Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pablo Neruda's Birthday

July 12 -- today is Pablo Neruda's 103rd birthday. Here's a poem by the People's Poet about the United Fruit Company's pillaging of Latin America. United Fruit was renamed Chiquita Brands in the 1980s. Different name, same company, same blood-sucking vampire. Check out the recent news about Chiquita's funding of right-wing death squads in Colombia, guilty of murdering, raping, and torturing thousands of people.

Neruda the People's Poet was also Neruda the Poet of Love and Neruda the Poet of Common Things. Many of those works ought to be read today as well. But, as Brecht lamented, "Ah, what an age it is / When to speak of trees is almost a crime / For it is a kind of silence about injustice!"

The United Fruit Co. (1950)
By Pablo Neruda

When the trumpet sounded, it was
all prepared on the earth,
and Jehovah parceled out the earth
to Coca-Cola, Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other entities:
The Fruit Company, Inc.
reserved for itself the most succulent,
the central coast of my own land,
the delicate waist of America.
It rechristened its territories
as the “Banana Republics”
and over the sleeping dead,
over the restless heroes
who brought about the greatness,
the liberty and the flags,
it established the comic opera:
abolished the independencies,
presented crowns of Caesar,
unsheathed envy, attracted
the dictatorship of the flies,
Trujillo flies, Tacho flies,
Carias flies, Martinez flies,
Ubico flies, damp flies
of modest blood and marmalade,
drunken flies who zoom
over the ordinary graves,
circus flies, wise flies
well trained in tyranny.

Among the bloodthirsty flies
the Fruit Company lands its ships,
taking off the coffee and the fruit;
the treasure of our submerged
territories flows as though
on plates into the ships.

Meanwhile Indians are falling
into the sugared chasms
of the harbors, wrapped
for burial in the mist of the dawn:
a body rolls, a thing
that has no name, a fallen cipher,
a cluster of dead fruit
thrown down on the dump.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Movie Rec

On July 4th, I watched The Spook Who Sat By The Door, a fitting movie for the holiday. It’s a 1973 action flick, directed by Ivan Dixon and based on a novel by Sam Greenlee, about Black nationalist guerrillas. The hero of the movie, Dan Freeman, is recruited by the C.I.A. in a token "integration" program as its first Black agent. After Freeman spends five years on xerox duty, he quits the agency, leaves for Chicago’s inner city and organizes a guerrilla army to fight for liberation. Government pressure forced the distributor to pull the film after only a few weeks in theaters. For a long time, before it was released on DVD in 2004, it could be seen only on bootleg video.

While the story behind the movie is interesting as an exposure of the nature of bourgeois democracy and the myth of the “free marketplace of ideas,” its political content is even more so. While the film might be dismissed by some as entertainment, and not a serious treatment of the struggle to end racist oppression, the powers-that-be apparently didn’t feel the same way.

The main shortcoming of the movie is the absence of women in the armed struggle. All of the guerrillas are men. Women have significant roles only as Freeman’s love interests. Since the film makes a direct reference to Vietnam’s war for national liberation, it’s appropriate to mention that Ho Chi Minh described the participation of women as the powerhouse of that war. It’s still far from the r.c. stand on the centrality of women’s emancipation (captured in the two Maoist slogans: “women hold up half the sky” and “break the chains--unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution”), but The Battle of Algiers, a film depicting a real national liberation struggle, was much more progressive on this.

The film has shortcomings on other political issues: armed reformism vs. all-the-way revolution, focoism vs. people’s war, nationalism vs. revolutionary communism. Nevertheless, it is an interesting flick and a powerful statement against oppression. It’s also rated PG. Good for the kids.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The GPCR was Good (Pt. 3)

From an obituary for Zhang Chunqiao, one of the so-called "Gang of Four" according to the revisionists and a great revolutionary leader according to the people, published in A World to Win (16 May 2005):

"Deng put China fully on the capitalist road to where it is today. Before his coup, China’s working people were increasingly becoming the masters of all society, beginning to be drawn into administering power at every level and deciding the country’s future course, studying, debating and fearlessly criticising those in authority and each other. Afterwards, China’s cities were turned into sweatshops, where twenty-first-century machinery enslaves hundreds of millions of people in nineteenth-century conditions. Despite the hardships, the people are left still unable to ensure the well-being of their families or even to be free of the fear of unemployment – a situation abolished within a few years after the Chinese revolution, more than a half century earlier. Now millions toil their whole lives away not to create the conditions for the emancipation of humankind but to further enrich the capitalists of the imperialist countries and their local subcontractors. The peasants, still the vast majority, fall ever deeper into poverty and humiliation, groaning under the weight of taxes and often robbed of their land. Rural development is gutted as resources are looted from the countryside to develop the cities. Even the middle classes are subject to the tyranny of corporate magnates and party despots and deprived of meaningful lives.

