Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 13, 2018

Our Blood is Wine

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:07 pm

Opening at the Village East Cinema on Friday is a film titled “Our Blood is Wine” (with a VOD roll-out soon afterward) that documents the history of winemaking in the Republic of Georgia. It was the product of master sommelier Jeremy Quinn’s curiosity about a tradition that goes back 8,000 years according to archaeological evidence. As is the case with wheat, another basic staple, winegrowing first appeared in Anatolia as well. The film was directed by Emily Railsback, who formed a production company in partnership with Quinn dedicated to understanding culture through the medium of beverages. In Georgia’s case, the film is appropriately titled since wine has a place in its culture that has persisted no matter the efforts of both Stalinism and capitalism to commercialize it. To my astonishment, I discovered in the film notes after watching “Our Blood is Wine” that Railsback made it on an iPhone.

Quinn functions pretty much the same way that Anthony Bourdain does in his visits to various parts of the world to simultaneously try the local cuisine and give his take on socio-political matters. The film consists of him visiting various vineyards that all employ the same technique that existed 8,000 years ago, namely the use of kvevris (spelled qvevris in the film). A kvevri is a clay vessel usually over six feet tall that is buried in the ground in order to allow fermentation to take place. After Georgia became part of the USSR in 1917, Stalin decided that more revenue could be generated by industrializing the winemaking process using stainless steel vessels even if it turned out an inferior product and undermined Georgia’s national identity. As Quinn visits various practitioners of an ancient art undergoing a renaissance, he often ends up like Bourdain sitting around a dinner table sampling wines and the Georgian cuisine with men and women breaking into the polyphonic style that distinguishes the country’s music. It is an altogether joyous pastime that makes me want to spend time there the next time I am in Turkey, the country immediately to its south.

In 1966, Georgian director Otar Iosseliani made a narrative film titled “Falling Leaves” whose hero is a young man who has become employed at a local wine collective where he is pressured to bottle inferior wine. When he challenges a bureaucrat to do things the right way, he is told that state-ordered productivity quotas permit no delays: “Look around you, this is no time for principles.” Excerpts from the film are sprinkled throughout “Our Blood is Wine” and make you yearn for seeing it in its entirety. You can see it on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1ZDuEkC9lw) but without subtitles alas.

We learn from the film that Georgia might be home to at least 500 different varieties of grapes, most of which were wiped out during the Stalinist era. But many remained in the backyards of Georgians who were permitted to make their own wine as long as they didn’t become decadent bourgeoisie in the process. The state only sanctioned Stalinist decadence.

The press notes include links to articles about new discoveries about Georgian wine made by anthropologist Patrick McGovern:

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/science/georgiaoldest-wine.html

Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-ofscience/wp/2017/11/13/earliest-evidence-of-wine-found-in-giant-8000-year-oldjars/

BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41977709

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/11/13/563281665/georgianjars-hold-8-000-year-old-winemaking-clues

Food & Wine: http://www.foodandwine.com/news/worlds-oldest-wine-found

National Geographic: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/oldestwinemaking-grapes-georgia-archaeology/

I thought the National Geographic article took the most interesting tack with this lead: “Contrary to stereotypes, Stone Age people had a taste for finer things”. It adds:

The evidence adds a new wrinkle to our understanding of the Neolithic, a pivotal period when humans were first learning to farm, settling down and domesticating crops and animals. The gradual process, known as the Neolithic Revolution, began around 10,000 B.C. in Anatolia, a few hundred miles west of Gadachrili.

It’s increasingly clear that it didn’t take long for people to turn their thoughts to alcohol: Just a few thousand years after the first wild grasses were domesticated, the people at Gadachrili had not only learned the art of fermentation but were apparently improving, breeding, and harvesting vitis vinifera, the European grape. “They’re working out horticultural methods, how you transplant it, how you produce it,” McGovern says. “It shows just how inventive the human species is.”

Today, wines made in the traditional way are treasured globally by oenophiles, especially the Japanese who make pilgrimages to Georgia to see wine being made in kvevris. Much of the “productivist” tendency in Marxism that was embraced by both Stalinists and Trotskyists alike has overlooked how much “primitive” societies had so much to offer, especially given their classless nature. In the first chapter of “Stone Age Economics,” titled “The Original Affluent Society”, Marshall Sahlins put it this way in “Stone Age Economics”:

We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they don’t have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free. Their extremely limited material possessions relieve them of all cares with regard to daily necessities and permit them to enjoy life.

