June 2012


With significant reluctance, one of the greatest pleasures for a man or indeed woman comes to an end – my tiling. Over the last few weeks, in those regular breaks from writing, I have been cleaning carefully around each tile, removing traces of stray tiling cement:

As you may appreciate, this is a task only for the patient. But then the grouting began, filling in those trenches around 450 tiles or so.

A messy job at times, but satisfying (Mick Jagger obviously never tiled …):

I can certainly get some …

… satisfaction from this:

And this:

I … can … get … some …

… sa-tis-fac-tion …

Well, maybe not quite … I have already identified the next task or three: the kitchen floor, the walls, the exterior of our apartment block. You name it, I’ll tile it.

How does a communist government negotiate its way within global capitalism? It feels each stone on the bed of the stream with its feet before proceeding. Let me give a few examples, drawn from Adrian Chan’s Chinese Marxism. Each of them provides a partial answer as to why China did not suffer any great pain with the Asian Economic Crisis of the late 1990s and now the Atlantic Economic Crisis that began in 2008. (Another part of the answer is, of course, the massive integration of the economy and the government in what some may call a planned economy, but what is perhaps better called a ‘focus-field’ system.)

An indication may be found already back in the early 90s. In 1993, inflation was running at 25%; by 1997 it was 2%. At the same time the economy ‘grew’ by that steady average of 8-9%. How was this managed? Instead of ‘opening’ the economy up to international speculation and competition, China retained control of its currency and the exchange rate, thereby protecting itself from the ravages of the international money market. Even now, the government refuses to make the currency fully convertible – much to the fury of regimes such as the USA. The result is that the state retains fiscal control and yet encourages enterprises, both local and international, to prosper and survive and thereby reduce inflationary pressure.

A similar level of control over the currency took place during the Asian Economic Crisis of the late 1990s. Despite the fact that most of the other currencies in South-East Asia did plummet, and despite the threat of Moody’s to downgrade the credit ratings of China and Hong Kong, the government refused to devalue. Why? One reason put forward was that China was thereby helping the struggling Asian economies to get back on their feet, since their exports were now considerable cheaper. Another reason is that the government was keen to block currency traders and manipulators from attacking its own banks.

Here the successful defence of Hong Kong and China shows how such a policy works. Many Asian countries were attacked by manipulators, forcing the central banks to use their reserves, usually in US dollars, and when they were depleted, to devalue and then be forced to follow the infamous harsh measures of the World Bank and IMF. In August 1997, Hong Kong itself was attacked. China immediately pledged its then considerable reserves of $140 billion (now much higher) to resist. Hong Kong threw in its own $98 billion. The result: after six weeks the attack was called off. The Monetary Authority of Hong Kong, in coalition with the Chinese central bank, had used about $30 billion to defend the Hong Kong dollar. Since that dollar had risen by $0.02, the gain was about $600 million.

Chan concludes: ‘This ability of China’s new socialists to take advantage of the contradictions of the capitalists would probably have been cheered on by Mao’ (p. 200).

I have finally managed to make some of my own tofu. The process is relatively straightforward, with about as much complexity as making your own yoghurt. The real challenge was to decipher the instructions I was sent:

Tofu is made?

Ingredients: Soybeans right amount; Gypsum appropriate amount of

1. Head the night soaked soy beans into a paste with stone grinding (However, in order to prevent parents too tired or of machinery).

2. Bucket of slurry inverted pot with open fire.

3. Boil and then pour the pulp into the container underneath the gauze.

4. And then set off the four corners of the gauze grabbed forced to squeeze in one direction, to filter out the pulp.

5. Then forced to squeeze in another direction, so that repeated many times as possible and screw out the most pulp.

6. Filtered sauce and then fire repeatedly boiled.

7. Has become the drink soy milk.

8. Ext Portland plaster pounded to a powder form.

9. Gypsum powder uniform, rushed into the cooked milk slowly.

10. Then close the lid and you can see about 30-60 minutes after the curd-like with a scoop when sung to the following container (tofu dedicated container).

