Books and Music
Revolution at Point Zero
Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle
By Silvia Federici
PM Press, 2012, 208 pp.
Review by Seth Sandronsky
Revolutionary feminist Silvia Federici’s scope is wide in her book of essays, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, written from 1974 to now. A major force in the Wages for Housework movement of the early 1970s, Federici shed light on the invisible and invaluable labor of women under capitalism—or socially reproductive work—with a preface, introduction, three sections, notes, and a bibliography. She expands our understanding of who performs and benefits from such reproduction and how it connects with the capital-wage nexus. For the purpose of private wealth accumulation, capitalism’s dynamism constantly changes how we live and work. Thus, the trajectory of Federici’s writing reflects the changing dynamics of, and resistance to, a system that increasingly relies on women to perform the unpaid work of caring for humans.
Their labor does not appear as part of the economy. Such household work, for instance, goes uncounted in the gross domestic product of the U.S. In Part One we get a sense of what constitutes the feminist revolt against unwaged women’s work that holds up our current socio-economic system. As she details, women’s labor services nurture the current and future generations of workers who, in turn, sell their labor-power to buyers in the capitalist marketplace who depend on this exchange to turn a profit.
As capitalist production ebbs and flows, socially reproductive and productive labor services reflect this trend. Federici tackles such flashpoints—from unwaged bedrooms and kitchens to waged workplaces and social service demands in developed and developing nations.
In the second part of Federici’s book, she disentangles globalization and social reproduction. A main theme here is the evolving international and sexual division of labor, waged and unwaged.
A grow-or-die system weakens the ability of families to care for children without more members of households entering the capitalist marketplace. Women suffer particularly as primary caregivers to children and elders, migrating to provide child-rearing services to families in developed countries, while leaving their own kin for years.
Thus, Federici argues that an anti-capitalist framework is essential to feminist struggles against patriarchy. She locates within this critique the necessity for resistance to wars with bombs or structural adjustment programs, having first-hand knowledge of the latter during her time teaching and writing on the African continent.
The political economy of Karl Marx runs a red line throughout Federici’s book, yet she critiques his failure to analyze the vital role of women’s reproductive labor to the overall system’s equilibrium.
The final and third section of Federici’s book takes up women’s role as mainstays of the commons, areas of public life and resources outside global capitalism. Federici unpacks the nature and role of female “commoning” as a verb, less so the commons as a condition. She calls for left politicizing of elder care, undergoing a crisis as capitalism monetizes such reproductive work while placing a greater burden on women. Thus, caring for elders is a gender issue.
As Federici shows with examples from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, women are on the front lines of commoning. She unveils how and why they resist the corporate takeover of subsistence farming, explaining the land question as central to women’s lives. Mutual aid and solidarity of oppressed women are more than symbolic. We see here transforming acts of solidarity against the logic of capitalist relations that rely upon severing people’s access to land. Reading Federici empowers us to reconnect with what is at the core of human development, women’s labor-intensive caregiving—a radical rethinking of how we live.
In that living, she argues, is our capacity to create a new, egalitarian society as the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement illustrates within the lens of women’s commoning.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento, California (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Van Morrison’s Born to Sing: No Plan B
Review by John Zavesky
Van Morrison is back in top form with his latest release Born to Sing: No Plan B. Morrison’s first studio album in four years is the longest time span between albums since the Belfast bard went solo in the late 1960s. While not every Morrison album was a Moondance or Tupelo Honey, all of his musical projects produced material of note.
Born to Sing: No Plan B is Morrison at his best. He makes it look simple when in reality it is anything but. The album has a jazzier sense about it than any album Morrison has released for the past decade or more. The album’s catchy melodies with backing brass recall Moondance but the similarity stops there. The album contains some of the hardest-hitting lyrics Morrison has put to music in years.