The filthy rich, inside and outside the party, dine and preen in their gleaming skyscrapers overlooking slums, while officials brag to the media about their skills in 'beggar management' – making the hungry invisible by sending the police to beat them off the streets. The whole country is awash with newly unleashed diseases and social plagues revived after decades of obliteration, such as drug addiction, prostitution and the killing of female babies."

The GPCR was Good (Pt. 2)

From Raymond Lotta's intro to the Shanghai Textbook (1994):

"China, it need hardly be said, is a very different society today. After Mao Tsetung died in 1976, rightist forces led by Deng Xiaoping staged a military coup. The systematic dismantling of socialism, the restoration of capitalism, and the resubordination of China to imperialism were to begin.

This sea-change is perhaps best captured in the slogan promoted in the early 1980s by the new leadership: 'to get rich is glorious.' And so it has been . . . for a few. Shanghai has opened a stock market; speculation in urban real estate is now legitimate economic activity; special economic zones have been carved out to serve multinational corporations. China's leaders have turned the country into a low-wage assembly complex and production base for domestic and foreign capital. In early 1992, an average of 45 new foreign-financed ventures were being contracted each day. Workers are told to keep their noses to the grindstone and out of politics. In the countryside, under the banner of reform, the communes were broken up and rural collective asserts grabbed up by the well-positioned. The resulting social polarization has forced millions of disadvantaged peasants to migrate to urban areas. Economic and social inequalities are widening rapidly between the favored coastal rim (where most of China's growth is taking place) and the vast inland regions of the country (where stagnation and poverty are the norm).

The economy now shows all the earmarks of boom-bust cyclical development. It is also on an ecological disaster course. Short-term interests of growth and profit have resulted in the neglect and abuse of irrigation and flood works, the chopping down of much of the country's mature forests, and massive industrial dumping that is polluting clean water sources. China's external debt and dependency are mounting. Old social ills have reemerged: in the countryside, the killing of girl babies (since male labor power is now viewed as a vital asset in the every-family-for-itself economy that is being foisted on the rural majority) and clan violence; in the cities, unemployment, beggary, and prostitution. Culturally, revolutionary images of women 'holding up half the sky' have given way to icons of women as dutiful housewives, 'dressed-for-success' consumers, and sex objects. Corruption is so widespread in Chinese society that it no longer arouses shock.

These are the economic and social realities behind China's vaunted growth rates. And the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of workers and students served to bring political reality into sharp focus. Such is the new (old) China. China today is socialist only in name. But the story run in the West is that the 'pragmatic' leaders grouped around Deng Xiaoping have brought sanity to a society that had been held in the grip of totalitarian Maoist madness. Yes, the apologetics continue, there are distasteful political practices, but when the octogenarians in charge die off, democratization (Western-style institutionalized control and deception) will then flower completely. The truth is that the rule of the workers and peasants has been crushed; property and hierarchy reenshrined; and profit put in command of economic development. A new exploiting class has restored not sanity but capitalism--exactly what Mao had warned would happen if the rightists within the Communist Party seized power."

The GPCR was Good (Pt. 1)

From "We Have Been Here Before: The Cultural Revolution in the Historic Perspective in the Global Struggle for Socialism" by Robert Weil:

"The higher working class consciousness that developed in the period from 1966-1976 in particular has not been lost, but continues to be a source of inspiration and guidance for those who are struggling in the new conditions of the present. The 'right to rebel,' the refusal to passively accept the authority of those who oppress and exploit them, a primary legacy of the Cultural Revolution, is still very deeply embedded in the thinking of the workers and peasants of China thirty years after it ended. In 2004 alone, there were some 74,000 major protests--about 200 on average every day--and up from just 58,000 in 2003, and 10,000 a decade earlier. Some of these have involved tens of thousands of demonstrators, among the largest such protests occurring anywhere in the world today, and have led to major, even violent clashes with the authorities. Workers, peasants and migrants are all rebelling against the ravages of the capitalist 'market.' As they face the consequences of the rise of the new Chinese capitalists, the working classes, and even many intellectuals, are now rapidly learning the limits of such slogans as 'to get rich is glorious,' and many now look back to the socialist era under Mao, as a time when the country was free of the corruption and vast polarization of wealth that is so dominant today."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thoughts on Parecon

a.k.a. A Defense of Socialist Planning

I’ve been reading Mike Albert’s book Parecon: Life after Capitalism. That I sympathize with any effort to envision something better than this global anti-people system of capitalism-imperialism goes without saying. I also definitely see where he’s coming from with his discussion of “balanced job complexes” and his concern with preventing the rise of a “coordinator class” in a post-capitalist society, even though I think the Marxist idea of “breaking down the contradiction between mental and manual labor” is a much richer treatment of the same problem.

