Friday, March 25, 2011

Been sick

I've been feeling poorly.  Here's a 3D fly-though of why

My kidney is producing little pebbles requiring excessive amounts of oxycodone to soothe.  So that means I've been too drugged to do much writing.

There seems to be a break in the action now so I will get some writing done this weekend.  Keep your eyes open for posts on property, the tea party and Stockholm syndrome as well as more progressive history.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Albert Einstein you (probably) Never Knew

Albert Einstein and David Ben Gurion, 1951
Albert Einstein was perhaps the most brilliant mind of his or any other generation.  His thinking on the nature and structure of the universe helped usher in a whole new way of thinking about matter and energy and, along with other notable physicists in the early 20th century, ushered in a new era of technological innovation.  Without his work and the work of his colleagues, the list of things we take for granted would never be possible.  These Quantum Magicians gave us solid-state physics which led to computers, networks, televisions, DVDs, and a million other things that make modern life... well... modern!

But Albert occasionally dabbled in social philosophy as well.  In 1949 he penned an article for the Monthly Review entitled Why Socialism?.  Yes, my friends, Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant men to ever live was a socialist.

How did he arrive at the conclusion that socialism was the best course for humankind?  Simple.  He looked at the evidence.
The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.
Second, socialism is directed toward a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and -- if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous -- are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half-unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society. 
You see, Einstein was literally saying, "if you can imagine it, you can do it."  If you can imagine a more ethical world, you can plot a trajectory towards it and, ultimately get there.  You have to want to get beyond the so-called "predatory phase" of humanity.  That, of course, means upsetting the dominant social order: capitalism.

Man, Einstein argues, is of two natures: solitary and social. And our present system seeks to play one side off the other.  But both sides are necessary for us to be human.
It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished.
If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. 
Society is the construct that needs to change to enhance the human experience.  Using the society of others, we can build a better world. But here then is the problem.
The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society. 
Meaning in life derives not from the selfish satisfaction of wants, but from the society of other human beings.  His words ring as true today as they must have in 1949.  Having made the point that society is the reason for living and that the so-called "natural rights" of the individual, a social construction, drives greater and greater alienation in our society, he tackles the root cause: capitalism.
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor.
Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
That, then, is the crux of the problem. This could have been written yesterday.  The unholy aggregation of capital wealth with political power produces an oligarchic system which alienates people from one another and from the means of production. The control of the media and educational systems by oligarchic interestes further drives us away from the social values which we all so desperately desire.

Albert Einstein was one smart guy.  But then we knew that, didn't we?


I have long been a movie lover. I especially love historical dramas like Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur.  I grew up in a Progressive house where my parents marched me along with thousands of others in 1969 to protest the war in Vietnam.  We marched through the streets of Philadelphia chanting, singing and basically making a ruckus. I was 7. It made an impression.

Later in college I protested the treatment of Nicaragua and El Salvador at the hands of America's reactionary right-wing government lead by Ronald Reagan. As someone who remembers those times well, I find is baffling that anyone would remember him with fondness or affection. He was responsible for so much misery in the world, both overseas and here at home.

But in 1981, Warren Beatty released Reds. The film dramatized the turbulent lives of Jack Reed and Louise Bryant, lovers and radicals who sought to change the world through worker empowerment.  This film was a revelation to me. It awakened me to an important part of American history that was ignored in the textbooks. It taught me about the IWW and the One Big Union.  Big Bill Haywood became my hero. The existence of a group of radical intellectuals who nearly succeeded in changing America's trajectory was fascinating and exciting to me.  I devoured everything I could find about the characters dramatized in the film.

Jack and Louise's circle of friends included such luminaries as playwright and later Nobel laureate Eugene O'Neill, anarchist Emma Goldman and author Max Eastman. Jack, especially, was dedicated to the kind of class struggle that went so horribly wrong in Russia. Jack Reed's life ended in the nascent U.S.S.R. and he is the only American buried in Red Square.

