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Illusions and “the Least of These” in the Japanese and Wholly Walton Empires

I am republishing a new version of this diary, first published last Sunday night for Anti-Capitalist Meetup before it was ready to see the world. I have extensively rewritten it in light of the pointed feminist left analysis of Geminijen. She was right–I was inconsistent in simultaneously empathizing with the victims of the Japanese “comfort women” mass crime while mentioning the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal without acknowledging the associated dynamic of workplace exploitation–and the emerging horrific decades-long Bill Cosby workplace scandal just makes that more apparent. Exploitation of women, in its many shameful forms, is a huge part of human injustice to the vulnerable that should never be overlooked or minimized. The very point of my diary is to pull back layers of illusion in our society. I hope I have now done the topic greater justice.

In the late 1960’s, when I was in about the fourth grade in South Florida, one Sunday night a Japanese “foreign missionary” named Shoji Honda came to speak at the Southern Baptist Church where my conservative Hispanic dad was pastor. Long before the cars with that last name became commonplace on U.S. streets, I knew about the motorcycles. Meeting this friendly and intelligent young man was about the most interesting thing that had happened in my life up to that point in time.

Shoji taught me and the other kids how to sing “Jesus Loves Me” in Japanese and Spanish. If we met again I would like to ask him if Jesus loved the “comfort women” the imperial Japanese Army forced into sexual slavery during and after WWII or the undocumented Latin American families who are trying to feed and house themselves in the town in the Deep South where I live today. As a leftist who also happens to be Christian, if there is anything that keeps me loving my version of Jesus (liberating socialist) it is that the answer in both instances would be yes. But by the example of many conservative religious people of yesterday and today in Japan and the U.S., the answers would be “What comfort women?” and a spittle-flaked “Hell no.”

Many of the Christians in my town still are part of the tarnished Tea Party set spouting about the imminent Stalinist state that soon will be in control in the good ole U.S. of A. (The thought that President Obama now is allowing some of the poor brown workers we see every day to become documented and remain here with their families has them in a reactionary tizzy.) I am tempted to tell them that they have it about half right. Arguably a variation on a creeping dictatorship is increasingly in place in the U.S. It is not state capitalist but late market capitalist in nature, and its dictator is not Barack Obama (an empathetic human being of humble beginnings and a big heart with whom I, as a democratic socialist, disagree on many things), nor even one person, elected or otherwise, but the system itself, currently archetypically embodied in the Tea Party’s own funders. But, bad as the Koch Brothers are, it is never good to bandy about comparisons to “Stalin” or that other person whose name is usually mentioned by the Tea Partiers in the same breath. And the Koch Brothers are by no means the only powerful plutocrats in the U.S., although they are among those spending the most to control U.S. politics. They are major multi-tenacled suppliers in chains driven to maintain capitalist exploitation for as long as natural resources last. You and I have roles too–most prominently as wasteful followers of mass-marketed taste, “consumers” in the Wholly Walton Empire.

Interestingly, we rarely think about much less question the family of emperors who hold great sway in our own consumer empire. I do not think this is a coincidence. Our hierarchical economic system is undergirded by a constrained cultural dialectic of illusion and scandal largely controlled by those who have wealth and power and thereby control the commercial media. Scandals sometimes erupt, sometimes even deserving ones, but society has an inability to diagnose and treat root causes embedded in the system itself. When the system finds a scandal beneficial or at least unavoidable, the system, through the commercial media, immediately commodifies the scandal 24/7 while maintaining its own core of self-perpetuating illusions.

So why is this objectionable? Human suffering is not something that truly exists in a digital format, in a hologram, or even on charmingly old-fashioned film or paper. It exists in the lives of billions of real human beings.

On the other hand, illusions, although not tangible, can be powerful and real because they are by definition in the realm of ideas, however stilted. These illusions are not democratically determined but rather plutocratically disseminated to each one of us, often appealing to our most base or self-centered instincts. Societies do not pick their most fundamental illusions, the rulers do.

Some illusions are both inaccurate (I know, atheist friends, I am on some level wishfully “believing” in a Jesus of my own conception and therefore “delusional,” but I still love the thought that Jesus loves me and you) and not good. Keeping up appearances can be dangerous.

As priority number one, if we are to be free, we should have the courage to admit that we or those we love or should love are in need. A political party that is too afraid to speak this message is nearly worthless. Too often illusions are only shattered when it becomes “profitable” to do so. It is a serious moral flaw of capitalist democracy (take it from Reinhold Niebuhr) that even trying to win an election for “the good side” can involve a cold-hearted cost-benefit analysis. We won’t talk about those in the most dire straights because “most people,” as in 50.1% of a given electorate, don’t want to think about them. Messages are shaped as if the weak and vulnerable are nonexistent, mere expendable chits, or dead weight on the mighty otherwise robust shoulders of capitalism–a supply-side Galt-ish whopper of a lie that is not only fictional but also morally repugnant.

