The Skill of Our Hands: Discussion With Spoilers

The new book by Skyler White and me, The Skill of Our Hands, is now out.  Here you can discuss it.  Assume spoilers.

And, as long as I have this space, here are some links to some reviews that make me happy.

RT Book Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly


The Geekiary

Barnes & Noble

Green Man Review

Marissa Lingen’s blog

Book Reviews and More

Little Red Reviewer

Point Mystic Podcast Interview


A Response to the Anti-Trump Petition

I’ve received a request to sign this petition of writers against Trump. There can be no question of my opposition to Trump and all he stands for: his appeal to ignorance and bigotry, his threats to carry out war crimes, his efforts to generate hatred of immigrants, his overt jingoism.  I would go so far as to say that Trump is the first major politician of my lifetime who can be accurately characterized as, if not a fascist, certainly fascistic; this becomes more clear as we see him whipping up his supporters to commit acts of violence against those who oppose him.

Nevertheless, I cannot, in good conscience, sign the petition. When I read, “Because we believe that knowledge, experience, flexibility, and historical awareness are indispensable in a leader,” I am forced to ask: a leader of what, leading for what purpose, in whose interest, and in what direction? This indicates to me that the petition is not merely against Trump, but can and will be used to support someone who, to those using the petition, would be a better choice to, “speak for the United States, to lead its military, to maintain its alliances, or to represent its people.”

And here is the problem. When you say, “lead its military…represent its people” this contains an implication that it is possible to do both. In other words, that the Bush-Obama war, with its war crimes and murders of civilians (openly and publicly supported by Senator Sanders, and with which Secretary Clinton has been actively complicit) is the will of the American people, which I cannot and will not accept. In addition, it implies that this war is not the problem, but rather the problem is how it is carried out.

I have only respect for those of my colleagues who are horrified by Trump and what he represents—how can we not be? Furthermore, I am always encouraged by signs that we as writers are aware of and involved with the political questions that matter so deeply to our future. And yet it seems to me that we need to take a closer and more critical look at what is being done here. It is all very well to be “anti-Trump.” But if being anti-Trump means support for the Democratic Party whose administration has overseen, in the last 8 years, more deportations (especially of children) than any other administration in history, has encouraged and justified the murder of the poor and minorities by police, has created the greatest income disparity in history, has continued illegal rendition and torture, has bombed more civilians than Bush dreamed of, has retreated before the religious right’s attacks on freedom at every opportunity, then one must ask: why are we doing this?

There is nothing in the petition that prevents it from being used to rally support for Clinton or Sanders, both of whom are defenders of capitalism. But it is capitalism itself, and its insoluble crisis, that has produced Trump as a staph infection might produce a boil. However painful and unsightly the boil, the problem is the infection.  This petition is part of what seems to be a growing “anti-Trump” movement, and of course, the impulse behind this movement is laudable and healthy. But if it becomes a movement in support of the Democratic Party, and especially of Hillary Clinton who is close to sewing up the nomination, then it is useless at best, and will play into Trump’s “anti-establishment” narrative at worst.

You appeal to me as a writer. Yet isn’t our highest goal as writers to lay bare the contradictions that are concealed within the relations of everyday life? To denounce Trump without also denouncing the other candidates of the capitalist parties—that is, the parties that support wars of aggression, the militarization of the police, domestic spying, persecution of whistle blowers, torture, and war crimes, all of which have been carried out by both major parties, and none of which have been opposed by any major candidate—is not to reveal the truth, but to conceal it.

And to those who insist that some Democratic politician is a “lesser evil” and (as people so often do) bring up Hitler and Nazi-ism, it is worth remembering that Hitler was defeated in the election of 1932 by a coalition organized by those who thought anyone was better than Hitler. The Nazis, in other words, were “lesser eviled” all the way into power. If when someone says Trump you hear Hitler, than when someone says Clinton you ought to hear Hindenberg.

