Monthly Archives: November 2016

An activist agenda

So, last week was statement signing. If you have not done this yet, now is the time. DONE.

This week:
Paul Ryan re: ACA. DONE.
Making a list of local groups that have organizing resources and workshops. Getting on their mailing lists. Taking a workshop or two. Best if in-person, but online is better than nothing. Figuring out where sanctuary is, who is responsible, and how it’s going to be protected.

Next week: Early holiday giving by donations in everyone you know’s name to organizations that will preserve free speech, monitor and expose corruption, and prosecute hate crimes. Climate stuff, sure. Black Lives Matter, indeed. Whatever matters to you that you always meant to support with more than a blog post. DONE.

Nov. 28- Dec. 16: Make friends in real life! Figure out who in Pantsuit Nation, for example, lives near you. Meet up at your local library or cafe or place of worship. Talk as much about what you do want as what you don’t want. Make a list. Make priorities. Or not. We don’t have to agree on everything, just on enough things to move some forward. Consider who in your local politics — town council, school board, etc. — can help you make it happen. Consider who in your national politics can help you make it happen. Consider any local organizations that you might want to visit with to see how you can help them make it happen. Consider whether any of you want to run for office. Make friends, make plans.

Dec. 16-Jan. 11: Your members of Congress leave Washington and come home! Please make an appointment to see your members of Congress. Take two or three or ten friends, old and new. Let them know the choice facing them is country above party, and that you, the voter, also have a choice, will be watching, and will be going to the polls again real soon. Be as specific about expectations as possible: Bannon, political appointment confirmations, climate change, Russia, business conflicts of interest, DAPL, ACA, DACA, and so on and so forth. Be polite but clear. Take pictures together. Tell everyone what they said.

Jan. 20 forward: Hold everyone accountable for everything, including ourselves.



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Samir Chopra, Timothy Snyder

A serious approach to resisting the Muslim registry, by our colleague Samir Chopra of Brooklyn College.

Also, allegedly by Yale historian and Holocaust expert Timothy Snyder, twenty lessons from the twentieth century.

1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.

2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.

3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.

4. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Look out for the expansive use of “terrorism” and “extremism.” Be alive to the fatal notions of “exception” and “emergency.” Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.

5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.

6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.

7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.

8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.

10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.

11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.

12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

13. Hinder the one-party state. The parties that took over states were once something else. They exploited a historical moment to make political life impossible for their rivals. Vote in local and state elections while you can.

14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.

15. Establish a private life. Nastier rulers will use what they know about you to push you around. Scrub your computer of malware. Remember that email is skywriting. Consider using alternative forms of the internet, or simply using it less. Have personal exchanges in person. For the same reason, resolve any legal trouble. Authoritarianism works as a blackmail state, looking for the hook on which to hang you. Try not to have too many hooks.

16. Learn from others in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends abroad. The present difficulties here are an element of a general trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself. Make sure you and your family have passports.

17. Watch out for the paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching around with torches and pictures of a Leader, the end is nigh. When the pro-Leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the game is over.

18. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no. (If you do not know what this means, contact the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and ask about training in professional ethics.)

19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.

20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.


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Education and the commercial mindset

Read it here.


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Les Tarahumaras

A crumbling volume I am putting into recycling is Artaud, Les tarahumaras, in Gallimard/idées, 1971. I bought it used 10 years later. The text was composed between 1937 and 1948, after Artaud’s 1936 trip to Mexico. I marked some passages in it when I read it.

P. 18: Westermers when asked a question react as though they knew it was they who were responding, and not someone else. The Tarahumaras are not like that.

Pp. 18-19: A European would never accept the idea that his sensations, emotions, ideas, were not his own, that another person could have experienced them in his body. The Tarahumaras do make a distinction between what are one’s own thoughts and what are the thoughts of the other, even if one thinks both thoughts oneself.

P. 73: The Renaissance and Humanism diminished humanity because they denied the perhaps superhuman, but natural laws of the earlier period: from the Renaissance forward Man tried to cut nature down to his size, rather than reach up to its size. Nature was denied and only the human was considered henceforth.

p. 131, on ceremonies and priests: Mais il faut surtout entendre les Paroles qu’ils se renvoient de l’un à l’autre avec des signes qui senblent extraits des limbes même de l’Eternité et qui sont faits pour supporter et manifester quelque chose, et ce quelque chose est l’Esprit du Verbe qui roule comme une boule de flamme devant le Seigneur Dieu, et dont eux Tarahumaras se souviennent, disent-ils, d’avoir été et d’être la Volonté et le reflet.


