an unelected government on a “suicide mission” to strip the population of its last shreds of prosperity, must we allege they are on Russian payroll? Can we not guess that the Ukranian people, themselves having lost millions to Nazi aggression, know the cost is too high without “Russian agents” telling them about it?

So, on this Victory Day I try and remember all the people still fighting fascism today just as much as those who died fighting. As an American, I look to my own heroes and seek to emulate them in my struggle. And this means, as an American, being uncompromising and unwavering in my denouncement of our imperialist aggression abroad.

“narcotic earnestness” and the exclusion of working class people

from Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977) by Chris Marker

Two articles were published this week that featured similar takes on the emotional side of the socialist equation. Doug Henwood said he found the magazine-publishing left in Brooklyn encouraging because it offers an “intellectual seriousness without a narcotic earnestness”. Owen Jones wrote for the Independent saying that there’s nothing “personal” about socialism. What do they define as narcotic earnestness, as personal? Imagine a civil rights movement told to make racism “not personal”, telling people to settle down and see things logically for a change. Where’s the heart in it?

I suspect this lack of heart comes because of a distance from the idea. It’s no coincidence that people who are not workers, who have sometimes never even been workers, peddle these viewpoints of emotional disconnect and masculine affect. We would laugh off a white male who tries to tell us that feminism or anti-racism aren’t personal issues. A white male clearly has much less at stake in the fight against misogyny and racism than a woman of color. It would be no surprise to us if he could approach the situation without emotion – after all, what has he ever felt in his bones on the matter? So when a member of the privileged classes says that socialism is nothing personal, that narcotic earnestness is something to look down one’s nose at, we should have a similar reaction.

I believe that the reason the “new left” is pushed in the direction of academic dryness, blocked ears and inaction is precisely because those privileged classes, who have quite a different stake in the discussion, are the ones currently steering it. It’s a small, closed circle that is described by the New Statesmen as basically, “the wunderkind socialists of Brooklyn”. Workers are not included in this new left except as statistics and dehumanizing, baseless assumptions. Workers should be at the forefront of overthrowing capitalism, because they are the only ones who can do it. Those on the left who say “the left is dead” are, more often than not, those who benefit most as a class from the death of the left.

This is not to say the privileged classes who can afford to separate themselves so emotionally from socialism should be excluded entirely – far from it. But one should vigorously fight bourgeois ideas masquerading as “socialism” that spring from this source. If you cannot see the fight against capitalism as a fight to save your life, then you will never fight as hard. Without the inclusion of workers who have such a vital stake in overthrowing capitalism, the movement will remain on the pages of a magazine.

I happen to think that if there is such a thing as a “safe space” in this society, there should safe spaces on the left for people who are not bourgeois, people who come from working class backgrounds and people who are poor. I would like to see more workers’ journals, more workers’ panels. I believe that workers should be preferred recipients for writing and journalism grants. Workers are the ones who inevitably organize to accomplish socialism. After all, it is the people who have the most to lose who not only take socialism the most seriously, but also feel it the most personally. And workers know bullshit better than anybody; when you come around dispassionately speaking in a language meant to exclude them from things they care passionately about, they will turn their backs on you. Workers should be at the forefront of socialist ideology to defeat bourgeois ideas. Workers are the subject, not the object, of socialism.

Workers and the experiences of working people are erased daily in discourse on the left. They exist as statistics or as ignorant masses who need to be talked out of their own stupidity and shown “the way” by  wunderkind socialists of Brooklyn who (obviously) know more about capitalism than they do. It’s time to welcome workers into the discussion. They take socialism personally, they feel the blows on their bodies from capitalism daily. Most importantly, they bring the “narcotic earnestness” that pushes people into action.

Looking at what the average American worker consumes, very little of it represents their class interest. It is essential they be included in socialist discussions and organizing because they have the most to gain from socialism and because they can help articulate the heart in the theory.

I think the first step in this inclusion of workers should be for the rich to identify who they are on the left. I suggest a moneybag icon next to bylines of writers whose family wealth is more than $150,000. Doug Henwood, for example, attended Yale and makes his living as a financial advisor, yet is quoted in a story as offering authoritative views on this new left. There is nothing wrong with being born into money or having an advanced degree and speaking about leftism. It’s the “authoritative” part I take issue with. It’s the distance from the risk and reward and suggesting socialism isn’t personal, isn’t really about life or feelings, that poisons things. If one’s ideas aren’t bourgeois, there’s nothing to be afraid of by opening them up to challenge. If one can learn to speak to people simply and concisely, if one can listen well and not speak with condescension, then this is going to help. The art of self-criticism is lost on this generation of “new” leftists; we are terrified of critique or blacklisting ourselves out of academic institutions or publications. We tune out what we don’t want to hear, and hold tighter and more personally to our positions than we do to socialism. If we’re all on the same side, why the defensive posturing, why the lashing out?

