Tuesday, April 08, 2014

‘Lost Writings of SDS’ Reviewed…

Revolutionary Youth & the New Working Class: The Praxis Papers, the Port Authority Statement, the RYM Documents and Other Lost Writings of SDS (Carl Davidson, Editor, Pittsburgh: Changemaker Publications, 2011)

 

By George Fish

Socialism and Democracy

Revolutionary Youth & the New Working Class is an important collection of documents from a crucial period, 1967-1970, in the history of SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]. It is of both historical and present political interest. Carl Davidson, himself an old SDSer who has remained politically active on the left up to the present, is to be congratulated for his perspicacity in compiling it. As he notes in his Foreword, only one of the reprinted documents – the original manifesto of what went on to become Weatherman, “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows” – is readily available; he collected the others in order, as he says, “to keep an important piece of the history of the 1960s New Left from going down the memory hole.” His instinct at preservation is unerring: the collection will become an essential reference. Although the analyses presented in these documents are of uneven quality, they all have some usefulness. That holds for even the least of them, Noel Ignatin’s “Without a Science of Navigation We Cannot Sail the Stormy Seas,” which is an able discussion despite its overall stilted and dogmatic 1930s Communist Party USA approach (Ignatin is a former CPUSAer who became a Maoist, so he is at least being “true to his heritage”).

It is important to remember that these documents were written 42-45 years ago, during a time of capitalist prosperity. So it is not surprising that some of the politics and analyses will seem remote from present-day concerns. On the whole, though, the analyses hold up much better than might be expected. Other changes since they were written include: the decline of US power and influence first brought about by the defeat in Vietnam, and continuing with the economic ascendancy of China and the openly left electoral victories in Latin America; the decline of the “affluent worker” in advanced capitalism as wages have stagnated or declined for the last 40 years, and unions have weakened; new militancy of workers joining that of other social strata beginning in the US in the 1970s and continuing today in the anti-austerity movements in Europe and worker protests in China; the at-least-formally-given death knell to Meany-Kirkland guns-and-butter trade unionism by the election of John Sweeney and later Richard Trumka to head the AFL-CIO, and by the active presence of left activists now in many unions; and the partial victories of the civil rights movement which, while not doing much to alleviate the poverty and desperation of the African American working class, have opened doors of opportunity previously nonexistent, and have created a larger black middle class and even, ironically, a layer of prominent black conservatives such as Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice and others who oppose many of the civil rights movement’s gains. Many of these changes could not have been anticipated—which only enhances the political value and perspicacity of the analyses contained in this collection.

The centerpiece of the volume is clearly the long paper, “Toward a Theory of Social Change: The ‘Port Authority Statement’,” a rigorous attempt by SDS activist scholars David Gilbert, Robert Gottlieb and Gerry Tenney to present a New Left analysis of capitalism and US empire, and to posit a political direction for young activists of that time. This is an impressive work, no matter how much one might question its New Working Class thesis of a displaced traditional proletariat, its seeing the locus of power for social change in the underclass, or its view that capitalist “post-scarcity” could essentially go on forever. The Port Authority Statement is worthwhile reading even today, and should join with the much better known and available Port Huron Statement as powerful manifestos that articulate the New Left viewpoint.

Also of value, though less so, is the 1968 statement of early feminism written by Naomi Jaffe and Bernardine Dohrn, “The Look Is You: Rising Feminism vs. Mass Media.” This paper offers a strong critique of the exploitation of women through consumption, although its then-fashionable implication (associated with the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) of an all-pervasive social control and domination was given the lie precisely by the vibrant movements of the 1960s, including that of the feminists themselves. In this same vein of articulating strategies that subvert control and domination is the last article in this volume, Carl Davidson’s 1970 “Toward a Critical University: Counter-Hegemony in Education.” Furthermore, and very much to its credit, this collection presents the entirety of Noel Ignatin’s and Ted Allen’s long-unavailable collection of essays on white supremacy, “White Blindspot.” The white supremacy thesis was one of the most significant ideological developments within the New Left milieu, although my own experience leads me to question the idea that the racism of white workers reflects any actual privilege as distinct from (to use the older left expression) misguided white chauvinism.

Distributed through online publisher lulu.com (http://tinyurl.com/lostsdswritings);


Bulk orders from Carl Davidson (carld717@gmail.com)

Reviewed by George Fish
writer, poet, stand-up comic
Indianapolis, Indiana
georgefish666@yahoo.com

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Brownfields, Cleanups and Anti-Union Cranks

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On

My home town of Aliquippa once hosted one of the largest steel mills in the world. Now, after the shutdowns and job exporting of the 1980s, it has one of the largest ‘brownfields’ in the world. That’s seven miles of highly polluted empty land along the Ohio, It’s hard even for weeds to grow there.


So Aliquippa had the good luck Dec 24, Christmas Eve, to be on the receiving end of a $3 million grant from the state to help clean it up, in order to prepare for new industry. Most people praised our Mayor, Dwan Walker, for helping it along. But not some, such as one letter-writer in our local paper who asserted that retirees of the ‘greedy union’ should clean it up, since they made the mess and ‘profited’ from it.


The notion of ‘greedy unions’ tells us all we need to know about this guy.


The workers at this steel mill and others earned every cent they got, and then produced the profits for the bosses as well. Where do you think wealth comes from? And some paid a heavier price—I had a grandfather and a cousin killed there.


In the last days, the union, nearly to a fault, made every concession it could to keep the mill open. But the owners decided they wanted to gamble in oil futures instead. ‘I’m in business to make money, not steel’ was the famous boss quote of the day.


That tells you the nature of finance capital vs. productive capital. They ‘make money’ but they do not make wealth. Same as the folks who own casinos and race tracks. They make money, but no real wealth.


Cleaning up this ‘brownfield’ creates infrastructure that can attract some productive capital—and labor along with it—to make new wealth.


Whether workers are hired locally and get a decent wage and a union is a point of struggle. We’ve always had to organize and fight to get anything. Otherwise, we’d still be working for slave masters or bowing down on our knees to Kings, Queens and the Lords on the Manor.
The workers did indeed see the land being poisoned, and most supported the EPA rules against it. It was the owners who exported mills to Brazil and others places without EPAs.
Why do you think the frackers are afraid of union labor? Because union members have the backing and the backbone to report on toxic spills. Why are they afraid of local labor? Because the families of local workers live here too, and they also thus have good reason to oppose toxic dumping.


But perhaps our ‘greedy union’ critic is right in a backhanded way. It may very well be that we can’t have capitalism along with jobs for all, a living wage and a healthy environment—not because it can’t be done theoretically, but out of sheer greed and stupidity. If so, I thank him for making my case for moving to socialism of the 21st century.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Strategy and the US Six-Party System

STRATEGY, the Left and Doing Battle in the Electoral Arena. A new Slide Show in our ‘Study Guides’ section prepared by Carl Davidson, National Co-Chair, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, CLICK TITLE ABOVE TO DOWNLOAD.To get regular updates, be sure to ‘Like’ us at http://facebook.com/ouleft.org You can also ‘subscribe’ to our FB page and send in articles for our blog at the OUL main site, http://ouleft.org/

STRATEGY, the Left and Doing Battle in the Electoral Arena. A new Slide Show in our ‘Study Guides’ section prepared by Carl Davidson, National Co-Chair, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, CLICK TITLE ABOVE TO DOWNLOAD THE SLIDESHOW THAT GOES WITH THE ARTICLE BELOW.

Strategic Thinking on the U.S. Six Party System

image

Congressional Progressive Caucus presenting its platform

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete."
—Sun Tzu, The Art of War

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On

Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture, of all the political and economic forces involved (Earth) and what they are thinking, about themselves and others, at any given time. (Heaven). It’s not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.

To make a political assessment of the forces commanded by the U.S. bourgeoisie and its subaltern allies and strata, it helps to make an examination of Congress, the White House and other Beltway institutions, as well as voting trends and others political and cultural among the masses. And to get an accurate estimation, we must often tear away, set aside or bracket misleading labels and frames, as well as assess varying economic resources and voting results. We want to illuminate an intentionally obfuscated landscape, like when a flash of lightning at night does away with shadows and renders the landscape in sharp relief.

The primary conventional wisdom we want to dissect here is that the U.S. has a two-party system.  First, the nature of political parties in the US today is rather unique; they are not parties in any European parliamentary sense, where members are bound to a program or platform with some degree of discipline, and mass party organizations exist at the base. Second, the Republicans and the Democrats in the US are largely empty shells locally, consisting mainly of incumbents and staffers, and their retained lawyers, fundraisers and media consultants. There is some variation from state to state—state committeemen and women will pass resolutions and certify ballot status and positions, but there’s not much of a mass character save for an occasional campaign rally. Third, at the Congressional level the two-party structure, to some degree, still allows for dividing the spoils of committee assignments, but even these are often warped by other considerations.

A few also like to argue that the US has only one party, a capitalist party, with two wings, the bad and the worse. But this is reductionist to a fault, and doesn’t tell you much other than that we live in a capitalist society, which is rather trivial.

Some also hold out hope for a ‘third party’ that is noncapitalist. But given the ‘winner take all’ rules in most elections, along with the amount of money and resources required to mount credible campaigns, these are long shots, save for periods of crisis and upheaval, like the period just before the U.S Civil War, where the Whigs imploded, the Liberty Party had a role, and a new ‘First Party’ formed, the GOP. Another period worth a deeper look is 1944-48, when the rising forces of the Cold War and Southern racism led to a four-way race in 1948 between the Dixiecrats (Strom Thurmond), the Democrats (Harry Truman), the GOP (Thomas Dewey) and the Progressive Party (Henry Wallace).

Our Six-Party System

But today, we’ll do better to get a more accurate picture of our adversaries if we set aside the labels of ‘two-party system’, ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans’ and the other nuances mentioned above.  Instead, I’ll offer an alternative working hypothesis, that we live under a six-party system with two labels, and that this will give us a closer and more realistic view of the relation and balance of forces with which we have to deal. But even here, it’s important to note that we are discussing ‘parties’ as clusters of colluding and contending blocs of interests, economic views and social coalitions, not unified and disciplined ideological formations strictly bound to a platform. The six ‘parties’ described here below, however, do come closer to these kinds of constructs than the larger ‘two labels’ they operate under.

So who are they?

The Tea Party. So far, only the most far right group has been given the label ‘party’ in the mass media, even though it operates as a faction within the GOP. It generally represents anti-globalist nationalism with a prominence given to the ‘Austrian School’ economics of classical liberalism and, in some cases, the self-interest philosophy of Ayn Rand. It also merges with paleo-conservative traditionalists, which serves as a cover for defending white and male privilege and armed militia groups. It appeals to about 10-20 percent of the electorate, with greater support in the South and West. It is currently locked in a fierce factional struggle with the other wing of the GOP. While a minority in the House overall, they dominate the GOP House Caucus, and thus, as reported widely on 24-hour news cycles, they can and do block many bills from coming to the floor. Tea Party incumbents have been aided in gaining and retaining their seats by GOP-led redistricting on the level of the states they control, breaking up districts electing Democrats and forming new one with more homogenous rightwing majorities. This was begun by Paul Weyrich of the ‘New Right’ under Reagan, and continues to this day

The Republican Multinationalists. These are the neoliberal moneybags of the GOP (and the neoconservative subset termed ‘The War Party’ by Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul from the right)-the Bushes, Cheney, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and others with fortunes rooted in petroleum, defense industries and other US businesses with global reach. Their neoliberal economics became hegemonic with Reagan’s ascendancy via the anti-Black and anti-feminist ‘Southern Strategy’ alliance with the forces that later came to make up the Tea Party right. The Koch brother’s money also helped form ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, thus allowing business lobbyists to write uniform reactionary legislation, mainly on the state level, across the country. Despite statewide gains, the GOP label’s current dilemma is that the Tea Party’s more inane, backward and proto-fascist views on social and cultural issues is causing the GOP tickets to lose national elections, deadlock the Congress and strain the alliance. On the other hand, if the ‘Country Club’ Republicans dump the Tea Party, the GOP itself may implode

The Blue Dogs. This caucus in the Democratic Party is tied to ‘Red State’ mass voting bases-the military industrial workers, and the Southern and Appalachian regions. They are neo-Keynesian on military matters, but neoliberal on everything else. Their ‘party’ frequently sides with the GOP in Congressional voting. The Blue Dog Coalition has recently shrunk from 27 to 14 members, often having paved the way to self-defeat by backhandedly encouraging GOP victories in their districts by attacking Obama and other Democrats.

The ‘Third Way’ New Democrats. This ‘party’ of the center right is mainly the U.S. electoral arm of global and finance capital, with the Clintons and Rahm Emanuel as the better known public faces. Formed to break with ‘economic populism’ of the old FDR coalition, and assert a variety of globalist ‘free trade’ measures and the gutting of Glass-Steagall banking regulations, this new post-Reagan-Mondale grouping decided to put distance between itself and traditional labor allies. While neo-Keynesian on most matters, it also ‘triangulates’ with neoliberal positions. Started as the Democratic Leader Council and the ‘New Democrat Coaltions. John Kerry is a member of the DLC but President Obama has claimed ‘no direct connection,’ even though the grouping lists Obama as one of its ‘rising stars’ The DLC/’New Democrats’ essentially speaks for some of the more powerful elements of finance capital under the ‘Democratic’ label.. It is the dominant view among the Senate Democratic majority.

Old New Dealers.  This ‘party’ is represented by unofficial wealthy Democratic groups like Americans Coming Together, plus the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education and others. They take a Keynesian approach to economic matters, and are often critical of finance capital and the trade deals promoted by the globalists. They are also wary of deep defense cuts that would cause layoffs among their membership base. They maintain, however, strong alliances with some civil rights, women’s and environmental groups. Their main value to Democratic tickets is their independent get-out-the-vote operations, which can be decisive in many races. They also work closely with the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a business-based anti-free trade lobby that works with labor.

PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. While the largest single caucus in the House, the CPC ‘party’ is still relatively small, representing 80 out of 435 votes. Its policy views are Keynesian and, in some cases, social-democratic as well.  Its recent ‘Back-to-Work Budget’ serves as an excellent economic platform for a popular front against finance capital. It also largely overlaps with the Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and is the most multinational ‘Rainbow’ grouping in the Congress. It also includes Senator Bernie Sanders, the sole socialist in Congress, who was an initial founder of the CPC. It has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the Progressive Democrats of America banners of ‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ and ‘Windmills Not Weapons.’ It has recently gained some direct union support from the militant National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America. Many, but not all, CPC members are also members of Progressive Democrats of America, an independent PAC dubbed the ‘Tom Hayden/ Dennis Kucinich’ Democrats at the time of their founding in 2004. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is the closest political group the US has that would parallel some of the ‘United Left’ socialist and social democratic groups in European countries

What Does It All Mean?

With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of the upper crust of American politics, many things begin to fall in place. Romney, a very wealthy representative of the Multinational GOP group, defeated all the Tea Party candidates in the primaries, and consequently, could never convince the Tea Party he was one of them, simply because he wasn’t. This led to a drop in GOP voter enthusiasm that couldn’t even be overcome with ‘dog whistle’ appeals to racism and revanchism in the campaigns.

The Obama administration, on the other hand, at its core, represents an alliance between the DLC ‘Third Way’ and the Old New Dealers, while also pulling along the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus as energetic but critical secondary allies. The Blue Dogs found themselves out in the cold from the wider Obama coalition, and shrank accordingly. Barbara Lee of PDA and the CPC, moving from a minority of one on Afghanistan at the start of the invasion, finally got a majority of House Democrats to oppose and push Obama on the wars, but to little avail in any immediate sense, being thwarted by both the DLC and the Multinational GOP.

This ‘big picture’ also reveals much about the current budget debates, which are shown to be three-sided-the extreme austerity neoliberalism of the Tea Party Ryan budget, the ‘austerity lite’ budget of the DLC-dominated Senate Democrats, and the left Keynesian progressive ‘Back to Work’ budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The ‘Old New Dealers’ were caught in the middle, with only 20 or so coming over on the Black Caucus version of the ‘Back to Work’ budget, which was still in the minority.

While all this shows why and how Obama was able to pull together a majority electoral coalition, it also reveals why he is still thwarted on pulling together an effective governing coalition. Likewise, it shows how the Tea Party, with only 10-20 percent of the electorate, is able to water down or completely bloc common-sense measures on gun control with 70-90 percent support among the general population.

Finally, the fact that there is only one avowed socialist in Congress tells us something about our own position in the overall balance of forces. Socialist candidates are only able to draw 2% to 5% of the votes in this period, save for Sanders, and we all know that Vermont has some unique features that made it possible, not that Sanders didn’t do yeoman work in pulling together a progressive majority that elected him.

In summary, here are a few things to keep in mind.  If you decide to intervene in electoral work to build independent working class grassroots organizations, you don’t go ‘inside the Democratic Party’. There’s not much of an ‘inside’ there anymore. What you do instead is join or work with one of the two factions/’parties’ that are left of center.  Your aim is to make either of these stronger, preferably the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. Then to shift the overall balance of forces, your task is to defeat the Tea Party, the Multinational GOP, and the Blue Dogs. At present, not a single piece of progressive legislation is going to get passed without driving a wedge between the two parties under the GOP label and weakening both of them.

We have to keep in mind, however, that ‘shifting the balance of forces’ is mainly an indirect and somewhat ephemeral gain. It does ‘open up space’, but for what? Progressive initiatives matter for sure, but much more is required strategically. We are interested in pushing the popular front vs. finance capital to its limits, and within that effort, developing a socialist bloc. If that comes to scale, the ‘Democratic Party Tent’ is likely to collapse and implode, given the sharper class contractions and other fault lines that lie within it, much as the Whigs did in the 19th Century. That demands an ability to regroup all the progressive forces into a new ‘First Party’ alliance able to contend for power

An old classic formula summing up the strategic thinking of the united front and popular front is appropriate here: ‘Unite and develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces, isolate and divide the backward forces, then crush our adversaries one by one.’ In short, we have to have a policy and set of tactics for each one of these elements, as well as a strategy for dealing with them overall. Finally, a note of warning from the futurist Alvin Toffler: ‘If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.’

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Purge the Tea Party, Save Democracy


By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

It's time to take the gloves off and purge the Tea Party. I'm sure we can fit extortion and obstruction of the Constitution into 'high crimes and misdemeanors' and get the ball rolling with Articles of Impeachment--which, you know, isn't limited to something done to Presidents. If not that, we need to prepare now to expunge them at the polls in 2014.

Not a single decent or progressive thing is going to get through Congress until we do.

I'm not even talking about their racist shenanigans on the Mall last week, demagogically trying at a vets' rally to blame Obama for shutting down the WW2 Memorial they had shut down. Nor the anti-Muslim tirade and waving of the Confederate flag as they marched on the White house.

That was simply reactionary farce. More sinister was their action in the House early this month when they changed the rules, stripping every Member of Congress on one of their rights, and handing it over only to Rep. Ed Cantor 'or his designee." It was exposed on the House floor by Rep. Chris van Hollen (D-MD). According to CNN reporter Jake Tapper Oct 14, quoting van Hollen:

"Under the Rules of the Hous Standing Rules of the House so only Cantor or his designee could bring up Senate bill for a vote. I am told that we never played with this Rule when we were last in Majority and we are looking into the earlier history of this matter. In other words, they shut down the government and then changed the House Rules to keep it shut down.'"

In other words, the GOP-dominated House Rules Committee just told 434 House members to sit down and shut up, and that they had no rights the Tea Party was bound to respect.

To the rest of us, the clear message is that they don't give a damn it the economy is wrecked and the working class suffers. They want to destroy the first Black Presidency at any cost, even if it means going against their Bankster backers on Wall St for a spell.


We need to put the heat on the offices of every Member of Congress, of either party, left, center or right. Strangle this proto-fascist maneuver in its crib. Don't give them an inch, or we'll regret it further down the line. Rather than 'compromises' like cutting Social Security or Medicare, now is the time for steel backbones and fierce organizing.

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Friday, August 09, 2013

Digging In, Reaching Out…

 

Student and teachers from the Convention ‘School for Young People’

CCDS 7th Convention Debates Growth

of the Left and the Progressive Majority

in Combating Austerity, War and the Right

[This report was assembled by Carl Davidson, with considerable and valuable help from Cheryl Richards and Ellen Schwartz, our recorders. Others who added a lot were Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Ted Reich, Pat Fry, Will Emmons, Randy Shannon, Anne Mitchell and Duncan McFarland. Photos by Ted Reich]

Nearly 100 delegates, observers and friends gathered in Pittsburgh, PA for the 7th Convention of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism over the July 18-21, 2013 weekend. The goals of the gathering were to take stock of the political battles since their last convention in 2009, to assess the organization’s strengths, weaknesses and ongoing challenges, and to chart a path of unity and struggle for the upcoming period.

The participants came from all sections of the country: from California to Florida, from Texas to Boston, and many points in between. Almost all were deeply embedded in mass struggles—trade unions and community organizations, women’s groups, civil rights organizations and peace and justice coalitions. Many had also taken part in a variety of independent electoral battles against the GOP and the right, and everyone had been in the streets during the battles against the wars, the Occupy upsurge and for justice in the Trayvon Martin case.

Kicking off the meeting was a “School for Young People.” That innovation started a day before the main sessions of the convention. The presence of 20 young activists—men and women, of several nationalities, fresh from many battles, especially in the South—added a dynamic quality to all the discussions for the entire weekend.

“We appreciated the steps CCDS has made to accept the need for youth leadership in the socialist left and progressive movements,” said Will Emmons of Kentucky. The students saw the school as a “good first start,” and looked forward to more and better efforts in overcoming the intergenerational divide in much of the socialist movement.

The convention itself was organized into five plenary sessions and 16 workshops, with a cultural event and dinner on Saturday evening. It opened for the youth school and other early arrivers Thursday evening with the showing of the new film, “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot,” an inspiring story of the battles of Anne Braden and her husband, Carl Braden of Kentucky, in decades of battles against white supremacy and other fronts in the class struggle across the South. Filmmaker Anne Lewis from Texas was on hand to lead a discussion that followed.

All the convention’s deliberations were organized around a “main resolution,” with the various plenaries and workshops dealing with its different sections. The five plenary topics were 1) assessing the concrete conditions, 2) the terrains of struggle against austerity, 3) the climate change crisis, 4) strategic formations and the progressive majority, and 5) the quest for left unity.

Time of Day: The Opening Plenary on Concrete Conditions

“What time is it?” asked Mildred Williamson, a CCDS national committee member from Chicago, in her remarks opening the first plenary session, which was chaired by Randy Shannon of Western PA. “It's a time of economic, social, environmental, and racial injustice on steroids.” she continued, “a time of no respect for humanity.” She proceeded to spotlight the full range of current conditions with the lens showing the inter-connection of class, race and gender. “What time is it?” she repeated, “As long as Black and brown lives are thought of and treated as disposable, in a 21st century-three-fifths-of-a-person fashion, it will be impossible to achieve working class power in this country. Economic and social policies are literally destroying Black and brown lives, and simultaneously further weakening working class power…. we must fight with humility and purpose to strengthen and promote radicalized thought and action in the quest for social justice, human rights and working class power. This requires a fresh look at what it means to be ‘Left’ in this phase of capitalism.”

Williamson concluded by posing the most poignant questions to the delegates:

“What is the winning strategy to reduce the number of white working class people from voting against their own class interests, especially since fewer are unionized and fewer live in integrated communities? What will be the winning strategy to achieve left unity - and just what does that mean today? How can we build respect for youth in leadership of social justice movements while still showing simultaneous respect for elders? How do we fully move our thought and action from the multiracial unity ‘slogan’ to normalized, genuine demonstrations of respect for multiple cultures, gender expressions and sexual orientations? These questions--and more tough ones--need answers in order to chart the path forward in the quest for working class power. Let's work on them at this convention and thereafter.”

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Monday, June 03, 2013

Carl Davidson’s Sessions at the Left Forum in NYC, June 7-9, Pace University

LEFT FORUM SESSIONS

WITH CARL DAVIDSON and his related groups—the Online University of the Left, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, and the Solidarity Economy Network

11 Talking Points on 21st Century Socialism
Session 3     E326     Sat 03:40pm - 05:20pm

A Slide Show presentation by Carl Davidson on the core features of socialism in today's world, followed by responses and discussion. Issues will include technology, human rights, the role of markets, mixed economies and strategic allies.

Sponsoring Journal:
Online University of the Left

Speakers: Carl Davidson, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism; David Schwartzman, DC Statehood Green Party; Dario Cankovic, Northstar.org   

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Shift Change: potential and limits of worker cooperatives in building a sustainable future
Session 4     W615     Sat 05:30pm - 07:10pm

In SHIFT CHANGE, a new documentary that visits coops in the US and Mondragon, worker owners share some practical challenges of a democratic workplace, and how coops can help build a more just and sustainable society. Clips from the film will be shown, with comments from panelists, and discussion involving workshop participants about broad issues of economic democracy and a more ecological future.

Panelists include:
Gar Alperovitz, author, What Then Must We Do;
Carl Davidson, Solidarity Economy Network
Mark Dworkin & Melissa Young, filmmakers

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Left Third Party Organizing: Challenges and Opportunities
Session 6     W211     Sun 12:00pm - 01:50pm

In an age of two-party domination and neoliberal hegemony, what opportunities exist for left electoral politics through third party campaigns? Why and when should leftists focus on third party campaigns, as opposed to Democratic Party primaries? Where should the left focus its electoral resources, and how might it overcome division? Should third-party politics be thought of in terms of consciousness-raising, or is the left in a position to affect public policy by taking power?

Sponsoring Journal:
The North Star
Seamus Whelan, Socialist Alternative
Tim Horras, Philly Socialists        
Carl Davidson, CCDS       
Ursula Rozum, Green Party

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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Nearly 500 Celebrate May Day in Pittsburgh with a Colorful and Festive March and Rallies

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

Nearly 500 workers and community actvists marched through the streets of Pittsburgh's South Side May I celebrating the international workers holiday. The main theme of the event was linking a defense of worker's rights with immigrant rights, and backing the passage of a just and comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress.

'Everyone here is an immigrant or the sons and daughters of immigrants,' declared Leo Gerard, USW President, speaking from the back of a truck. 'We can't separate worker's rights and immigrant rights, they're one and the same.!

The main organizers of the celebration were Fight Back Pittsburgh and United Steel Workers Local 3657. The United Federation of Teachers, the United Electrical Workers, SEIU, IBEW, the USW's 'Women of Steel' and other unions also took part.

