Socialism and Social Relations

I’ve been thinking about grocery shopping experiences lately, especially how they’ve changed in Poland since the communist period. I only spent a couple of months in the People’s Republic (and in a privileged position of a foreigner at that). I missed the first day of capitalism in Poland, but I’ve been here for a large majority of the time since.


Socialism: Buying bread in 1981…

In the communist (more correctly ‘socialist’) period, shopping was a grueling ordeal. Long lines snaked out of any story that had something that people might want to actually buy and some things (like meat and dairy and sugar) were still rationed, if you could find them which was far from certain. There were private farmers markets but the prices were actually close to the real value of the goods (instead of the heavily state subsidized prices in stores) and most people could only indulge on special occasions.

Podobny obraz

Not socialism: Trying to figure out what to buy….

Back in the stores, the entire process was carried out by resentful salespeople who hated customers and who pounced on any hapless customer who made a mistake with abusive screaming. For shoppers other customers were the enemy that you had to defeat in order to find something and a strong vigilante culture prevailed in the endless lines in stores. Nobody went hungry per se, but finding food you wanted to eat was not something easily carried out (and shortages in stores were one reason that many people had to have at least one meal a day at their workplace).

There were ways around the shortages in shops and a thriving black market (often carried out in barter rather than worthless Polish currency) and a million small scams going on but just keeping food on the table amounted to something like a second job for many people and it wasn’t because they didn’t have money, people’s wallets were bursting with zloties but the path from farm to store was long and perilous and not many foodstuffs survived to make it onto the shelf.

In the turbulent 90s the shortages in stores were gone but replaced by a kind of savage capitalism that did not help matters and certainly didn’t make anyone more pleasant or polite. Things did slowly start to change after 1999 or so…

And now it’s a different reality completely. A few months ago on a Poland related forum another foreigner was complaining about rude salespeople in stores… and another poster (Polish) and I had to say we can’t even remember the last rude salesperson we dealt with (you used collect rude salespeople stories on a weekly or daily basis).

Taking note of my recent experiences: Once the aisle was blocked by a lady with a baby carriage and she smiled(!) and moved it out of the way before I could say anything. I started pushing someone else’s cart by mistake and the shopper using it smiled and laughed when she said it was hers (in previous years the automatic thought would be that I’m trying to steal something or take some hard to find item from her cart). A cashier (Ukrainian) pointed out that the expiration date of the cake I was buying is today and asked if I’d like to get another instead. The other day another cashier (also Ukrainian) asked if I was collecting the promotional stamps that can be exchanged for stuffed toys. I said no and that she could give them to the next customer (a woman with kids who was collecting them who thanked me and the cashier for passing them on).

To people who have had no contact with socialist Poland (or the immediate aftermath of socialism which was no walk in the park) it’s hard to convey just how revolutionary a change had to happen to turn the grueling and hostile process of buying groceries into a series of banal but pleasant social interactions.

It wasn’t socialism that made shopping a pleasant experience in Poland and socialism did not engender any social feelings of solidarity (pun intended) or concern for other people in the country. Of course the worst abuses of neoliberalism which has the elite trying to get people to eat process GMO plant slurry and bugs and live in slightly nicer homeless shelters before having their bathroom breaks monitored in the gig economy MacJobs aren’t much better. The extremes are obviously fucked beyond repair, what’s needed is something in the middle…

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Resisting Realignment

According the traditional model, only the opposition party can introduce realignment. In the US the New Deal paradigm was introduced by the Democrats and followed by both parties so that even Republican presidents governed like moderate social democrats focusing on government services.

The Republicans introduced Reaganomics (aka the Reagan Revolution) after Democrat Jimmy Carter tried and failed to introduce some elements of it. It has been the dominant paradigm since and is perhaps better called neoliberalism a. According to the model the Democrats need to introduce the next paradigm which will be more egalitarian and communitarian, serving capital less and citizens more.

But… that’s not what’s happening. The Bernie Sanders (realigning wing) of the party is being frozen out in favor of Elisabeth “Hillary-lite” Warren a fanatical neoliberal who, like Hillary Clinton uses cheap identity tricks as camouflage. Similarly in the UK Labour has become the open party of neoliberalism through its adoption of Open Borders idealism and disengaging the idea of citizen participation to opening elections to all residents.

