instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Eve's Review

Climate Change Is Genocide

"The Future Earth"

Eric Holthaus

HarperCollins, 247 pages

$22.99

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

The only good thing to say about covid is that it caused carbon emissions to drop. Not enough to save humanity from catastrophic climate change, but significantly. At the height of the global lockdown, carbon emissions fell 17 percent – when the whole world basically stopped driving and flying. According to Eric Holthaus' new book, "The Future Earth," by 2035 the United States must have a carbon neutral economy or face utter disaster. That, folks, pretty much means the end of capitalism as we know it.

 

Indeed, that's what "The Future Earth" advocates. A planet of vegan eco-socialists – sounds good to me, though I think the ExxonMobil ceo might stand in the way. With such opposition and other, more ordinary lukewarm opponents in mind, Holthaus himself carefully avoids terms like socialism or eco-socialism, but that's what his proposal amounts to. And even that won't save us from the warming we've already locked in.

 

"Reducing emissions to zero is the best way to slow down climate change…what if after already greatly reducing our global emissions, the climate tipping points we previously set in motion are triggered anyway?" So even if we transform our economies, stop burning any fossil fuels, put the brakes on the disaster of animal agriculture (it consumes "half the world's arable land and uses 80 percent of the world's fresh water supply") and so forth, by mid-century parts of the inhabited earth could still occasionally reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, coastal cities will be submerged, island nations will drown, megastorms and category 6 hurricanes will still tear up our countries, droughts will displace tens of millions of people and wild-fires will empty places like California and much of Australia. That this is our best scenario even when we go all out and totally redo our societies tells you a lot about how much damage we've already inflicted on the planet. And this list of what's coming regardless of our best efforts looks like a walk in the park if we don't cut emissions to zero by mid-century, when the effects of runaway climate change will be unimaginably awful. We don't have time – we must de-carbonize at once.

 

"Climate change is not a war," Holthaus writes. "It' is genocide. It is domination. It is extinction. It is the most recent manifestation of how powerful men throughout history have sought to steal from the less powerful and dismiss them as merely inconvenient." More specifically the problem is growth. Capitalism depends on endless growth. So does cancer. In fact, cancer is an apt metaphor for capitalism. Of course plutocrats, confronted with this comparison, opt for chemotherapy, which is what Holthaus calls techno fixes like geo-engineering. But he argues convincingly that given the very real dangers, those should be a last, not a first, resort. Indeed, if Newt Gingrich supports geo-engineering, and he does, you can be pretty sure it's a bad idea. "We need to become a society with a cultural focus on repair and maintenance," Holthaus writes, "rather than innovation and efficiency." The lunacy of planned obsolescence should be tossed into the insane asylum and left there.

 

"The Future Earth" sketches what must be done between now and 2050. It is a tall order. It includes: "carbon-free electricity generation through a blend of wind, solar, geothermal and hydro-power…phasing out petroleum-powered engines from all cars, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft…finding alternatives to fossil-fuel based chemical fertilizers…and finding new processes for cement production." But all of this is doable – if we don't have leaders like Trump, Bojo and Bolsonaro. Holthaus quotes folksinger Utah Phillips: "The earth is not dying, it's being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses." One address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Along with our so-called leaders, planet killers include fossil fuel corporate executives and investors. So: corporations, banks, Wall Street, political elites, basically the people an older generation of leftists called the ruling class.

 

Holthaus' plan to limit the damage is wonderful; the problem is prizing the oligarchs' fingers off the levers of power. They will not go willingly. They do not care if they render the earth uninhabitable for the next generation. They don't care what happens after they die. They never did and never will. And if the catastrophe comes in their lifetimes, they delude themselves with the notion that they have a plan. They mistakenly believe they can flee climate change to their gated estates in New Zealand (billionaire Peter Thiel) or to a new abode on Mars (billionaire Elon Musk). Disabusing them of these fantasies is probably a waste of time, but still it's worth noting that if climate change goes unchecked, typhoons and wild fires will ravage New Zealand. Even if terraformed, Mars will remain less hospitable to human life than a climate-scorched earth.

 

The only way to change our rulers is to make their current business model unprofitable. That means court cases for millions or billions of dollars in damages. It means legislation that zeros out subsidies for fossil fuel companies. It means the Green New Deal and Holthaus' idea for an environmental global Marshall Plan. In other words, it means a fight, a huge fight against the ruling class, because that class has no intention of yielding power – environmental apocalypse or no. They would rather life on earth perish, with them in charge than survive, with them losing power.

 

"If what you've been doing for hundreds of years has brought you to the brink of extinction, maybe it's time to try something new," Holthaus writes. Most of his readers will agree. It's that sliver, the one percent who hold power, who disagree and see no reason to alter business as usual. Their current attempts to suppress or ignore the truth about climate change condemns hundreds of millions of people to forced migration, homelessness and premature death. But truth will out. And truth can galvanize millions of ordinary people into taking matters into their own hands, ignoring their rulers and stopping more global warming once and for all.

Be the first to comment

Re-Organizing Labor

"Tell the Bosses We're Coming"

Shaun Richman

Monthly Review Press, 246 pages

 

 

Eve Ottenberg

  U.S. labor is in bad shape. Unions have long been on the decline, and the Supreme Court rules against them regularly. So do lower courts. Much of the problem, writes Shaun Richman in his newly published "Tell the Bosses We're Coming," is that labor law is rooted in the Commerce Clause. "Tying the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] to the Commerce Clause was a conscious 'pragmatic' decision of progressive lawyers [in the 1930s] to reject a half-century of a rights-based campaign for labor law…" The tactic was to get the patrician courts out of the labor law process. But, Richman argues, it has not succeeded. Employers love to have their grievances moved to the courts and this happens regularly. So now unions are stuck with decades of lousy court decisions and a playing field sharply tilted against them.

