Daily Archives: November 2, 2011

Greece and the EU’s fear of Democracy

So it appears there is evidence that that the austerity measures created mass poverty in Greece. So the protestors have finally put pressure on a center-left socialist government to actually turn things over the people, which as you may have noticed on the Lisbon treaty of EU, the EU does not like Democracy. This why parliament in UK does not want a referendum . The Euro-zone was always about banking and enabling it, so the conservative governments of France and Germany are highly displeased. CNN is predicting that this will bring Europe into the Abyss:

Greece cannot leave the eurozone under the terms of the existing treaty. In principle, that treaty could be changed if all other countries agreed but that would be a lengthy process and as the risk became widely known every sensible Greek depositor would withdraw euro deposits from the Greek banks and move them abroad.

Such a bank run would be the liquidity crisis that triggered the rapid collapse of the entire Greek banking system. Again, dramatically painful consequences for the economy would ensue.

If opinion polls were still pointing to rejection as the day approached, any other eurozone members at risk would see these dire consequences unfolding, encouraging them to take all necessary steps to avoid a similar fate.

For example, Italy is already expected to have a budget deficit in 2012 below 3% of GDP, and the current Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has promised the eurozone heads of government to take additional measures that will ensure a balanced budget in 2013.

The unfolding Greek tragedy will only encourage such states to put their probity beyond doubt, and their voters would have a very clear understanding of why their leaders were asking for such efforts.

Now, the EU has the same problem as the US: one that could have dramatically bad consequences. What if a sovereign nation in the EU leaves it? They would be rejecting the treaty? What will the EU do to “keep the union?” Furthermore, as the Daily Mail admits, the Euro-zone austerity measures will likely lead to a revolution:

Thank goodness for the Greek government. After agreeing – against the interests of its people – to a eurozone bailout, it has now decided to let its people have a referendum on the deal. And the people, most probably, are going to say no.

This is exactly what they should do. As the economist Nouriel Roubini has written, the deal the EU offered Greece ‘was a rip-off, providing much less debt relief than the country needed. If you pick apart the figures, and take into account the large sweeteners the plan gave to creditors, the true debt relief is actually close to zero.’

Of course the Greeks need to learn to live within their means. Yes, they need to cut government expenditure substantially. And course their love with socialism and jobs for life need to come to an end. But personally, I’m in favour of government reform that isn’t likely to cause revolution on the streets. And, unfortunately, the crazy austerity regime that the bailout required, combined with the straightjacket of the single currency, make violence a distinct possibility.

Open letter to Occupy Oakland from the OKPD, and the strike will begin soon…

In a supreme movement of whose side is who on, this letter came from the OKPD:

As your police officers, we are confused.

On Tuesday, October 25th, we were ordered by Mayor Quan to clear out the encampments at Frank Ogawa Plaza and to keep protesters out of the Plaza. We performed the job that the Mayor’s Administration asked us to do, being fully aware that past protests in Oakland have resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property.

Then, on Wednesday, October 26th, the Mayor allowed protesters back in – to camp out at the very place they were evacuated from the day before.

To add to the confusion, the Administration issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the “Stop Work” strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off.

That’s hundreds of City workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against “the establishment.” But aren’t the Mayor and her Administration part of the establishment they are paying City employees to protest? Is it the City’s intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?

It is all very confusing to us.

Meanwhile, a message has been sent to all police officers: Everyone, including those who have the day off, must show up for work on Wednesday. This is also being paid for by Oakland taxpayers. Last week’s events alone cost Oakland taxpayers over $1 million.

The Mayor and her Administration are beefing up police presence for Wednesday’s work strike they are encouraging and even “staffing,” spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for additional police presence – at a time when the Mayor is also asking Oakland residents to vote on an $80 parcel tax to bail out the City’s failing finances.

All of these mixed messages are confusing.

We love Oakland and just want to do our jobs to protect Oakland residents. We respectfully ask the citizens of Oakland to join us in demanding that our City officials, including Mayor Quan, make sound decisions and take responsibility for these decisions. Oakland is struggling – we need real leaders NOW who will step up and lead – not send mixed messages. Thank you for listening.

Now, in my perspective, the Oakland PD has to answer for Scott Olsen, which it has not done. However, there is something very, very strange about what Mayor Quan is trying to do here: She’s supporting the strike? Really? Honestly, I don’t know if I think that is good or bad. However, it does seem like the city government is putting people on BOTH sides of the line deliberately.

What is OWS? Is it even a left-wing movement, a left-liberal movement, blind rage, anti-capitalism, anti-corporatism? What?

