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[Culture] [ULK Issue 28]
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Step Up 4, Revolution or Spectacle

Step Up Revolution protest scene
The Mob gets protest chic in their most controversial performance.

Step Up: Revolution centers around a dance crew called The Mob that is based in a "slum" of Miami, though has recruited members from all over the world. Their "slum" origins are questionable as they all have bodies of professional athletes and dress like models. And while The Mob always has the resources for the most fantastic props for their performances, we never see any signs of poverty or oppressive conditions in their neighborhood, except for almost being displaced by a development project. Like the billboards for this movie suggest, there is a focus on the forbidden love story between Mob co-founder Sean and daughter of the rich developer who threatens to destroy their neighborhood, Emily, throughout the movie.

The story line is mostly a joke as one would expect, since we all came for the crazy dance moves, right? The only semi-interesting line of dialogue in the whole film is when Emily challenges The Mob for not even saying anything in their art. This is particularly interesting juxtaposed to Sean's line throughout the film that The Mob was created so that their voices could be heard in a city where they are "invisible."

On the one hand, Emily's challenge is a valid critique when the leaders of The Mob are clear that they are all about being financially successful through their art from the beginning to the very last line of the film. At the same time, it perpetuates the idea that there is art without a message, which just isn't true.

This critique reflects back on the greater art form that is the film itself. This is apparently a popular genre now, building off the success of TV talent shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent. Many of the performers in the movie are recruited from these shows, and are real-world examples of the success that The Mob is working for. The Step Up series of movies is all about providing the audience with an adrenaline rush with ever-more intense dance moves, soundtracks and visual effects.

It seems that they were pushing up on their limits in creating more extreme dance performances, and they stepped into the realm of protest art for a minute to up the ante with this latest edition of Step Up. In this genre there is often a strong element of competition, which can provide a source of drama and maybe a fight or two to add to the excitement. But this version stepped it up by having a dance crew that went up against the system, sort of.

The Mob actually starts out as a highly trained flash mob, rather than protest art. Instead of using performance art to convey a specific message in a more impactful way, the flash mob is a modern phenomenon that focuses on transforming the moment with no long-term goals or message. Building on Guy Debord's theory of the Society of the Spectacle, some think these disruptions of the spectacle that is the status quo is somehow a revolutionary act. Most just think it's neat and fun. And ultimately that is what The Mob is about, despite their short venture into protesting the destruction of their hood.

In the end the movie abruptly brings you back to the main motivation being financial success, which could have been the producers poking a bit of fun at those who came to see the movie looking for a more subversive message. But at the same time it was true-to-life in the way that dance and music are used in advertising to sell an image of rebellion and being extreme to youth with money to spend. This movie is very much part of that. But that phenomenon is much bigger in the way that oppressed nation culture, especially in the form of hip hop, was taken and sold to white youth as a form of rebellion, then sanitized by the white tastes that then shaped the culture and sold it back to Black youth as something that was supposed to represent them.

It is this aspect of culture that is hinted at in the film when The Mob says they "are everyone" and that they represent the culture of the neighborhood that the developers will destroy with their plans. In reality, the culture presented by The Mob is a very globalized and technologically-centered culture that does not represent one place or one people, but does reflect material wealth, large amounts of leisure time and mobility that is inaccessible to the majority of the world's people. The movie tries to pass this big-money pop culture off as a local scene threatened by big bad corporations. The timing and message was perhaps an attempt to play on the hype around the "99%" movement, who would see these rich kids as the poor.

But it would be wrong to say that the art and culture presented in movies like Step Up is "devoid of content," as implied by Emily's critique. There was a lot of sex and romance culture promotion in this movie, and in the dancing itself. There was a promotion of the art of dance as a big party. And there was the ever-present theme, dating back to Dirty Dancing (and probably before), of the need to break the rules to express yourself. But the source of conflict of this expression in Hollywood movies is usually centered around sexuality and romance. In Step Up: Revolution, fighting the redevelopment project becomes a cause that drives the dancers to break the rules. But even then, the message you are left with is that it is good to push the limits to be cutting edge in order to be successful at marketing yourself. The most radical action of The Mob is scarred as representing the low point and temporary breakup of the group, and it was the only time they actually got in trouble with law enforcement (who were unrealistically absent throughout the movie). It's like the successful politician or non-profit organizer who got arrested once in college for the experience and now has some street cred as a result, but never really represented a challenge to the system. While the term "revolution" has been perpetually overused in marketing, in a way to dilute the power of the word, to use the word in reference to this sort of rebellious behavior is even more insidious. Those who feel like they are doing something radical, when in reality they are part of the system that revolution aims to overthrow, are all too common in the belly of the beast.

This movie takes certain elements of flash mobs and overlaps them with political action in a way to make them seem more radical and powerful than they are. Flash mobs as a phenomenon play into people's desires to be a part of something bigger than themselves and are a combination of youthful rebellion and partying. While sometimes used for political messages as The Mob eventually does, they are generally post-modern forms of expression with no coherent goals or message. The Mob at least has the advantage over your standard flash mob for being well-rehearsed and planned out ahead of time by a dedicated organization, which allows them to easily focus their work on fighting the developers. While they had discipline and hard work, their class interests were what kept them focused on their financial success. The more common flash mob that brings together random people to a location for a party is representative of the same class interests. The post-modern art form takes group action, one of the most powerful tools we have, and makes it inherently individualistic and unconsolidated, making it a spectacle itself. It is much easier to mobilize a mass of petty bourgeois youth to create their own spectacle than it is to exert their power to challenge the system.

