Starry Messenger's Journal
Name: Decline to State
Hometown: Bay Area, CA
Home country: USA
Current location: Left Coast
Member since: Sat Apr 9, 2005, 08:01 PM
Number of posts: 25,721
Hometown: Bay Area, CA
Home country: USA
Current location: Left Coast
Member since: Sat Apr 9, 2005, 08:01 PM
Number of posts: 25,721
Artist, high school teacher and "hard-liner" (yet to be defined).
- 2015 (2)
- 2014 (10)
- 2013 (18)
- 2012 (31)
- 2011 (5)
- December (5)
- Older Archives
An I essay I wrote on art and creativity and the effects of capitalism.
"There is a chance here for you," Paul said, "to become extremely wealthy." He continued to gaze stoically ahead. "The idea strikes me as bizarre," Childan said. "Making good luck charms out of such art objects; I can't imagine it."---Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
I make things.
Some of them come out very well. Some are fit for everyday use, and I use them. Others are meant to be decorative and have a place in the apartment.
I make shopping bags crocheted out of plastic bags; I crochet small cases to hold personal items. I make teapots, teacups, small books, and little ceramic things.
No matter where I am, using something like a shopping bag, people will remark on them, ask me how I make them, how long it takes, admire the handicraft and design. Then they will get a glow on their faces and set out to award me with the capstone: "You could sell that!"
This is considered the highest compliment you can be paid.
It always makes me wince inside. I backpedal and try to take this in the spirit it is offered in. I say that I make these things because I like them and like to use them and I would be unwilling to part with them for money. You can see the interest drain on the other person's face. You aren't willing to take it to the next level-the Olympics of the marketplace, where consumers can decide if you're really worthy of the gold medal.
One lady ended the conversation with: "Oh well, at least they make nice conversation pieces."
I crocheted 20 years ago as a weapon to combat heartbreak. I had learned how when I was ten, but picked it up again with a vengeance to keep away break-up thoughts. It distracted my brain and I began to pile up little yarn bags.
One day, an old friend of the family visited my mom and I. He and his wife had been the wealthiest people we had ever known. They owned a beautiful house, a Tudor-style mansion that I adored visiting as a kid, frankly envious of their son who had all of the rooms, the gardens and the Tudor gazebo to play in for hours. They were like royalty to me. Of course, they were not, and when they had run through all of the money in an effort to pretend that they were, things went south in a hurry.
Our friend visited us in the middle of this downward process. In the course of the visit, my mother told me to go get my yarn bags to show him. I had about 20 by then, in different colors and patterns.
He looked through them all one by one. He looked into my eyes. He pulled something out of his pocket. It was a plastic rectangle. Looking closer I saw that it had the US constitution on it in very small letters. He said, "Look at this. This man had an idea. If he had kept that idea to himself, he would be the only man with a copy of the Constitution in his pocket. But this man had vision. He put his idea up for sale, he got a patent. There are thousands and thousands of these, millions even, for sale. Any man can have one now. I have one here, I am showing it to you. This thing you are doing? It is very nice. But it will never mean anything. You have to take this idea, the part of it people will like, and sell it so everyone can buy it. You will make money. You will have a nice little life. Then if you want, you can make these little things if you want. You will have the time. But one by one like this? It is a waste of your time."
He beamed and sat back. He had delivered the message.
He left and I didn't crochet again for four years.
"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation." Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto
I'd been groped by the invisible hand of the marketplace.
The Invisible Hand is the god of bourgeois society. The Hand giveth and the Hand taketh away. If you are found worthy, the Hand bestows riches and fame. If the Hand finds you foul and unworthy, you are reduced to ashes and your name erased from the records of history. Most of us fall into the latter camp, to differing degrees. Our family friend was a priest of the Hand, a desperate acolyte.
In his fall from favor he was at his most anxious to believe. In his effort to be kind, he ended up doing a lot of damage. I never really looked at life the same way after that. It was in its small way a watershed event. He had ripped away the veil of sentiment and revealed his class interest: naked cash payment.
In all instances in our society, we are ruled by capitalism. A brief flirtation with the art world disabused me of the notion that there was anything different going on there. There is no world of special people who do not commodify labor and the products of labor. People have been involved in various reform efforts to break this relationship. Cool "alt-biz" movements are an attempt to break through the exploitation and hopefully train capitalism to be better, cooler, funner, more satisfying, hipper, greener, sustainable, etc. Eventually these efforts, if successful, also tend to monopoly and get formulaic.
Capitalism needs to seek ever-expanding markets to make a profit. A profit is not just having 5 bucks in your pocket from the sale of your cool thing; it is a bottom line that needs to expand every quarter to be considered successful. Every generation of artists and artisans has a sector that attempts to recapture some "authentic movement", to fight this system and reclaim a patch of ground. Others, the "realists", skip that step of emotional agonies over authenticity and jump straight into the commercial market. The first group takes a little longer to get in there, but eventually they do. They conceal their relationship to the market with the branding of their finer intentions, which makes them actually more deceptive than the second group, who are reviled as mere tradesmen by the "authenticity" fetishists.
