Audio for Internationalist Perspective Forum

February 12, 2019 at 11:42 pm (Uncategorized)

On January 14 2019, Mac Intosh of Internationalist Perspective gave a talk in Seattle entitled “The Communist Left, Class Lines, and the New Reading of Marx.”

Audio from the event is now available on the IP site.

https://internationalistperspective.org/this-monday-a-meeting-in-seattle/

Scroll down for the link to the recording

Fischer

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Charles Reeve on “Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution”

February 11, 2019 at 11:41 pm (Uncategorized)

In the 1930s, the Netherlands-based council communist group the Group of International Communists (G.I.K.), produced an important text Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution. Despite its inclusion of the infamous “labour vouchers” as social measurement, the GIK text remained for many years one of the most important texts of the Dutch Communist Left.

Charles Reeve In a recent issue of the Brooklyn Rail, takes a look at the text and writes an interesting commentary. 

 

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Music Notes January 2019

January 31, 2019 at 11:49 pm (Uncategorized)

Here we are

 

1 Bauhaus – The Bela Sessions

Forty years after it was recorded, Bauhaus’ debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” still thrills. This band-approved version along with some unreleased versions of early tracks is quite, quite wonderful.

2 Sleaford Mods –Sleaford Mods EP

More minimalist anger from the lads. Always worth picking up

3 The Liminanas – Shadow People

Every time I try to come up with a pithy description of this truly outstanding French band, I fail. A French acid-psychedelic Velvet Underground? Fail! just get the record.

4 Kathleen Hanna with Tim Buck – “Dancing in the Dark”

OK, this came out three years ago, but I heard if for the first time yesterday. Either love it or hare it, but it’s different.

5 Jah Wobble – “A Very British Coup”

Let me see, Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Youth, and Mark Stewart on one record. Too good to be true? it isn’t.

6 Roxy Music Ultimate Music Guide

Uncut puts out these glossy format editions which are quite pricey, but I have to admit, I’m tempted to get this one. Great band (well, until they became completely overwhelmed by Ferry lounge singer ethos)

7 Ex-Hex – “Waterfall”

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but the are playing Toronto in April. Hey, is that Kid Congo Powers in the video?

8 Chris Stein – Point of View

I liked Blondie well enough, but Chris Stein was never a favourite guitar player. Still, you gotta admit, the guy knows how to take a picture. Rather cool collection of New York punk pix.

9 Social Distortion – ” Story of My Life”

Heard this one on the way home today. First time in years. Reminded me of what a great band SD are.

 

10 Christian D and the Sinners – “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”

Pretty ballsy to attempt this. They do  quite a decent job. Support local music.

Till next month.

 

PS Bonus.note

Let’s remember the passing of James Calvin Wilsey who we lost December 24th. Wilsey played in the Avengers, but is probably best known, or sadly not, for the dreamy riff in Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game

 

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2018, 2019 and Beyond

January 29, 2019 at 12:55 am (Uncategorized)

This article first appeared on the Internationalist Perspective web site 

No, a good year it wasn’t. 2018 was a year of gathering thunder clouds. On all levels: economic, ecological, political and social.

It became painfully clear that climate change is not just a problem for our grandchildren. Climate disasters were on the rise, including in the US where in the midst of forest fires and floods, the president continued to claim that nothing was going on, that no drastic change is needed, that on the contrary more coal has to be consumed. And the new president of Brazil is giving a green light for a wholesale clear-cut in the Amazon rain forest. Hallucinant. What is done to the causes is so ridiculously little compared to the scale of the threat that one can expect that the weather will not be less extreme this year and perhaps even more disruptive.

On the social level, one of things that struck me the most was the visible growth of the gap between rich and poor. In New York, I see more beggars almost every day as more and more shiny towers scratch the clouds, with luxury apartments sometimes sold for over a hundred million dollars. In Los Angeles I saw tent camps of homeless people occupying endless sidewalks. I witnessed the same in Europe: The poor get poorer, more people are becoming poor and the rich get richer. In most of the rest of the world, this process has occurred faster.

The growing gap is a logical consequence of the supply side-management of the crisis. Massive money creation was the engine of the recovery of the world economy after “the great recession”. The bulk of those trillions went to the supply side: companies, banks and investors. Countries that would venture to favor the demand side risk capital flight and galloping inflation. This “trickle down” strategy worked, to a certain extent. The recovery has been going on for a relatively long time. But if poverty and the sense of threat and insecurity rise so strongly during the recovery, what can we expect when the economy crashes again?

Dancing on a limp cord

The revival began to sputter in 2018. Growth slowed everywhere, except in the US. But even there, the drug of cheap money and tax cuts is losing its effect. Investors are nervously looking for security, with wild stock market fluctuations as a result. The “emerging countries” that were the first with wind in their sails after the recession, lie bleeding on the floor. The debt mountain is getting too high, its growth must be slowed down. The central banks are faced with a dilemma: they must curb borrowing, raise the price of it, but that risks starting a recession. But if they don’t do it, if they leave the interest rate close to zero, then they might postpone the recession, but eventually it would hit even harder. And then they can no longer substantially lower interest rates if the recession threatens to lead to a collapse. Whether they succeed in 2019 in keeping the recession snake in its basket with virtuoso fluctuations of the interest rates remains to be seen. China is already stumbling. All the official predictions (from the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank, etc.) foresee a lower growth in 2019 than in 2018. Nouriel Roubini, one of the only economists who predicted the recession of 2008, expects a new recession in 2020. That would give the politicians a little time. But to do what?