There are two meanings of “taking it personally”, and one involves ego. A socialist should be eager to correct their ideological mistakes and take criticism from others. When criticism is painted as “trolling” and dismissed as “hysterical”, this is the ego talking. When the greatest stake you have in the conversation is whether or not you’re correct, then you have little to lose. The New Statesman article admits the socialist revival in Brooklyn seems to exist in the air, not in action, but fails to grasp that the lack of worker involvement, the beating heart of socialism, is why.

Dirty Wars (2013)

Jeremy Scahill gets out of the tank and walks with the locals 

Richard Rowley makes a good documentary – well shot, well narrated,  good storytelling – but there was something that kept nagging me throughout the showing. I finally put my finger on it near the end, when Jeremy Scahill was going over his revelations, his horror at how largely evil the world has become in the last 10 years. I remember being a bit of a smug huff at his crawling out of a tank in Afghanistan to explore the surroundings on his own, his anguish in facing a “boring” life back in Park Slope, all pretty normal for a documentary. Even the bloodied Somali corpses as props for Scahill to express appropriate disgust and horror is pretty par for course in an American documentary against an imperial backdrop. But what really had me was – really? What’s changed? Targeted assassinations,  kill lists, death squads, shadow proxy wars.. none of this is particularly new. Not even the part about extrajudically killing American citizens, either at home or abroad. I even asked the question to the panel at the end, maybe is the change something to do with the executive branch having more concentrated power? But this question was glazed over. Instead, we learn about how Scahill’s book (available for purchase by the concession stand) and this documentary were “piercing the veil” and how the New York Times calls it “riveting”. At one point, it was even compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was also credited with starting the Civil War, which is not only strange but a weird way of reading history.

But then, the scope was rather small. Even though the film describes 75 countries as suffering JSOC invasions and drone strikes, we are only presented with the theaters we understand a bit about already: Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. It was strange to me how Pakistan – being the main focus of these attacks – was somehow left out of the story. But either way, we are given “Islamic terrorism” and “drug cartels” as being the main reasons behind these attacks, with no broader scope as to the United State’s geopolitical and strategic capital interests. We get the feeling from the film that America needs to be doing something about these terrorist Muslims and drug lords, but perhaps it could be in a more humane way. After all, there is no dialectical relationship between the Taliban and the women and children slaughtered by Hellfire missiles. The link cannot exist because then we must see it also exists between Scahill, the Hellfire missiles being used to kill, and ourselves safe and sound in the IFC theater.

The finest part of the film is where a Somali general tells Scahill how Americans are the “masters of war” and “great teachers”. But the point is given in such a way where Americans watching have the chance to immediately settle back into the comfortable dichotomy of the Taliban vs. innocent Afghanis. Black and white, good guys and bad guys. No relationship, no history, just the sort of hogwash George Bush would hoot about on the radio. After all, we too must scramble to separate ourselves from responsibility. We too must be able, as Americans, to separate ourselves from our government – after all, we voted for Kerry in 2004 and did our part. In this film, there is no dialectical relationship between the people and power.  Surely there can be no connection between our relatively comfortable lives in the United States and children born without limbs in Fallujah – otherwise we really could do something about the violence done in our names.

It was a good documentary, as I said. It’s important that people know what’s going on, how the United States’s endless lust for war affects human beings all over the world. However it should not be understood as “groundbreaking” or something that will change the tide of politics forever in this country. Whipping out my checkbook or signing a petition is not going to stop America’s ravenous appetite for blood and gold. These sorts of things have always happened in American history, maybe not with so much executive power and technological gadgets, but the idea has remained the same for hundreds of years. The question elicited from the film shouldn’t be “what can I do?” but rather, “how does this happen?” Once we understand how the machine works, we can properly throw a wrench in the gears.