This was the first May Day event backed by Pittsburgh unions in some years, and it was also promoted nationally by Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO. It marks the beginning of a more militant response by labor against austerity and in defense of wider democracy for all of its allies.

The day started with a rally at the UFT headquarters, followed by a mile-long march along Carson Street, ending with another rally, with music and food, at the IBEW headquarters.

Community organizers from One Pittsburgh and the resident groups also played an important role, bringing out Latinos, Middle Eastern and African immigrants. Activists from Beaver County’s Progressive Democrats of America, Beaver County Peace Links and Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism also took part.

mayday 2013 002

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Camus: Resistance, Rebellion, and Writing

Albert Camus's dispatches on the Algerian crisis appear in English for the first time

By George Scialabba

Bookforum, April/May 2013

“People expect too much of writers,” Albert Camus lamented in the late 1950s. At the time Camus was writing, the Algerian rebellion had grown into a full-scale guerrilla war for independence, and while his initial sympathy for the uprising led the French Right and the French Algerian settlers to denounce him as a traitor, he also came in for frequent polemical attacks from the French Left for not energetically and unequivocally supporting the insurgents. Criticism also came from the Algerian militants themselves. Frantz Fanon, the best-known Algerian writer, derided him as a “sweet sister.” Sartre, formerly his close friend, mocked Camus’s “beautiful soul.”

Camus’s complaint does him credit. He agonized over his political pronouncements in a way that the more brilliant, mercurial, doctrinaire Sartre never had to. In 1957, as the war ground on and positions hardened on both sides, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Despairing of the Algerian situation but determined to answer his critics and, with the prestige of the Nobel behind him, make one final effort for peace and reconciliation, Camus assembled a short collection of his writings about Algeria, which was published in 1958. It appears now in English for the first time, ably translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

Algerian Chronicles spans two decades. In 1939, when Camus was a young journalist in Algeria—where he was born in 1913, to impoverished and barely literate working-class parents—a severe drought struck the region of Kabylia. Camus traveled there to report on it, and was horrified. He wrote a series of vivid and powerful dispatches, with which Algerian Chronicles begins.

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Strategic Thinking on the U.S. Six Party System

Congressional Progressive Caucus presenting its platform
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete."
--Sun Tzu, The Art of War
By Carl Davidson Keep On Keepin' On
Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture, of all the political and economic forces involved (Earth) and what they are thinking, about themselves and others, at any given time. (Heaven). It's not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.
To make a political assessment of the forces commanded by the U.S. bourgeoisie and its subaltern allies and strata, it helps to make an examination of Congress, the White House and other Beltway institutions, as well as voting trends and others political and cultural among the masses. And to get an accurate estimation, we must often tear away, set aside or bracket misleading labels and frames, as well as assess varying economic resources and voting results. We want to illuminate an intentionally obfuscated landscape, like when a flash of lightning at night does away with shadows and renders the landscape in sharp relief.
The primary conventional wisdom we want to dissect here is that the U.S. has a two-party system.  First, the nature of political parties in the US today is rather unique; they are not parties in any European parliamentary sense, where members are bound to a program or platform with some degree of discipline, and mass party organizations exist at the base. Second, the Republicans and the Democrats in the US are largely empty shells locally, consisting mainly of incumbents and staffers, and their retained lawyers, fundraisers and media consultants. There is some variation from state to state--state committeemen and women will pass resolutions and certify ballot status and positions, but there's not much of a mass character save for an occasional campaign rally. Third, at the Congressional level the two-party structure, to some degree, still allows for dividing the spoils of committee assignments, but even these are often warped by other considerations.
A few also like to argue that the US has only one party, a capitalist party, with two wings, the bad and the worse. But this is reductionist to a fault, and doesn't tell you much other than that we live in a capitalist society, which is rather trivial.
Some also hold out hope for a 'third party' that is noncapitalist. But given the 'winner take all' rules in most elections, along with the amount of money and resources required to mount credible campaigns, these are long shots, save for periods of crisis and upheaval, like the period just before the U.S Civil War, where the Whigs imploded, the Liberty Party had a role, and a new 'First Party' formed, the GOP. Another period worth a deeper look is 1944-48, when the rising forces of the Cold War and Southern racism led to a four-way race in 1948 between the Dixiecrats (Strom Thurmond), the Democrats (Harry Truman), the GOP (Thomas Dewey) and the Progressive Party (Henry Wallace).
Our Six-Party System
But today, we'll do better to get a more accurate picture of our adversaries if we set aside the labels of 'two-party system', 'Democrats' and 'Republicans' and the other nuances mentioned above.  Instead, I'll offer an alternative working hypothesis, that we live under a six-party system with two labels, and that this will give us a closer and more realistic view of the relation and balance of forces with which we have to deal. But even here, it's important to note that we are discussing 'parties' as clusters of colluding and contending blocs of interests, economic views and social coalitions, not unified and disciplined ideological formations strictly bound to a platform. The six 'parties' described here below, however, do come closer to these kinds of constructs than the larger 'two labels' they operate under.
So who are they?
The Tea Party. So far, only the most far right group has been given the label 'party' in the mass media, even though it operates as a faction within the GOP. It generally represents anti-globalist nationalism with a prominence given to the 'Austrian School' economics of classical liberalism and, in some cases, the self-interest philosophy of Ayn Rand. It also merges with paleo-conservative traditionalists, which serves as a cover for defending white and male privilege and armed militia groups. It appeals to about 10-20 percent of the electorate, with greater support in the South and West. It is currently locked in a fierce factional struggle with the other wing of the GOP. While a minority in the House overall, they dominate the GOP House Caucus, and thus, as reported widely on 24-hour news cycles, they can and do block many bills from coming to the floor. Tea Party incumbents have been aided in gaining and retaining their seats by GOP-led redistricting on the level of the states they control, breaking up districts electing Democrats and forming new one with more homogenous rightwing majorities. This was begun by Paul Weyrich of the 'New Right' under Reagan, and continues to this day
The Republican Multinationalists. These are the neoliberal moneybags of the GOP (and the neoconservative subset termed 'The War Party' by Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul from the right)-the Bushes, Cheney, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and others with fortunes rooted in petroleum, defense industries and other US businesses with global reach. Their neoliberal economics became hegemonic with Reagan's ascendancy via the anti-Black and anti-feminist 'Southern Strategy' alliance with the forces that later came to make up the Tea Party right. The Koch brother's money also helped form ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, thus allowing business lobbyists to write uniform reactionary legislation, mainly on the state level, across the country. Despite statewide gains, the GOP label's current dilemma is that the Tea Party's more inane, backward and proto-fascist views on social and cultural issues is causing the GOP tickets to lose national elections, deadlock the Congress and strain the alliance. On the other hand, if the 'Country Club' Republicans dump the Tea Party, the GOP itself may implode
The Blue Dogs. This caucus in the Democratic Party is tied to 'Red State' mass voting bases-the military industrial workers, and the Southern and Appalachian regions. They are neo-Keynesian on military matters, but neoliberal on everything else. Their 'party' frequently sides with the GOP in Congressional voting. The Blue Dog Coalition has recently shrunk from 27 to 14 members, often having paved the way to self-defeat by backhandedly encouraging GOP victories in their districts by attacking Obama and other Democrats.
The 'Third Way' New Democrats. This 'party' of the center right is mainly the U.S. electoral arm of global and finance capital, with the Clintons and Rahm Emanuel as the better known public faces. Formed to break with 'economic populism' of the old FDR coalition, and assert a variety of globalist 'free trade' measures and the gutting of Glass-Steagall banking regulations, this new post-Reagan-Mondale grouping decided to put distance between itself and traditional labor allies. While neo-Keynesian on most matters, it also 'triangulates' with neoliberal positions. Started as the Democratic Leader Council and the 'New Democrat Coaltions. John Kerry is a member of the DLC but President Obama has claimed 'no direct connection,' even though the grouping lists Obama as one of its 'rising stars' The DLC/'New Democrats' essentially speaks for some of the more powerful elements of finance capital under the 'Democratic' label.. It is the dominant view among the Senate Democratic majority.
Old New Dealers.  This 'party' is represented by unofficial wealthy Democratic groups like Americans Coming Together, plus the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education and others. They take a Keynesian approach to economic matters, and are often critical of finance capital and the trade deals promoted by the globalists. They are also wary of deep defense cuts that would cause layoffs among their membership base. They maintain, however, strong alliances with some civil rights, women's and environmental groups. Their main value to Democratic tickets is their independent get-out-the-vote operations, which can be decisive in many races. They also work closely with the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a business-based anti-free trade lobby that works with labor.
PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. While the largest single caucus in the House, the CPC 'party' is still relatively small, representing 80 out of 435 votes. Its policy views are Keynesian and, in some cases, social-democratic as well.  Its recent 'Back-to-Work Budget' serves as an excellent economic platform for a popular front against finance capital. It also largely overlaps with the Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and is the most multinational 'Rainbow' grouping in the Congress. It also includes Senator Bernie Sanders, the sole socialist in Congress, who was an initial founder of the CPC. It has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the Progressive Democrats of America banners of 'Healthcare Not Warfare' and 'Windmills Not Weapons.' It has recently gained some direct union support from the militant National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America. Many, but not all, CPC members are also members of Progressive Democrats of America, an independent PAC dubbed the 'Tom Hayden/ Dennis Kucinich' Democrats at the time of their founding in 2004. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is the closest political group the US has that would parallel some of the 'United Left' socialist and social democratic groups in European countries
What Does It All Mean?
With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of the upper crust of American politics, many things begin to fall in place. Romney, a very wealthy representative of the Multinational GOP group, defeated all the Tea Party candidates in the primaries, and consequently, could never convince the Tea Party he was one of them, simply because he wasn't. This led to a drop in GOP voter enthusiasm that couldn't even be overcome with 'dog whistle' appeals to racism and revanchism in the campaigns.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, at its core, represents an alliance between the DLC 'Third Way' and the Old New Dealers, while also pulling along the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus as energetic but critical secondary allies. The Blue Dogs found themselves out in the cold from the wider Obama coalition, and shrank accordingly. Barbara Lee of PDA and the CPC, moving from a minority of one on Afghanistan at the start of the invasion, finally got a majority of House Democrats to oppose and push Obama on the wars, but to little avail in any immediate sense, being thwarted by both the DLC and the Multinational GOP.
This 'big picture' also reveals much about the current budget debates, which are shown to be three-sided-the extreme austerity neoliberalism of the Tea Party Ryan budget, the 'austerity lite' budget of the DLC-dominated Senate Democrats, and the left Keynesian progressive 'Back to Work' budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The 'Old New Dealers' were caught in the middle, with only 20 or so coming over on the Black Caucus version of the 'Back to Work' budget, which was still in the minority.
While all this shows why and how Obama was able to pull together a majority electoral coalition, it also reveals why he is still thwarted on pulling together an effective governing coalition. Likewise, it shows how the Tea Party, with only 10-20 percent of the electorate, is able to water down or completely bloc common-sense measures on gun control with 70-90 percent support among the general population.
Finally, the fact that there is only one avowed socialist in Congress tells us something about our own position in the overall balance of forces. Socialist candidates are only able to draw 2% to 5% of the votes in this period, save for Sanders, and we all know that Vermont has some unique features that made it possible, not that Sanders didn't do yeoman work in pulling together a progressive majority that elected him.
In summary, here are a few things to keep in mind.  If you decide to intervene in electoral work to build independent working class grassroots organizations, you don't go 'inside the Democratic Party'. There's not much of an 'inside' there anymore. What you do instead is join or work with one of the two factions/'parties' that are left of center.  Your aim is to make either of these stronger, preferably the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. Then to shift the overall balance of forces, your task is to defeat the Tea Party, the Multinational GOP, and the Blue Dogs. At present, not a single piece of progressive legislation is going to get passed without driving a wedge between the two parties under the GOP label and weakening both of them.
We have to keep in mind, however, that 'shifting the balance of forces' is mainly an indirect and somewhat ephemeral gain. It does 'open up space', but for what? Progressive initiatives matter for sure, but much more is required strategically. We are interested in pushing the popular front vs. finance capital to its limits, and within that effort, developing a socialist bloc. If that comes to scale, the 'Democratic Party Tent' is likely to collapse and implode, given the sharper class contractions and other fault lines that lie within it, much as the Whigs did in the 19th Century. That demands an ability to regroup all the progressive forces into a new 'First Party' alliance able to contend for power
An old classic formula summing up the strategic thinking of the united front and popular front is appropriate here: 'Unite and develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces, isolate and divide the backward forces, then crush our adversaries one by one.' In short, we have to have a policy and set of tactics for each one of these elements, as well as a strategy for dealing with them overall. Finally, a note of warning from the futurist Alvin Toffler: 'If you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy.'
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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Short Answers Given Repeatedly Dept…

