Chto Delat Weekly Reader No. 4

Yet another selection of articles from our virtual magazine rack. This week’s topics include: leftist analysis of the world financial crisis from leftist heavy-hitters Rick Wolff, Immanuel Wallerstein, and others; the prospects for meaningful systemic political change in the US; the decline of the US empire; the complicity of journalists in that empire’s criminal invasions and occupations; a review of the new film Battle In Seattle and the real impact made by the alter-globalization movement; a critique of Paolo Virno’s new book on the multitude that fuels that movement; President Chavez’s proposed law for a six-hour work day in Venezuela; the historical role of the late Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the present conflict in the Caucasus; India’s courageous anti-displacement movement; reinvoking 1968 on radio; a remembrance of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya; and, finally, how to promote a crappy film in Russia by tapping into anti-American sentiment.

Rick Wolff. VIDEO: Capitalism Hits the Fan: A Marxian View. An incisive video commentary on the current capitalist economic crisis by Rick Wolff. The video taped lecture includes (1) an explanation of what the crisis is and why it happened, and (2) a socialist program to address it (one that uses our class-qua-surplus analytics).

Immanuel Wallerstein. The Depression: A Long-Term View. We can assert with confidence that the present system cannot survive. What we cannot predict is which new order will be chosen to replace it, because it will be the result of an infinity of individual pressures.  But sooner or later, a new system will be installed. This will not be a capitalist system but it may be far worse (even more polarizing and hierarchical) or much better (relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian) than such a system. The choice of a new system is the major worldwide political struggle of our times.

John R. MacArthur. Americans Unwilling to Face Reality. Americans, perhaps even more than other people, have difficulty embracing the concept of “reality.” In part, this is religious. America remains the land of infinite redemption where any crook can suddenly go straight. In part, it stems from our turbo-charged ethos of capitalism. This has always been the land of get-rich-quick and damn the consequences. We are a nation of fantasists, and things have to get really bad before a politician has the right to trade in hard truth.

 Steffen Schmidt. People are ‘mad as hell’; both parties must change. For the past 39 years as a professor of political science, I could always talk in the first week of my American Government class about how Americans disagree on many things, but there is a strong consensus on the process of elections and of government. I would say that people may not agree with every law or act of government, but they see their leaders as legitimate, and they will respect government mandates with a minimum of coercion. Judging from polls and other research, I can no longer give that lecture. People are in fact “mad as hell,” and many indeed do not want to take it anymore.

Aziz Huq. Use It or Lose It? How to Manage an Imperial Decline. Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation? We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it’s been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets—given the present liquidity crunch—have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence.

Steven Sherman. What Does the US Left Need? A Review of Left Turn. In the minds of some, the name of Stanley Aronowitz—and Social Text and Situations, the two journals he is associated with—may immediately conjure up the specter of postmodernism.  But in Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future, he champions a number of ideas that go against the grain of all that school stands for. Aronowitz devotes a chapter to arguing that the postmodernist emphasis on local action and disdain for “totality” has disarmed theorists confronted with the major political challenges of our time.  Rather like Slavoj Zizek (who is coming from a very different political space), Aronowitz also criticizes those who only highlight “resistance” and avoid developing a comprehensive alternative to present-day power arrangements. Above all, Aronowitz makes a case that the US Left needs to have some sort of centralized organization if it is to pose a major challenge eventually. Although he makes it clear that he does NOT mean a Leninist party, but rather an organization whose local chapters have considerable autonomy, even as resources are pooled and occasionally unleashed nationally, Aronowitz has clearly violated a taboo here. It is, I think, a taboo past due to be violated.

Raymond Lotta. System Failure and the Need for Revolution. As serious as this crisis is, with all the havoc it is wreaking, the system will not automatically collapse of its own weight and disorder. Absent revolution, capitalism will put itself back together—in its own image and at unimaginable social cost. And for all the agony that crisis inflicts, this will not automatically and spontaneously translate into progressive, radical, and revolutionary sentiment and consciousness. Other forces are in the field doing ideological and political work: reactionary populists like Lou Dobbs (“blame the foreigners and illegal immigrants”) and Sarah Palin whipping up a social base for religio-fascism. The Obama candidacy is channeling disenchantment and the thirst for change right back into the political system’s suffocating embrace (“change we can believe in” is nothing other than change acceptable to the powers that be). This is a highly fraught situation. Things can change very quickly. The system is revealing much about its basic nature. Bigger jolts may come and outrage may suddenly grow and give rise to resistance from all kinds of quarters. We have to grasp the potential of the situation. We have to be out there bringing forward understanding and bringing forward a vision of a liberatory world. We have to rise to new political and ideological challenges in the belly of the beast.