Good stuff aside, I gotta take issue with Albert’s condemnation of socialist or “central” planning. Although the book is focused on economics, his rejection of socialist economic planning is closely related to a flawed political vision, popular on the Left, that simply expanding democracy, making it more participatory, will lead to a better world. That vision rejects: 1) the need for the formerly oppressed and exploited to wield state power (“the dictatorship of the proletariat” in Marxist terms) and 2) the need for a revolutionary vanguard to lead them.

In order to get to a world where exploitation, oppression, and inequality no longer exist, socialist planning, the use of state power by the oppressed, and a vanguard party are all necessary (but, it should be emphasized, not sufficient -- political line is key). Anyway, the fact that each of those things can be transformed into its opposite -- into state-capitalist planning, into the use of state power over the oppressed, into a revisionist party -- is not a reason to give them up. That fact only highlights the difficulty and dangers involved in transitioning to a classless, stateless society and the need to fight capitalist restoration every step of the way. There’s no easy fix. Continuous revolution is the word. Giving up the plan, the DotP, and the vanguard means giving up any hope of making revolution. It means settling for merely re-arranging oppressive social relations (until they come back in full force), instead of moving towards abolishing them.

Two things expose, especially sharply, the need for socialist planning: regional inequalities inside the US and, even more so, the wealth gap between rich and poor countries. In April, there was a front-page story in the Times about rising infant mortality rates in the southern Black Belt counties, with Black infant mortality in the region more than double that of whites in the same states. The reason is that the region remains deeply impoverished, an enduring legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. If economic resources were allocated and production/consumption carried out according to “participatory planning,” with people making decisions in proportion to how they’re affected by the outcomes (the Parecon value of “self-management”), there would be no way to eliminate (rapidly or at all) the poverty of the Black Belt south [a footnote: which is not to say forms of "self-management" are unimportant -- they are important -- only that they must be considered secondary to the overall social plan]. In order to put the political goal of ending the oppression of Black people in command of the economy, which has to include raising up the Black Belt south even at the immediate economic expense of other regions, socialist planning is a must.

The huge inequalities between rich and poor countries reveal even more clearly the necessity of socialist planning in a liberating economy. This is particularly important in an imperialist country like the US, the home base of an international system of exploitation and oppression, the final link in countless capital circuits, where the labor of hundreds of millions in the Third World is transformed into superprofits through direct investment, loans, and other forms of capital export. If the US economy became a parecon, it would only end up, at best, redistributing the loot from imperialist plunder more evenly among the people living in this country.

Socialist planning is needed in order to carry out production, consumption, and allocation according to the *highest interests of humanity* (which correspond to the class interests of the international proletariat). The overall quality of life would certainly improve for the great majority living in the imperialist citadels after the revolution, but that improvement in living standards has to coincide with a massive transfer of wealth from the imperialist countries back to the colonial/semicolonial countries, to make up for the past several hundred years of ruthless parasitism. If you’ve ever seen one of those photos of the world at night, where huge portions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are completely dark -- a reflection of the lack of electricity, the intense poverty, and most of all the history and present-day reality of imperialism in those regions -- you know what I’m talking about.

Thus, there’s a vast difference between the parecon view that a liberating economy means participatory decision-making carried out by people in a certain country in their own interests and the revolutionary communist view that a liberating economy means putting the highest interests of humanity as a whole in command. Like a lot of other issues, I think it comes down to whether or not to look towards the farthest and most radical horizon: the complete worldwide emancipation of humanity.

Re: The Last Post, I Lied

From Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (pp. 358-360):

"Even in himself he could not recognize the dreamer who once could talk endlessly about Africa's past glories, Africa's great feudal cultures, as if it was enough to have this knowledge to cure one day's pang of hunger, to quench an hour's thirst or to clothe a naked child. After all, the British merchant magnates and their missionary soothsayers once colonized and humiliated China by making the Chinese buy and drink opium and clubbed them when they refused to import the poison, even while the British scholars sang of China's great feudal cultures and stole the evidence in gold and art and parchments and took them to London. Egypt too. India too. Syria, Iraq . . . God was born in Palestine even . . . and all this knowledge never once deterred the European merchant warlords. And China was saved, not by singers and poets telling of great past cultures, but by the creative struggle of the workers for a better day today. No, it was not a people's past glories only, but also the glory of their present strife and struggles to right the wrongs that bring tears to the many and laughter only to a few."