Saturday, August 29, 2015

Politics of Pastiche: "voters... need someone to fire all the political-correct police"

"...voters crave the anti-status-quo politician. They want results. They need a fighter. They need someone to fire all the political-correct police." -- Sarah Palin, interview with Donald Trump
Anders Breivik
In the introduction to his "compendium" manifesto, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, mass-murderer Anders Breivik asked, "What is Political Correctness?" and "How did it all begin?" His answer dwelt on the Frankfurt School, and singled out Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization as especially important.  Breivik's text was copied and pasted almost verbatim from a screed called "Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology?" by William S. Lind, "Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation."

In turn, the "cultural Marxism" thesis of Lind's "history" can be traced to a 1992 article, "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness,"  published in a Lyndon Larouche cult magazine, Fidelio The article's author, Michael J. Minnicino, subsequently disowned his work as "hopelessly deformed by self-censorship and the desire to in some way support Mr. LaRouche's crack-brained world-view."

Along the way, "conservative" Republican stalwarts Ralph de Toledano and Patrick J. Buchanan have recycled those crack-brained conspiracy theories, documented by abundant footnotes that typically lead either to a source who didn't say what they were credited with saying, to some other hack propaganda recycler or to an "authoritative" emigre like Victor Zitta or Lazlo Pasztor relying extensively on official histories published by the Axis-allied Horthy regime. Martin Jay traced the strange trajectory of this propaganda meme in "Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe."

Roger Kimball
This month saw the publication by Roger Kimball's Encounter Books (an "activity" of the Bradley Foundation) of yet another rehash of the discredited crap, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, by Michael Walsh. A credulous review of that book in the Washington Free Beacon presents the book's argument, apparently oblivious to its dubious lineage:
In The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, Walsh argues that the current obsession with politically correct speech began with a group of Marxist academics at the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University in Frankfurt, who would come to be known as the Frankfurt School. The scholars, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse, among others, developed a wide-ranging, if often contradictory, critique of the principal tenets of "bourgeois" Western culture—from the centrality of reason and individuality to Christian sexual mores.
As Barkley and I have discussed, the term "politically correct" probably was popularized in the late 1960s and early 1970s by left-wing student activists wary of the self-righteous dogmatism displayed by self-styled Marxist-Leninist political grouplets. But that's not the way the conventional mythology goes.

At the end of December 1982, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed, "The Shattered Humanities" by William Bennett, who at the time was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Bennett's complaint was that "matters of enduring importance" -- "the true," "the good" and "the noble" -- had been abandoned because "we have yielded to the bullying of those fascinated with the merely contemporary." By the early 1990s, Bennett's lament about the decline of traditional values in the humanities had swelled into a moral panic about the alleged tyranny of political correctness on campus, fueled by best-selling books such as Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals: How Politics has Corrupted Our Higher Education and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: The politics of race and sex on campus. 

Even President Bush I had to get into the act with a commencement address at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in which he railed against "political extremists [who] roam the land, abusing the privilege of free speech, setting citizens against one another on the basis of their class or race."
Ironically, on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States, including on some college campuses. The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits. 
Isolated anecdotes and broad generalizations can only get you so far. The elusive scourge of political correctness needed to be explained by theory of its origins. Thus the Minnicino/Larouche conspiracy theory, taken up by Lind, Buchanan, de Toledano, Breivik and now Walsh.

In spite of being called out more than two decades ago by a President of the United States, those political extremists liberals on the left have allegedly persevered in their "unrelenting demands... for increasingly preposterous levels of political correctness over the past decade." This, according to S. E. Cupp explains Donald Trumps popularity: "Trump survives -- nay, thrives! -- because he is seen as the antidote, bravely and unimpeachably standing athwart political correctness."

Meanwhile, "A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 71% of American Adults think political correctness is a problem in America today, while only 18% disagree. Ten percent (10%) are undecided."
National Survey of 1,000 American Adults
Conducted August 25-26, 2015
By Rasmussen Reports 
1* Do Americans have true freedom of speech today, or do they have to be careful not to say something politically incorrect to avoid getting in trouble?

2* Is political correctness a problem in America today?
Hey, if they keep repeating it, it must be true, right?

Three Stooges: Lyndon Larouche, Roger Kimball, Anders Breivik

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Forget Shorter Showers

Another opinion...

Is There a Lump in Your Trump?

"Whether it's China or Japan or Mexico, they are all taking our jobs." -- Donald Trump
Whatever one may think of Donald Trump, one thing he is not is naïve. So does it make sense when someone like Adam Davidson (or Jonathan Portes) claims that worry about immigrants or foreign countries (or robots or non-retiring seniors) "taking our jobs" are based on the "something called the Lump of Labor Fallacy: the erroneous notion that there is only so much work to be done and that no one can get a job without taking one from someone else"? 

