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The International Workingmen's Fellowship of the Rings
December 19, 2016

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It is no surprise that some of the most popular books of all time openly advocate communism and revolutionary ideas. From “Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung” to the “Communist Manifesto”, to the more modern Harry Potter series (which we have already discussed), it seems that when we turn to literature, communism is never far from our thoughts.

Today let’s direct our attention to a lesser known, but still quite influential book: J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”. It is the first in a three volume epic that depicts in some detail the struggle against the advent of private property, albeit indirectly. But there are some key moments in the first book that are worth studying and remembering for any revolutionary.

###On The Acting of History

Someone once said:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing. The point is that while action is a matter of choice, circumstance is not. There are forces at work more powerful than an individual, and it would be absurd to expect an individual to escape them just by deciding to. But that doesn’t mean action is impossible.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
The Shadow of the Past

###On Karl Marx

Look at this rare illustration of ‘Gandalf the Grey’. Looks a lot like a certain German communist, don’t you think?

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###On Justice

There is a value in the call for ‘social justice’, as it is one way of confronting the numerous problems of our current, capitalist, society. But ‘justice’ itself can be a dangerous dead end, relying as it does on - in one for or another - someone to dispatch their judgement. For anyone seeking to build a society built on radically democratic lines, this is a risky proposition. Or, to put it another way:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”
The Shadow of the Past

###On Intersectionality

For decades it seemed like the left was fracturing exponentially; unable to reconcile, competing groups dissolved and split apart at a moment’s notice. Thanks in no small part to the ideas of intersectionality, a new kind of unity and solidarity is beginning to emerge. But it is worth being on guard against simply forming a new kind of identity politics, or a new kind of ‘big tent’ homogeneity. Unity is born of complexity, and it is always good to remain humble and aware of that fact.

“But it is not your Shire,” said Gildor, “Others dwelt here before Hobbits were, and others will dwell here again when Hobbits are no more. The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”
Three is Company

###On Advice

As we are all aware, politics and the making of history is not a game. I have never heard of anyone treating it like an sport to comment on and analyze without consequence. A game has finite rules and limited complexity - it is played again and again. Revolution is creative; its rules will only be known after the fact. It is frankly a relief that everyone already knows this, and that they do not bombard the world with unending polemics in a desparate attempt to be heard.

We all know this. But I’ll let Gildor do the talking:

Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you?
Three is Company

###On Socialism in One Country

Why is ‘solidarity’ necessary? Why is ‘internationalism’? It’s not simply that ‘your pain is my pain’ and that we are all human beings together. No; it’s that the problems we are facing are social; they must be confronted as a society. They are the products of an atomized, individualized decision making process. Simply making a few ‘better’ decisions here and there will not change this - at least, not enough.

Socialism in One Country is not enough.

“...all such places will soon become islands under siege, if things go on as they are going”
Many Meetings

###On The Transformation of Revolution

Revolutionary activity, by its nature, is the creation of something new. As such it is both vulnerable and resilient in wholly unique ways. For centuries, forces of counter-revolution have misunderstood what they are dealing with by putting people and events into established categories and judging them by old expectations. This is the strength of revolution - it challenges even, or especially, the fundamentals. Which makes it all the more difficult for agents of reaction to counter it, though they remain in positions of power.

“...let folly be our cloak, [said Gandalf] a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! For he is very wise, and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice. But the only measure that he knows is desire, desire for power; and so he judges all hearts. Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning.”
The Council of Elrond

Revolutionary Revelations in Super Hexagon
December 01, 2016

Who knew, that a simple adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” could contain such insight into the transformation of society? Well, now that we know, let’s break down exactly how it does just that.

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####By A Constant Spinning Motion

Revolution, says someone named “Merriam-Webster” is the action of moving around something in a path that is similar to a circle. Not only are you constantly moving around in Super Hexagon, but your path roughly describes a hexagon. A hexagon, as we all know, is the most similar shape to a circle that there is.

