The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

20 September 2018
by skzb

When Was Capitalism Progressive?

In a Facebook discussion, my friend Vicka Corey asked if I thought capitalism had value at one time, which I think is an excellent question. When I said yes, she asked when and how I thought it changed, another excellent and important question. I’m copying my answer here with some minor edits because it might generate some interesting discussion. Here it is:


Huge question. It was progressive when it came into the world, although, from it’s birth it covered itself in blood. But in spite of that, it got rid of the kings and aristocrats, and in this country it ended slavery. It increased the productivity of labor to the point where there is no longer any reason for hunger, homelessness, untreated disease. It brought socialized production to a high art, although in doing so it increased the contradiction between socialized production and private ownership.

The US, from its inception as a nation, epitomized capitalism’s contradictory nature probably more than anywhere else. A huge creative spurt in productivity of labor (the “American system of manufacture”), and profound cruelty toward its own working class. Tremendous strides toward equality–and chattel slavery. A growth of freedom that inspired the oppressed throughout the world–and genocide of its native population combined with the most hypocritical warmongering ever seen (cf The Mexican-American War, and The Spanish-American War for early examples).

When did it change? One thing capitalism has always required is expansion. A company (with a few weird exceptions that end up proving the rule) that does not expand is dying. As capitalism is built on the nation-state, that means the expansion of nation-states, which means any society at a lower technological level is to be plundered and exploited by the more advanced countries.

World War I, 1914, marked the point where every less advanced country was “owned” by one of the imperialist nations: Germany, England, France, the US,* From there, the only way to expand was at the expense of another great power (of course, the helpless victims in the conquered countries counted for nothing.) So I would say it was at that point that capitalism had reached the end of its ability to advance mankind; any further continuance would require body counts in the millions and massive destruction of infrastructure just to provide it another breathing space.

* Add Belgium on a small scale, and Russia sorta kinda counted; it was both imperialist and a potential victim of imperialism, because of its massive size and weirdly contradictory development of technology, advanced in some ways, but deeply backward in others (including military technique).

16 September 2018
by skzb

An Object Lesson From Minnesota History

Minneapolis really is a good place to live. I mean, if you’re in the continental United States, you could do far worse. Minneapolis has more area of public park per person than anywhere else in the US, with St. Paul a close second, and no one else anywhere near. An extremely active theater scene, museums and art galleries open to the public at little or no charge, decent public education, a pretty fair system of public transit, and—
But you know, my point is not, in fact, to sell you on Minneapolis. It’s to point out something that even most people who live hear don’t know.
All of those things I mentioned were not gifts. They didn’t fall from the sky, and, no, they were not the result of kind-hearted politicians.
In 1934, there was a strike here. It was one of the formative strikes that built the Teamsters Union (although, ironically, it was opposed at every step by Dan Tobin and the national Teamsters leadership) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. It was led by Trotskyists, and it broke the Citizens Alliance, an organization of businessmen dedicated to keeping Minneapolis an open shop town. All of the things that make this a good place to live, can be traced, directly or indirectly, to Teamsters Local 574—who incidentally, a bit later, broke up a rally of a Nazi-esque organization called the Silver Shirts so thoroughly they never again amounted to anything.
The high point of the strike itself was the Battle of Deputies Run; the name should be sufficient to tell you what happened. Afterwards, for days, the cops didn’t dare show their faces, and the organized workers took over the job of making sure the city kept functioning—and did a damned fine job of it, thank you very much.
Shockingly (ahem), the local Democratic Party, as well as the local Republican Party, did all they could to break the strike.  The myth here in Minnesota is that Hubert Humphrey emerged fully formed from Minnehaha Falls and bestowed blessings upon the people. Crap. Out of the pugnacious Minneapolis working class grew a Farmer-Labor Party that, in fact, elected a governor–Floyd B. Olson. He, himself, was no hero; but the very fact that the Minnesota labor movement had a political arm, apart from the two capitalist parties—was enough to give us a lot of the things I treasure about this city. It lasted until it was destroyed by a combined effort of the Stalinist Communist Party and—Hubert Humphrey.  Humphrey then, as the Trotskyists had warned he would, turned around and smashed the Communist Party.  What’s left is that, in Minnesota, the Democratic Party is known as the DFL—Democratic Farmer-Labor, and is the reason the Republicans have never really gotten a foothold here.  The other thing that’s left is that, as per protocol, after failing to keep the masses from getting what they wanted, the Democrats claimed credit for them having gotten it.
It isn’t that complicated: The more the masses of the working class count only on their own strength, with a solid, determined leadership based on revolutionary socialist principles, the better things are for them—and for all of us.
Scan from original on Epson Expression 10000XL.

