Chto Delat Weekly Reader No. 8: Can We?

m-anti-obama-no-barack-we-cantHere at Chtodelat News, we’re awfully tired of having to translate endless reports of assaults on Russian activists. So we’re glad that once in a while we can turn our gaze from the troubled Eurasian plains and forests to the bright shining shore of America—where President-Elect Obama is rapidly filling his cabinet with dubious DNC types, ex-Clintonites, Wall Street insiders, and fallen university presidents. Good for him! It is nice to know that the one of us who could vote, voted for the wrong guy. (Or is he?) Let the class war to end all class wars begin! So you’ll know which side you’re on when all hell breaks loose, we present you with a user’s guide to the current conjuncture featuring video lectures from Democracy in America: The National Campaign, texts by Brian Holmes, Mike Davis, and Luis Martin-Cabrera, and a forecast of what lies ahead for our comrades in the Zapatista movement. Yes, we can!

Democracy in America: The National Campaign. The Yes Men, David Harvey, Camilo Mejia, Guerrilla Girls, Brian Holmes, Trevor Paglen, Reverend Billy, Steve Kurz, W.A.G.E and others reflect on the war on terror, the financial crisis, the meaning of America’s (non)democracy, and the ethics of art production as part of a large-scale project that culminated with a seven-day exhibition in September at the Park Avenue Armory, in New York. (Video)

Brian Holmes. Financial Crimes. There is a better way of living, there is a finer way of feeling, there is a more beautiful and meaningful way of making art, and there is a chance to save the rest of the world and ourselves from more excess violence by the United States of Capital. Dividing the winners from the losers has now put all of us on the losing side. But meanwhile, what they want to do is achieve another round of concentration in the banking sector and go out stirring up more crisis and war. For years after 9-11, Americans looked to all the world like a bunch of zombies, moving through the slo-mo scenarios of the neocons and the presidential media. It’s time for the zombies to reawaken and quit eating each other’s flesh. Let’s reorganize our bodies and put them on the line for the next ten or twenty years, because life is not finance—and that’s how long it will take to change anything real. (Text of an address at Democracy in America: The National Campaign)

Mike Davis. US Elections—the New Deal? Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah’s Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I’ve been preaching Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I’d actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent “systemic meltdown”. Thus my initial reaction to Wall Street’s infamous 777.7 point plunge a month ago was a very 1960s retro elation. “Right on, Karl!” I shouted. “Eat your derivatives and die, Wall Street swine!” Like the Grand Canyon, the fall of the banks can be a terrifying but sublime spectacle.

John Molyneux. Some Thoughts on the Crisis. Torn between laughter and tears I am reminded of the motto of the great 17th century philosopher, Spinoza, ‘Neither laugh nor cry, but understand!’. And as a contribution to understanding this crisis I want to make three points. First it is not some natural disaster or weather calamity. Greenspan described it as ‘a once in a century tsunami’, and the media is full of phrases such as ‘economic typhoon’ or ‘hurricane’. This is nonsense: the crisis is neither natural nor an act of god but entirely man made; it was, in broad outlines, predictable and predicted for example by Marxist economists such as Chris Harman and Robert Brenner; and, pace Greenspan, these crises recur a lot more frequently than ‘once in a century’.

Larval Subjects. Post-Identity Politics? In the last five minutes of Friday’s Bill Moyer’s Journal, Eric Foner remarks that one thing Obama can do to diminish racial and religious tensions is to work to strengthen unions. Where conflict unfolds at the level of identity, at the level of racial and religious differences, it is irresolvable as one group can only be pitted against another. By contrast, labor struggles surmount these sorts of divisions as 1) the participants have a shared problem with which they are engaged despite their differences, 2) labor struggles bring very diverse groups together, coming from different genders, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, etc., creating an opportunity for exposure to difference that diminishes us/them logic that characterizes forms of politics premised on identity, and 3) union struggle creates a sense of empowerment that surmounts the sense of being abandoned to the winds of economic fate. Living in a “Right To Work” state like Texas, this issue is particularly sensitive to me, as the “Right to Work” laws are Orwellian-speak for the ceding of all power to employers while completely castrating labor and providing it with no means to organize or negotiate better conditions for itself.

Luis Martin-Cabrera. From Felipe Gonzalez to Barack Obama: for change you have to rely on mobilization. Not all of our aspirations are the same, but our enemy is, and because of this we should unite in the same collective spirit that made it possible for Evo Morales to nationalize Bolivia’s hydrocarbons in the face of threats from the oligarchy, the same that made it possible for Kirchner to nationalize the pension system in Argentina, the same that gave Hugo Chavez the legitimacy to govern for the people and with the people.  A president without a mass movement behind him can only be a puppet in the hands of capital.  If there is something to learn from Latin America it is precisely this, that from Buenos Aires to Caracas, it is the people in the streets who are saying no to global capitalism in the name of a more just society.  Obama is not the anti-Christ as many Christian fundamentalists believe, nor is he the Messiah, he is only a charismatic and talented politician, it means that we should not march home and conform as happened in ‘82.  In this sense, Obama’s campaign, which appropriated one of the United Farm Workers slogans—“Yes, we can”—yet so that for Cesar Chavez and the Mexican migrants could have a more dignified live they had to march from Delano to Sacramento, to go on strike and change things from below. Today, as yesterday, we have to tell Obama from the streets, yes we can, and yes we can transform reality, yes we can, as Belen Gopegui stated, change and not just reform the hard nucleus of the real world so that the only possible morality is not profit and systems of crisis. If we have learned something from the long and disenchanting experience of social democracy in Spain is that we can’t let ourselves be enchanted by the songs of sirens and then march ourselves home.

Orion Cruz. The Future of Mexico’s EZLN. In other words, if measures are not taken by the EZLN to denature prospects of conflict, it appears that squaring off with Calderón’s “mano dura” could mean the EZLN is likely to face a renewal of violence with the Mexican authorities before his term ends in 2012. While the path to peace and autonomy is far from clear, it seems as if defensive preparedness, avoidance of conflict with the paramilitaries and a focused attempt to expose their ties with the government, as well as renewed efforts to preemptively draw the attention of the international community to events in Chiapas, would represent a logical starting point. Whatever decisions the EZLN makes, such efforts will likely require unflinching courage and dedication to the Zapatista cause, as its members will be confronting an opponent that would very much like to make an example out of their resistance to neoliberalism, and which is likely to have the backing of powerful domestic and international political-economic interests.


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