 

  The solution, Richman argues, is to anchor labor rights in fundamental constitutional rights – the first, fifth and thirteenth amendments. His book's appendix lists a labor bill of rights, 10 of them: Free speech; the right to self-defense and mutual aid [solidarity strikes]; the right to strike; freeing labor organizing from unreasonable search and seizure; the right to dues processing; the right not to be locked out for exercising labor rights; the right to your job; freedom from cruel and unusual regulation; the right to make demands and bargain freely; and that powers not exercised by unions are reserved to workers who act in concert.

 

  It all sounds reasonable, but just try getting such labor rights through congress. Unions haven't even managed to repeal the wildly reactionary 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. And they've been trying for decades. As a result, "unorganized workers at non-union firms experience hair-raising abuse on a daily basis." Also, union membership continues to decline, because of simple unfairness: "much of the worst of the restrictions on union activity [are] plainly unconstitutional…It is time for unions to return to rights-based rhetoric and strategy."

 

  Employers have constitutional rights, but unions do not. Take the secondary boycott. Under Taft-Hartley, union members cannot boycott or picket "a company they do not work directly for but which has significant…business dealings with their employer, with whom they do have a contractual dispute." So when Nabisco shut down a unionized plant to move Oreo cookie production abroad, Richman writes, grocery store workers could not engage in the solidarity activity of leaving "unopened boxes of scab cookies," pressuring supermarkets to tell Nabisco of "their intention of no longer buying Oreo cookies as long as they remained the subject of a labor controversy." Such solidarity is illegal. But corporations use secondary boycotts all the time. Cable companies, for instance, "leave television consumers in the dark" when they don't want to pay "a rate increase for the corporate owners of the blacked-out network." Regarding the first amendment, employers have the right to coerce workers to attend anti-union informational meetings, but unions lack such rights to present their opposing views.

 

  Richman also argues that workers lack a right to strike in the U.S. "A true right to strike would include the right to return to the job after the strike is over." A related problem is that intermittent strikes and partial strikes are illegal. What helped "get a union at General Motors in the 1930s is illegal today." Effective picketing is also illegal. To correct these ills, Richman argues for industrial labor boards, first proposed in the 1930s. These would create a non-bargaining dynamic by "carving up the economy into distinct industries" and with rule-making on matters like minimum wages and paid family leave. Richman also approves of the German works council model. Both would help "normalize a system of employee rights across all work places."

 

  To restore the right to strike, Richman says unions should file "a ton of unfair labor practice charges," and should insist that they "have a constitutional right to strike based on the first and thirteenth amendments." This would counter the many difficulties caused by the Supreme Court's "Mackay" Doctrine, which robbed unions of the right to strike. This doctrine   "gave employers the legal right to permanently replace striking workers." In so doing, the Supreme Court ignored NLRA language: "nothing in this Act shall be construed so as either to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike." In 1983, Richman writes, the Phelps-Dodge Corporation "weaponized" "Mackay," creating a blueprint for "the de-unionization of American industry…in the Reagan-Bush (and Clinton) era." And speaking of unions' constitutional rights, the Supreme Court's public-union-busting rule in the fairly recent "Janus" decision probably violates them. "How is forcing unions to represent workers they don't want to, that is, to represent workers who don't want to vote for or join a union, not compelled speech?"

 

  This book cites other court decisions against labor, which have piled up so high that today very little of the U.S. workforce is unionized. Clearly the NLRA worked for a while, in the mid-20th century. It doesn't anymore. Richman's call for constitutional rights for workers and their unions is a way around this. Such a long-overdue move will require concentrated, relentless effort against predictably fierce resistance. Much of case law has roots in the idea of unions as criminal conspiracies. Much of the judiciary is virulently biased against labor. So are reactionary Republicans in congress and the white house, including Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a friend of large corporations if there ever was one. Labor has a big fight ahead of it, but as this book makes clear – now is the time.

 

Be the first to comment

Common Preservation Or Extinction?

"Save the Humans?"

Jeremy Brecher

PM Press, 245 pages

$20

 

Eve Ottenberg

Despite Covid-19, the previous twin threats to human existence have not receded. Global warming and the menace of nuclear holocaust have proved more intractable than ever. Arctic temperatures soared to 80 degrees last week, and northern Siberia registered 86 degrees, as climate change fatally deforms humanity's sole home world. But with a president like Trump, tearing up every nuclear treaty he can get his hands on and green-lighting development of new types of nuclear missiles, a future of multiple mushroom clouds can't be ruled out either. Maybe it'll be a twofer, and we'll get both. If people keep electing climate-change-denying warmongers, this is distinctly possible.

 

But elections aren't the only path to power. There are social and political movements, and they, argue Jeremy Brecher in the new edition of "Save the Humans?" should not be underestimated. Such movements can tackle his trio of concerns – climate change, disarmament and economic justice – by aiming at "common preservation," which his book promotes through memoir, political analysis and outright exhortation. One way to achieve common preservation, Brecher argues, is globalization from below. "We learned you have to act globally to succeed locally – you have to go to Brussels to save your farm in Texas."

