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Eve's Review

The Case for Socialism

"The Socialist Manifesto"

Bhaskar Sunkara

Basic Books, 276 pages

$28.00

 

Eve Ottenberg

Anyone doubting the arguments for socialism, should read Bhaskar Sunkara's "The Socialist Manifesto." It presents old rationales in new clothes; the clothes are simple and attractive, while the rationales are sound. They come, however, with a big warning. "We certainly don't want to repeat the last century's attempts, whether in Russia or China, to impose 'socialism from above.'" The twentieth century was an era of "false starts" for socialism, or perhaps more accurately of real starts that quickly went awry. Trotsky and Lenin helped make the first successful worker's revolution in history, but lost control and the reins fell into Stalin's murderous hands. Later, Mao's earliest political activities were revolutionary, but his deification led to famines and mass death. So no, we do not want to repeat the past. We want to learn from it.

 

Sunkara argues for gradualism, for starting with social democracy. This is reasonable, in an era so reactionary that FDR would doubtless be called a communist by today's Lindsey Grahams. The U.S. still has a tattered social safety net, thanks to FDR and LBJ, but if Republicans could, they would shred even those remnants – although all polls show wide public support for those social programs. So yes, a goal more modest than socialist revolution, something like the Green New Deal and Medicare For All would be a place to start. Of course even those modest social democratic proposals elicit shrieks and howls of "communism!"

 

How such hysteria snowballs deserves consideration. After all, any effort to relieve the poverty of over 100 million Americans, any redistributive program, prompts the modern version of a red scare and not just from Fox News and Republican senators. Recent television coverage of the first Democratic debate phrased the Medicare For All issue most tellingly, by asserting that certain (very moderate) candidates wanted to abolish private health insurance. Phrased thus, to your average ignoramus, it sounds alarming. The network never headlined that free, comprehensive public health insurance would replace the private, expensive, incomplete variety that spawns so many American bankruptcies. That's a level of journalistic responsibility television commentators saw no need to rise to. Such lies of omission are commonplace. They popped up during the second Democratic debate also. As more social democratic programs gain popularity, expect this mendacity to become ubiquitous.

 

So while it's a given that socialists will receive a negative publicity Blitzkrieg, social democrats should ready for it too. If any dem attempts to undo Trump's tax "reform" gift to billionaire donors by reinstituting progressive taxation, the media will distort it. Likewise with the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. As for reducing military spending and removing troops from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Persian gulf and no longer assisting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen – these actions will be proclaimed "unpresidential." Trump only became "presidential" in the centrist press, when he fired missiles at Syria.

 

The only socialist peace and environmental policies the media might not attack are returns to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF), the Iran nuclear deal and to the Paris climate accords. Otherwise U.S. media are profoundly reactionary and even more profoundly stupid. Perhaps Sunkara's book ignores this out of politeness, but a little rudeness here wouldn't hurt. U.S. media are a huge obstacle to social democratic reforms and to peace, and such reforms are, as Sunkara argues, necessary steps to a more just, socialistic society. "The road to socialism beyond capitalism goes through the struggle for reforms and social democracy…" Sunkara writes. "We can't rely on the professed good intentions of socialist leaders: the way to prevent abuses of power is to have a free civil society and robust democratic institutions. This is the only 'socialism' worthy of the name."

 

Unfortunately, we do not now have robust democratic institutions. Oligarchs control congress, the president is a wannabe autocrat, the media exclude dissent, independent press is smeared, the security/police apparatus has wrapped its tentacles around the entire body politic, the bipartisan war party clutches electoral politics in its death grip and populates all political offices, public money sinks into a bottomless military pit, swallowing $750 billion per year and so on. It's not just socialist policies we need – we need true democracy, too. And both will only come with a fight.

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Solidarity and Manufacturing

"Living and Dying on the Factory Floor"

David Ranney

PM Press, 139 pages

$15

 

Eve Ottenberg

If there's one thing the hotel workers' and teachers' strikes last year have driven home, it's that the future of American labor does not lie with manufacturing. Most of those jobs are gone. And according to David Ranney in his new book, "Living and Dying on the Factory Floor," they're not coming back. "The height of manufacturing employment in the U.S.," Ranney writes, "was in 1979 when 19.5 million workers or 22 percent of the U.S. workforce were employed in manufacturing jobs." The steel mills of Southeast Chicago and Northwest Indiana have shut down. So have the related factories where Ranney worked in the 1970s and '80s and which he describes in his new book. "Today only 12.4 million workers," he reports, "or 8 percent of the national workforce, are in manufacturing."

 

This memoir describes "the exploitation of back breaking and dangerous labor and the often unhealthy and unsafe working conditions." It is also about his South Chicago co-workers – white, black, Mexican – and how they divided along lines of race and nationality, until those rare moments when they defied management and their corrupt union and struck. As one worker, Lawrence, summed up this solidarity during a strike at Chicago Shortening: "There ain't no justice…just us." Or, as Ranney explains: "the strike exposed the fact that union, company and government institutions were united in opposition to a class-based 'us.' In the course of the strike…we overcame the divisive aspects of race, alcoholism and drug addiction in favor of solidarity."