No, I do not support Trump. Nor do I support the imperialist wars, militarized police, domestic spying, movements toward war against Russia, provocations against China, restrictions on reproductive rights, poisoning of water supplies, and attacks on basic rights that are the legacy of the Democratic Party as well as the Republican. Are the two parties different? Certainly. They represent different sections of the ruling class, and different approaches for how best to preserve and defend capitalism, and the very bitterness of the conflict between them indicates how deep runs the crisis, how insoluble are the problems. But I am not interested in picking which candidate will do a better job of preserving the system that is oppressing and murdering my brothers and sisters. If you offer me that as a choice, I vote “no.”

I believe that only the unity of working people, immigrants, the unemployed, the poor, and all of the oppressed, fighting under a socialist program directly against the two parties of big business, can provide any sort of way forward. The candidacy of Donald Trump represents all of the filth, degeneracy, and despair of capitalism in its death agony; the Democratic Party candidates who oppose him represent different policies to accomplish the same goal, and it is the goal itself, continuing the system of war and oppression, that I oppose.

In November, I will be voting for Jerry White and Niles Niemuth of the Socialist Equality Party. I urge everyone who is as appalled as I am by, not only Trump, but by the criminal and inhuman system that produced him, to do the same.

Being Patrons

Hello Dreamcafe! This is Jen, here to post about Steve’s Patreon. If you like Steve’s work and would like to put in some monthly money to help him keep writing with less financial stress, now is an excellent time for it! Steve posts updates on his writing progress to the Patrons, and occasional Dreamcafe posts will be released to Patrons early. More rewards may be released in the future, too.

There are a bunch of great writers on Patreon, actually, so maybe poke around the site a little.

TRB #8 Chapter Three Part 2:Contradictions of the Soviet State

History of the Russian Revolution


I ought not to have been surprised at the degree of resistance there was in my previous post to the notion that human beings are not inherently selfish, but rather that selfishness is a response to definite conditions, and to socialization in response to these conditions. It seems like whenever it comes up, the best someone can do is pull out the, “children are selfish,” thing. And, having raised four, I can tell you that there are, indeed, circumstances where a toddler will greedily cling to Jojo-the-Stuffed-Monkey crying, “Mine!” It appears to have never crossed these people’s minds that a second Jojo-the-Stuffed-Monkey makes the problem go away, and if there had never been a Jojo-the-Stuffed-Monkey, the problem wouldn’t have come up. (In practice, we parents usually solve the problem by a judicious application of Gigi-the-Stuffed-Velociraptor, but I digress). Selfishness is a response to the circumstances where there is more than subsistence, but not plenty.

I also confess to being a little surprised at those who wonder why the question of egalitarianism matters in a discussion of socialism. Apparently, I haven’t done a good job of getting across my thesis, so let me try again: This and the previous post center upon the Marxist view of the State as an instrument of class oppression. Class society exists when there is a sufficient surplus to support a leisure class but insufficient for plenty, and, in my view, the State must vanish when class society vanishes, because goods then can be distributed equally, so there is no need for an instrument to defend the privileged.

Which brings us back to the real question, perhaps the essential question of these posts: why is it the State failed to whither away? “The proletarian dictatorship forms a bridge between bourgeois and socialist societies. In its very essence, therefore, it bears a temporary character. An incidental but very essential task of the state which realizes the dictatorship consists in preparing for its own dissolution. The degree of realizing of this ‘incidental’ task is, to some extent, a measure of its success in the fulfillment of its fundamental mission: the construction of a society without classes and without material contradictions.” [Emphasis added–SB]

Trotsky goes on to say, “The philistine considers the gendarme an eternal institution. In reality, the gendarme will bridle mankind only until man shall thoroughly bridle nature.” And, to get to the heart of the matter, “It is true that capitalist anarchy creates the struggle of each against all, but the trouble is that a socialization of the means of production does not yet automatically remove the ‘struggle for individual existence.’ That is the nub of the question!”