 

Brecher's book lists guidelines for common preservation with subheadings like "Advocate human preservation wherever you are," and "Don't let the movement give birth to new dominations and disorders." He defines common preservation as "action in concert for human benefit." That may sound vague, but he focuses it on his three aforementioned concerns.  He cites promising early twenty-first century developments: "movements emerged all over the world in locations that were marginal to the dominant power centers. They linked up by means of networks that cut across national borders. They began to develop a sense of solidarity."

 

Though "Save the Humans?" is pre-Covid-19, if anything, the pandemic highlights the importance of its three issues. Lockdowns, for instance, lowered air pollution worldwide by 17 percent. But as soon as China re-opened its economy, it surpassed its previous pollution levels. In the U.S., economic justice during mass unemployment has come to the fore – maybe not for Trump or senate republicans, but average citizens, thrown out of work, or compelled to toil in unsafe, Covid-19-infested environments like slaughterhouses, stare economic inequality in the face. Finally, nuclear war between, say, the U.S. and China has moved to the front burner, with Trump blaming China for the plague to distract from his own failures. Peace could be one of the disease's most tragic casualties.

 

 

 If "Save the Humans?" addressed the pandemic, what would it say? Doubtless that we should listen to scientists and doctors, who warn of a second wave of mass death if things re-open too quickly. There is also the problem of cutting corners to produce a vaccine, which the Trump administration appears to be urging. What happened with an H1N1 vaccine back in 2009 is instructive. One vaccine was rushed to market in the UK, but it caused brain damage, facial palsy and nerve damage to thousands of people. It may also have led to some deaths. If that happens with any of the Covid-19 vaccines, it will confirm a skeptical public's worst fears, giving ammunition to anti-vaxxers – and the plague will spread and kill more people.

 

But for Brecher, doubtless the mass unemployment caused by Covid-19 would be central, because, as he says, the future hinges on the working class. He quotes Marx, "the working class is revolutionary or it is nothing." Today's revolutionaries, however, have more on their plate than any predecessors, including coping with an illness for which there is as yet little prevention and no cure. That disease could upend everything. It has already dumped almost 40 million people in the unemployment lines. Sudden mass dispossession amid plague could usher in the sort of dystopia portrayed in the Jim Crace novel, "The Pesthouse," where society has broken down, de-evolved and never coped successfully with the disease that caused the catastrophe. Indeed as of last week, 24 states opened up despite uncontrolled Covid-19 spread. Without a vaccine, we may never get a handle on this pestilence. Any attempts at common preservation will have to bear this in mind, just as even one win, on the climate, stopping nuclear war or economic justice, will be truly revolutionary.

 

 

 

1 Comments
Post a comment

As the Earth Dies...

"The Robbery of Nature"

John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark

Monthly Review Press, 384 pages

 

Eve Ottenberg

The earth is dying and capitalism is to blame. Facing this, one can opt for hope, as Marxist ecosocialists do, or one can succumb to pessimism fed by dark thoughts on human nature and the intractable, deadly persistence of our economic system of exploitation. Human nature has a destructive and murderous side, while capitalism, expressing that side with its endless growth, endless greed, blights the planet like cancer. Yet Marxist ecosocialists do not let this drag them down to despair. They talk about fixing what humanity has wrought, about drastically cutting carbon emissions, about mitigating the sixth mass extinction, about decreasing plastics and other environmental toxins and doing so while providing for the necessities of life, including, as John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark write in their newly published "The Robbery of Nature," "love, family, community, meaningful work, education, cultural life, access to the natural environment and the free and equal development of every person."

 

Such ecosocialism differs vastly from the technocratic ecomodernism espoused by, say "Jacobin" magazine. Technocratic approaches to the climate catastrophe are very popular these days, even on the left. To demolish them, Bellamy and Clark cite "Jacobin's" summer 2017 issue, "Earth Wind Fire." They argue that the "socialist" magazine did far worse than miss the boat; it steered it in the wrong direction, by touting technological fixes to global warming and pollution, as well as rapid growth in production, population control and the magic of the global free market. This doesn't sound like any socialism I'm familiar with, and indeed one idiotic "Jacobin" writer opined: "You CAN actually have infinite growth on a finite world." Uninhabitable earth – here we come!

 

This writer also adds, "our skyscrapers are not separate from nature, they ARE nature." As Bellamy and Clark argue, by this logic, "so are nuclear weapons." Another "Jacobin" contributor supports the astonishingly dangerous geoengineering of injecting "sulfur aerosols into the atmosphere to block the sun's rays." Many scientists have warned that this could be a calamity. Bellamy and Clark also critique carbon capture and sequestration plans, advocated by Christian Parenti in this "Jacobin" issue. The problem is one of scale. Bellamy and Clark quote one energy analyst: "In order to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions, we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation-storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry, whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storage took generations to build."

 

Ecosocialists have a more straightforward approach. They start by pinpointing the problem – capitalism. Bellamy and Clark argue Marx's ecological bona fides convincingly, by detailing his concern about a "metabolic rift." They quote Marx that capitalism creates an "irrevocable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself." Much of "The Robbery of Nature" debunks leftists who have dismissed Marx's environmentalism; but Marx asserted that capital loots nature as a "free gift." This, the ecosocialists argue, is the problem of capital's relation to the earth: plunder and deadly "externalities," i.e. pollution. According to Bellamy and Clark, Marx "emphasized that capital accumulation, through its rapacious expropriation of nature, inevitably promoted ecological destruction." He also wrote that capital's seizures of common people's property is "written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire."

