My Schedule for S15

I’ll be spending Independence Day in Chicago, imagining a better society and learning how to build it. This will be my third year in attendance at the annual Socialism Conference, sponsored by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change and the International Socialist Organization.

Here’s my tentative schedule for the weekend.

This conference is the most energizing and intellectually stimulating event of the year for me. It’s nice to be in a crowd of a couple thousand people and know that wherever you turn, the person you see is your comrade.

I hope to see you there!


Jacobin Reading Group – Chicago Southland

jacobin-southlandI’m happy to announce a project I’ve been working on for awhile now: the Chicago Southland Jacobin Reading Group.

Taking readings from Jacobin Magazine, it’s an opportunity to engage with socialist ideas in a lively, open, and non-doctrinaire environment. There are no dues to pay and no formal membership requirements. Just bring your interest, your mind and your voice. The group provides an intellectual and social space that cuts across organizational boundaries, and you don’t have to be a Socialist to join in.

Our regular meetings are planned for the third Tuesday of each month, at Feed Arts and Cultural Center, 259 S. Schuyler, Kankakee, Illinois. The first meeting is planned for August 18, 2015.

If you think you may be interested in joining us, email me to or request to join our Google Group.

Here’s the reading group website: Jacobin Reading Group – Chicago Southland | Reading in Revolt.

Flag in Chains

Flag_in_Chains_Collection_University_of_California_at_Berkley 1965 by Marc Morrell

Nick Walsh presents a three-part story about a significant public controversy related to the Vietnam War that happened in my home town of Decatur, Illinois. Using sources from the archives of the Decatur Herald and Review, the Decatur Tribune, Millikin University’s Decaturian, and recent interviews with the one of the controversy’s key figures, Walsh covers how the situation developed, how the public and authorities reacted, and how the court case surrounding the exhibit of Flag in Chains unfolded. I remember the anger of these times fairly vividly. It seemed as if everyone in our community was forced to choose sides.

By using their talents to confront the issues of their time, artists take on a certain amount of risk if their perspectives are contestable in the court of public opinion.  While not directly about the Vietnam War, the story of “Flag in Chains” reflects sentiments and convictions rooted in the national discourse of that era.  Decatur residents were sporadic in giving their opinions about the war throughout its duration.  However, public debate reached a crescendo in 1969, as emotions stemming from the war were channeled into dialogue surrounding a controversial legal case that involved the owner of the Decatur Herald and the Daily Review and a Millikin University art professor.  This collision of patriotism and free expression provides a glimpse into the conscience of Decatur residents during the Vietnam War.

Here are links to all three parts of Walsh’s report.

Flag in Chains: A Collision of Sentiments (Part 1) | RE:DECATUR

Flag in Chains: A Collision of Sentiments (Part 2) | RE:DECATUR

Flag in Chains: A Collision of Sentiments (Part 3) | RE:DECATUR

Rauner Kills The State Museums

On June 2, Rauner announced an initial list of steps he’d be taking in an effort to address what he says is a gap of up to $4 billion in the state’s 2016 budget. His list included closing the 138-year-old state museum, which is run by the Department of Natural Resources, and consists of a flagship museum and research center in Springfield and five satellite facilities. The proposed 2016 museum operating budget is $6.29 million. A DNR spokesperson says most of the museum system’s 68 employees will be laid off when it closes, leaving just enough staff to maintain the collections and buildings.

Source: Targeted by Governor Rauner, Illinois State Museum’s Chicago facilities are emptying out | Bleader | Chicago Reader

The Irony of a Union Win

Michael Kazen writes in Dissent.

The hard struggle the AFL-CIO just spearheaded could become yet another example of a long, ironic tradition in labor politics: When union activists fight for issues that clearly affect large numbers of ordinary people, they often win. But when they try to persuade voters and legislators to defend or expand the membership of their own organizations, they usually lose.

Read More: Why Unions Win When They Win | Dissent Magazine

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Pope?

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears. They must not only discredit the pope’s words (whatever they turn out to be), they must block them, ridicule them, destroy them.

Read More: Who’s Afraid of Pope Francis? by Garry Wills | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

On Human Nature

The other evening, some friends and I had a discussion about our societal woes and how to solve them. As I described the sort of world I would like to see, one of my friends called me idealistic. She related that there were people at her place of work who did the bare minimum they could possibly do and still keep their jobs. She also spoke about ambitious, hard-working millionaires. Her point, I believe, was that a system that neither rewards people with vastly more than they can ever use, nor deprives others of their basic needs, cannot work – because of human nature. The sort of society of which I dream would leave everything undone, since people would have no motivation to do anything.

My knee-jerk response was to say that ideas and habits are a result of the economic system, not vice versa. If we really want to change the undesirable ways people behave, we should change the system. This more or less ended that part of our discussion, and not because anyone was convinced of the wisdom of the statement.

The next day, I wanted to find a specific reference on this concept, and was pleased that an online search for “material conditions determine consciousness” quickly turned up this quote, from the preface to Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.

So our legal institutions, our politics, even our notions about ourselves and accepted concepts of justice – all derive from our economic relations. These relations determine our consciousness and norms of behavior.

