Friday, February 25, 2011

If America should go Communist

Should America go communist as a result of the difficulties and problems that your capitalist social order is unable to solve, it will discover that communism, far from being an intolerable bureaucratic tyranny and individual regimentation, will be the means of greater individual liberty and shared abundance.
At present most Americans regard communism solely in the light of the experience of the Soviet Union. They fear lest Sovietism in America would produce the same material result as it has brought for the culturally backward peoples of the Soviet Union.
They fear lest communism should try to fit them to a bed of Procrustes, and they point to the bulwark of Anglo-Saxon conservatism as an insuperable obstacle even to possibly desirable reforms. They argue that Great Britain and Japan would undertake military intervention against the American soviets. They shudder lest Americans be regimented in their habits of dress and diet, be compelled to subsist on famine rations, be forced to read stereotyped official propaganda in the newspapers, be coerced to serve as rubber stamps for decisions arrived at without their active participation or be required to keep their thoughts to themselves and loudly praise their soviet leaders in public, through fear of imprisonment and exile.
They fear monetary inflation, bureaucratic tyranny and intolerable red tape in obtaining the necessities of life. They fear soulless standardization in the arts and sciences, as well as in the daily necessities of life. They fear that all political spontaneity and the presumed freedom of the press will be destroyed by the dictatorship of a monstrous bureaucracy. And they shudder at the thought of being forced into an uncomprehended glibness in Marxist dialectic and disciplined social philosophies. They fear, in a word, that Soviet America will become the counterpart of what they have been told Soviet Russia looks like.
Actually American soviets will be as different from the Russian soviets as the United States of President Roosevelt differs from the Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II. Yet communism can come in America only through revolution, just as independence and democracy came in America. The American temperament is energetic and violent, and it will insist on breaking a good many dishes and upsetting a good many apple carts before communism is firmly established. Americans are enthusiasts and sportsmen before they are specialists and statesmen, and it would be contrary to the American tradition to make a major change without choosing sides and cracking heads.
However, the American communist revolution will be insignificant compared to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, in terms of your national wealth and population, no matter how great its comparative cost. That is because civil war of a revolutionary nature isn't fought by the handful of men at the top -- the 5 or 10 percent who own nine-tenths of American wealth; this handful could recruit its counterrevolutionary armies only from among the lower middle classes. Even so, the revolution could easily attract them to its banner by showing that support of the soviets alone offers them the prospect of salvation.
Everybody below this group is already economically prepared for communism. The depression has ravaged your working class and has dealt a crushing blow to the farmers, who had already been injured by the long agricultural decline of the postwar decade. There is no reason why these groups should counterpose determined resistance to the revolution; they have nothing to lose, providing, of course, that the revolutionary leaders adopt a farsightcd and moderate policy toward them.
Who else will fight against communism? Your corporal's guard of billionaires and multimillionaires? Your Mellons, Morgans, Fords and Rockefellers? They will cease struggling as soon as they fail to find other people to fight for them.
The American soviet government will take firm possession of the commanding heights of your business system: the banks, the key industries and the transportation and communication systems. It will then give the farmers, the small tradespeople and businessmen a good long time to think things over and see how well the nationalized section of industry is working.
Here is where the American soviets can produce real miracles. "Technocracy" can come true only under communism, when the dead hands of private property rights and private profits are lifted from your industrial system. The most daring proposals of the Hoover commission on standardization and rationalization will seem childish compared to the new possibilities let loose by American communism.
National industry will be organized along the line of the conveyor belt in your modern continuous-production automotive factories. Scientific planning can be lifted out of the individual factory and applied to your entire economic system. The results will be stupendous.
Costs of production will be cut to 20 percent, or less, of their present figure. This, in turn, would rapidly increase your farmers' purchasing power.
To be sure, the American soviets would establish their own gigantic farm enterprises, as schools of voluntary collectivization. Your farmers could easily calculate whether it was to their individual advantage to remain as isolated links or to join the public chain.
The same method would be used to draw small businesses and industries into the national organization of industry. By soviet control of raw materials, credits and quotas of orders, these secondary industries could be kept solvent until they were gradually and without compulsion sucked into the socialized business system.
Without compulsion! The American soviets would not need to resort to the drastic measures that circumstances have often imposed upon the Russians. In the United States, through the science of publicity and advertising, you have means for winning the support of your middle class that were beyond the reach of the soviets of backward Russia with its vast majority of pauperized and illiterate peasants. This, in addition to your technical equipment and your wealth, is the greatest asset of your coming communist revolution. Your revolution will be smoother in character than ours; you will not waste your energies and resources in costly social conflicts after the main issues have been decided; and you will move ahead so much more rapidly in consequence.