Platypus Affiliated Society Banner for OWS: The Minotaur. Copyright Platypus in NYC

The above question hasn’t really been answered yet.  We know that both left-liberals and the radical left feel dis-empowered and we feel like there is sufficient anger.  The anger both from liberals and from the left comes from the idea, which has been obvious to the left for some time, that the Democrats are not even a left-liberal party.   In fact, the liberal establishment is adopting more and more conservative rhetoric, as Connor Kilpatrick pointed out in his review of the Corey Robin’s Reactionary Mind:

But in a truly sick little twist, the liberals have–in recent years–started cribbing stale right-wing rhetoric, dutifully neglecting any call for a “Morning in America” of their own. Now, it’s the liberals who are repeating all that Taft-era bullshit. They’ve long since turned up their noses at the grand projects of emancipation, forward marches into a glorious future (“didn’t Lenin, like, kill people?”), and have instead begun to squirt out the very lies that conservatives told about themselves fifty years ago–whether it’s Carter, Mondale, Clinton or Obama wagging his finger about balancing budgets or some anarcho-liberal down at Zuccotti calling for the return of “mom and pop shops.” (I got news for you: mom and pop were among the first to screech about OSHA and the EPA and never cared much for “the Coloreds” either.) The difference is that conservative elites—in practice—never believed any of this shit, whereas liberals gobble it all up and ask for seconds. Hell, half the chapters out of Pat Buchanan’s last book read like Naderite manifestos.

You’d almost forget that anti-Communism is, in itself, a militant and internationalist ideology all its own–one with a 20th century bodycount that rivals the bloodiest work of Stalin. This is wholly understood in conservative James Ellroy’s pathologically gory “Underworld USA” trilogy but flies over the heads of liberals, perhaps because some of their biggest champions–JFK, Orwell, Truman, etc.–bought into it whole-heartedly.

But there’s another component to Robin’s argument that makes the Timescrowd squish up in their khakis: how exactly do conservatives get the masses on-board in the first place? Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?, the preferred liberal Rosetta Stone to unlocking the right-wing brain, suggests that non-elite rightwingers simply get “tricked” into supporting conservative policies. The Big Scary GOP demolishes labor unions with one hand, but draws crosshairs on Tiller the Baby-killer with the other. It’s the only way Frank can explain such “irrationality.”

Robin calls bullshit on that. Non-elite conservatives–the Red State bubbas that have cursed this land for so long–reap very real material rewards, but they’re rewards which fly in the face of the cheery “every one’s good at heart” worldview of liberalism.

Conservatism offers them something Robin brilliantly calls “democratic feudalism.” In other words, dominion over your “lessers” in the private spheres of the workplace (middle-management tyrants) and the home (lockin’ down the wife and daughter’s ladyparts): “the most visible effort of the GOP since the 2010 midterm election has been to curtail the rights of employees and the rights of women.” This is the link between the Santorums and the Pauls of the world–one which Reason magazine, the Mises Institute and other appendages of the supposedly “anti culture-war” libertarian propaganda circuit work very hard to obscure.

Now, Kilpatrick takes a harder line than I.  I don’t think liberals actually know which part of their larger heritage they wish to participate with.  I think there is a fundamental fear in liberalism is that left and the right were spawned by the same thinkers that it claims and the history on all sides involves MUCH bloodier than they like to look at.  Much, much bloodier.   The OWS illustrates this: there is a disconnect between between left liberals, working class, and the liberal establishment, and its obvious to many liberal activists they have been sold out.

This brings me to another point: The Oakland General Strike is going to be a real test of the Occupy movement in the US.  If it goes off, it makes everyone know that there are real stakes at what is involved.  Let’s remember that the 99% is not truly unified and can’t be, but we have a temporary common enemy–perhaps. Lenin’s Tomb alerted me to this quote from Angela Davis which makes things very clear:

“We talked about the importance of building a movement that is inclusive, but recognising that the unity of the 99% must be a complex unity.  Movements in the past have primarily appealed to specific communities.  Whether workers, students, black communities, Latino communities, women, LGBT communities, indigenous people, or these movements have been organised around specific issues.  Like the environment, food, water, war, the prison-industrial complex.  Speaking of the prison-industrial complex.  This is the movement I have been personally associated with.  We have tried to call attention to the inoperable damage prison and the prison-industrial system has inflicted on our community.  So we have called for a reduction of the prison population.  Decarceration – decarcerate Pennsylvania.  And we have called for the eventual abolition of prisons as the dominant mode of punishment.  But we have also called for the revitalisation of all our communities.  We have called for education, health care, housing, jobs, hope, justice, creativity, equality, freedom!  We move from the particular to the general.  We have come together as the 99%.  There are major responsibilities linked to your decision to assemble here in communities.  How can you be together?  I evoke once more Audre Lorde.  Differences must not be merely tolerated but seen as a fund of polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.  Finally, let me say a few words about my home town, Oakland, California.  You have heard about the police assault.  Scott Olsen remains in the hospital.  Oakland General Assembly met in the renamed park Oscar Grant Park and responded by calling for a general strike on November 2nd.  Many unions have already supported the call.  I end by sharing the language of the poster: decolonise Oakland.  We are the 99%.  We stand united.  November 2nd, 2011, general strike, no work, no school, occupy everywhere.  Occupy everywhere.”