For politicians, the economic context implies very little room to maneuver. At least concerning policies. Rhetoric is something else. Every country is obliged to make itself attractive for capital. Attracting and retaining capital is necessary in order to grow capital, to make a profit, to create employment. The right and the left agree on that. Their dispute is about the tax level, what must be taxed and how much, and how the proceeds must be spent. The left says it wants to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, the right says it wants to reduce the tax burden. They set different priorities, but the economic reality makes the differences smaller and smaller. Even where a left party comes to power, like Syriza in Greece, it is obliged to pursue a “right” policy: to curtail social spending and make the tax regime more attractive to capital owners.

Globalization, automation, austerity: as a politician – as a manager or a would-be manager of the state – you can’t be opposed to that in practice. The need to grow capital sets out the main lines. Politicians spin their storylines within them.

And yet, sharp political disagreements came to the fore in 2018. About Brexit, for example, and about Trump’s tariffs. A no deal-Brexit or an escalation of the trade war against China could trigger the recession this year. But it seems more likely that the “no deal” will be avoided at the last minute and that Trump will de-escalate. Perhaps it is his instinct to recklessly increase the stakes in his poker game with China, but the capital market would force him quickly to cool it. It wouldn’t be the first time. Only recently he announced the “immediate withdrawal” of American troops from Syria. By now, “immediately” has become “whenever we are ready”. Trump repeatedly referred to NAFTA – the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico – as “the worst trade treaty in American history” and then concluded an agreement with the neighboring countries that implicitly reconfirmed NAFTA with the exception of a few minor changes. In each case, Trump was pushed back by what he himself calls “the deep state” to the “straight path,” when he deviates too far from it. Brexit and the trade war with China will in 2019 also probably turn out to be more spectacle than real change.

The scapegoat

Economic crisis and climate disasters are knocking at the door and neither the left nor the right has a solution. As far as the climate crisis is concerned, the right has its head is in the sand, while the left drafts agreements that are sand in the wind. On the economic and social level, they do not have a real alternative either. They want to increase expenditures A and reduce expenses B and vice versa, as if that would fundamentally change anything.

You would think that the lack of options would lead to a moving harmony between politicians, but the opposite is true. The tone of the political debate has become even more bitter in 2018. Even harder, even more mendacious. Precisely because there are no fundamental differences on socio-economic policy, the symbolic differences are emphasized. In 2018 and undoubtedly this year too, the main theme used for this was and is immigration.

Not that immigration is not a real problem. The fact that so many people are driven to leave their familiar surroundings and are prepared to face the greatest dangers to get somewhere where they can have some hope for a future, shows how miserable and hopeless life in many places on earth has become. This happens, among other things, precisely because the economy is so efficient: thanks to automation and globalization, production requires less and less working time, and more and more people become “superfluous”. Of course, there is a suction effect that lures the “superfluous” – the most enterprising among them – to the countries where capital is concentrated; where there is still a demand for labor power.

But in fact, on this issue too, there is a broad consensus between right and left. Both accept the need for a controlled immigration. The Western economy needs immigrants but in moderation. Almost all the politicians are against “open borders” and, in theory, also against the ill-treatment of refugees. That there are differences within that consensus about what this means in practice, is undoubtedly true. But the main lines are set.

Liberal democracy is the political mirror image of the free market economy. Large and small companies compete for the same market, the same voters. They sell ideology, sentiment and personalities. They sell a brand. The smaller companies are looking for their niche. They all want in the first place to grow, just like ordinary companies. To this end, they constantly update their profile. The narrowing of the basic differences makes them reach for symbols with a strong emotional resonance. The immigration debate is very suitable for this. It generates violent emotions that can determine electoral behavior to no small degree. Candidates for office probably received from their pollsters graphs that looks like this:

On this basis they can choose their slogans and symbols. Nothing illustrates the symbolic nature of their disputes better than the current political stalemate in the US over Trump’s wall. For the undocumented immigrants, that wall would only be one obstacle more in their obstacle course. A $ 25 ladder would suffice to clear it, as the Mexican former president Vicente Fox pointed out.

To achieve the stated goal – to stop illegal immigration – it is a particularly inefficient means. That’s good for the American economy – for capital – because it needs the undocumented. Trump himself has undocumented employees in the kitchens and on the grounds of his golf clubs in Florida and New Jersey. But the wall is a symbol that says, our own people first, foreigners out. The wall evokes protection, against the outside world, against an uncertain future. The wall is a fist, a boxing glove, a monument to white America. A thermometer that measures the fear of the future.

The partial shutdown of the public sector as a result of this dispute will soon cost the American economy more than the 5.7 billion dollars demanded by Trump for his wall. 1 The fact that the Democrats nevertheless did not budge shows that the wall — which is just a detail in the budget as a whole — is also for them an important symbol, allowing them to profile themselves on values that are important for many voters: anti-racism, empathy for refugees, etc.

