Sunday, November 30, 2008


Thomas Riggins

The 12-5-08 issue of The Week has an interesting news report, "Bioethics: Should the Mammoth Live Again?", detailing how scientists have just completed putting together the genome of the woolly mammoth, last seen on Earth around 8000 B.C. [except for a pigmy island subspecies that lasted a few thousand more years, into historic times.]

Thomas Jefferson thought the mammoth, known to him from bones alone, could not have really gone extinct and would probably be run across by Lewis and Clark. Sadly, they found no mammoths but scientists today could be planning to recreate this extinct species. The Week quotes biochemist S. Schuster: "It could be done. " It may take 10 or 20 years of research but it is within our grasp, but "should we do it?"

Well, it would be quite some scientific coup to pull off. In reality we don't seem to be able to preserve the whales and elephants we already have-- both of which are predicted to soon (within a century or so) become extinct due to our insistence on remaining capitalists and destroying the atmosphere and climate of the earth.

One writer thinks (tongue in cheek) we have a moral obligation to the mammoth since "our ancestors....hunted them to extinction in the first place." This was once a popular view but most scientists today think it was ancient climate change that did in the mammoths and the glacial ice age which was their environment.

We do have a moral obligation, however, to fight against the capitalist system whose relentless drive for profits, regardless of the human and environmental costs, will sooner or later, if not overthrown, put us on a par with the mammoth. Maybe we can broadcast our genome into outer space and hope some more advanced species will bring us back again. They will hopefully have more sense.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A postcript to my fifteen minutes of fame

by norman markowitz

I am continuing to roll through the internet, or rather the quote from me is, as the right debates the dangers that socialized medicine would bring to the Republican party, that is, an electorate which would live longer, healthier, more stress free lives and be far less likely to vote for politicians who keep giving them agita and acid reflux by denouncing Communists, socialists, liberals, secular humanists,domestic minorities, foreigners who don't support some combination of "free market" governments and military juntas, and all those who don't believe that the road to heaven is paved with tax cuts for the rich and the corporations.

I should say that my quote is producing a growing backlash on progressive websites among people who are realizing that the right-wing is so upset about socialized medicine because they fear that it will be popular and successful.

But I have another idea that may be of interest across the political spectrum, Although the Obama administration is not a socialist administration and does not advocate a socialist America as a long-term goal, as does Political Affairs, The Peoples Weekly World, and the major ongoing party of Socialism in the U.S. since the early 1920s, The Communist Party USA, it might do what the Roosevelt administration did in the 1930s when it established the TVA, a program of public energy, as part of a larger social experiment in a world of private power companies.

In this case, instead of merely bailing out GM, it might nationalize GM and run it as a public corporation with Ford remaining private. Along with this mixed economy model, it might then establish a policy for the U.S. auto industry which would restrict both the export of capital and import of cars from abroad, a policy of labor-consumer "protectionism."

This policy might along with saving the auto industry and producing an economic rennaissance in Michigan, be a kind of "shock therapy" for both conservatives and corporate leadership, as it was in many European countries after WWII (capitalist countries not socialist ones
further to the east).

It compelled the conservatives in countries like Britain and France to politically "modernize," to begin to offer serious capitalist alternatives to policies instead of the usual flag waving and name
calling, to spend their time seeking to denationalize industry while they came to accept and even endorse many welfare state policies (which corporations found out produced a more efficient labor force and conservative parties found out was political suicide to oppose).

Eventually, conservatives even before the Thatcher-Reagan era were able to denationalize most nationalized industries, but they were never able to abolish the major welfare state reforms, even at the height of the Thatcher Reagan era, although they did greatly undermine such policies in many countries by adopting "market oriented" administrative polices.

Nationalizing GM should be food for thought in this post Thanksgiving period for not only the left but our "conservative" friends. (I put conservative in quotes because on the more reasonable right-wing websites Marxist is put in quotes when dealing with my PA article.)

Support Human Rights in Israel

This story has really touched me. Just when I thought the Israeli government couldn't surprise me any more, it turns out they're locking up teenagers who refuse to serve in the military and participate in the oppression of the Palestenian people. Some of these kids are only 17 years old, and yet they are taking a stand and serving jail time in a show of solidarity with the Palestenians. They are demonstrating that they believe in a world of peace and cooperation, and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I shudder to think of myself, or the people I know, in their shoes. It is an outrage.

I encourage you to sign the letter calling for their release to be delivered to the Israeli Minister of Defense.



Friday, November 28, 2008

Book Review: Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Kate Atkinson
Picador, 1995/1996
333 Pages

by Eric Green

"In the end, it is my belief, words are the only things that can construct a world that makes sense."

Those are the words of Ruby Lennox the main character in this award-winning novel by Scottish writer, Kate Atkinson. I recently reviewed Atkinson's book, "Case Histories," understanding that she was moving from a pure novel form to a novel/mystery form. What I didn't know or understand, that her first novel, "Behind the Scenes at the Museum," was probably the perfect NOVEL.

By perfect I don't mean a novel that you can sit back and read without being taken on a journey within the two to three generations of quite complicated families that carry amazing life's experiences.

It is hard to review this book by reporting any one of the families ancestries because there are so many and so many filled with an amazing number of life's events. Only a writer with the skill, humor and humanity could not just get away with these highly dramatic epoch stories, but also, leave you feeling very good about yourself and the character's lives.

It is no wonder; Atkinson won the Whitbread Book of the Year award for this novel.

The novel gives you glimpses into both World Wars as well as the British Empire and its Commonwealth nations. You aren't give the insights and tragedies of WWI that you get in books by Charles Todd or Sebastian Faulks. But, this book is the sum total of many family epochs, nontheless.

But, it is Ruby Lennox who keeps you in the book as Atkinson throws family after family at you with calamities, disasters and a few successes.

If you haven't already read this book, clearly it took me more 10 years to discover Atkinson, read it now.

With Atkinson moving into the novel/mystery world with "Case Histories" her followers have a lot of enjoyable and exciting reading to look forward to.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Terror Attacks in India

by Norman Markowitz

Seven years ago when the September 11 attacks took place (attacks offer greater magnitude) I wrote an early article which stated that the Al Qaeda group was the "Frankenstein monster" of the Pakistani Intelligence agency (ISI) and the CIA's guerrilla/terrorist war against the Communist-led government of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The early reports suggest that these attacks are linked to right-wing religious Pakistan based groups which have a history of being supported by sections of the Pakistani ISI right up to this time. There have also been in the recent past reports from a wide variety of sources, including U.S. government sources that the Pakistani government has misused much of the billions of dollars the Bush administration gave in from 2001 on as an "ally" in the "war against terrorism" to fund terrorist activities against India, especially its campaign to annex Kashmir, a conflict which has claimed tens of thousands of lives over the decades. Although the reports are very early and untrustworthy at this point, there is what seems to be a growing body of information to link these attacks (which have not yet been subdued) to Pakistani based groups with a long history of attacks against India and a long history of receiving covert support from Pakistani authorities and indirect support from the U.S. agencies.

What should the coming Obama administration and Americans generally learn from this? What unfortunately, I would say, few learned from the September 11 attacks. First, "terrorists" are provocateurs who cannot mount either conventional or guerrilla wars. They seek attention, and mass media, for both political and commercial purposes,
gives them that attention. A "smart" administration should inform media that its most important and socially useful task should be to try to decrease public fears, not increase such fears. A "smart" administration should let the international community know that their will be no over-reaction, since that is precisely what the terrorist
groups want.

A smart administration should begin to educate the people to realities that many already know--that is, that fighting terrorist groups is primarily a police, not a military question, not an excuse for increasing military budgets and suppressing civil liberties. Obviously, the Pakistani government and its intelligence services are completely untrustworthy, as they have been for a very long time. Multinational cooperation with India on this issue, through the governments of many countries that have a common interest in defeating such groups, including Russia and China along with the U.S. traditional allies, would be the policy of a "smart" administration.

Finally, a "smart" administration must pursue as part of a larger global peace policy a peace based regional policy, one that will bring India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, who have major ethnocultural historical bonds together and pursue policies of disarmament and economic and social cooperation for development. The right-wing terrorist groups feed on the poverty and social injustice of t this and other regions to use violence to provoke counter-violence to expand their influence. As Mohandas K Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Liberation movement against British imperialism and, in my opinion, the most influential non-Marxist revolutionary in modern history, said (I am paraphrasing because my faulty internet access doesn't give me the exact quote) poverty is itself great violence, a foundation of violence, meaning it is the source of violence, and non-violence as a tactic to achieve social justice must struggle to eliminate poverty, or else the political victories that are won will eventually be compromised.