By Carl Davidson

“…The beginning of wisdom in economics is understanding that there is no such thing as a fully planned economy nor fully free markets.

Under socialism, we will have a mix of the two, until the length of the working day approaches zero and the amount of labor time in any given commodity approaches zero, ie, full cybernation. Then the conditions will exist for states, markets and classes, including the working class, to 'wither away.' 

In the meantime, we do our best to apply intelligence in managing and living with them under the mixed transitional class society called socialism, the bridge between the current order and a classless society farther down the pike.”

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

‘Django Unchained’ in Context…

Spaghetti Communism? The Politics of the Italian Western

Sept 1, 2011 - If Westerns allegorize a mythical space of gradual resolution and order, the western all'italiana explodes the American dream of stabilizing prosperity with excessive violence and explicit anti-colonial themes. Benjamin Noys argues for a deeper analysis of an intensely political cinematic genre

By Benjamin Noys
Mute Magazine

Cleaning up the Whole World

Gilberto Perez remarks that 'the Western doesn't just tell violent stories, it tells stories about the meaning, the management of violence, the establishment of social order and political authority'.1 Perez elsewhere concedes that the Western runs 'a gamut of political persuasions',2but is keen to emphasise that in the classical American Western this 'management of violence' takes the form of a 'vital dialectic'3 in which is synthesised a 'civilized violence'.4 Serving his deliberately provocative re-imagination of the 'frontier' as equivocal site of liberty, Perez regards the Western as the romance of the birth of a new political order through the, often literal, marriage of East and West, in which violence plays the role of a 'vanishing mediator'. Such an argument hardly seems to hold for the Italian Western of the 1960s and 1970s, often known affectionately or derogatorily as 'Spaghetti Westerns', in which the excessive hyper-violence associated with the form makes it difficult to see how it might be pressed into service for a 'vital dialectic' of 'civilised violence'. The very excess of the violence on display, as well as its displacement from the 'mythological' place of America, fragments any dialectical sublation of violence within a national or political order.

This suggests a very different 'political persuasion', and very different questions concerning the 'management of violence'. In fact, objections to Spaghetti Westerns, often by critics enamoured of classic American Westerns (or 'Hamburger Westerns'5, in Christopher Frayling's mischievous suggestion), were usually founded on their 'excess' of violence. Philip French, writing in 1972, describes a filmography of continental Westerns as 'to me read[ing] like a brochure for a season in hell.'6A surprisingly apposite comment as we will see. Spaghetti Westerns, in fact, constructed a form of violence that carried a rather different and more intense charge. Franco Nero, who played the eponymous 'Django' in the seminal Spaghetti Western, remarked:

Spaghetti Westerns were for a certain kind of audience - the workers, I think. Mainly workers, boys... yes, all kinds of workers - and the workers they fantasize a lot, and they would like to go to the boss in the office and be the hero and say 'Sir, from today, something's going to happen.' And then - bam, bam! they want to clean up the whole world.7

A rather extreme example of the refusal of work, although if one considers the strategies and intensity of conflict in Italy between 1968-1977 - 'Our Comrade P.38' as one anonymous tract had it - 'clean[ing] up the whole world', gains a prescient resonance.8

This is reinforced by Johanna Isaacson's argument that the genre films of the late '60s and '70s belong to a 'moment when it was taken for granted that genre film was political to the bone, reflecting the subjectivity, anger and tastes of a radicalized proletarian sensibility.'9The question of violence, in terms of audience, turns here on sensibility: bourgeois or proletarian? The Spaghetti Western is, I would argue, exactly the archetypal film form of this moment, to quote Isaacson again, 'appealing to both [the] proletarian desire for spectacle and for representations of political repression.'10Although this schema of divided sensibility is too simplistic, not least in its supposition of a unified 'proletarian sensibility', it draws attention to the 'class' charge of violence emergent in these films. While this often takes overtly and unequivocally political forms, as we will see, what I want to focus on here are a small number of films that take their 'representations of political repression' into the realms of what Gail Day, in a very different context, has identified as a 'left-oriented nihilism'.11 These are Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966) and The Big Silence (1969) (also known as The Great Silence), and Guilio Questi's gothic horror Spaghetti Western Django Kill! / If You Live Shoot (1967). Produced and shown on the cusp of the eruption of the most militant workers' movement in Europe, these films display a striking nihilist politics that internalises and prefigures the experience of defeat.

Popular Excessive Violence

First, some context: between 400 and 450 Italian westerns were made, according to Christopher Frayling, in the period from 1963 to the mid-1970s.12 The most familiar are obviously the works of Sergio Leone, who broke out from the 'ghetto' of popular filmmaking into the category of auteur. The 'other Sergio' - Sergio Corbucci (1927-1990) - is perhaps a more representative figure of the cycle, especially with his work Django. It should be noted that although Spaghetti Westerns are often regarded as hyper-violent works, a large number were 'guns and gadgets' Westerns, heavily indebted to the Bond movies and with a comic streak, such as the charming Sabata (1969), starring Lee Van Cleef complete with four-barrelled derringer.

