Over the past week or so with the Coronavirus upon us, I have exiled myself to self-quarantine. In truth, it was more like my doctor told me to do so because I had a dry cough, but no fever, so they ruled out that I had it but they still insisted on staying away from people for 12 days. It is, of course, relatively easy for me to do—I mean, a self-quarantine pretty much sounds like my weekend.
In the meantime, I wanted to be productive, so of course, I resorted to doing nothing. I ordered food, Ate some edibles, and watched tons of Anime. And I also wanted to read more.
I’ve been trying to read more recently as I’ve finished writing the first draft of my book, and I’ve sent it for editing, I’ve had a bit more free time. And I’ve been reading a little bit more leftist theory.
I finished reading Richard D. Wolff’s book ‘Understanding Marxism.’ It’s a concise book, more like an essay, and it attempts to clarify Marx’s thought. It gives someone who wants to get a better understanding of what Marx advocated for, and it provides us with his actual views; after all, Marx is one of the most misrepresented thinkers in history. And his teachings should be seen as a criticism of Capitalism that, some might say, holds up even today.
One of the parts I liked was where Wolff explains the ‘Theory of Surplus Labor.’ The idea that capitalist exploit ‘productive workers’ with uncompensated labor. In other words, the capitalist’s job is to get extra labor from you without compensating you for it – from which they capture the profit. This book is an excellent way to grasp his ideas. If you want to know more about Marxism or, even if you disagree with him, it’s much better to know what he said rather than relying upon misrepresentations of his views.
The other book I’ve read was ‘Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism’ by Michael Parenti. Oh boy! What a book. If you’re to the left of Noam Chomsky, you know you’re asking to be investigated by the CIA.
This book takes a sledgehammer to the Neo-liberal way of thinking. It directly implicates global corporatism as complicit or indifferent to Fascism. The book makes this case by following the fascist dictators that started as fighters for the working class, and pretty soon, with the blessing of the capitalists, they were advocating for an authoritarian state with fewer labor protections. And soon, they were actively hunting down the ‘socialist element’ and the ‘undesirables’, of course.
This book explores different topics, including the left’s guilt complex about Communism and how some on the left try to distance themselves by going overboard in their criticism of the Soviet Union. Parenti believes when the ‘anti-communist’ left highlights this, they fail to mention the benefits that a robust social program provides to its workers.
However, some chapters are unpleasant. Parenti minimizes some of the horrors of Stalin’s reign: questioning and comparing the reported deaths in Soviet Russia and the Gulags to the death toll of fascist governments. It misses the mark because we always want to argue for better outcomes, and comparing amounts of death relative to other dictators doesn’t help that case. I think it’s better to create a distinction between Democratic Socialism and Authoritarian Socialism. And unfortunately, whenever people on the left are labeled, ‘socialists’ it becomes synonymous with ‘authoritarian.’
Parenti does point to the strong social safety net, access to healthcare, and education that was offered by the Communist states as a positive to its people. He also discusses the negative consequences of the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. He discusses the collusion of the western states, and how the oligarchy was a direct result of the take over by private industry – which led to the immediate erosion of those social programs.
This book is a must-read if you want to understand why the corporate elites, even though outwardly object to Fascism, are fundamentally indifferent or, in some cases, encourage the fascistic elements because it serves to protect their authority and privilege. Even though I have some criticisms, I will recommend this book as a study of the current power structure and what forces are shaping them.
‘The Chapo Guide to Revolution’ is written by the folks over at the ‘Chapo Trap house Podcast.’ What is Chapo Trap House? It’s on the first two pages of the book. They have people saying glowing things about them, and then they have, Joan Walsh, describing them as, “Juvenile guys with one lady who trash people and talk about obscure and sometimes gross topics.” It’s almost a perfect description.
The Chapo Trap House is a collective podcast hosted by Will Menaker, Felix Beiderman, Virgil Texas, Amber A’Lee Frost, and Matt Christman. I’m not going to lie; I started following them very recently. I know the name floated around for quite some time, and I always heard rumblings about them. Eventually, I started listening to their coverage right around the 7th or 8th Democratic primary debate. There’s a reason why they’re so popular: first of all, their intro (‘SALUTE 2 EL CHAPO’ by DJ Smokey) is awesome.
I love their banter, non-sequiturs, and no-holds-barred attitude. The conversation can range from high-concept political discourse to the ethical use of snake emojis. That’s why they’re known as the ultimate representatives of ‘The Dirtbag Left’’ (Amber A’Lee Frost, one of the co-hosts, is credited with coining the phrase).
Anyway, they wrote a book called ‘The Chapo Guide To Revolution.’ It’s a manifesto of all things ‘Chapo’. It’s an amalgamation of their thoughts, and it’s a great entry point to their philosophy—more than that, it’s funny, satirical and politically insightful.
The book breaks down the opposition faced by the progressive left: From the moderate Neo-liberals, who would mind their manners rather than do anything; the conservatives who are represented by archetypes like ‘Liberty babe’ (A blonde woman who’s into guns and owning the libs); the media that manufactures consent and doesn’t do actual journalism and in many ways does little to challenge the status quo.
This book is hilarious and had me in stitches at several points. I think even if you’re not a fan, it’s still an entertaining read but also lays out the concerns of the young and progressive left perfectly. Give their podcast a try as well. It’s available below:
This has been a productive quarantine. I’ve had a chance to get more reading done, and hopefully, I want to read a little bit more. Please, let me know if you like to see more book recommendations. I’m going to review fiction next time.
I’m going to post more book recommendations and my reading list will be on my Patreon. I’m also leaving my links, if you consider purchasing these books, consider using the links provided underneath each subheading– I will really appreciate it. And also please tell me your book recommendations in the comment section below. Thank you, and please stay safe and have an awesome quarantine! Remember we’re in this together.
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