Of course not. These folks are just mouthing platitudes they've heard without a thought to where the platitudes came from, whether they make sense or whether they are persuasive. (See also Sandwichman's Lump-of-Labor Odyssey)

Monday, August 24, 2015


Proposed resolution [parody] submitted by the Louis Lingg Memorial Chapter, Students for a Democratic Society, June 1969. (printer's bug "IWW Printing Co-op Chicago, Ill. - I.U. 450):
It is clear that our movement has come a long way in the last two years. Beginning from a preoccupation with essentially liberal issues like student power and peace, we have arrived at a perspective through which we have aligned ourselves with the revolutionary working class against American capitalist imperialism. 
The achievement of a correct position does not, however, mean that our intellectual struggle is over. We must explore the implications of working class politics for every area of our activity, in order to reinforce those politics and free them from contamination by bourgeois individualist thought. This proposal is a modest contribution to this effort. 
Concern with correct thinking and proper expression of that thought is a hallmark of the true revolutionary. Our vehicle for thought and communication is language; to be concrete, it is the English language. Now it has never occurred to us that this language is by its very nature counterrevolutionary and that truly correct revolutionary thought in English is therefore impossible. Yet we intend, through careful analysis, to establish that the English language is little more than a tool of imperialism designed to stifle genuinely radical ideas among the English-speaking masses. 
We can talk about language from the standpoints of meaning and structure. Although bourgeois linguists introduce complex terminology into their discussions of meaning, chiefly in order to prevent us from understanding what they mean, we shall consider it only in terms of words. Now English has a great many words, and this in itself is suspect: what it suggests is that no matter how hard the worker tries to educate himself, the bosses and their lackey politicians can always produce new words from their lexical grabbag to confuse him. Even in our own movement this elitist duplicity manifests itself in the use of esoteric words like "chauvinism," "reification," "dialectical materialism." and so on. It is almost axiomatic that the revolutionary status of a language is inversely proportional to the weight of its dictionary. 
Lest this sound farfetched, we may cite the pioneer linguist Otto Jesperson in The Growth and Structure of the English Language. He notes that the Norman invasion and subsequent domination of England for centuries by descendants of the French-speaking conquerors produced a class division of the English vocabulary, with the French imports reserved chiefly for the upper classes. The other great influx of foreign words came during the Renaissance when scholars, not content with the language of the people, imported quantities of Latin and Greek, thus widening the semantic gulf between the educated elite and the masses. 
Significant though consideration of meaning be, it is in the area of language structure that our analysis is most fruitful. Structure or syntax is the sum of all those rules which govern the ways the words in any language can be put together to make sense. We use the rules of syntax more of less unconsciously because they are inculcated in early childhood along with religion, patriotism, etc. It is the unconscious nature of syntax which makes its influence so insidious. 
The foundation of structure is the categories, which are theoretical divisions of human experience imposed on all languages. In English the main categories are tense and number; centuries ago we had gender as other European languages still do. There are many other categories: some languages divide all matter by shape, so that one cannot speak of an object without adding some word ending to indicate whether it is round, square and so on, while others classify things by their tangibility or lack thereof. The categories are classifications of thought; in English we cannot, for instance, speak of anything without indicating number (singular or plural) and time (past, present, future). 
Bourgeois scholars pretend to make a great mystery of the categories, in order to conceal the perfectly plain facts. Edward Sapir, for example, baldly states in Language that the origin of linguistic categories is altogether unknown. It is crystal clear to the proletarian analyst, however, that the nature of the categories arises directly from the nature of the ownership of the means of production: how else explain the preoccupation of English syntax with time and number? It is the capitalist factory system which necessitates an emphasis on time, and it is the capitalist money economy which causes the obsession with "how much, how many" that pervades our society. 
Sapir completely gives himself away when, in an unguarded moment, he lets us know that Chinese grammar expresses neither number nor tense. Can it be only coincidence that the Chinese, with their progressive syntax, have created the greatest socialist revolution of history, while no English-speaking people has achieved a successful proletarian revolution? Can it be possible that the incisive brilliance of Mao Tse-tung's thought owes nothing to the inherently revolutionary nature of the Chinese language? 
There is one other point about English syntax which needs to be clarified. As the proletarian linguists S. and K. Freedman point out in their monumental work And the Word Was Marx, the English sentence is a beautiful example in miniature of the relationships which prevail in capitalist society. The indispensable components of the sentence are the subject and verb: the subject is the capitalist, who runs the whole operation, and the verb is the worker, who carries out the capitalist's orders but can do nothing on his own. We may ask, how could a sentence be otherwise? this question only proves that the nature of English is so oppressive that it prevents us even from considering alternatives. 
Linguistic structural analysis provides us with a key to much that has previously been confusing in the history of the radical movement. For example, according to the revolutionary Polish investigator B Marszalek, the total ideological sell-out and intellectual bankruptcy of the British Labor Party and its American counterpart, the Socialist Party, are directly attributable to the onerous influence of English grammar. 
Having posed the problem, albeit briefly, we are now faced with the difficulty of providing a solution. In a nutshell, our alternatives, linguistically speaking, are between reformism and revolution. The bourgeois sentimentalists will speak touchingly of our "mother tongue" and plead in a thousand devious ways for superficial changes which would only rationalize the fundamentally imperialist character of the English language. Our only real choice is the total overthrow of the decadent tongue and its supplantation by a new speech fit to express our revolutionary ideology. 
After long consideration, we propose the adoption of an altogether new language. This language must be totally unrelated to English and to the tongues of other imperialist oppressors, as well as to those of revisionist regimes. It should be the language of a non-white people, to express our solidarity with the Third World. Having search [sic] extensively, we have found a suitable language. It is a little-known Amerindian tongue called Durruti, of small vocabulary, and has the virtue of having never been written down, thus making it possible for us to develop a simple spelling system, unlike that of English. (It is well known that the irrational complexities of English spelling are a tool of the power structure to keep working class children in their place.) 
We recognize that Durruti cannot be put into instant use. We offer, however, the following specific proposals: 
1. The major effort of the movement during the following year should be committed to the setting up of centers in factories and working-class neighborhoods to teach Durruti to workers and their families, along with education in Durruti within the movement; 
2. Funds should be allocated for the translation and publication of proletarian literature in Durruti; 
3. All resolutions of the 1969 Conventions of the Students for a Democratic Society are to be published in Durruti. It is our conviction that these resolutions will be at least, if not more, meaningful to the workers in Durruti as in English.