“Open the Door to Your Heart” invokes a 1960s soul feel with its musical hook and warm brass. Morrison even works in a Hammond solo with the horn section trading riffs back and forth throughout. Morrison disarms his audience with a smooth soul song while exhorting his audience to listen up:
Don’t you think I know who my enemies are
Their slip is showing and the door is ajar
Well this time they pushed me too far
Open the door to your heart
And who are the enemies Morrison sings about in the opening cut? Money, capitalism, the media, politicians, Morrison takes on all comers with a downbeat worldview. Morrison may be approaching 70 but his verbal vitriol is as hard edged as ever. Combined with a voice that has aged nicely into a gravely growl Morrison sings the blues, soul, jazz and R&B with conviction and nuance. “Going Down to Monte Carlo” is a soft jazz number that has a nice hook laced with acidic lyrics:
Sartre said hell is other people, I believe that most of them are
Well their pettiness amazes me, even after I’ve gone this far
The album’s title track Born to Sing is a rollicking rhythm and blues number reminiscent of Smiley Lewis and Fats Domino. “End of the Rainbow” sounds like a tune you might expect to hear some piano player playing for the three drunks in the corner booth at 2:00 AM. The horns weave a smooth, sweet tapestry over the piano. Morrison’s lyrics continue their downbeat worldview while warning you that you’ll get burned taking coals to Newcastle.
“Close Enough for Jazz” is one of the album’s standout numbers that swings with a smooth riff and a warm, full sound. The album’s other standout song is “My Pagan Heart.” This blues song makes you feel the Mississippi Delta night air with its opening guitar strains. Stripped down to bare bones, it is a musical form Morrison explored heavily with his band Them back in 1964 when the group put Big Joe Williams’s “Baby Please Don’t Go” on the B-side of “Gloria.”
“Educating Archie” concludes the album Right to the end, Morrison keeps up his take no prisoners sensibility. The song is a nod to Sam Cooke. Musically it is one that you could even envision a band ending a night’s set on, the song rolls so nicely. Lyrically it is one of the most biting:
You’re a slave to the capitalist system
and it’s controlled by the global elite
Double dealing with banks, behind your back, just can’t fight
Some artists mellow with age. Some fade away. Some become redundant. Van Morrison has done none of those things. Born to Sing: No Plan B is an album that showcases an artist who hasn’t given up. Morrison continues to explore the themes and musical styles of blues, jazz and R&B that have been with him since his childhood when his father brought home records of African American recording artists. Musically the album may appear simple, but to reach the level of Morrison and his backing band it takes a lifetime of hard work, dedication, and passion.
John Zavesky’s articles have been published in numerous publications, including CounterPunch, Palestine Chronicle, Dissident Voice, Los Angeles Times and other publications.
Judy Collins Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
By Bill Nevins and Lorenzo Duran
Judy Collins, the Colorado-born songwriter/performer whose many albums and concerts have filled our lives was honored October 15 in New York City by the Irish American Writers & Artists organization (IAW&A), a four-year-old self-described national “progressive artists” membership organization headed by President T.J. English (author of Paddy Whacked, The Westies, The Savage City and many other bestselling books) and Vice President Larry Kirwan (playwright, novelist, and leader of the Black 47 rock band). Each year, in a gala gathering in NYC, the organization awards its Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award to a living Irish American artist.
This year’s IAW&A event was held upstairs at Rosie O’Grady’s Irish American restaurant on 52nd Street. Tom Pax- ton, a legendary folk music performer, played a set of songs, including “The Last Thing on My Mind”—a song that he wrote and Judy Collins made famous. Malachy McCourt—the wit and memoirist of television, stage, and book fame—regaled us with praise of Judy Collins.
Besides Judy Collins’s youthful appearance and warm smile, there was a surprise guest appearance by Pete Seeger who, in his 90s, proved charmingly feisty and as musically skilled as ever. Seeger treated us to songs accompanied by his banjo, the one inscribed in memory of Pete’s friend and mentor, the late Woody Guthrie: “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender.” Seeger told this reporter, “I just keep on doing what I have been doing all my life. I see no reason to stop just because I’ve got a few more wrinkles now.”
On stage that evening, Collins gave a cappella renditions of several of her famous songs and also shared memories of her career, the people she has met and admired and, especially, of her father, the late Chuck Collins, who was a legendary radio host in Denver and who gave his daughter the grand gift of music and love of life. “I learned more from my dad than I can ever tell or ever repay. I just hope his spirit lives on in the music.”