Eventually those people who are forgotten in political messaging are forgotten in our collective heart, in the cultural hegemony of our society. And some of us, the for now more fortunate, are left to wander in a decaying wilderness of selfish consumerism until we go broke and our planet chokes to death.

Those who suffer are left to suffer in silence, with silence not golden but a constant flashing reminder in the psyche of injustice. Under such circumstances the void of the abandonment often will be filled with self-medication rather than revolution, and sometimes with faux rebellion in the form of acts of violence directed at innocent persons rather than mindful acts directed at a system needing deep change. Self-medication takes the commercially available products, whether purchased at Walmart or a street corner, and consumes them to ease the pain of being ignored and seemingly unimportant if not despised and rejected. Faux rebellion idiosyncratically takes the available woman, child, or other innocent and subjects her or him to scapegoating for the sins of an empire which already mass exploits then ignores women, children, and other innocents.

To put a smiley face on mass exploitation by ignoring the suffering of others is a great but common sin of capitalism. We sense this societal sickness, but again, the nausea does not rock the boat but our own internal seas. The Wholly Walton Empire, which seeks to perpetuate illusion and avoid scandal involving its own nobility and the system that gives it wealth and power, is perfectly happy with mass self-medication and faux rebellion. Japan, a slightly more healthy society with a parliamentary system and a vibrant left wing, reduces self-medication and faux rebellion but tends toward the same silent indifference to injustice when exposure of cherished reactionary lies is threatened. Telling and accepting deep truths could hurt the system, slightly if not deeply. Mass honest global exposure of deep lies would leave the global neoliberal system itself exposed as subject to change or even rejection. The human story is potentially malleable. And malleability begins with humane rather than indifferent cultural hegemony.

I love the honest moment many critics hate in Akira Kurisawa’s One Wonderful Sunday (1947) when the director, through the female co-lead, confesses the act of creating for the public good by turning to us, the viewers, and begging for help for the poor lovers of post-WWII Japan: “There are so many poor lovers like us.”

Generations later, the Japanese left is by and large retaining its moral courage against a denialist onslaught that would have fit right in with Fascist days gone by. In a vicious campaign of moral inversion that would make Karl Rove proud, those who dare to stand by the historical veracity of the exploitation of “comfort women” are themselves scandalized. The current conservative Japanese effort to expunge from history the Japanese military’s mass brutalizing of women during WWII is, needless to say, itself deeply shameful. But this need for maintenance of societal illusion is by no means a new creation. Nor can the U.S. exempt itself from criticism with respect to its own deep and wide illusion at home and abroad, and in particular with respect to Japan.

In these sad days (which can become a little less sad when the U.S. president does the right thing, as with the recent immigration pronouncement, which brings a measure of justice to millions of desperate people), it is difficult to remember except with sadness that not too long ago a first term presidency was won on a simultaneously discomforting and audacious vision

The title of The Audacity of Hope was derived from a sermon delivered by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright had attended a lecture by Dr. Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, on the G. F. Watts painting Hope, which inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 based on the subject of the painting – “with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God … To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope… that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.”

While “her” audacity is commendable, where is “ours”? Can we look on at a person in such a condition and not ask why and then do all we can to change those conditions?

This vision, which was ultimately an appeal to assess honestly the requirements of justice in the service of love, has been diminished through a societal psychosis brought about only in part by an opposition party strategically incapable of telling the truth on anything serious. The Republican Party is built on lying, to be sure. But it has received decades of assistance from the pathetic unwillingness of the U.S.’s so-called liberal party to have the audacity to honestly call even for old time liberal religion and from the pathetic unwillingness of the so-called liberal media to have the audacity to expose lies on a prolonged basis, except, irregularly, those involving sexual scandal. In Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal (1950), about the libel of a fictitious “famous female singer” for a sexual liaison that did not happen, the desperate post-WWII Japanese commercial press was exposed for its tendency to expose the titillating, truthfully or not, because this is commercially profitable.

As with the continuing repression of comfort women history in Japan, sexual scandal generally does not get mass coverage if this would implicitly challenge the bedrock of gender exploitation that underlies much of capitalist society. The true sacrosanct issue in the capitalist media is capitalism. For instance, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky situation was covered extensively as a matter of “the sex” but not as a matter of what Geminijen correctly describes as

the sexual compliance of a low level worker with her boss on the job. Although the right wing chastised Clinton on the basis of some Puritan Christian morality about adultery and licentiousness, the issue should have been discussed on the basis of power differentials and the explicit sexualization of women in the workplace. In this context, a relationship between two consenting adults becomes impossible to determine since Clinton (as president) had total power over his subordinates. Even if Lewinsky “consented” or initiated the encounters (possibly in some sort of opportunistic – consciously or unconsciously – way to curry favor with the boss), it sets up a dynamic and expectation for all other females in that workplace to have to “put out” or be sexually attractive (i.e., young & thin)to get or keep their jobs. It was not a question of Quid pro quo” but a hostile work environment (see I think it’s title seven of the 1964 civil rights act). That this assumption is prevalent, in fact assumed, in workplaces around the world is made even clearer by the way it is dismissed.

