south

First off, let me say that I don’t blame the South for anything in the U.S. The U.S. as far as I’m concerned is the South, with scattered, small, hopeless pockets of resistance.

I would say that the biggest mistake anybody made was struggling to force the South into the Union at that golden historical opportunity where the South could’ve just cleaved off; however, I know the point for northern capital was to keep the political economy of the whole imperial racial dictatorship together. The slave South was not an exception to American political economy, it just needed some tailoring. I’m just sorry that northern workers felt invested enough in that Manifest Destiny ideology to hurl themselves upon the bayonettes.

The North won the battle. Racial dictatorship transformed into…racial dictatorship. A very unobservant person might say that the North won the Civil War, but if you’ve checked out American society over the course of the last 100 years, you will probably notice that the slave society just got diffused and secularized, just as Weber claims the Protestant Ethic did. The South won. It won the hearts and minds of America, and we are an anti-democratic, authoritarian, patronage-based, theocratic patriarchy, complete with a Southern oil-based political-military dynasty.

There are resources here, but they’re sequstered behind metal and tanks. That’s what worshipping private property was all about all along. There is no hope here, except the frantic, desperate hope of a battered wife.

Other countries’ citizens might feel that they are not the assholes that Americans generally are, and that’s often true. But it’s only sad. Reflect on the rapacious legacy of Anglo capitalism, and consider: Who in the world encountered the relentless, venal, class-warfare onslaught of organized, belligerent capital as did U.S. workers, Native Americans, blacks, women? Had you been forced into fragments, and had your capital been as implacable as ours, you would be the same fat, ignorant, insensate jackasses we are, howling and clawing at each other in ressentiment, slaving away to douse the bright dreams of the Enlightenment and to build others’ personal stockpiles of accumulation, which deforms us as it crushes you. We’re monstrous and we’re pathetic. The U.S. is a slave society. We always have been, and we always will be.

recommended reproduction reading

I have been through a hell of a lot of pregnancy and childbirth books. If you have already gotten pregnant, I recommend the following books:

1) England, Pam and Rob Horowitz. 1998. Birthing from within. Albuquerque: Partera Press.
2) Greenberg, Gary and Jeannie Hayden. 2004. Be prepared: A practical handbook for new dads. New York: Simon & Schuster.

I recommend these two books for both parents. The England book is good for birth preparation, but I would skip the end parenting chapter, where the author gets crusty and mean all of a sudden. England’s a midwife and her strength is preparing for and giving birth. The second book’s more about parenting. Even though the Greenberg book says it’s for dads, if you’re female and it’s been decades since you’ve last babysat, it’ll be helpful. I’ll update this entry when I find a good guide to breastfeeding. However, there are a million classes on breastfeeding.

If you are an American considering getting pregnant, I strongly recommend you read Naomi Wolf’s myth-busting Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood (2001). It’s essential reading for improving your ability to make thoughtful, informed decisions, and to recognize masked structural imperatives in the American system of reproduction that lead to hidden experiential and behavioral patterns.

The caveats to this recommendation are three. (1) Some sections of Wolf’s book are bound by a heavy uppermiddleclass persepctive, such as where women get isolated out in suburbs while the husbands are ensconced in upper-management tracks. It’s not that similar dynamics don’t operate for other classes, but you get a feeling that the circumstances are different, and they’re not really explored here. Many of us are not uppermiddleclass, and we’re still concerned about how American motherhood inexorably ends up slaving away for patriarchy and capital. But Wolf does at least work to explicitly point out class and race dynamics.

(2) A few of Wolf’s experiences are the result of her being an author, and more inclined toward neurotic, artistic, highly imaginative reveries than you might be, such as where she falls into obsessing on misogyny and death in a swimming pool aerobics session.

(3) In the end, Wolf has some social movement suggestions for improving health care and mothers’ and childrens’ welfare. But here Wolf is missing a big gaping problem in her proposed social movement program. She clearly possesses an insufficient understanding of American society, history, and politics. There have been Mother’s Movements in American history. These impassioned, organized movements resulted in weak and temporary social improvements, and thus fail to catch Wolf’s eye. But Ian Gough trenchantly observed in 1979: Social movements through history and around the world “have sought to substitute conscious allocation of resources to meet social needs for the unplanned operation of unregulated market forces. Behind these social movements, in turn, lies the strength of the organized labor movement. The example of the United States shows how powerful organizations of blacks, women, welfare clients and so on will fail to achieve lasting improvements in social policies in the absence of this bulwark against the power of the dominant classes”–a labor movement.