The 2013 Irish American Writers & Artists Eugene O’Neill Award Gala will be held in October 2013. IAW&A chapters are being organized nationally, and interested persons may get details at www.i-am-wa.org.
The Endless Crisis
How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China
By John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney
Monthly Review Press, 2012, 227 pp.
Review by Seth Sandonsky
A duo of scholars and professors connect the dots in a radical critique of modern-day capitalism. Theirs is a rigorous analysis, empirical and theoretical, of the twin trends of slowing growth and growing tumult With charts and tables, a preface, introduction, six chapters, notes and an index, Foster and McChesney provide a primer on the global system’s crisis that helps readers to get a handle on how and why things are falling apart, economically and environmentally. To this end, they break new ground with their insights on financial markets, and corporate monopolies and investment. According to the authors: “An economy in which decisions on savings and investment are made privately tends to fall into a stagnation trap; existing demand is insufficient to absorb all of the actual and potential savings (or surplus) available, output falls, and there is no automatic mechanism that generates full recovery.” These processes proceed as the conventional economic wisdom holds that government spending is what ails the system.
Foster and McChesney provide an in-depth look at the evolution of monopoly capital to monopoly-finance capital. In this way, they provide fresh analysis about financial bubbles and their centrality to economic woes. How did financial speculation overtake industrial production as the main motor of capital accumulation? Their second chapter sheds much light on the question, writing in the tradition of Marxist theorists Paul Baran, Harry Magdoff, and Paul Sweezy.
Further, Foster and McChesney review the relevant work of Marx and Keynes, highlighting the forces and factors behind slow growth and corporate control over economic activity that reduces outlets for profitable investments that, ultimately, flow into financial services. Wonder why the role of small business in the U.S. economy was center stage in the recent presidential debates? For Foster and McChesney, this emphasis inverts reality.
As they show in chapter three, big corporations dominate global industries, from aircraft and auto to banks, computers, media, pharmaceuticals, and retail. Foster and Mc- Chesney’s supporting evidence makes clear this rising tendency of monopolization (sales, shipments, revenue, and gross profits), and its role in the rise of the financial realm of the economy.
According to the authors, there is a lack of clarity about the current monopoly stage of capitalism. Why? In part they cite the “ambiguity of competition.”
Conservatives and some radical critics misuse this concept; false assumptions spur flawed conclusions. Chapter four covers monopoly capital’s drive to span the globe. Foster and McChesney drill down on vital factors of this trend, such as corporate monopolies’ subcontracting to lower production costs, along with controlling raw materials and leveraging credit and debt.
It is axiomatic that capital’s growth requires the working class to grow. This nexus underpins chapter five on the dramatic changes in the global economy with the integration of China and the former Soviet bloc nations into the capitalist system. Foster and McChesney contextualize labor market trends within Marx’s critical writings on imperialism Foster, who edits the Monthly Review, an independent socialist publication, and Mc- Chesney, a past editor and current contributor to it, highlight corporate monopoly’s pitting of workers in the Global South and Global North against each other to push their wages down via exploitative strategies such as subcontracting and outsourcing.
The book wraps up with in-depth analysis of China and stagnation there and around the world. Contradictions of capitalism sport Chinese characteristics, from an internally migrant peasantry to socially worsening inequality. With its role as a “final production platform” in a global supply chain for multinational corporations, China’s working class occupies a pivotal role in resisting capitalist exploitation. Workers in the Global North, themselves facing downward mobility via policies of austerity that shift national income away from wages to profits, can and should seek linkages with Chinese workers to cooperatively resist monopoly-finance capital’s drive to depress living and working standards.
Not to overstate the urgency of a world economic crisis without apparent end, Foster and McChesney, following Marx, make a convincing case for reconstituting society based on human needs. For informed and intelligent work on resurrecting the radical actions and visions of past movements and thinkers in the face of an accumulation-financialization-stagnation nightmare now, The Endless Crisis is a book to read.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento.