Chto Delat Weekly Reader No. 5

More news from the invisible front in the war of all against all. This week’s topics include: Eric Hobsbawm, Paul Virilio, Steven Shaviro, and Rick Kuhn on the world financial crisis; the effects of the crisis in Russia and the government’s attempts to pretend that Russia is an “island of stability”; Sarah Palin as “absolute terror” and the idiotic oligarchy leading the US to certain ruin; the Republican Party’s efforts to rig the vote in the US; white supremacists in the US try to go respectable; the “racist” vote for Obama; ten reasons why leftists should vote for Obama; the massive turn of young Japanese to the Communist Party; and an appreciation of filmmaker Peter Watkins.

BBC Radio 4: Today. Is the intellectual opinion of capitalism changing? British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, “arguably our greatest living historian” according to The New York Review of Books, discusses the current economic crisis and the problems with a free market economy. (Radio broadcast)

Paul Virilio on the Crisis. I am not a vigilante. I do empathise with critics who say that some people have made obscene profits. I do not deny the damage caused by the accumulation of riches in a few hands. But to merely criticize this acceleration of profits and History, this “run-away avarice,” as Eugene Sue called it, while remaining in the materialist framework of profit, is a deficient, reductionist analysis. What is happening is much more complex, and profoundly disturbing. We have gone into something of a different nature. This economy of wealth has become an economy of speed. By the way, this is the problem the Left is currently facing. The Left is stuck in its old framework, states that capitalism is dead, and now thinks that more social justice is to come about. This is a bit hasty a deduction. We do really have a major problem on our plates… If the state does not take stock of this ‘futurism of the moment’, we might well see instead a capitalism running riot without bounds whatsoever.

Steven Shaviro. Crisis. But no matter what, the worst never leads to the better. Revolution will never come from sacrifice. It is only under conditions of (relative) prosperity and abundance—which capitalism does provide, after a manner, during one part of its cycle—that we will ever find the power to imagine things differently, and that people will have the motivation and the energy to devote themselves to hopes for the future, rather than being stuck in the moment-to-moment struggle for bare survival. Abundance and non-commodified leisure are the only things that capitalism is unable to endure. Both the crazed accumulation and conspicuous consumption that characterized the financial sector over the last two decades, and the crazed destruction and disaccumulation that are overtaking that same sector today, serve the purpose of averting the threat of a generalized abundance and leisure for everybody. Abundance and leisure—which are technologically attainable, but economically unthinkable—must be revived as the basis for any sort of political struggle. Now more than ever is the time to (as Lenin’s Tomb suggested some years ago) “be unrealistic, demand the possible.”

Rick Kuhn. The Problem Is Capitalism, Not Just the Banks. The fact that production is organised not to satisfy human needs but to make profits for the capitalist class is the ultimate cause of the system’s recurrent crises. Financial regulation and even an expansion of state ownership, which conservatives and supporters of traditional social democracy label ‘socialism’, cannot overcome this tendency.  Governments will soon demand that ‘everyone’ tighten their belts. Unemployment will rise, while employers and governments try to boost profits by driving wages down. The alternative is a real socialism in which workers replace production for profit with production to fulfill human needs and the despotic structures of all corporations with democratic control over workplaces and society as a whole. Now that neo-liberalism has ceased to be common sense, it is worth considering.

Marshall I. Goldman. Russia’s Big Bang. Since the Russian stock market has fallen more than 70 percent since May, those who invested in the country have suffered badly. Yes, you could argue that this only directly affects a small group of Russian and foreign investors, but now there are signs that many Russians who do not own stock may also be hurt. For example, because of the sharp drop in automobile sales, Severstal has cut back steel production and employment by 25 percent in Russia and by 30 percent in the subsidiaries it has recently purchased in the United States. If such unemployment should spread, this will surely lead to political unrest. It may also mean a rough time for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and especially for Dmitry Medvedev, who had the misfortune to take over the presidency just as the country’s economy began what already looks likely to be the country’s worst financial collapse since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Anna Smolchenko. Russia in No Rush For Crisis Summit. The Kremlin signaled Sunday that it was in no hurry to confirm its participation in an international summit called by U.S. and EU leaders to tackle the global financial crisis over the weekend. The apparent reluctance to join other world leaders came as a senior government official said that unlike in the West, there was no crisis in Russia.

