Saturday, May 28, 2011

R.I.P. Gil Scott-Heron

I just saw this morning that (Chicago native) Gil Scott-Heron has passed away at the age of 62 in New York (obits here, here, here and here). What a loss. I'll write something more substantive soon, but for now, enjoy two selections:


Friday, May 27, 2011

Education in Capitalist Societies

"We have needs beyond the needs to consume and these aren't recognized by capitalism. We have a need, for example, to develop and exercise our talents. When our capacities lie unused, they don't enjoy the zest for life that comes from having one's capacities flourish. People are able to develop themselves only when they get good education. But in a capitalist society, the education of children is threatened by those who would contort education to fit the narrow demands of the labor market.

The ruling class wants education to be geared toward restoring profitability to the system. It's dangerous to educate the young too much, because they will become cultivated people who are likely to be less satisfied with the low-paying jobs the market offers them. This might create aspirations that capitalism can't match. This, for obvious reasons, is dangerous for the ruling class. People must be "educated to know their place".

The state is trying to fashion individuals who will be willing sellers of low-grade labor power. It is deliberately underdeveloping large sectors of the population. The elites think that it's dangerous to give the masses too much education. It's hard to imagine a more undemocratic approach to education. There's a lot of talent in almost every human being. But in a lot of cases that talent goes undeveloped, because people lack the time, energy, resources and facilities to develop it. Throughout history, only a leisured minority has enjoyed this fully on the backs of the toiling majority. This should no longer continue to be the case. We have superb technology to restrict toil. Capitalism doesn't use that technology in a liberating way; it uses it to confine people to largely unfulfilling work and it shrinks from providing the enriching education that the technology makes possible."
-G.A. Cohen, "Against Capitalism"


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Theory and Practice

The conservative pictures society as growing like a tree and just as twigs and leaves cannot affect the growth of the main trunk, so individuals cannot affect changes in society. This conservative theory reappears in various forms in the labor movement. It appears, for example, in the appeals so often made by right-wing British Labour Party leaders to be "realistic". What "realism" means for them is usually the acceptance of the limitations imposed by existing circumstances. Behind such an acceptance there lies a conviction, which is often never made explicit, that circumstances cannot be changed, or at best very, very slowly. This belief in the domination of man by environment is also reproduced in Stalinism. Revolutionary failure and collaboration with class enemies are always excused on the grounds that the so-called objective conditions have not yet ripened, that we must wait until circumstances become favorable. This inner link between social democracy and Stalinism is illustrated by their attitudes to the future development of British capitalism. The Stalinists believe that the inner mechanism of capitalism is such that in the long run it must automatically break down. The social democrats believe that the devices used by modern capitalists ensure that the machine will keep going. Both speak from the standpoint of passive observers outside the system who ask: "Will it keep going or not?" But the Marxist standpoint starts from the view that this question is not a question about a system outside us, but about a system of which we are a part. What happens to it is not a matter of natural growth or mechanical change which we cannot affect. We do not have to sit and wait for the right objective conditions for revolutionary action. Unless we act now such conditions will never arise. For one of the aims of contemporary capitalism is to have its crises by installments, with a dislocation in this industry or in that, which will avoid any total breakdown.
Alasdair MacIntyre (1960) "What is Marxist Theory For?"


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

De la indignación a la revolución

Esta revuelta tiene elementos de gran importancia. En primer lugar, ha roto con el pesimismo generalizado; ha creado, con su ejemplo, un nuevo ambiente que nos señala que la gente puede y tiene ganas de luchar. En segundo lugar, nos muestra la capacidad de involucración, creatividad y organización colectiva que tenemos aquellas personas a quienes más nos afecta la crisis. Al mismo tiempo las acampadas, con sus asambleas, están señalando lo que puede ser una democracia real, organizada desde abajo; muestran en la práctica que hay alternativas al parlamentarismo y al “votar cada cuatro años”. Por último, tiene un alto contenido de reclamaciones anticapitalistas, pidiendo alternativas concretas y globales al sistema actual. La palabra revolución ha pasado a formar parte del vocabulario cuotidiano de miles de activistas.
(via En Lucha)


Mass Struggle in Spain


Friday, May 20, 2011

More "Evolutionary Psychology"

Here and Here.

It's good that there has been a rather swift response to this sort of garbage. But in the grand scheme of things, the criticisms of it miss the mark. The criticisms of this pseudo-scientific trash are too narrow. They miss the fact that this whole "research program" (I think it's already conceding to much to call it that) is based on faulty premises. Moreover, they miss the fact that this sort of garbage is hardly new- it is a revamped version of eugenics (which, we'd do well not to forget, went into extreme disrepute in the aftermath of Auschwitz for good reasons).