The Fundamentals are Sound

Meanwhile, down under: Tony Abbott, "and here in Australia, our fundamentals are strong."

Good thing about those fundamentals, wot?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Are "well-intentioned" white people complicit in systemic racism?


David Brooks:
In your anger at the tone of innocence some people adopt to describe the American dream, you reject the dream itself as flimflam. But a dream sullied is not a lie. The American dream of equal opportunity, social mobility and ever more perfect democracy cherishes the future more than the past. It abandons old wrongs and transcends old sins for the sake of a better tomorrow.

All the ordinances of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries which Marx either quotes at length or discusses are ordinances which seem, on their face, to debunk my claim that slavery for Whites was and is experiential and that for Blacks it was and is ontological. And yet all of these ordinances are riddled with contingencies, of which frequent and unfettered deployment of the conjunction if is emblematic.
the observer is disappointed time and again that this cultural subject is concealed beneath the overwhelming debris of the itemized account

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Ruse of Analogy

In "The Black Liberation Army and the Paradox of Political Engagement" Frank B. Wilderson III compares Assata Shakur's political communiqué with communiqués issued by the West German Red Army Faction and by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Unlike the other two documents, Shakur's text is unable to avail itself of what Wilderson describes as the arc of the liberation narrative, a progression from prior equilibrium to disequilibrium and finally to equilibrium restored. Thus the assumed analogy between the Black insurgent and postcolonialist or revolutionary Marxist breaks down because:
...this generic progression, which positions the Human subject within a dynamic, dialogical context (a terrain pregnant with uncertainty and multiplicities of outcomes, a terrain on which one is not merely an object of uncertainty but a subject of it) fortifies and extends the Slave’s "carceral continuum," the time of no time at all. This is why the Black insurgent’s communiqué is a torturous clash between, on the one hand, an unconscious realization that structural violence has elaborated Blacks so as to make our existence void of analogy and, on the other hand, a plaintive yearning to be recognized and incorporated by analogy nonetheless.
In his essay, Wilderson argues that this breach of the "ruse of analogy," with regard to the Black/Slave, exposes how Marxist and postcolonial liberation narratives of armed struggle, "though radically destabilizing of the status quo,,, unwittingly work to reconstitute the paradigms they seek to destroy."

Wilderson's Black pessimism is exhilarating in its bleakness. How bleak? "The way out is a kind of violence so magnificent and so comprehensive that it scares the Hell out of even radical revolutionaries," Wilderson explained in a radio interview in March. He went on to cite Saidiya Hartman "a black revolution would make everyone freer than they actually want to be."

That is bleak. Though it is a sublime figure of speech, there is no such thing as being "freer than they actually want to be."

At the level of analysis, I concur with Wilderson. Grand narratives are narratives of the master. But psychically, such an unrelenting paradox of engagement is too bleak, too stark to endure. The exhaustion and vertigo it induces leads back into apathetic resignation, escapist activism or oscillation between the two. Plaintive yearning fills the void, again and again, with the ruse of analogy. The unwarranted rationalist master narrative is reborn as irrationalist master narrative.  There is no cure. But there will always be yet another placebo.

Although I haven't yet read Ta Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, I get the sense from commentary on it that it addresses the same paradox of political engagement. In conclusion, Coates offers a compelling analogy:
I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.  
Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.
This may sound suspiciously like Naomi Klein's yearning for a system-challenging political alliance between Black Lives Matters and climate justice. We are all in this together! Before we are tempted to "link arms and sing Kumbaya," as Wilderson quips sarcastically, consider the varieties of climate denial. Besides the protean "climate change is a hoax" mantra there is the sophisticated "climate change is real, technology will save us" bromide and the radical "system change not climate change" placebo.

The analogy between slavery/white supremacy and productivity/climate change is useful for evaluating the prospects of the several denialist narratives. As Wilderson argues, "the Slave's relationship to violence is not contingent, it is gratuitous..." The Economy's relationship to ecological violence is similarly gratuitous, not contingent. So-called "productivity" is, like the lynching of Black bodies, a "ritual of self-making" not, as economics ideology would have it, an "economical transformation of resources into utilities."

The Dream of productivity is the mechanization of white supremacy.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Just because you are right doesn't mean you are not stupid