Andrew E. Kramer. Empires Built on Debt Start to Crumble. Are the Russian oligarchs going bust? In the current global financial crisis, perhaps no community of the superaffluent has fallen as hard, or as fast, as the brash Kremlin-connected insiders whose wealth was tied up in the overlapping bubbles of the Russian stock market, commodity prices and easy credit.

Независимая газета. Генеральная линия на отчуждение: Демонстративно не замечая кризиса, власти подрывают доверие к себе. Поразивший мир и не обошедший стороной Россию финансовый кризис крайне тенденциозно освещается государственными и окологосударственными СМИ. Вроде бы кризис есть, и вроде бы его и нет. С телеэкранов населению чуть не каждый день исправно рассказывают о том, как кризисные явления все больше и больше поражают финансовые системы США, Евросоюза и других стран, а также о мерах, которые власти этих стран предпринимают для выхода из тяжелой ситуации. Положение в России государственными СМИ освещается совсем по-другому. Слов «кризис» и «обвал» дикторы и комментаторы стараются избегать, зачастую не сообщают и о наиболее драматических происшествиях на фондовом и финансовых рынках. Они исправно доносят лишь мнение властей о том, что в кризисе виноваты США, что РФ может быть «островком стабильности», а также освещают антикризисные меры, которые предпринимают отечественные власти. [Nezavisimaya gazeta, “A general policy of distancing: By demonstratively ignoring the crisis, the authorities undermine the public’s confidence in them.” The financial crisis that has stunned the world and not passed Russia by either has been covered in a extremely tendentious way by the state and quasi-state media. It is as if there is a crisis, but at the same as if there wasn’t one. Nearly every day on its TV screens the population sees precise reports about how the effects of the crisis continue to ravage the financial systems of the US, the EU, and other countries, as well as what measures the authorities in these countries are implementing in order to get out of this difficult situation. The state of affairs in Russia is covered in a completely different way by the state media. News presenters and commentators try to avoid using the words “crisis” and “crash,” and often they fail to report the most dramatic events in the stock and financial markets. The only thing they get right is reporting the opinion of the powers that be that the US is to blame for the crisis and that the Russian Federation might be an “island of stability,” as well as covering the anti-crisis measures taken by the Russian authorities.]

Chris Hedges. The Idiots Who Rule America. I do not think George W. Bush or Barack Obama or John McCain or Henry Paulson are fascists. Rather, they are part of a cabal of naive, mediocre and self-deluded capitalists who are steadily weakening political and economic structures to a point where our democracy will become so impotent that it can be blown aside, probably with broad popular support. The only question is how this will happen. Will there be a steady and slow decline as in the late Roman Empire when the Senate ended as a farce? Will we see a powerful right-wing backlash from those outside the mainstream political system, as we did in Yugoslavia, and the rise of a militant Christian fascism? Will there be a national crisis that allows those in power to instantly sweep away all constitutional rights in the name of national security? I do not know. But I do know that what is coming, as long as our oligarchy remains in charge, will not be good. We will either recover the concept of the public good, and this means a revolt against our bankrupt elite and the dynamiting of the corporatist structure, or we will extinguish our democracy.

Nina Power. Sarah Palin: Castration as Plenitude. The anxiety that ‘a Sarah Palin’ induces is not the old one of noting with horror the lack (‘why don’t girls have what I have?’), but of the greater fear of a vast female plenitude: America has found its new hero, and she’s a woman who turns the insults that every successful woman has hurled at her (dog, bitch, flirt) into ammunition to shoot dead her accusers. She turns maternity into a war-weapon, inexperience into a populist virtue and Feminism into something that even the Christian Right could approve of. She is absolutely, limitlessly terrifying.