This isn't just about race and politics, though it is about that. This is about science. "Evolutionary psychology", as it has come to be known, is based on faulty reasoning, unfounded methodological assumptions, shoddy data, and is, on that basis, junk science. The "conclusions" reached by such charlatans are resting on thin air. They violate every principle of scientific inquiry in the book, while maintaining enough of an air of being "scientific" to piggy back on the credibility of serious science.

Suppose, for example, you were applying for a job. Suppose that you were asked by an interviewer what your major life goals were, and you replied "well, in line with evolutionary psychology, I guess my basic goals are just to pass on my genes as much as possible." By any reasonable standard, that would be a batshit crazy thing to say. Serious psychologists would correctly judge that such a person had some sort of psychological problem- surely no plausible conception of psychic health could countenance someone claiming to have such a basic life goal. Yet, for all that, these "evolutionary psychologist" charlatans claim that they're giving the best explanation of the data, where the data is supposed to be living, breathing human beings. But it's not even clear that they are looking at the data- they are simply deducing the implications of their faulty assumptions (which include misinterpretations of evolutionary theory itself). But, of course, science isn't a deductive enterprise. It's supposed to turn out that your hypotheses are falsifiable. But are the basic claims of "evolutionary psych" falsifiable? It seems as though they can give a revisionist interpretation of anything at all that we do where it turns out that we're just doing exactly what their theory says we're supposed to do. Of any human behavior whatsoever, they can devise some interpretation according to which it is an exemplification of their theory. But that is not how science is supposed to work. It should turn out that the basic claims of a theory could be dis-confirmed by the evidence.

This stuff is sloppy bullshit. Sometimes it is claimed that all human behavior is explainable in terms of the basic function of perpetuating the species. Sometimes it is claimed that all human behavior tends to serve the function of passing on a particular individual's genes. It's not even clear which of these is supposed to be operative, and often the two are run together. But both of them are quite obviously false, and both trade on misinterpretations of evolutionary biology.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Salvaging the Socialist Cause

Here's Richard Seymour reviewing Eric Hobsbawm's recent How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (via Lenin's Tomb).


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is Slutwalk Advancing the Feminist Cause?

(photo (via Flickr) by Rick Carroll)

There's an excellent post over at The F Word on this topic. I encourage everyone to read the post and to check out the site (although I have to admit that I haven't yet figured out how the comments thread works over there yet).

Given that I agree with most of the premises that the author puts forward (i.e. that blaming-the-victim is toxic, that women are justified in being angry, that we need to fight back, etc.), I was struck by the fact that she arrived at a different overall assessment of the event than I did. Though the author herself doesn't put the point this way, I think it's fair to say that she concludes that we should answer the above question in the negative. Or, at the very least, she gives us reason to think that the politics of using (or, if you like, re-deploying, reclaiming, etc.) the word "slut" are questionable.

She begins the post by saying a lot of things that I strongly agree with:

Victim blaming is one of the most insidious, abusive, and traumatic experiences a woman can go through. Not only have we been assaulted, had to come out and admit/describe the assault (terrifying in and of itself), but then we are treated as though we somehow instigated, deserved, or imagined the assault. It is sick. I have witnessed it and I have experienced it. No woman should ever be told that she must stay inside in order to ‘avoid being raped’ or that her clothing or her actions or her behaviour or her level of intoxication somehow made her deserving of sexual assault. With this in mind, I can certainly get behind Slutwalk’s message. I am glad that we have had enough, and I am glad that we’re getting pissed off.
But, she suggests, there is more to Slutwalk than the above suggests. One of her worries is that the discussions surrounding Slutwalk (on the facebook discussion threads in particular) seem to avoid the issue of feminism as such. Moreover, she detects a thread of "post-feminism" in the discussions as well. As she puts it:
I saw numerous attacks on radical feminism and radical feminists and I witnessed the reinforcement of negative and untrue stereotypes about feminism (you know the ones: man-hating, misandrist, no-fun, sex-negative, etc). While I do believe the organizers had good intentions, desiring that Slutwalk be inclusive to all, it began to look a lot like the ‘funfeminist’ – NO NO WE’RE THE CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE FEMINISTS. THE FUN ONES. WE’RE OK. WE LIKE PENISES AND PORN AND LOOKING SEXY kind of feminism that, in the end doesn’t successfully challenge much of anything, and simply repackages sexist imagery in ‘empowering’ wrapping paper.
Again, I agree on all accounts here. This maneuver of reinforcing false stereotypes about second-wave feminism while pandering to the status quo should be criticized and challenged by the Left. This frustrating ideology (what I derisively call "post feminism") attempts to appropriate many of the hard-fought gains of second-wave feminism while caricaturing and distancing itself from the very political movement that won the gains in the first place. Though the author doesn't mention it, there's also a close cousin of this regressive "post feminist" ideology, namely, the "feminism just means whatever individuals want it to mean" view. I've criticized this view elsewhere, but I digress.