The same could be said for the Bill Cosby scandal, pushed under the rug for decades as he sold television commercials and, on the show that bore his name, gave the U.S. television audience a depiction of African American life sure not to challenge the dominant capitalist culture. While it was nice to see the Cosby family each week, and until a couple of weeks ago reruns of the show were still a favorite on HulaPlus in my own house, social climbing and getting ahead were presumed ideals on the show, poverty was pushed under the rug, and the continuing struggle for liberty and justice for all was unmentioned.

So what to do? Is a tendency to derive mass titillation from sex “scandal” but not to challenge the status quo of a society that gives rise to the exploitation of women to begin with just one more frustration to self-medicate over? Can we not finally begin to tell the truth about the system itself, not only the 800 lb. gorilla but the room itself?

I do not live in Japan but I do live in the heart of the Deep South, the center region of the Wholly Walton Empire. I think it is worth pondering who is really running this sickly thickly syrupy daytime theatre of life in the U.S.–so comfortable with societal psychosis once reserved for dreams of a heavenly one–while we put on our daily generally modest costumes. We have lost the will to pray, oh Lord, for a Mercedes Benz or even a new pickup, although we may still feel this unexplained ungratified compulsion to purchase new gizmos with whatever is left over after the tank of gas that will get us from our trailer to our part time jobs if we can get them.

It can sometimes be difficult, however, to tell the actors from the playwrights, for even the playwrights have to play dress up, or, more typically, dress down. When you are an imperial family, it is important to look the part, which will vary according to the needs of the occasion. If your power is mainly cultural, with pretentions of divinity, your plumage may need to be bold. While living large you may feel compelled to use your women and children more like props than actors on the stage of your pampered world.

If your power is economic, you may need to dress like regular small business folk on the way to the quaint grand opening of a new five and dime, complete with soda fountain. Your appearance should reflect the business needs of your milieu, even if that means you too must look like you eat tons of that processed corn-shit you sell to us at everyday low prices.

Before I come back to them, I want to mention again the customers. You may wholly or partly not realize it, but, if you are reading this, you are likely sitting or standing (pray not driving) in the Wholly Walton Empire. You won’t actually get to “[m]eet the 6 Walton Heirs at the [t]op of the Walmart [e]mpire,” but it is important to their tight hold on power in the U.S. that you and hundreds of millions of species-beings like you remain alienated and not develop class consciousness of them and moral consciousness of the ends and means of their empire.

Now back to our story …

The Walton family are just regular folk, plus lots of money and power. They are at the pinochle of a homestyle capitalist family built on the illusion of choice. They are mere country vendors. Other small town folk make the stuff that they vend, which we stuff into our bodies and souls to the limit of our credit and physiological and psychological capacity to intake stuff.

These ultra rich “regular folk” use slick mercenary politicians from both U.S. ruling parties to carry out their policies in exchange for chump change and neoliberal-circumscribed political power implemented through the kabuki theatre of “aw shucks, pass me them taters” known as U.S. “democracy.” A broad spectrum of “regular folk,” sometimes already wealthy but usually not “ultra rich,” compete within this mercenary class. Enter folks like Jeb (make no mistake, Jeb does not come to Arkansas because he cares about education)

and “our” very own HRC.

Now what in tarnation does this have to do with Japan?

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Both the U.S. and Japan are the way they are by commercial design. Reinforced by six generations of capitalist pacts, Japan literally is the way it is today because the U.S. military twice caused it to be so, first in the early 1850’s and the second time a century later. However, Japan is no longer the sucker in this relationship. It does not have a huge military industrial complex to support, live in the hegemonic Wholly Walton Empire, or shamelessly promote grotesque accumulation by its most wealthy–and it is better off because of these things. Japan, for all its faults, keeps a lot more assets for lovers like us than the U.S. (See figure 8 of this Whitehouse paper.)

Attention Walmart shoppers: Notwithstanding the cheap goods we can stuff into our carts or commit petit theft to obtain, we are the sucker. But unless the system changes to deep democracy to give the people control over the U.S. economy, even if Walmart were boycotted or Sherman Anti-trusted to the point of death and another two, three or more store chains controlled retail sales in the U.S., a new reassembled retail empire would take its place with different plutocrats cutting the ribbons in these smiley grim days of late retail-based finance capitalism. Nor is this about U.S. capitalist hegemony but about capitalist hegemony in general. Those transnational megacorporations that control production of all of the things that Walmart and every other retail “merchant” sells would create other “Walmart” surrogates within months as needed or else they would be replaced by other transnational megacorporations. They have stuff they have to sell for as long as they exist, which is as long as poor lovers like us have any money.