It is crucial that we remember that it is not just rational actor men or the state or human resources departments that need to be won over or overcome. There is a more salient force behind American society formation that we can never overlook. We need to study history to come to terms with capitalism.

What Wolf can’t see clearly enough from her study of contemporary uppermiddleclass women’s painful experiences in a suburb is that capital has for centuries fought viciously in the U.S. to destroy any institutions that threaten its tools of division and control.

Short of a profound social movement that incorporates an understanding not just of patriarchy and racism, but of class conflict and capitalism, and short of a structural weakening of capital’s class and state institutions of coordination, there will be no further improvements in the welfare of women, children, and families, there will be no development of the American welfare state, and corporations will not sponsor practices that give working people more control over their lives–even if these practices are only described as improving health care or women’s careers.

Capital is highly organized and employs legions of analysts, strategists, managers, publicists, lawyers, and a whole range of militarized police. It is only once in a blue moon that capital is temporarily fooled on the margins by a partial movement of reformists, and relying on that ephemeral improbability is not a social movement strategy. It’s been fairly futile for working people to stump for better working and living conditions in fractured, pro-capitalist bands of interest. Even when the elites give us a nice, compensatory library or museum, they do it for the tax break and only after an alarming bout of labor agitation.

university policy formation and capitalism

Do you know how nonprofit private univeristy policy is made? Well, the university administration gets a bunch of capitalists whom they think might gift the university with a substantial amount of money at some point convenient to the the capitalist (say, a chunk upon death). They ask the capitalists (and maybe a token clergy member) to sit on the university’s Board of Directors. They tell the capitalists that they can make university policies. Then the university administration types up and enforces the policies the potential donors come up with.

What happens when professors and students think that they have a stake in university policy decision making? Well, they might ask to have representatives included on the Board of Directors, as has happened at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.

So my dad tells me that his capitalist friend Al DeBoer, who sits on the Hamline University Board of Directors, is against allowing faculty and students to place elected representatives on the Hamline University Board of Directors. To his credit, my dad tells me, Al did say he thought the faculty and the students have some good points. However, Al said, a student and a faculty member can’t sit on the Board of Directors and try to contribute to university policy because the students are our clients, and the professors are the employees of the Board of Directors.

My dad was a little outraged, although this pique remained unvoiced to his friend Al, for reasons of the power disparity in their relationship. What, my dad asked me, qualifies the people on the existing Board of Directors to be the ones making university policy? Nothing else than they have money, he answered. That is not a legitimate reason why they should have a monopoly on policy setting in a university. My dad digressed into how the student and faculty reps would probably have no power on the Board of Directors anyway.

But, I pointed out, at least if the student and faculty reps were on the Board, the capitalists on the Board wouldn’t be so insulated in their own magical kingdom. They would learn, for instance, that the professors are surprised to hear that the capitalists on the Board consider the faculty to be their personal employees.

This I find fascinating. I understand that American law is royally fucked, but how is it that a bunch of rich people recruited by institutional development administrators to sit on a nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors would have the privilege to set institutional policy, specifically exclusive of faculty and student stakeholders? How is it that a voluntary position based on potential to donate gifts in a nonprofit academic organization is legally equivalent to and considered representative of the entire institution? How do the rich guys effectively own the university by being on the voluntary Board? How do they as Board members specifically employ faculty members–that is how have the Board members bought the professors’ labor power? They didn’t invest any capital in the nonprofit. They can’t be expecting a return with interest on the production of the “university factory.” They’re only there because some administrator hopes that by giving them some decision making power at the university, they’ll fork over a hefty gift at some point. Is that really a good reason to give them exclusive policy-making power over an academic organization? Does it boil down to them possessing exclusive policy-setting privilege because they have ownership status in completely unrelated organizations characterized by the unitary goal of accumulating wealth–the corporate ones they actually invested in? Does their legal status as capitalists transfer across different kinds of institutions?

It seems pretty fucking outrageous to me. But if it’s true that ownership is effectively the legal status of a private, nonprofit, educational institution’s Board of Directors, that’s one reason why this country is corrupt and inept at anything other than plundering.

Also, it’s nothing less than a sign of their capitalist analytical and management incompetence that they reduce students to the unidimension “clients” and professors merely to “employees” in the context of a university (that is, an institution that is not a for-profit corporation).

Students are citizens, scholars, and stakeholders, not just clients or consumers. A client or customer is a statistic in cheeseburger sales.