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“We Fight for Socialism Over Barbarism”

There is much anti-Trump activity, like this. Below is a statement from the Democratic Socialists of America that I got by e-mail.

Statement from DSA’s National Political Committee
November 13, 2016

How Trump Won: Seizing the Anti-Establishment Ground through Racial and Economic Nationalism

On November 8, voters in the United States narrowly elected an openly racist, misogynist and nativist candidate for president. Donald Trump succeeded in defining himself as an anti-establishment candidate who will end dynastic rule in Washington, D.C., by elites who care little for “forgotten Americans.” The grain of truth in this rhetoric masked an ideological appeal to a “white identity” that Republicans have long cultivated — in this instance, focusing on fear of immigrants, Muslims and people of color. The facts go against the liberal media’s narrative that “poor white people” were the primary force behind Trump’s rise. We must understand “Trumpism” as a cross-class white nativist alliance; the median family income of the 62 percent of white voters who supported Trump was higher than that of Hillary Clinton voters and wealthier than Bernie Sanders’ primary base.

Governing elites have long used racism to divide working people. The Left must understand the centrality of racism to capitalism and speak directly to how racism has hurt the interests of the white working class. The far Right in Europe and the United States has succeeded in speaking to the anger of people long abandoned by the bipartisan conservative and center-left consensus in favor of unbridled corporate globalization. Trump’s victory should show once and for all the dire consequences of leaving the Left’s response to economic insecurity in the hands of corporate-aligned centrists like the Clintons.

If Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, he certainly could have mobilized stronger working-class support against Trump, and his coattails could have put both houses of Congress in play. Clinton failed to gain the support of many working- and middle-class whites by running a campaign overly focused on Trump’s character flaws rather than hammering home the Sanders-inspired platform proposals that would improve the lives of working people of all races. She failed to highlight raising the minimum wage, opposing “free trade” agreements and creating good jobs through public investment in infrastructure and alternative energy. The Democratic Party chose the wrong candidate and the wrong strategy, and now the United States is left with the most dangerous government in recent history.

The Pressing Urgency of Now: Defend the Targets of Nativist Racism

Given Trump’s and Pence’s vilification of communities of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, women and LGBTQ people, Democratic Socialists of America’s and the broader Left’s first priority must be to defend the civil and political rights — and very physical security — of those groups targeted by Trumpism. The appointment of the open bigot and anti-Semite Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News as senior White House counselor demonstrates that Trump’s hateful rhetoric is not just talk. DSA and YDS chapters should be militant supporters of these groups in their immediate struggles to establish sanctuary cities for the undocumented, to defend Muslims and their mosques and to protect women seeking reproductive services. We must also proactively train ourselves to intervene effectively when we witness harassment of and violence against those targeted by the white nativist politics legitimated by the Trump victory. Finally, we should reach out to these communities immediately to express our solidarity and ask what work they would wish us to do.

Much of this work will involve DSA deepening our engagement with the Movement for Black Lives, the immigrant rights movement, Fight for 15, the reproductive justice movement and other movements on the frontlines against Trumpism. Under Reagan, similar acts of resistance eventually created a powerful rainbow coalition that advanced a multiracial politics of economic and racial justice. If we fully commit ourselves to these struggles over the next four years there is no reason why a new, even more powerful multiracial coalition for social and economic justice cannot emerge.

The Left will be faced with tremendous struggles on a variety of fronts starting on january 20.

Upon assuming office, Trump may use executive orders to reverse Obama’s environmental regulations (particularly those concerning coal-fueled power plants). The Left should connect Trump’s hostility to climate justice policies with mass action in support of the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline and for indigenous sovereignty. The climate justice movement, particularly if it puts environmental racism issues front and center, could be a major focus of resistance to Republican rule.

Trump is also likely to immediately end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which currently protects from deportation over 4 million undocumented individuals who came to the US as minors. This could be the first step in the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants from the United States. The Left should build strong relationships with movements on the forefront of opposing these policies, and fight to build a majoritarian coalition in support of citizenship for the millions of Americans who contribute to our economy and society through their work and taxes, but do not even enjoy the most basic civil and political rights.