In the meantime, if we try to isolate ourselves and not buy their stuff, whether it is opium, Furbys, or cruise missiles, why, those are fighting words. Fortunately for Japan, if it wants to avoid invasion or trade sanctions, it has the best of all worlds in relation to the Walton Empire because its residents do not treat it as Wholly. It has allowed Walmart in but Walmart is not doing so well–Walmart, ironically, appears to be sort of like the Kmart near where I live: lacking consumer cachet and barely hanging on. It does not have to force U.S. trade negotiators and the U.S. military to force its crap on Japan because Japan already has opened to the crap and most of its choosey shoppers just say no. Walmart only stays in business because it has us in its empire.

Let’s quickly go back in time to another Walton to burnish our Japanese history and thereby understand our own supporting actor roles as unwitting colonized suckers. Hell, he was so dadburn efficient he even brought in Japan’s major trading partner to its west, China, not to mention the odd reference to South Africa. All the world was his oyster. Sir Joseph was both a 1st Baronet and a turn-of-the century coal baron Liberal MP. The much-travelled Mr. Walton fashioned himself an expert on the then British empire’s far eastern investments. Not just anyone can go on an eight month vacation, meet with Japanese and other plutocrats, and write CHINA AND THE PRESENT CRISIS, WITH NOTES ON A VISIT TO JAPAN AND KOREA.

by Sir (John) Benjamin Stone, platinum print in card window mount, February 1911

And let there be no mistake, in 1900, as in 2014 (see NY brit expat’s excellent recent ACM diary on the crisis), the world was and is in a capitalist crisis caused by capitalists working for the benefit of capitalists, not poor lovers like us. According to Paul Krugman, “Japan [is] on the [b]rink,” although its responses have been somewhat better than other capitalist democracies.

Krugman’s crisis analysis has built-in artificial limits, accepting the neoliberal system as a given. This system was imposed by the west on the east a long time ago, and although the classical version merged inconspicuously with the neo version, neither was or is a law of nature but a law of well-fed, comforted, profit-seeking, justice-killing, environment-destroying men. Gradually “the east” adapted to imperialistic imposition. Or, as the good Methodist Sir Joe put it:

Or, more to the point about Japan:

This rank U.S. military aggression not only forced Japan to open itself to U.S. trade but also indirectly led to Pearl Harbor.

The Meiji Restoration accelerated industrialization in Japan, which led to its rise as a military power by the year 1905, under the slogan of “Enrich the country, strengthen the military” (富国強兵 fukoku kyōhei). The Meiji oligarchy that formed the government under the rule of the Emperor first introduced measures to consolidate their power against the remnants of the Edo period government, the shogunate, daimyo, and the samurai class.

After WWII, Japan kept its emperor but in truth came back under the watchful eyes and guns of a new old one, with the Japanese left as its nemesis. The Ford Foundation-funded Leftwing Social Movements in Japan: An Annotated Bibliography, published the year Castro came into Havana (Uyehara, C.H., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. The Charles E. Tuttle Company.) gives thousands of references but noted, “Postwar governmental studies–like the prewar ones until the war ended–are under security lock and key.” The introduction states:

The termination of the Pacific War brought about the rise of two hitherto suppressed political movements in Japan, the social democratic and the communist, and the availability in the United States of large quantities of material on these movements. In less than two years after 1945, the communists almost succeeded in staging a general strike; chaos was averted only by General Douglas MacArthur’s written directive. Whereas the social democrats had led a futile fight against ultra-nationalism and fascism in the prewar years, the postwar Social Democratic Party rose to head a coalition government also within two years after the war had ended. Despite brutal prewar attempts physically to exterminate the communist, harass the legal left, and win over the less ideologically committed social democrats to cooperation with the imperial government, the rapid revitalization of these movements in the postwar era indicated their tenacity and the depth of their roots in Japanese society. Socialism was first introduced into Japan prior to World War 1 as an intellectual movement. It did not gain any wide following among the working masses. The leftist intellectual movement was welded to the practical labor movement which emerged as a product of the new industrial society in Japan created by World War I. These movements are no longer foreign elements grafted onto Japanese society but vital living parts which cannot realistically be ignored.

More recent days have witnessed the Japanese communists hanging tough, while for decades many right socialists and social democrats have been withering away into the banality of the major party political dynamic.

Whereever we poor lovers are, any social democratic elements under capitalist democracy will ever be susceptible to being coopted, undercut, and gutted, just as Niebuhr, and before him Marx, predicted. In the U.S., where our minor parties cannot hope for seats in a parliament that does not exist, we will continue to receive a full dose of neoliberal medicine because we are well-controlled. Unlike the fictitious unemployed Seven Samurai (1954), we are unlikely to find work doing good and, as a coping strategy, may sometimes run off to join the bandits or one black market or another created by the drug war. We may in hard times receive just enough welfare to tamp down revolutions and rumors of revolution, but until we change systems, the sick one forced upon us will remain in some phase of crisis for many lovers like us. The system that forces Sam Waltons upon us no longer has the audacity to offer hope to many John Boy (much less Mary Ellen, Erin, and Elizabeth) Waltons, who now have equal rights to remain in poverty with people they are told from birth are their inferiors. Those PWT can join the blacks and the browns in holding cells when their money runs out and they cannot pay their fines and costs and lose their driver’s licenses. The system abides in decidedly un-Dude-like fashion as lonely lost lovers like us remain silent and shuffle across trailers looking for something more powerful than medical marijuana and White Russians (although damn those things are good) that for a little while goes bam-bam-bam, pop-pop-pop, or deep-deep-deep in our warring consuming psyches until the cops arrive, and we go off to be photographed in our Christlike Idiot robes purchased at Walmart for some holiday or birthday long ago, and DCF, “what assholes,” comes again for the dirty hungry wee ones wearing no costume but stinky diapers, ain’t they cute, may the circle be unbroken.