Even the intensity and devotion of religious sentiment in America will not prove an obstacle to the revolution. If one assumes the perspective of soviets in America, none of the psychological brakes will prove firm enough to retard the pressure of the social crisis. This has been demonstrated more than once in history. Besides, it should not be forgotten that the Gospels themselves contain some pretty explosive aphorisms.
As to the comparatively few opponents of the soviet revolution, one can trust to American inventive genius. It may well be that you will take your unconvinced millionaires and send them to some picturesque island, rent-free for life, where they can do as they please.
You can do this safely, for you will not need to fear foreign interventions. Japan, Great Britain and the other capitalistic countries that intervened in Russia couldn't do anything but take American communism lying down. As a matter of fact, the victory of communism in America -- the stronghold of capitalism -- will cause communism to spread to other countries. Japan will probably have joined the communistic ranks even before the establishment of the American soviets. The same is true of Great Britain.
In any case, it would be a crazy idea to send His Britannic Majesty's fleet against Soviet America, even as a raid against the southern and more conservative half of your continent. It would be hopeless and would never get any farther than a second-rate military escapade.
Within a few weeks or months of the establishment of the American soviets, Pan-Americanism would be a political reality.
The governments of Central and South America would be pulled into your federation like iron filings to a magnet. So would Canada. The popular movements in these countries would be so strong that they would force this great unifying process within a short period and at insignificant costs. I am ready to bet that the first anniversary of the American soviets would find the Western Hemisphere transformed into the Soviet United States of North, Central and South America, with its capital at Panama. Thus for the first time the Monroe Doctrine would have a complete and positive meaning in world affairs, although not the one foreseen by its author.
In spite of the complaints of some of your arch-conservatives, Roosevelt is not preparing for a soviet transformation of the United States.
The NRA aims not to destroy but to strengthen the foundations of American capitalism by overcoming your business difficulties. Not the Blue Eagle but the difficulties that the Blue Eagle is powerless to overcome will bring about communism in America. The "radical" professors of your Brain Trust are not revolutionists: they are only frightened conservatives. Your president abhors "systems" and "generalities." But a soviet government is the greatest of all possible systems, a gigantic generality in action.
The average man doesn't like systems or generalities either. It is the task of your communist statesmen to make the system deliver the concrete goods that the average man desires: his food, cigars, amusements, his freedom to choose his own neckties, his own house and his own automobile. It will be easy to give him these comforts in Soviet America.
Most Americans have been misled by the fact that in the USSR we had to build whole new basic industries from the ground up. Such a thing could not happen in America, where you are already compelled to cut down on your farm area and to reduce your industrial production. As a matter of fact, your tremendous technological equipment has been paralyzed by the crisis and already clamors to be put to use. You will be able to make a rapid step-up of consumption by your people the starting point of your economic revival.
You are prepared to do this as is no other country. Nowhere else has the study of the internal market reached such intensity as in the United States. It has been done by your banks, trusts, individual businessmen, merchants, traveling salesmen and farmers as part of their stock-in-trade. Your soviet government will simply abolish all trade secrets, will combine all the findings of these researches for individual profit and will transform them into a scientific system of economic planning. In this your government will be helped by the existence of a large class of cultured and critical consumers. By combining the nationalized key industries, your private businesses and democratic consumer cooperation, you will quickly develop a highly flexible system for serving the needs of your population.
This system will be made to work not by bureaucracy and not by policemen but by cold, hard cash.
Your almighty dollar will play a principal part in making your new soviet system work. It is a great mistake to try to mix a "planned economy" with a "managed currency." Your money must act as regulator with which to measure the success or failure of your planning.
Your "radical" professors are dead wrong in their devotion to "managed money." It is an academic idea that could easily wreck your entire system of distribution and production. That is the great lesson to be derived from the Soviet Union, where bitter necessity has been converted into official virtue in the monetary realm.
There the lack of a stable gold ruble is one of the main causes of our many economic troubles and catastrophes. It is impossible to regulate wages, prices and quality of goods without a firm monetary system. An unstable ruble in a Soviet system is like having variable molds in a conveyor-belt factory. It won't work.
Only when socialism succeeds in substituting administrative control for money will it be possible to abandon a stable gold currency. Then money will become ordinary paper slips, like trolley or theater tickets. As socialism advances, these slips will also disappear, and control over individual consumption -- whether by money or administration -- will no longer be necessary when there is more than enough of everything for everybody!
Such a time has not yet come, though America will certainly reach it before any other country. Until then, the only way to reach such a state of development is to retain an effective regulator and measure for the working of your system. As a matter of fact, during the first few years a planned economy needs sound money even more than did old-fashioned capitalism. The professor who regulates the monetary unit with the aim of regulating the whole business system is like the man who tried to lift both his feet off the ground at the same time.