The second main point of criticism leveled at Slutwalk concerns the politics of the word "slut". This is an instance of a difficult, delicate political question for which, I think, no general answers are available. That question has to do with whether to appropriate or redeploy originally oppressive terms (e.g. queer) for emancipatory purposes. Personally, my view is that the question of whether "strategically re-deploying" certain words is politically sound can only be answered in concrete, particular contexts. Still, the concrete question of whether to redeploy "slut" in the present context remains.

I must say that I'm conflicted on this question. To be sure, I think that the notion of "re-claiming" the term is wrong-headed. It was never claimed in the first place, so it can't very well be re-claimed at this point in time. The question has to be whether to appropriate it and, in a "Bulterian" fashion, "strategically re-deploy" it in order to disrupt the slut/virgin ideology by exploding it from within. At the very least, it has to be said that the "Bulterian" position has the virtue of recognizing that the social meaning of contested political concepts is itself political, up for grabs, etc. Still, I don't think this concession answers our question. Is using the word "slut" a progressive move?

As I say, I'm conflicted, so my answer is "yes and no". I say no because I worry about the "post-feminist" problems discussed above. Moreover, I'm not yet convinced that it really is effective to simply pick up the word as it is and try to do emancipatory things with it. I'm not convinced that "re-deploying" the concept in this context really will have the effect of disrupting the way that the oppressive slut/virgin dichotomy functions. I'm worried that precisely the opposite will happen.

But I also think that the use of "slut" by Slutwalk has progressive potential, but not because of any Bulterian story about redeployment. It has progressive potential because it completely shifts the burden of argument off the backs of victimized women and onto the sexists who insist on focusing the discussion of sexual violence on what women wear, etc. That is, given its most progressive interpretation, Slutwalk in effect says: "Fine, suppose I do dress like a "slut". Suppose I do it intentionally. Even in this case, it's still absolutely absurd to suggest that I am somehow to blame for being violently assaulted. It doesn't fucking matter what women are wearing -that's entirely beside the point. What matters is shutting sexual violence down by any means necessary." In other words, Slutwalk aims to completely shift the discussion from what individual women are wearing to the social and political problem of sexual violence in contemporary capitalist societies.

Also, one final point of friendly disagreement. Social movements are messy and the politics in them are up for grabs. Not everyone in the anti-war movement, for example, opposes the war for the right reasons, some people are against some wars and not others, etc. In short, the politics in social movements aren't always consistent, progressive, or plausible. So, radicals, feminists, socialists, etc. have to know this going in. We cannot refuse to participate on the grounds that too many in the movement are presently of a "post feminist" persuasion. That's something we have to do our best to change through discussion, argument, and participation in the movement. In fact, the more radicals involved in Slutwalk who are ready to change peoples minds and challenge them to reject facile "post feminist" politics the better. Even progressive movements are sites of political struggle. Dominant and ruling class ideas are present there as well- and it's the job of radicals to participate and agitate within those movements to encourage them to be as confident, ambitious, and radical as possible.

So, while I agree with many of the criticisms of Slutwalk put forward in the post, I think participation is crucial for radicals. There hasn't been much of anything in the way of feminist-esque acticism in the US for too long. Very recently there were some mobilizations by pro-choice groups against the assault on Planned Parenthood. I think one basic task of radicals right now has got to be to help draw the connections between Slutwalk and those recent marches. We have to put forward the argument that the US desperately needs another women's movement that is organized and willing to fight for a complete and total dismantling of gender oppression and sexism. We won't ever win that argument unless we're on the front lines talking with the participants in Slutwalk, many of whom may have never participated in a political event in their lives. Their views are still in the making, and radicals can make a difference in winning new folks to ideas that have been marginalized since the 1960s and 70s.


Update on the Public Employees Struggle in Ohio

Given T's post on Wisconsin, the Democrats, and other labor struggles around the country, I thought I'd post a little update of what we've seen here in Ohio over the past couple months. It's amazing how these movements can at once be so inspiring and mobilizing, and yet make you hopeless and disappointed.

Ohio Gov. Kasich and his Republican juggernaut in the state house (rare products of 2010 confusion in this traditionally labor-friendly state) pushed through SB5 in almost record time. The bill stripped public employees of pretty much every tool they use to make a union have any impact whatsoever (including binding arbitration and strikes), and did not exempt fire fighters or police. For the two or three week period the bill was in committee, there were massive protests at the Ohio Capitol in Columbus. A couple of these protests brought in over 20,000 people, record numbers in recent Ohio history. Though the protests never reached the magnitude of Wisconsin ones, we were clearly inspired by what we'd seen there, and labor supporters were crawling out of the woodwork.