I’m not saying that symbols are unimportant. They manipulate thoughts. They spin a story in which people want to believe. There is a broad and deep desire for a breaking point with the status quo, for a different future than the one which seems to be coming. Politicians have nothing to offer in that regard. They have no plausible strategy to escape from the systemic crisis. No wonder, then, that the tendency is increasing to give that desire a target, a scapegoat that can be chased into the desert, taking all sins with him. Immigrants, especially those with a different skin color, language and religion, are ideal for that role.

It is a discourse that teaches us to think in terms of “our people” and “the enemy”. It is implicit war preparation. “You will not replace us!” Trump fans chanted on right-wing demonstrations. Some of them changed that into “Jews will not replace us”. The identity of the enemy can change – China is a more likely candidate than the Jews in that respect — but the story remains the same.

The goal of the politicians who use this discourse is, of course, to win power and to tie the population ideologically to them so that they can exploit it better. Viktor Orban, about the most extreme anti-immigrant among the European leaders, thought he had succeeded so well in this that he could impose forced labor on Hungarian workers. The resistance that arose against his “slave law” was one of the few points of light of 2018. Whether that resistance is sufficiently massive and radical to make Orban retreat remains to be seen.

A point of light

A brighter point of light was and is the (still not extinguished) movement of the “yellow vests”. The working class has been for too many years under the steamroller of “neo-liberalism”, a policy driven by the systematic search for lower labor costs. The yellow vests movement is in the first place a massive refusal to continue to undergo this situation.

It arose spontaneously, not planned or organized by a party or trade union. From the start, the yellow vests resisted their interference. They do not tolerate leaders who pretend to speak and negotiate in their name. Their struggle is not democratic, it is a rejection of electoral strategies. Most of them may have voted, for the left, the right or the center, but they do not wait for their “representants” to make things right, instead they trusted in their own, direct action. And in this, it didn’t matter whom you voted for, whether you voted or not, to which union you belonged, whether you were employed or unemployed. People came together into their neighborhoods with others whom they used to ignore. A unity was forged, despite the often considerable differences in social background and political opinions.

The movement did not respect democracy and did not respect the law. It understood that the laws are there to repress it and broke them on many occasions. It is true that the “casseurs” among them sometimes engaged in pointless acts of random destruction. Often more cool-headed yellow vests try to curb them. But the vests also see the violence on the other side, and in the confrontations with the brutal “forces of order” the casseurs are among the bravest. The government and the media use their excesses to portray the entire movement as a band of thugs. Furthermore, it accuses them of being inspired and stoked by the far right. But despite this propaganda, a large majority of the population in France continues to support the movement according to the polls. That shows the depth of the discontent.

Of course there are people among the yellow vests who have right-wing ideas, who are against immigrants. The yellow vests have jumped into this conflict with all the ideological baggage they already had. The common struggle changes their viewpoint but we cannot expect a miracle. When the struggle weakens – which now seems to be happening – the presence of the far right and the far left will probably become prominent. There are some pickings for both when the struggle loses steam and the lack of concrete results drives disappointed yellow vests back to the electoral arena.

There’s no room for triumphalism here. Yes, the struggle was massive and radical. But it failed to spread to the work places, where the real dormant power of the working class is and where capitalism is the most vulnerable. Without forging that link, it cannot go further. And, yes, it inspired resistance in other countries, but many yellow vests continued to brandish the national flag and failed to see that their struggle must be international.

So, is it worth it? What will the movement have achieved? Concretely not much, I’m afraid. Yet it was – perhaps – a not insignificant step towards a better world. That is what the yellow vests want. A better world, a world for people, not for capital. They do not know how to get there, they only know that the current road is not leading to it. So, they were honest when they did not make any specific demands, except for the dismissal of Macron (the latter again for the symbolism, not because it would change anything). But at hundreds of yellow vests meetings there was a lot of discussion about how the world could be organized differently. All kinds of ideas did the rounds and the most popular ones (“more referendums!”) were not necessarily the best. But at least they tried what proletarians everywhere, in 2019 and beyond, have to do collectively in order to survive: imagine a different world. It’s a start. Massive, radical and questioning: hopefully we’ll see more of that in 2019.

Sander
1/17/2019

1The fact that so many public sector employees so quickly had to turn to food banks and other charities to survive illustrates what we wrote earlier about the growing gap between rich and poor and the growing debt burden of consumers.

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A Wall, A Wall, My Kingdom for a Wall

January 29, 2019 at 12:55 am (Uncategorized)

So Trump shut down government for a month, inflicting suffering on workers and creating dangerous conditions at airports etc, because he was advised by Stephen Miller to hold out for the racist vote. 

While I have no love for the other party of capital, it’s pretty funny to watch the Republicans and especially Fox News trying to convince themselves that this was a strategic victory, and trump is showing leadership. Trump himself seems particularly unhinged by the cheapening of his reputation as a “dealmaker.” (BTW, the definition of a dealmaker is not to make demands and then bully people to come around).

He wanted a wall; he got a cave.

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Huh…Where Did January Go?