The Obama administration will have the terrible example of the Bush disasters as it takes office. Hopefully it will consciously avoid what Bush did, that is, whip up fear and define the conflict in general and unfocused military terms, using the attacks and the
"terrorist" issue to advance its rightwing political agenda, waste many hundreds of billions of dollars, and do little to really defeat the terrorist groups.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My 15 Minutes of Fame on the Internet

by Norman Markowitz

To my surprise, my article "Obama's Mandate for Change" has been picked up by a wide variety of right-wing and more serious conservative sources. They are running with a quote from the article which they are interpreting in odd ways. Some of the right-wing stuff is ugly and has given me some hate mail from what I consider gutter fascist sources, and some "anarcho-fascist" combining the politics of Nazi newspapers like Der Angriff with the language of Screw magazine, but others, from the CATO Institute, and a U.S. News and World Report journalist have been more serious, although very odd in the argument that they are making.

I made the argument in my article for a single payer health care program. That is for me as necessary a benchmark for a modern industrial civilized country in the 21st century as the abolition of slavery was the 19th. Throughout the world that is called socialized medicine. That is not what President Elect Obama is advocating at the moment. My article meant to encourage him to move in that direction, not in the direction that Bill Clinton took in 1993 (regulated insurance company based HMO's) In making my argument I contended that the British Labor Party won over workers who had traditionally supported the Conservative Party for a variety of reasons (provincialism, nationalism, the belief that the elites should rule) by establishing the National Health Service and other important social welfare state policies for all people. I could have mentioned that the Roosevelt administration's enactment of Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Minimum Wages, the Forty-Hour Week and other major reforms in the 1930s had a similar effect in consolidating the political gains of the New Deal administration and making the Democratic party, with all of its flaws, the majority party of the country for at least the next half century, whereas the Republicans had been the majority party from the Civil War to the Depression.

Let me say that the conspiratorial sources don't deserve an answer. Anyone who thinks that I am a "top strategist" for the CPUSA, a leading member "planning" the course of the Obama administration would need the psychiatric services that a National Health Care system would provide (it would be open of course to all people, including these far rightists). The more serious arguments though deserve some answers.

First, my article in no way supports the view that President Elect Obama's present plan is a move in the direction of socialized medicine, no more than his plan represents the status quo, which is what the conservative "free market" publications want to scare him into accepting, which was done with Clinton. The contention that the "survival of the GOP" depends on their defeating Obama's health care plan (with the selected quote from me as evidence) also strains logic and is fairly callous. In fact, there have been a number of intelligent responses on progressive websites that these arguments amount to an understanding that the people would support socialized medicine because it would be good for them and that Republicans must fight to the last conservative to defeat it, even if that means sacrificing a few years of life expectancy for U.S. citizens, not to mention continuing to saddle them with the financial stress of the present private insurance based system, which pushes drugs on them at high prices and, like all private insurance based systems, seeks to pay the least in benefits and get the most in premiums. Some have written that the "at last" the Republicans are being honest. They would fight against a single payer health care system (as they would fight, I would say against the Employee Free Choice Act) because they realize that a stronger labor movement and a citizenry that comes to see health care as a public right, not a private commodity, would over time cost them a lot of votes

Let me quickly make a few more points. One conservative writer adds to my comment that Britain was changed through the National Health Service with the suggestion that the change was not for the better. There is enormous evidence that the NHS saw people who had postponed operations and avoided necessary medical treatment because the did not have the money receiving corrective surgery, living longer, fuller lives. My own father had a hernia for over a quarter of a century until it was finally operated on an emergency in a New York Public Hospital in 1970. Like many people who come from the lower strata of the working class, I grew up with people whose lives were demonstrably shortened by the absence of socialized medicine in the U.S.

There are many thoughtful analytical articles in Political Affairs and the Peoples Weekly World, articles that represent the views of a serious and responsible left, every day on the PA website. It is time that the liberal and progressive websites and blogs begin to disseminate them more directly if they wish to help create a more inclusive peoples movement.

P.S. as a postscript, a friend of mine, commenting on the Internet traffic, suggested that I should try to contact blogs and write for fees, a compliment of sorts in a capitalist society.

Urge President-elect Obama to Chart New Course with Latin America

From Latin American Working Group:

Mr. President, Take a New Approach in Latin America and the Caribbean

It's a moment of hope. But change never comes easy, and change in U.S. foreign policy is especially hard to come by. If we want to see foreign policies we can believe in, we need to organize to make any part of our dreams come true.

Sign this petition to encourage our next president to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors.

We will deliver this petition to President Obama on January 21, 2009.

Our goal is to reach 10,000 signers—so please send this to at least ten of your friends, family, and colleagues and get them to sign on!

Sign the petition here...

Reflections on the (Unplanned) Death of an Ideology

The financial meltdown on Wall Street has provoked a severe ideological crisis. Capitalism itself is under scrutiny. In the corporate media, one can now find regular discussions of Marxism, capitalism and socialism – not always positively presented to be sure, but at times the discussion has been thoughtful.

read the whole story here...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bertrand Russell on Marx's Law of Concentration of Capital

Part Three of Russell on German Social Democracy (Conclusion)

Thomas Riggins

Russell thinks that “the most cardinal point” of Marx’s system is the “law of concentration of capital.” Russell gives a long quote from Chapter 32 of Das Kapital (“The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation”) which boils down to this: as capitalism develops it grows and solidifies into larger and larger companies by way of concentrating wealth as a result of competition (“One capitalist always kills many.”) As capitalism grows so does the working class which it exploits. This is a social development and the end result is the big corporations are in effect socialized industries owned by private interests. Eventually you have a small percentage of capitalists controlling the wealth of the world vs a hugh gigantic population dependent on the means of production they control for their livelihoods and existence. Finally, the masses will take over the means of production themselves, since the private management leads to speculation and crises effecting the whole world and billions of people, and run them in a cooperative manner to provide for human need not private profit. This will be possible when the concentration of capital and reached such a massive scale that it becomes possible, under cooperative ownership, to provide the necessaries of life for all.

Russell does see a tendency at work causing firms to become larger and larger-- but for different reasons than Marx. Marx overlooks the value of "the head work of capitalist management" because of his "glorification of manual labour." The capitalist needs time to think and be creative and this could lead to "management of all technically advanced businesses by a central authority, with no duties but to study the general conditions and the technical possibilities of the business in question." Russell, it would seem, is giving a premature argument for the central planning system of the future Soviet state.-- except the clever capitalists will be replaced by representatives of the working class.

By and large, Russell sees capitalism becoming more and concentrated and concedes, except for the working class taking over, that "Marx's law seems true." Russell thinks as science advances and business technique becomes more complex and refined the great concentrated business firms and corporations and their operations will "become co-extensive with the State." There doesn't seem to be any change in class relations as businessmen will be running the show (workers are not clever enough by half.)

But Russell had it backwards. He thinks monopoly concentration, that is the issue, will make businesses more profitable, and: "As soon as a business has reached this phase of development, State-management in general becomes profitable, and is likely to be brought about by the combined action of free competition and political forces."

But, what we have seen, at least in the workings of American capitalism, is that "free competition" leads to economic collapse and that political forces are called upon when corporations, etc., become unprofitable and even then State-management is resisted. Of course, if the working class in the U.S. were to take over the big corporations, banks, etc., in conjunction with a working class led government, State-management would be used to rationalize the economy and provide for human needs rather than putting profits before people.

Russell, of course, didn't see it that way because he didn't see a contradiction between the interests of the capitalist state and the workers. Russell does, however, make an interesting observation. The concentration of monopoly capitalism and the use of more and more machinery leads to the creation of a middle class "foremen, engineers, and skilled mechanics-- and this class destroys the increasingly sharp opposition of capitalist and proletariat on which Marx lays so much stress."

This leads us to the question of EMBOURGEOISEMENT of parts of the working class and also that of the adoption of false consciousness by some workers. We note that some 40% of unionized workers supported McCain in the general election. In any event, this is a problem for a separate paper. Interested readers should check out the article on the "aristocracy of labor" to be found in A DICTIONARY OF MARXIST THOUGHT edited by Tom Bottomore et al.

In a footnote Russell suggests that the growth of large industries leads to a socialization of production and while Marx noticed this "it does not seem to occur to him" that this could lead to a peaceful transition "to collective production." It is worth noting that Engels, in the Preface to the English Edition of Das Kapital (1887) wrote that after a lifetime of study of the English economy Marx thought that in England "the inevitable social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means." So Russell was also wrong about this.

After some really outdated comments about agriculture, Russell finally concludes that, for the reasons he has given, "Marxian Socialism, as a body of proved doctrine, must therefore be rejected." This paper has attempted to show that all the reasons given by Russell were based either on a misreading of Marx or a misinterpretation of his theories.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Danny Boyle; Co- Director; India, Loveleen Tandan

by Eric Green

Using the money and financial craze taking place in India, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wrote Slumdog Millionaire based on the novel "Q and A" by Vikas Swarup.

English filmmaker, Danny Boyle, known for his 1996 film Trainspotting, took that screenplay and made an amazingly poignant, exciting and rather tough film. You could also classify this as a political/economic film.

Boyle used his common sense and enlisted the brilliance of Loveleen Tandan to be his co-director, as its said on the credits, co-director, India.