Republicans may press to repeal all of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but they can be stopped. By organizing mass demonstrations, the Left could well save the eight million working-class family members who have gained Medicaid coverage and could also force the remaining 19 states that have refused to expand coverage to accept the federally funded program. We must organize the other 12 million people who currently receive health insurance through the ACA to demand that their coverage be continued, but at more affordable rates. Whether all or part of the ACA is abolished, the Left must campaign for state single-payer systems as the best alternative for expanding equitable and affordable health care coverage.

The Trans Pacific Partnership may well be a dead letter under Trump’s presidency, but we must not see Trump’s alleged opposition to it as a sign that he is in any way committed to a global trade policy that serves the interests of workers at home or abroad — far from it! In response to Trump’s savagely anti-worker policy prescriptions the Left must advance an alternative vision of global economic policy that raises global living, labor and environmental standards as an alternative to a nativist protectionism that blames foreign workers and immigrants for declining working-class living standards at home.

Further, Trump will move quickly to destroy organized labor in the United States, particularly in the public sector. We must resist, though our efforts will be complicated by the AFL-CIO’s self-defeating conciliatory stance toward the President-elect. Unions are the most powerful tool we have for building inter-racial solidarity among working class people around a shared economic interest. The questionable strategic and tactical choices made by much of their leadership both to support Clinton in the Democratic primaries and to commit themselves to working with Trump show the absolute necessity of a bottom-up left insurgency within the house of labor.

The Left must also press Democrats in the Senate to use the power of the filibuster to prevent the passage of disastrous legislation and extreme conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, and urge Democratic state and local governments to resist disastrous changes in Federal policy in whatever ways they can.

A Longer-Run Strategy for Progressive Power: Building a Multiracial Post-Sanders Movement

These are our immediate tasks. But we must also assess the Trump victory and what it means for future left and DSA strategy and seek opportunities to move from defense to offense. Though Clinton won the popular vote, she underperformed among white voters in the rust-belt states in part because many older voters suffered from the Clinton dynasty’s support of neoliberal policies that failed to address the economic suffering caused by deindustrialization, mechanization and corporate outsourcing. Clinton even narrowly lost the vote of white women, in part because Trump set himself up as the anti-establishment candidate who would “drain the swamp” of Washington “special interests” (despite the Koch brothers funding much of the Republican ground campaign). Combined with racist and sexist diatribes blaming the end of America’s supposedly golden era on women, immigrants and people of color, this rhetoric resonated deeply with over-45 white voters (both men and women) facing stagnant living standards, downward mobility and a soon-to-be majority-minority status in the United States.

While Trump offers no viable plan to actually address these voters’ economic anxieties either by increasing employment, transforming U.S. trade policy or any other means, his call to “make America great again” by rebuilding infrastructure and creating “jobs, jobs, jobs” was powerful among many white voters who associate the memory of better economic conditions with a past of white privilege and a politics of “law and order.”

The Republicans will not address the needs of working-class people in the United States. Instead we can expect them to propose massive tax cuts for the rich and corporations, running up huge budget deficits and exacerbating our already staggering level of income and wealth inequality. They will only maintain or expand those parts of the federal budget that really should be shrunk  — for example, the military and prison systems. Many Trump voters will resent tax giveaways to the rich, and most Americans today are wary of military interventions overseas, so the Left has a real opportunity to mobilize against such national priorities and advance an alternative vision.

As the 2016 election has shown, however, changing demographics alone will not automatically threaten the success of white nativist politics. In this election (as in 2000), the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College prevented the winner of the popular vote from taking office. Further, voter suppression drove down the turnout of working-class citizens of all races as well as the elderly and students, a problem particularly severe in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio. Beyond this, the progressive, black and Latino electorates are heavily concentrated in strongly Democratic states (and mostly in urban and inner suburban areas), which means that millions of their votes are effectively not counted in the outcome of the presidential election. (For instance, 100,000 additional votes beyond those needed to reach 50 percent in California do nothing to change the number of votes California receives in the electoral college).