"I don't give a fuck about the white gaze, I don't. I literally don't." -- Marissa Janae Johnson
"What's true about this moment is that it's not about the tactics. If you're caught up in tactics you're missing the point." -- Alicia Garza 
"Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories." -- Patrisse Cullors (in response to an interview question citing a "loving critique" from Jalil Muntaqim)
"When I use Assata’s powerful demand in my organizing work, I always begin by sharing where it comes from, sharing about Assata’s significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what it’s political purpose and message is, and why it’s important in our context." -- Alicia Garza, "Herstory of Black Lives Matter"
"I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one." -- Assata Shakur
"The Black Liberation Army was formed after the repression began to come down on the Black Panther Party and people in the Party were seeing that there had to be a clear separation between military apparatus and aboveground apparatus and they were waiting on the leaders to make this decision. But by then, it seemed like the leaders had sold-out to get out of jail and for $600 apartments, such as Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, so that they weren’t interested in making decisions to save the movement. So that people began to take it on their own since they were the ones getting killed in the process, they were getting framed up and getting arrested and driven underground all around the country." -- Sundiata Acoli, trial testimony quoted in Unearthing the Underground: A study of radical activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, PhD dissertation by Gaidi Faraj
"The McGovern people were afraid that the Yippies were endorsing McGovern as a way of destroying him. We had to reassure them that no, this was really on the level, and then they said if you really want to help McGovern stay away." -- Stew Albert
"The fact that Abby [sic] Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Angela Davis, among others, support McGovern should be widely publicized and used at every point." -- Richard Nixon to John Mitchell  
"Assata's legacy represents a mandate to broaden and deepen anti-racist struggles." -- Angela Davis
The "broadening and deepening" of incarceration.
Sandwichman is not a true believer in the emancipatory efficacy of "revolutionary armed struggle." But setting aside my own idiosyncratic old, white, male weirdo populist economic determinism objections to adrenaline and testosterone-fueled adolescent action fantasies, I'm even more skeptical of political posturing that makes dog-whistle allusions to a legacy of armed resistance while denouncing armchair critics for being "caught up in tactics" and "missing the point."

Unless I am mistaken, the "point" of armed struggle has nothing to do with the audience "getting it."

Sandwichman, for one, hasn't miss any point. On the contrary, I find the profusion of points rather fascinating. Here's a few odd ones:

Naomi Klein:
That’s my hope for 2015. That we get off defense and put forward this very clear vision, bringing all of our movements together, because they are mobilizing in incredible ways. Some of you may have read the piece I wrote trying to connect the #BlackLivesMatter movement with the climate justice movement, because so much of what we are fighting for is based on the principle that black lives matter, that all lives matter. The way our governments are behaving in the face of the climate crisis actively discounts black and brown lives over white lives. It is an actively racist response to climate change that we should expose. I think we have to not be afraid to bust down these barriers if we really mean it when we say that if we’re going to change everything, it’s going to take everyone.
Peter Linebaugh:
As concerns Black Lives Matter and the movement, that so far, I think, this year 464 people have been killed by the police, this is sending force against people without trial by jury, not in accordance with the law of the land. And so, when Black Lives Matter began, after the—last August, after the killing of Michael Brown, many of us remembered that slavery itself came to an end thanks to Frederick Douglass’ references to Magna Carta. So Magna Carta has played a major role in American history in the freedom struggle led by former slaves and the African-American population. This is why Black Lives Matter is so important, not only against the racist power structure and the forms of white supremacy that exist in so many ruling institutions, but it’s also a recovery of this long tradition of struggling against sovereignty in the name of habeas corpus, trial by jury and prohibition of torture.
Fucking monomaniacs, eh? Sandwichman eagerly awaits the happy day when Black Lives Matter joins the struggle to eradicate the menace of the bogus "lump-of-labor fallacy" claim. 
"We believe that people should fuck all the time, anytime, whomever they want. This is not a program demand but a simple recognition of the reality around us." -- Abbie Hoffman, "Revolution towards a free society:Yippie!" manifesto, Chicago, 1968.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Future of Work and the Demise of Scholarship

I've pointed out before that the future of work has a chequered past. Evidently it also has a questionable present and future.

Paul Saffo teaches forecasting at Stanford University and chairs the Future Studies and Forecasting track at Singularity University. In his contribution to the "Future of Work" project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, Saffo wrote:
"In 1930, Keynes observed that technological unemployment was a self-solving problem. On balance new technologies create more jobs than they destroy."
Sandwichman call bullshit. Saffo's claim couldn't be further from the truth. In 1934, Keynes gave a BBC radio address titled "Is the Economic System Self-Adjusting?" His answer was "No." The "create more jobs than they destroy" refrain is a version of what is otherwise known as Say's Law, which Keynes paraphrase in his General Theory as "Supply creates its own demand." Keynes's general theory was a debunking of Say's Law.


Trained Marxist Evangelical Christian Revolutionary Fashion Statement

What is a "trained Marxist"?

This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you. I feel your pain. In fact, I feel your pain more than you do, you anaesthetized leftist zombies. So sit down, shut up and listen.

Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matters co-founder, in an interview with Jared Ball of the Real News Network said:
The first thing, I think, is that we actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories. And I think that what we really tried to do is build a movement that could be utilized by many, many black folk. We don't necessarily want to be the vanguard of this movement. I think we've tried to put out a political frame that's about centering who we think are the most vulnerable amongst the black community, to really fight for all of our lives. 
And I do think that we have some clear direction around where we want to take this movement. I don't believe it's going to fizzle out. It just gets stronger, and we see it, right. We've seen after Sandra Bland. We're seeing it now with the interruption of the Netroots Nation presidential forum. 
What I do think, though, is folks -- especially folks who have been trained in a particular way want to hear certain things from us, that we're not sort of framing it in the same ways that maybe another generation have, has. But I think it's important that people know that we are, the Black Lives Matter movement doesn't just live online, although there's many people who utilize it online. We're in a different set of circumstances, a different generation that -- social media may feel like it's diluting the larger ideological frame. But I argue that it's not.
This certainly throws a new light on Alicia Garza's comment that "no candidate who is really about this werk would break a sweat in response to a question in the form of 'Do Black Lives Matter?' The simple answer should be 'Yes' not some weirdo populist economic determinism." Those untrained populist weirdos must be made to bow down to the ideologically super-versed Marxist vanguard! What Adolph Reed Jr. described as "visceral and vitriolic anti-Marxism" could conceivably be visceral and vitriolic "trained Marxist" sectarianism.