 

"The Robbery of Nature" also argues that Marx was a proto-feminist and a food theorist. "The unhealthy and even poisonous contents of the Victorian working class diet was thus a key concern of Marx's food analysis." The book also documents Marx's views on alienated speciesism and his horror at capitalist animal abuse; one can only imagine his abhorrence of modern factory farming. But he never lost sight of the human impact of animal abuse: he noted that between 1855 and 1866, "1,032,694 Irishmen [were] displaced by about one million cattle, pigs and sheep."

 

The core of Marx's critique of capitalism is that it undermines "the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker." That is as true today as it was in the nineteenth century. Leftists, like the "Jacobin" writers that Bellamy and Clark cite, who do not argue for halting endless capitalist growth, who swoon over the magic of the global free market, are not socialists. Leftists who blame impoverished people for humanity's carbon footprint and advocate population control, instead of targeting the real carbon criminals, namely the affluent West, they are hardly socialists either. We have seen where endless growth leads: a poisoned atmosphere, an overheated planet and billions reduced to destitution. The ecosocialists argue that capitalism is a death cult. They are correct.

Be the first to comment

Capitalism Versus Humanity

"Beyond Crisis"

Edited by John Holloway, Katerina Nasioka, Panagiotis Doulos

PM, 246 pages

$21.95

 

Eve Ottenberg

From today's perspective of Covid-19 mass death, the virtues of left-wing policies like Medicare for All are abundantly clear. Especially at the capitalist core, where, in the U.S., a stripped down, for profit, privatized, price-gouging, neoliberal health-care system has been proven wholly inadequate and been quickly swamped. Tens of millions cannot afford health insurance. They fall sick with Covid-19 and have a choice: suffer and spread the disease or go to a hospital, get treated and go bankrupt. M4A would correct that. In fact, every other plank of the Sanders campaign would correct similar abuses. In a sane world, that would lead to a leftish government to implement M4A, student loan forgiveness, progressive taxation and more. But this is not a sane world. And not all recent leftist governments have covered themselves with glory.

 

Take Greece. If ever there was a political party that betrayed its principles upon obtaining power, left-wing Syriza is that party. Elected on a wave of Greek disgust at EU austerity, Syriza held a referendum on whether Greeks should submit to that. The people resoundingly voted no, even at the risk of being booted out of the EU, whereupon Syriza promptly turned around and ignored the referendum. Not surprisingly, last July, a conservative party beat Syriza at the polls.

 

Was this a stunning instance of treachery by Syriza or was it something else? In the recently published essay collection, "Beyond Crisis," one of the authors, John Holloway, argues it was something else, that for the last 30 years governments have adopted neoliberal policies "not because the leaders are traitors, but because that is the world in which governments are forced to operate." An economy based on debt, deployed to ram austerity down the throats of workers and the middle class – that is contemporary, globalized, financialized and seemingly inescapable capitalism. Left-wing states – Greece, Venezuela, Bolivia – "have been unable (or unwilling) to break the dynamic of capitalist development."

 

According to Theodoros Karyotis' essay, in Greece "a sovereign debt crisis has been used as a pretext for a massive operation of wealth transfer from the popular classes to the local and international capitalist class." Sound familiar? It should. It's life as normal in the U.S., where every time the stock market shudders, political leaders become hysterical and demand that the Fed throw billions down the toilet to rescue the rich. Of course, what is also flushed away is social welfare; tax revenues which could decrease college tuition or subsidize medical care go to ceos, rich corporations and their dividends. As Holloway argues, it's capitalism versus humanity.

 

This was already clear in another sphere: the climate crisis. There, capitalism sentences us to an unlivable planet, so that in the short term, fossil fuel corporations can rake in profits. With Covid-19, as with the climate, capitalism reveals its fundamental anti-human nature. "Capitalism has become our destiny," Holloway writes. "And more and more it seems that this destiny is death…Yet we resist…because resistance is the defense of what we understand as our humanity, as our dignity…Capital flees from us…It may flee geographically in search of a more docile or more malleable labor. It also flees into technology, replacing us with machines." He argues that we are in a stalemate "where capitalism is unable to tame us sufficiently," and we haven't created an alternative. This was written before Covid-19. So it does not account for the chance that capitalism may destroy itself. Its refusal to resuscitate the welfare state, its refusal to forgive debt, may undo it.

 

The 2020 financial crisis could become a depression. If so, we are not in uncharted waters. We know what that looks like. We can refer to the 1930s or glance at the carcass of Greek society after the banks bled it dry and tossed it in the dumpster. Misery for almost everyone. Unimaginable luxury for a very few. Now we have the added disaster of Covid-19. A plague that ravages a population which cannot afford health care. Overwhelmed hospitals where bodies pile up in the corridors. You can be sure there will be no shortage of ventilators for plutocrats. Still, that may not save them.

Be the first to comment

Police Torture

"The Torture Letters"

Laurence Ralph

The University of Chicago Press, 242 pages

$19

 

Eve Ottenberg

The Chicago police department has a problem. They say it's fixed, but local African American residents can't be blamed for being skeptical. The problem is torture. And of course the Chicago PD is not one bad apple in the nation's police departments, because when it comes to police brutality, the whole barrel is rotten. Chicago is just an extreme case.

