Friday, November 08, 2019

New Writing on Ethiopia


The really impressive independent communist website “Cosmonaut” commissioned an article by me on the Ethiopian Revolution. It’s framed as a discussion of internationalist solidarity. It’s based on the themes of my book manuscript, which I am currently shopping to publishers.

Here’s how it begins:

“Way back in 1848, the young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels admonished in their Manifesto of the Communist Party, “Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.” This basic prescription for political solidarity flows obviously and organically from the understanding of global political economy that they (and their ideological heirs) spent decades investigating, defining, and fighting for on street barricades. Marx and Engels diagnosed that the vast majority of the world’s population shared a mutual interest by virtue of its exploitation and oppression at the hands of a global class system, here in corrupt decay, there in bloody infancy. They suggested a liberatory class struggle as a path of resistance that was conveniently locked inside that global political and economic system and enabled by its own contradictions. To reject, indeed to overturn, that global system of exploitation and oppression of the vast majority of humanity by a tiny controlling minority of kings, political elites, and captains of industry, Marx and Engels prescribed not only moral outrage, but an understanding they called “scientific” of how those oppressed and exploited people could employ their vast majority in numbers and their strategic social relationship to the means of production to win the class struggle, and with it a better future for humankind based on cooperation and the communal good.”

Read the full piece on Cosmonaut, and don’t forget my Ethiopian Research Project blog here.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Echoes of a Past Life: Less Voting, More Revolution

Election boycott poster from the PRP-BR, Portugal 1975.


I wrote this piece in advance of the 2018 mid-term elections which would see the Democratic Party return to power in the House of Representatives. It appeared on Counterpunch, August 17, 2018.

Let me say that I hope you, like me, share a vision of a better world. You’re looking around at the unleashed white supremacy, the rampant misogyny, the war machines churning death and destruction unchecked, and a growing culture of nihilistic hatred, and you know it doesn’t have to be this way. You believe in a world free of oppression based on sex, gender, sexual identity, or ability; free of racism and privilege; perhaps even one free of exploitation, with a radical redistribution of the world’s wealth and resources based on collective betterment and the preservation of the planet.
You’ve probably read your Marx and Engels, some Lenin and Luxemburg, and possibly even picked out your choice of diverging paths from the likes of Mao or Trotsky or Goldman. And like me, you’re looking at the tiny left, hearing the loud voices of our enemies, and are deeply worried about the future. You’re tired of watching the police exercise their complete impunity by murdering young people of color in real-time video, and anxious about the kind of society for which a handful of demagogues and too many of our neighbors are clamoring. Like me, your anxiety is through the roof.
It’s also possible that you’re looking at the phenomenal growth of the ideologically mercurial Democratic Socialists of America and the rise of a handful of charismatic young reform politicians running on Democratic Party tickets and wondering if maybe you should set aside what you’ve studied, and listen to the voices of those warning against purity and perfection in the face of unprecedented danger. Everybody’s talking about socialism now so maybe this defensive posture of incrementalism with a dose of electoral optimism holds a path forward to hope? I mean, something’s gotta give… maybe the voices urging us to get out the vote in the next, surely most important, election of our lives are right?

I’m here to tell you no, if you really consider yourself a socialist and want the lasting realization of that better world, then tell those voices to shut the fuck up. 

If you grew up in the USA like I did, you grew up learning that we live in a representative democracy. You were taught that your vote was your sacred voice as a citizen, and your path to contributing to our nation’s bright and shiny future. You know that’s all a big fat lie, right? There is nothing representative nor democratic about the United States of America.

You won’t have to dive too deeply back into your stack of Marxist classics to be reminded that what we actually live in is a dictatorship: the dictatorship of the bourgeois class over the rest of us. Turns out that a dictatorship doesn’t require jackboots and concentration camps to be real, though my money certainly isn’t on writing off those particular trappings from some of our potential futures.
The truth is that the system we live in, administered by the capitalist class for its own benefit, is designed to preserve itself and prevent its displacement. There is zero chance, let me repeat, zero chance, that the capitalist class and its representatives will ever be voted out of power. There’s a vast racket in place to ensure this; one that is actually backed up by the threat of brute force. Polite people don’t really like to contemplate that, but it’s there, waiting. You can see this racket in place in trivial ways like when the DNC tries to isolate the Sanders wing of its own party, and you can see it in less trivial ways like when the CIA jumps in to overthrow elected politicians like Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende back in the 1970s, murdering thousands in the process.