 

Though the small-scale job actions described in this book did not generally succeed, they were a main reason that Ranney, a leftist professor, gave up his academic job to work in factories. Not an agitator, he was more someone in supportive solidarity with other workers. Ranney recounts an intense instance of that solidarity: during one protest, when employees blocked a rail car from leaving the factory, a worker, Charles, said, "for us this is about how we are goin' feed our babies, man. That's something worth fighting for. Movin' us out of here ain't goin' be easy." This statement "galvanized" the workers, including the locomotive engineer, who decided not to cross their picket line and told their boss to "go fuck yourself."

 

In the '70s and '80s, Ranney was affiliated with the Workers Rights Center, which he wanted to help connect more with its South Chicago neighborhood. Though steel was a big local employer – "at one point five steel mills in the area [South Chicago] employed over one hundred thousand workers" – Ranney worked first at a shop rebuilding centrifuge machines used in rendering at slaughterhouses. The centrifuges' contents were grisly and the workplace dangerous. Next Ranney worked at a box factory, but his leftism got him fired. Then he was a maintenance man at Chicago Shortening, which made cooking oils, using "lard – the fat from pigs – and tallow – the fat from beef cattle." The place emitted an overpoweringly nauseating stench. Workplace safety was spottily enforced. In one room with a sign "Danger! Flammable Gas!" people entered while smoking and later extinguished their cigarettes. Outside workers called pumpers climbed on top of rail cars, "dragging hoses and attaching them to fittings…They take lard or tallow out of some of these cars…The pumpers hook up steam lines to those cars…[to] keep the oil hot enough until they move out."

 

Safety concerned these workers. There were "a lot of minor accidents from falls and burns. "Also, clothes and boots don't last long. Acid in the product and the chemicals used for cleaning or as additives eat boots away in no time. Work clothes soon become rags…Everyone complains about the low pay and shitty benefits. There is a general consensus that the union [Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Local 55] is corrupt and worthless." The workers assumed company and union were mob-connected. Despite several serious on-the-job accidents – in one, a worker's hand was crushed – inspectors did nothing. "The inspector pulls out a flash light and shines it in the general direction of the boiler…'Looks good boys,' he calls over his shoulder." Old equipment was not replaced. As for repairs: "We are always instructed to do the minimum."

 

Union negotiations with Chicago Shortening were disorganized. Ranney posted a list of demands on the bulletin board, and later fought with the union rep, who tried to persuade workers to accept a lousy contract. The rep physically attacked Ranney. Other workers chased the rep out of the building. They walked out; later the police came. Ranney was arrested for trying to prevent a company truck from leaving with shortening. The next day, the strikers confronted a truck driver, who said: "Teamsters Local 179. They told us this ain't a legal strike and we're not to honor your picket line. Sorry, I gotta work too." Strikers then pulled the pin connecting the cab to the rest of the truck, causing a delay of several hours. Ranney writes: "A little act of sabotage goes a long way."

 

Chicago Shortening management finally realized it couldn't run the plant without workers and so sent everyone home and temporarily shut down. Meanwhile left-wing groups arrived to support the strikers, including Iranian students who wanted to depose the shah. Later, a union vice president met with them, the company agreed to binding arbitration, and one worker, Charles, taken back on the job, was stabbed to death by scabs. It was a violent, dangerous, disorganized, exploitative environment.

 

Ranney also worked at a factory that made railroad freight cars. The supervisor told him, "three months ago, there were two workers killed in accidents." The union, a Boiler Makers local, seemed decent. Ranney also worked at a structural steel fabrication shop – manufacturing work that, he reports, is not much done anymore in the U.S. On probation, one new worker, not properly dressed, got badly burned. The book also describes a paper cup plant, a non-union shop but "the best factory job I have had." Still, after labor unrest, Ranney got fired, then worked for a company that made "boards and other products used in foundries at steel mills to insulate molten metals." The plant began to automate, which caused lay-offs, then a speed up. Hating the night shift, Ranney quit. It was 1982, and factories were laying off workers.

 

Today all the factories where Ranney worked except one are gone. The surrounding neighborhoods have either sunk into deep decline or been gentrified. At his memoir's end, Ranney wonders what happened to his co-workers. One thing is sure – a lot of them left manufacturing.

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Our Dying World

"The Uninhabitable Earth"

David Wallace-Wells

Tim Duggan Books, 310 pages

$27.00

 

Eve Ottenberg

It's hard to believe that our stupendous human enterprise, with all its blood and bombs, its megacities and spectacular technology, is ending. Yet the scientists – the true scientists, not the shills for oil companies – imply that this is so. We've done ourselves in, are destroying ourselves with our own, fatal success. True, we have a bit over a decade to soften the blow, reduce the lethality of the megatons of carbon and methane we've pumped into the atmosphere. The question is: will the men with power, the heads of state, even listen? So far, the outlook is poor. World leaders evidently do not care what happens to the next generation – they do not even appear to care what happens in the next fifteen years, just so long as business continues as usual, profits keep rolling in, and capitalism's thirst for endless, cancerous growth is regularly slaked.

 

Consider a tiny bit of what has already occurred, as reported in David Wallace-Wells' recently published "The Uninhabitable Earth": "Half of the Great Barrier Reef has already died, methane is leaking from Arctic permafrost and may never freeze again, and the high-end estimates for what warming will mean for cereal crops suggest that just four degrees of warming could reduce yields by fifty percent." Don't even try to imagine what double that warming will do.

 

The altered climate will cause multiple catastrophes, listed in Wallace-Wells' table of contents: heat death, hunger, drowning, wildfires, out-of-control weather – typhoons, tornadoes, floods and droughts – a fresh water drain, dying oceans, unbreathable air, the spread of plagues not seen in millennia and of tropical diseases throughout the world, climate wars and more.

 

Meanwhile, "twenty-two percent of the earth's landmass was altered by humans just between 1992 and 2015. Ninety-six percent of the world's animals, by weight, are now humans and their livestock," writes Wallace-Wells. He describes "the forces that unleashed climate change – namely 'the unchecked wisdom of the market'" to conclude that "neoliberalism is the God that failed on climate change." Indeed those who hope that salvation from the human-induced climate catastrophe will come from our neoliberal leaders are deluding themselves and wasting time.

 

For those who consider our ravaged climate the work of centuries, this book will be a shock. "More than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in the past three decades," Wallace-Wells writes. The climate catastrophe is predominately the creation of the World War II generation, the boomers and their children. And if we don't wean ourselves quickly from oil and gas, from our meat-intensive diet, and if we don't stop pouring concrete, large parts of the earth will become uninhabitable. In fact, the UN projects "200 million climate refugees by 2050." At the high end, Wallace-Wells quotes "a billion or more vulnerable people with little choice but to fight or flee." You think the Syrian war produced a refugee crisis for Europe (a war, by the way, largely fuelled by climate-change induced drought)? Or that Central American drought has propelled unsustainable numbers of migrants to the U. S.? You ain't seen nothing yet.

 

If business continues as usual, by century's end, we humans will have the distinction of having produced eight degrees of warming. (Currently we've produced one degree of warming.) People "at the equator and in the tropics would not be able to move around outside without dying…whole regions will become unlivable…as soon as the end of this century." Train tracks will buckle and roads will melt. Another way of stating matters is "twenty-five Holocausts and the worst case outcome puts us on the brink of extinction." And this disaster has just started. "Since 1980," Wallace-Wells writes, "the planet has experienced a fiftyfold increase in the number of dangerous heatwaves…The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002." Humanity has been playing with fire. "In 2010, 55,000 died in a Russian heatwave…In 2016…temperatures in Iraq broke…120 in July, with temperatures dipping below 100, most days, only at night." Regarding the Chicago heatwave of 1995, which killed 739 people, "of the many thousands more who visited hospitals during the heatwave, almost half died within the year. Others merely suffered permanent brain damage." Without curbing emissions, global damages could be "as high as $100 trillion per year by 2100," which would wipe out world wealth. Meanwhile "nearly two thirds of the world's cities are on the coast – not to mention its power plants, ports, navy bases, farmlands, fisheries, river deltas, marshlands and rice paddies…Already flooding has quadrupled since 1980…and doubled since 2004." NOAA has predicted a possible eight feet of sea level rise just in this century, Wallace-Wells reports.

 

Everything human must change: our meat-based diet and industrial agriculture, our power and transportation, the megatons of concrete we pour; in short we need not just a Green New Deal but, as Wallace-Wells argues, a Green Marshall Plan for the entire world, and since the criminally irresponsible Trump regime would try to block this, the world needs to circumvent the U.S., until a saner administration is in place, by creating an international body far more powerful and effective than the UN. We need a global government. No individual nation state has taken the lead on this, not effectively anyway. And no sovereign country can afford the costs of runaway warming. It will not be a Great Recession or Great Depression, "but, in economic terms, a Great Dying…Should the planet warm 3.7 degrees…climate change damages could total $551 trillion – nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today." Wallace-Wells writes. "We are on track for more warming still."

 

A human holocaust looms. We need better leaders. We need an international government that can police fossil burning compliance. And we need it yesterday.

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Socialism Besieged

"A Socialist Defector"

Victor Grossman

Monthly Review Press, 351 pages

$22.34

 

Eve Ottenberg

From the perspective of 2019, it's often difficult to recall the cold war hysteria over East Germany. It was called a secret police state. Everyone there was said to be oppressively monitored if not actively harassed by the Stasi. For Americans, it epitomized communist tyranny. Then along comes Victor Grossman's memoir, "A Socialist Defector" – he fled US anticommunism to East Germany in 1952 – and the distortions about East Germany (GDR) go right out the window. While no worker's paradise, the GDR wasn't the vast grim, dreary prison portrayed for decades by Western media, intellectuals and some artists.

 

It was a state, like all communist countries, under siege. From the 1917 Russian revolution to the fall of communism over seventy years later, the capitalist world vilified, subverted, attacked, tried to destroy and besieged its mortal enemy. And the first thing to vanish in a besieged country is freedom of speech and, usually, political freedom, both of which are so easily perverted by besiegers to undermine the surrounded city or country. Grossman concedes these defects of the GDR willingly. But for him, economic freedom – always severely limited in the West – largely compensated. There were no beggars or homeless people in the GDR. There were no evictions or desperate citizens diving into dumpsters for a meal. No frantic parents working two and three jobs and still unable to afford health care for their children. New GDR mothers received 26 weeks of fully paid maternity leave plus a generous stipend for each child's expenses. Health care and all education was free. For recuperation, patients were sent to spas and sanitoria in gorgeous resorts at no cost. Everyone had work. Rent was roughly 10 percent of income and food was cheap. There were no billionaires with yachts, multiple estates, jets and skyscraper suites running corporations that treated thousands of workers like serfs.

 

But even today in Germany, Grossman writes, "the mildest praise of the GDR, even objective analysis, is quickly attacked by a hornet swarm of op-ed writers, historians and politicians." Clearly one thing capitalism produces very well is a class of violent ideologues dedicated to wiping any trace of socialism off the globe. Whether in intelligence services, the military, corporations or the media, these people do not need to be told what to do. These violent true believers currently have the run of the White House – they usually do – and many countries' presidential palaces. They do not want informed, civilized discussion of what communism was, of its strengths and defects, or which socialistic policies might be beneficially adapted to the present. They want the reactionary party line. Their vilification of leftism is not random, it is planned and systematic.

 

"I am relying on the German judiciary," Grossman quotes Justice Minister Klaus Kinkle telling German judges in 1991. "It must be possible to delegitimize the GDR system, which justified itself to the bitter end with its anti-fascist beliefs, its professedly higher values and its asserted absolute humanism." No matter that in truth most GDR leaders spent their youth fighting fascism "in defense of Madrid or Stalingrad, at backstreet barricades in Florence or mountain passes in Greece or Slovakia," at risk of guillotines and death camps.

 

Conversely, the West German government in postwar years was riddled with former Nazis and promoted corporations that had profited from slave labor. "During the war…Bayer [the pharmaceutical corporation] wrote the commander of Auschwitz concentration camp to inquire about 'purchasing' 150 women for experiments with sleep-inducing drugs." It got them. Later Bayer wrote of these women, "despite their emaciated condition, they were acceptable…The experiments were concluded. All persons died. We will soon get in touch with you regarding a new shipment." The GDR, unlike West Germany, did no business with Bayer. In fact, the GDR "threw out the Vialons and Scheels, the Krupps [over 280,000 slave laborers toiled in Krupp factories and "70,000 died miserably"] and the Flicks, the Thyssens and Deutsche Banks…" Not so West Germany.

 

In cold war West Germany, Grossman writes, "all but one top Bundeswehr officer had been a wartime general, admiral or colonel in the Nazi Wehrmacht, three hundred had been officers in the Waffen SS." By contrast, the GDR wanted a Nazi-free, war-criminal-free police force and military. GDR bases were all named after anti-fascist and communist heroes. These names "were dropped in a single day after unification in 1990."

 

Grossman argues that "the Soviet presence in East Germany was crucial in overcoming fascism and erasing fascist views. What was left of the mills and factories of bloody dynasties like Krupp, Flick, Siemens and the big banks was entirely confiscated…All this was only possible because of the Red Army's presence." Had the Red Army been in West Germany, de-Nazification would have truly proceeded there too. But Western capitalists – who always prefer fascists to even mild socialists, no less to outright communists – were having none of this.

 

"The West rejected Stalin's proposal of a united democratic and neutral Germany in 1952," Grossman writes. Western corporate power had other things in mind, and peaceful treaties with communists were not among them. Bulldozing communism then economically exploiting what remained was more on the to-do list. So we got the cold war and the CIA's cultural cold war, wherein it promoted Abstract Expressionism,  New York's Museum of Modern Art, literary modernism and funded numerous intellectuals and distinguished literary journals, like "The Partisan Review." Artists and intellectuals who did not conform or who were too genuinely left-wing, watched their careers wither on the vine, or in the McCarthy years, were packed off to prison.

 

 

Thus proceeded the West's great siege to advance world capitalist hegemony and corporate access to global resources. If you think that agenda ended with the cold war, you are sorely mistaken. Just look at U.S. sanctions – compared by some to medieval sieges that starve populations and deprive them of medicine – of Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Cuba and other countries that dare defy Washington. It's not that the empire is striking back. It never stopped striking its perceived enemies for over a century.

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Dystopia Is Here

"The Orwellian Empire"

Gilbert Mercier

New Junkie Post Press, 278 pages

$19.84

 

Eve Ottenberg

Americans have not lived in a democracy for some time. We live in a dictatorship by plutocrats. Billionaires control the media and the two main political parties. They deploy this control to grab more money for themselves, while half the nation is officially poor. Low income minority youth can choose between incarceration and killing or being killed in endless wars, which slog on solely to enrich military contractors and to stifle any hint of another country's independence from Washington. Meanwhile the life expectancy of low-income whites declines, as this group succumbs to suicide and an opiod epidemic engineered by pharmaceutical corporations' greed. America has entered a dystopia. To understand how we got there, it helps to look back, to the 28 years under Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama, before the empire's political malaise morphed into the diseased fever that is the Trump administration.

 

Gilbert Mercier's "The Orwellian Empire" was published right before Trump's ascent, and it is a crie de coeur. Starting off with Mark Twain's quote, "if voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it," Mercier argues that American democracy has collapsed, thanks to the same power players ruling from one administration to the next, players who vacation from government occasionally in the defense or finance industries. The quote from Gore Vidal is apt: "There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party, and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat."

 

The bipartisan war party has clutched power in the U. S. for decades. It spreads chaos and destruction abroad, then enriches its backers with phony rebuilding projects that rebuild nothing – as in the failed state of Libya with its open-air slave markets, Yemen destroyed by U.S. bombs, and the rubble of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. It should not surprise anyone that the current white house resident threatens Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua and Cuba with bloody regime change for no reason other than grabbing their resources and showing who's boss. Our current emperor does what his predecessors did, but they mouthed platitudes about humanitarian missions and American exceptionalism, while he rudely tells "shithole" countries to do what the U. S. says or suffer the gory consequences.