6 Comments »

  1. “We are inclined to think of hunters and gatherers as poor because they don’t have anything; perhaps better to think of them for that reason as free. Their extremely limited material possessions relieve them of all cares with regard to daily necessities and permit them to enjoy life.”

    If you have the time, you might want to give James Scott’s book “Against the Grain” a look. Scott describes how nomadic peoples, hunter gatherers and pastoralists became economically associated with emerging states centered around grain production, and believes it is probable that they lived longer, better, more affluent lives than people congregated in these early sedentary states.

    Furthermore, in the Introduction, Scott muses upon how the evolution of humans, resulting in the domestication of fire for use, transformed us into creatures that have radically transformed the environment from this time forward, rendering global warming as a more extreme version of what we have continually done to the planet as soon as began to reason and write. The book is accordingly a sort of prehistory to Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction”, which he references.

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/25/against-the-grain-by-james-c-scott-review

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 13, 2018 @ 7:35 pm

  2. Yes, Richard is correct, it’s an interesting book.

    Comment by S M J — March 13, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

  3. These kinds of “societies” were no doubt what Karl Marx had in mind when he used the term “primitive communism”. I’m wondering whether (IF it ever arrives!) communism itself would have the same kinds of benefits to the lives of its inhabitants which Sahlins describes. If so, it implies that the “invisible religion” of all the states on earth today – consumerism – would somehow have to disappear. Not likely at all, unfortunately, looking at current trends.

    Comment by uh...clem — March 13, 2018 @ 11:53 pm

  4. These considerations may be more important in an age when work is radically changing because of the wave of AI and robot automation of hitherto untouchable labor categories. For the workers that remain after the coming recession (or two), the choice may come down to long hours and substandard conditions vs. no work and death, or at least a long, miserable, corrupt descent along that path.

    The demanding but in some ways less arduous lives of “primitive communist” peoples, as Marx suggested, may be our clue to what is possible within the always-shifting boundaries of what is sometimes miscalled “human nature”–of course, their historical (or prehistorical) moment can no more be repeated literally than any other past epoch.

    But in my view, the American transcendentalist/exceptionalist ideology, which is like a contagious disease common to both the right and the pseudo-left, may prevent any movement in a more enlightened direction in this country. There will be a lot of cold, dead fingers clutching magical instruments that will have failed to deliver their magic. I place little faith in the occasional purely moral advocacy of a right to share society’s wealth.

    This may not always have been true, Lipset et al to the contrary–of course ringing the reactionary Tocqueville tocsin and claiming that this nonsense is a good thing–notwithstanding, but I fear it may be true now.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 14, 2018 @ 4:15 pm

  5. “But in my view, the American transcendentalist/exceptionalist ideology, which is like a contagious disease common to both the right and the pseudo-left, may prevent any movement in a more enlightened direction in this country. There will be a lot of cold, dead fingers clutching magical instruments that will have failed to deliver their magic. I place little faith in the occasional purely moral advocacy of a right to share society’s wealth.”

    Americans have endured hardship to preserve their belief in their superiority to other peoples. Nothing seems to frighten them more than the recognition that this sense of superiority is illusory.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 14, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

  6. Richard: Yes. Maybe this is so in part because for an American to be normal=white=average is to be devalued in a way that demands recompense in the form of dominion over “shithole” people or “mud” people or “stupid” people (other than one’s virtuously idiotic self) or anybody with a bit of color or–god forbid–bodily odor. Or food with an odor or strong taste–etc.

    (Not that I like BO better than any other American–I don’t endorse the European idea that it’s a form of human sexual pourriture noble. But the U.S. irrational hatred and fear of is a clue to the low self-esteem that lurks behind the self-presentation of even the most boastful Mike Fink. This despite the fact, BTW, that compared with the (e.g.) the Turks we Americans are actually all dirty as hell.)

    Nobody really loves “white people” as such, especially white people. The “white race” is a God Serapis deliberately constructed to misdirect class antagonism.

    When the Richard Spencers of the world deny this, they are lying, big cigars and all.

    Someone has to pay for one’s chronic lack of spontaneous self-esteem–and concealing this is a big part of the assertions of superiority to which you point–however lethal, they are hollow and unconvincing in the extreme.

    Which also raises the obvious question–why not just give it up and join the human race?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 14, 2018 @ 6:34 pm


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