"The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat." Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto
At the end, buying and selling your talents is considered the pinnacle of success in capitalist society. The more you sell, the better you are than everyone else. If you fail to do it, you have lost. You are a loser. Though many people of the social realm of the arts like to think we are outside of all of that, we are proles. The faster we realize this, the more we will have to unite us with the revolutionary segment of society. The more we try to preserve some "alt-capitalism" for ourselves, the longer we perpetuate this state. There is only one kind of capitalism; there is no good kind and bad kind.
Individual responses are not going to change anything though.
The Buddhist view is "Make positive effort for the good" as if your individual actions and thoughts will emit waves through existence and slowly chip away at the rock face of "bad".
This will take too long. In fact, it will not work. It may even do the opposite.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Wed May 29, 2013, 10:46 PM (5 replies)
The push now to organize seems to me a generational split. I don't believe in the concept too little too late though. Labor needs to expand.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Sat May 18, 2013, 02:14 AM (1 replies)
Difference Engine #1's prototype was on display in the Museum at South Kensington around 1862. Marx, as we know, escaped to London in 1849 and lived and died there (1883). Considering he wrote most of Capital in the British Museum in London, I don't think it is a stretch to say he probably saw teh display, even though it would have meant a hike.
That the Engine wasn't a full working computer is hardly germane. It is absurd to think that a man like Marx wouldn't have seen the full implications of this automation of computation along with the other speed-up provided by mechanization.
Babbage is quoted in footnotes in a few chapters of Capital.
I can't see Marx coming to Silicon Valley to visit me today and altering one line of this text:
"John Stuart Mill says in his "Principles of Political Economy": "It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being." That is, however, by no means the aim of the capitalistic application of machinery. Like every other increase in the productiveness of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and, by shortening that portion of the working-day, in which the labourer works for himself, to lengthen the other portion that he gives, without an equivalent, to the capitalist. In short, it is a means for producing surplus-value."
(And yes, I was dorky enough to take an hour to track all that down. I'm tired of this argument that Marxism is negated by digital age technology. I live here in the heart of it.)
Posted by Starry Messenger | Sat May 4, 2013, 07:02 PM (1 replies)
SAN FRANCISCO - On the eve of the March 15 accreditation deadline for City College of San Francisco, a rally at City Hall brought together students and allies of the college, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121 and several social justice organizations under the umbrella of Save CCSF.
This year has been marked by draconian sanctions placed on City College by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) - 14 conditions that were to have been met by March 15, or risk having the college's accreditation yanked.
Students, teachers and community speakers listed the cuts that have occurred in the wake of these conditions: deep staff cuts in student counseling, wage concessions, and threats to close campuses and consolidate or end programs for at-risk, minority working class students who depend on City College to bring them into higher learning. AFT 2121 is facing even more cuts and loss of a democratic voice in the college.
Hopes that passage of the city's Proposition A parcel tax and the state's Proposition 30 in November would bring revenue into CCSF have been frustrated by the lack of transparency of the CCSF Board of Trustees and interim Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman, who said they intended to use any surplus revenue to fund "accreditation purposes," rather than to replace programs and stave off cuts.
Disclaimer: I'm the author.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Mon Mar 18, 2013, 10:54 PM (16 replies)
Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) - Founder of International Women's Day
CLARA ZETKIN (1857-1933) was a German communist, anti fascist and founder of International Women's Day. Here CP general secretary Robert Griffiths outlines her remarkable and exemplary life.
Clara Zetkin, who first proposed International Women's Day 100 years ago, was an outstanding figure in the socialist, Communist and women's movements. Her own commitment, vision and courage have left a legacy which deserves to be celebrated on March 8 every year.
Before the formation of Communist parties, she rose to prominence in the German Social-Democratic Party from a middle-class home in the local peasant community of Wiederau in Saxony, Germany. Her father Gottfried Eissner was a school teacher and Protestant, her mother Josephine the daughter of a bourgeois family in Leipzig. Inspired by the German Women's Association, Josephine was involved in educational activities.
The family moved to nearby Leipzig where Clara studied at a local teacher training institute founded by German feminist Auguste Schmidt. There she came into contact with socialist ideas and women's organisations. In 1878, at the age of 21, she met members of the German Socialist Workers Party (later renamed the Social-Democratic Party of Germany, SPD) and exiled Russian revolutionaries including Ossip Zetkin. A visit to Russia quickly followed.