The other questions during the Q&A session were mainly concerned with calls to action, what is it that we can do? The questions sounded rather like the “we” meant a crowd of individuals as opposed to “we” the people. They brought up a journalist jailed in Yemen, petitions for his release as he was arrested while covering this story. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as well-off citizens nestled on the island of Manhattan, is there nothing more you can do than sign a petition? On your own? I guess not. In the theater, many of those watching the horrific catalog of violence wrecked by the American government probably voted for Barack Obama, the man whose voice on the phone actually demanded the Yemeni journalist’s imprisonment, the man whose order slaughters thousands of unnamed innocents. The viewer does not trust their own ability because she is limited by their view of the world where all one can do is sign a petition and vote the lesser of two villainous warmongers.

reality check: American radicalism

At the start of December 4th 1969, Fred Hampton was drugged by a FBI informant after teaching a political education course at a local church in Chicago. Later, when he was passed out, fourteen cops burst into his apartment and murdered him in his bed, next to his pregnant girlfriend. After two shots to the head to confirm his death, he was dragged into the hallway and left in a pool of blood. He was 21 years old.

Almost 100 years earlier, John Brown sat at his desk, waiting for execution at the age of 59. He wrote his last words to his wife. She was waiting nearby, but he was refused the right to spend the last night of his life with her, that refusal being the only time his stoic comportment threatened to break down. He had helped lead a militant uprising of enslaved people. He was hanged and then put in his coffin, noose still around his neck, and sent back north to be buried.

The list of American radicals who died in battle against a massive system of oppression is long and should be a source of pride for Americans who seek to follow a life fighting for economic and social justice. They were those who were expelled by the society they lived in because of their beliefs, because of the color of their skin, because of their sex, the list goes on. These were people willing to die for their beliefs. Even those who were possibly not ready still died sometimes. They were those whose death would perpetuate the American machine of oppression and pain.

What is a radical? A radical is a thorn in the side of what she opposes. The radical is pushed outward like a splinter under the skin. The radical accepts that she will live a life of lack unless she gives in and changes her mind. Even then, she might not make her way back into the fold. This is to be expected – a radical seeks to disrupt the reproduction of  oppression, not negotiate or change it warmly. As we edge closer to the abyss, as the planet itself threatens to crumble underneath our feet, those who would call themselves radicals must make a decision. Are they pleading or are they demanding? Are they negotiating or are they accusing?

When I was a little girl, I learned about my great-grandfather, shipped over from the old country as a child and sold to a mining company in Montana. He grew up to become an IWW organizer and was beaten, threatened and blacklisted. Blacklisted was the first radical word I learned. To be blacklisted is a heavy thing for sure, and my grandfather grew up in crushing poverty. My great-grandmother begged for food. No one offered him a warm hand because he was a thorn in the side of capitalism, because he demanded that workers have the right to the means of production and to the fruits of their labor. The labor movement was fighting for an eight-hour day. Now, as the eight-hour day slips through our fingers, today’s self-proclaimed radicals write television reviews for major American newspapers and hold court at academic conferences.

They claim they are interested in building a party – but where is the phone number? How do I get involved? Is it a party that will vote Democrat? The academics – and I am an academic, considering my education – fight over semantics and whether or not pornography is ethical. Meanwhile, people all over the country are ready for more. They are ready for disruption. Sectors of this generation see the ability to reproduce themselves being eroded away. Nearly seven million Americans are under correctional supervision. Schools are being closed. Poison is being poured in our lakes and rivers, in our oceans and all over our land. Be sure – this will not hold. It’s not sustainable. But the people in power will try every trick in the book to sustain themselves.

We’ve seen it before. We talk about women as if their biggest problem is what sort of clothes they’re wearing. We talk about race as if we have the first black president. Now the very term “radical” – a comforting dogwhistle nowadays for sleepy anticapitalists – is being appropriated, subsumed into the project of class reproduction. When you broadcast your opinions and find it thrilling that major media outlets have brought you on board, you need to consider your part to play in the reproduction of class. Do you make a living on your radicalism? Do you want to? My beloved once told me: “I want to be a low-level Soviet bureaucrat, but you live the life you have, not the life you want.”

There is nothing wrong with carving out a corner and trying to feed yourself. It is quite another project you are envisioning, however, when book deals with no outlines line up and event coordinators begin to court you. When you imagine a new party, one that appeals to the so-called masses through the capitalist propaganda machine, you must be very careful. When you start getting printed in the New York Times and Washington Post, when you see your face staring back at you as the primary photo accompanying a story, you must be even more careful. A story about you is not a story of the system of oppression that cracks skulls every day in this country.