January 29, 2019 at 12:55 am (Uncategorized)

Whoah. No posts for almost a month. Somebody was just talking to me about that the other day. Maybe I should have made that a resolution.

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Goodbye 2018

December 31, 2018 at 9:26 pm (Uncategorized)

Oh 2018, will we miss you? The Trump show continues, though one senses, something big is about to happen. In Ontario, the election of Doug Ford was not exactly the triumph of a junior league Trump, but the parallels are there. This year saw losses of people I respected but didn’t know, as well as people close to me. Still, we go on. these are a few of thee things that made in a little easier to do just that.

 

1 Iceland

I spent  a week in Reykjavik this summer. Lovely town with amazing scenery, and everyone speaks English. Did a couple of bus tours around the island, and if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, make this trip. Start saving your pennies because it’s not cheap. Oh, and bring a jacket. Even in summer. It’s cool at best.

2. France

You know, Air Iceland offers an amazing deal: you can buy a ticket to anywhere they fly, and then have a stopover in Iceland for up to a week at no additional charge. That’s what we did. We bought a ticket to Paris, and stayed in Iceland too. So, France. It’s been two decades since I was there, and the city feels a little more under siege. (not entirely a surprise given the way the world has changed in those twenty years), but it’s still Paris, the city of lights. Beautiful architecture, great food , and the people are marvellous. Best stop on the trip:  Père Lachaise cemetery.

3. N.K. Jemison

I think I read a piece about her in The Guardian and decided to check out one of her books. I’ve only read the first volume of  The Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season, but it’s a truly wonderful series. Well-written with engaging characters and a creative story.

4. The Royal Ontario Museum

I went to the ROM twice this year. Saw the spider exhibit in the summer, and just recently, two exhibits: Zuul, a dinosaur discovery, and Wildlife Photographer of the Year In past years, it’s been the Art Gallery that has drawn me back, but this year, The ROM

5. My dog Lester

I’ve written here, and elsewhere on the greatness of dogs. I see no reason to change that belief. Lester tore the ACL in his right hind leg this year (he did the left one two years back), but if we could experience even a fraction of the love my family has shown toward him in his recovery,  we’d all lead happier lives.

6. Jeff Lemire

2018 marks Jeff Lemire’s second year on the list. This year for Gideon Falls,  a truly creepy horror story.

7. Work

Sitting near the top of my “to read” list is David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs. So why celebrate a job? Actually, I enjoy my job, but after years of working contract and part-time, I finally got a full-time position.

8. Live Music

Some of the faves: Waxahatchee, second time to see them and just as enjoyable. The Strypes, blistering set at the Mod Club. Frightened Rabbit, their tenth anniversary tour, and sadly their final one. Mitski, probably the best show I saw this year. Live music will never die.

9. They Say Never Meet Your Heroes, but…

This summer, as usual, I went to Fan Expo with my son. As we were walking around I said to him, “Isn’t that the guys from Kim’s Convenience.” It was. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (“Mr. Kim”) and Andrew Phung (“Kimchee”) were wandering the floor. They weren’t guests, they were just there having a good time. We stopped, shook hands and chatted, and took a picture with them. Genuinely nice guys, on a really lovely show. New season in the new year. Made my Fan Expo.

10. Kensington Market and College Street

The one in Toronto. It’s my favourite part of the city. Yes, it’s true there’s a lot of places I like to shop, but there’s just a great vibe about the place.

11.  Louder Than War 

I’m not a regular reader of LTW, as its a little pricey, but the punky focus is a bit more to my taste that the sometimes classic rock focus of Mojo and Uncut (How many more features on the Stones, Beatles or Floyd can we expect in the coming years?) Worth a look.

12. Crossword puzzles

I’ve been doing the Globe and Mail crosswords for years. Enjoyable enough, but this past year, I’ve gotten into the New York Times ones. They get harder as the week goes on, peaking on Thursday, and then the remainder are a little easier. My wife and I both do them (she’s better).

13. Masala Dosa

It might not be an official New Year’s Resolution, but my plan is to eat more dosa this year. (and to find a place close to me to get it)

14 The Good Place

I do enjoy philosophy (see next point too), but it’s rare you get to see discussions of ethical philosophy name-dropping Nietzsche, David Hume, Kant and others on a regular basis on network TV. Really, quite a lovely distraction.

15. The Outsider

A few months ago, a friend asked me my favourite opening line to a book. I told her the opening to Albert Camus’ The Outsider, “Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” I was motivated to re-read it recently, and it was just as good as I remember. Life’s what you make it.

16. Life in Pieces

A friend at work recommended this little comedy as “sort of like Modern Family.” The first couple of episodes didn’t grab me, but its charms appeared soon after. In many ways, a rather traditional comedy, but well executed. New season in January.

17 Killing Eve 

Half way through this. It’s brilliant. When TV is done right, it can be one of the greatest joys.

18.  The Chap tie

The Chap is a British lifestyle magazine devoted to, well, Chappishness. Bought a tie from them this year, and always feel smart when I wear it (I like ties quite a lot). Makes the man.