In all fairness, the comrades "don't necessarily want to be the vanguard of this movement." Indeed, humility and reluctance are admirable qualities in self-appointed leaders. But seeing as how they "actually do have an ideological frame" and "some clear direction around where we want to take this movement," they really have no choice but to accept the mantle of leadership, do they?

"We are not reasonable!"
There's one thing that puzzles me though. Is it customary for trained Marxist cadre to publically announce that they are trained Marxists?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Movement at the Crossroads: SNCC, Yippie! and Position Paper #24

All my life I've been sick and tired. Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. -- Fannie Lou Hamer
The materialist presentation of history leads the past to place the present in a critical condition. -- Walter Benjamin
I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
-- Robert Johnson 
During the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, demonstrators being assaulted by the police chanted "the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching." This was before the English translation of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was published but after Marshall McLuhan's The Medium Is the Massage had achieved best-seller status.

What the "whole world" watched on television news from Chicago in August 1968 was later described by the Walker Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence as a "police riot," provoked by some rather inchoate political theatrics conducted by the erstwhile Youth International Party (Yippie!) founded eight months earlier by Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Nancy Kurshan and Paul Krassner.

Four years earlier, at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) gave her dramatic testimony to the credentials committee about the violence she had endured and witnessed in attempting to register to vote. The 1964 convention refused to seat the MFDP delegation but at the 1968 convention in Chicago, Hamer was seated to became the first African-American delegate from Mississippi since reconstruction and the first woman ever from that state.

Before Abbie Hoffman became a Yippie, he had been the founder and self-appointed chairman of Worcester Massachusetts chapter of the Friends of SNCC, a group dedicated to raising funds to support the activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. namely the Freedom Summer activities of 1964.

Hoffman traveled to Atlantic City in 1964 to join demonstrators supporting the Mississippi Freedom bid for delegate recognition and in 1965 traveled to Georgia and Mississippi, where he met Jesse Morris, a SNCC organizer who was setting up a Poor People's Corporation to fund worker-owned crafts co-operative. Back in Worcester and, later in New York City, Hoffman operated stores to sell crafts made in Mississippi.

In December 1966, SNCC staff voted  -- by a margin of 19-18 with 24 abstentions --to exclude whites from the organization. Hoffman was incensed and wrote a scathing (and scurrilous) denunciation of the decision and SNCC leadership for the Village Voice. The Village Voice article was Hoffman's first as "Abbie" employing his characteristic slangy hipster style. In one provocative passage Hoffman confided, "Now I feel for the other whites in SNCC, especially the white females. I identify with all those Bronx chippies that are getting conned out of their bodies and bread by some dark skinned sharpie over at the annex." Reportedly, his earlier drafts were even more outrageous.

The response to Hoffman's Village Voice piece demonstrated to him that if he wasn't afraid to be offensive and break taboos he could get attention, which was what the whole Yippie thing was about: getting on TV so the whole world could watch. Hoffman was a showman, an exhibitionist.

Still, Hoffman outed unspeakable tensions that undoubtedly did exist in the 1960s movement. For a brief moment in the mid-1960s people spoke of "the" movement as if the affinity of civil rights, anti-war and student protest -- perhaps even counter-cultural "lifestyles" -- was inevitable. "Love, trust, brotherhood, and all the other beautiful things we sang about," as Hoffman phrased it, in rebuttal to Stokely Carmichael's Black Power.

Those unspeakable tensions could be called "intersectional," to use a later terminology, They sprang from from sexual relationships and taboos as well as from organizational hierarchies and racial and sexual stereotypes. "There was a lot of sex in SNCC," staffer Jean Wheeler Smith, an African-American woman, recalled, "we were twenty years old... what do you expect?" Penny Patch, a white activist remembered:
We were young, we were living in wartime conditions. We were always afraid; we never knew whether we would see one another again. We were ready, black and white, to break all taboos. SNCC men were handsome, they were brilliant, they were brave, and I was very much in love.
But "not all sex was equal":
Since Black men had historically paid with their lives for intimacy with white women, dating white women in SNCC could be a form of liberation. For Black women, sex with white men did not have the same effect. White men had a three-hundred year history of sexual assault and rape of Black women in the South (and North) without fear of consequences, so the opportunity for intimacy with white men did not manifest as a form of freedom for Black women.
The chance discovery in 1994 of boxes of old letters, journals and political manifestoes sent home during Freedom Summer by Elaine Delott Baker became the impetus for a document collection that focuses on a "pathbreaking feminist manifesto" -- the Waveland Memo or Position Paper #24. It would be more accurate to call that paper paths-breaking, in context it documents simultaneously clearing the way for and the breaking up of multiple paths. The authors recall different motivations for, attitudes about and responses to the paper. In her account of the writing of the paper, Casey Hayden recalled that "Mary King says we were asking SNCC to broaden its concerns, to take women's roles on as an issue. I don't believe I ever felt SNCC should do that. The movement had enough to do."
The purpose of the writing was more diffuse than that, as I recall, more like everyone was writing about whatever their gripes or problems or positions were and, hey, let's put ours out there, too. In late 1965 I did feel the time was right and drafted a memo ["Sex and Caste"] which Mary and I signed and sent to our black and white women friends in SNCC and the new left.
The Waveland Memo archive "How and Why Did Women in SNCC Author a Pathbreaking Feminist Manifesto, 1964-1965?" contains such an incredible collection of insights, remembrances and analysis that am reluctant to summarize from it more than I already have. As Elaine Baker noted in her comments on contextualizing Waveland Memo, "to understand anything we must understand everything, and that to understand everything we must know everything. Tough job." The archive's introduction is compelling, informative and concise. The timely relevance of its historical account might be gauged by the following snippet:
SNCC was in crisis before and after the Waveland conference, its scope and vitality waning as staff sought an alternative to reforming the Democratic Party. The women's memo was part of a process designed to air all discontents, the main ones being well- known before the conference...  Underlying many of the issues raised at Waveland was the growing friction between white and Black staff. Anticipating the theme of Black Power, which emerged later, many Black staff members questioned the role of whites in the movement, making white activists unsure of their place in SNCC's future.