Broadly to characterise the whole 'cycle' of Italian Westerns, we can borrow Philip French's comment on post-Wild Bunch American Westerns:

At a social level the movies are reflecting current concerns and anxieties; from a commercial point of view a profitable subject is being exploited that seems to go down well at the box office; viewed aesthetically, the cycle of movies is offering a cumulative series of variations upon an established theme.13

In terms of the aesthetic 'variations' it is worth noting that many of the instances that seem most singular to the Italian Western, especially of masochistic violence, in fact occurred previously in American Westerns or in the immediate source material for Spaghetti Westerns: Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961). Yojimbo, its plot almost certainly derived from Dashiell Hammett's novels The Glass Key (1931) and Red Harvest (1929) (Hammett was an anti-fascist who joined the American Communist Party in 1937, pleaded the Fifth in a case linked to the communist witch hunts in 1951, served time in prison for contempt of court, and was later blacklisted), literally set the pattern of the lone hero playing off two gangs against each other to their mutual destruction, and also the tendency to quasi-homosocial or homoerotic torture scenes.

So, we are talking here of what Christopher Frayling calls 'formula cinema', but at the same time we have to recognise that this was an intensely political genre cinema.14 Obviously, as I've just noted, its source material is broadly left-wing, with Hammett's account of corruption and collusion linking to the general 'populist' politics of the Western (although we should well note, as Philip French does, the limits of that 'politics': 'the Western is ill-equipped to confront complex political issues in a direct fashion. The genre belongs to the American populist tradition which sees all politics and politicians as corrupt and fraudulent'.15) Also, to court the 'intentional fallacy', many of the directors and writers of these films were men, and yes men, of the left; either communists or sympathisers often energised by the emergent struggles of the 1960s, especially the Cuban revolution and the struggle of the Vietnamese against the Americans.

In the extensive debate on the politics of the possibilities of 'popular' film versus more Brechtian and modernist strategies of alienation that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it may be surprising now to realise that Spaghetti Westerns played a key role. Pierre Baudry, writing in Cahiers du Cinema during its most haut-Marxist period, noted, in 1971, the shifting and recurring patterns of these genre films, especially in their exploration of the dynamics of colonialism and revolution through moving from the 'Gringo'/Bandit pairing to the 'Gringo'/Mexican revolutionary pairing. Ultimately he found wanting this 'commercial' cinema, preferring the austere path that was to be taken by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's Brechtian critique of the Western, Vent D'Est (1970).

In fact, much of the political discussion of the Spaghetti Western has focused on these 'pairing' films, which contain obvious reflections on Vietnam, as well as Italy's own situation. The best of these is probably A Bullet for the General (1967), which was scripted partly by Franco Solinas, who was also responsible for writing The Battle of Algiers (1966), and for the script for what we could consider as the finest film on this theme of coloniser/colonised pairings: Queimada / Burn! (1969), which were both directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. Solinas' impeccable political credentials, his deliberate decision to work in the popular medium of the Western as a political act, and his sophisticated inclusion of Fanonian themes, all make the politics of these films striking and evident. What I am concerned with are films with a rather less direct politics, a politics in which the excess of violence is not placed in a 'revolutionary' or anti-colonial context, but operates in a more 'free-floating' and ambiguous form.

Epic Nihilism

Key to my analysis is the conjugation of 'epic nihilism', derived from Badiou's analysis in The Century where he remarks: 'may your force be nihilistic, but your form epic.'16 We can find this conjunction already encoded in the Ur-work of the Spaghetti Western genre: Sergio Corbucci's Django. Here, the epic form of the Western is, literally, dragged through the mud - in its striking opening sequence in which Django drags a coffin through the mud; a coffin, as we later find out, that contains the machine gun with which he will exterminate his adversaries. The town at the centre of the usual plot of playing off rival gangs is bathed in mud, and the film ends in a gunfight in a cemetery in which Django, with smashed hands, painfully and finally manages to shoot his chief tormentors after mounting his gun on a grave cross. It is not difficult to identify the mud as an allegory of the practico-inert, with Django becoming mired in the inertia that seems to afflict the supposedly decisive Spaghetti Western hero.17

This is reflected in the constant delay of revenge which affects Django, and many of the other heroes of these films. Once they become involved in double-crossing the competing gangs, these heroes persistently fail to act and as a result are usually tortured before exacting 'final' revenge. The films themselves, despite their bursts of hyper-violent action, are also tortured in their following of this repetitive path of delay and finally action. Of course, we could make the usual references to Hamlet, or to psychoanalytic explanations based on the displacement of murderous desires, but it strikes me how these films also mimic the affective texture of the working day. Django's own 'mechanical' killing, carried out with the Gatling gun, is over promptly, but seems to leave him as mere 'appendage' of the machine (to use Marx's phrase). The freelance 'labour' of the gunfighter is filled with longueurs, in a state of a kind of proto-precarity awaiting a new contract, or failing to execute a supposedly personal and pressing desire. What we have here is a strange tempo of labour that retards and confines action to sporadic outbursts of 'acting out', which appears to require the extremities of torture to 'activate'. Even the recurrent trope of the usually deliberately inflicted injury to the hero's gun hand, which can be found in Django and other films, seems to have the echo of the industrial accident. Despite the 'hopeful' ending of Django, in which the hero escapes with his life, his time as a gunslinger is presumably over.

In fact I wonder if these films do not take place in the 'factory-universe' described by Maurice Blanchot.18 This is a space of infinite repetition, excess, and the vacancy of Being. The deliberately hellish towns which our heroes tarry in figure this space. As Blanchot puts it, of the factory:

There is no more outside - you think you're getting out? You're not getting out. Night, day, there's no difference, and you have to know that retirement at sixty and death at seventy will not liberate you. Great lengths of time, the flash of an instant - both are equally lost.19

The factory is the space of infinite excess, of 'the infinite in pieces', figured in the broken and ruptural spaces through which the Spaghetti Western hero drifts, or becomes mired.20 These enclosed towns are not the wide open plains or vistas of monument valley, or even Almería, but have no more outside; are circles of hell (a metaphor literalised by Clint Eastwood in his post-Spaghetti Western High Plains Drifter (1973), as his hero has the town road sign painted red and renamed 'Hell').

Interminable Inertia

In Corbucci's later The Big Silence it will be snow that performs a similar function of signifying this inertial time. These two films by Corbucci are, to borrow Maurice Blanchot's phrase, 'condensed around thick living substances, which are at once over-abundantly active and of an interminable inertia.'21 We can take this as a certain coagulation of living labour in dead labour, and dead time, in which the performance of virtuosity is only ever fleeting, and forever punished. The 'production line' of killing runs on receding amounts of living labour, as value production is mechanised into the machine gun. Taking this motif of inertia to the extreme, The Big Silence also takes the usual taciturn Western hero to the limit, with the character of 'Silence' (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant), who is mute due to mutilation by bounty hunters (or 'bounty killers' as the film usually prefers) when he was a child. Again, we have the tempo of freelance labour, as Silence intervenes in a small-scale war between the 'bounty killers', who 'operate according to the law', in pursuing the former townspeople and farmers who have been driven into banditry by the actions of Pollicutt, the banker and Justice of the Peace.

This political fable, which follows closely the usual script of political populism - good people driven to 'social banditry' by a corrupt law - is complicated by the film's own seeming lack of faith in this story. Silence works for money, but works, again, in a lackadaisical and intermittent fashion. In contrast, the leading bounty killer Tigrero (an excellent performance by Klaus Kinski), is a model of sadistic efficiency: killing in the most expedient fashion, loading his dead victims onto the stage, and assiduously collecting his 'reward' (with a cut going to the banker Pollicutt). Upbraided by the new sheriff, Tigrero remarks: 'Every business has its own risks and rules'. Later, after having got the drop on the sheriff, who has lectured him on justice replacing violence, Tigrero kills him and remarks the only law is 'survival of the fittest': Homo homini lupus, although, as Tigrero notes to his friends 'when are wolves afraid of wolves?'

Of course the true destruction of this fable of populism, and proof of the power of the 'representation of political repression', is the film's ending. The comedic sheriff character is drowned in a frozen river when Tigrero shoots out the ice from under him to ensure an 'accidental' death. The town's prostitute matron, who had a touchingly comic and halting relationship with the sheriff, is shot by Tigrero after he has baited her with news of the sheriff's death. Although the sheriff had planned to feed the 'bandits' pending an amnesty this plan now turns into a fatal trap as Tigrero's men capture them when they come for the food. Silence, his hands ruined in a fight, and his female companion, wife of one of the men he is avenging, are gunned down by Tigrero after Silence refuses to flee and chooses instead to fight. As a result the 'bandits', tied-up in the saloon, are massacred. The 'civilising vital dialectic' of violence is broken, but, as Tigrero says, 'all according to the law'. He and the bounty killers plan to return to collect their now considerable bounties, as the distinction of law-making and law-preserving violence is broken through the 'law' of original accumulation that pays for the necessary violence required at all points.