Oh sure, sometimes the capitalist class gives up a little when the peasants are revolting and the torches and pitchforks get close, witness our fading social benefits won during the ever-more distant class struggles of the first half of the twentieth-century. But they know that as long as we play by the rules they make, they don’t have too much to worry about. Their game is rigged, and our voices are coopted.

There’s a deeper truth there you may have missed: when it comes to changing the world for the better, their game isn’t that important. It isn’t actually necessary. It isn’t actually the arena for social change. And it certainly isn’t anywhere on the path to socialism. What they call “politics” is not actually where politics are. Try and figure out what the Democratic Party actually stands for: compare notes on its printed platform and the actions of its elected office-holders when they have voting majorities and when they don’t. You’ll walk away hoping they stand for the same thing you do but in the end you’ll realize they don’t care about anything but getting elected. And money. They care about money a lot, just like the Republicans do. In case it’s not clear, a Democratic Party electoral victory is a victory for a wing of the capitalist class and the self-perpetuation of the system, not a victory for the rest of us. Your participation in their campaigns might make you feel like you’re doing something — anything — but what you’re actually doing is perpetuating the lie.

It doesn’t matter if the charming and enthusiastic young reform candidates throw around a few socialist buzzwords during their campaigns, and occasionally talk movingly about the dramatic inequalities and injustices in our society. It won’t be socialism that’s winning at that ballot box, it will be the Democratic Party. You might wanna dig a little deeper into what they mean by socialism anyway, cause if they’re just talking taxing rich people and adding snowplows and health insurance, you’re being sold a bill of goods. Go ahead, ask them about imperialism and war. I’ll just sit and wait.
The Democratic Party’s claim to be the natural home for “the Blacks and the Gays” is pretty much akin to an abusive spouse telling his wife how much she really needs him in between the beatings. For a handy microcosm, check out hipster New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio, his photogenic and earnest family of color, and his real-world willingness to let the NYPD run parallel systems for white and Black New Yorkers. Hint: the NYPD gets to murder and brutalize Black and brown New Yorkers impeded only by faint complaint while white New Yorkers get luxury housing and bike lanes. Get out of that abusive relationship, and get out of it right now.

That political party you’re voting for is not just people metaphorically representing what you hope are progressive ideas, they are a bunch of people who actually want to administer the apparatus of the capitalist state. That means the people who make it into government become the little Eichmanns who press the buttons behind all the machineries of war, repression, mass incarceration, border exclusion, and police militarization: all the lying bureaucracies of your choice. What kind of socialist wants to be responsible for any of THAT?

The 2016 elections were a national spectacle that went on for more than two years of insufferable media coverage bringing extraordinary displays of unrestrained assholism from the candidates of all involved parties straight into our living rooms and smart phones. And yet, millions and millions of Americans didn’t bother to vote. Before you suck your teeth at your fellow citizens failing to fulfill their duties, consider for a moment that those millions were the smart ones and those of you who were terrified into pulling the levers for your choice of despicable human beings vying for a seat in one of several slave-built whitewashed DC mansions, were the victims of a horrifying mass blackmail operation designed to rob you of your humanity and independent will.

Those millions of non-voters have seen the game and refused to play. Certainly political apathy is a factor among that massive plurality; but when offered a choice from among differently colored casks of putrid sewage for your evening beverage, I’m not sure apathy isn’t called for.

I don’t know if she considered herself any kind of Marxist, but the late queer poet and theorist Audre Lorde famously said, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”She came to this realization from a deep place of exclusion: as a woman of color and a queer feminist she saw how fundamentally screwed up the world was, and how revolutionary any approach to fixing it needed to be. If you check that stack of books you’ll see that Lenin was trying to tell you something pretty similar when he described the capitalist state and how revolutionaries must win socialism. And that vision of a completely new world, egalitarian and socialist, remains our only real hope for surviving the shithole that capitalist-run human society is digging for itself.

Time is a wasting. In the early twentieth-century there were waves of electoral success for various open and explicitly socialist movements right here in the United States. They led nowhere. Today there are a tiny handful of openly socialist elected politicians, most of whom realized that they wouldn’t actually even get elected if they ran on an openly socialist ticket. I don’t know about you, but watching parts of the country consumed by fires as others submerge under polluted waters I’m pretty sure we don’t have time to wait for thousands more sewer socialists to be elected to rediscover that such politicians only reach an accommodation with capitalism not a confrontation with it. That genuine change that Audre Lorde hoped for demands our attention.