It is, indeed. In 1917, there was not plenty. There was not the capability of producing plenty. There was a surplus. As always, when there is a surplus but not plenty, the question emerges: how to allocate the surplus? That is, who gets the luxuries? In fact, who gets the limited amount of those things which we would not consider luxuries, but close to necessities?

The Soviet State, as it emerged from the period of War Communism, was deeply contradictory. The old elements of bourgeois law, especially regarding distribution, remained in force next to elements of socialistic law; the future and the past dwelt in the same body, and were not comfortable together. The State, then, though responsible for the transformation to a socialist system, was also the arbiter of inequality; it had to enforce the system by which some had more than others, until such a time as the economy could be rescued by the working class of the advanced countries, or could develop on its own the means of producing enough for everyone, or a combination. And we have to add to this a factor the importance of which cannot be overstated: the revolution had been made by a working class with an extremely high level of theoretical knowledge, class consciousness, and fierce enthusiasm for socialism; and yet, it was exactly the best of these, the most class conscious, the most advanced, the most enthusiastic, who were also the most self-sacrificing. The Civil War took its strongest toll on the lives of these workers.

“If for the defense of socialized property against bourgeois counterrevolution a ‘state of armed workers’ was fully adequate, it was a very different matter to regulate inequalities in the sphere of consumption. Those deprived of privileges are not inclined to create and defend them. The majority cannot concern itself with the privileges of the minority.”

Who would defend those privileges? Those who had them. Or to put it in simple terms: those who had the job of deciding how the surplus was divided tended to, first, start with themselves, and second, to attempt to secure their positions so they could continue doing so. “So long as even a modest ‘Ford’ remains the privilege of a minority, there survive all the relations and customs proper to a bourgeois society. And together with them there remains the guardian of inequality, the state.”

And so, we now have two forces contending with each other: One forward-looking, counting on the revolutionary workers of Western Europe, and a deeply conservative one interested in preserving its elite status. The remark I made above about the sacrifice of the most advanced workers in the Civil War had its exact counterpart: the gaps these workers left in the State machinery when they went off to die were filled by their opposite—ex-Mensheviks largely—those who had opposed the revolution, and still had no confidence in it. These forces flooded into the Communist Party and the State.

Thus the stage was set for the battle that would determine the future of the Soviet Union, and of the world working class, for the next hundred years.


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Oh, Look! A New Presidential Bid!

Educator Jane Smith announced her candidacy  for president on Wednesday, making her the latest to seek the Democratic Party nomination.  In a well-attended speech delivered at Antioch College, where she is the chair of the Alternate History department, she stated that as President, her primary focus would be on a more even distribution of wealth among the top 5%. In her speech, she promised to carry on a fight for greater equality among those who benefit from war and poverty.  “We, as a nation, do an outstanding job of slaughtering civilians for oil profits, and yet who gets those profits? A tiny clique of people that includes very few tenured educators.”

“It is unfair,” she went on to say, “and in conflict with all of the values of our great nation, that only the privileged few reap the benefits of our brutal exploitation of the poor and the working class.”

In the question period that followed, she was asked about her position on the militarization of the police, and the police killings of poor, primarily African-American youths. “Well of course,” she said, “it is important to have a strong police force to make certain those we are draining money from are too frightened to do anything about it, but the important question is, when we drain that money, who gets it? It is outrageous that so many of the wealthy are asked to support police murder while gaining only a tiny fraction of what is available to be raked up.”

She pointed out that, of those who are becoming rich off the Detroit bankruptcy, nearly all of them are white and male. “What is the point of cutting off water for tens of thousands of people if the profits are not evenly divided among all of the elite?”

“If elected,” she concluded, “I will see to it that everyone ground into the dirt by the profit system will have the satisfaction of knowing his or her sacrifice benefits all of the wealthy equally.”