Few of us will have no regrets for our youth.

Note: The above clip is the only one I can find on YouTube for this incredible film. It is unfortunately narrowly focused on the wonderful lead actress’s beauty. The film is available on HuluPlus and in a box set.

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Make No Mistake, There Will Be Trouble Down at the Hamster Wheel

I guarantee it. I am that trouble. I am making that trouble. And so should you.

I feel our pain. I am sorry. It was sad. We try so hard. The deck is stacked. Turnout so low. Lies are told. Again and again. Commercials bombard us. Messaging is targeted. Divide and rule. Impeccably done.

Thank you for fighting. The goals are just. The punishment is not. Mid-term blues hurt. Real people are hurting. We won’t deny it. Two years of garbage. Triumphal reactionaries.

So it really happened. And it will keep on happening.

We must change the system. While working tactically to make the best sausage, we must also think strategically. We must also have a second set of simultaneous tactics. We must figure out ways to take that frigging sausage grinder and break it into pieces.

The system we have inherited is rigged. So, at least some of OUR focus should be on OUR need to change THEIR system to OUR system. Participatory self-rule by the masses of the workplaces, of the planet, of the spaces, high and low, where we have to survive, if we are to live, much less thrive. Continue reading

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Capitalist “Skin and Beat ‘Em” Tactics Against Students and Teachers in Mexico

Mexico has a lot more to be fearful of than its rural educators and those rural young people who try to make the best of things and both learn and fight to make a just society where students do not have to fight over bones with other students. However, to capitalists, naturally when a poor Latin American country is being destroyed by the capitalist drug war, after being weakened to the point of desperation by capitalist neoliberalism, after being exploited for nearly two centuries by the big neighbor to the north for purposes of capital accumulation, it is time to start changing the subject. Because, after all, Mexico’s problems, as we all know, emanate from the failure of its public school system. That darn Mexican public school system is slow to emulate the wise and knowing educational plans cooked up in conservative Washington think tanks to distract U.S. residents from their own systemic problems, which, among other things, create massive amounts of insecurity and stress which drive demand for legal and illegal hard drugs among U.S. residents, which provides the irrational rationale for the never ending, never succeeding drug war.

Capitalists are so darn smart, handsome, cuddly, and good (except when they get to murderin’ and such) that the Washington Consensus keeps rearing its dapper head–even if it means Mexican teenagers must now lose theirs, and faces too, after standing in solidarity with poor teachers who stand in solidarity with Mexico’s poor. But first, the U.S. Presidential Campaign of 1848 in a nutshell:

Henry Clay, frustrated by Taylor’s popularity as Old “Rough and Ready,” the war hero of Buena Vista, sighed: “I wish I could slay a Mexican.” Don’t sell yourself short dear Henry dear Henry. The U.S. is the gift that keeps on giving–Freeeeeeeedom!

Ah yes, who can forget the son of Freeeeeeeedom, Zachary Taylor, Rumadum Dum? “He’s the boy can skin and beat ‘em. … Everybody!” Sounds vaguely familiar, if you are the parent of a missing Mexican college student.

And who can forget the need for the accumulation of U.S. capital (why did Rosa Luxemburg have to go and talk about that?) in our neighbor to the south (which led to all that debt, which led to the Washington Consensus to get debtor nations out of debt so they can incur more debt), which led to resentment by Mexican landed gentry and capitalists, so that, to this day, the Mexican people totter between exploitation by foreign and domestic capitalists–when they are not dodging bullets, heh heh.

I digress (or do I?):
◾”Crisis in Mexico: Could Forty-Three Missing Students Spark a Revolution?” Well, yes, they could. But let’s consider the dry kindling to which the spark has been applied, shall we? Continue reading

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In Our Hearts AND on the Ground: International Solidarity with the Deep Democrats of Rojava

The most compelling socialist message is how we live our lives. In many places, such as the so-called “free” U.S., repression against socialists often effectively prevents us from coming out of the closet. We know each other by pseudonyms if at all. The credit to our cause for much of our efforts may be lost and actions misunderstood as advancement of one volunteer cause or another, mere do-goodism–not as revolutionary acts intended to promote change from the world neoliberal system that causes unjust conditions to begin with.