11. Then put a clean stone pressed, about an hour or so open look.

12. Turned into a shining white tofu, ha ha!

Needless to say, this is a valiant effort by that very primitive tool known as google translator (just as well world peace doesn’t depend on google’s ability). All of which has made me realise that the only way to go is to learn Chinese – putonghua as they call, the ‘common speech’ (aka Mandarin). So during that quiet hour over breakfast in the morning, half is given over to studying Russian and the other half to Chinese.

 

Our regular ‘Radicals Walk’ is not for the faint-hearted. Apart from wild seas threatening to wash us away, we now have an added thrill:

It all comes from a desire to rehabilitate the dunes, grow some vegetation, all of which our legless friends find ever so inviting.

And why wouldn’t you? If I were a snake, I’d reckon this was a pretty good place to settle down.

(ht: ts)

Some shameless self-promotion in a year that is becoming a little ludicrous in terms of books published.

The first book now available is Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels and Theology.

This is volume 4 of the ‘The Criticism of Heaven and Earth’ series. As the blurb puts it:

Criticism of Earth thoroughly reassesses Marx and Engels’s engagement with theology, drawing on largely ignored texts. Thus, alongside ‘opium of the people’, Hegel’s philosophy of law, and the Feuerbach theses, other works are also central. These include Marx’s early pieces on theology, continual transformations of fetishism, and lengthy treatments of Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. Engels too is given serious attention, since he moved beyond Marx in appreciating theology’s revolutionary possibilities. Engels’s Calvinism is discussed, his treatments of biblical criticism and theology, and his later writings on early Christianity’s revolutionary nature. The book continues the project for a renewed and enlivened interaction between Marxism and religion, being the fourth of five volumes in the Criticism of Heaven and Earth series.

Even though the euro is not doing so well these days, €99.00 is still a reasonable hit for a book. I must admit that Brill has a business model that has worked for over three centuries – it was established during the heyday of the first great capitalist power, the Netherlands. What to do? I suggest three or four strategies:

1. Dig a rich aunt for some cash, or request it as a birthday or Christmas present from your parents and/or children.

2. Order it for a library you know.

3. Wait for the paperback from Haymarket.

4. Wait for the pdf on one of those reputable Russian book sites.

The second book published is Nick Cave: A Study of Love, Death and Apocalypse.

I’m told the paperback should be out soonish, but otherwise see above. The blurb:

This study analyses the work of Nick Cave, a singular, idiosyncratic and brilliant musician, specifically through his engagements with theology and the Bible. It does so not merely in terms of his written work, the novels and plays and poetry and lyrics that he continues to produce, but also the music itself. Covering more than three decades of extraordinarily diverse creativity, the book has seven chapters focusing on: the modes in which Cave engages with the Bible; the total depravity of the worlds invoked in his novels and other written work; the consistent invocation of apocalyptic themes; his restoration of death as a valid dimension of life; the twists of the love song; the role of a sensual and heretical Christ; and then a detailed, dialectical analysis of his musical forms. The book draws upon a select number of theorists who provide the methodological possibilities of digging deep into the theological nature of Cave’s work, namely Ernst Bloch, who is the methodological foundation stone, as well as Theodor Adorno, Theodore Gracyk and Jacques Attali.

And a third one, although this is the paperback of Criticism of Theology: On Marxism and Theology III.

This one is very affordable via those nice lefties at Haymarket Books. The blurb:

Criticism of Theology provides a detailed and critical commentary on the continued fascination with religion by yet more significant Marxist philosophers, historians and critics: Max Horkheimer, E.P. Thompson, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, Michael Löwy, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Antonio Negri. Simultaneously critique and construction, Criticism of Theology carefully analyses their work through close textual readings, with a view to locating hidden gems that may be developed further.

Soon to come, but available for pre-order, is The Earthy Nature of the Bible: Fleshly Readings of Sex, Masculinity and Carnality.