19 The Yellow Vests

The Yellow Vests seem to mean different things to many different people. A few weeks ago, there were opposing demonstrations in Toronto over less and more immigration with both sides adopting the uniform of the Yellow Jackets. Still, despite confusions, the notion that struggle is not quite dead, warms me.

20. For the Future

“There is a legend about a certain species of caterpillar that can only cross the threshold of metamorphosis by seeing its future butterfly. Proletarian subjectivity does not evolve by incremental steps but requires non-linear leaps, especially moral self-recognition through solidarity with the struggle of a distant people, even when this contradicts its short-term interests, as in the famous cases of Lancashire cotton workers’ enthusiasm for Lincoln and later for Gandhi. Socialism, in other words, requires non-utilitarian actors,whose ultimate motivations and values arise from structures of feeling that others would deem spiritual. Marx rightly scourged romantic humanism in the abstract, but his personal pantheon – Prometheus and Spartacus, Homer, Cervantes, and Shakespeare  – affirmed a heroic vision of human possibility that no longer seems to have any purchase in our fallen world.”

Mike Davis Old Gods, New Enigmas 

Happy 2019

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The Movement of the Yellow Vests

December 30, 2018 at 6:55 pm (Uncategorized)

(The article below is written by a comrade of the ‘Cercle de Discussion de Paris.

Not so long ago it was often said that the class struggle was practically doomed, if not almost extinct. In fact, this reflected above all the reality of an exploited class which for decades has been under the steamroller of “neo-liberalism”, that is, the policy driven by the systematic and violent search of lower labor costs, the policy which uses unemployment and the threat of unemployment to impose social submission. It was as if the working class was laying on the ground with the foot of the ruling class planted on its neck. The movement of the Yellow Vests appears first and foremost as an awakening, a massive refusal of this situation. Everyone agrees today: the rising fuel prices were only the trigger.

Like virtually every major social movement under capitalism, it was born spontaneously. It was neither foreseen nor organized by the political and trade union apparatus that are usually charged with “commanding their troops”. What’s more, the rejection of any control by these institutions has not only been clearly, repeatedly and loudly claimed from the onset, it remains a major feature of its DNA nearly a month later. The May 1968 movement in France also started well outside and against the will of the union apparatuses, but the latter and their associated “workers’ parties” finally gained control of the mobilizations through, among other things, the need to formulate demands and negotiate with the government. It has often been said that the 1968 movement had its greatest momentum as long as it did not allow itself to be confined within the limits of “realistic claims”. The movement of the Yellow Vests, like that of Nuit Debout  1(some speak of the current movement as a “proletarian Nuit Debout”) and like the movements of occupying public spaces (Occupy in the USA, Indignados in Spain, etc ..) is characterized by a strong mistrust of all these systems of representation, of the appointment of delegates who speak and negotiate without control on behalf of others. It is a rejection of the “democratic” spectacle, of the electoral and union circus that for so long has pretended to represent the population while signing the agreements that submit it to the imperatives of economic realism, to the cruel necessities of the dominant system.

In the hundreds of roundabouts and other places where road blockades and other actions of struggle are organized, bonds of solidarity are discovered, people get together with others from their neighborhood whom they used to ignore. A unity is created, despite the sometimes significant differences between the participants (on the issues raised by immigration, for example) and quite naturally the question comes up, what the society could be like, if it would be organized differently. We re-imagine the world. We are stammering but we talk about “direct democracy”, “elected and revocable delegates”, the need to reorganize everything, to change the system. See for example “The Call of the Yellow Vests of the city of Commercy to popular assemblies everywhere!” 2 or the experiences of “The House of the People” in Saint Nazaire 3

It has been said that the Yellow Vests movement is only concerned about the “end-of-the-month” problems, the lack of wages, while the increase of taxes on fuels, described as ecological, was imposed out of concern with the “end of the world”. But the meeting in Paris between the Yellow Vests and the “March for climate” showed the opposite. A big banner said: “End of the world end of the month – change the system not the climate”. Both types of problems result from the same market logic which turns labor power into a commodity and makes the profit of capital the only objective of any productive activity.

The heterogeneity of the movement

One of the characteristics of the movement is the diversity of its participants. It includes diverse social strata and disparate concerns. In some regions there are anti-immigrant aspects, for example. However, extreme right-wing expressions remain a minority, contrary to what was put forward by the government at the beginning of the movement or by those who reject the movement because it does not identify with any left-wing party.

The social composition is also varied. But this is not a coalition between rich and poor. Even if we can see amongst them small bosses or shopkeepers, peasants, retired executives alongside workers, employed and unemployed, in its overwhelming majority it is a movement of the “poor” against economic measures of the government for the benefit of the rich.

And, if we look further, if one day a general uprising (of the 99% of which Occupy was talking) would come about, it will not only result from the struggle of “proletarians”, those who are directly exploited by capital, but also of a whole set of non-exploiting layers. It will not always be easy to hold meetings and make decisions together. But learning to do so is the first characteristic of a true revolutionary self-transformation.
The revolutionary movements of our time can only triumph if they are undertaken by “the immense majority for the benefit of the vast majority”.