Marisol Bello. White supremacists target middle America. The white-power movement is changing its marketing strategy to broaden its appeal. The USA’s largest neo-Nazi group is ditching its trademark brown Nazi uniform with swastika armband for a more muted look in black fatigues. In Pennsylvania, the Keystone State Skinheads is changing its name to Keystone United to attract members. The nation’s largest white-power website, Stormfront, has a new feature that lets members create social-networking pages. The site has had as many as 42,700 unique visitors in a 24-hour period this month, a steady rise since it started in 1995. Supremacist groups are on the rise as they market themselves to middle America, according to leaders of the groups and organizations that monitor them. They are fueled by the debate over illegal immigration and a struggling economy.

Ben Smith. Racists for Obama? New polling and a trickle of stories from the battleground states suggest that Sen. Barack Obama’s coalition includes one unlikely group: white voters with negative views of African-Americans.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. & Greg Palast. Block the Vote: Will the GOP’s campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president? In the century following the Civil War, millions of black Americans in the Deep South lost their constitutional right to vote, thanks to literacy tests, poll taxes and other Jim Crow restrictions imposed by white officials. Add up all the modern-day barriers to voting erected since the 2004 election—the new registrations thrown out, the existing registrations scrubbed, the spoiled ballots, the provisional ballots that were never counted —and what you have is millions of voters, more than enough to swing the presidential election, quietly being detached from the electorate by subterfuge.

Eric Mann. Ten Reasons We Should Turn Out the Vote for Barack Obama. For those of us who are in the Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights, Women’s Liberation, Environmental Justice, and Anti-War Movements, for those of us on the Left, the election of Barack Obama is of the utmost urgency. Voting for Barack Obama is not enough. In the next two weeks we need to put all our energy into getting out the vote to elect Obama and defeat McCain. Because of his brilliant organizing, the possibility of an Obama victory is palpable. Because of the racism of this country and the strong reactionary elements of the general population, the threat of a McCain victory is only too real. The stakes leave no room for passive support. The Republicans coalescing against Obama are carrying out a calculated strategy to preserve and extend the victories of Reagan and Bush. If it can be imagined, they intend to take the country even further to the right. They want to destroy what is left of democratic liberalism, destroy the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, destroy the Immigrant Rights, Women’s Liberation, LGBT, Anti-War movements, to destroy the Left.

Louis Proyect. Is Obama a Socialist? But the crucial point is that one cannot expect Obama to carry out any kind of redistributionist program unless there is a tidal wave of protests mounted by ordinary Americans who refuse to be evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs. Roosevelt came into the Presidency with more or less the same kind of promises of fiscal restraint as Obama but militant strikes and protests by the unemployed woke him up to the fact that welfare state capitalism (i.e. “democratic socialism”) was preferable to communism.

Katherine Marsh. The TNR Q&A: Brian Moore. Barack Obama and John McCain have been called socialists for their support of the bailout. But Moore, the Socialist Party USA’s presidential nominee, really is one, and his feelings are hurt.

Danielle Demetriou. Japan’s young turn to Communist Party as they decide capitalism has let them down. With its gleaming designer stores, the world’s second largest economy and an insatiable appetite for luxury labels, Japan has long been regarded as the land of the rising capitalist. But a wave of discontent among its younger workers is fuelling a change in the nation’s political landscape: communism is suddenly back in fashion. What many young Japanese view as an erosion of their economic security and employment rights, combined with years of political stagnation, are propelling droves of them into the arms of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the nation’s fourth largest political party.

Michael Hirschorn. He Saw It Coming: The forgotten filmmaker who anticipated our modern media madness. The filmmaker Peter Watkins is legendarily unknown. His movies are virtually never shown, except at rare cine­phile screenings, museum retro­spectives, and lefty campus events. Over the past few years, most of his 14 films have dribbled out on DVD, but until a screenwriter friend turned me on to him recently, I had no clue who he was. When I expressed amazement at the uncanny way his films, most of them dating back to the ’60s and ’70s, presage the contemporary cultural and political landscape—from Fox News to The Daily Show, from reality TV to the coverage of the Iraq War—my friend responded, “Now you know the secret source. All things come from Watkins. All.”



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