While we know this movie wasn't trying to enter into serious political dialogue for solving the world's problems, there are many people holding desires for a better world that end up putting their energy and enthusiasm into self-indulgent dead ends. While dance can be revolutionary, the revolution will not be a dance party. If changing the world was all fun and sexy, don't you think it would have happened by now?

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 27]
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Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White in long-term isolation cell

Snow White and the Huntsman is a more in-depth, live-action take on the Disney classic. A variety of themes are explored in this film that were glossed over or undeveloped in the animated version, but the basic plot remains the same.

The story begins with Snow White as a small girl. Her mother falls ill and dies. Shortly thereafter the widower king is drawn into battle with a "dark and mysterious" army, whose warriors are made of obsidian or glass. The army is defeated and a prisoner, a beautiful womyn, is rescued. The king marries the prisoner the very next day, and she quickly is revealed to be an evil witch. The new queen kills the king, locks Snow White in a tower, and destroys the entire kingdom. How Snow White survived her decade of solitary confinement was not addressed in the film, but would have been interesting for us to analyze and likely criticize.

The queen was under a spell that kept her the fairest in the land, so long as she sucks the youth and beauty out of young wimmin to constantly replenish her powers. This beauty enables her to manipulate people who are distracted by her good looks, and to cast spells of her own. The spell can only be broken by "fairest blood," and as Snow White comes of age in her prison tower, she becomes a threat to the queen's powers. The magic mirror on the wall instructs the queen to eat Snow White's heart so that she will become immortal.

The queen's brother goes to retrieve Snow White for a meeting with the queen. Of course Snow White escapes, and through a course of events leads a revolution to take back the kingdom from the evil queen. It is Snow White's "purity" and "innocence" (as well as a blessing from a forest creature straight out of Princess Mononoke) that give her magical powers to overcome the queen's spells and tricks. A classic Jesus story, complete with a resurrection.

When the evil queen first took power, the subjects initially tried to resist her rule. They were defeated each time, and eventually everyone gave up, broke into sects, turned alcoholic, and warred with each other just trying to stay alive. An oracle dwarf identified Snow White as having a "destiny." It was only the power of this destined leader that could bring everyone together and overcome the evil queen.

The take-home lessons from Snow White and the Huntsman are defeatist. "Find a good leader and follow them." "People's struggle isn't winnable." "There's nothing you can do to challenge the all-powerful status quo." These are typical messages to be expected from a mainstream Amerikkkan movie.

The only theme that was remotely interesting was the queen's views on gender and beauty. She has been a victim of beauty for twenty lifetimes and has built up a lot of resentment toward men. This resentment comes up in her murder of the king, because she is distrustful of men, who will just throw her out when she ages. In a later scene, she is assessing two male prisoners who have just been captured, and one is young and handsome. Before killing him with her own fingers, she gives a monologue about how he would have been her ruin, but instead she will be his ruin. This is a good critique of the fetishization of youth and beauty and its contribution to a variety of mental health challenges people in our society must face. Had the queen not been valued by men only for her beauty, she may have been a more benevolent dictator, at least to the handsome young men who cross her path.

Snow White and the Huntsman doesn't get my recommendation. We don't need any more encouragement in our society to drink our sorrows about the status quo away, waiting for our own Snow White. And it's unnecessary to wait, because your Snow White is you!

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 29]
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Movie Review: The Hunger Games

debriefing beating

The Hunger Games
2012

Hunger Games is set in Panem, a society that, it is implied, rose from the postwar ashes of north America, and now consists of The Capitol and the 12 fenced off satellite Districts. Many of these Districts produce wealth for the Capitol while their people live in poverty. There is apparently no national oppression (most people are white), but class contradictions are sharp. The Hunger Games are annual fights to the death by two kids representing each of the Districts. In the wealthier districts, kids train for this and consider being picked a privilege. In the poorer districts families are forced to sell their kids into the hunger games in exchange for food required for bare survival.

Katniss Everdeen is from the mining District 12 where her father, and many other miners, lose their lives producing wealth they will never see. She volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the annual hunger games match.

The Hunger Games are broadcast live as reality programming. The Games are meant to remind the people of the power of the government. This brutal form of reality entertainment serves to keep the people of the districts distracted and obedient. Out of 24 participants, only one child lives.

This movie is part one of a trilogy. The books get much deeper into the politics of oppression, even in the first volume. But as a broad representation of the first book, the movie gets at the general system and has a correct message of resistance. Katniss refuses to play the game the way the Capitol organizers intend, inadvertently earning the support and respect of other Districts and inspiring resistance against the Capitol.

In one scene she pauses to pay tribute to a fallen child from another district who was working with her. In the end [spoiler alert] Katniss commits the ultimate snub against the Games, refusing to play to the death. She manages to outsmart the organizers but all she wins is the right to go home a celebrity of dubious distinction for staying alive.