Voting for Democrats — with their proven record of subjugating social movements for their electoral advantage — or joining an organization like DSA that fails to understand the fundamental nature of the capitalist state and its apparatuses, these don’t actually get us closer to socialism. I’d ask every activist who self identifies as a socialist and wants to go out campaigning for candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon how they actually expect that story to end. When they convince a skeptic into voting for an over-promising sweet-talking politician who turns out to be the scorpion to the voters’ frog, who benefits from that predictable reveal? Not the reputation of socialism. Socialism will not arrive if we forget that it exists only as a fundamental challenge to existing class society. Might want to go back to that stack of books on that one.

Well, goddamn it, we have to do something, you say. And indeed we do.

While I’m not about to pretend I have easy answers, I’m also not trying to be a downer; actually quite the contrary. How about we actually advocate for socialist revolution? Once upon a time the red flag inspired millions of strangers to see each other as comrades in the struggle, daring to fight together for that better world. We should reclaim that spirit of solidarity, empathy, sister- and brotherhood, militantly standing up for each other as oppressed and exploited people collectively and openly fighting for our own free future.

That stuff in the books hasn’t been disproved, we shouldn’t be doubting ourselves. We do need better organizations than we have, this is undeniable and it’s a messy process. We need to work on making sure our vision of socialism this time round is inclusive and intersectional and committed to forms and processes of real mass democracy, the likes of which we can barely imagine today. And we need to be upfront about opposing the exploits of the imperialist empire in whose belly we live.
But we don’t need the Democrats. And we don’t need to waste our time on their pointless and fake elections. Maybe down the road when we are strong we can run our own anti-candidates to expose the electoral charade from within. But right now we should join the nonvoters and do everything in our power to explain how utterly crucial it is for the people ourselves to take direct action to preserve our future from capitalist barbarism.

That corrupt and pointless electoral game of capitalist America belongs in the trash. We should not let our enemies, our masters, tell us what tools are appropriate for extracting ourselves from the disaster they have foisted upon us.

There’s a lot of work to be done: We must reclaim the love, and the rage, that once made socialism a spectre of fear for the capitalists and a ray of hope for the world’s peoples. The stakes are high. This isn’t about politicians’ empty promises and platforms, it’s about taking a stand and saving our humanity from the genocidal forces being stoked daily. We must reclaim the will — and the power of our class — to win not elections, but a free and socialist world. It’s past time. Free your mind from the Democrats, your ass will follow.

#LessVotingMoreRevolution.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

A short update

Please visit the updated version of my post on the 1984 International March for Lesbian and Gay Freedom to see some amazing footage of the event! Link in the update at the bottom of the post.

P.S. I’m still here!


Thursday, February 08, 2018

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The North Korea Crisis Is Made in USA


Pyongyang, North Korea, after firebombing by the United States in the early 1950s


Those memes equating Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un might make people feel better, but this crisis is strictly Made In USA.

Sure, I have misgivings about the nature of the regime in North Korea, but it must be said that most of what passes for news about the DPRK in the US is transparent and frankly racist nonsense. My general policy is, to quote somebody famous, no investigation no right to speak, which means when confronted by dubious propaganda about North Korea meant to desensitize Americans to the genocidal and aggressive foreign policy of our own government, I choose my words carefully. What most of us need to know about the DPRK is that it is a tiny and relatively poor country that has been deliberately isolated from the world economy for over sixty years. It spent forty years as a brutally enslaved colony of Japan, and half the country has been occupied by American troops ever since. The US and its allies murdered millions of people as they flattened it in a war, actually a thinly disguised war against China, that they couldn't actually win, which is testimony to the resilience of the Korean people. Whether the government in North Korea is something North Koreans like is frankly beside the point. The bottom line must be that Americans don't get to choose how other countries are governed. Now is not really the time to be debating the nature of a society under Washington's lethal sights: now is the time to understand where the real enemies of peace and humanity lie.

The truth is that the US government doesn't care about what kind of government exists in North Korea (and tbh, though Trump's rhetoric is raw and frightening, it's not substantively different than threats made by every single US president since Truman). They don't care about the people in North Korea. Certainly a government that constantly renews blank checks to Saudi Arabia and apartheid Israel, and was the last major international ally of racist white minority ruled South Africa, couldn't be too worried about the people of North Korea. A country that threatens to incinerate an entire population is actually concerned about that population? You BELIEVE that?