When Chancellor Bismarck's new Anti-Socialist Law prompted Ossip to leave Germany, Clara also left soon afterwards. She went to Linz, Austria, where she became tutor to a group of factory workers. Then it was on to Zurich in 1882, writing clandestine propaganda for circulation in Germany, before travelling to Paris to be reunited with Ossip Zetkin. They had two sons but did not marry because Clara would lose her German citizenship. Instead, she took his surname.
Reconciled with her family, she delivered her first public speech in Leipzig calling for the liberation of women as an essential and integral part of the liberation of all workers through socialist revolution. For a period afterwards, she opposed separate measures for women, fearing that they would divide working class unity.
Ossip died of spinal tuberculosis in 1889. Clara Zetkin buried her grief in her work for the Socialist International, a new organisation of left-wing and workers' parties. At its founding congress in Paris in July, her arguments against special measures for women - for equal pay for equal work and the exclusion of women from hazardous occupations - were rejected, but she was given special responsibilities for SPD work in Berlin. From there she edited the party's paper for women Die Gleichheit (Equality), fulfilling that task for 25 years until 1917.
Her first editorial explained her standpoint that 'the final cause for the thousand-year-old inferior social position of the female sex is not to be sought in the statutory legislation "made by men", but rather in the property relations determined by economic conditions'. Accordingly, women's liberation could only be fully achieved once private ownership of economic property was abolished.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Fri Mar 8, 2013, 11:04 PM (3 replies)
Posted by Starry Messenger | Fri Feb 8, 2013, 06:39 PM (66 replies)
I thought this highlighted some positive developments in working class solidarity. The ending is a little more pessimistic than I think is warranted, but I thought folks might be interested in this here. I wish I could post more than four paras, check it out when you have a moment.
The ROC is a labor group. But it’s not a union. It represents a new face of the U.S. labor movement—an often-ignored, little-understood array of groups organizing workers without the union label. As unions face declining membership these workers’ groups—like the mostly union-free job sectors they organize—are on the rise, particularly in New York. Because of their efforts, more restaurant workers in the city get paid sick days, domestic workers receive overtime pay, and taxi drivers will soon have health insurance.
Twenty years ago, when Rutgers labor professor Janice Fine first set out to count the nonunion groups that were organizing and mobilizing workers, she found just five in the entire country. Today, her tally stands at 214. These groups organize farmworkers and fashion models. They go by names like “workers’ centers” and “workers’ alliances.” Some are rooted in the immigrant-rights movement as much as the labor movement. Lacking the ability to engage in collective bargaining or enforce union contracts, these alternative labor groups rely on an overlapping set of other tactics to reform their industries. The ROC teaches workers their rights and also restaurant skills; advises and publicizes model employers; and helps organize protests like the ones at Capital Grille, making customers aware of what goes on behind the dining room. The ROC also lobbies state and local lawmakers for reforms and helps workers take legal action when all else fails.
There’s another reason for the rise of alt-labor: For an increasing number of U.S. workers, unions are not even an option. Labor law denies union rights to increasingly significant sectors of the workforce, including so-called independent contractors and domestic workers, whose numbers are expected to double as baby boomers enter elder care. In 1989, the United States had twice as many manufacturing jobs as service-sector jobs; now the numbers are nearly equal. But many corners of the service sector are virtually union-free—even where, as in restaurants, workers have the right to organize.
At first, traditional unions dismissed alt-labor efforts. Now many have come to recognize workers’ groups for what they are: part of the labor movement. The AFL-CIO and its local unions and labor councils have increasingly been funding, collaborating with, and rallying beside their alt-labor counterparts. The country’s other major labor federation, Change to Win, and its affiliates have also been supporting and partnering with alt-labor groups. Those efforts burst into the headlines with strikes by Wal-Mart employees and fast-food workers last fall. “Workers’ centers are movements in search of institutions,” says Ana Avendaño, who directs immigration and community policy for the AFL-CIO. “And our unions are often institutions in search of movements.”
Posted by Starry Messenger | Wed Feb 6, 2013, 07:13 PM (13 replies)
(This is a bit of a self-plug too, since I'm the author. )
A key to understanding this time of transition, Marshall said, is to look at the phases that labor struggles have gone through in U.S. history. Just as Eugene Debs took labor to a qualitatively different form by organizing the railroad workers, and William Z. Foster in his turn transformed labor unions with the formation of the T.U.E.L. and the T.U.U.L., eventually bringing the force of industrial unionism to the C.I.O., likewise labor is now looking toward a new form, which Marshall refers to as "big-picture unionism."
In beginning to talk about a changing phase for labor, it is necessary to look at the weakened position of labor, as part of its objective conditions. Offshoring, automation and other changes in manufacturing have put traditional industrial unions at a disadvantage in pursuing tried-and-true methods of bringing improvements to the lives of rank-and-file workers. The old ways of applying pressure to monopoly's profit-seeking have diminished in effectiveness, while the bread-and-butter issues that union members face have hardly diminished.