"Too Tall to Bow Down"

There are "white supremacists" and then there are White Supremacists.

In an interview with This Week in Blackness podcasters Elon James White and Imani Gandi, Black Lives Matters activist Marissa Janae Johnson defended her #BowDownBernie action as "super important" because it confronted the "hordes and hordes of white liberals and white progressives" whose political effect "is often very harmful and is upholding the white supremacist society that we live in."

The "bow down" command apparently is a reference a Beyonce song. It's inappropriateness has been noted by several commentators but in researching the Waveland Memo archives, I came across an ominous historical document that highlights the hideous stupidity of indulging in false equivalence between ineffectual leftists and avowed white supremacist.

The Freedom Fighter announced the "awakening" of the Klu Klux Klan "from a thirty five year sleep." It, too, relied on a facile rhetoric of false equivalence, explaining the reasons for the return of the KKK in the following terms:
It has now been proven that the negro that is trying to take over in America is communist led. If you are senile enough to think this is wrong, you are a complete fool and a very useful tool in the hands of both the negro and communist.
As for politeness and all that respectability jazz, the KKK proclaimed itself "too tall to bow down" because it "is made of men."
The KLU KLUX KLAN is made of men. Real tall American men who love America very much. They are not going to give up to the Kennedys, Johnsons, communist and negros. These men are bound together in a Holy and Fraternal order, depending upon God and each other, answering to God and each other. Tall strong men, men of great courage, coming out of fields, stores, factories, service stations, men that are doctors, builders, lawyers, writers, barbers, mechanics and laborers. These men are too tall to bow down. They are men who have had enough. Enough of the Kennedys, communist, negros, high taxes, foreign aid, cheap politicians, governmental crime and graft, the united nations, cash for bastard negro babies, cotton acreage, Walter Ruether, social security and half made this and that. They have had enough of ruin, and will now restore sensible rule in our land. They see all, hear all, know all. They live among you. These men are TENS OF THOUSANDS STRONG, TOO TALL TO BOW DOWN, AND THEY HAVE HAD ENOUGH!!!!!!!!
To an interviewer's question about the people who say the Seattle action was hurting the cause of Black Lives Matters, Ms. Johnson replied, "I don’t give a fuck about the white gaze, I don’t. I literally don’t."

Some folks don't give a fuck. They just don't.

position paper #24

Sex and caste

Position paper 24


Elaine Baker journal

An Email Dialog, 2013-14

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Jobs Guarantee vs. Work Time Reduction

Max Sawicky says Matt Bruenig is wrong about the Job Guarantee idea. Sandwichman wrote about this back in 2009, so I'm reposting a condensed and edited version of it here and will add further reflections on Max's and Matt's points.


Would a Minsky-inspired "job guarantee program" be an economically feasible response to that jobs crisis? Randal Wray is probably the best-known current advocate of such a program. In August 2009, Wray posted a brief description of the idea along with some references for further reading. 

The Sandwichman's familiarity with the debate around the job guarantee idea comes largely from a discussion in Robert LaJeunesse's book, Work Time Regulation as Sustainable Full Employment Strategy, in which LaJeunesse sought to show why work time regulation would be superior to a jobs guarantee.

LaJeunesse's main objection to the job guarantee idea is that it expands work and consumption instead of questioning the compulsion for and ecological sustainability of perpetual, artificially-induced economic growth. Peter Victor's book, Managing without Growth, and the Sustainable Development Commission's report, Prosperity without Growth?, give persuasive evidence in support of such criticism.

While the Sandwichman agrees wholeheartedly with LaJeunesse's ecological critique, he also has microeconomic concerns about job guarantees. There are three aspects that particularly trouble me.

First is the historical precedent that explicitly "make work" jobs have always carried a stigma. This was true of the 19th century workhouse in Britain and of WPA jobs during the Great Depression.

Second, the necessity for some kind of administrative overhead -- managers, planners and staff -- must necessarily lead to the creation of a bureaucratic empire whose denizens will have a stake in the continuation and expansion of their institutional niche.

Finally, a job is not simply about the exchange of a certain amount of time and effort for a paycheck. Some kind of learning and social interaction goes on in the workplace. Not all of it is directly tied to the work. What kind of informal culture of "lifers" and "transients" is likely to emerge in the "buffer world" of guaranteed jobs? What's to prevent the lifers (as well as the administrators) from devising schemes to divert the efforts of enrollees to their private interests?


Matt argues that Guarantee Jobs are inclined to be "low-capital, short-term jobs that are not that important to do." He suggests it would be preferable to establish targeted public works programs, "which can be ramped up and down cyclically as needed," which, of course, was precisely the idea behind the Public Works Administration established during the Roosevelt New Deal.