Jack Reed and Louise Bryant in an
undated photograph
This film had a huge influence on me. It showed me that you could fight injustice and oppression, things that life in Ronald Reagan's America swept under the flag to the ironic chorus of "Born in the U.S.A." (my first use of the phrase "It doesn't mean what you think it means!" was with a clot of proto-wingnuts (c.a. 1983) at my college who were staging a counter-protest to our pro-Sandinista rally, waving the American flag and singing the song)  It's hard to remember the tidal wave of conservative thought that washed over America like a tidal-wave of counter-revolution. Everything the progressive movement had worked for for decades was at risk.  From the reforms of FDR that created Social Security to the Great Society of Johnson. Nothing was safe, nobody was safe.

Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton
as Jack Reed and Louise Bryant in Reds
Incidentally, this wave brought with it a now-discredited macroeconomic philosophy known as "supply-side" economics.  In a nutshell, the "supply-side" plan involved providing incentives to the wealthy and the industrialists through tax cuts and give-aways and that this plan would somehow create jobs and productivity for the nation.  Of course this plan ran contrary to every accepted scrap of evidence ever provided in macroeconomic theory and practice, the Republicans were undaunted.  They were undaunted because they had a Plan.  And that Plan drove a massive shift of wealth and income from the bottom 90% of Americans to the top 1% that, for 30 years now, has continued unabated.  I maintain that, aside from social issues like gay marriage and abortion, the division between supply-side and demand-side economics drives the political debate today.  More on this in a future post!

So what does this have to do with Reds? Everything.  It was clear to me from the beginning, as a freshman in college, that what these economic vandals had in mind was no less than the dismantling of the foundations of American democracy and freedom.  They sought to create a permanent underclass akin to feudal serfs or even slaves (albeit "wage slaves").  The IWW, these Reds, wanted to change that. They didn't want America to slip into a feudal system with a tiny ruling oligarchy and a mass of serfs toiling in meaningless jobs, their labor completely alienated. Sometimes you have to break the system to fix it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Even a blind woman could see the truth

Helen Keller in 1901
Most of us have seen the film The Miracle Worker.  It's the story of the teaching of young Helen Keller who was born deaf and blind but is eventually reached through the herculean efforts of her teacher and friend Annie Sullivan.  But did you know that Helen Keller was also a radical revolutionary? Once she learned how to read braille and then to write, she turned her significant intellectual powers to the question of the rights of working people, people with disabilities, and women's rights.  She was a suffragette and a trenchant critic of Woodrow Wilson.  Helen Keller was a Red.  Who knew?

Keller joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1912.  In an interview from 1916 she describes why she became a member of the IWW.

"What are you committed to--education or revolution?" 
"Revolution." She answered decisively. "We can't have education without
revolution. We have tried peace education for 1,900 years and it has
failed. Let us try revolution and see what it will do now
"I am not for peace at all hazards. I regret this war, but I have never
regretted the blood of the thousands spilled during the French
Revolution. And the workers are learning how to stand alone. They are
learning a lesson they will apply to their own good out in the trenches.
Generals testify to the splendid initiative the workers in the trenches
take. if they can do that for their masters you can be sure they will do
that for themselves when they have taken matters into their own hands.

"And don't forget workers are getting their discipline in the trenches,"
Miss Keller continued. "They are acquiring the will to combat.
"My cause will emerge from the trenches stronger than it ever was. Under
the obvious battle waging there, there is an invisible battle for the
freedom of man."

In 1918, Keller penned a short article for The Liberator magazine where, in defense of the IWW, she wrote

The IWW is pitted against the whole profit-making system. It insists
that there can be no compromise so long as the majority of the working
class live in want, while the master class lives in luxury.
According to
its statement, “there can be no peace until the workers organize as a
class, take possession of the resources of the earth and the machinery
of production and distribution, and abolish the wage-system.” In other
words, the workers in their collectivity must own and operate all the
essential industrial institutions and secure to each laborer the full
value of his produce. I think it is for this declaration of democratic
purpose, and not for any wish to betray their country, that the IWW
members are being persecuted, beaten, imprisoned and murdered. 
Surely the demands of the IWW are just. It is right that the creators of
wealth should own what they create. When shall we learn that we are
related one to the other; that we are members of one body; that injury
to one is injury to all?
Until the spirit of love for our
fellow-workers, regardless of race, color, creed or sex, shall fill the
world, until the great mass of the people shall be filled with a sense
of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice cannot be
attained, and there can never be lasting peace upon earth.