Hardly woe is me however; in Syrian Kurdistan, our sisters and brothers die every day for the crime of living out loving egalitarian solidarity. In truth, woe is “we.” To Islamic State (IS) and its direct enablers in the governments of Turkey and oil-generating Middle East “friends of the U.S.”–making the U.S. in essence the biggest enabler of IS– stateless anarcho-socialism in Rojava is a cause worthy of rape and other torture followed by cruel death.

“We” can come to the aid of the deep democrats of Rojava or watch as our comrades are slaughtered. It is as simple as that. Continue reading

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you are not a piece of crap, and your solidarity work matters

[This cross-posted piece is by Brother Francisco writing as Galtisalie for Anti-Capitalist Meetup at Daily Kos.]

 

“Resist much, obey little.”

hello cruel world. take that. and that. and that. leftists look injustice in the eye then look for a stick to poke it with, find lonely leaves of grass, and injustice blinks or maybe winks.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

by the end of 1877’s Virgin Soil, Turgenev’s sixth, final, and longest novel, Nejdanov has taken his own life, unwilling to go to prison in Siberia for a cause that has taken everything from him and will not, in his own mind, accept his desire for the beautiful, culminating, like Whitman, in a desire to write poems. ironically, by dying, his most stalwart comrade, the hopelessly in love Mashurina, is deprived of the one thing, Nejdanov, to which she is devoted other than the revolution. desperate for any remembrance of Nejdanov, Mashurina spends a few moments at the end with the blowhard but equally lonely socialist hanger-on Paklin. Paklin, desperate for conversation and relevance, tosses out stupid questions. Mashurina slams the door:

Paklin pulled himself up.
“Why, of course … do have some more tea.”
But Mashurina fixed her dark eyes upon him and said pensively:
“You don’t happen to have any letter of Nejdanov’s … or his photograph?”
“I have a photograph and quite a good one too. I believe it’s in the table drawer. I’ll get it in a minute.”
He began rummaging about in the drawer, while Snandulia went up to Mashurina and with a long, intent look full of sympathy, clasped her hand like a comrade.
“Here it is!” Paklin exclaimed and handed her the photograph.
Mashurina thrust it into her pocket quickly, scarcely glancing at it, and without a word of thanks, flushing bright red, she put on her hat and made for the door.
“Are you going?” Paklin asked. “Where do you live? You might tell me that at any rate.”
“Wherever I happen to be.”
“I understand. You don’t want me to know. Tell me at least, are you still working under Vassily Nikolaevitch?”
“What does it matter to you?” “Or someone else, perhaps Sidor Sidoritch?” Mashurina did not reply.
“Or is your director some anonymous person?” Mashurina had already stepped across the threshold. “Perhaps it is someone anonymous!”
She slammed the door.
Paklin stood for a long time motionless before this closed door.
“Anonymous Russia!” he said at last.

in some ways, we all have had the door slammed in our face and are left anonymous. more sadly than Mashurina, who at least was on the clearly ascending side of history, we are more like the pathetic Paklin, trying to piece together our own relevance. the oppressors are desperate too, to make us feel that we are on the descending side of history, and oh how it feels that they are right when that door slams yet again. Continue reading

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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Evo Morales, “Live Well” vs “Live Better”

[This is a cross-post of a wonderful diary by UnaSpenser published by Anti-Capitalist Meetup at Daily Kos. I am proud that it is the first ever post at this humble website by someone other than me! It discusses a subject of great importance to all of humanity, Evo Morales’ “Vivir Bien” strategy for Bolivia, which I think holds great promise as a model for our world. By the way, I have benefited enormously by participating in Anti-Capitalist Meetup. The group “meets,” virtually that is, every Sunday at 6:00 p.m., Eastern Time. Ya’ll come. Solidarity, Brother Francisco]

It can be very disheartening to contemplate the state of the world, these days. Climate change, growing wealth inequality, civil rights erosion, violence, violence and more violence. As a practitioner of bearing witness, it all gets overwhelming and can lead to despair, unless I find beacons of light. One of the beacons I’ve found is Evo Morales of Bolivia.

If you’re not aware of him, he is the first indigenous president of Bolivia. That would be notable, in and of itself, but he has represented so much more than a demographic token. He’s now a leading voice in a worldwide coalition for a sustainable future. Something he calls “Vivir Bien.”

The concept of vivir bien (live well) defines the current climate change movement in Bolivia. The concept is usually contrasted with the capitalist entreaty to vivir mejor (live better). Proponents argue that living well means having all basic needs met while existing in harmony with the natural world; living better seeks to constantly amass materials goods at the expense of the environment.

This isn’t just a vague “feel good” philosophy. It is a set of principles to live by and guide public policy. Let’s take a look at what those principles are, how they’ve been applied in Bolivia and how they are being adopted beyond Bolivia, along with some of President Morales’ personal background. Continue reading

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Gramsci and Gaza: Getting Palestinians Into Our Inner Space

[First published by Brother Francisco writing as Galtisalie for Anti-Capitalist Meetup at Daily Kos.]