Soviet America will possess supplies of gold big enough to stabilize the dollar -- a priceless asset. In Russia we have been expanding our industrial plant by 20 and 30 percent a year; but -- owing to a weak ruble -- we have not been able to distribute this increase effectively. This is partly because we have allowed our bureaucracy to subject our monetary system to administrative one-sidedness. You will be spared this evil. As a result you will greatly surpass us in both increased production and distribution, leading to a rapid advance in the comfort and welfare of your population.
In all this, you will not need to imitate our standardized production for our pitiable mass consumers. We have taken over from czarist Russia a pauper's heritage, a culturally undeveloped peasantry with a low standard of living. We had to build our factories and dams at the expense of our consumers. We have had continual monetary inflation and a monstrous bureaucracy.
Soviet America will not have to imitate our bureaucratic methods. Among us the lack of the bare necessities has caused an intense scramble for an extra loaf of bread, an extra yard of cloth by everyone. In this struggle our bureaucracy steps forward as a conciliator, as an all-powerful court of arbitration. You, on the other hand, are much wealthier and would have little difficulty in supplying all of your people with all of the necessities of life. Moreover, your needs, tastes and habits would never permit your bureaucracy to divide the national income. Instead, when you organize your society to produce for human needs rather than private profits, your entire population will group itself around new trends and groups, which will struggle with one another and prevent an overweening bureaucracy from imposing itself upon them.
You can thus avoid growth of bureaucratism by the practice of soviets, that is to say, democracy -- the most flexible form of government yet developed. Soviet organization cannot achieve miracles but must simply reflect the will of the people. With us the soviets have been bureaucratized as a result of the political monopoly of a single party, which has itself become a bureaucracy. This situation resulted from the exceptional difficulties of socialist pioneering in a poor and backward country.
The American soviets will be full-blooded and vigorous, without need or opportunity for such measures as circumstances imposed upon Russia. Your unregenerate capitalists will, of course, find no place for themselves in the new setup. It is hard to imagine Henry Ford as the head of the Detroit Soviet.
Yet a wide struggle between interests, groups and ideas is not only conceivable -- it is inevitable. One-year, five-year, ten-year plans of business development; schemes for national education; construction of new basic lines of transportation; the transformation of the farms; the program for improving the technological and cultural equipment of Latin America; a program for stratosphere communication; eugenics -- all of these will arouse controversy, vigorous electoral struggle and passionate debate in the newspapers and at public meetings.
For Soviet America will not imitate the monopoly of the press by the heads of Soviet Russia's bureaucracy. While Soviet America would nationalize all printing plants, paper mills and means of distribution, this would be a purely negative measure. It would simply mean that private capital will no longer be allowed to decide what publications should be established, whether they should be progressive or reactionary, "wet" or "dry," puritanical or pornographic. Soviet America will have to find a new solution for the question of how the power of the press is to function in a socialist regime. It might be done on the basis of proportional representation for the votes in each soviet election.
Thus the right of each group of citizens to use the power of the press would depend on their numerical strength -- the same principle being applied to the use of meeting halls, allotment of time on the air and so forth.
Thus the management and policy of publications would be decided not by individual checkbooks but by group ideas. This may take little account of numerically small but important groups, but it simply means that each new idea will be compelled, as throughout history, to prove its right to existence.
Rich Soviet America can set aside vast funds for research and invention, discoveries and experiments in every field. You won't neglect your bold architects and sculptors, your unconventional poets and audacious philosophers.
In fact, the Soviet Yankees of the future will give a lead to Europe in those very fields where Europe has hitherto been your master. Europeans have little conception of the power of technology to influence human destiny and have adopted an attitude of sneering superiority toward "Americanism," particularly since the crisis. Yet Americanism marks the true dividing line between the Middle Ages and the modern world.
Hitherto America's conquest of nature has been so violent and passionate that you have had no time to modernize your philosophies or to develop your own artistic forms. Hence you have been hostile to the doctrines of Hegel, Marx and Darwin. The burning of Darwin's works by the Baptists of Tennessee is only a clumsy reflection of the American dislike for the doctrines of evolution. This attitude is not confined to your pulpits. It is still part of your general mental makeup.
Your atheists as well as your Quakers are determined rationalists. And your rationalism itself is weakened by empiricism and moralism. It has none of the merciless vitality of the great European rationalists. So your philosophic method is even more antiquated than your economic system and your political institutions.
Today, quite unprepared, you are being forced to face those social contradictions that grow up unsuspected in every society. You have conquered nature by means of the tools that your inventive genius has created, only to find that your tools have all but destroyed you. Contrary to all your hopes and desires, your unheard-of wealth has produced unheard-of misfortunes. You have discovered that social development does not follow a simple formula. Hence you have been thrust into the school of the dialectic -- to stay.
There is no turning back from it to the mode of thinking and acting prevalent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
While the romantic numskulls of Nazi Germany are dreaming of restoring the old race of Europe's Dark Forest to its original purity, or rather its original filth, you Americans, after taking a firm grip on your economic machinery and your culture, will apply genuine scientific methods to the problem of eugenics. Within a century, out of your melting pot of races there will come a new breed of men -- the first worthy of the name of Man.

One final prophecy: In the third year of soviet rule in America, you will no longer chew gum!

Leon Trotsky
August 17, 1934

Scientists trekking towards the South Pole of Inaccessibility were rather surprised to find a bust of Soviet revolutionary Bolshevik Vladimir Lenin peering across the icy wastelands towards the former Soviet Empire.
The bust marks the place where an old Soviet base was established and occupied for a few weeks in 1958.  The cabin which made up the base now lies buried under the ice.  Before the Soviet team left, they fixed a bust of Lenin on the chimney which is now the only part of the structure visible over the ice.
So, what is the bust made of to resist such a harsh climate where the temperature plunges to 60 degrees below zero, where winds blast the surface, and no sun shines for three months out of the year?  Is it metal?  Marble?  Stone?
Nope.  It's plastic.
The Inaccessibility Pole marks the point on Antarctica that is furthest from the ocean. At 3718 meters above sea-level it is in the Australian zone and seldom visited.  Supposedly, if you dig down through the ice and into the remains of the cabin, you'll find a golden visitors book to sign.

Self-Repair Manifesto

Our relationship with our stuff has spiraled out of control. We buy things, use them for a short while, and then rapidly replace them with the next model. It’s time to take a stand. These are our guiding principles.

If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it

Repair is humanity’s best hope for taking back real ownership of our things.
How long does our stuff last? We need to take a deep breath and look at all of our things. Will we be able to fix them when they break? We have got to put the brakes on our race to become a throw-away society.
It’s not completely our fault. Manufacturers push new models every year with just enough style tweaks to make our last one feel obsolete. They use legal threats to keep repair manuals away from us and deploy so-called ‘security bits’ in new products to prevent us from opening our own things. They have even gone so far as patenting screw heads to keep us out of our stuff.

This must not stand

The manufacturers tout their green credentials by citing take-back programs and recyclable materials, but that’s a a misdirection. Recycling isn’t good enough! Recycling is just efficient urban mining. Recycling destroys the captured energy invested to manufacture things, requiring even more energy to melt it down and make something new. And products made from the resulting material (particularly plastics) are substantially lower quality. We’re much better off using existing things as long as physically possible.

Take action

Hang on to last year’s model! Solve a hardware problemFix an iPod! Teach someone how to fix an XboxContribute to a repair manual! This revolution will not succeed without your help.

Spread the word!

We need to shout this message from the rooftops. Let’s post this manifesto in every coffee house, repair shop, and garage in the world. I’ve posted a page where you can share the Manifesto and download files to print. Put the poster up in your workshop and share a photo!
by Kurt Vonnegut
Paul Krassner, 63 at this writing (1996), old enough to be my baby brother,
in 1963 created a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for
potent simplicity, in my opinion, as Einstein¹s e=mc2.  With the Vietnam War
going on, and with its critics discounted and scorned by the government and
the mass media, Krassner put on sale a red, white and blue poster that said
At the beginning of the 1960s, FUCK was believed to be so full of bad magic
as to be unprintable.  In the most humanely influential American novel of
this half century, "The Catcher in the Rye," Holden Caulfield, it will be
remembered, was shocked to see that word on a subway-station wall.  He
wondered what seeing it might do to the mind of a little kid.  COMMUNISM was
to millions the name of the most loathsome evil imaginable.  To call an
American a communist was like calling somebody a Jew in Nazi Germany.  By
having FUCK and COMMUNISM fight it out in a single sentence, Krassner wasn¹t
merely being funny as heck.  He was demonstrating how preposterous it was
for so many people to be responding to both words with such cockamamie
Pavlovian fear and alarm.
What hasn¹t been said about that poster, and surely not by Krassner, is that
its author was behaving harmoniously with most of the Ten Commandments, the
Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States and the Sermon on
the Mount.  So, too, were his now-dead friends Lenny Bruce and Abbie Hoffman
and Jerry Rubin, roundly denounced and even arrested for bad manners and
impudence, and now mourned and celebrated as heroes, which indeed they were,
in this important book.  They were prophets, too, at the service of humanity
in jeering, like the prophets of old, at mean-spirited hypocrisies and
stupidities and worse that were making their society a hell, whether there
was a God or not.
And this book is emphatically not nostalgic, but raffishly responsive to the
here and now.  Nor are decades like chains of knockwursts, sutured off from
one another at either end.  To think of them as such, the 1950s, the 1960s,
the 1970s and so on, is merely a mnemonic device.  The only 1960s people are
those who died back then.  Everyone alive today has no choice but to be,
like Paul Krassner, a 1990s person.  Krassner does a good job of that.  So
should we all.
I told Krassner one time that his writings made me hopeful.  He found this
an odd compliment to offer a satirist.  I explained that he made supposedly
serious matters seem ridiculous, and that this inspired many of his readers
to decide for themselves what was ridiculous and what was not.  Knowing that
there were people doing that, better late than never, made me optimistic.

  • 1. Kim Jong-il eating a cracker

  • 2. Kim Jong-il lifting a radish

  • 3. Kim Jong-il holding a bucket

  • 4. Kim Jong-il trying out a chair

  • 5. Kim Jong-il staring at a brick

  • 6. Kim Jong-il smiling at a bottle of oil

  • 7. Kim Jong-il thinking about fish

  • 8. Kim Jong-il looking at cows

  • 9. Kim Jong-il whispering to corn

  • 10. Kim Jong-il yelling at corn

17 August 2009
Sangin, Afghanistan
The roads are so littered with enemy bombs that nearly all transport and resupply to this base occurs by helicopter.  The pilots roar through the darkness, swoop into small bases nestled in the saddle of enemy territory, and quickly rumble off into the night.
A witness must spend only a short time in the darkness to know we are at war. Flares arc into the night, or mortar illumination rounds drift and swing under parachutes, orange and eerily in the distance, casting long, flickering but sharply defined shadows.  The worst that can happen is that you will be caught in an open field, covered by nothing and concealed only by darkness, when the illumination suddenly bathes you in light.  Best is to stay low and freeze and prepare to fire, or in the case of a writer, to stay low and freeze and prepare to watch the firing.
Explosions from unknown causes rumble through the cool nights while above drifts the Milky Way, punctuated by more shooting stars than one can remember.  The Afghanistan nights will grant a wish to wish upon a shooting star.  And while waiting for the next meteor, the eyes are likely to catch tracer bullets.

A CH-47 helicopter whirls in with a “sling load” of resupplies from Camp Bastion to FOB Jackson in Sangin.

The pilot comes in fast, to the dark landing zone, lighted only by “Cyalumes,” which Americans call “Chemlights.” The sensitive camera and finely engineered glass make the dark landing zone appear far lighter.  The apparent brightness of the small Cyalumes provides reference.

A show begins as the helicopter descends under its halo.

The charged helicopter descends into its own dust storm.

Gently releasing the sling load.

The pilot hovers away from the load, pivots and begins to land.

The dust storm ripples and flaps over the medical tents.

Heat causes the engines to glow orange.

Dust begins to clear even before landing.  The helicopter, under its own halo, casts a moon shadow.



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