 

"By 2013, only seven percent of the wealth was left to the bottom 80 percent," of the U.S. population, Mercier writes. "The middle class had become poor, and the poor had grown destitute." His book covers this impoverishment as well as the U.S. illusion of democracy, the triumph of money here over everything, the bloated military industrial complex, the new cold war, the U.S. as leader of global corporate imperialism, American military misadventures in the Middle East, xenophobia, human trafficking, the rise of the police state since 9/11 and more. It is not an easy or happy read. "The Orwellian Empire" gives its reader the very depressing sense of the Trump administration's continuity with its predecessors. But though a lot stayed the same, some parts got much, much worse.

 

Since Mercier's book was published, Trump slashed taxes for Republican donor billionaires – a huge transfer of wealth from those below to those above. The only candidate for president in 2020 who takes this catastrophe as seriously as it deserves is Bernie Sanders, with his nonstop critique of inequality, his struggle for a $15 per hour minimum wage, his program for Medicare for all and free college tuition. If he wins, he will have to step unequivocally into  FDR's shoes to make the U.S. more egalitarian. And to do so, he will face the military, with its obscene budget maintaining the American empire's grip on vast swaths of the planet.

 

"Most Americans have refused to connect the dots between the two wars [Iraq and Afghanistan] charged on the national credit card and the financial crash," Mercier writes. The American empire spent trillions on those wars, and now is trillions in debt. Meanwhile, over many years, the Pentagon lost track of $21 trillion. The Trump and Bush tax cuts only exacerbated this. From Mercier's book one easily concludes that only by ending those tax cuts and all foreign wars, peacefully and diplomatically co-existing with other powers like Russia and China, and radically defunding the Pentagon and the security state can this country hope to regain any semblance of equality in prosperity. But that would nearly require a revolution.  

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The Zapatista Revolution

“Autonomy Is in Our Hearts”
Dylan Eldredge Fitzwater
PM Press, 190 pages
$19.95

Eve Ottenberg
The Zapatista uprising in 1994 was sparked by the specter of destitution, which loomed up thanks to NAFTA. For twelve days, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) made war on the Mexican state, because while few of the mostly indigenous Zapatistas were strangers to absolute poverty, NAFTA had just cancelled the Mexican constitution’s protection of native communal land from sale and privatization – a foundational peasant protection that dated from Emiliano Zapato’s 1910-19 revolution. This was too much. Though the Zapatistas finally agreed to a ceasefire, they maintained control of their territory in the southern state of Chiapas – which they still govern today – despite calls from global capital for their “elimination.” Today, Zapatistas inspire anti-capitalists in Mexico and throughout the world.

“They don’t care that we have nothing,” the Zapatistas said of Mexico’s elite at the very start, “absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no healthcare, no food, no education, not the right to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor independence from foreigners.” Today the Zapatistas have much more than nothing. They govern five “Caracoles,” regions in Chiapas near the Guatemalan border, and in this they blend anarchism with democratic socialism, described by Dylan Eldredge Fitzwater in his new book, “Autonomy Is in Our Hearts.” The only other such large-scale experiment on the planet exists in the Kurdish-controlled region of Syria. Like the Kurds, the Zapatistas cannot let their guard down for a minute, though their enemies differ. The Kurds face savage Islamist terrorists. But the Zapatistas must stay vigilant and ready to take up arms against government paramilitaries, which periodically invade their territory.

The EZLN is a unique army. It grew out of the Forces of National Liberation (FLN), Marxist communist guerillas, who swarmed into “the mountains of the Lacandon Jungle in 1983 to organize the EZLN as the peasant wing of their strategy for a national armed uprising,” according to the book’s introduction. “Over the years, this organization was transformed by the Tsotsil, Tzeltal, Chol, Toyolabal, Mam and Zoque indigenous communities that joined its ranks.” So over the course of ten years of clandestine organizing, the FLN guerillas, who had aimed to organize peasants, were instead transformed by them. FLN aspirations evolved from “seizure of state power and redistribution of national resources to…local autonomous self-determination.” In 2003, the Zapatistas inaugurated the five Caracoles, “each with its own autonomous Good Government Council.” Fitzwater analyzes the Zapatista government’s political, economic and military structure; in this, his books contributes much to revolutionary, anti-capitalist literature.

“Every community, autonomous Municipality and Caracol does things differently,” Fitzwater writes. All adhere “to the seven principles of autonomous government and the rights collectively ratified in the Revolutionary Laws.” At this government’s heart lies the assembly. Those who govern do so by assisting negotiations in the popular local assemblies. “The Zapatistas understand governance as a particular form of work in service to the community, rather than as the exercise of power through administration or rule.” The government helps sustain collectives in health care, banking, transportation, justice and small business commerce. Mechanisms are in place to prevent corruption, to obstruct the formation of elites and to ensure gender equality. These mechanisms require much community effort. “It is a lot of work being a Zapatista,” Fitzwater quotes one local educator.

During the 1994 revolution, the Zapatistas overran the plantations called fincas. They expelled the owners and empowered the indigenous peons, who previously had been little more than slaves. Thus the Zapatistas ended the horrors of finca life, which included rape of indigenous women and girls, hanging for indigenous men who refused to hand over their daughters, exhausting labor and pulverizing debt for the workers. These peons labored in the fields and served the landowner in his home. “The landowners would whip or even hang those who disobeyed them.”