####Success is Always Premature

Rarely in a game of Super Hexagon, whether it lasts five seconds or fifty, are your greatest achievements prepared for. When you reach that new high score, be it by reflexes, intuition, or some absurd burst of flow, it is almost impossible to reproduce right away. You’ve reacted to new problems and situations, making choices by the microsecond, and it is impossible to understand and reproduce them at a single attempt. Yet this does not diminish the value or importance of that first success. It’s like someone once said - the proletariat is not in the position to seize power in any other way than “prematurely”.[1]

####Progress Comes Through Mistakes

When dealing with the unknown, or the inexhaustible, a plan of action only gets you so far. You may have a general approach - pay attention to the rings that alternate, you have to be quick not to get stuck - but the game exists to challenge and even defeat you. If you find a rule that you can use as a kind of mental shortcut, you can be sure that at a later point this will be used to trap you, and so the rule must change. It’s not so much a matter of trial and error, but rather a constant attempt to improve one’s game. And there was a person, not sure who but they sound familiar, who said something very similar about revolution. “Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”[2] This is an approach that treats both society and a revolution as objects that are deeper than any program can ultimately describe.

####The Low-Low Price Of $2.99

It’s a common saying that there is nothing more revolutionary than thrift. Few games can be bought for such a price, and if it seems too much to risk on an unknown, try playing the free demo for a while, available here.

####Difficulty and the Overcoming Thereof

People often wonder if there might be a safe place to practice the art of revolution, to hone one’s skills. Since any hardship is equally transferable to any other, get to the one minute mark on the Hexagonest level and you’ve basically trained yourself as the perfect revolutionary.

####The Owl of Minerva Flies at Dusk

At first glance, Super Hexagon seems like a reflex game. But really it is something far more interesting. Reflexes won’t get you very far - you need a plan, a small understanding of what to expect. But at the same time, when the music is playing and the hexagons closing in - there is no time for planning. Whatever you approach - you have to stick to it. Start to analyze too much and there’s no escape: Game Over-Again-Game Over-Again and so on. This is the core of the saying “The Owl of Minerva Flies at Dusk”. Reflection, wisdom, planning - all come as musing on action that you’ve completed, and to create an approach for action yet begun.

####Don’t Fall In Love With Yourselves

That’s what someone said to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The message is simple - you’ve achieved something, but don’t feel satisfied or complacent. Not with the outside world - capitalism, patriarchy, what have you - but with yourselves, and your own involvement in it. There is no better (well, no faster) teacher of this lesson than Super Hexagon. “Wow”, you might think after avoiding a particularly tricky barrage of hexagonal wall segments, “I am incredible.” And maybe you are, but in that brief self-congratulatory haze you’ve lost focus. Game Over-Again? There is great satisfaction in being good at something, in doing something well. But progress is not achieved by satisfaction - there is no reward for being amazing, aside from getting to continue for a little while longer.

####Revolutionary Contingency

Like I said, it’s not all about reflexes. It’s not like every decision you make is purely spontaneous, letting your unconscious play for you. Rather, every strategy you adopt - every skill you develop - is contingent, and can be discarded if it fails to live up to your ambitions. This is the lesson - not that everything in revolution is spontaneous, voluntary - despite being made entirely of human decisions. Rather, it’s that everything can be brought under human control - conscious human control - that everything can be contingent.

A Communist Critique of S.P.E.W.
November 29, 2016

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It would be impossible for any conscientious communist not to sympathize with S.P.E.W., the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Oppression takes many forms but none seems so egregious as the historical and ongoing enslavement of house-elves in locations across the world. However, it is also the humble and responsible duty of any dedicated communist to offer constructive feedback and, if necessary, criticism in order to help a worthwhile cause succeed.

Too many people dismiss Hermione Granger’s attempts to change her current social order. This includes her friends, the larger wizarding community, and even many of the millions of readers who followed her activity, all of whom are equally real and not at all fictional. In fact, this entire moment of her personal story seems at times like a simple satire of the activist who gets too carried away with her ideals, refusing to listen to reason.

But it would be a mistake to leave it at that, or to accept whatever flaws in Hermione’s methods and political approach as some kind of personal defect or justification for the existing order. Because the main problem with S.P.E.W. as an organization is not that it is too radical and extreme in its aims and methods, but rather that it shares too many assumptions with the established order that it is trying to oppose.