Peter Dyer. US Journalists & War-Crime Guilt. This year, the U.S. news media cheered the opening of the $450 million Newseum in Washington, a self-congratulatory celebration of American journalism. However, rather than giving themselves that expensive pat on the back, the major U.S. media organizations might have done something to show remorse for their complicity in the Bush administration’s propaganda that justified the invasion of Iraq. As freelance journalist Peter Dyer notes, prosecutors at the Nuremberg Tribunals deemed such journalistic support for war crimes to be a capital offense: “October 16 is an anniversary that should hold considerable interest for American journalists who have written in support of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’—the invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

Nina Power. He’s Not Beyond Good and Evil. Paolo Virno’s latest book contends that the question of human nature—good or evil?—is suddenly topical, thanks to ‘immaterial labour.’ But, if true, how useful is this insight?

Mark Engler. The Impact of the ‘Battle In Seattle.’ Nine years after the World Trade Organization came to Seattle, a new feature film sets out to dramatize the historic protests that the institution’s meetings provoked. The issue that Battle in Seattle filmmaker Stuart Townsend seeks to raise, as he recently stated, is “[what it takes] to create real and meaningful change.”

Venezuela’s government looking to establish new 6-hour workday. CARACAS, Venezuela — The government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is planning to establish a six-hour work day. Labour Minister Roberto Hernandez says he will propose a bill this year to reduce the workday, improve employee benefits and establish “more forceful” penalties for businesses that violate labour laws. The president’s allies hold a majority within the National Assembly and most bills proposed by Chavez’s administration are approved. Chavez presented the same proposal as part of a constitutional reform package that voters rejected last December. Before the vote, some business owners warned that reducing the workday would force them to cut jobs or close down.

David Pugh. India’s Combative Anti-Displacement Movement. I recently spent three weeks gathering information about the anti-displacement movement in India.  As a guest of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan (People’s Movement against Displacement and for Development), I traveled across central and eastern India visiting the sites of proposed industrial and mining projects, Special Economic Zones, and real estate developments.  I spoke with hundreds of villagers who are threatened with displacement and with many dedicated activists who are helping to organize the people’s resistance.

Robert English. Georgia: The Ignored History. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-Soviet president, from 1991 to 1992, has been dead for fifteen years. But in view of his responsibility for initially provoking the South Ossetian campaign to secede from Georgia—the conflict that set off last month’s war with Russia—his brief but tumultuous reign merits some fresh scrutiny. Trying to understand the Ossetian, Abkhazian, and other minorities’ alienation from Georgia without reference to the extreme nationalism of Gamsakhurdia is like trying to explain Yugoslavia’s collapse and Kosovo’s secession from Serbia while ignoring the nationalist policies of Slobodan Milosevic. Yet in all the debate over the causes of the Russian–Georgian war, Gamsakhurdia is rarely even mentioned.

1968: The Year That Shook the World. A Project of KPFA Radio 94.1 FM Berkeley. A series of radio programs on the key events of 1968. The programs can be downloaded or listened to online.

Amy Knight. Who Killed Anna Politkovskaya? On the afternoon of October 7, 2006, forty-eight-year-old Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was at the Ramstor Shopping Center on Frunze Embankment in Moscow. In addition to her usual groceries, she was buying special food for her daughter, Vera, who was expecting her first child. Anna and Vera had been talking with each other on their cell phones throughout the day. The baby would be called Anna, after her grandmother, but Politkovskaya would not live to see her.

Sergey Chernov. A hollow war: Condoleezza Rice, allegedly, has banned Yury Grymov’s new film, but is it all just a cheap, blog-led PR stunt to drum up publicity? Local channel 100TV opened its evening newscast on Wednesday last week with a report that Moscow director Yury Grymov’s film “Strangers” (Chuzhiye) had been banned in the U.S. The film is due for release in November, and critics suggest this “news” was part of the publicity campaign for the film, which kicked off last week. The channel itself was hard pressed to name its source, claiming it arrived by e-mail from a news agency.

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