Keller died in her sleep on June 1st, 1968 and in 2003 was featured on the Alabama state quarter.  Do you think the people in Alabama know that every time they use their state's quarter, they're handling an image of a died-in-the-wool socialist?  Color me skeptical.

Key Vote! April 5th!

Don't forget to mark your calendars, a critical vote (one might say a litmus test of the Angry Curd movement) is coming on April 5th.  The candidate that supports worker's rights is clearly...

A Case of Heresy

Cartoon from The Liberator, March 1918
I love old editorial cartoons.  It's a little like an archaeological expedition trying to unpack what the artist was trying to convey given the context of the day.  In this case, this is a treatise arguing against the supression of Socialist ideas by the joint efforts of the church, the universities and the press.  The Press character is attempting to steer a character named Schwab to the book, but he's looking away, holding  a sheet of paper, presumable some sort of newspaper or other document.  Press also has a scarf covered in $ signs.

Above the large central figure, presumably the High-Priest of Capitalism, judging from the $ signs on his scarf and his monumental size, are the words "The Syste[m]" (the "m" being obscured by the curtain).

The text in the book reads:
  • Praise be our Property Rights
  • Yea Verily, let the Prosperous Rule
  • A man is known by the dollars he keeps
  • To have and to hold Fast
  • Business individualism is noble, Socialism is an abomination
  • So saith the profits
  • The poor and the meek get their rewards in Heaven -- Not here...
And the sheet in hand reads
Some people call it Socialism others call it Bolshevikism.  It means but one thing and that is the man who labors with his hands yet does not posses property is the one who is going to dominate the affairs of the world.  --Charles M. Schwab

Charles M. Schwab
Charles M. Schwab in 1901

Schwab lived hard, and died in poverty. You might be surprised that he had a significant impact on the development of the steel industry in the United States.  Born to German immigrants in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, early in his career he worked for Andrew Carnegie.  Eventually, striking out on his own, he founded Bethlehem Steel and later invented the H beam, precursor to the I beam and the key to the development of the skyscraper.

Ultimately the stock market crash of 1929 and his hard living lifestyle wiped out his personal fortune.

He ended up living in a small apartment when he could no longer afford the taxes on his lavish mansion.

But in 1918, Schwab was flying high.  And he recognized the changing social order. In a speech transcribed by Baltimore magazine, Schwab had this to say.
"We are on the threshold of a new social era. This new order of things may work great hardship for many of us. It is going to come upon us sooner than we expect. It is the social renaissance of the whole world. Some people call it Socialism, others call it Bolshevikism. It means but one thing, and that is that the man who labors with his hands, who does not possess property, is the one who is going to dominate the affairs of this world; not merely Russia, Germany and the United States, but the whole world. 
"This great change is going to be a social adjustment. I repeat that it will be a great hardship to those who control property, but perhaps in the end it will work inestimably to the good of us all. Therefore, it is our duty not to oppose, but to instruct, to meet and to mingle with the view of others. 
"The translation from the old to the new order of things will be so gradual that we will hardly realize that it has occurred. The pendulum will swing so far that you and I may find it hard for a time, but there will be an adjustment. * * * 
"The aristocracy of the future is not going to be the aristocracy of wealth; it is going to be the aristocracy of men who have done something for their country and for the world at large. Such men will lie true aristocrats.  * * * 
"I am not sure that this coming change in society will be better for you and me, but whether it will or will not, we must be prepared to accept it, for it is coming, and it is nearer than we think.'' 
—Charles M. Schwab, from Baltimore, Volume 11 no 7, April 1918
 If only his prediction had come true.

Baltimore, incidentally, is the oldest continuosuly published city magazine in the country.  First published in 1907, it is still in press today.