To address this problem, the Left must build a stronger base among white working-class voters in small towns throughout the rural United States and in states in the former industrial heartland, the South and the plains states. There can be no progressive majoritarian politics in the United States without a politics that appeals to working-class voters of all races. Reapportionment in 2020 will heavily affect prospects for progressive electoral victories for the next decade. Thus, the Left has to sink deep roots in a wide range of communities across the nation, and DSA’s rapid growth in the South should be nurtured and sustained.

Strong political headwinds blow against us over the coming years. If we hope to move U.S. politics in a progressive direction, we must continue down the trail blazed by Bernie Sanders. The many successful insurgent “Sanderistas” elected at the local and state level, as well as the emerging anti-corporate wing of the Democratic Party’s congressional delegation and above all Sanders’ own presidential primary run, demonstrated that multiracial working-class constituencies will support a social democratic program of progressive tax reform, universal access to high-quality health and childcare and public investment in infrastructure and alternative energy.

We must continue to press this agenda even more assertively, both by electing more insurgents at all levels of government and by also building working-class and socialist power in our trade union, social-movement and electoral work.

None of these programs can be won without a radical shift in power relations. In the absence of mass pressure from democratic social movements — movements willing to disrupt the everyday workings of undemocratic institutions — and the development of independent electoral capacity of activists of color, feminists, LGBTQ activists and trade unionists, corporate interests will continue to dominate the policy agenda.The campaigns of DSA-endorsed candidates at the local and state level, such as victorious State Representative Mike Sylvester (D-Maine) and the impressive second-place finish of Baltimore City Council Green candidate Ian Schlakman, demonstrate that building a multiracial base for explicitly socialist candidates (who, depending on local circumstances, may run as Democrats, independents, Greens or in nonpartisan races) is both possible and necessary.

The more than 9,000 members of DSA (nearly 2,000 of whom joined this week) believe that the surest way to resist and defeat Trumpism is if we build a strong, organized democratic socialist movement in U.S. politics, a movement that must become as diverse as the working class itself. The Sanders revolution moved us one step closer toward a stronger and more assertive Left that can push for the many long-overdue reforms working people in this country desperately need, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and making publicly-funded university education a basic human right. Clinton’s neoliberal centrism proved incapable of warding off the nativist far Right. The way forward lies in the movement for democratic socialism.

Thus, we invite veterans of the Sanders campaign and others to join the organization that works to bring his democratic socialist politics into the mainstream of U.S. political life.


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Frank Rosengarten

I was looking for a good translation of Gramsci and discovered this professor. Look at the fascinating, brief bio-bibliography.

Frank Rosengarten is professor emeritus of Italian and comparative literature at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of The Italian Anti-Fascist Press; The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique; and Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society.

Italian press, Proust, C.L.R. James, Comparative Literature.



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Nancy Fraser

The journal issue I am recycling today is a boundary 2 from 1990. Specifically, boundary 2 17:2. It is of course available in JSTOR. I kept it because I always wanted to read all of it, and because I liked the way I had marked up Nancy Fraser’s article “The uses and abuses of French discourse theories for feminist politics.”

Now I have torn that article out as though it were an offprint, and recycled the rest of the faded journal. Fraser is explaining why she has no positive references in any paper to Lacan, Kristeva, Saussure, or Derrida, and she does not think Lacan can be used to feminist purposes. Lacan is used to theorize the discursive construction of subjectivity in film and literature, but she relies on alternative models of language because she thinks Lacan and also Kristeva are antifeminist.

Very basically, she says that Lacan’s model does not account either for the complexity of the subject or for that of the world. “The speaking subject is simply a grammatical ‘I’ wholly subjected to the symbolic order; it can only and forever reproduce that order. The Lacanian ego is an imaginary projection….” (92)

One of Fraser’s problems with Kristeva is her aestheticizing bent: avant-garde aesthetic production is inherently revolutionary and other forms of discourse are not. (95) Another problem is that “the semiotic” is not located within culture and society but beneath them, so it cannot become a political practice. (98)

There is more: idealization of the maternal, the assumption that the goals of feminism have been achieved, the idea that “women” don’t exist and that collective identities are dangerous fictions. (96)

Fraser is interested in a pragmatic theory of discourse over structuralist ones. Pragmatic theories allow the subject agency (it is not a mere effect); they do not assume a single, coherent “symbolic system”; and there is more. (93-94, 96-97)

I kept this article all this time because I thought it was useful for my study of Vallejo, and I still do.



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