Filmgoers may not know her name, as I didn't, but she was the casting director for the hit film, Monsoon Wedding; and the India casting director for Vanity Fair 2004 and Brick Lane 2008.

The film won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is in line for a far larger number of awards, surely a top candidate for this year's Oscars.

What the book, screenplay and the direction of Boyle does is take the viewer through a series of relatively easy to follow family epoch events in which three Indian children grow up to become teenagers; and through them you see the accelerated development of the Indian economy. Clearly Boyle has a strong criticism of the Indian development model. And, that criticism is expressed through the lives of Jamal, Latika and Salim.

The brutality of Indian culture and its economic and judicial system is sometimes very hard to witness; and, Boyle puts you in a position of witnessing these events, almost as if it were a documentary.

There are three stages to these three kids lives and different actors perform terrifically at each stage. It is hard to choose which stage of kids are the better.

The bad guys in the saga are especially bad and performed to the hilt. Ruthlessness toward the use of kids in the "begging trade;" and brutality in the use of woman as sex objects is portrayed in every part of life.

The use of the "So You Want to be a Millionaire" "prop" was brilliantly done. In fact Boyle expertly pulled off the intertwining of the game show with real life. He had many balls in the air, but alas, each and every ball had a place to fall. Sometimes the place to fall wasn't a pretty one or one, which the filmgoer would like, but fall they, did; and, they made sense.

Loveleen Tandan the casting director picket a perfect set of actors for this drama. The mix of veterans and new actors, I guess, was on purpose for it really kept the film moving at Boyle's great neck speed. The speed of Trainspotters was met here.

The lead actor, turns out is not from India, but is a British national. His name is Dev Patel, and is just 18 years old. He played the lead character of Jamal Malik.

A veteran Indian actor, Irfan Khan, played the police Inspector. You will remember him from his stellar performance in the Namesake. Devotees of Indian films will know him for sure since his list of credits is many yards long.

Latika, Jamal's friend and love interest is played by Indian born Frieda Pinto. She in real life is 24 years old.

Madhur Mittel plays the final part of the three musketeers, Salim.

Both Pinto and Mittel are new screen actors and both are well directed which comes through in their excellent acting.

A special mention is needed for the film's score. Composer A. R. Rahman planned the score over two months and completed it in two weeks. He has stated he was aiming for "mixing modern India and the old India." He more than accomplished this goal.

Like so many films from creative directors like Boyle, the film credits at the end and a treat themselves. He shows each characters thre levels of development and the actors associated with each level.

Be sure to NOT jump and leave at the end of the film's story.


Obama's Economic Stimulus Package

Friday, November 21, 2008

A "New Deal" Model for President Obama's Cabinet

by Norman Markowitz

The press is filled with reports of Barack Obama's interest in historian Doris Kearns Godwin's The Rivals, a fascinating narrative history which deals with the Lincoln cabinet and Lincoln's bringing into that cabinet political rivals.

The work has been cited particularly as a kind of explanation for bringing Hillary Clinton and others into the cabinet.

There is a serious debate over this policy with some arguing fairly persuasive that it divided and undermined the Lincoln administration. Although I am tempted to join in that debate (as I am in many debates concerning U.S. political history) I will control myself, since it is not that issue in my opinion that is relevant to what President-Elect Obama is facing.

Lincoln's cabinet faced secession and Civil War. Obama faces the increasing possibility of a depression and the accumulated disasters of U.S. foreign policy, most dramatically the Bush "war against terrorism," occupation of Iraq, and fixation on unilateral military intervention as the basis of foreign policy.

The Roosevelt cabinet is a much better model. Along with regular Democrats (including the pompous Secretary of State, Cordell Hull) Roosevelt appointed progressives who had long struggled against reaction in U.S. politics. This included the new Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, a longtime progressive activist in Illinois politics and enemy of the Chicago machine. When Roosevelt asked Ickes how he should inform the Mayor of Chicago about the appointment, Ickes reputedly said " with an oxygen tent."

Roosevelt also appointed Henry A. Wallace, the son of a Republican Secretary of Agriculture, editor of a prominent newspaper for farmers, and advocate of a wide variety of agricultural policies aimed at production planning, soil conservation, and education to both protect working farmers and produce a more abundant agriculture.

From his own circles, Roosevelt appointed Francis Perkins, the first women to hold a cabinet position as Secretary of Labor. Perkins was a strong advocate of reforms like the abolition of child labor, which the Supreme Court had blocked in the past, and national economic planning in the interest of workers and consumers. Harry Hopkins a former social worker with the ability to get things done and a strong commitment to public works jobs ("work relief" as it was called at the time) served in a number of capacities, must importantly as the director of the Works Progress Administration, the most ambitious and successful program of Public employment in U.S. history. Others, including David E. Lillienthal, who served later as the director of the Tennessee Valley Authority(TVA) when it moved into a more progressive phase, were among the leadership cadre of the New Deal government, co-existing with traditional old line Democrats, including those who were unsympathetic to the New Deal as anything but a meal ticket for themselves.

Let me imagine that Obama would bring such people into his administration. Marion Wright Edelman, longtime leader of the Children's Defense Fund, might make an outstanding Secretary of Education. Lani Guinier, chief attorney for the NAACP in the battles to defend Civil Rights legislation from the Reagan administration (whom Clinton in a cowardly way abandoned for a government post in 1993 in the face of vicious attacks on her by Rush Limbaugh and other rightwingers) would be an excellent choice for Attorney General.

Doug Henwood or one of a whole group of progressive economists who have long challenged rightwing "neo liberal" economics might be a fine as a member of the President's "Brain Trust" of informal policy advisor's (a modern day Rexford Guy Tugwell) Richard Trumka, the former UMW president who eloquent denunciation of racism helped Obama win the election in Pennsylvania and Ohio (in my opinion) might be an excellent Secretary of Labor Lester Thurow, a prominent progressive economist with distinguished credentials might make a great chair of the Council of Economic advisor's.

These are a few suggestions in line with my general argument, that is, a New Deal model for the new cabinet. I am sure readers can come up with many others and may have specific objections to these, but this model, one of bringing in progressive outsiders with a record of achievement as against organization men and women makes more sense in this context than the Civil War model, because it is depression, perhaps the biggest in history that we are facing and bipartisanship and "national unity" with Republicans and organization and conservative Democrats (although the latter, as in the New Deal government, don't have to worry about being "left out") is not a realistic model for the new administration, given both those who elected it and also the crisis it faces.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Extend unemployment insurance

This week an additional 516,000 people filed for unemployment benefits, a 16 year record. On the other end, 890,000 unemployed workers are expected to exhaust their benefits at the end of this month, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

"CHE"-The Comic Book!

Book Review by John Pietaro
Che: A Graphic Biography by Spain Rodriguez
Edited by Paul Buhle
2008, Verso Books

After the cult success of “The Motorcycle Diaries” and an endless assortment of products brandishing the image of iconic revolutionary Che Guevara, what possible biography of the man can live up to his celebrity? Comic book artist and writer Spain Rodriguez attempts to answer this question in a new graphic biography. Edited by historian Paul Buhle, Che offers an exciting visual component via the language of the underground comic. Its befitting that Rodriguez would present a biography of Che, as the former was as active within the counter-culture of the late 1960s as the latter was within a political revolution leading up to that same period.

Ernesto Guevara was born on the Bastille Day, 1928, to parents who were strong Leftists and supporters of the Spanish Republic in its battle against fascism. Raised in Argentina, he would attend medical school and then embark on several trips throughout Latin America, offering medical services to destitute communities and seeing for the first time the powerful connection among the Spanish-speaking people, as well as their grief at the hands of global capital. Nicknamed Che, or “Kid”, along the way, Guevara came to understand the impact of poverty and oppression on the people who shared his heritage. Che began to advocate for the struggle for freedom against imperialistic forces that had invaded Latin America, raping the land and abusing the citizenry. He began to see the need for a united South America as a means to stand up to the forces of military and corporate rule.

This graphic biography brings the story of Che into dazzling visuals, as the art of Rodriguez leaps across panels and pages into the reader’s own desire for social change. From the cover’s underground comic depiction of the most famous photo of Che—eyebrows arched and black red-starred beret tilted slightly—throughout the hundred-page bio within, one comes away from this book with a real sense of knowing Guevara. We see his childhood rapidly progress into his young adulthood and then lead right into the period in which he wrote the Motorcycle Diaries, that which was composed while on a sojourn throughout the region. This segment of his life easily compares to Gramsci’s Prison Diaries, as both offered a picture of the revolutionary in progress. Naturally, Che’s diary encompasses the visions of an outdoor trip, while Gramsci’s was written from within the somber grey walls of a fascist prison. But Che’s sense of captivity was empathetic, realized via the oppression of the people whose homes and work places he visited. Often, he and his companion were the first doctors any of these people had ever seen, even as the wealthy jet-setted their way through the casinos, country clubs and high-priced brothels of Latin America.

Rodriguez also offers the connection Guevara developed to the fledgling Cuban liberation movement. Clearly depicted is the bond he had with Fidel Castro, and how the two went from being leaders of a populist uprising to becoming leading Marxists and the core of Cuba’s communist movement. Nakedly, Rodriguez exposes the greed and brutality of the Batista regime and the response of the Cuban poor. He is also sure to explain how corporate America reacted to the Cuban revolution and the many years of manipulation and demonization that followed on the part of the US government. One can see the parallel of the US treatment of Castro’s Cuba and that of Lenin’s Soviet Union, regardless of the approximately 50-year span of time. Neither the money changers nor military industrial complex has ever offered the slightest tolerance to socialist nations, near or far.

Closing out this book is an all-text segment co-written by Paul Buhle and Sarah Seidman which explores Che as an icon within the realm of the turbulent 1960s, and beyond. More than forty years after his assassination, Guevara remains a larger-than-life figure and his story is simply a fascinating one. This latest addition to the radical icon series of book-length underground comics edited by Buhle is welcome and just in time for a holiday present. Buy it for every angry young man and woman on your gift list. But don’t forget to keep a copy for yourself so you can relive, recall or just find out why ‘El Che’ remains so vividly in our revolutionary hearts and minds.

John Pietaro is a labor organizer and cultural worker from New York –

An excellent piece by Erroll Louis, NY Daily News OP Ed guy

Errol Louis
NY Daily News

Barack, attack labor abuses: Obama must crack down on wage theft
Thursday, November 20th 2008, 4:00 AM

As the nation slumps into recession, one of President-elect Barack Obama's key cabinet picks - one that could help millions of struggling Americans get on their feet economically - will be the choice for secretary of labor.
The next labor secretary must launch an all-out crusade against a national epidemic of wage-stealing, in which employers illegally underpay their workers to the tune of an estimated $19 billion a year.
That money belongs in the pockets and bank accounts of the secretaries, waitresses, fruit-pickers, seamstresses, construction workers and others who have earned it. But according to Kim Bobo, author of the new book "Wage Theft in America," a combination of lax enforcement and weak penalties let most employers break the law with impunity. Consider the mind-boggling number of ways to cheat employees:
From coast to coast, restaurants routinely withhold tips and wages from waiters, dishwashers, cooks and busboys and extend their hours without compensation. Surveys by the federal Labor Department in 1999 found that compliance with wage laws varied from a high of 70% in New Jersey to a low of 22% in New Orleans.
America's 700,000 garment workers get exploited routinely: According to Bobo, surveys show half of Los Angeles employees got minimum wage, and an estimated 65% of New York City garment factories violate wage laws.
Misclassification of low-level employees is a common way to steal from them: the typical maneuver is to call cashiers and other low-level workers "managers" in order to skirt laws requiring overtime when nonmanagers put in more than 40 hours per week.
In January 2007, Wal-Mart settled charges it stiffed more than 86,000 employees in this way, filching an estimated $33 million from them.
Cingular Wireless (now part of AT&T) settled last year with more than 25,000 employees owed more than $5 million.
In another 2007 case, CVS Pharmacy paid more than $226,000 to 51 workers to settle charges of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime to 51 workers.
Here in New York, a 2005 survey of 530 restaurant workers found that 59% had been cheated of overtime wages and 13% had received less than the minimum wage.
And the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-oriented think tank, estimates that 50,000 New York construction workers - about one in four - are either paid off the books or misclassified as an independent contractor not subject to wage laws.
Enforcement, the key to halting the wage-theft epidemic, is hit-and-miss. There are only 751 wage-and-hour inspectors in the Labor Department - about half the number on the job in the 1940s - to cover workplaces employing 130 million people.
That leaves the job to a patchwork quilt of individual states, labor unions and advocacy organizations. The results are uneven at best: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, like his predecessor Eliot Spitzer, has aggressively pursued cases, as has the state Labor Department.
But that's not true everywhere: Florida, for instance, has no labor department.
And even when employers get caught red-handed, the usual remedy is simply to repay the stolen wages.
As Obama and the Democratic-led Congress struggle to cure the nation's financial crisis, they should recognize that beefing up the Labor Department to enforce existing laws could put billions where they are most needed: in the hands of hardworking middle-class families.
That would be the best economic recovery package of all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tell Congress: Save Autoworker Jobs!

Please respond right away to this urgent request by calling your Senators or Representative through this toll-free number: (877) 331-1223. Here are some talking points you can use. Or use the letter below to e-mail them.

The auto industry needs help in Congress right away -- and if we don’t get it, the jobs and benefits of hundreds of thousands of our active and retired members and millions of other Americans are at risk.

During the week of Nov. 17 the House and Senate are expected to vote on legislation to provide an emergency $25 billion bridge loan to GM, Ford and Chrysler to help weather the current severe credit and economic crises. Without this assistance, there is a real danger that the three companies will run out of cash and be forced to cease all manufacturing and business operations in the near future.

You can use the following toll-free number to call your Representative and Senators: (877) 331-1223. Or use the sample letter below to e-mail them.

The legislation to provide assistance to the auto industry will likely be taken up by the House and Senate sometime during the week of Nov. 17. So please call right away! Or you can send them this e-mail (below). We encourage you to edit the e-mail to express your own concerns about your job security, retirement benefits, and impact on your community, etc. Personal messages are more effective in reaching out to your elected representatives.

Bad Economic News, Good Political News

by Norman Markowitz

Unemployment continues to rise sharply. The Consumer Price Index(CPI) which began in 1947 (ironically the year the concept of a "cold war," and policies like the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act at home and the anti-Communist, anti-left Truman Doctrine abroad were instituted) had a
drop of one percent the sharpest drop in its history.

While workers and consumers will be happy to see the CPI drop (retirees who have their benefits geared to it won't) this is further evidence of the dangers of a global depression, which the outgoing administration is doing nothing about and the Republicans in the lame duck Congress are actively seeking to prevent Congress from doing anything about.

The good political news is that President-elect Obama continues to address the peoples crisis and call for a stimulus package. In a long interview on 60 Minutes on Sunday he re-iterated these commitments and asked if he believed in a balanced budget said that he did, "but not now" in this crisis, In 1932, Roosevelt also called for a balanced budget but soon came to realize that federal aid to the people and to state and local governments, along with serious regulation of capital, was necessary to face the depression.

Obama has appointed Tom Daschle Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle, a longtime progressive Democratic Senator and leader in the Senate from South Dakota (targeted and defeated by the right in his state) is an excellent choice for this important position, since it deals with health care and social welfare policy. His past leadership role in the Senate will make it much easier for the administration to carry develop a national health care program and other necessary social service policies (this contrasts positively with Bill Clinton who turned over the construction of a national health care policy to Hillary Clinton, with disastrous results). Unlike Clinton, Obama is carrying forward the transition in a steady way, starting early and moving forward.Eric Holder, former deputy Attorney General under Clinton, who has not yet been appointed but is strongly rumored to be so, is more complicated. Holder is the son of West Indian immigrants who grew up in the Bronx and attended Stuyvesant High School (one of New York's elite public high schools for outstanding students and Columbia University and Law School). After work with the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, Holder worked in the Justice Department as a trial lawyer under both Carter and Reagan and gained a reputation as a foe of corruption, a reputation which grew when he became Attorney General. Ronald Reagan appointed him to a Superior Court Judgeship in the District of Columbia and in the first Clinton administration he served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

In private practice since 2001, Holder has represented powerful corporate clients, and has been involved as the attorney for Chiquita Brands in settling a Justice Department Case against them for supporting Colombian death Squads with a guilty plea and a twenty-five million dollar fine. That and the fact that he was initially appointed by Ronald Reagan will no doubt lead to criticism from the left, criticism that in the latter case Holder, in terms of Chiquita particularly and his other corporate clients, deserves to be questioned on, if he gets the nomination. Republicans are currently attacking him for his alleged involvement in Bill Clinton presidential pardon to corrupt financier Marc Rich (whose wife had been an important Clinton contributor). From my readings, there is very little there, and I doubt that they will criticize Holder's corporate clients.

But, from my readings, this is on far more important questions, a decent nomination. Holder has strongly criticized over the last four years the so-called U.S. Patriot Act, the use of torture as part of the policy of fighting "terrorism" and the violation of Habeas Corpus in government surveillance policy. If nominated, he would, based on his record, reverse the anti-civil liberties anti-civil rights policies of the Bush administration, which is the most important assignment for the next Attorney General.

Discussions continue concerning Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. While I would consider Bill Richardson a much better choice among those who have been suggested, Clinton would be implementing Obama's policy, not making her own. She would also be out of the Senate and not be in a position to play an obstructionist role against the administration (Lincoln in 1861 put his major opponent for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860 into his cabinet as Secretary of State, something that President Elect Obama well knows).