Suddenly, friends and colleagues who I'd always known to be rather apathetic were attending rallies and singing labor tunes. During most of the protests, police succeeded in blocking crowds out of the building itself, claiming it was for "safety purposes." Though there were a few prior skirmishes on the capitol steps, the protesters were strangely respectful of these decisions and remained outside (though there would be chants of "This is our house! Let the people in!").

But here's a little video from inside the Statehouse, a week before SB5 was set to pass, taken during Kasich's State of the State address. On this day, it seemed clear there was no keeping us out of the statehouse, and we filled the main atrium, at times, drowning out Kasich inside the legislative chamber with our voices. Lawmakers and press stood at the top of the stairs taking pictures and video of us. Some Democrats came out to cheer with us at various times. It was clear this was a spectacle people at the Statehouse had never seen before. It was invigorating.

In the week it became certain the bill would pass, a coalition of student activists from Ohio State University and union members plotted to make this resistance more militant and more aggressive. This bill was going to pass, but it wasn't going to pass without making Kasich and company get their hands dirty. They were going to occupy the statehouse. Firemen agreed to participate and be arrested in some civil disobedience, alongside students and other activists. Leadership from a few unions vowed their support and offered money and legal services to handle the consequences. There were trainings on how to act when arrested and what to say if questioned by the media.

About 12 hours before the action was set, the activists heard from union leadership and the AFL. There would be no occupation. There would be no civil disobedience. There would be no arrests. If students carried the plan through, the unions would condemn us in the media and distance themselves from us. SB5 was going to pass quietly. And we were going to channel our resistance into a referendum battle, whether we liked it or not.

Unlike Wisconsin, there is no apparent legal loophole to pursue to get SB5 overturned. We've gone a strictly referendum route. What could have been occupations and maybe someday strikes are now petition drives and will soon become get out the vote efforts. It's clear this is a strategy that serves Democrats. They get liberal voters to the Ohio polls. They pull the rug out from anyone who might want to take a more radical route that threatens their stranglehold on labor. They vow their support for labor without any of the icky problems that come with actually supporting workers' power.

And instead of this turning into demands for higher taxes on the rich or other solutions to the state's budget crisis, we're going to skirt the budget problem altogether. We're not going to get the chance to challenge the discourse of scarcity driving all this madness. We'll let the Right cut from every where else, including the social safety net many of these same public employees already depend on, and we'll all go to the polls and vote. We might get rid of SB5, but any real labor movement will be dead. Democrats will demand that we stick with them in 2012, in order to make sure SB5 doesn't happen again. And the cycle goes on and on.

Any hope remaining? Yes. I've talked to countless union members (public and not) who are absolutely fed up with this system. They are fed up with their union leadership and with the Democrats. They want more.


Racism and Sexual Oppression, History and Coalition

I've just finished Ladelle McWhorter's awe-inspiring 2009 book, Racial and Sexual Oppression in Anglo-America. First of all, I have to say that the title is terrible, and not because it doesn't fit. It does fit. That's exactly what the book is about. The title is terrible because it does not begin to capture how provocative McWhorter's arguments about the topic are. Having just set the copy down, I am eager to isolate and articulate just what makes this book so compelling and jaw dropping.

McWhorter opens the book with a very personal introduction, in which she tells the story of her reaction as a white lesbian to the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Horrified and devastated by the reports of his death, McWhorter attends a vigil hosted by LGBT undergraduates at Penn State University. After some awkward attempts to say something meaningful about what happened, the crowd appears to be on verge of dispersing, prompting one young member of the crowd to suggest that they ought to sing "We Shall Overcome." But to McWhorter's surprise, none of these young people knows the words to the song. McWhorter says she was raised on the song and can't remember a time before she knew the song, but rather than offering up the words for the young crowd, she stays silent. She remembers instead a time when a young African American man told him he was often offended by the LGBT movement's appropriation of the symbols of the black civil rights movement.

After the vigil disbands, McWhorter still isn't sure whether she should have started the song, in order to offer a mode of healing for the clearly directionless crowd of LGBT people trying to find something to unify them and capture their pain, or, if she was right not to allow it, but the experience is something that prompts her almost decade-long research on the history of what are seen as distinct forms of oppression. What is the connection or overlap? What is distinct? What is it that makes a non-homophobic African American object to the identification of LGBT activists with black civil rights activists?