There are some good lessons from this Hunger Games movie. The importance of unity across oppressed people in the common cause against the oppressors is reinforced both in the individual alliances and the cross-district support of Katniss. The movie also demonstrates the brutality and distraction techniques of the ruling class and their willingness to stop at nothing to retain their power. There is an interesting subplot about the two main characters from District 12 pretending a love interest as a survival technique to get the support of "sponsors": wealthy people who can pay to provide advantages to their favorite players. Using whatever means available for resistance is important for the oppressed, though the actual romance in the movie dilutes this message.

The movie is adapted from the first of a trilogy of books but some of the politics of the books are already quite muted in the movie and it will remain to be seen how well the sequels represent the struggles of the oppressed.

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[Culture]
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In Time: Proletarian Premise with Focoist Mistakes

Set in the year 2161, In Time is a science fiction film portraying a world where people stop aging when they hit 25 years old. At that point they have one year of life in their bank, and living time has become the currency instead of money. When a person’s time runs out they die instantly, and so rich people have lots of time, while poor people live in ghettos, living day to day, barely earning enough to survive another 24 hours. Poor people literally have to rush around to earn enough time to survive, eat and pay their bills, while rich people can waste time relaxing or doing nothing, without fear of death.

This movie has a solid proletarian premise with the few rich bourgeois people living at the expense of the poor masses. “For a few immortals to live many people must die.” The movie’s hero, Will Salas, learns that there is plenty of time for everyone from a wealthy man who is ready to die and transfers all his remaining time to Will in order to commit suicide. Will decides to use this time to seek revenge and end the brutal rule of the time rich.

When Will buys his way into New Greenwich where the rich live entirely separate from the poor masses, he meets a young woman, Sylvia, who suggests that rich people don’t really live because they spend all their time trying to avoid accidental death. This is not a bad point to make: capitalism’s culture is bad for everyone, including the bourgeoisie. But the case of Sylvia is a pretty good example of what happens in real life: only a very few of the bourgeoisie will commit class suicide and join the proletarian cause and the youth are the most likely to do this.

Sylvia and Will set out to steal time from Sylvia’s father’s companies and redistribute the wealth to the poor people. They plan to distribute time in such large quantities so as to bring the entire system down. This is where the politics of the movie fall apart. Capitalism will not be ended with a quick massive redistribution of wealth liberated from the banks by a few focoist fighters.

The In Time world includes police who enforce the system. The Timekeepers work for the wealthy to ensure the poor never escape their oppression. But the Timekeepers seem to have very limited resources and staff so it’s not so difficult for two people to out run and out smart them. And except for one key Timekeeper, the others are happy enough to just give up and stop defending the rich. Under capitalism the ruling class understands the importance of militarism to maintain their position and they won’t trust enforcement to just a few cops.

In another interesting parallel, In Time includes a few characters who play the part of the lumpen, stealing time from the poor. At one point, the leader of this lumpen group explains that the Timekeepers leave them alone because they don’t try to steal from the rich.

History has plenty of examples of a few focoists setting out to take back wealth to help the people and ending up in prison or dead, often bringing more repression down on themselves and the masses. A quick action to liberate money from banks will not put an end to the system of imperialist repression. True and lasting liberation will only come from a protracted struggle organizing the oppressed masses to fight and overthrow the imperialist system.

The other major political flaw of In Time is the complete lack of any parallel to the national oppression that inevitably exists under imperialism. In the movie the oppressed and the wealthy are mostly white. There are a few Blacks and people who might be other nationalities among the oppressed, but they all are oppressed equally. National distinctions have disappeared and class oppression is all that exists. While this is a fine science fiction premise, we fear that the Amerikan petty bourgeois audience will see in this movie false parallels to life in the U.$. where workers actually have more in common with the time rich people than the poor in the movie. The reason for this, found in imperialism and the superexploitation of colonial people, doesn’t exist anywhere in this movie. And with an audience that likes to consider itself part of the 99% oppressed, this movie is going to reinforce this mistake of ignoring the global context of imperialism.

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[Culture] [United Front] [ULK Issue 22]
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Soulja Boy Dissed by Amerikan Rappers

Fuck the Troops Soulja Boy

Millionaire popstar/rapper Soulja Boy stepped out of line in his latest video, and was reprimanded by Amerikan hip hop fans this week for his lack of patriotism. Under pressure he quickly apologized and took up the Demoncratic Party line claiming that he was only criticizing the two long wars, implying that the U.$. economy would somehow be better if the U.$. wasn't exerting control over the economies of the Middle East thru military occupation. This is what he originally said in the song Let's Be Real:

Fuck the FBI and the Army troops
fighting for what?
Bitch, be your own man.

While this was just a couple lines out of tons of bullshit he's spit, they're pretty strong words. Not known for being politically outspoken, there's no doubt his inspiration comes from the countless radical/nationalist MCs who came before him and influenced his thoughts and rhymes. He even outdid his adversary Ice-T who said "fuck the FBI," but never fuck the troops. The troops ain't nothing but the police for oppressed people in other countries; the CIA abroad is the FBI at home. Fuck oppression! Fuck 'em all!