No wonder the Zapatistas are ready at a moment’s notice to step out of their cornfields and take up arms against Mexican paramilitaries. The only surprise, is that the first time, back in 1994, they waited so long to do it. Read More 
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Fascism in the Homeland

“The Day Coyote Danced”
Peter Reynolds
Borderland North Publishing, 392 pages
$16.95

Eve Ottenberg
Dystopian novels are in vogue for obvious reasons – the coming ravages of climate change, the grotesque inequality of late-stage, neoliberal capitalism, the intrusions of the security state, the corporate stranglehold on government and so forth. Dystopian suspense novels are rarer, but their adrenalin-infused image of a broken future can be hard to shake. This happens with Peter Reynold’s recently published “The Day Coyote Danced.” Portraying a silent coup in the U.S. by an evangelical mega-church in league with a massive private security corporation, the novel is creepily plausible.

“The Day Coyote Danced” weaves together the disappearance of a female firefighter during a wildfire in California wine country, the aim of the premiere U.S. televangelist to proclaim her rapture, the skullduggery of a surveillance corporation, which has replaced the DEA and the FBI, a journey to a black site rendition center in Matamoros, Mexico and the clandestine campaigns against this tyranny by left-wing journalists and activists, protected by armed bodyguards. For the most part, these leftist fighters have migrated out of the fascist homeland. So, much of the novel takes place in Mexico.

In this fascist future, the most popular television show is “America’s Worst Traitor,” which “demonizes critics of the regime.” “One World News” (Fox on steroids) monopolizes the airwaves and blacks out anything bothersome to the despots. Publishers require “public libraries to charge a reading fee and to keep accurate records of who read what, so books no longer circulated;” mercenaries control law enforcement with access to every citizen’s “photographs, DNA profile, fingerprints, voice print, driving record, employment records, medical records, tax returns, credit rating, insurance policies, e-mails, phone bills, web page visits, retail purchases, online friends, family members, business associates, and a list of all trips” outside the country. Internal refugees, their digital identity revoked, wander the country. Without credit cards, they cannot conduct legitimate commercial transactions, since cash is illegal. A black market in yuan thrives. Volunteer spies opposed to the regime track prisoners in the American gulag, while an underground railroad moves the digitally disposed out of the country. Meanwhile the dictators develop a memory suppression drug and a fertility program to breed a master race. They also work on something sinister called predictive criminality and draw up lists of dissidents to be assassinated. One coup leader is succinctly described: “His pleasant, business-like demeanor belied his role as the Goebbels of global capitalism.”

The point here is the scarcely noticed moment when late-stage surveillance capitalism shades into outright fascism. Many think we are living that moment now. For them this novel is about what could come after. We already have what columnist Chris Hedges has called Christian fascism and obscenely wealthy global corporations interlocked with a surveillance state. For leftists the prospects are grim. Not nearly enough people are in revolt. Even if they were and believed the revolutionary slogan – the people united can never be defeated – this book’s argument is apparently that even united, a people can be defeated, unless they are armed.

“The Day Coyote Danced” is also about religion. True religion versus televangelism. God versus Mammon. The humble versus the arrogant. The divine feminine versus the soulless adversary. I would have liked to see mention of the opposition between liberation theology and corporate evangelical fascism; how liberation theology from the 1950s to the present has advocated the gospel of the early Christian church, how its priests were murdered in 1960s Latin America by death squads and their views on class struggle denounced by the church hierarchy, how, under Pope Francis, this friction has decreased. While Reynolds’ novel does not address liberation theology’s advocacy for the wretched of the earth, that radical advocacy remains one very logical answer to the antithesis he portrays between televangelism for profit and ministering to the poor. It is also a principled rebuke to corporate fascism. Read More 
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Why Regime Change Stinks

“The Long Honduran Night”
Dana Frank
Haymarket, 336 pages
$17.95

Eve Ottenberg
One sure way to add Nicaraguan migrants to the so-called caravans coming to the U.S. is to implement Trump administration plans to topple Nicaragua’s elected leftist government. Currently few if any Nicaraguans migrate here. They are satisfied with their Sandinista government, with the economic security it provides and the absence of gangs and death squads. But the Trump administration wants to sweep all that away. Its model, apparently, is Honduras, which has suffered in a fascist, neoliberal petri dish, since the 2009 U.S.-approved coup.

The coup’s neoliberal policies, backed by U.S.-directed financial entities like the IMF, impoverished Hondurans, while elite corruption robbed the government and spread economic ruin. In her new book, “The Long Honduran Night,” Dana Frank shows how the U.S. abetted the Honduran kleptocracy, which started right off the bat with the junta raiding $200 million from the teachers’ pension fund. Frank documents the assassinations, rapes and tortures perpetrated by death squads and security forces – trained by the American military – and how drug traffickers and gangs swarmed through the police. Honduras became a murder capital of the world and close to a failed state.

How did it happen? In 2009, the Honduran military grabbed the moderately liberal president, Manuel Zelaya and put him, in his pajamas, on a plane out of the country. The Organization of American States protested, as did other international bodies. But Obama’s state department, under Clinton, carefully never called this power grab a coup – because such a designation would have triggered a suspension of aid. The conclusion is unavoidable: the Obama administration supported the coup. As Frank writes of later developments, “a pattern emerged: The United States would bow to pressure and up its public commitment to human rights. But it would simultaneously solidify its commitment to Honduran security forces and those who controlled them.” Those security forces and their allies prosecuted a campaign of assassinations, terror, rape and torture against protesters and the opposition.