McWhorter's answer comes partially through the way her book is structured. What follows is not a comparative history of the two strains of oppression and the counter-movements they create, as one might expect from her line of questioning, but one historical story (or genealogy, as the very Foucaultian McWhorter insists). The history of racial and sexual oppression in Anglo-America begins in colonial America with the buying and selling of slaves of all races. McWhorter traces the invention of race to the economic and labor needs of dominant classes in America. It was not racism that bore slavery, McWhorter boldly asserts, but slavery that bore racism.
McWhorter's argument painstakingly reconstructs the travel of race from a question of lineage, to one of morphology, to one of biology, obsessed with processes and developments in the late 19th century, a phase in which race became wholeheartedly a phenomenon of sexual practices, and the practice of racism, one of the regulation of that sexuality. McWhorter does not distinguish between the eugenics projects that limited non-white migration and the eugenics projects that sterilized poor whites, or between the eugenics projects that led to the segregation of African Americans from all social services that might help them to thrive and those that institutionalized white Americans with disabilities or castrated gay men and circumcised lesbians. The story Americans have identified as scientific racism is at once the story of racism and sexual oppression. All of these practices, McWhorter argues, were geared toward the proliferation of white supremacy and the eventual domination of a strong, virile national race, and the methods employed were all meant to identify and then contain sexual practices not in line with this mission.

A couple of profound interventions her argument and methods make:

1-The idea that systems of oppression intersect is an understatement, given McWhorter's argument. Material history does not necessarily make these distinctions between systems, even if certain historical actors try to make them discursively for strategic purposes. We must acknowledge this overlap or we risk being fragmented by multiple identity categories, not recognizing that our complicity with some systems of oppression actually feed our oppression by other systems.

2-McWhorter redefines racism. Racism for McWhorter is not the assumption that all members of a race are the same, similarly inferior, and acting on that assumption. (In fact, American eugenicists invented this argument and this concept in order to distance their own practices from Hitlerism. Even though their project was clearly the proliferation of the white race and the elimination of inferior races, they did so, they boasted, through focus on and evaluation of individual characteristics, rather than assumptions about entire groups (231)). McWhorter says the racism we inherent from these movements is racism against the abnormal (291). This is a move that allows critiques of multiple systems of oppression (racism, homophobia, ableism, classism) to share the same ground. It also forces us to stop trying to fight for rights on the grounds that, hey, we're just normal Americans too, rather than insisting that we deserve them because we claim them, refusing to adjust ourselves and fall into this oppressive trap of the normal.

3-History matters...a lot. McWhorter hesitates in the conclusion to say definitively whether she made the right decision not to sing "We Shall Overcome" (which she acknowledges, actually emerged from the labor movement and was then used by black civil rights movements!). Instead, McWhorter offers a nuanced position and acknowledges that she understands the sides people take (I guess this may be frustrating for those hoping she'd solve the problem, rather than explore its contours). She recognizes why calling on that history of the oppression of other minorities is important to LGBT activists who have to contextualize what is happening to them, especially given the history she has just laid out. And, distinguishing viewpoints like that of the African American man she references in the introduction from homophobic African Americans, McWhorter also grants that calling on that history without any real commitment to knowing the specificities of anti-black racism in the United States is a huge problem. What she fears are arguments that merely acknowledge overlap, and then assert that racism and homophobia are two heads on the same beast, without exploring the historical depth of these concepts and the effects these differing histories have. What she objects to further is the utilization or co-opting of black history without any real commitment to coalitional politics and to actually knowing the history of racial struggle in the United States. Her book is a lesson in avoiding both pitfalls.

Some questions: I was thinking a lot about how Common was berated by white conservatives recently, and how so many people can simply tell us it wasn't racist, because what they objected to was his content and not the color of his skin. This is such a shallow understanding of racism. How do we get beyond these frameworks for evaluating racism and propose another, short of asking the person to read McWhorter's book or something?

Furthermore, it seems that simply saying, "Hey, that's racist" is not an adequate response. T's post that tries to uncover what these conservatives gain from playing this racist game is so much stronger as a response. But how do we take it further? And not just show that their rejection of Common is about racializing Obama and his government, but perhaps, as I think McWhorter would demand, that it's about marginalizing the non-normal, and therefore, ensuring that other citizens stay in line and remain normal? How do we ensure that incidents like these not be remembered just as racist moments or incidents, but as signs of the very over-arching, normalizing roots of society? How do we get these public debates to move from classifying events as race events and LGBT events and feminist events and labor events, and start working to show the connections between them?


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Obama lurches further Right on Environment

First watch this and this. And then read this.