We can expect the administration at the top to be a mix of progressive and organization Democrats, similar to the early New Deal, except there a number of the leading progressives were former Republicans and/or independents. In the sub agencies, at the lower echelons, the New Deal from the beginning drew progressive activists, militants from labor and a variety of social movements which had been savagely attacked from WWI through the 1920s. Similar activists have been inspired by the Obama campaign and played a leading role in making Obama president. Now, hopefully they and we can act to make Obama, in the tradition of Lincoln and Roosevelt, a great president for the people, unlike Coolidge, Reagan and Bush, who were "great presidents" for the corporations and the rich until the money began to stop in 2008 in ways that are reminiscent of 1929.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Get the Rich to Pay: Albany, NY Budget Fights Demand


Phil Benjamin

Over 2,000 public sector workers/unions and leaders of community based organizations, who are facing massive budget cuts, gathered on the steps of the New York State Capitol to demand fairness in the budget. Their slogans were lead by, "One New York: Fighting for Fairness."

They gathered as the Governor and State legislature was gathering to debate the deficits the state would be facing.

Lead by the Hunger Action Network the assembly activists showed a level of rage and fear that has not been seen in Albany for many years.

Most speakers told how budget cuts were severely hurting those people who are already in great distress. "Enough is enough" was their cry.

One chant that was very popular was, "We Didn't Cause It; We Shouldn't Pay for It."

Bob Master, a leader of the Working Families Party, and Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress [representing City University of New York faculty and staff] both pointed their demands at the wealthy of the State. "They should pay their fair share before those who are in great risk pay anything was a theme." Any sources of revenue, "must start at the top."

Bowen said there is a "Revenue Problem, not a budget problem." She said that the tax breaks given the wealthy over the past years would have more than paid for the current budget deficit. That is where the governor and legislatures should look for money, with those wealthy New Yorkers.

The rally took place in a driving snowstorm, but the weather did not diminish the militancy of the labor and community activists. They seem to ready for upcoming struggles.

The Special Session was adjourned before it was even officially started. Efforts at a deal over the weekend fell through. This set up today's events.

Some demonstrators said that it seemed that this special session and attention to the deficits were being presented at this time to coincide with the US Congress's upcoming special session where a new economic stimulus package will probably be enacted.

One thing is for sure is that the upcoming days, weeks and months will be filled with major rallies and demonstrations.

Teachers Union

Richard Iannuzzi, head of the New York State United Teachers, the 600,000 member union which represents all teachers in NY State, public school to college level and also staff members, called for a progressive tax program to deal with the deficits.

Phil Smith, president of the United University Professions, which represents faculty and staff at the State University of New York sounded the same theme.

Public Employees Federation [PEF] representatives angrily call on New York State to stop outsourcing their work. He said it costs the state millions of dollars. He said that work must be done by PEF members for far less cost to the State.

Other unions at the rally were SEIU 32 BJ and SEIU Local 1199 with their partner, their employer, the Greater New York Hospital Association.

Next Session in 2009

In 2009, the next time the Governor meets with the Assembly and Senate of NY State, all three will be the hands of the Democratic Party. This will be the first time in over 70 years that Democrats will have that level of political power. This is uncharted ground that should make the next session very interesting.

Across the Country

Across the country scenes like the one in Albany are being repeated. For example, in California, where the budget deficits are in the billions, their state capitol in Sacramento has seen many demonstrations. Readers are encouraged to send in their state capitol experiences.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unions Will Say a Loud "No" to Paterson Cuts

NY State Governor says, "Cuts will be Painful," Unions say we will demonstrate and fight against all of them.

by Phil E. Benjamin

Tomorrow on the State Capitol steps and for blocks around them, tens of thousands of workers and their unions, coupled with community activists, will be demonstrating against the budget cuts being proposed by Democratic Governor David Paterson.

Calling a special, post election session, of the New York State Assembly and Senate, Paterson hoped to preempt the 2009 budget session by getting agreement with elected officials from the Republican, soon to be Democratic, Senate and long time Democratic Assembly, that budget cuts must be made to fill the proposed $1.5 billion deficit for the year 2009. That agreement over the weekend failed.

He failed to get preliminary agreement over the weekend when he met with the leaders of those bodies. Now, the Special Session will face the wrath of the New York State United Teachers [NYSUT], over 500,000 strong, and many other unions. NYSUT represents all, and I mean all, teachers in New York State; public school teachers, college and universities [SUNY and CUNY].

Tomorrow's blog will fill in the list of demonstrators.

Stay tuned.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Worst "Marxist" Arugment in the World: The Big Three and the Bailout

By Joe Sims

I am amazed that the respondents to Tom Riggins' important question on the opposition of Republican right to the bailout all got it wrong. So wrong in fact that one wonders if there is a baisc missing link in understanding economic fundamentals.

Particularly mystifying are the remarks of Nutmeg Socialist who wrote:

Because the GOP contains no small number of "small-government", "libertarian" conservatives who believe that no federal money should go to anything except building a police state, deporting immigrants, and violating the consitution. They regard corporations asking for bailouts as the upper-crust equivalent of welfare mothers and are quick with all manner of generic castigation about "individual initiative" and "prudence", etc.

Actually, the main issue lies in the proposal for a Chapter 11 bailout, which would result in the getting rid of the UAW contract obligations and the possible demise of the union. Under the guise of getting rid of the board of directors along with labor officials, a new regime of lower wages and stripped benefits would prevail. Pensions might be out the window.

Certainly Rick Wagoner, the chief executive of GM sees it that way as quoted in the Times:

"This idea that you just go into Chapter 11 and hang around for three months and agree to reduce your debt obligations and don't pay your retirees, this is a fantasy ... most people will stop buying the cars of a bankrupt company."

Hey nutmeg what were you thinking?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

President-elect Obama on Economic Recovery

Main Political Report to the National Committee

In delivering his main report to the national committee of the Communist Party today, party Chair Sam Webb described the Nov. 4th election as having "repudiated the old politics of fear and division, race- and red-baiting." "Election night was a magical moment," he said.

While Barack Obama won the broad support of a majority of all the people, African Americans, who have for decades been at the forefront of struggle for democracy and progressive change, deserve a special celebratory moment after this election.

The election itself signals the growth and power of the anti-racist majority. The election proved, said Webb, that "the struggle against racism and sexism in all of its ideological and material forms is as important to the whole working class and especially white and male workers as ever."

The GOP and its ideas are in shatters. The red-blue state and southern strategies that have focused on division and racism have failed, Webb added. The capitalist class as a whole has been weakened.

"A new era of progressive change is waiting ot be seized," he said.

The election "was a reaffirmation of the decency of our people and a mandate for change," he noted.

Yet the right-wing maintains an ongoing influence on Congress sizeable enough to block progress, and class realities persist, he continued.

Webb added that the communist movement should not promote efforts that divide the people's coalition and that ongoing struggle to build the movement and the majority for change should be our main focus.

Webb further pointed to the economic crisis and argued that recovery depends on the extent to which the new administration and Congress are willing to go in terms of direct government intervention in the flailing economy, consideration of public ownership over key industries like finance and energy sectors, its willingness to adopt a peaceful approach to foreign policy rather than militarism, the size of its stimulus package that directly benefits the working class, its willingness to pass workers rights and renegotiate unfair trade deals. Overall economic recovery depends, Webb said, on how much the government is willing to reconfigure itself and its processes in favor of the working class.

Our job, he stated, is to work on winning the biggest majority to support the best possible outcome in this regard.


Thomas Riggins

Since the NC is in session, I wish a successful meeting, can anyone (on or off the NC) answer the following question?

The main headline on the first page of the New York Times for Friday 11-14-08 reads: "CHANCES DWINDLE ON BAILOUT PLAN FOR AUTOMAKERS: REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION: Democrats Push Ahead-- Broader Stimulus Is Also Uncertain."

"Republican Opposition"???? Why is the party of Big Business balking at helping out the Big Three-- especially GM? Wasn't it the Republican Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower, Charlie Wilson, former GM CEO, who said "What's good for General Motors is good for the U.S.A." A Republican sentiment if ever there was one. How can letting GM go under be good for the U.S.A.? What are the Republicans up to? Why are they not, as good State Monopoly Capitalists, rushing to the aid of their class?

National Committee Election Report

In her political report to the national committee of the Communist Party, Political Action commission Chair Joelle Fishman, today, described the Nov. 4th election as "an extraordinary and history-making election."

She pointed out that the election of Obama and larger majorities of Democrats in Congress created "new conditions" and allowed the people's movement to "shift gears and move forward."

Obama's electoral victory was built around a social movement based on the working class concept of "yes we can" and si se puede." It was no single factor like the economy that caused this outpouring of people's support for Obama; it was a combination of many factors from the economy to the demand for democratic rights to a call for ending the war.

The cornerstones of Republican Party electoral victories failed, Fishman said. Racism and red-baiting simply did not work. The working class and especially the organized component of the working class in the labor movement successfully fought racism, and this contribution cannot be underestimated and can lay the basis for building the majority for more people's victories and the next elections.

"In this election," Fishman said, "the politics of bigotry and hatred did not prevail."