While it was good to hear someone like Soulja Boy put out such strong anti-imperialist words, especially with all the 9/11 talk these days, it was discouraging to see the response and who's responding. There have been multiple diss songs and videos made in response to Soulja Boy, by hip hop artists in the military, at least some of which are from oppressed nations. The response wasn't just strong and swift, it came from his own fans and more generally from fans of hip hop music. In Under Lock & Key issue 10 we questioned whether hip hop was still a culture that represented the oppressed, and when you see these videos you really have to doubt it.

One Black male MC sports a shirt reading "America the Beautiful." His politics echo those of the white militias made up of ex-military people that are very critical of the government, but have much love for the country and respect for the troops and the privileges they fight for us to have. All of the artists seem to find that requisite "hardness," that is so integral to the gangsta rap persona, in their identity as U.$. soldiers. One threatens to waterboard Soulja Boy and pull out his finger nails.

The fact is, the pro-U.$. troops lyrics aren't that far from a typical gangsta rap song. The United $tates is the biggest gangster in the world, so that makes sense. The boys in blue are the biggest gang on U.$. streets. So we see gangsta rap too often reflecting and reinforcing the ideology of the oppressor, rather than challenging it.

In other Soulja Boy news, he is supposedly working on a remake of the film Juice, where he will play the role of Bishop, originally played by Tupac Shakur. On September 13, we commemorate not just the fallen soldiers of the Attica uprising 40 years ago, but it is also the 15th anniversary of the death of self-proclaimed thug and rapper 2pac. Pac was unique in keeping his music both gangsta and for the people; a fine line most can't seem to walk, and perhaps impossible today when gangsta rap is mostly a caricature. Unlike Soulja Boy, Tupac never apologized for shit, and he said some things that got people riled up. There is little doubt that his real connection to oppressed people in Amerikkka lead to his untimely death.(1)

While Soulja Boy's three lines don't compare to Tupac's legacy, in those lines we may have seen him connecting to the oppressive conditions he grew up in — a glimmer of truth. While the U.$. military is disproportionately Black (18% of military vs. 11% of general population), it is also disproportionately middle income.(2) The poorest 20% of the U.$. population was the most under-represented income group in the U.$. military in 1999 and 2003.(3)

Since the Vietnam war, Blacks have increased their over-representation in the U.$. military from a factor of 1.14 to 1.40.(2) This shows the effects of integration without providing Black youth with quite the same opportunities as their white counterparts. The increase in Black military recruits seems to correspond with an overall bourgeoisification of the Black nation. Not only were there fewer Blacks (per capita) in Vietnam than Iraq and Afghanistan, but Black power and linking it to the struggle of the Vietnamese against U.$. imperialism was widespread, and fragging of white officers and even all out fighting between Blacks and whites on bases was not uncommon.

As the Black nation becomes more bourgeois, the pressure to Amerikanize increases for Blacks of all socio-economic standings. To the poor and oppressed who see no hope in U.$. imperialism, we echo Soulja Boy's words, "Bitch, be your own man!"

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 23]
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Prison Themes Central to New Planet of the Apes Story

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the second remake of the original Planet of the Apes movie series. It is an origins story, replacing the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes story which was fourth in the original five part series. Conquest was released in 1972 and depicted a storyline clearly intended to parallel the Black liberation movement that had just peaked in the United $tates at that time, but with an actual successful revolution. Conquest and the final part of the original series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, presented clearly revolutionary themes. Even the first couple movies of the original series did more to challenge white nationalism than this recent remake. This difference is due to the stage of struggle in the United $tates at the time.

Today, the first movie (released in 1968) is easily dismissed by the oppressor nation as a commentary on the "distant" past of slavery, rather than what were modern social injustices. When that film was redone in 2001, it did not live up to its predecessor's social relevance. Based on that disappointment, we expected a stronger effort to dilute the origins story for another hollywood blockbuster. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Rise actually maintained the revolutionary origins story, and even linked it to the modern prison struggle in relevant ways.

This movie probably won't be making the rounds in too many prisons due to the blatant themes of prisoners educating themselves and building unity to escape their abusive conditions. But there's nothing to learn from this movie that one couldn't get easily, and of course more usefully, from picking up any issue of Under Lock & Key.

Rise was pretty formulaic in story and form. It contains lots of fast battle scenes and loud music, and followed the predictable story line with flat characters. There were plenty of quotes from the original movie series thrown in as well as recognizable character names.

The good aspects of Rise were also simple, but surprisingly relevant. The strongest positive message we saw in this film was the need for self-determination and the struggle against integrationism. Caesar, a chimpanzee, and the hero of the story, refuses an opportunity given by his former benefactor to leave prison and return to the humyn world. In a few days or weeks Caesar develops an affinity for his fellow imprisoned apes, which trumps his many years living with humyns. He turns his back to Dr. Rodman and stays in prison to continue building and organizing with fellow apes. This is a very relevant point to the imprisoned population, especially in a day when the oppressed nations have reached high levels of integration into Amerika. With people shuffling in and out of prison and jail, it is easy to choose an Amerikan identity over that of the oppressed. We also see many who work tirelessly to get themselves out of prison, without ever joining the larger prison movement. Caesar is clear that alone apes are weak, but together they can be strong. This is a very simple yet relevant refrain to our current situation in the prison movement today.