After some years of this official banditry, what the U.S. calls a president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, but what the rest of the world recognizes as a dictator, appeared on the scene. After his first term, Hernandez illegally changed the constitution by fiat to end term limits, and then stole the 2017 election. The Trump administration, following in the Obama government’s footsteps, hastened to endorse him. Indeed the chief regional U.S. military man under Obama, John Kelly, head of the U.S. Southern Command, had already exerted a very malign influence, supporting Hernandez and his murderous security forces. Kelly, who became Trump’s chief of staff, referred to Hernandez as “a friend.” Think about that. Hernandez, the man who completed the illegal 2009 coup’s destruction of the rule of law, whose wretched policies sent tens of thousands of undocumented Honduran minors fleeing to the United States, that man could count on John Kelly’s friendship and support. Let us hope Kelly has not bequeathed us other such friends in Nicaragua, or his policies will finally achieve what local Central American oligarch’s appear to love – total chaos, in which they can rob the government blind, while assassinating protesters and the opposition with impunity.

U.S. policy toward Honduras since 2009 exemplifies what not to do, and Kelly’s military direction was the exact opposite of what was needed – especially for a president, like Trump, who has prioritized stemming the so-called tsunami of migrants. By helping to make Honduras uninhabitable for so many citizens – by, for instance, supporting a police infested with drug traffickers and gangs – the U.S. has guaranteed that Hondurans will flee here. Instead of money for murderous Honduran security forces, which Trump approved, there should be money for development and a return to the rule of law, which he zeroed out.

Honduran security forces’ most famous victim is indigenous activist Berta Caceres. But others abound. Frank’s book is filled with the names of those assassinated by the police, gangs and drug traffickers, who “took over a broad swath of daily life in Honduras in part because the elites who ran the government permitted and even profited from it.” U.S. tax dollars support those elites, whose criminality caused so many deaths: Fausto Flores Valle, a radio host, killed with eighteen machete blows, Maria Santos Dominguez, an indigenous activist attacked with machetes, rocks and sticks, her son also, a 13-year-old girl, her ten-year-old sister, her seven-year-old brother and their eighteen-month-old brother killed by machete, activist Tomas Garcia, shot and killed by the armed forces, Ebed Yanes, gunned down and killed by security forces. These are just a very few of the numerous U.S.-supported coup’s victims.

The United States has blood on its hands in Honduras. All indications from the Trump administration suggest it is preparing to cause the same mess of murder, terror, torture, assassination, rape and the robbery also known as neoliberalism in Nicaragua. If so, Trump will be responsible for the next wave of migrants – from Nicaragua. Read More 
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The Anti-Fascist Professionals

“Fighting Fascism, How to Struggle and How to Win”
Clara Zetkin
Haymarket, 131 pages
$11.95

Eve Ottenberg

With the term fascism much in the news since Trump’s election, those concerned about it might want to consult the pros. They include Clara Zetkin, whose “Fighting Fascism,” originally published in 1923, was recently reprinted and Leon Trotsky’s “Fascism, What It Is and How to Fight It,” still, fortunately, in print. For both authors, a key feature of fascism is terror, violence on a massive scale against ordinary working people. By that standard, what we have seen so far in Trump’s America is not fascism. This doesn’t mean it’s good; in fact, what we see and what started long before Trump, which his racism and xenophobia amplify, is a kind of proto-fascism, because neoliberalism shades easily and imperceptibly into fascism. It does so through its savage assault on ordinary people’s living standards; by abolishing rent control (cited by Zetkin), by privatizing public enterprises (Zetkin also cites this), by slashing the social safety net, cutting food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, by suppressing wages and undermining unions. Indeed, with regard to these neoliberal economic policies, Mussolini said it all: fascists “are liberals in the classic meaning of the word.”

Fighting fascism is something it would seem everyone is able to agree on. After all, 75 years ago, half the world was anti-fascist, because half the world was fighting fascism; Americans and Soviets allied against it. So it’s always a bit of a surprise to hear the term anti-fascist disparaged on a major news network like, say, Fox. If Fox is against anti-fascism, it’s not unreasonable to assume it favors fascism. Even if this is not yet explicit, it soon could be. Which is all the more reason to consult original anti-fascists like Zetkin and Trotsky: “The historic function of fascism,” Trotsky wrote, “is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations and stifle political liberties, when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.” According to Zetkin, fascism has two essential features, “a sham revolutionary program…and the use of brutal and violent terror.” In Italy, she writes, “fascism found its breeding ground in the disintegration and weakness of the economy.” Indeed, Mussolini’s assault on revolutionary workers’ organizations has some parallels to today’s corporate attacks on unions and to Trump-inspired, right-wing hysteria over migrant workers.

For Zetkin, fascism opportunistically seizes power, when socialists fail to take advantage of a revolutionary situation. She blames reformists, who weaken left-wing militancy and open the way for a government that thinks “better the fascists than the socialists.” This reformist failure was evident in the 1920s and ‘30s and was certainly evident during the 2008 economic collapse. Bailing out financial criminals, Obama squandered his political capital with working people, who voted in a Republican congress in 2010, and then defected to Trump in 2016. Many working people just did not want another Wall-Street Democrat in power. When Clinton rigged the campaign through the Democratic National Committee against Sanders, she may well have handed Trump the presidency.