What is fascinating is listening to the Platypus New York’s discussion of what exactly is OWS? If it’s not a left movement will not implode on itself?  Hard to say.  The left–both liberal left and radical (true) left–has decisions to make.  So to mimic the flyer for the above event:

The recent #Occupy protests are driven by discontent with the present state of affairs: glaring economic inequality, dead-end Democratic Party politics, and, for some, the suspicion that capitalism could never produce an equitable society. These concerns are coupled with aspirations for social transformation at an international level. For many, the protests at Wall St.and elsewhere provide an avenue to raise questions the Left has long fallen silent on:

What would it mean to challenge capitalism on a global scale?
How could we begin to overcome social conditions that adversely affect every part of life?
And, how could a new international radical movement address these concerns in practice?

Although participants at Occupy Wall St. have managed thus far to organize resources for their own daily needs, legal services, health services, sleeping arrangements, food supplies, defense against police brutality, and a consistent media presence, these pragmatic concerns have taken precedent over long-term goals of the movement. Where can participants of this protest engage in formulating, debating, and questioning the ends of this movement? How can it affect the greater society beyond the occupied spaces?

I honestly don’t know: one must work out one politics with fear and trembling, but hope and action.

While I am thinking about it, in a few hours Oakland General Strike will begin

Alternet is covering it.  Scott Olsen, by the way, is alive but cannot talk due to the injury. 

This is an interesting idea:

The differences between Marxian and Marxist: Or on Vague Rhetoric like the 99%

Even though I actually dislike the term for aural reasons–it sounds bad–I have taken to calling myself Marxian as Marxist has implications that are really damaging.  Marxian was a term used primarily by economists who studied and applied Marx without necessarily advocating the specific revolutionary agenda of Marx.    This was expanded by the Marxian sociologists.  Marxist generally referred to specific and partisan schools of thought and really has to be expressed with an specific modifier (Left Marxism, Marxist-Leninism, etc).  The currents of Marxism as they currently exist aren’t really currents.

The small sectarian movements within Marxism are highly irrelevant to the current struggle as many of my liberal friends and colleagues have pointed out. Indeed, if a politicized leftist is honest with his/herself. one must admit that the left hasn’t had much to offer during the post-Reagan period in the US.  While some small exceptions, most Marxism in the Euro-American West is of two varieties: cultural Marxism of universities and small partisans of hyper-marginalized groups which have had neither electoral nor revolutionary organizational power in their name. The OWS, however, has shown that there is a ground swell of anger involved, which has led to a battle over the narrative and incredibly vague rhetoric masquerading as class consciousness.

So the Marxian analysis must apply the concepts of Marx’s and see their truth.  The Marxist must develop a program and praxis from these principles. This is not just an academic exercise, but Marxism as a ideological grouping has failed in this regard and rendered itself largely unable to be SELF-critical enough to actually propose anything useful in the changing conditions even if the basic assumptions of the structure of class society in market capitalism hasn’t changed much.  The notions of class, indeed, have.  So most my Marxist friends blame the betrayal of ideals or some of the barbarism of the Marxist Leninist regimes on liberalism or propaganda.  What has left has largely been self-criticism that was productive.

Chris Cutrone has wrote on how the OWS and the anti-war movement has pointed this out in his essay “Whither Marxism” which I will quote from:

It is only right that such inadequate “Marxism” falters after the 2000s. Today, the “Marxist” ideological Left of sectarian organizations struggles to catch up with the occupation movement and threatens to be sidelined by it — as Marxist groups had been in Seattle in 1999.

It is a measure of the bankruptcy of the “Marxist” Left that organizations could only rejuvenate themselves around the anti-war movement, in terms of “anti-imperialism,” submerging the issue of capitalism. But that moment has passed.