An orangutan responds to Caesar's comments on unity by saying that apes are dumb, not unlike what many prisoners who write MIM(Prisons) say about their peers. The solution to this in the film, and the material origin of apes taking over humyn society, is in a virus produced by a bioengineering project. This allows ape brains to develop intelligence that they never could before. In real life, the imprisoned and oppressed do not face a material disadvantage in intelligence, but are set back by the oppressor's conditioning through both the carrot and the stick. In real life the ALZ 112 and ALZ 113 viruses from the film are instead Marxism-Leninism-Maoism: the tool that can give the oppressed the intellectual material they need to organize effectively.

As part of his organizing efforts, Caesar allies with a silverback (dominant) chimpanzee and puts him in a position of leading the group in sharing and developing a group consciousness, without the silverback really understanding at first. It was a good lesson in leadership within a United Front and how we might work with those who are recognized as leaders for their dominant roles within the group, but don't yet possess the leadership skills and revolutionary understanding to lead the oppressed down the road of liberation.

Just like in U.$. prisons, the apes educate each other in secret because they know that they will be targeted for special repression if seen. The interactions between the imprisoned apes and humyn captors is crude, accurately reflecting the basic relations in U.$. prisons for humyns today. In this way, Rise could play a small role in building consciousness among viewers that would make them more likely to be sympathetic of prison resistances such as those organized across California and Georgia in recent months. While the majority of the audience will find itself rooting for the apes while watching this film, in real life most will follow their own self-interests in the situation and root for the state in repressing any group that challenges the status quo.

Buck takes down California Highway Patrol helicopter allowing ape rebels to cross the bridge.

The role of Buck the gorilla gives us an important lesson in revolutionary suicide. In the final battle scene that takes place on the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, he takes a bullet for Caesar just before taking down the last humyns left standing who threatened the lives of other apes in the battle. He recognizes the unique capabilities of both himself and of Caesar and puts the interests of the ape liberation struggle above his own life to guide his actions. At this stage in the struggle we are not engaged in protracted war, but revolutionary sacrifice is still relevant to how we decide to spend our time and organize our lives, and even in peaceful struggles lives are sometimes taken by the oppressor. Buck's revolutionary suicide is an example of a sacrifice that had to be made in order for the ape struggle to continue.

In the end of the film, Dr. Rodman again plays the role of liberal integrationist asking Caesar to come back and live with him, saying "this is not the way." Caesar speaks a full phrase for the first time and says "Caesar is home" referring to the population of just-liberated apes taking up residence in the forest. Of course, in real life the consciousness of the oppressed internal semi-colonies leans much more heavily in the direction of integration than Caesar, who has actual biological differences from the humyn species. In the movie, differences between apes and humyns had just begun to weaken, whereas the socially imposed differences between the oppressed and oppressor nations inside the United $tates have eroded over many decades. Even if Caesar tried to integrate, he could never live the lifestyle of a humyn, in contrast to the large proportion of the internal semi-colonies that enjoy the comforts of imperialist exploitation.

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 20]
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V: United Front Example on Television

V second generation

United front organizing is never easy, but once established it is the most effective way for various, weaker, sometimes opposing factions to come together and make their weight felt to defeat a stronger, common enemy. The television show "V," which airs Tuesday nights on the ABC network, portrays a somewhat good example of a united front. Of course not everything portrayed within this show is according to the Maoist strategy of United Front, but it does a decent enough job of introducing those who are unfamiliar with the concept to warrant checking out.

The show centers on a seemingly friendly encounter with space aliens who visit planet Earth. The space aliens first arrive bearing gifts of advanced medicine, superior technology and their trademark logo of "we come in peace." The show also focuses on a small, infant underground movement of humyns committed to unmasking the seemingly friendly space aliens for what they really are: hostile space invaders or intergalactic imperialists who have in all reality begun an undercover invasion of planet Earth, which most humyns either don't realize is taking place or are too busy being bought off to admit.

The united front portrayed in this show was started by an FBI agent assigned to the anti-terrorist unit; a liaison to the space alien delegation; a rogue priest; a space alien who's committed species suicide by coming over to the side of the humyns; and a so called "terrorist" who's wanted by the "international community" for supplying Third World liberation movements with weapons and guerrilla warfare training.

As a matter of fact, FBI agent Erica Evans was first tasked with capturing the wanted "terrorist." However, once she finds out what the space aliens are really up to by spying on underground anti-space-alien organizations with methods straight out of COINTELPRO, combined with her own near-death experience with the intergalactic imperialists, she decides that it's time to form an opposition to the invaders. So along with the alien species traitor Ryan Nichols and the rogue priest, they begin to seek out and court the wanted "terrorist." Despite the FBI agent's hate for this "terrorist" she knows that if this anti-space-imperialist movement is gonna be for real, then the humyn species is gonna need all the tactical assistance it can get, even if that means hooking up with her enemies.

This rag-tag band of individuals eventually unites to re-establish the then-defunct Fifth Column, an anti-space-imperialist movement originally founded by empathetic space aliens who committed species suicide in order to protect the prior oppressed species whom the parasitic space imperialists enslaved and wiped out.