The parties that should be leading realignment are leading the resistance to realignment. I don’t think that realignment away from neoliberalism which everybody but a small elite is thoroughly sick of can be stopped. But the transition can be relatively smooth (as in the Roosevelt and Reagan cases) or it can be a train wreck with vast human costs. The Democrats and Labour have disabled the brakes and don’t even see the landslide blocking the tracks. I think it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets any better…

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Resistance Theater

People like protesting but when it comes to the climate, they don’t actually want the kind of changes that would be necessary to accomplish their supposed goals. That is why they’re careful to stay in the realm of general “Do something!” demands addressed to no one in particular. This helps them cultivate a self-image as progressive people who challenge authority without having to go without any of the modern goodies they’re addicted to.

Climate Girl’s yacht trip across the Atlantic is a good example. She took two weeks out of her busy schedule to sail to New York in a much ballyhooed zero carbon boat. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the stagehands (ie boat crew) are flying around like crazy effectively doubling the carbon footprint that she would have made had she just bought an airline ticket like a normal person.

I’m kind of a climate agnostic – I freely admit I’m completely unqualified to come to any kind of conclusion based on the conflicting data available. I do think, that any problem will not be solved by lifestyle changes (which cannot be implemented without North Korean style totalitarian compulsion) but by technological innovation and the real action should be in increased funding for new technological solutions.

The elite fly private jets to an idyllic spot in the Mediterranean to lecture everybody about how they need to live like Chinese peasants in the year 1971. Sorry. No sale.

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Man O’Sphere Discredited by Mano-sphere Stars

One of the random things I’ve been following for a number of years is that dome of weirdness known as the man-o-sphere (I’m trying to not attract any of them here so no links or names). Like a lot of political fringe groups they have a good point or two but it’s stuck inside a poisoned ball of insanity.

A big thing for them are absolute, metaphysical differences between men and women so it’s been interesting seeing a dust up between two stars that has turned into an ongoing soap opera (since June or so). Just a day or so ago one side released a very spergy robotic truth video about the dastardly deeds of the other side and that was followed by a live chat on youtube from the leader of the other side and a few sidekicks.

And what is fascinating is just how much like Jr High School mean girls the whole drahma is. It’s all “Well, he said that I said that Jimmy said that I told Bill and that was just end” and “Don’t even get me started on that lying bitch and his nonsense” and “You know I don’t gossip, so you didn’t hear it from me, but I think he’s mentally ill and may be taking drugs cause I had a class in that once”.

What’s most hilarious is the absolute lack of self knowledge. Guys who say that women are incapable of loyalty or honesty and only interested in social prestige are openly displaying a lack of loyalty, honesty and are in a total cat fight about who’s the queen bee of the menz rites hive.

Both have said they’re not goint to talk about it in public anymore… and already gearing up for more disclosures in a show that’s more fun than most fare on netflix….


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What I’ve Been Watching: Border Mayhem Edition

First it started with highlight reels of entitled, but late, passengers losing their shit on finding out they won’t make it onto their budget airline flight. Then it morphed into ungracious hosts and finicky guests smilingly savaging each other’s food and personalities. Then it devolved into the despairing world of border patrol. Yeah, I went on a British reality kick.

The most interesting of these is UK Border Force which follows… UK border officials as they search for people who should not be in the UK or as it tries to keep them out (in Heathrow Airport). It’s completely dramatic and fascinating and I can understand why only two seasons were made as it’s liable to drive anyone into a rage.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania uk border force tv

If she wants to have a word with you… you’re probably screwed.

Those who want some kind of control over who gets into the country will be enraged out how people who clearly don’t have any business or legal right to be in the UK get around regulations (if you destroy your passport and are okay with sub-low wage jobs in take out food places you can essentially stay forever). At other times, people are let in conditionally to wrap up their affairs before leaving the country – and never heard from again.

Those who want a generous migration policy won’t be happy at the way border officials dun away at people with no resources are frightened at the prospect of being turned away or taken into custody to be returned to their shithole no future countries.

For myself I’m driven into a rage at the… hypocrisy behind UK policy. I fully understand that far too many people would like to live the UK than the country can admit and anyone in favor of open borders should be shamed into silence (if they’re capable of shame) by the shear numbers as tens of thousands of people apply to go the UK every week in former colonies. It’s a small crowded country and open borders would mean absolute ecological devastation. What drives me crazy is the vast amount of of effort and manpower that goes into tracking down what are, in the final analysis, very small time operators while the UK rolls out the red carpet for murderous scum (like Russian oligarchs or Gulf Arab princes and the like) as long as they bring enough money to satisfy the endless appetite of the City of London for international capital.