The consensus among labor and the people's movement, Fishman emphasized, is that the election is not the change that we need by itself, but it gives us the chance the make the change we need.

The ultra right and the capitalist class have fought to under state the meaning of this election in order to manipulate the outcome and the future agenda.

Fishman emphasized the unity of the various working class constituencies in the election victory form African Americans, youth, women, Latino voters, and many whites.

The Communist Party, Fishman concluded, has to develop the correct tactics and strategy to build on the election victory and strengthen and deepent the movement that puts the wind at Obama's back.

Fishman pointed to passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, the creation of universal health care, economic stimulus that creates new jobs, expansion of democratic and civil rights, and the end of the war in Iraq as the change we need.

Blogging the NC

By PA NC Blogging Team

The first meeting of the CPUSA national committee after the election is in session. Joe Sims, publisher of PA welcomed everyone to the meeting and pointed to the new era brought in by the election. He indicated that the NC had the task of accessing this new period and drawing conclusions about the role of the Party in helping move the process forward. Various views, he stressed, exist on the extent of the mandate and whether or not there was a landslide. “A statistical analysis of the numbers” he said, “may not wholly reveal what really happened.”

He pointed to his experiences working on the campaign in Ohio and the enthusiasm, organization and tenacity of the all-peoples movement there. “What gave these people the audacity and the hope?” he asked, suggesting this is something that cannot be merely quantified.

“Women were the bulwark of the campaign,” he said, “and gave themselves to it selflessly day after day.” He also pointed to the unique role of workers and youth and students.

Sims told a story about how a worker addressed the question of racism in an undecided voter who asked him, “What do you want? A Black House or a White House?” The worker replied, “What do you want? A Black House, a White House, or a Poor House!?”

The election he stressed was a big victory against the right and racism.

“I agree with Evo Morales” Sims said, “who asked what is happening in the Americas? You have an indigenous person head of state in Bolivia and African American elected to the presidency of the United States!”

The PA publisher continued, “When you add to that the victory in Virginia, former seat of the confederacy, the victory in North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio, this thing is huge. Within the context of fighting the emerging economic crisis we have to discuss how to move forward.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Global Economy and the Rise of China

Political Affairs podcast #87 - The Global Economy and the Rise of China

On this episode, we play the first part of our interview with Josef Gregory Mahoney about China, its political system, and its role in shifting centers power in the world today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Part Two of Russell on German Social Democracy

Thomas Riggins

Russell presents Marx's theory of value as follows. Commodities have exchange-value and can exchange with each other so they have something in common. What they have in common cannot be intrinsic to any given commodity qua commodity so it must be something they all share in common This is that they are products of human labor, not any specific human labor but by "undifferentiated human labor"-- i.e., abstract human labor. So the value expressed in commodities is the value of human labor measured in units of labor time. Labor time has value as well, the labor time it takes to produce it-- that is to produce the necessaries of life needed to keep the worker (and his family going). So we are talking about the cost of labor power and this cost is what accounts for wages.

How does the capitalist get his profit. Russell says suppose the worker works 12 hours for his wages and makes in six hours enough goodies for the capitalist to sell which equals his wages, then the capitalist gets to keep all the money he gets by selling the products of the last six hours. So the capitalist exploits the labor power of the worker to get his profit by making him work twice as long as necessary to get the value of his wages. This exploitation will only end by production by society for society (and not for private appropriation)--i.e., with socialism.

This in a nutshell is Russell's view of Marx's theory of value. Russell says Marx's theory is FALLACIOUS [the kiss of death for logicians!] as to both METHOD and SUBSTANCE. Let us look at the reasons given by Russell.

First, Russell says "the value of a commodity is not measured by the quantity of labour involved." This is because by "mere abstraction of differences" we can't know that we found the only COMMON feature they share or even that it is the "relevant one." So, his method is bad. Also the substance of the conclusion is bad because Marx overlooked "another common quality" that all commodities share, i.e., "utility" which is "the power of satisfying some need."

This second objection is very strange as the very first section of Das Kapital is called "The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use Value and Value (the Substance of Value and the Magnitude of Value)" Here Marx writes "The utility of a thing makes it a use value.... Use values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth." All commodities have use values or "utility." How Russell ever arrived at the idea that Marx was unaware of, or ignored, this feature of commodities when he proposed his theory of value I cannot understand. It almost seems as if he never read the first chapter of Das Kapital and that his knowledge of Marx's theory was gotten second hand.

What about the first criticism, that by abstraction we can't know if we missed other features common to all commodities. This is a standard bourgeois criticism of Marx brought about by using formal logical principles to his argument. Here the problem is that Marx and Russell are approaching the concept of a "commodity" from two different philosophical positions.

This is pointed out quite clearly by Simon Mohun in his article "value" in the second edition of A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Mohun writes that "Marx does not provide a formal proof of the existence of value by arriving at some (arbitrary) abstract property common to our experience of all the heterogeneous commodities that exist." This is just what Russell thinks Marx was doing and his first criticism would have some merit if this was Marx's method. That is the way an empiricist would approach the problem, but Marx came out of the Hegelian tradition.

This is what Mohun says Marx was up to: Marx "analyses the typical relation between people that actually exists in bourgeois society-- the exchange of one commodity for another-- because, first, the categories of political economy are a necessary reflection of particular relations of production, and hence, second, it is through a critical examination of these categories and the forms they take that the content of bourgeois relations is developed and revealed."

The method used by Marx is the dialectical method he and Engels developed by giving a materialist spin to Hegel. Russell's criticism, as we shall more clearly show below, misses this dimension to Marx's thought, and relies on formal logical analysis which is alien to the dialectical logic of Marxism. "A formal, non-dialectical analysis," Mohun writes, "will always miss Marx's analysis of value because it will have no intrinsic connection with the concrete relationships involved." It is Marx who is studying the real world and Russell who is dealing with logical abstractions.

Having decided that Marx has a messed up theory of value, Russell tries to present what he thinks is a better formulation. He basis his formulation on Ricardo without, apparently, realizing that Marx's theory was an improvement over that of Ricardo. Russell sees problems with Ricardo and attempts to reformulate the theory in his own words so that it is "logically valid." Note here that Marx has based his theory on the actual study of the economic reality about him while Russell is engaged in a totally abstract endeavor to make the economic categories used by Ricardo logically consistent with one another. Its as if once the theory is logically consistent reality will follow. This is the way of thinking usually, and falsely, attributed to Hegel. Of course, Marx never read Russell, but a remark he made in a letter to his friend Kugelmann expresses exactly what he would have thought of Russell's efforts. "All this palaver," Marx wrote, "about the necessity of proving the concept of value comes from complete ignorance both of the subject matter and of scientific method."

This is Russell's version of Ricardo's theory that value is measured by labor-time:
"In a state of free competition, the exchange-value of an article whose production can be indefinitely increased will. in the long run and apart from fluctuations, be measured by its cost of production; its cost of production must--- since capital is only accumulated labour --- consist, abstracting from interest on capital, of wages alone; now wages are proportional to labour-time, therefore exchange-value is measured by labour-time."

This is, for Russell, the correct argument. Marx's mistake is that he leaves out "wages are proportional to labour time" yet retains the conclusion "exchange value is measured by labour-time." He leaves out that necessary premiss because he thinks wages are determined by "cost of the labourer's necessaries."

If Marx is correct about that then it must be false that value is measured by labour time, Russell maintains, for "what is to hinder competition from lowering the price to the point where a business is only just profitable?" He also thinks "supply and demand" is overlooked by Marx (it isn't) and this flaw vitiates his theory of value " and "the whole materialist theory of history"!

Russell has, I think, made a mess of Marx's position. Russell is correct to note that the cost of production is involved in a determination of the value of a commodity. Marx treats the labor-power of the worker as a commodity on the market place which the capitalist bargains for-- and its value, like any other commodity, is determined by its "cost of production" and also its cost of reproduction, and for labor-power this is just the "cost of the labourer's necessaries."

Russell is simply wrong when he states that Marx doesn't take "cost of production" into account but only "labor-time" when he determines value. In Das Kapital Marx writes, "The value of labour power is determined, as is the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction , of this specific article."

Labor-power is a unique commodity because its cost of production measured in wages may be recouped by the capitalist in one part of the working day and yet he can still benefit from the use of that labor power in another part of the working day-- thus appropriating "surplus value" which he keeps for himself.

Russell later pooh-poohs the notion of socially necessary labor time (as opposed to just labor-time) and the concept of surplus value so that his presentation of Marx's theory is one confused mangle of misrepresentation. It is this mangle he is trying to refute, not Marx. He also confuses "price" with "value" and doesn't seem to recognize that "price" can fluctuate around "value" and that indeed competition can lower "the price to the point where a business is only just profitable"-- or indeed unprofitable as US auto makers are finding out in the big crisis of 2008. It is Russell's position, not Marx's that "cannot therefore be held to have any theoretical validity whatever."