Foul Gold

These thematics reach their baroque extreme in Guilio Questi's Django Kill!. Questi was not interested in making a Western. Instead, when offered such a project he took the opportunity to make a more personal film that dealt with his experiences as an anti-fascist partisan: 'I wanted to recount all of the things, the cruelty, the comradeship with friends, the death, all the experiences I had of war, in combat, in the mountains.'22 The result is a work of convulsive and violent beauty. If Jansco's The Round-Up (1965) is a film of the balletic choreography of physical repression, Django Kill! is a film of violence, sexual and physical, as carnivalesque, and the non-sequiturs of repressive desublimation.

It begins with the hand of the central character, the stranger (played by Tomas Milian), emerging from a grave to a surprisingly jaunty Western tune. In a series of bizarrely edited flashbacks (at one point a body appears to roll uphill in a reverse of the actual shot), we learn he was betrayed by a gang of outlaws led by the racist Oaks after their successful robbery of a gold shipment. Rescued by highly unlikely mystical-hippy 'Indians', who smelt his share of the gold into bullets, the stranger determines to take revenge on the gang.

The outlaws, meanwhile, have arrived in quite the most disturbing town, which makes Dogville look like a good choice for a holiday, and is known by the Indians as 'the unhappy place'. Riding in they see a naked boy playing with himself, a girl twisting the hair of a playmate, a man retching, a young girl under the boot of 'uncle Max', a woman threatening to bite her husband, and a crippled hedgehog (!). Soon recognised by the townspeople, the outlaws are killed in a carnivalesque episode of 'civilising' violence; complete with beatings, hangings, stringing-up bodies, drowning, and close-up head shot executions. Arriving in time to find Oaks holed up in a store and fighting for his life, the stranger agrees to take $500 for killing him. Confronting Oaks, who remarks, 'you've come back from hell', they engage in a quasi-comedic shoot out. Oaks is left bullet-ridden but still alive. A local criminal boss Zorro (or Sorro - the dubbing is unclear) realises gold is at stake and wants Oaks alive for interrogation. Digging the bullets out of him (the 'doctor' remarks 'you won't feel a thing' to the groaning and screaming of Oaks), 'honest citizens' tear him apart when they realise these are gold bullets.

Structured by the 'factional' pattern, with the hero moving between them, we have three 'groups' in the town. The barman Tembler, initially in alliance with the Alderman, but who later split over the gold, creating the 'faction' of Alderman and his mad wife, and finally Zorro, with his black clad and often open-shirted gang, which, Questi points out somewhat redundantly, as fascisti. The stranger stays with each of these groupings in the course of the film, moving from Tembler's saloon to Zorro's hacienda, then to Alderman's domestic gothic. In each case these surrogate families are constructed through an hysterical and excessive sexuality: at Tembler's, his son Evan's violent rejection/desire for his father's mistress, Flory, is expressed by his slashing her clothes; at Zorro's, a now kidnapped Evan, being used to extract the gold from Tembler, is sexually-abused, off screen, by Zorro's gang, who have been taught by Zorro to 'enjoy good things'. Evan commits suicide in the morning and, in one of the more sinister remarks in a remarkably sinister film, Zorro says 'He didn't want to be a man... a man who can take on responsibilities, a man who does what he must and accepts it.' Finally, at the Alderman's house the stranger is seduced by the Alderman's deranged wife who, in full Bertha Mason mode, will later burn the house down.

These 'sexual' exchanges are mirrored in the film's use of the stolen gold as the 'object' that inscribes a lack and excess, equivalent to the structuralist mana, the dummy hand, Othello's handkerchief, Poe's purloined letter; the empty object that 'circulates' in the structure, and everywhere brings death and passes through death and corpses. Seized in the massacre of the soldiers guarding the shipment, then the execution of the 'disposable' members of the gang, the smelting of the gold bullets from the share interned with the stranger, the 'liberation' of the rest of the shipment through the killing of the bandits, the literal extraction of the gold torn from the still-living flesh of Oaks, the gold which then leads to Evan's sexual abuse and suicide, which is stashed in his coffin, and finally the half share that melts in the fire set by Alderman's mad wife and encases him as a living gold corpse.

The gold has the function of motivational value but, if not quite converted into the Freudian equivalent of excrement, has the levelling, if not nihilist, function of equivalence through death and the 'abusability' of bodies. To use one of Marx's favourite quotes from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens:

Gold? Yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, gods, I am no idle votarist: roots, you clear heavens! Thus much of this will make black white; foul, fair; Wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant.

The 'common whore of mankind' is, precisely, the 'quilting point' (le point de capiton) of sexual and social violence, to use the Lacanian term.23 Gold functions in Django Kill! as the 'floating signifier' par excellence, it is the term that unifies the ideological field and texture of the film's universe. At the same time, within that universe, we see demonstrated the excess violence implicit in this ideological structure that is usually concealed by the seeming 'neutrality' of money as 'general equivalent'. In Marx's terms gold is rendered as the 'visible God', but the 'alienated capacity of mankind', in Marx's words, has no possibility of return or recovery.24

Unbroken Inward Rebellion

What we have in these works is the displacement of the epic towards Badiou's inscription of an 'epic nihilism' that is inflected by the passion for the real. That 'passion' is not simply the revolutionary passion, but rather the 'passion' of the everyday brutality and enmity of capitalism. In Engels' memorable characterisation, from the Condition of the Working Class in England:

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another, such injury that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live - forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence - knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.25

The Spaghetti Western, in its political guise, gives form to this violence as literal murder - deriving from the explicit violence of original accumulation a figuration of inexplicit everyday violence.

This experience was raw in an Italy that had witnessed large scale internal migration from the rural South to the newly industrialising North during the 1950s and 1960s. The influx of young male workers, no doubt the viewers Franco Nero had in mind, experienced both a 'late' form of 'primitive' or better, 'original accumulation', and the immersion in the new inertial world of factory labour. The Spaghetti Western, probably inadvertently, mediates this experience that binds together these experiences - displacement, the rural, inertial labour, and the precarious violence that composes the 'rule of (capitalist) law'.

The excess of the Spaghetti Western's violence reveals the violence encrypted in labour: in the subsumption of living labour, the pumping out of value, and the replacement of living labour with dead labour. This 'epic' takes a tragic form; Marx remarks in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts: 'Wages are determined by the fierce struggle between capitalist and worker. The capitalist inevitably wins.'26 The Spaghetti Western is the film of defiance in the face of an awareness of the experience of defeat unfolding through militancy and the acceleration of armed struggle.27 This is a radicalised proletarian sensibility that is not simply a joyous celebration of violence against the bosses, though it is that, but also awareness of the logic of repression, and resistance to the epic tone of prophesying or fantasising victory, and denying defeat, that took hold in certain factions of the movement, armed and otherwise, of the 1970s.

This epic nihilism, given a more elegiac tone in Peckinpah's work, now seems to figure the crisis of labour, a long drawn out defeat, the de-energising of nihilism into the superfluity of labour. In fact, we might revise or question the projective fantasies that could attach to such a sensibility, and see instead something more austere in that excess, a registration of historical defeat in advance that depends on the incorporation of such defeats at the bodily level.

Engels recognised that the violence of the capitalist class resulted in a counter violence:

There is, therefore, no cause for surprise if the workers, treated as brutes, actually become such; or if they can maintain their consciousness of manhood only by cherishing the most glowing hatred, the most unbroken inward rebellion against the bourgeoisie in power.28

His prophesy was that communism would mitigate and civilise this violence, providing it with its dialectic. The communist aim to do away with class antagonisms displaced it from embracing a bloody war of classes: 'In proportion, as the proletariat absorbs socialistic and communistic elements, will the revolution diminish in bloodshed, revenge, and savagery.'29

The Spaghetti Western, in the instances I've traced, does not seem so sanguine about this dialectic, and in fact aligns the experience of hatred and nihilism in the experience of defeat that is everyday experience. Lacking faith in the victory of proletarian violence over the technological and politically inflated violence of the capitalist state and capitalist economy it resonates in registering an antagonism, but is less hopeful that the solution to the riddle of history can be achieved.

Benjamin Noys <b.noys@chi.ac.uk> is a theorist living in Bognor Regis. His most recent book is The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. His blog is http://leniency.blogspot.com

Footnotes

1 Gilberto Perez, 'House of Miscegenation', review of Hollywood Westerns and American Myth, by Robert Pippin, London Review of Books, 32 no.22, 2010, pp.23-26, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n22/gilberto-perez/house-of-miscegenation.

2 Gilberto Perez, The Material Ghost: Films and their Medium, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998, p.241.

3 Ibid., p.247.

4 Ibid., p.234.

5 Christopher Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1998, p.xix.

6 Philip French, Westerns, London: Secker & Warburg/The British Film Institute, 1977, p.9.

7 In Frayling, op. cit., p.xi.

8 Anon., 'Let's Do Justice to Our Comrade P.38', in Italy: Autonomia, Post-Political Politics, Sylvere Lotringer and Christian Marazzi (Eds.), Semiotext(e) III.3, 1980, pp.120-121.

