Tag Archive: Rosa Luxemburg

May 25 2015

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Solidarity in the time of choleric “trade” deals

by Galtisalie

Epidemics of cholera as well as other serious diseases, including neoliberalism, can take a toll on solidarity. “Trade” deals, and the conduct used in pushing them through to adoption, can be purposely choleric in order to accentuate a breakdown in solidarity. A carefully-orchestrated disinformation and intimidation campaign can provide a loud and pushy disincentive to obtaining and sharing knowledge and growing into a healthier society.

The Gipper is credited with the famous saying “trust, but verify.” However, it is actually an old Russian proverb. The phrase came in handy when scrutinizing the actions of the potentially dastardly Russian Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

With matters of political economics, we have learned over the last hundred years that verification is not always easy because labels sometimes defy reality. Since the fall of the authoritarian state capitalist Soviet Union, which claimed to be real and scientific socialism, apathy has set in about true human choice on matters not having to do with consumer goods. The possibility of a heterodox deeply democratic vision for humanity is laughed at by commenters. They blithely point to North Korea and the supposedly happy riveters south of the border who produce things once made by Americans for the great now debt-driven and trade-imbalanced American marketplace.

Speaking of Russia, its dolls and other trinkets are now made in China too. Ironically, the British Green Quaker documentary filmmaker David Malone aptly says that modern “trade” agreements are like Russian dolls, with lots of other dolls inside that have nothing to do with trade. We are expected to place the doll up on a shelf and not worry what’s inside, even if the shelf is getting repossessed.

Anyway, it’s not really as simple as opening up to see the next doll inside, although it would be nice if we were allowed to at least do that before making the purchase. If the global “we” really wants to understand something that comes with risk, such as a disease, or a series of massive “trade” deals, we must first be able to put the pieces as well as the whole under a microscope, do DNA tests, and have plenty of time to learn what exactly it is we are seeing. Learning the ecological context is also critical.

Sounds like technical questions best left to experts! So, we can sit this one out. Maybe it is we who are dialectical dolls here, expected to live superficially without addressing our interior selves. Why concern one’s pretty little self with such manly and adult details?

More broadly, absolutely do not ponder whether the globalization of hegemonic capitalism is the disease or the cure. That would necessitate openly and closely studying and discussing, without fear of repression, the system that is being imposed, the crises it inevitably causes, the insolvency it constantly courts, the reserve army of unemployed workers, the lack of fair distribution of the winnings that arise from the system, and calmly comparing the available alternatives, including everything from tweaks to overhauls to repeal and replace.

Democracy is this potentially great mass experimental method if the powers that be would allow it to work deeply and openly. If we were allowed to trust but verify we could be engaged citizens. Instead, we are forced to leave democracy to neoliberal politicians, experts, and talking heads, as if they will explain to us what little it is that we need to know after they have made their decisions, which have bound within them unprecedented curtailments to democracy.

This sounds more like oligarchical exploitation than rule by the people. But what can we do to defend ourselves in times like these?

At least from the time of Spartacus, solidarity has been the enemy of exploitation, always has been and always will be. But woe unto those who take the risks of speaking the truth to power, or even seeking the truth. The doubt-inspiring whispers are reaching a chorus of “shut-up and know your place.” Self-doubt cannot help but set in:

In the end, did Spartacus really want to be free and in solidarity with other people in the struggle to be free? Wasn’t it really pretty nice being a Thracian gladiator after all? And for his followers, as they were hanging from crosses every bit as real as Jesus’s, might they not have had a little buyer’s remorse?

4 T

Come to daddy. Put aside those passions. Don’t question too much. It’s for your own good that you are being led through the valley of the shadow of death in a blindfold.

Apr 06 2015

AC Meetup: Weird Al, creative democracy, and our gyro wheels of objective conditions by Galtisalie

Freestyle dance with me if you will on what is for many the close of a sacred day. Let us let our hair down, if the shoe fits, so to speak, and embrace what Rosa Luxemburg called “a positive and creative spirit.”



Wherein I Channel My Best (Socialist) Carl Sandburg For the Oddly Lincolnesque Weird Al

Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic was born in 1959 two days before yours truly (by my calculation, we were both spawned, albeit separately, the month the victorious Fidel cruised into Havana). Since many of us first heard his goofy music we have felt validated in our own awkward creativity sometimes called weirdness.

In truth, personal objective conditions are never completely the same, including or especially those of celebrities with whom we emotionally bond. In any event, according to the 1994 Al in the Box liner notes, the high school Weird Al was an accordion aficionado, class valedictorian, and had parents who apparently were stable and embraced his need to be happy and himself:

Al’s father, Nick Yankovic, is from Kansas City, Kansas. He came to California after World War II, and worked in a steel factory, a pipe factory, a bedspring factory, and as a forklift operator, security guard and gas station attendant. He’s been semi-retired since 1977. “My dad is responsible for a lot of my attitude toward life,” says Al. “He always stressed when I was a kid that I should do whatever made me happy, because that’s the key to success, doing for a living whatever makes you happy.”

In 1949, Nick married Mary Vivalda, who had come to California from Kentucky. Mary had gone to business college, worked as a switchboard operator for a bank, and eventually became a secretary and stenographer for Firestone.

Ten years later along came Al, Nick and Mary’s only child. Nothing terribly dramatic or traumatic occurred during Al’s early childhood. In retrospect, though, one event does stand out. “A door-to-door salesman came through our neighborhood,” says Al, “trying to solicit business for a local music school. Kids were offered a choice between guitar lessons and accordion lessons. Since Frankie Yankovic (no relation) was America’s Polka King, my parents opted for accordion lessons, perhaps because they figured there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world.”

His elderly parents died in a home accident in 2004, but Weird Al went on with the show in their honor, donning his poodle hat on the tour of the same name. Al seems to carry with him some of his parent’s simplicity:

“Nick just loved being outdoors enjoying nature and his little fruit garden.”

Mary Yankovic liked to garden and work with plants, but had not been able to do much in the last few months, he said. …

“He would always tell me when and where his son was performing,” Buehman said about Nick Yankovic. “Very proud of his son. He was always joking around. That’s probably where Alfred got his sense of humor.” …

“I know he was very proud of his duty in World War II,” Buehman said. “Their son was a caring son, too. He would have a limousine come pick them up for film shoots.”

He said Nick Yankovic was “so tickled” when his son married in 2001 “and he was going to have grandchildren.” Granddaughter Nina Yankovic was born in February 2003.

“Nick said he’d waited a long time (for grandchildren),” said Buehman. “Nick was someone that everybody in the neighborhood knew and liked. When you met him, you just fell in love with him.”

“He’d say, ‘What a beautiful day. It’s so nice to be alive.’ I’d say, ‘Nick, you’re going to live a long time.'”

From the very first, Weird Al’s music exuded the equality necessary for a creative democracy through the implicit notion that anyone could do some version of what he was doing. Indeed, particularly his early music was so rough, unprofessional, and downright lousy in a magical way that for many of us it seemed that uh … a monkey could have produced it by throwing darts at a … help me here … late 70’s voice-synthesizer.

Even today, as perfectly stated by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker, “Do people enjoy ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic because he’s funny or because he’s not that funny?”  

Back in 1976, my life at best felt like a polyester parody of those who had come before me in U.S. society and my high school, who had accomplished great things like stopping the Vietnam War or at least having a winning football team or going on a cool chorus trip to Rome. On the other hand, “Al and I,” and countless other post-everything interesting buddies, merely had acne, insider knowledge of the absurd, and eclectic musical legacies, the latter of which were under threat by disco, which involved moves we could never hope to make. The Saturday Night Live fake Ford-Carter debates captured the zeitgeist as good or better than the real ones.

Whenever we were around our friends we acted silly because that seemed like the best and truest thing we could be doing. Parody was our creative aim, and it was good.

Over the years, our objective conditions have changed. And in varying ways we have moved on from a quest for laughs, in and of itself potentially valuable if it encourages folks to enjoy life, to a quest to make a positive material contribution to humanity in some way.

For billions of humans, of course, their gyro wheels allow them bare survival or slightly less miserable poverty, with no opposing ends of parody and satire but only harshness and frightening uncertainty. Yet, together, could those who are more “fortunate” and others who are far less so not democratically remake the unnatural “world” of human institutions using both indirect means, such as electioneering, judicial appointment, and constitutional revision, and peaceful but nonetheless direct means?

For Weird Al, over the decades his music has cautiously extended to humane satire, while never straying too far from his base in simple parody. For me to enjoy Weird Al’s music today is to get into his gyro wheel with him and for a little while pleasantly travel up and down the objective conditions of his decent and, for an international singing sensation, relatively humble life. And I think I know which side he’s on.

And he does some really kind things with the gifts that he has, as in this sweet, fun, and empowering performance just last month with and for autistic persons.

But I am not satisfied–with him or with me. This is not a dress rehearsal, or an 80’s MTV set, we are living in. The man is not threatened by either one of us.

The man is a self-serving veritable force of anti-nature. He makes profits and accumulates capital in ever-expanding circles of global influence through any means necessary, including divide-and-rule, and thereby directly or indirectly decides the rhythm and flow of most of the lives of the masses to the extent these are not governed by nature. He tolerates if not enjoys our movement back and forth on our gyro wheels with a semblance of freedom between our decent silliness and our varied idiosyncratic efforts to effect change.

For Yankovic the latter is principally humane satire:

One of the major differences that can be noted between a parody and satire is in regard to their goals. Though both parody and satire convey humour, they impart different roles in society. Satire is stands for a social or political change. It depicts an anger or frustration trying to make the subject palatable. Satire can be termed as humour and anger combined together. Parody is really meant for mocking and it may or may not incite the society. Parody is just pure entertainment and nothing else. It does not have a direct influence on the society.

Humane satire is repeatedly evident on Weird Al’s recent Grammy award-winning album, Mandatory Fun, which, while through the cover mocking the propaganda styling of the totalitarian Soviet Union and Maoist China, is to a significant extent musically aimed at the contemporary selfishness and vacuity of actually-existing capitalism. (I won’t review the album, but you can read a good review here in this Salon article by Lynn Stuart Parramore.)

Humane satire is a form of creative democracy in action and can plant good seeds of agitation and hope. Similarly, idiosyncratic charity can be a small form of justice in action, and at a given stage of life, it may be all the kindness that a good human can do on her or his gyro wheel. But it is still on the gyro wheel. Charity on our gyro wheels may not help to bring about justice in the service of love. Hope in the gyro wheels the man allows for us is not transformational and is delusional. Love in the form of justice writ large is true charity and the greatest of the things that humanity can do for itself. But the man knows how to rig democracy to ensure only faux justice.

As Thomas Merton and now Pope Francis have recognized, we need disturbances of a peace that would deny justice. Maintenance of an unjust status quo is not loving.

Not only mass cooperative indirect action but also mass cooperative direct action is needed where our lives jump off the tracks imposed upon us by the man, enforce a social compact of liberty and justice for all, and regain the natural rhythms and flows of life on earth. We must become the active creative subjects of a destiny of loving kindness as fully-endowed and equal species-beings, rather than remain the playthings of the man.

But, as I said a year ago, for me, and I suspect you, direct action, at least in its confrontational forms, is an obligation purposely made difficult. The needed direct means to justice in the service of love include not only potentially simple and less confrontational measures like workers’ gardens and cooperatives but also mass confrontational efforts. These mass confrontational efforts include the stuff that global solidarity is made of, “sordid” things like large scale labor organizing, peaceful transnational opposition to neoliberal globalization, race-to-the-bottom trade deals, land grabs, privatization, and denial of public control of the commons, and substitution of a global social compact.

And, if we are really serious, there ultimately may even need to be, gulp, civil disobedience and general strikes. The horror. Of course, then we could lose our jobs or go to jail–and long before then conservatives would have stopped buying our silly songs and coming to our parody rock concerts.

In 2012 Weird Al said:

I try to stay away from political humor only because it really divides my audience. I don’t want half my audience to suddenly feel like I don’t speak for them. As a satirist I’ve been taken to task by people who think I should go for the jugular, but it’s been a challenge for me to do that.

So, maybe he’s not on our side after all. I know I have not really risen this Easter Sunday. Perhaps neither has my man Weird Al, although by 2014 much of his music was Socratic in its questioning of capitalism. He was suggesting there’s a party in the CIA even before then, as well as supporting LGBT rights.

Because of objective limitations, you, Al, and I cannot be fully new persons this day or any other. Usually our personal growth will be incremental. Meanwhile, our personal creativity, while idiosyncratically beneficial, is also potentially farce and possibly even self-mocking and amusing to the man, who does not, as Jesus supposedly did, believe in the servant leadership of washing the feet of, breaking bread with, and giving justice to the outcast, the weak, and the poor.

One thing potentially revolutionary in its implications we can consciously try to do. We can reach out, both hands affectionately extended, to our loving comrades in ever-expanding circles of creative democratic solidarity in support of humanity’s critical, meaningful, and sufficient love.

Please go below for a brief further discussion of objective and subjective conditions.

Jul 06 2014

A-C Meetup: Part 2 on the Need for Anti-Capitalist Democratic Internationalism by Galtisalie

Things are certainly going to crapola for many poor Central American children these days. But at least they are not having their lives ruined by elected socialists. Barbarism is so much better. Somalian freedom anyone? Where, oh where, have I read about this before? Some murdered democratic revolutionary internationalist perhaps.  