“We were talking about the space between us all”
George Harrison

“It’s always the same story. For a fact that interests us, touches us, it is necessary that it becomes part of our inner life, it is necessary that it does not originate far from us, that is the people we know, people who belong to the circle of our human space.”
Antonio Gramsci

“Hasta allí Gramsci. Siempre un adelantado. Siempre con los que sufren.”
Osvaldo Bayer

We all need justice and safety, none more than Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. But apparently those “filthy Arabs” are humans too. An artificial redefinition of space known as “a new nation” can be founded for ostensibly “humane” reasons but use patently inhumane means of achievement.

I thought in a “constitutional” “democracy” we were supposed to all agree on certain basic organic principles (not including freedom from want and fear, of course) and then work out the details with voting?–unless, of course, we are Native Peoples, African Americans, or European Americans who happened to be poor in the temperate Atlantic region of North America in the late 1700’s. What could possibly go wrong? For a contemporary answer to this non-academic question, so dependent on militarization and deception, look to the southeastern side of the Mediterranean Sea.

The mad, unjust, and unsafe Zionist experiment we now know as Israel has commonly exercised cultural hegemony over U.S. society in relation to the Arab people of Palestine (which includes in my definition what we now call “Israel”). A U.S. President is expected to declare himself (or, perhaps one day soon, herself) “a Zionist” and profess allegiance to Israel’s “right” not merely to exist but to exist “as a Jewish state,” even though this implies sanctioning ethnic cleansing and other forms of oppression in the past and in the future. I hereby call bullshit on this. I am putting down my sitar and typing this post in solidarity with all of the people of Palestine.

Typing, and talking and singing, about the space between us all can be part of the foundation for ending this cultural hegemony. Doing other things positive about the physical hegemony of Israel over Palestine may be the result. But let us not neglect the inner geographical challenge. If the suffering of people in distant lands does not even lead to our mourning their suffering, I think that Gramsci and Bayer would say that our typing, talking, and singing is superficial and that we are not really “with those who suffer.” We have not humanized those whom we do not mourn upon their suffering.

This is not picking on Israel. Dehumanization is the tactic upon which the U.S. was established. It is the tactic upon which capitalism rules the world. Where I live, in the Deep South, “Whites” were quite comfortable singing praises to Jesus while killing and taking the “Indians'” land and killing and exploiting “Blacks” (I’ve not, of course, used the racist terms commonly used by “White” “Christians” for Native Peoples and African Americans back in “the day,” which still exists in much of the Deep South) to fuel “our” (how sweet!) economy, and after that for a hundred years after the Constitution was rewritten, to continue to deny “Blacks” living in what the founding racist fathers decided to call “the United States of America” the basic rights of all human beings. So we are damn good at dehumanization, in the U.S. and all around the world. It may be our most well-developed mass skill.

The question is, how do we end this endless oppressive inhumane rut of dehumanization? We have a Humane Society for Animals but for some reason do not think we should have a Humane Society for Humans. When my dog dies I cry, but when and if I learn that a Palestinian is hit by an Israeli bomb paid for by the U.S. I am supposed to thank the Good Lord that Armageddon is upon us. Continue reading

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A Pseudonymous Requiem for Yesterday in My Radical Life

[Cross-posted from Anti-Capitalist Chat at Daily Kos]

I thought I should pay a tiny tribute and wave goodbye to yesterday. I think that is something important for me to do. We have to know when to fight and when to retreat and redeploy. We have to constantly marshal our force of one to use it most effectively.

Yesterday began with a notification from WordPress.com wishing my hobby website a Happy One Year Anniversary! (I won’t provide the link for fear that the thousands who would click it would cause a crash.) My ultimate “hobby,” by the way, is the core of my existence. Like most of the other 1,054,220 people at Daily Kos, I want to do my best to help to try to save the world. That is my life; that is our life. As an anti-capitalist democratic internationalist on the ever-shifting left wing of the possible, I believe in working with a wide swath of people, including “liberals” as they are called in the U.S., because I think that we all have important roles to play. Continue reading

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Part 2 on the Need for Anti-Capitalist Democratic Internationalism

[Cross-posted from Anti-Capitalist Meetup at Daily Kos. Here‘s the link to Part 1 of this series.]

Things are certainly going to crapola for many poor Central American children these days. But at least they are not having their lives ruined by elected socialists. Barbarism is so much better. Somalian freedom anyone? Where, oh where, have I read about this before? Some murdered democratic revolutionary internationalist perhaps.

 

The Political-Economic Basis For Anti-Capitalist Democratic Internationalism

We must refuse to separate morality from economics, to ignore the historical and political dimensions of economic justice, and to narrowly define “justice” as the head-in-the-sand enforcement of U.S. laws. (According to a good Jesuit who mourned for those dying in Central America, including his owns priests, justice should be in the service of love.) For instance, when we receive reports about Latin American children in flight to the U.S., we must be mindful that the U.S. has spent generations undermining Latin America efforts to achieve economic justice. Continue reading

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“Waiting for the Signal” to Revolt in the late 1890s

[Cross-posted from Hellraisers Journal at Daily Kos.]