When your critics become your trolls, this is because you somehow think your points are correct because you have more of a space to speak. You forget how you got this page space, you forget why it was given to you. You (yes, you dear reader!) are part of this machine now. The skin is not pushing you outwards, it is pulling you in towards its organs. Close your eyes and imagine what is is like to have paid staffers, then wonder why so many Black Panthers were sleeping in the same apartment that tragic night in Chicago. When you yell down that someone is a troll because they have less twitter followers than you, remember that you are calling yourself a radical and placing yourself in a pantheon of radicals who gave their lives to end capitalism. Wonder then, why Fred Hampton wasn’t published in the New York Times.

Slavoj Zizek is honest when he says that he thinks there must be a vanguard party because he himself wants nothing to do with struggle, with politics. He wants to be a boring man with a boring life somewhere. Who then, will execute the ideas of those who proclaim to be on the vanguard of the Left today – who are the radicals? Do they exist? The Left Forum is this weekend in New York, and Verso, the leading publisher of leftist books, sent out invitations to their after-party. Have we ever seen such a crowd of communists who are so willing and able to rationalize away their own inaction? Watch them drink cocktails and discuss the importance of this or that idea, watch them rally around positions like it’s some sort of game. I went to an ISO meeting in Brooklyn and met fund managers, people in advertising. We must look at the way that these “radical” ideas should shape our lives. What worth does a bunch of words on paper have when there is no one that is willing to put their thoughts into action? What do these “writers” even think of their own ideas when they do not even inspire themselves to make the necessary sacrifices, adopt the necessary discipline? Here we suddenly find shivering cowards, insisting that they are caught up in their everyday lives too much to put a shoulder to the wheel and push.

Overthrowing capitalism is about sacrifice and discipline. When we fantasize class revolution or wars against Nazis, we fancy ourselves willing to give our lives to the cause. Yet when it comes to choosing paths in our lives, we hesitate in committing fully to our positions. It becomes about this or that obligation, the desire and right, we bark defensively, to lead a normal boring life. Tough shit, comrade! If even Marx shivered in poverty while shoveling what money he had into failed revolutionary causes then surely you puffing up about twitter followers, an appearance on television or in the pages of a society magazine is nothing to brag about. If people like John Brown were willing to put their head in a noose, if strikers willing to be shot in the streets for demanding eight-hour workdays, if tens of millions of Soviets died fighting the Nazis, isn’t steering clear of a lifetime of normalcy and comfort the least you can do?

on somatophobia more generally, or, is “Food a haven for reactionaries”?

T’ai: I hadn’t even read the newest piece and I came to a bunch of the same conclusions about food politics today when reading this article on Gawker. Somatophobia and the fear of hunger.

Em: Yes, it’s horrible.

T’ai: Or rather, you don’t deal with the suffering or need by eliminating the instrument which suffers or needs. Wanting tasty food isn’t a curse. These people probably get angry when they involuntarily sneeze, or laugh. Optimizing nutrution is a great goal, but it’s really wrong to act like something that isn’t whatsoever pleasant to eat is anywhere near to optimal. It really does come down to a weird hatred of being bodied, or anything involuntary, like sneezing or laughing or orgasms.

Em: It’s a weird contradiction. Capital demands individual units, but people seek to discard their own units in an individualistic way. It’s possible that the individual desire to escape the body is the unfocused individual desire to escape capitalism.

T’ai: It’s true that it’s possible to be denied agency by immaterial things, like drug addiction. Which is why I think that “do what you want because it’s your body/drug politics” are stupid. But, like, that doesn’t make every single biological or psychological need a sort of oppression. Things like the need for food can be vehicles for actual oppression, obviously.

Em: Like through capitalism, commodification. All of those items: hunger, sex, disease, they have all been commodified.

T’ai: Yeah, there’s something very No Alternative about it. I feel like the sort of person who is into this displays a really weird desire to escape (and indeed destroy) the human body/condition as such; eliminating biological and psychological needs instead of fulfilling them, uploading one’s mind, and so on. There’s something that bothers me about a viewpoint that sees suffering human bodies (in whatever fashion) as a thing to be made obsolescent rather than a thing to be treated more respectfully and humanely.

Em: Even eliminating them! Eliminating suffering bodies is easier than treating them, for capital.

T’ai: Yeah…