The Political-Economic Basis For Anti-Capitalist Democratic Internationalism

We must refuse to separate morality from economics, to ignore the historical and political dimensions of economic justice, and to narrowly define “justice” as the head-in-the-sand enforcement of U.S. laws. (According to a good Jesuit who mourned for those dying in Central America, including his owns priests, justice should be in the service of love.) For instance, when we receive reports about Latin American children in flight to the U.S., we must be mindful that the U.S. has spent generations undermining Latin America efforts to achieve economic justice.

Every once in a while, the U.S. gets a stark example of international blowback. But what if the projectiles involved in this scenario are small defenseless human beings? Does the U.S. learn from its mistakes and attack the underlying problems? No. Instead, in the case of international blowback, as with domestic blowback, we simply blame and harass the victims.

In a detailed report, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees has explained the need for international protection for unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico. (http://www.unhcrwashington.org/sites/default/files/UAC_UNHCR_Children%20on%20the%20Run_Full%20Report.pdf.) But coming from the UN, it is ignored by the U.S. government.

The politically-expedient way of dealing with blowback, if you are a supposedly compassionate U.S. president, is to look at legal minutia with a view to stepping up deportation, rather than seeing the big picture and your actual legal authority.

It is easy to see why a president concerned about mid-term elections might cower. After all, Cuban Canadian USian Senator Ted Cruz has our backs. Unfortunately, the helpless young human beings who are on the run and are receiving an unjust response to the blowback their fleeing constitutes only understand their own desperation. So, for a U.S. president to act compassionately using his legal authority risks losing mid-term elections, and that is just that. But what does that say about U.S. voters, particularly those on the likely winning side in mid-term elections?

It is a cruel sanctimonious voter, and hardly one who holds up to timeless standards of decency, who would be swayed to vote against helping the innocent and helpless. Many of these voters follow a religion that claims, if they will excuse the lack of the King James Version, “el señor protégé a los forasteros; sostiene al huérfano y a la viuda.” (Salmo 146.) But perhaps God only speaks English. (But wasn’t that Psalm written in Hebrew?)

The U.S. in its international relations discourages economic justice because it smacks of socialism. Socialism, of course, sounds good to me. However, the U.S. will not even ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights signed by President Carter. This unkind refusal to recognize standards of material decency does not sound good to me at all.

But there is much more to the story. A Latin American government going to the left risks being toppled by its U.S.-funded military. The U.S., under pressure from Republican Cuban Americans concerned about making leftist dominos fall, assuming it was not, as claimed by a Zelaya minister, directly responsible for the reactionary coup, will happily move on to the illegal replacement “president,” who ironically will have been put into power because the leftist was wanting the people to have greater control over their democracy and constitution. The UN General Assembly unanimously condemned the 2009 military coup of Honduras’s elected president.

Shame on the elected president of a Central American country for moving left and seeking some measure of economic justice. That, the U.S., or more importantly, U.S. transnational corporations, simply cannot abide.  

The coup’s legacy is the very violence that is forcing children to flee for their lives, with an able assist from the failed U.S. drug war, which turns Central America into a drug transit zone. And then we complain about the foreign orphans who have no choice but to flee.

Ultimately, what can end this immigrant-bashing and “border pressure”? Anti-capitalist democratic internationalism of the type I think Luxemburg and Marx, not to mention Eugene V. Debs and Reinhold Niebuhr, could endorse.

Jun 09 2014

A-C Meetup: Part 1 on the Need for Anti-Capitalist Democratic Internationalism by Galtisalie

[Note: This is my version of light summer reading (but my nickname’s not “Buzzkill” for nothing). Hey, I’m even breaking this diary into two parts. It’s not healthy to read while you eat but if you do, have a nice sandwich (better make that two), chew slowly, and by the time you’re to the pickle, maybe you’ll be done. I want to present in bite-size easily digestible pizzas my vision of a peaceful deep democratic revolution. I’m not there yet. I enjoy all the rabbit trails that make up the whole too much and mixing metaphors like a … concrete mixer. (Do similes count?–see, I do know the difference.) Below all bad writing is my own and unintentional.]