“Anti-capitalism”

In its place, as in Seattle in 1999, an apparently unlikely alliance of the labor movement with anarchism has characterized the occupation movement. Oppositional discontents, not with neoconservatism and imperialism as in the 2000s, but with neoliberalism and capitalism as in the 1990s, characterize the political imagination of the occupation movement. This is the present opportunity for Left renewal. But it is impaired by prior history.

The issues of how capitalism is characterized and understood take on a new importance and urgency in the present moment. Now, properly understanding capitalism and neoliberalism is essential for any relevance of a Marxist approach.6

The discontents with neoliberalism pose the question of capitalism more deeply and not only more directly than imperialism did. A Marxist approach is more seriously tasked to address the problem of capitalism for our time.

The need for Marxism is a task of Marxism

Anarchism and the labor movement, respectively, will only be able to address the problem of capitalism in certain and narrow terms. Marxist approaches to the labor movement and anarchism are needed.7

The need for Marxism becomes the task of Marxism. Marxism does not presently exist in any way that is relevant to the current crisis and the political discontents erupting in it. Marxism is disarrayed, and rightfully so.

The danger, though considerable, is not merely one of the labor movement and the broader popular milieu of the occupation movement feeding into the Democratic Party effort to re-elect Obama in 2012. Rather, the challenge is deeper, in that what is meant by anti-capitalismsocialism, and hence Marxism might suffer another round of superficial banalization and degradation (“We are the 99%!”) in responses to the present crisis. The Left may suffer a subtle, obscure disintegration under the guise of its apparent renaissance.

Nonetheless, this is an opportunity to press the need for Marxism, to reformulate it in better terms and on a more solid basis than was possible during the anti-war movement of the 2000s.

This is the gauntlet that both anarchism and the labor movement throw down at the feet of Marxism. Can Marxist approaches rise to the challenge?

It is a Marxian task to the understand why Marxism as a project largely failed in the capitalized West which is the opposite of the traditional vision of late Marxist society. The general answer that Imperialism undercut it is not particularly compelling.  The Foucaultian answer that Marx is just another power discourse gives us nothing but an de-politicized rising and falling of new power discourses.  Now, it that Marxian analysis has largely fallen out of the partisan discourse of Marxism, and become the realm of academics be they humanist cultural marxists, marxian economists, or Marxian sociologists.  There has been a necrophile taste to a lot of the Marxists I have interacted with in West, in parties that begin in the 1970s watching either a return to 1968 or 1933 or 1918.   As if we were reliving our own sad spiral of history, we continue to be regressive ourselves, and ignoring that theories have been incomplete or outright wrong, thrown ourselves entirely into either praxis or theory.

Vague rhetoric like the 99% get to this.  The kinds of class tensions and ethnic tensions cannot be realistically portrayed in the complexity class interrelationships.   Furthermore there is a necrophile element to hanging on the idea of an industrial proletariat as if that was the only form it could take. Even in the “developing world” there has been a significant de-industrialization in Latin America and most of Asia as well although not as rapid as in Europe. Slum dwellers also complicate the situations.  We have acknowledged this problem but not realistically looked at the problems this has been. Much ink has been spent on these problems, but every little praxis has. Instead we have the flurry of jumping on other activities in hope to bend the narrative. Adorno had a thing to say about this:

Pseudo-activity is generally the attempt to rescue enclaves of immediacy in the midst of a thoroughly mediated and rigidified society. Such attempts are rationalized by saying that the small change is one step in the long path toward the transformation of the whole. The disastrous model of pseudo-activity is the “do-it-yourself.” . . . The do-it-yourself approach in politics is not completely of the same caliber [as the quasi-rational purpose of inspiring in the unfree individuals, paralyzed in their spontaneity, the assurance that everything depends on them]. The society that impenetrably confronts people is nonetheless these very people. The trust in the limited action of small groups recalls the spontaneity that withers beneath the encrusted totality and without which this totality cannot become something different. The administered world has the tendency to strangle all spontaneity, or at least to channel it into pseudo-activities. At least this does not function as smoothly as the agents of the administered world would hope. However, spontaneity should not be absolutized, just as little as it should be split off from the objective situation or idolized the way the administered world itself is. (Adorno, “Resignation,” Critical Models, 291–292)

We are both are and aren’t the 99%.  The liberal consensus is having trouble maintaining itself and we have nothing to offer either disillusioned liberals or the vast majority of the working class but a few copies of the manifesto.  No wonder despite increased dissatisfaction among both the poor, the working class, and the middle class, there has been an overall rightward drift to the country.    We must be Marxian before we can be Marxists, and we must not think we can just repeat the victories of the past in a different context.   Vague rhetoric that hits that fact doesn’t help either.

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