This is the thing we must all be clear on: there is no equation between Trump and Kim; there is no equation of "threat" between the tiny DPRK and the massively armed USA. I read a statistic that said DPRK's military budget was less than that of the NYPD. The only actual threat is the one made by the United States. What has actually happened is that the DPRK has "threatened" to defend itself from aggression. The DPRK's posture is entirely provoked by the existential threat that the US's military machine, right on its borders, poses to its right of self-determination. I don't like nukes, but I will not condemn a nation for choosing a desperate option to stop a global bully.

Remember what happened to "crazy" Saddam Hussein, or more importantly, his country after US invasion. To "crazy" Gaddafi or more importantly, his country after US bombing. When you call Kim Jong Un "crazy," you're participating in a racist charade. Tell me the name of another North Korean person why don't you?

There is a country where people are in prison camps, even slave labor camps. There is a country where people are forced to eat garbage, where unemployment is chronic. There is a country where people are killed with total impunity by law enforcement. There is a country where dissent is demonized by the political castes, where dissenters are blacklisted from employment. There is a country which threatens its neighbors, that attacks sovereign nations unprovoked, that sends its armies across the world in blood-orgies of murder. There is a country that steals from others. There is a country whose elections are farces. There is a country where family and financial connections ensure political and social influence. There is a country where warlike mobs can be pushed to bloodlust through chants and manipulation. There is a country whose residents routinely fantasize about how they should "take out" anybody they choose on the world stage. That country is not North Korea, it's the USA.

Let's recognize the real threat and deal with it. We're running out of time. No, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump are not equal in any way, and your oh-so-funny Kim Jong Un memes are the equivalent of making ching-chong faces; to call them racist is to be making an understatement.
It is without contest. The main threat to humanity is the one in Washington.

---

(Crossposted from my personal Facebook. I have had plenty to say in the months since the election, none of which involves me changing my mind about my abstention, but for various reasons have decided to cut back on blogging here. But this seemed like a good milestone to add here for the record. I'm not abandoning this blog, I actually refer to it myself a lot, but especially until I finish my book project I can't commit here to return to a regular schedule. Comments always welcome. See you next time!)

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Day



I am deeply aware that people fought and died for their right to vote. Democracy is, or rather, would be, a good thing, and surely it is righteous for people to demand not to be excluded from what passes for political process. Democracy is theoretically a mechanism whereby collectivity resolves into taking action in an act of shared commitment and responsibility. Problem is, I don't think that's what's actually happening right now.

My head has spent the last year split in two places, one watching this extended dumpster fire of an election, and two immersed in doing research on the probably esoteric (outside Ethiopia that is) subject of the Ethiopian revolution. There in 1974, a group of dedicated communist revolutionaries started an underground newsletter called "Democracy," that became one of the most well-read political papers in the country. The "Democracy" these folks argued for (and died for, by the thousands) was first demanded of the emperor Haile Selassie, and later, after the military snatched power from a popular uprising, became a rallying cry for pushing aside the military in favor of a popular people's government. So I've had quite a few occasions to think about what democracy might mean.

Listen, this, this USA, this is not a real democracy. This is a parody of democracy: it is not those abstaining from voting today who are spitting in the face of the freedom riders of the 1960s, it is the entire political system that is doing so. An elaborate and deeply embarrassing spectacle that wasted millions of dollars (ie, made a bunch of entertainment companies rich) just left people with the "choice" between a bloated fascist businessman, a deeply unprincipled and dishonest career politician responsible for the deaths of untold thousands who happens to be a woman, and a handful of quixotic alternatives who, with the one notable exception of Mimi Soltysik of the Socialist Party — who isn't even on most printed ballots — specialize in peddling low-frequency bullshit. (And to be clear I include there everyone from the problematic Greens and PSL, to the reprehensible SEP, SWP, libertarians and WWP).

It should be obvious, and yet strangely is not, to most, that this is in fact a dictatorship, the dictatorship of rich property owners we Marxists like to call the bourgeoisie. A government by and for rich people that has diabolically convinced millions that every few years being forced to rubberstamp choices presented to you from column A or column B, when mostly people want and need something else entirely, is actually what "democracy" looks like. It's not. And if you think dictatorship is a harsh word, take off your blinders and look at the role of police in this country and the role of the American military in the world, and see that "they" don't really give a shit what you think. Ruling though repression, fear and circuses, the class that owns this country needs us a lot more than we need them.