It’s stated goal is not an easy one. The unique quality of house-elf enslavement is that they seem to actively ‘want’ to remain enslaved. There are exceptions, like Dobby or Kreacher, but even in the face of regular mistreatment a house elf remains loyal to their masters (or after dismissal, in the case of Winky). Elves are not paid, and are not able to disobey, despite their personal feelings on the matter. This is the trump card that opponents of S.P.E.W. play in order to justify the distasteful institution.

Even in her opposition, Hermione accepts too much of this logic. Her belief is that, in fact, elves do not want to be enslaved however much they might claim that they do. If freed, they would be better off and would ultimately understand the value of freedom. The exceptions to standard elf behavior are used to validate this, by showing that conflicts can arise between master and slave. But this is as deep as the analysis goes.

Both those for and against house-elf enslavement are trapped within a simplistic view of action and consequence that is at best something called ‘expressive causality’. The house-elf situation is viewed in one of two lights. Either it is the result of the inherent desires and behaviors of house-elves in their natural state, or it is the result of their enslavement and domination by wizards. In a sense, this is the same way of looking at the situation: it is due to an essential quality, either volition or oppression. Remove it, and everything else falls into place as it should - but everything hinges on that.

Wizards supporting (or ignoring) elf enslavement see this essential quality of subservience as justification. The elves are making a free ‘choice’ to be slaves, and they are doing it as a group. The flip side is the view of S.P.E.W. - wizards enslave elves, imposing (as individual masters) their will on beings who would otherwise be happily free. In both cases the results are seen as caused by the essential qualities and behaviors having their predictable consequences.

The problem with this approach is that it is unable to deal with change. Both sides of this view find it difficult to account for the ‘exceptions’ as anything other than that - a strange case to be ignored as an aberration. Hermione believes that Winky will eventually ‘come round’ to believe that her freedom was a gift, not a punishment, while Ron Weasley considers Dobby and his enthusiasm an eccentricity, at best.

The structure and stability of house-elf society and expectations are taken as a given - either to be accepted or opposed - rather than something which is the product of the actions of house-elves and wizards. The relation between the two groups - the institution of slavery - is rife with rules and magical laws, and has a very real influence. This is unmistakable, but it is not all encompassing, nor should it be taken as such. Furthermore, it is an institution created and maintained - historically and in the current time - by the actions of its participants.

Individual actions, such as Dobby seeking freedom and payment for his work, or Kreacher disobeying and betraying Sirius - or Hermione seeking to free the elves of Hogwarts one at a time - do not change or even undermine the structures that are in place. The accepted standard that an elf not just serves but adores their master is not shaken by the fact that Dobby does not conform to this standard. The broader structures can indeed be changed, but not by a simple binary action by an individual - opting in or out, as they choose.

Being able to act on a structure, and not just be ‘acted on’ is what allows an escape from the deadlock faced by S.P.E.W. That most house-elves prefer their position is a ‘fact’, but facts are not the end point of all discussion. Desires can change, relations can change, and a social structure of enslavement can change, but only when approached as such. Hermione treats freedom as almost a force of nature, that will triumph on its own with just a little encouragement. Likewise, most everyone she talks to believes the same about a house-elf’s sincere desire to be a slave.

It is strange to view something like ‘freedom’ or ‘slavery’ as so completely impersonal, as though it were something from outside that acts upon us. But this is not an uncommon way of looking at things. There is a kind of objectivity to social forces, particularly when we only interact with them as individuals. But changing our social reality is not about individual choices, it is about social ones - and it is not about accepting some kind of natural order, but about creating a human one.

Top Ten Communist Moments in “Burn Notice”
November 23, 2016

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As we all know, television is the most communist form of popular culture ever invented. It is no surprise then, that the USA channel spy show “Burn Notice” is so full of communism it is literally bursting at the seams. Some episodes are so tightly packed with anti-capitalist revolution that you’re tripping over it with every step. Here are ten (the most communist number) noteworthy examples.

###1. The times when Michael speaks Russian

Russian is, of course, the most communist language that ever there was. Michael Westen, the show’s protagonist, is an ex-spy who worked indirectly for the US government. He apparently worked in Russia for quite a while, and thus he knows the language. Of course, we can all agree that speaking Russian is basically the same as having liquid communism ooze out of your mouth.