This diary is dedicated to JayRaye, who has rediscovered so many Hellraisers, including Henry O. Morris, radical labor journalist, see, e.g., Hellraisers Journal: Tear-stained Women…Besieged the Bull Pens in Cripple Creek and Victor. JayRaye wrote me a message about Mr. Morris’s novel. The book is available as a free e-book here, except for missing page 17 and the corresponding illustration, which I will give you down below. She thought that as a socialist and a Christian, I might find Morris and his novel worthy of more detailed study. After I started reading it, I thought it would make a good diary, and JayRaye agreed. JayRaye loves it when her research leads to other research. Morris himself remains something of a mystery, as with many labor heroes. His reporting is an important part of the historical record. But it’s also time we pay attention to his fictional hellraising, which we could use more of if we are to get more of the non-fictional type. Our minds may yet be motivated by creative acts.

This is what the opposite of Atlas Shrugged looked like in the late 1890s:

The winter of 1898-‘9 has passed and May day has come. …
Oh, Mr. Plutocrat, this first day of May has been a long time coming, but it has dawned at last–the day is here.
As people begin to throng the streets their eyes are greeted on every hand with a mystic symbol …
As the morning drags along the Associated Press bureau begins to receive messages asking if New York can explain the meaning of the sign. Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore are among the first to ask for information, their questions mingling with telephone calls from Brooklyn, Jersey City, Hoboken, Harlem–all on the same subject.
As the day grows older queries came in rapid succession from Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, New Orleans and all the Southern cities. This announcement comes from San Francisco:

“This city flooded with a peculiar symbol chalked on the sidewalks and printed on billboards. Advices from all over the State say that every town and village is filled with them, every cross-road fence has one or more placards. What do they mean?”

To which New York replies:
“We do not know. New York is also covered with them.” …
[W]hen the grand council of the revolutionists conceived the idea of this symbol, as a means of notifying its members of the day and the hour of the beginning of the conquest, it was considered very improbable that any person outside the revolutionary order could translate the sign, and so far as literal translation went their judgment was correct. But, mingling with this heterogeneous mob of wildly excited people was one who, by a chance begotten of inspiration, solved it. True, only a portion of it, but that portion contained its primary meaning. This individual was not a learned judge, a lynx-eyed detective, nor an alert reporter; but a creature of less than ordinary intelligence–an old woman almost in her dotage. This chance interpreter came shuffling up, elbowing her way to the bulletin board which bore, together with the bulletins, the strange device. Mumbling and grumbling, she wiped her watery eyes with her soiled apron, peered long and earnestly at the inscription, then, turning to the gaping crowd, she burst out into wild shrieks of hysterical laughter:
“Ha! ha! ho! Hooray! The devil fiddles for his imps to dance. It’s sweet music when old Nick plays. Ha, ha! Oho! Hee, hee! Say yer prayers, ye wicked sinners–this means Revolution! Revolution, I say! D’ye hear me?” …

Morris, Henry O. Waiting for the Signal, Ch. XXVI. Chicago: The Schulte Publishing Co. (published 1898, copywright 1897).

Myths can be powerful stuff. During these latest dark days for the worker in the U.S., we logically need to recapture some of the earlier mythic force. But we need to do this mindfully.

The other side is wickedly but brilliantly using populist “outsider” and even anti-banker rhetoric to manipulate fearful “white” workers. They do so to energize their own selfish cause, including right wing GOTV, but also to divert a large segment of the masses from fighting for constructive deep economic change. Although we can debate how to define “the workers,” on some level the true outsiders are everyone who is not part of the 1%. By diverting attention from our commonality as workers, the plutocrats defeat solidarity.

Updating myths to grim facts on the ground may need to begin with revisiting key dreams large numbers of workers at one time carried in our hearts and minds, and which some still do. After all, we need to always remember that under capitalism, things have generally been hard times for the workers. Political power always has been more wishful thinking than achieved, even under FDR. All of these earlier myths were imperfect and even the best of our myths are in constant need of improvement. Some of the myths of the past were rough, embarrassing, unwise, or even partly wrong, but they were real too, because they fictionally responded, however imperfectly, to shared tangible material conditions, in a way that the other side can only dream. Real people are not perfect. Sometimes they share poorly in their desperation. Coping strategies are not pretty. It is hard when your family is hungry to be your brother or sister’s keeper, especially when they look differently. Solidarity knows no boundaries, yet it is difficult to rearrange much less overturn capitalist conditions in a single valley much less a nation state or the world. The plutocrats don’t want us to even try. Alas, sadly when we do try we often carry around prejudices that the universal “wecannot tolerate, but which “we” must acknowledge in order to address the very real faults without losing the potential for solidarity. Continue reading