Max argues that an Employment of Last Resort (ELR) program could be designed that complies with Matt's targeted public works program. He thinks that "Matt’s notion of how an ELR system could work is too narrow."

Sandwichman thinks the discussion could be better informed by attention to 1. what happened, in the long run, to the New Deal public works program and 2. what are the alternatives to a job creation program -- especially a a work-sharing program and permanent reductions in the hours work, what John Maynard Keynes called the "ultimate solution" for unemployment.
"...the full employment policy by means of investment is only one particular application of an intellectual theorem. You can produce the result just as well by consuming more or working less. Personally I regard the investment policy as first aid. In U.S. it almost certainly will not do the trick. Less work is the ultimate solution (a 35 hour week in U.S. would do the trick now)."

Essentially Inarticulate: slouching "towards a radical democratic politics"

It is precisely this polysemic character of every antagonism which makes its meaning dependent upon a hegemonic articulation to the extent that, as we have seen, the terrain of hegemonic practices is constituted out of the fundamental ambiguity of the social, the impossibility of establishing in a definitive manner the meaning of any struggle, whether considered in isolation or through its fixing in a relational system. -- Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics
Clearly I'm not… that’s not where I am, because, you know, people... like... leave high school and go to college and they like… [inaudible, interviewer talks over] -- Marissa Johnson on Sarah Palin
For reasons unknown (but time will tell) Sandwichman's ear instinctively hears Laclau and Mouffe's monologue being spoken by the character Lucky from Waiting for Godot.

"Articulation" plays a privileged role in Laclau & Mouffe's analysis, in opposition to -- or, one might say, as the antithesis of -- "essentialism." Essentialism was reductivist (bad); its "last redoubt" was the economy. By elevating class struggle as the presumed locomotive of history, so the story goes, Marx and Engels had sidelined other differences such as gender, race or nationality.

Essentialism and articulation remain key terms within the burgeoning academic-activist intersectionality complex. Instead of presiding as the determining difference (even if only in the "last instance"), class -- often relabeled as poverty -- has been demoted to the status of a residual effect of the other, formerly subordinate, differences, which are, of course, legion.

The logic of Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza's complaint about "some weirdo populist economic determinism" follows from the critique that an economic class analysis inherently subordinates other forms of oppression to the presumably primary difference of class. The characterization tends toward the hyperbole that class analysis is inherently reductivist and thus must be eschewed in favour of some other analysis of (more essential?) categories of difference. This game of identity musical chairs is not debatable as any and all objection can be disallowed as "condescending weirdness."

There was a Polish joke about how under capitalism man exploits man but under communism it is the other way around. One might paraphrase that to say that under orthodox Marxism, class struggle subordinates all other differences but identity politics does just the reverse. Another variety of essentialism enters through the back door because the framing concept of "articulation" has proven to be incoherent -- it is essentially inarticulate.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bow Down, Weirdo Populist Economic Determinism

"What choice was there for the workers between the fascist costume drama and a socialism that urged them to regard their own working clothes as a costume?" -- Harold Rosenberg, "Pathos of the Proletariat"
It shocked and confused many of my American friends when Black Lives Matter activists confronted Bernie Sanders, first at Netroots, and then again in Seattle. Didn't they realize Sanders was the candidate with the best anti-racism record? Was this some kind of agent provocateur action? Hillary? Soros? Cointelpro?

The only thing that should come as a surprise is that the actions and their motives would be surprising. The pattern and the analysis has been out there for years... decades. In a 2009 essay, "The limits of anti-racism," Adolph Reed noted the "visceral and vitriolic anti-Marxism" that prevails among many activists who make identity the cornerstone of their political strategy.

Reed characterized anti-racism as consistent with a "left" neoliberal ideology which "looks suspiciously like only another version of the evasive 'we’ll come back for you' (after we do all the business-friendly stuff) politics that the Democrats have so successfully employed to avoid addressing economic injustice."

It would not be useful to absolve political Marxism of all responsibility for this state of affairs, however. Identity politics is only the latest iteration of what Harold Rosenberg termed "destiny politics" way back in 1949:
"Primarily, destiny-politics consists of a demonic displacement of the ego of the historical collectivity (class, nation, race) by the party of action, so that the party motivates the community and lays claim to identity with its fate and to its privileges as a creature of history."
For party, substitute movement... for movement substitute hashtag... and, finally, for hashtag substitute activists, founders, executive directors or scholars. But whereas political Marxism proceeded from the imperialistically homogeneous image of the Proletariat as universal subject, identity politics culminates in the fragmentation of multiple -- or multiplicative -- sites of oppression: class, race, gender, disability, sexuality. Through this "intersectional lens," the notion of a heroic, revolutionary subject of history is translated into that of an abject, anti-heroic victim of oppression:
"Thus, if one is poor, black, elderly, disabled, and lesbian, must these differences be organized into a hierarchy such that some differences gain prominence over others? What if some differences coalesce to create a more abject form of oppression (e.g.. being poor. black, and disabled), or if some differences support both privilege/invisibility within the same oppressed community (e.g., being black, homosexual, and male)?" -- Nirmala Erevelles, Disability and Difference in Global Contexts
The "pathos" in the title of Rosenberg's essay refers to one of the three modes of persuasion analyzed by Aristotle, the other two modes being "ethos" and "logos." Ethos seeks to persuade through the character of the author, logos through the use of reasoning and pathos by appealing to the readers' emotions. The irony that Rosenberg highlighted is that what was argued to be a historical process of development and "awakening" has been transformed into a rhetorical process of persuasion. The erstwhile revolutionary subject of history had already been demoted within political Marxism to a mere personification.
"As a liberating program Marxism founders on the subjectivity of the proletariat. So soon as it declares itself, rather than their common situation, to be the inspiration of men's revolutionary unity and ardor -- how else can it offer itself simultaneously to the French working class and to non-industrial French colonials? -- Marxism becomes an ideology competing with others. When fascism asserted the revolutionary working class to be an invention of Marxism, it was but echoing the Marxist parties themselves." -- Rosenberg
Of course identity politics and intersectionality cannot and do not inspire "revolutionary unity and ardor" to both "the French working class" and "the colonials." What they can do, though, is offer a moral (or moralizing) surrogate for the absent class struggle. Understandably, in this ideological frame, inherited from political Marxism, the foundering of the class struggle offers to those "not fooled by the illusion" an occasion for hubris. Bow down, weirdo populist economic determinism!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ideology and Economic Facts