 

"Between 1972 and 1991, approximately 125 African American suspects were tortured by police officers in Chicago," Princeton anthropology professor Laurence Ralph writes in his new book "The Torture Letters." More than 400 cases currently await investigation by the Illinois torture inquiry and relief commission, "which also gets three to five new torture claims each week." From 2004 to 2016, Chicago police paid $662 million in police misconduct settlements. Torture has not been unusual in the Chicago PD and elsewhere, nor is the next level of violence – murder of suspects, of people stopped at traffic lights or just walking down the street. Stop and frisk often means stop and kill

 

For decades, Chicago's Area 2, where officer Jon Burge's seven-member "A-Team" took their suspects, was a notorious torture site. An anonymous police department whistleblower named Burge as a perpetrator in 35 torture cases, Ralph reports. "A total of 67 officers were identified by survivors as having direct knowledge of torture." The torments included beatings, being shackled to a hot radiator, mock suffocations and electrocutions from Burge's infamous black box. Once knowledge of this dreadful little machine seeped out and Burge was defending himself in the courts, he "is rumored to actually have thrown his torture device in Lake Michigan from his boat, named 'Vigilante.'"

 

Another torturer was Richard Zuley, a Chicago police officer from 1977 to 2007, with a sabbatical as an interrogator at Guantanamo. Ralph sums up Zuley's worldview: "Zuley said it did not matter to him whether this man was innocent or guilty. It didn't matter because to Zuley, this was a bad guy." And therein lies the problem: the good guy/bad guy mentality, which pervades all American police departments, the military and – to judge from Trump's repetition of the phrase "bad hombres" – the executive branch of the U.S. government. Ralph argues that morally, no one, no matter what they have done, deserves the cruel and unusual punishment of torture. But many who consider the world riddled with bad guys disagree. That includes Trump and many in the former Bush administration. If torture yields a false confession, so what? The victim is a bad guy, and even if he's punished for something he didn't do, the reasoning goes, he was guilty of something. So instead of serve and protect, the Chicago police hunt and torture.

 

The good guy/bad guy dichotomy is the death of morality and the death of thought. It kills morality by eliminating justice based on an individual's innocence or guilt of a specific crime. It kills thought, as "The Torture Letters" demonstrates, by recounting how police ignore leads and clues to the true perpetrator, because they already plan to ensnare one particular bad guy. Careful, patient, rational police-work goes out the window.

 

It's also a quick step from seeing some people as bad guys to generalizing about groups and thence to racist stereotypes. Once the police regard young African American and Latino men as bad guys – the result of Bloomberg's notorious stop and frisk policy – pretty much anything goes, including framing them for murders they didn't commit, because they're "bad guys," who have committed other crimes anyway.

 

This diseased mentality stigmatizes whole communities. "Just because someone killed two police officers," Ralph writes, "doesn't mean that an entire community should be treated as if all members were murderers." But that's what has happened in Chicago. When a crime occurred, the police could pick whomever they wanted from this stigmatized group, regardless of evidence. The crime became an excuse to brutalize someone, anyone from the pool of those considered bad guys. This attitude goes to the top. When confronted with the lack of proof that Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks on Americans – the initial stated cause of assassinating him – Trump waved that away, said it didn't matter, because Soleimani was a bad guy. But one person's bad guy is another's heroic soldier. This way of thinking is a highway to hell.

 

Burge's "A-Team epitomized everything wrong with the Chicago police department: it is racist, it is secretive and…believes that the police department has the right to operate above the law," Ralph writes. These are the same police videotaped "gunning Black Chicagoans down on the street," like Harith Augustus in 2018, Paul O'Neal in 2016 and Laquan MacDonald in 2014. There's not much space between  torture and murder; the two go hand in hand. No wonder African American residents are leaving Chicago in droves. Though one has to wonder – is this what the city's powerful wanted all along?

Be the first to comment

Failures of Capitalism

"Beyond Market Dystopia, Socialist Register 2020"

Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo

Monthly Review, 294 pages

 

Eve Ottenberg

To define a workable socialism, it's best first to lay out what's wrong with capitalism. Nancy Fraser's excellent essay in "Beyond Market Dystopia" does just this, and these wrongs are three: injustice, irrationality and unfreedom. Injustice inheres in the exploitation of labor and theft of its surplus value. Irrationality exists in capitalism's built-in economic crises. Unfreedom derives from social inequality and class power and also from tyranny in the work-place.

 

Capitalism, Fraser argues, "is no mere economy…It is an institutionalized social order." The economic conditions on which it depends reveal this. There are four: unwaged social reproductive labor (cooking, cleaning, child and elder care, etc.); wealth expropriated from subjugated peoples (mostly in the Global South); free gifts from non-human nature (arable land, breathable air, potable water, etc.); public goods supplied by states (legal orders guaranteeing property rights, contracts and free exchange, transport and communication etc.). So capitalism takes from these four conditions but scarcely acknowledges them at all, indeed irrationally, compulsively and dangerously undermines them.

 

"Reduced to a tap and a sink, non-human nature is open to brute extractivism," by capitalism, as the terrifying evidence of climate change demonstrates all around us. Capital tends to "erode or destroy or deplete…its own presuppositions – which is to say, to eat its own tail." It does so with all four of the conditions it relies on. "If socialism aims to remedy capitalism's wrongs," Fraser writes, "it faces a very big job," because "socialists need to turn things right-side up: to install the nurturing of people, the safeguarding of nature and democratic self-rule as society's highest priorities, which trump efficiency and growth." Any moderately pessimistic onlooker would doubtless say "good luck."

 

But we have reached a point where moderate pessimism is not acceptable. Capitalism has "so callously trashed" all the conditions it depends on that it endangers humanity's future. If not now for socialism, when? Because in the end, socialism is the only governance that can "deinstitutionalize the growth imperative hard-wired into capitalist society." Capitalist growth is a cancer, one that has metastasized over the face of the earth, even as it robs billions of people of any life beyond mere subsistence.