Zetkin lists Italian fascism’s failures to fulfill its promises, and the list brings to mind Trump’s faux populism, though it is far more detailed than Trump’s pledges. Despite promises, Italian fascism did not provide proportional representation, women did not get the vote, an economic parliament was not created, no national assembly was summoned to reform the constitution, there were no protections for the eight-hour day and the minimum wage, no insurance for the elderly and invalids, no funds for the unemployed, no demands that workers participate in factory leadership, no progressive tax on capital, no military reform, and religion returned to the schools. Today’s Republican party would applaud many of these betrayals, considering them sound policy.

Zetkin argues that fascism uses “either ‘democracy’ or a dictator,” provides the troops for the corporate capitalist assault on working people and “consists everywhere of an amalgam of brutal terrorist violence together with deceptive revolutionary phraseology.” She would not have been surprised at how Trump deployed populism in the 2016 election, nor at the subsequent fascist violence in Charlottesville, nor at the anti-Semitic slaughter in Pittsburgh. These are symptoms of the disease in its earliest stage. We’ve passed the window for a vaccine, and lukewarm Democratic polices will not provide a cure. The infection is present. It remains to be seen whether it can be controlled. Read More 
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Working Class Heroes

"Can the Working Class Change the World?"
Michael D. Yates
Monthly Review Press, 216 pages
$19

Eve Ottenberg

If the working class doesn’t save our vastly unequal and dying world, it’s difficult to see who will. Certainly not the billionaire class, which has the money to put the brakes on climate change by investing in renewables but has not yet seemed inclined to do so. They don’t seem particularly interested in eliminating inequality either. As for the better-off middle classes, they “are more likely to support fascism than profound social change,” according to Michael Yates in his new book, "Can the Working Class Change the World?" So that leaves the working class. Yates explains how workers can do this, but it’s not, he says, really a matter of can they, but rather that workers MUST change the world and quickly, before it’s too late – before climate change renders the earth inhospitable to humanity.

Yates is correct about the failures of capitalism – for billions of people it’s a calamity. “After several hundred years [of capitalism], there are still several billion people existing on the brink of economic ruin. Work is still hell for all but a few.” Yet many struggle to imagine a non-capitalist world, even though, as recently as 1980, “more than a quarter of the world lived in countries that had broken out of the capitalist global market.” In China and the USSR, “production was not predicated on profit, employment was guaranteed, and much of consumption by workers and peasants had been socialized, that is, provided without payment by individuals.” These countries’ citizens also enjoyed free medical care and free education. But the fall of the Soviet Union and the rush to state capitalism in China have been a disaster for workers worldwide. The two communist behemoths kept capitalism somewhat in line; once gone, corporations the world over renewed their assault on ordinary peoples’ living standards by dismantling social democracy. Now, in many places, capitalism is headed farther than mere neoliberal austerity – to the next step, fascism.

Given that recently the world’s 3.5 billion workers have lost power, how to reverse this trend? The first step, Yates argues, is to find an ally. And there is one ready at hand – the world’s three billion peasants. Clearly these two groups constitute most of earth’s population. The problem is that both are so busy eeking out a living, just surviving hyper-capitalism, that few have time or energy to terminate capitalist hegemony. Nonetheless, Yates has many suggestions. Paramount among them is radical education, provided by labor unions and peasant organizations. He quotes Peter Linebaugh: “Communal values must be taught, and renewed, continuously.” Also capitalism’s nature – exploitation and expropriation – must be explained and can be: “peasants have been taught the rudiments of the three volumes of Karl Marx’s magnum opus, Capital.”

This book also critiques that bane of the campesino, capitalist agriculture. Yates quotes Ian Angus: “It now takes more energy to produce food than we obtain from eating it: every calorie of food energy requires ten calories of fossil energy.” Clearly industrial agriculture, relying on fossil fuels and billions of pounds of pesticides, promotes ecocide. Much of that industrial agriculture goes to feed the billions of farm animals that provide meat and dairy. So our diet must change too. Meanwhile, capitalist distribution of agriculture is wildly inefficient: 850 million to two billion people go hungry, Yates reports. He praises Cuba, whose agriculture has transitioned off fossil fuels and mechanization.

Yates also advocates democratizing labor unions, so that members run the unions and “abandon labor-management cooperation schemes.” This, he argues, will require getting “rid of the leadership.” His best model here is the United Electrical Workers. Yates also promotes union-like groups, or worker centers, like those in New York and Florida, and also the labor-community coalition in Richmond California, the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), which has fought “for rent control, pollution abatement at the large Chevron oil refinery, against police brutality…against the harassment of immigrants by ICE,” and more. Neither the RPA nor its office seekers take corporate money, Yates reports. “It is also independent of the Democratic Party.” With similar organizations in other places, Yates writes, “they could coalesce into regional and national political bodies.” He also suggests other tactics for the worker/peasant alliance, including ways to fight structural racism and patriarchy to advance workers’ aims.

Can the working class change the world? Yes, Yates answers, if it pursues these goals: a sustainable environment; a planned economy; “socialization of as much consumption as possible, especially transportation and childcare;” worker-community control of workplaces; public ownership of social institutions like schools and media; a radically egalitarian society; opposition to the rule of the many by the few.

While Yates is correct that “only radical thinking and acting have any chance of staving off…barbarism,” getting billions of people to act radically is a tall order. Everywhere, across the globe, barbarism advances. Only the combined efforts of workers and peasants could stop this, but the sleeping giant has yet to awake. The sobering truth is that if that slumber continues, we and the fragile biosphere that supports life could all die in our sleep.  Read More 
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