In real life, the historical Fifth Column were Nazi infiltrators in several European states such as Poland, France and even the USSR, leading up to and during WWII. Their main objective was to sabotage and wreck government and military institutions for the purpose of softening the ground in preparation for Nazi attacks. The real Fifth Column was most notably brought to light by the Soviet Union's purge trials of 1937-38 which Stalin ordered to smash the fascist traitors. The Fifth Column depicted in the TV series is an anti-space-imperialists movement instead of pro-Nazi.

In the most recent episode the insurgent rogue priest known as Father Jack has become conflicted by the humyn death and collateral damage, so much so that he begins to endanger the movement by refusing to adhere to the Fifth Column's version of democratic centralism when it comes to the group's mission. Instead of kicking him out of the movement, they subject him to a sorry excuse of party criticism and then keep him around based on his laurels.

In countless other episodes the importance of the individual and the individual's needs are stressed to the point that it leaves the impression that if any one of the Fifth Column leaders doesn't get his or her way then the movement will suffer irreparable damage to the point that its very existence will be put in peril. While leaders are certainly important to any movement this show takes the meaning and importance of a leader to a whole different level.

In recent episodes they've also shown how the Fifth Column's small-scale focoist adventures have now inspired many other humyns across the globe to band together and form a larger mass organization of the same name to launch spectacular focoist attacks on the space-imperialists. Little by little however the Fifth Column has begun to land serious blows to the space invaders proving that a united front, though an uneasy and still developing one, does work. While we don't encourage the focoist approach of armed struggle without consideration of the imperialists' strength, the humyns on the show are at a tipping point where the space imperialists' sinister plans would have severe dire consequences if not immediately stopped.

In the original "V" series of the 80s, "V" stood for victory and the mass of humynity eventually came together to launch a protracted guerrilla struggle against the oppressor space imperialists. When that series ended the viewer was left doubting whether the humyns prevailed.

Who knows how this updated version of the series will turn out. In a realistic approach the humyns need to first get their shit right, and instead of launching their spectacular focoist attacks, they need to begin the long arduous task of building public opinion against the invaders to bring the bulk of humynity together for when the real battles begin.

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[Culture] [International Connections] [ULK Issue 19]
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Jasiri X, Choose a Side

Jasiri X Sides with Labor Aristocracy in Wisconsin
Jasiri X sides with the labor aristocracy in Wisconsin.

Jasiri X is a hip hop artist from Pittsburgh who raps the news over some dope beats produced by The Grand Architect Paradise Gray of X Clan. The two release these tracks as videos on youtube.com in a series titled "This Week with Jasiri X." Jasiri X is popular in activist circles, frequently performing and speaking at benefits and rallies. We've been bobbing our heads to his tracks since the release of OG3 - Oscar Grant Tribute in January 2009, but in light of his most recent release, American Workers vs. Multi-Billionaires, we decided to take a closer look.

OG3 tells the story of the murder of Oscar Grant and the rebellions following his murder, from the points of view of Oscar Grant and the protesters. Although the facts aren't 100% correct in OG3, it is a good example of the many tracks Jasiri X has released about police brutality and aggression against Black people in Amerika. A track titled Free the Jena 6 was one of the first that got peoples' attention, and he continues to shout out victims of police execution and violence by name.

When working on an international piece, Jasiri X correctly draws connections between police brutality here and imperial aggression against Third World peoples around the world. He recently released a track about the uprisings in Egypt with M-1 of Dead Prez, titled We All Shall Be Free!

Despite his revolutionary lean, Jasiri X still holds on to his Amerikanism on several issues, which comes up big time in American Workers vs. Multi-Billionaires. The video for this song was shot inside the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, against a backdrop of labor aristocrats raising a stink to keep their "fair share" of the imperialist pie. The title implies that a line is being drawn between Amerikan "workers" and the capitalist multi-billionaires with this union busting legislation. However, as outlined in several articles and books(1) Amerikan "workers" are actually fundamentally allied with the imperialist, capitalist class on an international level. It is only because of the pillage of resources and lives in the Third World that the government employees in Wisconsin even have health care in the first place. Defending this "right" to health care is essentially the same thing as supporting Amerikan wars, which Jasiri X says he is against. History has shown that the multi-billionaires won't give up theirs without a fight.

"When did the American worker become the enemy?
Why is wanting a living wage such a penalty?"
- Jasiri X from "American Workers vs. Multi-Billionaires"

The Amerikan "worker," or labor aristocrat, is the enemy of the majority of the world's people because their lives are subsidized by the economic exploitation of the Third World. Third World peoples' sweat, blood, and lives are wasted to pay for the Amerikan "worker's" pensions and health care. This is because most of the "work" that Amerikans do does not generate value; we have a service-based economy. The only reason our society has such a disproportionately high "living wage" (as if those who make less die) is because we are comfortable swinging our weight around in imperialist wars of aggression to extract wealth from the Third World. Jasiri X seems to be opposed to this extraction of wealth, but does not make the connection that Amerikan "workers" are directly benefiting from it, and not just the multi-billionaires.

Jasiri X seems to adhere to an anti-racist model of social change. Besides being supported by an incorrect analysis of history, it also has him defending Obama as a Black man, rather than attacking him as the chosen leader of the largest and most aggressive imperialist country in the world. Jasiri X correctly pins Obama as an ally of the Amerikan people; their key to a comfortable lifestyle and fat retirement plan. But as an ally of the oppressed, Jasiri X should accept that Obama, and the labor aristocracy, are enemies of the majority of the world's people, and leave patriotism behind. Agitating for the betterment of people in Haiti, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, etc. as Jasiri X does through some of his raps, while at the same time defending Obama and the Amerikan "worker," is a recipe for stagnation. If we want to end oppression the world over, we need to have a clear idea of who are our friends and who are our enemies.