Scan from original on Epson Expression 10000XL.

10 September 2018
by skzb

How to Fight THING

Nothing new here, just felt like organizing it in a nice list, because I like lists. But I’m pretty sure most of you have noticed this already, so I’m probably not telling you anything.

  1. THING is bad. All right-thinking people hate THING. This goes without saying.  Those who disagree are obviously evil.
  2. THING is not only bad, it is the worst. All other problems are secondary to THING.
  3. To question point #2  is to excuse or justify THING and be as bad as a THING-er.  You should be immolated.
  4. Any action to combat THING is justified.  Those who want human rights for accused THING-ers are THING supporters.
  5. To question Point #4 is to support THING and be as bad as a THING-er.  You should be immolated.
  6. THING is much broader than you think. There are a bunch of other things that look relatively harmless but are really just a part of THING or will lead to THING.
  7. To question Point #6 is just making excuses for THING and makes you as bad a THING-er. You should be immolated.

(Note for you dimwits who want to turn this back on me and replace THING capitalism, no.  #1: False.  Many, many people do not oppose capitalism only because they don’t understand it, or because they don’t see an alternative.  This does not make them evil.  And blaming capitalism does not “go without saying,” that’s why we say it so much.   Also, 3#: False. #4: False #5: False  #7: False.  But I will give you #2, and #6 works with a bit of bending.)




8 September 2018
by skzb

The Police and the Army: A Question

I’ve been having some trouble explaining this, which always means I don’t understand it well enough.
History tells us these institutions are not at all the same, particularly when entering a revolutionary period. The army will inevitably be shaken by whatever social crises have precipitated the revolutionary upsurge. In the worst case, only the most courageous soldiers will break away to join the masses. In other cases, whole units will set down their rifles and “come over.” Sometimes they will “come over” with weapons in hand, in formation, banners flying, bands playing, led by their own officers (usually at gunpoint). The success or failure of an insurrection is determined above all by to what degree it is supported by the army (which, of course, is determined by a number of factors that are beyond the scope of my question).
So far as I can tell, there has never been a case of a cop doing anything except either throwing support to the ruling class, or, at best, running and hiding. Certainly history has never shown us units doing so. By the time society has entered into a revolutionary crisis, the police are hated, loathed, despised by the masses. Every time. And they return these feelings with interest.
And yet, if we ignore social and historical context and simply line up factors in a purely formal way, they’re so similar: Both drawn largely from the toiling classes, both used as instruments of repression by the state, both turned against their own people as soon as there are signs of social unrest.
So, comrades (I’m looking at you, Don Barry) , what are the social and historical factors that make them so different? We know they are different; we’ve both read about it and many of us have had personal experience of the difference; it’s easy to talk to soldiers, we have nothing to say to cops. Why?

30 August 2018
by skzb

Contradictions of Capitalism vs the Bionic Eye

If you have heard about the bionic eye and don’t think it’s cool as hell, what are you even doing reading my blog?

Scientists are close, probably within ten years, of being able to cure blindness in a massive number of cases—that is, as I understand it, among everyone except those whose disability is caused by damage to the visual cortex.  How cool is that?  How wonderful, how human, how proud we should be to be a member of a species that can do this!

How was it done?  At a University.  At public expense.  I repeat, at public expense.  Tax money well spent indeed!

What will happen now?  Well, a couple of things I want to point out.

One of them is that people with loss of vision will be able to see—if they can afford it.  If not, sorry for ya.  That the technology was developed at public expense does not mean the public is entitled to its benefits.

Here’s another thing that will happen: Someone will develop an elegant solution to some of the remaining problems, such as the interface between the eye and the brain, or maybe something else—very likely at another University and at public expense.  He will patent it.  He will start a company to produce products based on it.  He will make incredible amounts of money, and official society will widely proclaim him a hero, especially when he donates a hundred units of his product to the poor in Rwanda.  And, as he checks his bank balance, he will loudly decry the waste of money going into institutions like Universities, because, he will say, taxation is theft.

And he won’t even be aware of the irony.