Wisconsin, The Democrats, and Beyond

Let's be clear. The Democrats suffocated the struggle in Wisconsin and ultimately snuffed out opposition to Walker. They called for an end to the protests, an end to the occupations, and an end to the discussions about labor action. They told crowds of 100,000s to "lay down their placards" and to focus on electioneering efforts. The result of this strategy is on full display. Walker has got his way, and our side was defeated. The opposition has dwindled, and the energy of that uprising has dissipated. Had the movement maintained its independence from the Democrats and pushed on to ratchet up the pressure through job actions, things could very well have turned out differently.

But it's actually worse than just defeat in Wisconsin. Trade unionists are facing ruthless Wisconsin-like anti-union laws in several other states as well. And, though it has largely gone unnoticed by the crowd, many of these states are run by Democratic governors. The crushing of unions is a bipartisan project.

The most obvious examples are New York, California and Illinois. These are well-known "blue" states, with solid "liberal credentials". That's supposed to be as good as it gets from an electioneering standpoint, right? From the perspective, what could be better than a solidly Democratic state government, a Democratic governor, and two Democratic U.S. Senators?

In New York, Gov. Cuomo actually had the chutzpah to campaign on an anti-union, pro-austerity platform. He didn't even bother sugar-coating his conservative politics. And what did the liberals in New York do in the last election cycle? They gave Cuomo full support on the grounds that he was the "lesser evil". And hat about the public sector unions whom Cuomo promised he would face down and suppress in order to balance the budget? They gave him full support too. The utter bankruptcy of this political strategy is on full display for all to see.

Cuomo has allowed taxes on the richest New Yorkers to expire, while simultaneously pushing through punishing cuts to education and health care. Cuomo has also boldly placed public sector workers in the cross hairs. He wants more than $450 million in cuts to come from union workers. And he's promising to layoff more than 12,000 public workers at a time when jobs are scarce and public aid is being slashed. So much for the lesser evil as the only political option. If there was a large, highly organized and militant Left in New York, it would be possible to ratchet up pressure by way of protests and strikes. This is how such austerity measures have been defeated elsewhere in the world, and there is no reason why they couldn't be defeated here in a similar fashion. But to take this more oppositional perspective would require cutting the umbilical cord from the Democratic Party. It would mean being open to independent, grass-roots, social-movement-driven politics.

In Illinois things are similarly bleak. In the run-up to the 2010 elections, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted to endorse Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn for governor. Not everyone in the union thought this was a good idea. Reformers felt that the union should take a more independent, oppositional stance toward the Democratic governor given the attacks that were sure to come in the following year.

In IL, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly has just passed a Wisconsin-style bill (S.B. 7) that revokes the right of teachers to go on strike, undermines tenure, and works to generally silence the voice of teachers. This move by Illinois Democrats is right out of Scott Walker's playbook. Predictably, Quinn did not veto it. And even more predictably, Mayor-elect and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel strongly supported the measure. Say what you like about Rahm, at least he was frank enough to proclaim his hatred of teachers and his desire to revoke their union rights during his campaign for mayor. The same cannot be said for his former boss. And, as has been widely noted, it's important to point out that Rahm worked his connections to put tremendous amounts of pressure on the legislature to get the anti-union result he'd been hoping for. This bill has the grubby finger prints of the most powerful Illinois Democrats names all over it.

The bill itself is a real whopper. As a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher recently told me, the bill effectively guts teachers' vacation time and opens the doors for an unpaid increase in their workday. Emanuel has been pushing hard to increase the school day in Chicago without paying teachers for the extra hours they will now be asked to work. Of course, as teachers frequently point out, they already do a hefty amount of unpaid labor in the form of lesson-planning and grading (which they perform in the private sphere, which is a big reason why it often goes unnoticed or unappreciated). Rather than increasing their obligation to perform unpaid labor, they should be compensated for the unpaid labor they're already performing! But that is the exact opposite position of the one that the Democrats in Illinois are taking. For the Democrats, the answer is to squeeze more work out of the teachers for less money. And in order to to do that effectively, the organs of voice and workplace democracy (i.e. unions) must be weakened enough that teachers have no way to contest these changes. As the Democrats who run the state are well aware, when there is even a small measure of democracy in the workplace, it is far more difficult to push workers around and screw them over. From a P.R. perspective, the Democrat strategy is to scapegoat teachers as "lazy public employees" and further tout the toxic ideology of "education reform" (i.e. privatization, union bashing, corporate-run charters as the answer to structural problems, etc.).

This post is already getting too long, but readers will have no difficulty finding information on Democrat Jerry Brown's aggressively conservative, pro-business, pro-austerity budget in California.