I have just received the cover image:

And the fourth one for this year, Criticism of Heaven: The Author’s Cut. This one has the full original text, with 250 pages and the original cadences restored.


Apart from great food, it also has fascinating sidebars on topics such as the benefits of centrally planned cabbage and the development of the silk-worm missile – just like ‘hatching chicks’, that is, it was developed collectively.

Two things I really hate.

First, the Nobel ‘Peace Prize’. It was created back in 1895 by that inventor of dynamite and arms manufacturer, the Swede Alfred Nobel. With that kind of pedigree, it was only ever going to be an ideological tool – backed with a good deal of dodgy cash – in capitalist imperialism. To wit, the recent speech given by Aung San Suu Kyi – the Burmese lackey of the USA – in Oslo as she accepted the gong first tossed her way in 1991.

‘Freedom’, ‘democracy’, she said, ‘and, by the way, come and screw us over, you trans-nationals’.

Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton stood by and grinned in a way that uncannily reminds one of a shark:

Here’s one to make you cringe:

Second, the Dalai Lama and Tibetan ‘Independence’. This media tart and charlatan is, of course, another winner of the Nobel imperial gong. Tibet is a cause célèbre among hand-wringing liberals, chardonnay socialists and a USA increasingly worried about their cracking and crumbling influence. But what does it mean to support Tibetan ‘independence’?

It is worth noting that in 1951, Tibet’s political leaders decided to join the P.R. China. They accepted ‘regional national autonomy’ status – as other areas – and agreed to carry out some reforms. In turn the new Chinese communist government agreed not to abolish the powers of Tibet’s religious leaders or to impose reforms by force. Soon enough, however, these leaders found that their traditional forms of rule – in which a gaggle of otiose aristocrats, ‘spiritual’ leaders and exploiters kept the majority in servile and brutal poverty – were being eroded. So in 1959 this feudal rump, under the Dalai Lama, led a revolt, which was quickly put down by Chinese forces. However, the main reason it failed was that the common people simply didn’t want to support this bunch of thugs. So the Dalai Lama took his ragtag bunch of the dispossessed ruling class and skipped across the border to India and pretended to be the Tibetan government ‘in exile’. But how did the revolt really come about? Back in 1956, the regime in Taiwan was providing significant ‘aid’ – in arms, money and training – to Tibetan rebels. You can guess the source of that ‘aid’. Already in 1949, the USA gave some Tibetan leaders US$75 million to ‘defend’ their country. In 1950, Tibetan ‘goodwill missions’ went to the USA, UK and India to ‘discuss’ Tibetan independence. From then on, a regular flow of ‘aid’ went to Tibet and the feudal pretenders around the Dalai Lama, via India, while the CIA trained Tibetan saboteurs in Colorado. When parachuted back into Tibet, they were spectacularly unsuccessful.

You can bet that such ‘encouragement’ of Tibetan ‘independence’ has not abated today.

The deadline draws nigh for the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar’s call for papers. Still I cannot decide between:

‘Miracles Can Happen: Lenin and Revolution’,

‘The Music Album Musical Bum of the Bible’,

or, ‘The Matriarch’s Muff’

(as a companion piece to ‘The Patriarch’s Nuts’).

By now the dust has somewhat settled on the much-watched elections in that Balkan country, Greece. It would have to have been one of the most interfered-with elections in recent European history, in a way that makes Putin look like a shining democrat. No surprises that the conservatives ‘won’, primed, financed and advised by the Euro-lords and led by a man, Samaras, in one of those repulsive business suits that signals money and exploitation. Of course, many among the left are disappointed that Syriza ‘lost’, let alone the communist KKE.