 

"Beyond Market Dystopia" presents 14 essays organized around this theme of what comes after the destructive cyclone that is capitalism. It contains essays on migrants, socialized housing, precarious work, communism in the suburbs and much more. Editors Leo Panitch and Greg Albo have used their theme to reach into society's various realms and to illuminate the possibilities for a better, socialist future. A certain necessary optimism suffuses the whole. But beneath this, in many of these essays, simmers the very realistic anxiety that capitalism has gone too far.

 

Indeed, "Inside Climate News" recently reported that the oceans have absorbed warming caused by anthropogenic climate change equivalent to the explosion of over a billion Hiroshima-sized bombs. That's just what capitalism has done to earth's oceans. What it has done to the air, earth and nature's creatures is equally horrifying. But, as Barbara Harriss-White's essay quotes Chomsky: "We have two choices: to abandon hope and ensure that the worst will happen, or to make use of the opportunities that exist and contribute to a better world. It is not a very difficult choice."

 

In the world of work, Michelle Chen reports that most labor will be freelance by 2027. "In rich and poor nations alike," she writes, "technological innovation will disrupt the role of the state and the power of the labor movement." The gig economy will only expand. Chen advocates countering it with a global crowd-workers' guild or an app-based collective-bargaining agreement. These would be welcome developments, helping technology, she argues, to become a force against capital's consolidation of power "over the emergent global infrastructure" and against capital's "capture of more of our public sphere."

 

Gig workers, Chen argues are in a "constant state of dislocation [that] breeds constant instability." There have been some legal wins: in New York, uber drivers are now entitled to unemployment benefits and in some countries are recognized as employees. Drivers have led wildcat strikes, and they have rioted. Their fight against capital is a fight for life. They are on the front lines of the twenty-first century's class war, in which the billionaire class arrogantly asserts its privilege: to control the lives and bodies of workers, to wring out every last cent, everywhere, just as it pillages the planet, everywhere.

 

The face of that predatory class is Donald Trump. He and his reactionary Republican backers chant that the U.S. will never be socialist, that that is not in our future. He is wrong. It may only come in bits and pieces, one policy at a time, but without that in our future, we likely won't have one.

Be the first to comment

The Way Forward

"Lessons of the Spanish Revolution"

Vernon Richards

PM, 286 pages

$21.95

 

Eve Ottenberg

Long after 1936, when the Spanish voted in a leftist government, many Latin American countries followed suit – Cuba with Castro, Chile with Allende, Brazil with Lula, Venezuela with Chavez and Maduro, Nicaragua with Ortega, Bolivia with Morales and others. Vernon Richards' "Lessons of the Spanish Revolution," reprinted some months back, makes one miserable inference very clear: the only people who've learned the lessons of the Spanish revolution are fascists in places like Bolivia and the U.S. government. Certain basic, obvious steps – like replacing reactionary military officers – are rarely taken. As a result – coups; and leaders like Evo Morales have to run for their lives.

 

One problem, however, has become less pronounced – certain internecine battles on the left. At the time of the Spanish civil war, anarchists and communists were at each other's throats. The Latin American left's divisions get less attention today, perhaps because over the decades it became clear that the enemy, backed by the U.S., is so strong that all leftists are targets for elimination. The counterrevolution has been busy, with one assault after another – most recently, with the attempted overthrow of the Maduro government, the imprisonment of Lula on trumped up charges in Brazil and a right-wing military coup in Bolivia. There's little point in communists murdering anarchists when death squads, like those currently busy in Honduras, fill mass graves anyway with students, peasants and every leftist they can find.

 

"Lessons of the Spanish Revolution" anatomizes divisions on the left, and what emerges is a picture of how truly destructive of the revolution they were. From the anarchist perspective – and this book, originally published in the 1950s, is written from the anarchist perspective – the Spanish civil war led to repeated betrayals; betrayal of the anarchist revolution by the communists and by the anarchist leaders themselves. By the end, according to Richards, the revolutionary press was nothing but "the mouthpiece of the government and the 'revolutionary' chauvinists."

 

This book attempts "to counter the enthusiasm on the left for the Popular Front and its communist partners." For Richards and other anarchists, Stalinist Russia was as deadly as Franco – though in fact, it's easy to see why any leftist who fought in the Spanish civil war might have become a Stalinist. The Spanish republicans received no arms from abroad from any leader except Stalin. No country beside the Soviet Union supplied this desperately needed weaponry. This is not to mute Stalinist crimes. They are multitudinous and well documented. And Richards justly calls out the murders committed by Russian secret police in revolutionary Spain. He argues, correctly, that the leftist government should never have dismantled the workers' militias, but his opposition to any government, while principled – on the grounds that government of necessity kills the fighting spirit of any social movement – could well have led to an even swifter defeat by Franco.

 

The two issues for Richards and his fellow anarchists were the social revolution and the armed struggle against fascism. He argues that "it was Moscow's intention to destroy Revolutionary Catalonia," and devotes many pages to proving this point. Nowadays leftist have no such problems. The Soviet Union ceased to exist thirty years ago, and with it vanished all the support, betrayals and internecine left battles that it generated.

 

So things are simpler now, though without the threat of a communist superpower, fascism  rises again. Leftist Mexican president Lopez Obrador, for instance, need not worry about Russian communists infiltrating his base. But he does have to worry about the U.S. empire fomenting a military coup against him. Reactionary U.S. forces have gone into hyperdrive – promoting regime change all over the world, while fascist wannabe Trump proclaims any available neoliberal imbecile the true president of any socialist country he wants to abolish. Leftists everywhere lack the very real strength of being able to threaten overpowering retaliation. They cannot count on China. Chinese socialism, led by billionaire party members, so far appears reluctant to play the role its Soviet predecessor played. China has been slow to aid besieged Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua or Cuba. As a result, splits between anarchists, syndicalists, communists and socialists matter less than in the past, so even do splits between varieties of feminism. To a certain extent, one can argue that the only thing that matters is whether a person is on the left or not. The enemy is far too strong to waste time on niceties of doctrinal difference. Death squads kill indiscriminately.