In "big-picture unionism" the issues that each union faces need to be seen in the context of a global system. Unions must, meanwhile, also look at how forming coalitions with other affected groups outside of their membership can bring wins not only for labor, but also for the local communities affected by the vagaries of capitalism.
This local vs. global approach has the advantage of accumulating force both horizontally and vertically: horizontally along the net of communities that live alongside the union and struggle alongside union families and also vertically along the length of the production supply chain.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Sun Feb 3, 2013, 12:24 PM (3 replies)
Excerpt from Chapter One: Early American Class Struggles (1793-1848)
The American Revolution of 1776, which Lenin called one of the "great, really liberating, really revolutionary wars,"1 began the history of the modern capitalist United States. It was fought by a coalition of merchants, planters, small farmers, and white and Negro toilers. It was led chiefly by the merchant capitalists, with the democratic masses doing the decisive fighting. The Revolution, by establishing American national independence, shattered the restrictions placed upon the colonial productive forces by England; it freed the national market and opened the way for a speedy growth of trade and industry; it at least partially broke down the feudal system of land tenure; and it brought limited political rights to the small farmers and also to the workers, who were mostly artisans, but it did not destroy Negro chattel slavery. And for the embattled Indian peoples the Revolution produced only a still more vigorous effort to strip them of their lands and to destroy them.
The Revolution also had far-reaching international repercussions. It helped inspire the people of France to get rid of their feudal tyrants; it stimulated the peoples of Latin America to free themselves from the yoke of Spain and Portugal; and it was an energizing force in the world wherever the bourgeoisie, supported by the democratic masses, were fighting against feudalism. The Revolution was helped to success by the assistance given the rebelling colonies by France, Spain, and Holland, as well as by revolutionary struggles taking place currently in Ireland and England.
The Revolution was fought under the broad generalizations of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, which called for national independence and freedom for all men. It declared the right of revolution and the dominance of the secular over the religious in government. But these principles meant very different things to the several classes that carried through the Revolution. To the merchants they signified their rise to dominant power and an unrestricted opportunity to exploit the rest of the population. To the planters they implied the continuation and extension of their slave system. To the farmers they meant free access to the broad public lands. To the workers they promised universal suffrage, more democratic liberties, and a greater share in the wealth of the new land. And to the oppressed Negroes they brought a new hope of freedom from the misery and sufferings of chattel bondage.
The Constitution, as originally formulated in 1787, and as adopted in the face of powerful opposition, consisted primarily of the rules and relationships agreed upon by the ruling class for the management of the society which they controlled. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the Constitution, providing for freedom of speech, press, and assembly, religious liberty, trial by jury, and other popular democratic liberties, was written into the Constitution in 1791 under heavy mass pressure.2
Great as were the accomplishments of the Revolution, it nevertheless left unsolved many bourgeois-democratic tasks. These unfinished tasks constituted a serious hindrance to the nation's fullest development. The struggle to solve these questions in a progressive direction made up the main content of United States history for the next three-quarters of a century. Among the more basic of these tasks, were the abolition of slavery, the opening up of the broad western lands to settlement, and the deepening and extension of the democratic rights of the people. The main post-revolutionary fight of the toiling masses, in the face of fierce reactionary opposition, was aimed chiefly at preserving and extending their democratic rights won in the Revolution.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Wed Jan 23, 2013, 12:45 PM (4 replies)
California tumbled two more spots, to 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending, in Education Week’s latest annual Quality Counts report, released last week. The ranking, which includes Washington, D.C., and the 50 states, covers spending in 2010 and thus doesn’t include the impact of higher taxes that voters approved in passing Proposition 30 in November.
California’s per-student spending of $8,482 was $3,342 – 28 percent – below the national average of $11,824. Only Nevada ($8,419) and Utah ($7,042) spent less. Another Western state, Wyoming – $18,814 per student – led the nation in spending. The gap between California and the nation grew $344 per student in 2010, as California’s per-student spending dropped $185 from the year before as a result of a massive state budget deficit, while spending nationally grew $159. Last year, California ranked 47th out of 51; two years ago, before the impact of the recession, it was 43rd.
Education Week’s often-cited annual ranking factors in regional costs of living. (There are also significant regional cost disparities within California.) By comparison, according to the most recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, covering 2009-10, California spent $9,375 per student, ranking 35th in the nation and only $1,240 below the national average of $10,615.
California also ranked low – tied for fifth-worst – in another Education Week measure, the percentage of state and local taxable resources spent on K-12 education. California, along with Oregon, Louisiana and Tennessee, spent 2.9 percent, compared with 4.4 percent nationally. Vermont was at the top, spending 5.8 of resources on education; Delaware (2.4 percent) was at the bottom.
Posted by Starry Messenger | Tue Jan 15, 2013, 07:55 PM (21 replies)