Summary: Russell gives a fair outline of the Marxist theory of value. But his attack on it is wrong headed. He thinks Marx ignored use value when he did not. He thinks Marx arrived at the concept of "undifferentiated human labor" as a result of faulty logical analysis when he actually arrived at it by a concrete analysis of the actual workings of the capitalist economic system. In this sense Marx was more of an empiricist than the empiricists. Russell doesn't understand that "cost of production" and "value of wages" are the same with respect to labor-power as "cost of the labourer's necessaries". Russell confuses "price" with "value." These confusions are the basis of several other anti-Marx positions he takes in this section. I did not go over every objection as they are based on the faulty premisses above mentioned.

In the next section of this article I will go over Russell's second critique of Marx, the critique of his theory of the concentration of capital

Monday, November 10, 2008

Film Review: Rachel Gets Married; Don't Miss this Great Demme Film

Rachel Gets Married

Produced and Directed by Jonathan Demme

Eric Green

When you see this film, RACHEL GETS MARRIED, make sure your seat belt is tight and firm. Jonathan Demme has created a real exciting masterpiece. But, be warned, this is not an easy 110 minutes.

His direction, camera work and selection of actors for very difficult characters to play were exceptional. What a cast!

Of course it all starts with the writing. Jenny Lumet is the writer, the daughter of Sidney Lumet and the granddaughter of Lena Horne. You can almost see the world that Jenny Lumet grew up in; not necessarily the characters, but the many multi racial and cultural backgrounds of the assembly cast and their music.

And, with such a start studded cast, Demme and his crew chose a new comer to play the central role of Rachel. Rosemarie DeWitt, an entirely new actor, was able to capture the angst of getting married and having a rather difficult family lead by a mother who, played by Debra Winger, is about as icy and detached as you can get.

The father of the bride, played brilliantly by veteran actor Bill Irwin, captures the wild life of that household. He doesn't escape his own responsibilities in creating the deep problems the family faces.

Rachel's choice for maid of honor, Emma, played by another first time actor, Anisa George, is right out of Connecticut central casting. She is perfect. And, the best man played by veteran TV actor, Mathew Zickel, is also expertly casted and played.

But, the top star of the cast, the highly advertised Hollywood celebrity, did not disappoint: Ann Hathaway. On the contrary, she gave an Oscar level performance. For theatergoers worried that she would be just another ingénue role, with maybe a wrinkle here and there, they will be greatly surprised and rewarded. She is expertly directed to not over act and to be subtle when the occasion arises. She is a joy, albeit difficult given who she was portraying, to watch.

Anna Deavere Smith plays Irwin's new wife; and Winger's new husband is completely in the dark about everything. He was just an ornament for his character.

The remarkable thing about this film was the ability of Demme to take what could have been very hackneyed situations and turn them into dramatic masterpieces.

The scenes between sisters Rachel and Kym with their mother, Winger, were probably the most difficult ones to witness; and you did feel that you were witnessing them. Debra Winger gave a truly insightful presence to her role and may garner a lot of attention in a best supporting actress role.

Here was a family that had a white father and Black step mother; a marriage between a white Connecticut beauty and a Black music industry operative. This was a wedding between two families that were very different in terms of race and class, Rachel's family being from clearly upper strata Connecticut levels and the groom from the Williams family that probably was not.

Rachel's' husband to be, Sidney, played by Tunde Adebimpe, plays a quiet by strong role throughout the film. When he sings to his bride Neil Young's great song, "Heart of Gold," there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The placement of the groom's cousin, played by Joseph Gonzalez, as an active military soldier in Iraq, I think sent the class differences.

The selection of the widely varying music selections and the musicians selected to perform them was just another very unique, wonderful part of this film.

But, while the differences among the assembled people were clear on screen, they never needed to be explained. Clearly, while these were important aspects of the film quilt, Lumet's script had other purposes. Here it was the two sisters and mother; with a father who tried hard, but missed the mark too often. But, ultimately the importance of family reigned overall.

Don't miss this film.


NOVEMBER 10, 2008
India's Leftist Parties Hope to Gain Followers Amid the Financial Crisis

KOLKATA -- India's diehard Communists are hoping to parlay an "I told you so" stance on the global financial crisis into more parliamentary seats in the coming national elections, expected early next year.

Kali Ghose has been a card-carrying Communist for more than 60 years and is the general secretary of the Center of Indian Trade Unions, a group of unions in the Communist stronghold of Kolkata, formerly Calcutta.

Eric Bellman
In an interview in his office, decorated with photos of Karl Marx, Mao Tse-Tung and Ho Chi Minh, he said he foresaw today's problems of excess borrowing and volatility hurting the common man. He also claims that if India's Communists hadn't stubbornly and successfully opposed market reforms, the world's largest democracy would be in much worse shape.

"This is a crisis of the imperialistic economy," he said. "Now people understand that what we propagated all this time is true."

For the past 20 years, the Left Front, a group of political parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has typically held more than 50 of the up to 552 seats in India's legislature, even as India embarked on a series of reforms that turbo-charged its economy over the past few years. It hopes to attract new converts as disillusionment with unfettered capitalism spreads.

"There is a nonleft audience that is more receptive now to what we say," said Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPIM, in an interview. For instance, he said, the threat of unemployment as India's economic growth slows means young middle-class Indians have learned a lesson: "unionize or perish."

That lesson was dramatically demonstrated when Jet Airways Ltd., one of India's biggest airlines, recently tried to lay off 1,900 nonunionized flight attendants. After mass protests, the government persuaded the company to reverse course. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week called on business leaders not to fire employees in the downturn.

"The average guy doesn't know about layoffs. That's going to be a problem; they'll turn socialist as soon as they see any pressure," said Pramod Bhasin, chief executive of Genpact, a large Indian outsourcing firm based in Gurgaon on the outskirts of Delhi. "I worry it will stop reforms and people will say, 'See what happens in a free market?' "

Even so, the Communists face a tough sell nationally. Many in India view them as dinosaurs whose ideas have been undermined by India's rapid economic growth. And there is no prospect of the Communists winning power on a national level. Either the Congress Party, which leads the current ruling coalition, or the right-wing opposition Bharatiya Janata Party almost certainly will form the next government. Both are expected to pursue further economic reforms, albeit in the context of threats from the crisis.

"The reform agenda had a dynamic of its own in a democratic process," said Duvvuri Subbarao, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, India's central bank, in an interview last month. "That dynamic will be affected, certainly, by what's happened around the world. But I don't think it will be the case that we'll put reforms in cold storage."

Still, neither Congress nor the BJP is expected to win a clear majority, leaving them scrambling for support among smaller parties to lay claim to a mandate for government. The Communists and other left-wing parties could play an influential role in the next government's agenda and in the debate over what economic model India should pursue.

The Communists already have shown they can be effective in that role. They were part of the current coalition before withdrawing their support from the government in July in protest against India's new civilian nuclear-technology pact with the U.S. Until the split, they were a key reason the government's privatization and economic liberalization efforts had stalled.

The Left Front helped block measures such as the revamping of the public pension-funds sector and increasing foreign ownership in banking. Instead, they advocated restricting capital flows, limiting foreign ownership in finance and controlling foreign exchange, food and fuel prices -- all policies the government has pursued to some degree.

Mr. Karat, the CPIM general secretary, said his colleagues deserve "much of the credit" for insulating India from the worst ravages of the economic storm engulfing the world. While bank lending has tightened dramatically, India is expected to emerge from the crisis relatively unscathed compared with many other countries.

"The Wall Street model of unregulated, finance-driven speculation and greed for quick profits has collapsed with disastrous consequences," the central committee of the CPIM proclaimed in a statement after its annual meeting in Kolkata last month.

The Communists "were quite right about the danger of some reforms and I imagine they will crow about it," said Bharat Karnad, research professor at the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi think tank. "They will make a case that their advocacy has kept the Indian economy from spiraling downward."

Aditi Nanavaty, 27, came home to Mumbai with a master's degree in economics from the National University of Singapore and planned to join Lehman Brothers, or some other investment bank, early this year; but then, things got ugly. As more of the top investment banks announced problems, she had to dial down her salary expectations and change the companies she was interested in joining. While she is far from joining the Communist Party, she said, she better appreciates the job stability a union would bring.

Not even the Communists, however, have been immune to pro-market economics. In the state of West Bengal, where they have dominated politics for 31 years, the Communists have added a hefty dose of economic pragmatism to their beliefs. They are soliciting foreign and local companies to stimulate the economy. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, on a visit to India last year, met with West Bengal's chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, to discuss investment opportunities.

Even the party faithful concede that a revolution isn't in the cards. "We cannot take up all the industries run by [the private sector] overnight," said Mr. Ghose at the Center of Indian Trade Unions. But, he adds, "The capitalist system has to go and it will go eventually. That is our task."

Write to Eric Bellman at and Jackie Range at

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Some Thoughts About A Left in a Rut

by Norman Markowitz

I have been picking up a variety of comments from individuals on the left who are not affiliated and some from groups I have long considered sectarian.