 

If Richards were writing today, it is doubtful that he would support any Latin American governments. He might encourage the Zapatistas in Mexico, though it's hard to extrapolate from his book's account of the byzantine, internecine battles of leftists in revolutionary Spain. One thing "Lessons of the Spanish Revolution" clarifies: though the world has changed since then, and radically, for leftists, for fascists it has remained much more static. They still overthrow socialist governments and murder leftists. But leftists are being forced to become less violently concerned with their splits or isms, and more pragmatically concerned with what always should have been the focus: survival. I guess that's progress.

Be the first to comment

The Torture Called Solitary

"Solitary"

Albert Woodfox

Grove Press, 433 pages

$26

 

Eve Ottenberg

Few people can survive, unbroken, over four decades of solitary confinement. Albert Woodfox, one of the Angola 3, is such a person. They tried to break him, they tried really, really hard, every minute of every day. Because that's what this form of wickedness called solitary confinement is about – destroying people callously, cruelly, carelessly, just because it can. "For 44 years I defied the state of Louisiana and the Department of Corrections," Woodfox writes in his book, "Solitary." "Their main objective was to break my spirit. They did not break me."

 

This book is about a confrontation with evil. It is about being in the hands of wickedness itself and still, somehow, not succumbing, not submitting to utter powerlessness. Woodfox is a Black Panther, so are the others in the Angola 3, Robert King and Herman Wallace (now deceased). As such they were targets of the prison authorities, who framed them for the murder of a white guard, Brent Miller. They fought the charges in court, gained retrials, suffered horrendous prosecutorial misconduct and constant, depraved retaliation from prison authorities while they were in jail. In a closet-sized cell, twenty-three hours a day, stifling hot in summer, freezing in winter, infested with rodents and vermin, Woodfox held onto his sanity. "Our resistance gave us an identity. Our identity gave us strength. Our strength gave us an unbreakable will. My determination not to be broken was stronger than any other part of me, stronger than anything they did to me."

 

When he first came to Angola before he was a Black Panther, Woodfox survived the constant threat of violence from other prisoners by being known as someone who was ready to fight and wouldn't quit. "I knew my survival depended on my ability to respond violently, if needed. But by some grace, maybe the love of my mother, I hadn't totally lost my humanity. I was always poised to be aggressive, but I knew it wasn't who I was." Later he developed other modes of resistance and other relations with inmates. "I turned my cell into a university. I wrote to them, a hall of debate, a law school. By taking a stand and not backing down, I told them. I believed in humanity, I said. I loved myself." He, King and Wallace helped their fellow inmates by treating them as human beings deserving of respect and dignity. Woodfox writes that his greatest achievement in Angola was teaching another prisoner to read. The Angola 3 made a special issue of prison rape, protecting victims and announcing to potential rapists that they would have to fight Woodfox, King and Wallace.

 

Even after the U.S. government destroyed the Black Panther Party, Woodfox abided by its beliefs. He never forgot the humanity of the Black Panthers he met while in prison in New York City, in the Tombs. He read voraciously – Franz Fannon, George Jackson, Malcolm X, Richard Wright, Karl Marx and more. He concluded that capitalism could not be "fixed" but had to be abolished. He quotes the Zapatistas: "They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."

 

"By the early eighties, Herman, King and I knew we were forgotten. The Black Panther Party no longer existed," Woodfox writes. Then began long decades of lonely struggle. The warden would not release them from solitary. But, buried alive, they had each other, their beliefs, their work on behalf of other prisoners and the will not to break. Finally, in the 2000s, their situation drew attention. King, eventually released, agitated for Herman and Woodfox. They got a legal team, a support committee and media coverage. When Herman developed liver cancer, James Ridgeway and Katie Rose Quandt published an article in "In These Times," about "one medical horror story after another," in prison medical care. A prisoner with extreme pain in his side in 2010 "was told he had gas. Over the next five years, Ridgeway and Quandt wrote, the prisoner 'developed numbness in his feet, legs and fingertips, lost his appetite and dropped nearly 100 pounds. When he finally received a CT scan in 2015, he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in his kidneys and lungs." Woodfox reports that Angola "routinely hired doctors with suspended licenses." One medic was "diagnosed with amphetamine, cocaine and cannabis dependence, in addition to adjustment disorder and personality disorder."

 

"Solitary" describes life in hell. Woodfox had several mechanisms for keeping hell at a distance. "If I'd allowed myself to feel an emotional connection to my reality, in that moment I would have gone insane." But he kept fighting for his freedom and finally won it. The state, the prison bureaucracy robbed him of his rights, but they could never touch his dignity, integrity and self-respect.

 

Woodfox's story deserves the widest possible audience. It is heroic. It bears witness against a great evil in the United States – mass incarceration and the widespread torture known as solitary confinement.

 

Be the first to comment

The Crime of Progress, the Crime of Caste

"My Seditious Heart"

Arundhati Roy

Haymarket Books, 1000 pages

$29.95

 

Eve Ottenberg

Some of Arundhati Roy's most galvanizing essays describe the ruin of the forest people, whose lands in India were flooded to create huge dams. Over the past fifty years, as many as 56 million people were displaced by Big Dams, many reduced to utter destitution. These ancient villages of "ferrymen, fisher folk, sand quarriers and cultivators of the riverbed" were not compensated for their dispossession. Instead, as Roy writes, "I can warrant that the quality of their accommodation is worse than any concentration camp in the Third Reich…In cities like Delhi, they run the risk of being shot by the police for shitting in public places." She calls the Indian state "a giant poverty producing machine."

 

"When the history of India's miraculous leap to the forefront of the information revolution is written," according to Roy, "let it be said that 56 million Indians (and their children and their children's children) paid for it with everything they ever had." As of the late 1990s, 700 million rural people lived in India. Many of their lands have since been stolen and privatized, what Roy calls "barbaric dispossession on a scale that has no parallel in history." If this sounds familiar, that's because it resembles what the U.S. army and government did to Native Americans during the nineteenth century.

 

India is a country, Roy writes, "where something akin to an undeclared civil war is being waged on its subjects in the name of 'development.'" In essay after essay of her new collection, "My Seditious Heart," she describes how the Indian government dispossesses tribal forest people (Adivasis) and desperately poor Untouchables (Dalits), to gift their lands to mining corporations, hydro-electric corporations and other industries. When these forest people resist, the government declares them Maoists or terrorists and sends in the military. If a tribal person plants a vegetable garden, that's proof he or she is a Maoist. If they fish the rivers – they're Maoists. If they refuse to abandon their huts – they're Maoists. Small wonder that in the end, many of these crushingly poor people react to the banditry called privatization by becoming Maoists.

 

"My Seditious Heart" spans the period from 1994 to 2016, during which India became a magnet for capital investment, underwent an "information revolution," and privatized forests, rivers and mountains, which were previously the people's commons. During this time, the Hindu fanatics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) transformed the country from a secular democracy with a socialist constitution into a religious, ethnocentric autocracy espousing fascist doctrines. This transition relied on calculated violence. The RSS's early twentieth century founders admired Hitler, Mussolini and the Nazi drive for ethnic purity. One founder of this Hindu movement, also called Hindutva, said it should take Hitler as a model. And indeed, several decades ago, starting with a call to destroy an ancient mosque, the Babri Masjid, and replace it with a Hindu temple, the BJP began whipping up the population against the minority of 170 million Muslims.

 

This frenzy of anti-Muslim attacks, murder and propaganda culminated in 2002 in a pogrom against Muslims in the state of Gujarat. Two thousand Muslims were butchered by mobs, many disemboweled, women were raped and burned alive, children slaughtered, tens of thousands of Muslims permanently fled their homes, and one prominent Muslim politician, Ehsan Jaffri, who also happened to be a fierce critic of Modi, was dragged from his house by a Hindu mob and dismembered. Modi, the leading government official at the time, was accused of inciting this pogrom. Several of his ministers went to jail for just that. Indeed when Modi became prime minister, he was denied a U.S. visa for these human rights violations. The Indian Supreme Court exonerated Modi, but this is the same court that looked the other way when told that the law required those dispossessed by Big Dams be recompensed. Also, it is a crime in India to criticize the Supreme Court. So, not surprisingly, there was little uproar over its whitewashing of Modi's role. Predictably, after he rose to be prime minister, Modi fomented the anti-Pakistan frenzy and put the entire population of Kashmir – the world's largest occupation – on lockdown. Conditions were already dreadful in Kashmir, with the police murdering "suspected terrorists" at will. Now they are worse.

 

Modi's party promotes the idea of India as a Hindu nation. As such, it has inherited Hindu anxiety that its dreadful caste system – which brutalizes, stigmatizes and humiliates the lowest castes – will so alienate Dalits that they will convert to Christianity, Islam or another religion. Indeed many have. Roy critiques Gandhi's defense of caste, in her excellent essay on his opponent, the Dalit intellectual Ambedkar. The Indian establishment long insisted that caste was an internal Indian matter, but for Ambedkar "there cannot be a more degrading system of social organization than the caste system." Roy reports that Dalits are prohibited from using certain roads, wells and temples, while the occupation of many Dalit women is cleaning shit with their bare, ungloved hands and carrying it away in baskets on their heads. Dalits who "pollute" upper castes with their proximity are beaten, and Dalit women frequently raped. Ambedkar called out Indian communists for their hypocritical failure to attack caste. Indeed, it is scarcely imaginable how any leftist could ignore such injustice.

 

"No Untouchable worth the name will be proud of this land," Ambedkar wrote. Yet upper caste politicians have slyly worked to keep Dalits from leaving the Hindu fold. Indeed Roy reports that the early twentieth century Hindu dilemma was how to recruit people they believe should be treated abominably. "Even today…the BJP has to persuade the majority of the Dalit population to embrace a creed that stigmatizes and humiliates them." Meanwhile Dalits who convert to other religions are still treated abysmally. Dalits who manage to get a university education, often turn sharply left and so become police targets. Not surprisingly, Dalits and Advasis constitute the majority of the millions of people displaced by mines, dams and other major infrastructure projects.

 

Roy reports that Adivasis practice primitive communism. "Today Adivasis are the barricade against the pitiless march of modern capitalism." As such they are a target of its military. "This is a war against people who have barely enough to eat one square meal a day," she writes.

 

Roy concludes her collection with a grim, foreboding picture of modern India under Modi, a country in which the ethnic cleansing of Kashmir looms as a possibility. After all, that would be of a piece with events in India proper: "Our forests are full of soldiers and our universities are full of police."

Post a comment