It's like a sickness what this country does to people. Like you, I have been indoctrinated for most of my almost 58 years that voting is a sacred responsibility. I have previously voted for Democrats, previously voted third parties, and occasionally abstained. The one thing I have learned is that I will never again close my ears to the evil promises of politicians in favor of the few morsels I want to actually hear. And yet with everything I know and I have studied, I still find myself wracked with guilty obligation. And so I have tried to figure out what I would do today.

Watching the intense fear that has been whipped up by both Democrats and Republicans fills me with both disgust and sadness. I can't blame or condemn most people for exercising what feels like the only thing they can do to stave off the obvious dangers ahead, though I urge folks to hit the books for the truth how that "I voted" sticker is zero defense against an actual fascist onslaught. I am, it must be said, pretty disappointed not in regular people with good hearts taking a stand against the vile and noxious Trump, but in leftists willing to overlook the vile and noxious Clinton, but that's a more complicated story.

I wish that the left was strong enough to run what I believe is actually correct, a campaign of revolutionary abstentionism. I think it would be an excellent step along the way to presenting a transcendent vision of liberation that revolutionaries need to find a way to re-popularize if we are ever to move out of the realm of symbolism. Symbolism is right now the only thing a micro-movement for revolutionary abstention can offer. One day the withholding of our participation in this game will be a weapon; it's not that yet.

It seems to be a beautiful day outside. I'm ever so privileged to be unemployed today and not quite at the bottom of my bank account. That same beautiful blue sky extends west to the Dakotas, and east across oceans and seas to Syria; distances far beyond sight and hearing yet not beyond knowledge.
I know where my polling place is. But I'm going to walk the other way.

Friday, November 04, 2016

I’m Not With Her

“I’m With Him”?

A little history lesson, for those who think voting for the "lesser evil" is a successful strategy. A lesson for those who are terrified of Trump. The SPD noted here were the German social democrats, sort of the left liberals of their time:

"[In 1932] The SPD regarded Hindenburg as the only man who could defeat Hitler and keep the Nazi Party from winning the elections (and they said so throughout the campaign)..... In the runoff election of April 1932, Hindenburg defeated Hitler for the presidency....Finally, the 85-year-old Hindenburg agreed to make Hitler chancellor, and on the morning of 30 January 1933, Hindenburg swore him in as chancellor at the presidential palace."

Sure, history never repeats itself.


#LessVotingMoreRevolution #RevoltDontVote

Monday, September 05, 2016

Echoes of a past life: New Moon



New Moon New York was an open Pagan circle in New York City in the early 1990s. This footage has surfaced, bringing back some memories, a surprising memory hole, and a bit of personal embarassment. This video includes footage of several events, only one of which I attended, the probable “Lughnassadh” ritual that begins about at the 11 min. mark, held in either NYC's Central Park or Inwood Park. Yours truly may be seen at heard about 16:35, bearing that fuzzy red wheel. Yeah, we took ourselves pretty seriously, but we also had lots of fun. As silly as this looks to me 20+ years later, I learned a lot about myself and the world in that period. I'm pretty glad I graduated from this sort of Cosplay/LARP scene, now in my mid-50s I'm sort of mortified by the trappings of that chapter of my spirituality. That said, that moment of spirituality healed me of some fundamental life hurt and I wouldn't want to erase that chapter of my life even if it seems so curiously foreign to me now.

But these were good people. I note with sadness several faces no longer among the living, not least the legendary Alexei Kondratiev and his partner Len. I see my dear magical partner C, and my incredibly handsome but deeply conflicted and closeted boyfriend W, nicknamed by C “Mr. Outdoors.” It's good to remember my friends from New Moon. I'm surprised at how little of this event I remember, it all seems just out of reach. Which is okay, it was a really long time ago and I have moved far far away from that moment in my life.

And now, back to life as a 21st-century communist.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Apartheid Love Triangle




Hillary Clinton + Elizabeth Warren + Benyamin Netanyahu: Apartheid Love Triangle. God, I can't wait for the US elections to be over.


#LessVotingMoreRevolution


Friday, May 27, 2016

Best Election Graphic of 2016


I can't claim any credit for it, source unknown. But I love everything about this, right down to the "I Voted" sticker on the dumpster. Children are the future, indeed.

Meanwhile, if you really wanna vote in 2016, check out #REV16, the campaign of Mimi Soltysik and Angela Walker, on the Socialist Party USA ticket, but running far to the left of SPUSA's usual politics.