Some actively supported Ralph Nader for President or other very minor candidates. Most of them attacked Barack Obama's candidacy as another capitalist candidacy, often with great vehemence(tailing the far right). Now, they are also in general minimizing the significance of the victory (also, once more tailing the far right). All of them also pooh poohed the significance of an Obama victory as a victory against racism, as if they were unconsciously taking the old "color blind" position that the Socialist Party took when it contended that all the troubles of minorities would be solved through socialism and had a blind eye to institutional racism within the working class, even in some unions where socialists were leaders.

It would be easy to mock such groups and views. The French did so in a variety of ways from the late 19th century on, laughing at groups who took the position("no one to the left of us" regardless of what they were really doing) calling others "impossibilists"(although that got thrown around against Marxists to) and even using a term that got translated in this country as "phony left." Then there were more American jokes-- certain sectarians(I won't name the group because I don't want to start old battles again) who go to heaven and immediately organize a protest because it is not perfect and is being run by angelic revisionists).

Robert Forsythe, a satirist popular in CPUSA circles in the 1930s (a classic collection of his articles can still be found in some libraries under the title Redder Than the Rose) portrayed such leftists as those who believed they could storm New York's Gracie Mansion as the Bolsheviks stormed the headquarters of the provisional government and capture Mayor La Guardia in his night shirt, thus bring about the revolution. Later, there was the mock song, to the tune of the old Soviet National Anthem, that CPUSA youth used against Trotskyist youth (here I must the group) "with Trotsky our leader and no one behind us, we'll fight every battle, we'll win every war."

But I think much of this left is really in a bad rut. It has no understanding of how to act politically, how to be comradely to each other, (something that has been totally forgotten) and how to even contemplate speaking to and influencing the working class. Some of it reminds me of the old left Hegelians who believed that criticism of the existing order was the end in itself, the way to advance the dialectic, which meant that you ended up building criticism on criticism, spending most of your time debating each other as you became more divorced from reality. If you want a religious analogy, this left uses its conventional arguments and assertions to, as an old Jewish non believer joke against Rabbis went," to talk to itself, answer itself, and agree with its own answers."

It is clearly uncomfortable from what I am picking up with the Obama victory because that both challenges its preconceptions and opens up opportunities that are new. The Right (which in this country is of course vastly more powerful institutionally and ideologically than any left, which has no support from billion dollar corporations and a significant minority of elected politicians) knows it has suffered a defeat and is using its influence to minimize that defeat, to try as far as it can to coerce Obama into becoming another Clinton, and, without any positive program of its own, hanging out like vultures to seize upon any Obama act to make his administration appear inept, "radical," etc., to take the onus off themselves.

But why should those individuals and groups of the left about whom I am talking be doing much of the same thing, if they are serious about politics? Why should they be jumping on Obama's choice of a White House chief of staff who is very much of a centrist Democrat, a political operator, and keeping silent about Obama's press conference in effect challenging Bush and the lame duck Congress to pass a stimulus package to deal with the peoples crisis and to extend unemployment insurance immediately.

Also, unlike Clinton, who curried favor with the Republicans and conservatives from the first moment of his election, Obama made it clear that a stimulus package (which Clinton by the way promised but never delivered 18 years ago) would be the first priority of his administration.

The stimulus package is much more important than the choice of Rahm Emanuel. Also, I wouldn't simply see him as an establishment center right Democrat but as a fairly colorful political wheeler dealer who will be working for President Obama to get things done, not setting any political agenda. (I also see Emanuel as someone who is likely to change whatever agenda he had in the past to suit the administration as some like him did in the Roosevelt administration.)

But does the left that I have been talking about want an Obama administration to succeed? Do they see any success, like a national health program, a major strengthening of the trade union movement, major social investments in infrastructure. a revival of the public sector, as victories for capitalism. If they do than however much they quote Marx, they are not Marxists, since Marx always opposed both an opportunist right and a self isolating left in the workers movement, always called upon those who called themselves his followers to both fight for vital reforms, the eight hour day, political rights for the entire working class, trade union rights and the right to strike, while at the same time educating workers that such gains were not in themselves socialism and that only the establishment of working class rule and socialism political economy would enable those gains to be fully consolidated and society to reach a higher level. Have this left even posed the question in in this way, meaning what a successful Obama administration would mean?

Do they want to see a reversal of thirty years of trade union decline (U.S. private sector unionized workers today are 7.5%, the lowest in the industrialized world). This will take both major federal legislation and an administration in Washington that actively encourages substantial trade union growth as a matter of policy. Do they want to see public sector and infrastructure revitalization, a new "war on poverty" and a major shift away from present U.S. foreign policy? That to will require both mass movements gaining strengthen outside Washington and legislation from Washington. Do they think that attacking Obama even before he takes office based on their own abstractions and continuing to do that will win them any support among the working people who voted for him or be related in any way to moving him to the left?

Not that I am saying that the administration will not deserve criticism as it moves forward and shouldn't get it when its actions deserve it. But criticism will mean nothing if it is not connected to mass organizations that are advancing, and it is the Obama campaign and its political victory that has opened the possibility of major mass advances.

After the victory of the free speech movement at Berkeley in 1965, Mario Savio, its principled and brilliant mass leader, said that the students had one a victory for "free speech" which would and should be responsible speech, because the victory had created the context in which free speech, critical speech, could be responsible.

The Obama victory has created potentially the context in which a left voice in U.S. politics can begin to be raised seriously for the first time since the 1960s and successfully for the first time since the 1930s. For that to happen, that left voice I think must develop in the context of critical support and reasoned criticism, to an administration which is a break with the last forty years of "mainstream" U.S. politics at the very least. Such a left voice if it is to be a left influence will need the Obama administration (as it in the 1930s needed the Roosevelt administration). And an Obama administration will need such a left if it is not to falter badly and fail eventually. If history can teach us anything it is that.

For those on the left who fear that such support will lead in the future to something like the brutal political persecution that the left which supported the New Deal broadly faced in the cold war era, there is little that can be said because no one can predict the future in a very specific way.

But what I think still holds true is a statement from a CPUSA leader in the 1930s (I am paraphrasing) against those who feared such alliances, that what they were proposing was to isolate themselves now because they are afraid that they will be isolated in the future.

Now is the time to begin to think what were once commonplace thoughts, to seriously build left unity, to come forward with specific programs that working people can understand and relate those programs to a longterm path to socialism, to make socialism and working class empowerment practical to as many people as possible. To do that we should positively toward the new administration rather than make ourselves as irrelevant to what is happening and thus contribute not only to our own isolation but to to the loss of those new opportunities.

I wrote this article not in anger, although some of these attacks have been focused on the CPUSA in a knee jerk way, but in the hope that people on the left who are for socialism, people who see Marxism as a guide to action(not dogma or personal property) will begin to think about what is happening in the U.S. today, since such moments in history rarely come, and whether they result in victories or defeats usually have tremendous effects on society.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Book Review: Rutledge and Brunetti Solve the Crimes; Rea ders learn more

Donna Leon, Uniform Justice.
Penguin 2003. $7.99

Charles Todd, A False Mirror.
Harper 2007. $6.99


As inspectors Rutledge and Brunetti solve murders; readers learn more about life in post-World War I England; and, contemporary political and social life in Venice.

Both writers are USA born, but Leon, apparently spends most of her time in various places in Europe, mostly in Italy.

For years, the Leon books did not come to the US. It was only after the year 2000 that Leon's books were published in the US. Many of her books were written during the 1990s.

I've come to team up the writings of Charles Todd and Donna Leon as two mystery writers who have a very direct approach to writing. They are easy reading, but not fluff.

Todd's mystery involves a very good who done-it that folds in to the horrendous world war I battlefield experiences, mainly the Somme, of Inspector Rutledge and his tormentor Hamish. Never using the battle of the Somme as an excuse to commit murders and other bad things, Todd continues to give the reader a vivid understanding of post war trauma.

Donna Leon's writings often weave in strong left thinking, mostly Guido Brunetti's wife Paolo. Also, the well-documented corruption of the police is part and parcel of the books.

There is a reference that Leon has made in more than one of her mystery's saying that the health services in Italy have deteriorated to those of Cuba. Leon should get her facts straight on that reference. The Cuban health system is well known to be quite good. But, the deteriorating nature of the Italian system is correct. While Italy has a national health service, the best way to deliver health services; but it is locally financed, a very bad idea…social solidarity is lost. That means that in poorer sections of Italy, toward the South, the health services are poorly financed and therefore not good; as opposed to the North near Milan and Venice where the economy is stronger and health services better financed.

On the good side, Leon gives readers a raw insight into the Italian military industrial and political complex. Her character development keeps you guessing until the final pages when Commissario Brunetti determines the guilty parties; and, then what to do about it.

Another similar theme of both writers is the role of the church in England and Italy. You can imagine how that role is described.

These books would make your later Fall and early Winter reading for good.