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[Culture]
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Review: The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta

Real Life of Alejandro Mayta

The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta
Mario Vargas Llosa
Aventura press, 1986

Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. Widely known as an author who writes about political events in Peru, and takes a vocal position on politics throughout Latin America, this review only addresses one of the many books he has written. But it is a good example of the political views of Vargas Llosa whose politics have made him an enemy of the people for many years. Vargas Llosa claims that he supported revolutionary politics earlier in his life, but if true, he firmly and thoroughly changed that and works hard as a critic of people's movements and a supporter of imperialist so-called democracy. He has written many works of both fiction and non-fiction, and lost a bid for president of Peru in 1990, during the height of the Peruvian Communist Party's fight for liberation of the Peruvian people, to Alberto Fujimori.

After being named the Nobel winner, Vargas Llosa said, “It’s very difficult for a Latin American writer to avoid politics. Literature is an expression of life, and you cannot eradicate politics from life.”(1) We would agree with that statement, and as we demonstrate in this review, The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta is a good demonstration of Vargas Llosa's reactionary politics.

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel prize, Vargas Llosa commented extensively on the "terrorists" in the world today who are the enemy of what he calls "liberal democracy" (capitalism). Spouting the best pro-imperialist rhetoric, Vargas Llosa makes the case for imperialist militarism with lies about the freedom and beauty of capitalist so-called democracy:

"Since every period has its horrors, ours is the age of fanatics, of suicide terrorists, an ancient species convinced that by killing they earn heaven, that the blood of innocents washes away collective affronts, corrects injustices, and imposes truth on false beliefs. Every day, all over the world, countless victims are sacrificed by those who feel they possess absolute truths. With the collapse of totalitarian empires, we believed that living together, peace, pluralism, and human rights would gain the ascendancy and the world would leave behind holocausts, genocides, invasions, and wars of extermination. None of that has occurred. New forms of barbarism flourish, incited by fanaticism, and with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we cannot overlook the fact that any small faction of crazed redeemers may one day provoke a nuclear cataclysm. We have to thwart them, confront them, and defeat them. There aren’t many, although the tumult of their crimes resounds all over the planet and the nightmares they provoke overwhelm us with dread. We should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by those who want to snatch away the freedom we have been acquiring over the long course of civilization. Let us defend the liberal democracy that, with all its limitations, continues to signify political pluralism, coexistence, tolerance, human rights, respect for criticism, legality, free elections, alternation in power, everything that has been taking us out of a savage life and bringing us closer – though we will never attain it – to the beautiful, perfect life literature devises, the one we can deserve only by inventing, writing, and reading it. By confronting homicidal fanatics we defend our right to dream and to make our dreams reality."

Vargas Llosa went on to talk about his political views:

"In my youth, like many writers of my generation, I was a Marxist and believed socialism would be the remedy for the exploitation and social injustices that were becoming more severe in my country, in Latin America, and in the rest of the Third World. My disillusion with statism and collectivism and my transition to the democrat and liberal that I am – that I try to be – was long and difficult and carried out slowly as a consequence of episodes like the conversion of the Cuban Revolution, about which I initially had been enthusiastic, to the authoritarian, vertical model of the Soviet Union; the testimony of dissidents who managed to slip past the barbed wire fences of the Gulag; the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the nations of the Warsaw Pact; and because of thinkers like Raymond Aron, Jean Francois Rével, Isaiah Berlin, and Karl Popper, to whom I owe my reevaluation of democratic culture and open societies. Those masters were an example of lucidity and gallant courage when the intelligentsia of the West, as a result of frivolity or opportunism, appeared to have succumbed to the spell of Soviet socialism or, even worse, to the bloody witches’ Sabbath of the Chinese Cultural Revolution."

Finally, Vargas Llosa made clear his support for the neocolonial governments in Latin America, pretending that they represent "functioning" democracy in the interests of the people and "supported by a broad popular consensus.":

"We are afflicted with fewer dictatorships than before, only Cuba and her named successor, Venezuela, and some pseudo populist, clownish democracies like those in Bolivia and Nicaragua. But in the rest of the continent democracy is functioning, supported by a broad popular consensus, and for the first time in our history, as in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and almost all of Central America, we have a left and a right that respect legality, the freedom to criticize, elections, and succession in power. That is the right road, and if it stays on it, combats insidious corruption, and continues to integrate with the world, Latin America will finally stop being the continent of the future and become the continent of the present."

This book is indicative of Vargas Llosa's work which does greater disservice to the revolutionary movement in Peru than those who write bourgeois fiction without pretending to have historical context or political purpose. The novel reviews the life of a fictional revolutionary activist in Peru in the 1950s who participated in a small focoist uprising before ending up in prison. The book describes revolutionary parties as all small marginalized groups wasting their time studying dead guys and debating theory. And it leaves the reader questioning the commitment of all who participate in revolutionary politics, assuming that everyone sells out somehow to pursue their own interests in the end. The peasants and workers are virtually ignored in the book, portrayed only as pawns in the work done by activists.