Letter from Friedrich Engels to Franz Mehring, July 14, 1893, excerpt:
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces. Because it is a process of thought he derives its form as well as its content from pure thought, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with mere thought material, which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, and does not investigate further for a more remote source independent of thought; indeed this is a matter of course to him, because, as all action is mediated by thought, it appears to him to be ultimately based upon thought. 
The historical ideologist (historical is here simply meant to comprise the political, juridical, philosophical, theological – in short, all the spheres belonging to society and not only to nature) thus possesses in every sphere of science material which has formed itself independently out of the thought of previous generations and has gone through its own independent course of development in the brains of these successive generations. True, external facts belonging to one or another sphere may have exercised a co-determining influence on this development, but the tacit presupposition is that these facts themselves are also only the fruits of a process of thought, and so we still remain within that realm of mere thought, which apparently has successfully digested even the hardest facts. 
It is above all this semblance of an independent history of state constitutions, of systems of law, of ideological conceptions in every separate domain that dazzles most people. If Luther and Calvin “overcome” the official Catholic religion or Hegel “overcomes” Fichte and Kant or Rousseau with his republican Contrat social indirectly “overcomes” the constitutional Montesquieu, this is a process which remains within theology, philosophy or political science, represents a stage in the history of these particular spheres of thought and never passes beyond the sphere of thought. And since the bourgeois illusion of the eternity and finality of capitalist production has been added as well, even the overcoming of the mercantilists by the physiocrats and Adam Smith is accounted as a sheer victory of thought; not as the reflection in thought of changed economic facts but as the finally achieved correct understanding of actual conditions subsisting always and everywhere – in fact, if Richard Coeur-de-Lion and Philip Augustus had introduced free trade instead of getting mixed up in the crusades we should have been spared five hundred years of misery and stupidity.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Circular Reference Warning: The Productivity Quotient

Peter Frase has a post about the perennial "robots will take all our jobs" debate in which he makes, almost in passing, the crucial point that productivity growth is not only connected to technology but also to wages and control over working conditions. Employers are discouraged from replacing workers with robots as long as workers are cheaper and more obedient than the machines.

The point I would like to add and emphasize is that we are not just talking about cause and effect (let alone mere correlation) in the relationship between productivity and employment terms. This is instead a matter of reference from one thing to the other in the construction of the indexes. Productivity is a ratio between the monetary value of output and hours worked. Productivity increases if the same value of output is produced in fewer hours, regardless of whether that change was produced by technological improvements, increased work effort or by layoffs of redundant workers. Productivity growth declines if GDP growth is constrained, again regardless of what specifically is limiting GDP.

Productivity is the quotient. So when Dean Baker says "productivity growth has slowed sharply in the last decade," there are many ways to parse that number. Productivity growth has slowed because the numerator, GDP, hasn't been growing as fast as before. Or, productivity growth has slowed because the denominator, hours of work, is not declining. Or some combination, again regardless of the reasons for the changes in the components.

It's not just about the machines. It's also about the cost of replacing workers with machines compared to the level of wages. It's also about the performance of GDP relative to its potential. High levels of unemployment and underemployment can thus impose a constraint on "productivity growth" such that the resulting slow growth doesn't appear to present a threat to employment. But that is like the parricide throwing himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. Or as Excel's circular reference warning explains:
One or more formulas contain a circular reference and may not calculate correctly. Circular references are any references within a formula that depend on the results of that same formula. For example, a cell that refers to its own value or a cell that refers to another cell which depends on the original cell's value both contain circular references.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Professor Richard J. Jensen Strikes (Out) Again

The Teen Who Exposed a Professor’s Myth
Miller opened up Rebecca’s thesis. He quickly realized all of the academics too busy to take on Jensen couldn't have done it better than a 14-year-old.
Before he was denying the existence of "no Irish need apply" advertising, Professor Jensen claimed that core, long-term unemployment during the Great Depression resulted from workers' shirking and stinting and the adoption by employers of "efficiency wage" policies to counter the willingness of "most workers (most of the time)... to coast a little."

The problem with that hypothesis, as Sandwichman pointed out a while ago, is that so-called shirking and stinting are treated variously as efficiency gains or efficiency losses depending on whether they are being performed by workers or by "entrepreneurs and investors." I know it's a subtle distinction. Ask a 14-year-old.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dean Baker: "Don't Blame the Robots"

"An important fact often left out of discussions on productivity and jobs is that the length of the workweek and work year is not fixed."
The Future of Work: Don't Blame the Robots

Dean nails it.