>the more things change…

>Consider the following paragraph below. It is from an introduction to Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1. It was written in 1976 by Ernest Mandel. I was struck by how much it describes our current day.

Periodically the bourgeois class and its ideologues have thought they have found the stone of wisdom; have felt able, accordingly, to announce the end of crises and socio-economic contradictions in the capitalist system. But despite Keynesian techniques, notwithstanding all the various attempts to integrate the working class into late capitalism, for over a decade now the system has appeared if anything more crisis-ridden than when Marx wrote Capital. From the Vietnam war to the turmoil on the world monetary system; from the upsurge of radical workers’ struggles in Western Europe since 1968 to the rejection of bourgeois values and culture by large numbers of young people throughout the world; from the ecology and energy crises to the recurrent economic recessions; there is no need to look very far for indications that capitalism’s heyday is over. Capital explains why the sharpening contradictions of the system were as inevitable as its impetuous growth. In that sense, contrary to a generally accepted belief, Marx is much more an economist of the twentieth century than of the nineteenth. Today’s Western world is much nearer to the ‘pure’ model of Capital than was the world in which it was composed.

Of course, capitalism has had a few more years of its so-called “heyday” since 1976. But maybe we are seeing bigger cracks in the system today than in the past. And yet I don’t think we’ve seen the last of capitalism for a long time now. Marxists have been saying for more than 150 years that capitalism is going to collapse any day now, but it keeps trudging along – making some rich beyond measure.

I must also say that it was fun typing this up while listening the the soundtrack from Repo Man.

>What is Democracy? Beyond Elections documentary

>Democracy is one of those words, like love or justice, that we all know intuitively what it means, but then again we don’t really know as well as we think. I am often surprised by how much I don’t understand democracy and its implications, let alone how it plays out in different parts of the world. Below is the the first part of a documentary on the topic of democracy in the Americas. This might be a good place to start re-examining what democracy is all about.

You see the rest of the documentary here.

>Capitalism Hits the Fan

>Professor Rick Wolff is a passionate and animated lecturer. He is also a Socialist. With all the discussion these days about the supposed Socialist solution proposed by the Bush/Obama power brokers, it might be worth understanding what an actual Socialist perspective is all about. (This video was recorded before Obama was sworn in as president.) I have to say Wolff’s analysis is, at least, fascinating and worth thinking about. Truth is, Karl Marx’s understanding of Capitalism is a powerful critique and possibly more important than ever.


As with most Socialist/Communist proposed “solutions” to things like economic crises, labor issues, government regulations, market fluctuations, and the like, I am not sure where I stand. I am not yet a Socialist, but can’t say I’m a Capitalist either. Wolff’s conclusions in this video also seem somewhat simplistic to me, but that might be because he had limited time to speak. My guess is that given more time he could give much more detail and answer objections.

Outside looking at another outside: Thoughts sparked by Wajda’s Man of Marble

In the middle of Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble (1976) there is a brief moment when the young filmmaker Agnieszka (played by Krystyna Janda in her first film role) is chastised by her producer (played by Boguslaw Sobczuk in his first film role). Agnieszka has been trying to do an investigative piece on a once praised bricklayer, Mateusz Birkut – the man of marble – who was hailed in the 1950s as an example of the communist ideal and then fell out of favor with the government and has since disappeared. Agnieszka has had some difficulty getting the footage and information she needs to tell the story, so she has reverted to subversive techniques – hidden camera and microphone – for an interview with a strip club manager to get material for her film. In the process she is caught and loses her film from that interview. Her producer argues with her about her lack of material and includes the comment: “Besides, this isn’t America, these aren’t the methods to use…”

For some reason this comment seemed to jumped out at me on this second viewing (not so 20 years ago). I have come across similar comments from other Soviet bloc films and books. Maybe my interest was piqued because I’ve grown more sensitive to historical and political issues. Maybe it’s because I’ve read Russian artists who chaffed under the Soviet system, yet they still expressed disdain for the U.S. system and the ugly realities of capitalism. If you are a U.S. citizen of long standing then, like me, you were well trained to despise everything Soviet, to see the CCCP as wildly oppressive, to know the Russians stood against “everything we hold dear”, and tag them as the evil empire (as one populist demagogue once put it).