This novel focuses on a small Trotskyist party, the product of several splits in previous Trotskyist groups, and specifically on one of the party members, Alejandro Mayta. Interestingly, in a brief description of how Mayta ended up in this party, Vargas Llosa describes his movement from group to group, each time rejecting the previous one as not correct enough politically, until he ended up with the Trotskyists as the most pure political line he could find. MIM(Prisons) has some agreement with this description in that Trotskyism is pure idealism and it appeals to those who don't like to get their hands dirty with the realities of revolutionary politics.

Eventually Mayta deserts the Trotskyists to join up with a focoist movement in the mountains that is going to take armed action. He is galvanized by the idea of real action rather than the talk that his Trotskyist group has been engaging in for years. He is kicked out of his party, who consider the action premature, and also because Mayta has approached the Stalinists to participate in and support the focoist action.

Focoists believe that the armed actions of a small group of people will spark the masses to join the revolution. This is an incorrect view of revolutionary strategy. History has demonstrated that small groups of insurgents are not sufficient to bring about revolution; successful revolutions have come through the hard work of organizing the masses. As inspiration, many focoists look to the Cuban revolution, and Castro is mentioned repeatedly in the book. But the Cuban revolution is the only example focoists have of anything resembling success, and while that revolution did deliver a blow to U.$. imperialism, it created a state-capitalist country dependent on the Soviet Union.(2) Like other focoist actions, Mayta's small group is captured during their armed insurrection. And there is much debate about whether desertion, betrayal, or just poor planning led to their failure.

A recurring theme in this book is the claim by the narrator that the truth of history is impossible to determine. In interviewing people about the life of Mayta the narrator gets conflicting stories from everyone he talks to, and is unable to figure out exactly what happened. This nihilist position encourages people to just give up rather than seeking to understand and interpret history to help forward progress in the future. Ironically Vargas Llosa thinks he knows the definitive truth about the history of politics in many countries as he interprets history through the lens of the imperialists.

Through this fictional novel, Vargas Llosa manages to attack a vast range of revolutionary theories and practices, and leave the reader disillusioned and without hope for a better future for the people of Peru. He does not try to hide the poverty and despair that is the everyday reality of life for the Peruvian people, but condemns revolutionaries, politicians, and everyone else to failure in a maze of corruption, collaboration and irrelevant theories. There is no redeeming political value to this book which could depress even the most militant of activists.


Notes:
1. New York Times, October 7, 2010
2. See MIM Theory 4, The failure and success of communist development for more on the Cuban revolution.

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 18]
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Movie Review: Legend of the Guardians

Legend of the Guardians
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)

We have to give props to a kids' movie that can portray an anti-fascist struggle, while downplaying the glamor of war. Soren is a young owl who dreams of meeting his heroes, the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, who are legendary for defending the owls against evil forces. He and his brother Kludd are kidnapped by the fascist owls, "The Pure Ones", who recruit a select few from their species of owls to join their army and enslave all other species of owls. Soren escapes and flees to find the Guardians for help while his brother joins the Nazi owls.

Soren's journey to the Guardians requires him to learn to fly and take a difficult trip with a few fellow travelers who believe in the mission. As the Guardians gather information and prepare for battle with the fascists they learn that one of their leaders is working for the enemy and has betrayed them. This is a good lesson in the need for vigilance against spies and turncoats in the anti-fascist struggle.

Kludd's decision to join the fascists is played as a simplistic need for recognition after a childhood of struggling to achieve next to his brother. But this is not so far off. Fascism appeals to people who are easily convinced that their lack of success can be overcome at the expense of others. In Amerika we have a large labor aristocracy who are paid more than the value of their labor with profits brought home from exploitation of Third World workers; these workers have a material interest in imperialism. Those who are in the lowest stratum of the labor aristocracy look around and see that they are not achieving the same wealth as their peers. This group of people are the most likely to go for fascist rhetoric that blames their failures on immigrants and Third World workers with promises of greater wealth for those who deserve it (i.e. the white nation). There was no labor aristocracy in The Owls of Ga'Hoole but the oppressed nations were represented by the different species of owls who, just by nature of birth, were considered inferior to "The Pure Ones."

When Soren meets the Guardians he gets to know one who is somewhat crazy and a bit of an outcast, only to learn that he was the heroic leader in previous battles. From this owl Soren learns that war is not all glamor and has real consequences. The decision to fight the fascists was taken seriously with this in mind.

For a kids' movie, Legend of the Guardians has a lot to offer, but we'd rather see the oppressed nations (or species in this case), organize to rise up and fight for themselves. The movie makes that impossible by drugging all the slaves and implying that the rest of the owls from other species were completely in the dark about the fascist plot to take over the world. This plot twist might have been possible if they had gone further and The Pure Ones struck out in battle so that other species realized what was happening.

That a group of heroic owls had to save the world and defeat the fascists was made somewhat better by their failure due to turncoat betrayal requiring Soren and his fellow travelers to join the battle and save the day. At least this reinforced that anyone could be a heroic part of the anti-fascist struggle, not just the special heroes of Ga'Hoole.

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