This is tough news to stomach. But there's going to be a fightback. Teachers in IL understand that there must be a fightback -they've got no choice but to fight for their lives right now. And fighting back in this context means fighting against the regressive, corporate-friendly policies of the Democrats. It means using independent community organization and trade unions to leverage people power against the entrenched conservatism and inertia of the Democratic Party machine. It certainly doesn't mean rolling over and accepting the status quo as "the best we could possibly hope for" on the grounds that the Republicans would be worse. That cynical, do-nothing strategy has shown itself to be bankrupt time and time again. What we need is to build the independent Left, build the existing movements, and kickstart new ones.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Stewart on Common "Controversy"

Too good not to repost.


The Non-Recovering Recovery

THE STRUT of confidence is gone, and the jitters are back. A flurry of dreadful statistics at the end of April made sure of that.

On April 26 came the news that the British economy grew a mere 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2011. Coming on the heels of a contraction by that amount in the previous quarter, one commentator was prompted to declare that "the UK is teetering on the brink of a doubledip recession."[1]

Forty-eight hours later, the Commerce Department revealed that the U.S. economy had slowed to a crawl, recording a meager 1.8 percent growth rate in the first quarter, down from over 3 percent at the close of 2010. A day later, word arrived that the Canadian economy had shrunk in February, and that the official rate of unemployment in Spain had jumped to 21.3 percent--and the youth jobless rate to a staggering 40 percent.

Read the rest here.


Blogger Fail

Blogger was down from last evening until a couple of hours ago (that is, commenting and editing, among other things, were not working at all).

Readers will notice that my most recent post on Common and Obama has disappeared. Moreover, the comments thread on the post titled "Bullshit" has also disappeared. Hopefully Blogger will fix this and these posts will re-emerge somehow. At present, however, they appear to have been lost. This is very frustrating. Hopefully this won't be a recurring problem, otherwise I will consider moving the blog to another provider.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Right-winger Blast Obama for Common Invite

OK, two things.

First, Rove and Palin are simply seizing upon what is, for them and their reactionary constituents, a golden opportunity to stoke racism for their advantage. They are well aware that any chance they can get to mark the president out as "black" is a chance to impugn him by piggy-backing on anti-black racism. Unfortunately, they are correct in thinking that there is a large number of white Americans for whom any association between Obama and blackness is a knock against Obama. By associating Obama with a progressive, "conscious" black MC, they "darken" Obama and thus use the manifest racism in the U.S. to their advantage.

This strategy is both cynical and principled on their part. It is cynical, because there is a sense in which they will impugn Obama by any means necessary. But it is also principled because both Palin and Rove are racists. If asked, both would confidently deny that racism exists. And if pushed, they would simply refuse to do anything about it. They hover between liking things as they are, and wanting to roll back the modest gains of the 1960s. For them, the downfall of certain forms of de jure racism is to be lamented, not celebrated.

But, I said I had a second thing to say. I've blasted the Palin/Rove Right, but I'd like to make sure that Obama doesn't get off the hook either. Now let me make clear right off the bat that a socialist can never sit comfortably while anyone is subjected to racist attacks. The victims politics are irrelevant. For socialists, even the likes of right-wingers such as Sarah Palin must be defended from sexist attacks and slanders. Not because she's a good person, but because the problem with Palin has nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman. It has to do with the fact that she's a reactionary. I can recall old male right-wingers who said they were pleased with the McCain ticket in 2008 until Palin joined it. I found that preposterous. McCain's politics were identical to Palin's: hard-Right. What these Neanderthals were really saying was that they were fine with McCain because he was an old man, but not with Palin because she was a younger woman. That's preposterous. We should condemn them both because of their reactionary politics, not endorse one and condemn the other on sexist grounds. But I digress.

OK, so my second point is this. Why, if Common is so damned progressive, has he been so Obama-friendly since 2008? I'm with Common in celebrating the emancipatory legacy of black struggle embodied in the Panthers. And I'm fully behind the oppositional, political trajectory of the tradition of hip hop in general (or, "real hip hop", if you like). But if you're for celebrating those who took up arms to fight police brutality in the 60s, why on earth are you also getting behind the figurehead for U.S. imperialism? Why help Obama try to paper over the ways in which he's made people of color worse off during his tenure? Moreover, as I've argued elsewhere, why think that the right thing to do is to get cozy with a president whose done virtually nothing to advance black interests or fight racist oppression?

So, as I've said, the fuckedupness here is two-fold. On the one hand, there is the hysterical Right-wing allegation that there is an association between Obama and the emancipatory black political tradition. They assume that this is a bad thing, which evinces the sense in which they're just doing the old Strom Thurmond thing with slightly different language. Same old racism, slightly new language. When rove calls Common a "thug", we know what he really wants to say. This is knee-jerk, anti-black racism that functions by assuming that anything marked out as black is therefore bad. In truth, however, any association with the radical black tradition should be a badge of honor, not a stain on one's record.