Professors are citizens, scholars, professionals, workers, public intellectuals, researchers, academics, stakeholders. They are not merely the employees of some rich guys who should understand their places on the Board as highly “honorary”–in respect to their capital assets, not their unproven and unlikely academic decision-making expertise.

The university ought to be the last bastion against neoliberal reductionism of human life, and students and professors as stakeholding citizens and scholars should be represented on univeristy Boards of Directors in university policy formation.

solidarity and independent socialist organization

This entry reviews some lessons from Paul Buhle’s “The legacy of the IWW” in this June 2005 Monthly Review, as well as the Norweigan Steinar Stjerno’s Solidarity in Europe (2005). In a larger project I’m currently working on, I’m trying to discuss the changing modern meaning and uses of solidarity–especially vis-a-vis outsider groups like immigrants.

While in Europe some contemporary social democrats congratulate themselves on effectively adopting the Christian democrats’ johnny-come-lately appropriation of solidarity (dropping worker solidarity and dropping the “belief in the lowest ranks of workers” in favor of an electorally-driven, middleclass-fetishizing, mostly-nationalist, and charity-based definition of solidarity) as “modernisation,” I’m interested in what happens politically when the praxis-fueled sense of (to paraphrase) “working people who understand their own power and the capacity to act and share with other workers across the world” is lost.

The main thing it seems to me right now is that, in the capitalist historical era, if a society doesn’t put together a discrete socialist party & a solidaristic (beyond business unionism) labor movement to keep the soc dems (or other lefty-capitalist political organization) honest over time, the slogan “solidarity” comes to be simply used as a gesture back to a lost period of time in which working people played a dynamic role in social formation.

In many European countries such a gesture has proven a risky basis on which to differentiate soc dem parties from liberal parties in electoral competition. Without socialist organization and counter-hegemony, the political-economic system reverts to liberalism/conservatism. Even though Soc Dems in Sweden deny this (and though they do have the long-range political savvy to protect the Left Party from bourgeois attacks), liberalization is patently observable and can’t be disguised as “modernization”… even more so in the other soc dem countries and parties. It’ll be interesting to see how Chavez develops a counter-neoliberal infrastructure in capitalist Venezuela (see Gott, Richard. 2005. “Chavez shows how to lead.” The Guardian Weekly, June 3-9: 5).

There’s a really great history article I was reading a few months ago about ecology, the northern MN timber workers (obviously many Finnish and Ojibway), the socialist MN governor, and the Wobblies (I’ll retrieve the reference in a few days). It covers a rare instance in US history when the Wobblies were surprised to find that their view of what was possible in terms of labor movement was too restricted. The difference was in how Wobblies met for one of the first times in the US the accumulated work socialists and communists had done to build statewide cultural programs and political organization. (Pinchot’s Pennsylvania was also uniquely facilitative to labor, but that was based on Pinchot’s personal politics and elite power.)

Then we recall Jennifer Delton’s fascinating history of how it all imploded. East Coast political keynesians came to MN, colonized the strong race- & rural/urban-solidaristic socialist organizations and the socialist-farmer political party, and eviscerated them, transfering the socialists’ voters and anti-racism initiatives into the keynesians’ newly-formed DFL Party. Delton argues that on a national scale, the keynesian Democrats (HHH, Mondale, Freeman) then took the anti-racism modernization platform into the Democratic Party and induced the transfer of white Southern elites & their followers into the Republican Party. Minnesotans were left to drift from then on into the upswelling tide of right-wing organization and hegemony.

There’s another interesting point in that I found that revisionist Republican hegemonists attack the current “Happy to pay for a better Minnesota” campaign as ahistorical, claiming rather disingenuously that MN was always a Republican state, dedicated to inegalitarian, imperial neoliberalism, and the absolute power of the filthy rich. Well, it’s true that the Democratic Party in MN (the DFL) is an invention of outside intervention in the mid-twentieth century. However, to imply that the same political forces existed in the past as exist today in MN is a rather big, fat lie.

No, historically, Minnesotans weren’t Democrats at the time when the Democrat Party was the party of Southern slavers and conservative Catholic immigrants. Besides the rapacious, pro-elite, Anglo Republicans, most Scandinavian and other non-Anglo Minnesotans were in fact radicals. They were socialists, Nonpartisan Leaguers (radical farmers), social democrats, Trotskyites, and communists, all struggling for a political and economic citizenship society not based on ownership (see the illuminating history: Millikan, William. 2005. A union against unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and its fight against organized labor, 1903-1947. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Society Press). They were damn sure happy to pool resources and work together to produce the social infrastructure, public goods and culture, quality of life, and opportunities that working people can’t afford when they’re isolated.