The breakers

The government is doing everything to highlight the action of “thugs” and the spectacle of their destruction. This is an old tactic of governments facing mass movements. To achieve this they do not hesitate to throw oil on the fire sometimes introducing provocateurs. That way they seek to minimize the importance of all other aspects of the movement, to divide the participants, to justify the development of the repression and to frighten those who would like to join the movement.

But after a month of clashes, including four particularly violent Saturdays in Paris and most major French cities, the popularity of the movement remains intact in the population (according to polls, nearly 80% support it) and the number of participants does not decrease.
Most of the participants do not support the kind of violence of the “casseurs” (“breakers”) amongst the yellow vests, and sometimes try to limit it, but they know it is almost inevitable and say that at least they understand it. They also know that the actions of slowing traffic by filtering barricades, blocking fuel depots, letting cars for free on toll roads, are also violent actions that attack the established order. The interventions of the “forces of order” to prevent those remind them of that quickly. It is a movement of struggle and inevitably it contains forms of violence.

 

How far will this struggle go? What meaning can the phrase have that the participants say and repeat: “We will go to the end!”? Hard to say. But, for having raised its head, for having begun to dream again, the movement of the Yellow Vests has already brought a new breath to social life in France … Nuit Debout Square occupations in France in 2016, comparable to the Occupy movement in 2011 perhaps in other countries.

Raoul Victor
December 10, 2018

 

  1. Nuit Debout: Square occupations in France in 2016, comparable to the Occupy movement in 2011
  2.  Appeal of Commercy:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfLIYpJHir4&t=8s ; English translation: https://pastebin.com/SdAVc4MA

  3. St. Nazaire: https://lundi.am/Les-Gilets-Jaunes-de-St-Nazaire-et-leur-Maison-du-Peuple. See also, in English: Call of yellow vests Saint Nazaire 

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Dialectics of Christmas

December 25, 2018 at 11:43 am (Uncategorized)

Enjoy this old chestnut courtesy of Verso Books – Enjoy the Holiday

Dialectics of Christmas

Santamarx-

From earliest childhood we know the stereotypes of Christmas—gifts, turkey and pudding, decorations, snow, festivity and drink. Yet the very familiarity of Christmas and its yearly occurrence tend to preclude a critical and full understanding of its role in our society. Moreover it might appear excessively morbid to lay the cold hands of analysis on what is par excellence the occasion for lighthearted enjoyment and alcoholic oblivion.

But this very universality and magnitude of Christmas make it the major communal festival of late-capitalist society, lived by all and understood by none; and the festivals of late-capitalism, no less than those of feudal and tribal societies, serve important functions in preserving the cohesion and unity of those societies. They are occasions of exuberance in a world of repression, and so they are both festivals in spite of repression and festivals of repression. The release of counter-repressive feeling in social ritual reinforces the power of oppression as society marshals spontaneous feelings of freedom in order to reinforce its own unfree ideology and structure. At the same time these festivals are a recurring proof that it is possible to overthrow repression if the liberating forces in society are released in a different way and the yearly return of Christmas is a yearly reminder of the possibility of overthrowing the society we have and replacing it with an other. Herein lies the dialectic of Christmas.

The cultural forms now surrounding Christmas are the result of thousands of years of accumulation of myth and symbol, and as each epoch bequeathes its symbols to the next the meaning is transformed and shaped by the new social systems which adopt them. In the case of Christmas all kinds of pagan, Roman, Persian, Jewish, Celtic, Teutonic and Christian elements have been mixed up to produce the festival as we now know it. Although to day we are oppressed by the weight of Christmas as fixed tradition, its form is determined by a long historical and social evolution. Yet its very origins are based on myth and falsehood. Christmas is alleged to be a Christian festival, celebrating the birth of Christ, the son of God, on December 25th in the year 0. The historical Christ was not born in December, but in June or July; he was not born in the year 0 but just before, or just after; and Christmas is a pagan festival used by early Christians as a means of diverting pagan loyalties in to following the new religion.

Christ was born in Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, where his parents had gone for a census, because people in the Roman empire had to go to their home towns to be registered when there was a census. Roman censuses were conducted in the summer—when it is easier to travel —and there were ones just before and just after the year 0, not in that year itself. The celebration of a festival of festivity and rebirth in late December is found in many pagan societies. The basic astronomical factor involved is the winter solstice—around December 22—when the days start to get longer. The Romans celebrated the period December 17-24 as the Saturnalia, an occasion for feasting, dancing and dressing up. In the north, including Britain, there was a more sombre festival of Yule when fertility rights for the coming year were celebrated; part of this consisted in the making of special rich food s—the origin of the modern turkey and plum pudding. In ancient Persia, the sun-worshippers celebrated the feast as that of the rebirth of the sun, invincible and a saviour.

Although Christianity itself is obviously the product of previous religions of the ancient world, the early Christians them selves did not celebrate Christmas as a major festival until the fourth century. At that time two oriental religions, Christianity and Mithraism —a sun-worshipping cult—, were competing for the following of the suppressed classes and peoples of the decaying Roman empire. The leaders of Christianity decided therefore to adopt the pagan date and to celebrate it as the birth of Christ and an occasion of rejoicing, hoping thereby to win followers of Mithraism and Roman religion. Instead of the celebration of Saturn or of the birth of the sun as saviour, they worshipped Christ as saviour. (This adoption of pagan symbols for Christian purposes was common. The halo was also taken straight from Mithraism as a symbol—the sun—of divinity; and the crib was borrowed from the cult of Adonis, also alleged to have been born in a stable.)