It’s gripping TV but very uncomfortable to watch and I can’t imagine anything has gotten better or that the numbers of people drawn to the UK like a moth to the flame have grown smaller.

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When Brexit Gangs Aft Agley

The fact that the question “Do you want to belong to the European Union?” was even put to voters is evidence of the vast chasm between the British political class and the public. The government, completely unable to identify with or even imagine the concerns of hoi polloi thought the questions was similar to “Do you wish to continue to breathe oxygen?” and clearly had no plan whatsoever for what to do if a majority said “Well… now that you mention it, no, I don’t.”

The chasm has not closed at all and as the current shambolic ruins of British government show the political class is as alienated from the public as ever as a majority of politicians across the political spectrum are clearly working to delay Brexit forever and are using a variety of tactics to achieve that. Part of that is making Brexit into an agonizing process in the hope of spoiling the public’s taste for it. Another is to remove any actual meaning by endless extensions. There are others, but I think the interesting point is that so far… they’re not working. I think if the political establishment thought they had the votes for it they’d rerun the referendum again, but they know they don’t (or don’t want to risk it) and are trying to get around it by other means.

Any ideology if applied in a pure enough manner gets to the point where it can’t stand democracy and needs to either end elections entirely or deprive them of any meaning and neoliberalism (broadly understood) has reached that point. Neoliberalism is about the government aiding the private sector and serving capital rather than citizens (those bums!) and more and more people are more and more sick of it and will make their displeasure known and the political establishment is not handling that well, from the “resistance” in the US to Brexit chaos to nervous breakdowns in the EU when a politicians prioritizes anything beyond serving capital.

No matter what happens next, massive unnecessary damage has been done to the British political system and social environment that will take decades (at the very least) to heal. And all because the political establishment didn’t like what the voters said….


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Among the Mutants

For general health reasons I try to walk for an hour or so as many days as I can manage. I get tired of the same surroundings so I go to different parts of the city. These walks brought home to me just how much things have changed for the better in Poland over the last 20 years or so as the walks have brought me to parts of town I hadn’t seen in years and they almost always look much better than I remember them.

Today I decided to really put this to the test and visited a neighborhood I hadn’t been in since… I don’t even remember the last time.

The reason is that it’s inconvenient to get to. One one side there’s a river and the runoff area for when the river gets very high. On another it’s blocked off by the main East-West railroad tracks. While railroad tracks run throughout the city in different places this is the only neighborhood I think of as being ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’. The residential area is also bordered by a semi-industrial area with garages, wholesale warehouses, small and larger scale workshops and the like and it’s bordered on the final side by the largest cemetery in town. I used to have to go to the neighborhood (using a crosswalk over the train tracks) once a week or so to catch a bus for a weekly side hustle which I gave up because it was too much effort for the return.

It was easily the most depressing area I’d seen in town.It wasn’t dangerous (there is hardly anything like a real dangerous neighborhood in Poland by American standards) just loud (from trucks) and rundown and ugly as a mud fence. Some friends referred to it as ‘Mutanty’ (mutants) because of the backward vibe it gave off.

I went to today to see if it had been touched by the general improvement in the city. The verdict was mixed. A lot of it seemed like going a bit back in time (maybe 10 or so years) with empty storefronts and old neglected buildings. On the other hand there were hints of gentrification with new apartment buildings around the edges, an ethnic restaurant (Armenian) and signs of ongoing restoration here and there. There were also…. elementy (literally ‘elements’ but a way of referring to lower class men of the kind of who used to hang out in front of stores drinking at 9 in the morning). They weren’t… prospering but they weren’t destitute either and at least they were hanging out in courtyards rather than in front of the new Lidl (a German supermarket chain that has greatly expanded in recent years in Poland).

If Mutanty is showing signs of improvement that’s real progress. I’m not sure how much recent governments are responsible vs being a member of the EU (and exporting the unemployment problem to Western Europe) vs being incorporated into the supply chain for the German manufacturing sector. The oncoming recession will be telling but I do hope that Mutanty can continue to make whatever progress it can.

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