The task is not to address faults in “human nature.” The task is to focus attention on material conditions, the inherent antagonisms that must exist in a society based on class, and conflicts that currently exist between productive forces and property relations. This offers an opportunity to raise consciousness of the essential nature of life under capitalism. Such is the basis for revolution.

The 2016 Bottom Line

Chris Hedges gets to the bottom line of the 2016 U.S. elections.

I intend to devote no more time to the upcoming presidential elections than walking to my local polling station on Election Day, voting for a third-party candidate, most likely the Green Party candidate, and going home. Any further energy invested in these elections, including championing Bernie Sanders’ ill-advised decision to validate the Democratic Party by becoming one of its presidential candidates, is a waste of time. Every action we take now must be directed at ripping down the structures of the corporate state.

Source: Chris Hedges: America’s Electoral Farce – Chris Hedges – Truthdig

Things That Caught My Eye This Week

Here are some links of interest that I ran across this week.

Rauner, Public Unions Not Close On Contracts

The contracts for more than 40,000 Illinois state workers will expire at the end of the month, and their unions and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s negotiating team apparently aren’t close to agreeing on new ones. The impasse has gotten more public attention in recent days, with union members staging nearly 100 protests throughout the state to rally public support to their calls for fair contracts. With the potential for a far-reaching strike or lockout looming, here are things to know.

What Would a Sanders Administration Do on K-12 Education?
The most progressive candidate in the 2016 race has some interesting ideas on public education.

Right-to-Work’s big moment | TheHill
People can reasonably debate the merits of unions or how labor law should balance the interests of employers, employees and labor organizations. But the contemporary push for Right-to-Work, like its historical predecessors, doesn’t do this. Today it is being used to burnish the credentials of aspiring politicians on the right and as a blunt instrument to defund a political adversary. The well-being of employees has always been much further down the list.

The Real Meaning of Obama’s Trade Defeat | Robert Kuttner
The real story here is a deep and principled split between the Congressional wing of the Democratic Party, most of whose members are still fairly progressive, and a presidential wing that has been in bed with Wall Street at least since Bill Clinton and Bob Rubin (who among his many other roles is the mentor and patron of Obama’s top trade official, Mike Froman).

To be an anarchist | Adbusters
When an “entire society,” i.e., almost everything around you, seemingly to the smallest detail, reflects assumptions contrary to your most deeply held convictions about what the world is and can be,  merely to persevere in imagining and acting on the assumption of the possibility of another kind of world is, in itself, a monumental and continual effort of resistance.

Barbara Ransby on Black Lives Matter

UIC Historian Barbara Ransby writes for Colorlines about the black-led movement against state violence. In two short paragraphs she describes the essence of late-stage capitalism, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

The post-industrial era and the age of global neoliberal policies means cities and neighborhoods have been abandoned. Some of the areas where police have recently killed black civilians are reeling from more than 30 percent unemployment. They’re challenged by a booming underground economy that puts participants and bystanders at greater risk of being jailed or killed.

In Chicago’s North Lawndale, in West Baltimore, or almost any neighborhood in my hometown of Detroit, there simply are no jobs and no real grocery stores. There is dilapidated and abandoned housing and dramatically dwindling services. The one problem, from a crude capitalist standpoint, is that there are still people in these post-economic areas but their labor is no longer needed in the steel mills, factories or private homes. These superfluous, redundant bodies are the dilemma of 21st Century racial capitalism.

Read the Full Essay: Ella Taught Me: Shattering the Myth of the Leaderless Movement | Colorlines

Thoughts on 2016

Tony Wilsdon analyzes U.S. politics in flux ahead of the 2016 elections.

The central contradiction of our time is that capitalism is in decline, which means the system’s ability to make concessions has been significantly narrowed. Corporate profitability has been maintained by massively increasing exploitation while in the public sector there is endless austerity. Both major parties lie to the public to get elected, and then do the dirty work of big business once in office. Behind both parties and the mass media lies an elite 0.01% whose massive wealth rests in ownership of shares in big companies, financial institutions and real estate and other assets. They plough money into the two parties to represent their interests. They flood the corridors of Washington with their paid representatives to make sure pro-big business policies are enacted. These corporate-serving politicians from both parties then have to come back to the public with a new story as to why we should put faith in them again. As the cracks grow between corporate politics and the needs of the 99%, so the cracks grow in the political system, and so the opportunities grow to build a new political party of the working class and the poor.

Read the Article: 2016 Presidential Campaign Underway | Socialist Alternative

My Introduction to Debord

John Perry Barlow

Many, many moons ago, some time in the mid-to-late 1990s, I ran across this interview with Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation John Perry Barlow. It has had a profound effect on my way of looking at things. It was the first I had ever heard of Guy DeBord, whose book The Society of the Spectacle completely reframed my ideas about society, and nudged me down the road to political awakening.

Barlow’s words concerning society and the media are still apt twenty years later, I think.

A brief conversation this morning on Twitter concerning free-range versus helicopter parenting (and the irrational fear that many of we parents now face) prompted me to look for the link. I would highly encourage you to take a look.

Read the Interview: Go Placidly Amidst the Noise and Haste

Photo by Cellanr.