The whole terminology of ‘win’ and ‘loss’ in elections has taken on the air of football matches – like the Euro 2012 going on at the same moment. Your team trains, fronts the media, does its best or maybe not so best. If they win, you leap about, feel the tingle in the spine, drink yourself into the ground, and think the world has changed. If they lose, you drag your feet, smash things, don’t want to get out of bed, weep inconsolably. But everyone abides by the rules of the game. With the final whistle, it’s game over. The losers may complain about the refereeing, sack a coach, and so on. But until the next game, everyone goes home and gets on with life.

So where the hell is Lenin when we need him? Elections and the parliamentary system aren’t about ‘winning’ and ‘losing’. They are means for getting your party’s views out to a much wider audience rather than playing according to someone else’s rules. On that score, the Greek elections were a raging success. Elections are certainly not the main game, and you don’t go home after the final vote is counted. Rather, they comprise one element in a much larger scene, which includes active organisation, strikes, legal and illegal activity, agitation among the armed forces, for without the army no revolution is successful, and of course the willingness to seize power when the time is right.

At Deane’s request: was Marx a vulgar ‘Marxist’?

The answer is yes and no. Marx could be as vulgar as the best of them. Let us take the example of religion. He writes in The Holy Family:

The figments of his brain assume corporeal form. A world of tangible, palpable ghosts is begotten within his mind. That is the secret of all pious visions and at the same time it is the general form of insanity (MECW vol. 4, p. 184; MEW vol. 2, pp. 195–6).

Then in Capital I, Marx makes the much-cited crass and ‘vulgar’ point that the ‘religious world is but the reflex of the real world’. He is talking about Roman-Catholicism, which is an external religion and appropriate for a monetary system, in contrast to Protestantism, which is the appropriate reflex of the internalised world of credit and commodities (MECW vol. 35, p. 90; MEW, vol. 23, p. 93). This opposition also turns up in the third volume and Capital and Engels follows suit (MECW vol. 20, p. 267; MEW vol. 16, p. 247). It is in fact an old argument, appearing first in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (MECW vol. 3, pp. 290–1; MEW vol. 40, pp. 530–1).

Too many have cited such passages as though they expressed Marx’s quintessential position, in which the ‘base is to blame’ (a slogan once used for a ‘Vulgar Marxist’ group I organised). But Marx can also turn out the most dialectical assessment, which seems to stand in stark opposition to the vulgar Marx. Once again, on religion:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering but also the protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people (MECW vol. 3, p. 175; MEW vol. 1, p. 378).

Of course, the last sentence, the famous opium statement is usually taken as an example of Marx’s vulgar approach to religion. So it is worth noting that in contrast to our own associations of opium with drugs, altered states, addicts, organised crime, wily Taliban insurgents, and desperate farmers making a living the only way they can, opium was a much more ambivalent item in nineteenth-century Europe. Widely regarded as a beneficial, useful and cheap medicine at the beginning of the century, it was gradually vilified by its end by a coalition of medical and religious forces. In between debates raged: it was the subject of defences and parliamentary enquiries; its trade was immensely profitable; it was used for all manner of ills and to calm children; it was one of the only medicines available for the working poor; it was a source of utopian visions for artists and poets; it was increasingly stigmatised as a source of addiction and illness. In effect, it ran all the way from blessed medicine to recreational curse.

Marx too was a regular user, along with those other useful medicines, arsenic and creosote. As he slowly killed himself through a punishing schedule of too much writing and smoking, too little sleep, and an inadequate diet, Marx would use it for his carbuncles, toothaches, liver problems, bronchial coughs and so on. As Jenny wrote in a letter to Engels in 1857:

Dear Mr Engels, One invalid is writing for another by ordre du mufti. Chaley’s head hurts him almost everywhere, terrible tooth-ache, pains in the ears, head, eyes, throat and God knows what else. Neither opium pills nor creosote do any good. The tooth has got to come out and he jibs at the idea (MECW vol. 40, p. 563; MEW vol. 29, p. 643).

All of which means that a Marxist approach plays off vulgar and dialectical dimensions, as Lenin saw so well. Lose the vulgarity and you lose the Marxism; but so also with the dialectics.

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