Sex and Class

Since this early tactical move in the politics of conversion, Christmas has picked up all sorts of other cultural symbols, and has served different functions of the different societies in which it has flourished. The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, led to the practice of putting up coloured lights at Christmastime—although the fact that it is dark a lot at that time of year must also have helped. Another addition came from the feast of St. Nicholas, celebrated on December 6th. St. Nicholas was an early Christian bishop, patron of scholars, sailors and children—as well as of Czarist Russia. His patronage of children and relation to giving gifts are derived from two grossly ideological legends about him. According to one, some little rich boys were killed by a wicked butcher who chopped them up and pickled them; St. Nicholas stuck them together again and returned them to their parents alive and well. Another story concerns a merchant who was suddenly thrown into poverty and was going to sell off his daughters as prostitutes, when along came St. Nicholas in secret and gave them the dowries they needed to marry according to their station. The latent sexual and class content of these legends is obvious. However, in the Anglo-Saxon world at least, the giving of presents was transferred from December 6th to Christmas Day, while St. Nicholas himself was banalised and secularised in to Santa Claus—an American corruption of his name in Dutch.

Christmas as we now know it took shape in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The eighteenth century coaches and houses on cards reflect its early congealment; the growth of cards with the expansion of the cheap post in the 1860s, and the popularisation of the Christmas tree by Prince Albert are later additions. What we now have is this complex totality of myths and symbols, but their varied origins are subordinate to the function which Christianity serves for the preservation of late-capitalist society. It is not merely cultural inertia or human nostalgia that enables Christmas to be celebrated each year—but the inner dynamic of capitalist society itself.

Ideology

First of all Christmas serves to reinforce certain crucial ideological ties in bourgeois society. The two central figures of feudal society—monarch and Pope—are both given special billing at Christmastime, this time in the service of capitalist mystification. (The cancellation of the Queen’s message this year is only a result of over-exposure earlier in the summer.) Their messages stress the unity of Church and Empire. Christmas may be experienced as a predominantly secular occasion but religious ideology is trum­peted through the radio and TV programmes, carols and culture of the period; and the once yearly visits to Church to witness the spectacle serve to blunt materialist consciousness in young and old. The boosting of monarchic ideology is also an intrinsic part of Christmas. The myth of “Christ the King” is found in a plethora of carols and cards, and if this is not enough there is always Good King Wenceslas, tossing crumbs to the Bohemian peasantry. The temporary and mystified resolution of social relations in the Wenceslas carol is found in all kinds of festivals of this period. In ancient Rome slaves were temporarily freed during the Saturnalia; landlords in Russia would give their serfs presents at Christmastime; and this ideological suppression of class relations finds its modern drunken embodiment in the office p arty and the factory dance.

More generally Christmastime is characterised by the ideology of “peace on earth” and “goodwill to all men”. How ­ ever genuine and deep these aspirations are they also serve to displace the need for change on to an abstract wish, or on to a spiritual saviour. They obscure the need for conflict if peace and goodwill are to be possible. A universal awareness of crisis is dissolved in to passive fatalism, and benign idiocy.

At the same time as the public structures of mystification are reinforced, the private structure of the family is strengthened. However antagonistic the relations of parents and children, how ever real the differences between them, Christmas is a time to forget them. The violence of familial relations is drowned in a quagmire of nostalgia and maternal cooking. The Christmas dinner witnesses a crescendo of bad faith and deceit forced on the individual by the pressure of familial ideology and introjected guilt at any violation of the tradition. This is helped by the definite return to childhood relations in this period —a reinfantalisation that both serves to protect the myths of the family, and m ore generally prevents the individual from winkling out the liberating potential of Christmas. While a false celebration of man’s salvation takes place round the spiritual altar of the Church, a real celebration of his repression is found at the material altar of the Family—the Christm as dinnertable. As he reaches out to a non-existent spiritual liberator, he is stabbed in the back by the knife that carves the family turkey.

Money

A second major function of Christmas is quite simple: it is good business. The first signs of approaching Christmas are the tinsel and decorations in shops. The period before Christmas is colloquially measured in the idiom of the market as “x shopping days before Christmas”. 12.5% of all retail trade is done in December alone. By mid-November the media are full of advertisements urging people to buy their wares, and one MP recently urged the President of the Board of Trade to ban the advertising of toy manufacturers because “it causes embarrassment to lower paid workers and widows with families” (The Times, 27.11.69). Instead of gift-giving being a spontaneous act it is surrounded by capitalist pressure; the value of gifts is often measured by how much they cost; and the up-tight nature of relations between parents and child is perhaps reflected in the fact that they can only give at one institutionalised period, and even then they often have to divert the giving through a mythical Santa Claus.

The third aspect of Christmas reflects the repressive channelling of the liberating emotions and forces in society. Christmas has inspired some of the greatest works of western music and painting, and no one can deny that Christmas expresses the deepest aspirations of suffering men—a longing for peace, happiness, good food, social equality and free giving of commodities. In the deepest winter and at the end of the year all these forces are annually released. The expression of these liberating emotions is how ­ ever controlled by social ritual as it has been since pre-historic times. Far from finding their fulfilment in a liberated society they are diverted to reinforce the structures of oppression. The function of myth is to provide diverting solutions to real problems, and the function of ritual is to provide a controlled way in which human emotions can be resolved without destroying the structures against which they are reacting.

The liberation of Christmas is controlled by the very institutionalisation of its expression. People should be able to choose when they rave it up and give presents and love each other: yet Christmas ordains and ritualises them. One is pressured in to celebrating these at one date in the year to stop one from expressing them for the rest of the rest of the year. The expression of freedom in this form is an expression of unfreedom. The happiness of Christmas masks the misery of society. The infantilisation of Christmas time, and the torrents of gross ideological gibberish put out at this period, also serve to blunt any awareness of critical content and revolutionary potential.

The critical creative and aesthetic faculties are assaulted by the awful level of Christmas decorations, cards and other paraphernalia; yet one is blackmailed into submission by the very “traditionality” of it. The lights across Regent Street sum this up—linking Soho to Mayfair: instead of suggesting the end of the class relations on which the shops of central London are based, these decorations attempt to cover them in a meretricious adornment. The overconsumption and frenzied drunkenness of Christmas also serve to divert critical awareness of what is involved. Moreover the social implications are reinforced by the fact that Christmas is experienced in an atomised and enclosed manner. Everyone is at their family lunch. The streets are never so empty as on Christmas Day. The real social unity of the nation and its common acceptance of this extraordinary ideological festival are concealed; the only unity is via TV. Church, the Queen and Billy Smart’s Circus are the focuses of external attention. Hence while all are socially unified in this observance of Christmas, its conscious unity is projected on to the most absurd actors of late-capitalism —Gods, Queens and clowns. Last year the Americans gave us an added spectacle by sending men round the moon, but this fitted neatly in to the general pattern.

Transcend

Here lies the dialectical significance of Christmas. Jesus Christ was once seen as a militant saviour. Christianity was once a revolutionary ideology, but has long been the tool of oppression and myth, and except in the case of revolutionary priests in Latin America it serves to reinforce capitalist society. The desire for happiness is marshalled to defend the instruments of misery and the ideological symbols of myth are carefully used to drown the critical and liberating content of the Christmas festival. To smash the institutionalisation of happiness is to release m en from myth, from the need to displace salvation on to Gods or charity, and to realign man’s hopes on conscious historical action.

Within the apparently innocuous shell of Christmas is found both oppression and the longing for liberation and revolution. The Puritans banned it; the Cubans postponed it; we can transcend it. This involves the release of the revolutionary potential now marshalled by late-capitalist forms. In the meantime, we can, of course, enjoy it.

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Music Notes: Last Minute Stocking Stuffers

December 22, 2018 at 12:04 pm (Uncategorized)

Well, it’s too late for Amazon (or is it – they keep introducing new methods of exploitation, er ways to get stuff to you sooner), but you still have choices. If you live in Toronto SoundscapesRotate This and more will actually sell you vinyl , CDs and other music related stuff. Come on down and support your local record store. All of your friends will thank you.

1 The Goon Sax – We’re not Talking 

If you’re looking for the next thing from Australia, this might be a contender. Lovely indie-pop.

2.  Rod Stewart – Reason to Believe: The Complete Mercury Recordings 

I know Stewart has the rep of being a tired old sell-out (he’s had that rep for decades now, and it’s totally deserved), but in order to sell-out, you must have stood for something . Listen to these early recordings and you’ll see why the betrayal is so much crueler. Fantastic stuff.

3. Various artists – Harmony in My Head

A three-CD tribute to British New Wave and Power Pop. As with any comp, some hidden gems and some filler, but loads of stuff which will sound fresh and exciting. Either a memory or an introduction but worthwhile in either case.

4. Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady 

A letter perfect singles compilation, and maybe the best way to remember the passing of Pete Shelley

5. Squeeze – Singles 45s and Under

The other great British pop band of the New Wave period.

6. Various Artists – Nuggets 

Yes, the single volume comp is still easy to find, but if you can track down the 4-CD box set with the booklet, your friends will love you forever. Amazing look into the world of sixties garage rock

7. Van Morrison – The Authorized Bang Collection 

A 3-CD compilation of Morrison’s Bang material. Over 60 tracks including alt-versions and rarities. Magic.

8. Joe Strummer –Joe Strummer 101

Yeah, I mentioned this earlier on one of these lists, btu if you have a Clash fan in your life, this is for them.

9. the Beach Boys – Ultimate Christmas

All of the stuff from The Beach Boys Christmas Album plus unreleased stuff from the abortive follow up. Even the grinchiest will dig it.

10. Mojo, Uncut, The Oxford American

And if your friends like to read, you can’t go wrong with these three. Mojo and Uncut are reliable British magazines and both have rather lovely CDs with them, and the Oxford American’s annual music issue has profiles of many of the artists of their genre-spanning CD.

 

Happy listening

 

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