But, and this is the other dimension of the fuckedupness here, it's of course obvious to anyone who cares about black liberation that Obama is not a force for anti-racist change. He is an agent of the status quo. Opposing the Rove/Palin racists in no way commits us to defending Obama's politics. There's a distinction between beating back the racist bullshit, on the one hand, and fully endorsing Obama's politics on the other. We need plenty of the former and none of the latter. If we're to make any progressive changes on the anti-racist front, or on any left-wing front, we've got to be clear that the Democrats are part of the problem, not a potential solution. I've said it plenty, and it's worth saying again: what the Left needs to do is build the independent social movements and be part of spawning new ones. We're never going to win the change we need by asking the ruling class nicely.


Why the NY Times is Politically Clueless

I'm sure many saw this in the NYTimes this morning. What you may have missed was this little gem:

Mr. Hall was a rising force in the party, which has capitalized on a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment to attract members — young racist skinheads, aging Ku Klux Klan members, and extremists on the left and the right.
"Extremists on the left". Yes, you heard it. Yes, evidently the line coming from the NYTimes is that "extremists" on the "left" are every bit as likely to join the US Nazi movement as "young racist skinheads, aging Ku Klux Klan members and right extremists". That is fucking offensive. It's basically slander.

Last time I checked, "workers of the world unite!" doesn't exactly sit easily with wanting to secede to create a "white society".

First of all, the "far left", or the "hard left", or, if you like, the so-called "extreme" left has always been the most determined and uncompromising force against fascism and the hard right. Look at history. We can find plenty of instances in which mainstream conservatives (and even liberals) strike an indifferent, or even slightly sympathetic, posture vis-a-vis hard-right xenophobia, nationalism, and fascism. It's easy for these mainstream political forces to re-write history from where they're sitting now. But at the most crucial moments in U.S. history when xenophobia, nationalism, and quasi-fascist movements were on the rise, it has almost always been the case that the radical left was the most vocal, uncompromising force opposed to such developments.

Without fail, the far Left has consistently been the most determined, uncompromising opponents of fascism and racism.

Think of the role of Communists in the 1930s in fighting for the Scottsboro Boys when liberals and conservatives were happy with the status quo as it was. Democrats in the South, in conjunction with KKK terrorism and violence, were responsible for rolling back the gains of Reconstruction and reimposing the apartheid order that came to be known as Jim Crow. Leftists lost their lives struggling against this re-imposition of de jure racism when liberals and conservatives were quite happy with the white supremacist order over which they presided.

Comtemporary examples abound. When complacent, "tolerant" liberals shrug their shoulders at the re-emergence of White Power and fascist groups in the public square, it has consistently been the socialist Left that has courageously stood up to the bigots. The article mentions counter-protesters in LA hurling bottles and rocks at the fascists. I can guarantee you the counter-protesters weren't from the DNC. They were probably exactly what the NYTimes deems "extreme leftists", namely socialists, communists, anarchists and so forth.

The far Left has been unanimous in absolutely opposing the rise of xenophobia and racism exemplified by SB1070. In fact, it has been the Left which has organized the most fierce resistance to these developments. Recall the Columbia students in the International Socialist Organization who stormed the stage to interrupt an event meant to give the fascist, murderous Minutemen Project a forum to express their racist bile. Liberals jumped to the defense of the Minutemen on grounds of being "moderate" and "tolerant" and so forth. But the Left was uncompromising in saying that we cannot ever tolerate fascism, xenophobic violence or hard-right hatred. A free society is incompatible with tolerating such toxic, violent hatred. To "tolerate" it is to acquiesce. This is exactly what Herbert Marcuse was talking about when he spoke of "repressive tolerance".

"Nazi Punks Fuck Off!"
is not a liberal slogan.

I've never been able to accept the bit of liberal ideology which asserts that the point between two "extremes" is therefore credible. I guess I'm just not a "tolerant" moderate when it comes to opposing oppression. I think injustice and oppression never deserve to be tolerated. If that's enough to make me an "extremist", then so be it.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Self-Realization and Socialism

Communism organizes social life so that individuals are able to realize themselves in and through the self-realization of others. As Marx puts it in the Communist Manifesto, "The free development of each becomes the condition for the free development of all." In this sense, socialism does not simply reject liberal society, with its passionate commitment to the individual. Instead, it builds on and completes it. In doing so, it shows how some of the contradictions of liberalism, in which your freedom may flourish only at the expense of mine, may be resolved. Only through others can we finally come into our own. This means an enrichment of individual freedom, not a diminishing of it. It is hard to think of a finer ethics. On a personal level, it is known as love.

-From Terry Eagleton's recent Why Marx Was Right