I am glad I did not grow up anywhere in the Soviet bloc. But I also see the game. We are trained to fear other political and economic systems by those who have a vested interest in us being fearful. I think this is true in many countries. Power seeks to remain in power, and does so in part by being the controller of ideas. Even a person such as myself who tries to think critically about these things is still like a fish trying to see the water – I am profoundly influenced by the limited world in which I live. We like to think the world of ideas is unlimited, that we have equal access to any idea or concept, but unless we do the hard work of seeking out alternative ideas, and then really digging deep into them with the goal of understanding, we will tend toward uncritically believing the ideas which are closest and most prevalent.

So it is interesting to me to hear a line spoken in a 1976 Polish film (a film made by a director who’s own career shortly came to a standstill because of support for the solidarity movement) by a government authority holding the high ground morally regarding U.S. society. I don’t know if the producer’s opinion was right or wrong, or if Wajda intended this as a joke, but it is interesting to get a glimpse from the other side as it were. What we sometimes find when we pull back the curtain on communist countries is not always a longing for western style capitalism and U.S. style democracy, but either a desire for their own government to behave rightly in light of the stated goals of their own system, or for the system to change to a more democratically oriented socialism with improved human rights. I found similar sentiments from Tarkovsky in his diaries. That surprised me given my ideological training.

By the end of the film’s story the investigative implications point to a dark end for Agnieszka’s subject. Mateusz Birkut ended up in Gdańsk working at the Lenin Shipyard, where he died. Those shipyards were the birthplace of the solidarity movement. They were also the place where many were killed by the secret police and one of the locations of the infamous 1970 protests. Very likely Mateusz was killed by the secret police in Gdańsk, this would have been something the audience would presumably understood, but Wajda leaves that an open conclusion – but not entirely open as he took up the story again in Man of Iron (1981) in which the protagonist is Birkut’s son.

I don’t typically give reviews, and this isn’t one, but I will recommend this film. Man of Marble has two qualities: 1) The film is clearly the work of a master filmmaker who has developed into a mature storyteller, and 2) The film feels like a rough around the edges independent film that vibrates with life. It is not like American films, and therefore worth seeing for that reason, but it is more. Man of Marble is a window into another world, two worlds in fact. But it is also a kind of window into our world, for it raises universal questions of official truth and the value of investigative journalism, two things we could use more of today.

>a curious absence

>I am curious and concerned about the popular reaction in the U.S. to the economic crisis. The reaction seems to be a combination of moral outrage and complete acquiescence to the “current financial situation,” or whatever we’re calling it. The American people (including myself) are complaining a lot and doing little.

Publicly protesting is not a complete solution by a long shot, but it can be an important element in changing our society for the better. In numerous places around the world over the past several months there have been protest and strikes in response to the global economic meltdown and various governments’ actions. Here are some:

Protests in Eastern & Central Europe

Protests in France

Protests in Greece

So where are the protests in the U.S.? This is the country most responsible for the problem. This is the country doling out the largest dose of corporate welfare (in an already corporate welfare state) in world history to those companies most culpable. This is the country in which those government leaders and those captains of Wall Street who created the policies that made the collapse as easy as possible, are the same one’s now hired to fix the problem. There is a lot of outrage for sure, and many ordinary Americans have played their part in the mess as well, but it seems everyone is just sitting by hoping things will get better.

It appears to me the fundamental issues underlying the problem are moral and systemic. Both of which should send people into the streets. But, so far, not in this country. Any thoughts?

>Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey

>For forty years David Harvey has been teaching Karl Marx’s Das Capital. Recently his 13 part (two hours each) lecture series has been made available through iTunes. [Go to iTunes/iTunes Store and search for either “Reading Marx’s Capital” or “David Harvey.” You can choose either the video version or the audio only version.]

Harvey’s goal is to truly understand what Marx was saying rather than preach some standard line about Marx. He is a fan of Marx and so one could label him a Marxist, but his studies often end up undercutting the popular myths about Marx. As one would expect, that undercutting is one of the benefits of a close reading.

The first 5 or 6 of the lectures are also available on Google video. Here’s #1: