Class, the London riots, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

I’ve been wanting to write a blog post on Octavia Butler’s two part series, The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents. I read it for the second time recently, and I noticed so many more politically relevant and potent aspects of the novels this time around. Of course, I was reading it in the bathtub and not taking notes, so I dont remember most of the things I wanted to write about, but something came up today.

Towards the beginning of the first book, we are introduced to a sort of post-apocalyptic America. The US government is still there, but barely hanging on. Life is extremely dangerous and insecure. The main character, Lauren, is a 15 year old woman, “lucky” to be living in a lower middle class neighborhood with a giant wall built around it. Few people who live within have jobs on the outside. They grow their own food, raise chickens to sell, and the young people never go outside except to ride their bikes with adults into the hills so that they can target practice.

Unfortunately, as Lauren suspects will happen, this situation wont last forever. Although the mega-rich are still out there, the lumpen cant reach them inside their gated communities protected by security contractors. And so they go after Lauren’s neighborhood. In her eyes, they aren’t rich and dont warrant such an attack. In the eyes of the street people and drug addicts who carry out the attack, though, they have privilege, wealth and everything that comes with it and, hence, are deserving of attack.

This story makes me think about the reports of working class neighborhoods being looted and lit on fire by the rioters in London and surrounding areas. If you grow up in the projects or estates, cant get a job, cant go to college, then people who have jobs, and cars, and their own homes and even small businesses could look like pretty tempting bait. They could look like the rich who are deserving of attack, even if they are exploited on the job by managers and capitalists and have no control over their lives and only a little more paper to show for it than you do. And the super rich are in their gated communities, protected by the police, and video surveillance… much too challenging for an unorganized riot to take on. But not an insurrection.

I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to understand more clearly class composition in the United States. My reflections on my family and class are a piece of this, but its related to the bigger picture. Its not clear who is on what side of the class war, or where they will fall when the time comes. If we had this political clarity, then we could argue against violence on the working class, without just condemning the riots. We could push for a reorientation to the capitalists, the ruling class, the mega rich. We could fight for class solidarity with the rest of the working class… and even argue that the lower middle classes interests lie with ours. But I think first we need this political clarity: What is class? Who is working class? Why does that mean we shouldnt attack each other and we have the same interests? (Unless youre a fascist or something.)

What is actually happening in England?

This article by al-jazeera combats some of the propaganda of the bourgeois press about the London riots: these mindless youths, they’re violent and out of control, all we need are 30,000 cops to deal with them, but its a routine thing, no big deal.

Here’s an excerpt:

More broadly, any breakdown of civil order is inescapably political. Quite large numbers of mostly young people have decided that, on balance, they want to take to the streets and attack the forces of law and order, damage property or steal goods. Their motives may differ – they are bound to differ. But their actions can only be understood adequately in political terms. While the recklessness of adrenaline has something to do with what is happening, the willingness to act is something to be explained. We should perhaps ask them what they were thinking before reaching for phrases like “mindless violence”. We might actually learn something.

I have a lot of questions about whats happening right now. Everyone I know who lives in the UK and is commenting on it are on the side of the petty bourgeoisie, calling the rioters “idiots”, and so on. But what is the racial composition, what are the various political forces involved on the ground? Is the left agitating and organizing? Is anyone else? I hear armed Nazi gangs are roaming the streets, too, but this ISO newspaper article makes it seem like its just the state against the people, without mentioning the Nazis. They call it a “rebellion against racism” but they dont mention that many South Asians, for example, are setting up community defense and hence defending what they perceive as their own class interests.

They also emphasize that Mark Duggan was “a father of four” while elsewhere people talks about how he is a well-known crack dealer. He may have been both of these things, and if he was, his life needs to be looked at in its totality. He is no less a reason for people to protest police brutality if he sold drugs. Emphasizing that he was a father in this society where the question of Black men and family is so heated, seems like a cheap ploy to appeal to those who still hold onto “traditional family values” ie patriarchal values.

Its hard to know how to analyze it when you’re not there, and dont really understand the social forces and class tensions. This article by the Commune talks about from the perspective of some libertarian left revolutionaries. Their main point is pretty much that people need to get serious and politicize the riots, when right now they are almost purely economic. I agree with that, but I dont like how they talk about them needing to organize the rioters. I think the al-jazeera quote above gets at what needs to be done first: ask people what they are thinking. Most of them are likely highly aware of what is happening in their country in terms of race  and class. Maybe that is part of the Commune’s organizing method; I guess it is hard to tell since they urge people to organize but they dont talk about their own organizing. That doesnt mean that they are not organizing their asses off; maybe for security reasons they are not blasting their shit all over the internet. But I still dont really know whats going on.

Reflections on Family and Class, Pt. 1

I recently spent a few weeks with family. This family time has given me the motivation to write some reflections on my experiences of class growing up. To me, the most empowering thing initially about revolutionary politics was the revelation that I wasn’t forever relegated to identifying/being identified as middle class. In the general liberal and progressive left, class is usually understood as income, and not a social relationship between workers and management, or between a housewife and the worker-husband. This emphasis on income and not social relationships means you usually have “poor” people or middle class people, but not working class people.

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New Credit Card Regulations Hurt Women

Thanks to jubayr for the idea for the post and talking it out with me. xo.

So, I sometimes visit this website for young women that tells you how to deal with your money. I’ve come to the conclusion in the last year or so that being a revolutionary doesnt mean that you shouldnt plan for retirement. Of course, if we’re successful, I will never see the money I put into a (hypothetical) 401K, but if we’re successful, I won’t care. Then again, there are other possible futures out there ranging from fascism to state capitalist counterrevolution, but I try not to think about those too much when I’m dreaming of the future.

Anyhow, this website usually isn’t very political, although they sometimes have good essays explaining how finance capital works or the state of the economy, albeit from the perspective of finance capital, and not production. However, they’ve started a series that does take on some more “controversial” issues, and today’s article outlines the impacts of the Credit CARD Act on stay-at-home moms.

Basically, the new act doesnt allow you to get credit if you dont have your own, individual income. It seems that you used to be able to apply yourself for a credit card based on household income. The rationale for the new regulations is to keep unemployed college kids from running up credit card debt, but now stay-at-home parents, or caregivers of any kind, can’t apply for their own credit. The article does a good job of outlining how this disproportionately impacts women, how for women in abusive relationships financial insecurity is a big reason women stay in the relationship, and how housewives do work that is just as valuable as wage-earners, but it is simply unwaged. That last part is actually a pretty shocking thing to see on a mainstream website. I’m very impressed.

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talking about a revolution

True Blood: race, class and gender and so much more

***SPOILER ALERT***

I freaking love the HBO show True Blood. I love science fiction and I love fantasy, mostly when it does what Ursula K Le Guin wrote about in an introduction to her novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. I dont have it accessible right now, but I remember her writing that good science fiction is not meant to be an escape. Rather, it is meant to expose the contradictions and the beauty of our own society, by taking it out of context and giving us some perspective. I think true blood does that very well.

There are questions of addiction, trust and equality in relationships, parenthood, and so on. Its just complicated by the fact that Jason’s girlfriend Amy is addicted to vampire blood, that Sookie’s boyfriend Bill is a vampire and feels that he should protect her, both physically and also by lying about his past, and that Bill is forced to make a new vampire, Jessica, to whom he has to play father with no previous experience.

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