9 Johanna Isaacson, 'You Just Tarried with the Wrong Mexican: Machete and the Aesthetic Politics of Negation', Lana Turner Journal Blog, 2010, http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/online/49-film/135-you-just-tarried-wit...

10 Ibid.

11 Gail Day, Dialectical Passions: Negation in Postwar Art Theory, New York: Columbia University Press, 2011, p.3.

12 Frayling, op. cit., p.x.

13 French, Westerns, p.43.

14 Frayling, Spaghetti Westerns, p.xxi-xxii.

15 French, op. cit., p.43.

16 Alain Badiou, The Century, trans., with commentary and notes, Alberto Toscano, Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity, 2007, p.85.

17 The 'practico-inert' is a term coined by Jean-Paul Sartre in Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), defined as a field of activity, which, despite being the outcome of a successful struggle by some group, has ceased to be responsive to that group's needs. Bureaucracy is the classic example of a 'practico-inert'. From http://www.marxists.org

18 Maurice Blanchot, ''Factory-Excess', or Infinity in Pieces', in Political Writings, 1953-1993, trans. and intro. Zakir Paul, foreword Kevin Hart, New York: Fordham University Press, 2010, pp.131-132.

19 Ibid., p.131.

20 Ibid., p.132.

21 Maurice Blanchot, Lautréamont and Sade, trans. Stuart Kendall and Michele Kendall, Stanford, CA.: Stanford University Press, 2004, p.68.

22 In Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die, Harpenden: Kamera Books, 2009, p.143.

23 Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso, 1989, p.87.

24 Karl Marx, Early Writings, intro. Lucio Colletti, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975, p.377.

25 Friedrich Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844, Chp.7, Marxists Internet Archive, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/condition-working-class/....

26 Karl Marx, op. cit., p.282. 27 I owe this point to Giovanni Tiso. 28 Engels, op. cit., Chp.7. 29 Engels, op. cit., Chp.13.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Gun Control and the Lesser Known Reasons for the 2nd Amendment

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

I'm a 2nd Amendment guy from a semi-rural area of Beaver County in Western PA. Most folks around here have guns, but my guess, judging from the debate in our local paper's letter's page, is that most of them are also reasonable on gun control, not to mention horrified by the latest school slayings.

None of the Amendments in Bill of Right is absolutist dogma, including the 2nd Amendment. A line has to be drawn somewhere, unless you want to insist of anyone's 'right' to own Bazookas or Stinger shoulder-fired missiles that can readily take out tanks, helicopters or jetliners taking off from the airport.

Where do you want to draw it? I say ban these military capacity weapons and their large magazines, but keep our deer rifles and shotguns--for those of sound mind who want to keep them. I'm also for thorough  registration, full background checks-all to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, those convicted of violent crimes and those under 'orders of protection' regarding domestic violence.

But waging the 'gun control' debate often misses a deeper question that need to be highlighted. The main purpose of the 2nd Amendment, when it was adopted, had little to do with deer or varmint hunting or individual home defense.

The 'well-regulated militia,' in the eyes of many of the Founders, was for several purposes: putting down slave insurrections, seizing land and destroying threats from native peoples, and defending local governments, usually pro-slavery, against the possible 'tyranny' of a federal government that might become inclined against slavery.

In our modern age, this purpose carries over among our rightwing populists. A good number of them, to read their blogs, want military-style weapons as 'defense' against Black or Mexican 'hordes', or a government 'too left' to their liking. A handful of them have been brazen enough to state this openly on a few talk shows, but only rarely.

It remains, however, the main reason the NRA core leadership and others of their ilk insist of their right to weapons with a military-scale capacity. That's the real reason behind what seems to be the unreason and stubbornness you heard at the NRA's press conference.

I have no fear whatsoever of 'hordes' of people of color; however, I do worry about those who do, especially if they're organized in modern-day 'militias.' Finding a compromise will be tougher than it seems, and this bit of hidden backward thinking is one of the key obstacles. But all of us with any sense have got to put our shoulders to the wheel.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How the Left Can Become a True Political Force to Be Reckoned With

By Bill Fletcher & Carl Davidson
Progressive America Rising via Alternet.org

Nov 13, 2012 - The 2012 elections may prove to have been a watershed in several different respects.  Despite the efforts by the political Right to suppress the Democratic electorate, something very strange happened: voters, angered by the attacks on their rights, turned out in even greater force in favor of Democratic candidates. The deeper phenomenon is that the changing demographics of the USA also became more evident—45% of Obama voters were people of color, and young voters turned out in large numbers in key counties.

Unfortunately for the political Left, these events unfolded with the Left having limited visibility and a limited impact—except indirectly through certain mass organizations—on the outcome.

The setting

On one level it is easy to understand why many Republicans found it difficult to believe that Mitt Romney did not win the election.  First, the US remains in the grip of an economic crisis with an official unemployment rate of 7.9%.  In some communities, the unemployment is closer to 20%.  While the Obama administration had taken certain steps to address the economic crisis, the steps have been insufficient in light of the global nature of the crisis.  The steps were also limited by the political orientation of the Obama administration, i.e., corporate liberal, and the general support by many in the administration for neo-liberal economics.

The second factor that made the election a ‘nail biter’ was the amount of money poured into this contest.  Approximately $6 billion was spent in the entire election.  In the Presidential race it was more than $2 billion raised and spent, but this does not include independent expenditures.  In either case, this was the first post-Citizen United Presidential campaign, meaning that money was flowing into this election like a flood after a dam bursts.  Republican so-called Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) went all out to defeat President Obama.

Third, the Republicans engaged in a process of what came to be known as “voter suppression” activity.  Particularly in the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans created a false crisis of alleged voter fraud as a justification for various draconian steps aimed at allegedly cleansing the election process of illegitimate voters.  Despite the fact that the Republicans could not substantiate their claims that voter fraud was a problem on any scale, let alone a significant problem, they were able to build up a clamor for restrictive changes in the process, thereby permitting the introduction of various laws to make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots.  This included photographic voter identification, more difficult processes for voter registration, and the shortening of early voting.  Though many of these steps were overturned through the intervention of courts, they were aimed at causing a chilling impact on the voters, specifically, the Democratic electorate.[1]

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lessons for 21st Century Socialism from Buddhism

Buddhism and ecology both refuse to separate the human and natural worlds – and demand that we act accordingly

Vultures at a Tibetan sky burial ritual in Dari county in northwest China's Qinghai province 27 November 2009. Photo by Alex Lee/epa/Corbis

By David P Barash
Aeon Magazine

Nov 5, 2012 - Once, while waiting for a wilderness permit at a ranger station in North Cascades National Park, Washington state, I overheard the following message, radioed into headquarters by a backcountry ranger: ‘Dead elk in upper Agnes Creek decomposing nicely. Over.’ This ranger was not only a practical and profound ecologist, she also possessed the wisdom of a Buddhist master. The ‘over’ in her communication seemed especially apt. For Buddhists, as for ecologists, all individual lives are eventually ‘over’, but their constituent parts continue ‘living’ pretty much for ever, in a kind of ongoing process of bio-geo-chemical reincarnation.

People who follow ecological thinking (including some of our hardest-headed scientists) might not realise that they are also embracing an ancient spiritual tradition. Many who espouse Buddhism — succumbing, perhaps, to its chic, Hollywood appeal — might not realise that they are also endorsing a world view with political implications that go beyond bumper stickers demanding a free Tibet.

Plenty of us recognise that Buddhist writings and teachings — especially in their Zen manifestation — celebrate the beauty and wisdom in the natural world. A monk asks a master: ‘How may I enter in the Way?’ The master points to a stream and responds: ‘Do you hear that torrent? There you may enter.’ Walking in the mountains, the master asks: ‘Do you smell the flowering laurel?’ The monk says he does. ‘Then,’ declares the master, ‘I have hidden nothing from you.’

Part of this sensitivity to nature is a Buddhist grasp of suffering, whose existence constitutes the first of Buddhism's Four Noble Truths. It is no coincidence that Henry David Thoreau, America's first great environmentalist, was also a student of Indian religion and the first translator of the ‘Lotus Sutra’ into English. In this classic teaching, Shakyamuni Buddha compares the ‘Dharma’ — the true nature of reality — to a soothing rain that nourishes all beings.

The pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote that to have an ecological conscience is to ‘live alone in a world of wounds’. The Buddha urged his followers to be sensitive to the suffering of all sentient beings. His First Precept is to commit oneself to ahimsa, or nonharming. The Mahayana Buddhist ideal is to go further, and to become a bodhisattva, an enlightened individual who vows to relieve the suffering of all beings. In the ‘Metta Sutta’, Theravada monks and lay adherents vow to practise loving kindness: ‘Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.’ And here is the first verse of ‘The Bodhisattva Path’, by Shantideva, a revered eighth-century poet: ‘May I be the doctor and the medicine/And may I be the nurse/For all sick beings in the world/Until everyone is healed.’

For Buddhists and ecologists alike, we are all created from spare parts scavenged from the same cosmic junk-heap

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