Various Episodes

###2. Diversity of Tactics

In any revolutionary movements, tactics must be somewhat flexible as you adapt to changing situations. These two nuggets of helpful advice seem contradictory, but work best together.

“The key to a good knife defense is to control the knife hand and strike with everything you've got.”
“Fighting is often about tactical retreats, like running away from two knives.”

Season 1 Episode 4 “Old Friend”

###3. The Colossal Infeasibility of Capitalism

Capitalism is inherently impractical, as any good communist will tell you. And what is more capitalist, and more impractical, than money?

“Anyone who has handled large amounts of cash can tell you it's one of the toughest things in the world to move. It's heavy and dense; dead weight. If it's on fire, of course, that complicates things further.”

Season 1, Episode 6 “Unpaid Debts”

###4. The Vulnerabilities Of “Security Culture”

Security culture involves making sure your defenses are able to protect you and your information from any attackers. However, even the most secure systems can be vulnerable to manipulation and an attacker using your own security protocols to the detriment of your organization or movement.

“It's tough to compromise a well thought out security system, but making someone think you can compromise it, well, that's much easier.”

Season 1, Episode 8 “Wanted Man”

###5. Attracting the Right Amount of Attention

Secrecy and subterfuge are important for a communist, but so is the ability to use unwanted attention to your advantage.

“If you can't get through a door without attracting attention, the next best thing is to attract a lot of attention.”

Season 1 Episode 9 “Hard Bargain”

###6. The Master-Slave Dialectic

Exploring the relationships of power and control between those in power and those who aren’t is crucial to any understanding of capitalism and communism. Power is not just about domination or destruction, it’s about management and manipulation. Ultimately, the fact that the master relies on the slave becomes their greatest weakness.

“When someone turns you into an asset, their main weapon is fear. If you fear poverty or exposure or death, that's what they use against you. Their worst nightmare, then, is an asset with no fear.”

Season 2 Episode 1 “Good Soldier”

###7. Leadership

This one speaks for itself.

“A certain kind of leader insists on controlling every aspect of an operation, so that nothing can possibly go wrong. The downside to insisting on controlling everything is that when something bad happens people tend to think it was all part of your plan.”

Season 2 Episode 5 “Scatter Point”

###8. Encryption

You can put the cell-phones in the sink, encrypt your messages, and talk only to people you trust, but as long as some of your activity is public, information is getting out. Sometimes it’s more about being aware of this, then of trying to prevent any and all access.

“With today's powerful encryption, it's usually a waste of time trying to decipher coded communication. Tap the data stream of even a low-level spy and you're just going to get incomprehensible garbage. Just because it's garbage, doesn't mean it's worthless though. A network analyzer can tell you how much information someone's accessing and how encoded it is. If someone starts using heavy-duty crypto and changing their security protocol, you know you've touched a nerve. And sometimes that's enough to tell you what you need to know.”

Season 3 Episode 7 “Shot in the Dark”

###9. Playing to Expectations

It can be tempting to make a show of strength in any movement or struggle. It can be empowering to do so, but it can also be a mistake. The fight for communism is not necessarily about feeling good, it’s much more pragmatic than that - and much more idealistic.

“Dealing with an aggressive adversary isn't always about showing strength. Sometimes it's best to show weakness. If they believe they can dominate you, they'll drop their guard. Of course, that means getting dominated.”

Season 2 Episode 7 “Rough Seas”

###10. The Relationship Between “Symbolic” and “Real”

What’s real? Breaking a window? Occupying a building? That’s what shows up on the news, while the pragmatic bureaucrat fighting for a small reforms never does - are they being symbolic? The truth is neither, and both. The symbolic has a real effect, and visa versa. Understanding the relationship between the two is vital for the communist struggle.

“There's an element of theater in any offensive campaign. It's not just about bullets and bodies. Killing people usually creates more problems than it solves. It's about undermining your enemy's will to fight, destroying the morale of his troops, sending the message that fighting back is useless because the battle is already lost.”

Season 2 Episode 11 “Hot Spot”

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