No pressure, but in late 2012 Kyle Thompson at The other Spiral wrote:

I think the most important thing at this point in time is for the left to reclaim three areas: 1) Internationalism 2) The vision of the future and 3) Economic legitimacy. Without internationalism each struggle feels isolated and localism will never be anything more than localism. … Similarly the left needs to reclaim the future. If all we can imagine for the future is dystopia we will never be motivated enough to build socialism. This is basically the work of artists, conjuring up an image of what might be …. Finally the left must fight to achieve at least a niche of respectability in economic discourse.

I’ll up the ante and say that together we must constantly work to combine all three into a new praxis, one that learns from the past but also is willing to modify or even Jetson imagery that unnecessarily divides us. But, we’ve caught a break: in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of capitalist imagery has worn thin. Ecology and unemployment are biting capitalism on the buttock, just as our side predicted. When I was a kid, I was counting on one of those glass-topped space sedans to zip me around town one day. I’m beginning to doubt that’s going to happen. The caution yellow Pinto with shag carpeting on the dash that zipped me to my first job has long since finished rusting to nothingness, and only the bondo I liberally applied during those bong-heady times remains at the bottom of some landfill.

The future is with us, and that’s scaring the bondo out of the oligarchy, but our side’s still dazed and confused, and the oligarchy wants to keep its party going until the polar ice cap has gone and every last carbon chain has been broken to fuel the Pintos of the 21st century we will purchase to drive to the jobs we won’t have. I’m no artist and have no credentials for economic discourse. That leaves me with a possible niche of utility if not respectability researching internationalism. But since I’m writing from the Deep South of the U.S., home of a widely-held theory about the U.N. involving the mark of the Beast, I’d better toss in some revolutionary ever-modern art to get things started, and, in Part 2, follow-up with Luxemburg, who gives the political-economic basis for anti-capitalist democratic internationalism. If Rosa’s not respectable and respectful enough for the dismal scientists they can kiss my grits.

When El Lissitzsky created “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” he made a conscious decision to use the forms of the unrepresentational feelings-based supremacist school he had helped found to focus on their artistic opposite: the material world as he perceived it. This professional betrayal was motivated by a higher duty: universal morality. As a Russian Jew who’d lived most of his life under the Czar’s antisemitism, he wanted to use the best tools that he could muster to help beat the reactionary White Army. Nothing could have been more literal in the minds of the populace who viewed the poster and others like it in the Russian Civil War. Yet the use of geometric shapes and a limited palette brings a discordant transcendence so that even now when one looks at the poster it appears relevant– or so would have said two kids I showed it to if they used big words. Subconsciously, it is up to the individual viewer to decide where he or she fits among the objects, while pining for something missing from this divided two-dimensional incomplete but sadly accurate plane.

What tools do we have to muster and for whose cause should we be mustering them? Key questions of the 20th century and always.

I write this on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when humanity did not need national banners to know that Hitler’s eliminationist ethnic nationalism was so inhumane it had to be defeated. (But humane posters are always useful.) Capital “F” Fascism has a way of reemerging on our one planet, and we rarely on this day consider why that is in our justifiable remembrance of the lives that were lost on those bloodied shores of Normandy. I am sure that millions of D-Day-themed posts and comments in blogs and on Facebook pages will be published before this one comes out on Sunday night, June 8, 2014. Rather than add to the digital pile, I am instead going to focus on the war to end all wars that came one generation before WWII, the choices that are involved in warring, and the political-economic reasons we keep doing the wrong thing as a single human species.

Interesting, “national” banners. They pop up, as with the U.S. Civil War, before ethnic armies that are not even nations. Two passed me night before last as I was walking my dogs in the Deep South: the rebel flag flying proudly on the right of the back of an old imported pick-up truck with its windows down driven by a “white” man with the Libertarian “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on the left. The skinny bearded great American working class Confederate man calmly smiled and nodded at me inclusively, assuming I was part of his team, like we were about to go over together and kick the dead Yankee bodies at Bull Run just for grins, or perhaps attend a lynching and pass the bottle (not spin the bottle mind you, 100% virile straight man fun stuff). I was wondering if he heard my loud “Booooo,” particularly when he began to slow down about thirty yards past me. (At least I thought it was loud, but not so loud as to upset the dogs–but pretty darn loud people.) I thought he, likely packing, was turning around to come back and tread on me or worse, but he turned right, fittingly. Maybe he had second thoughts about murder or maybe it was his muffler problem that allows me to write these words. How do we get him out of the white circle and in the natural polychromatic sphere of life, not pictured here? I think he’s hopeless, so mostly I ignore him, but, if and when he waves his hateful flags in my neighborhood or yours, I propose confrontation, red wedge wielded. And somewhere, those flags are always waving. And innocent kids are being raised to be in the white circle.