Sunday, December 21, 2014

Agencies of Social Change Often Wear a Clerical Collar

Faith making a difference in Aliquippa

Resurrecting Aliquippa: Faith

Kevin Lorenzi/The Times: Chris Ingram speaks to a church gathering at a "Black Lives Matter" service Dec. 14 at New Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Aliquippa.

By Tom Davidson

Beaver County Times

 tdavidson@timesonline.com |

ALIQUIPPA — Beyond the facts and figures in the sheaf of 150 pages that is the city's Act 47 recovery plan are the people who live and do business here.

They've endured decades of economic downturns and slow decay since the industrial lifeblood of the community — Jones & Laughlin Steel and its successors — left with the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

But the city's people have leaned on another institution, one that many say is even tougher than steel: their churches and what springs forth within them, namely their faith. Despite the city's financial woes, it has a strong spiritual foundation, and scores of people of all faiths are working to help the city resurrect itself.

"We see united ... clergy like we've never seen before" crossing congregational and racial boundaries to unite for the city's common good, said Rich Liptak, pastor of Wildwood Chapel in Hopewell Township, just across the border from Aliquippa.

"There's genuine love and care for each other. It's been great," he said.

More than 300 people attended a September service billed as Aliquippa Celebrates Faith, and for five years, each Saturday morning, a group of clergy has gathered to pray at various places in the city, Liptak said. He remembers times when there would be a shooting or stabbing on a Friday night, and the next morning they'd gather to pray near the scene of the crime.

But in the five years, the Saturday group has prayed in every neighborhood of the city, and it's made a difference. After a stretch of more than a decade where there was at least one homicide each year in Aliquippa, the city saw a 16-month stretch in 2012 and 2013 without a murder, Liptak said.

"We see answer to prayer," he said.

He himself been a witness to the demise of the mills and the jobs they provided. His father, uncle and grandfather were all steelworkers. "It's been a slow spiral downward" is how he puts it.

Liptak has listened to people longing for the mills to come back since they were shuttered. But the mills haven't come back, and for 30 years, the city has been stuck in the state's Act 47 program for financially distressed communities. The city's latest recovery plan was approved earlier this year, and city officials are working to exit the program and foster a renaissance in town.

"I think we're poised for improvement," Liptak said. He serves as president of the Greater Aliquippa Ministerial Association, a vibrant group of pastors who work together to make a difference in Aliquippa.

Making an impact

There are also groups including Aliquippa Impact that work to help youth.

Steve Rossi, executive director of Aliquippa Impact, said its main aim is to "foster tangible hope to youth" in the city.

"It's not just spiritual in nature; it's practical," Rossi said.

Aliquippa Impact has an after-school program at Linmar Terrace, a one-on-one mentoring program, a city camp, arts education and several summer programs for youth in the city. They try to teach kids what they can do themselves to ensure they have a bright future, Rossi said.

"A lot of it is common-sense stuff," he said. "We want you (the youth they serve) to own it."

The youth in the city are full of potential, he said, and they try to teach kids that they have the answers to the problems they face.

Many of the people involved with Aliquippa Impact, including Rossi, aren't Aliquippa natives. They came to serve and not to "fix Aliquippa," he said, but to help the people there "fix themselves."

"It is a long-haul ministry," he said, with the long-term goal being that the kids served now will one day be a part of the ministry's leadership.

A big part of it is "just showing up" to be there for the kids. "We can go so far through love," Rossi said. "It brings hope to families."

Offering coffee — and hope

Another group that's active in Aliquippa is Uncommon Grounds, a coffee shop and ministry program based on Franklin Avenue downtown that was founded in 2005 by Church Army evangelist John Stanley, an Australian who has since returned to his native land.

The ministry lives on, thanks to Herb Bailey, whose first impression of Aliquippa differed from the persistent negative perceptions of the city that are common in Beaver County.

Read more!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Jackson Rising: An Electoral Battle Unleashes a Merger of Black Power, the Solidarity Economy and Wider Democracy

Photo: Closing session of Jackson Rising

By Carl Davidson

SolidarityEconomy.net

Jackson,MS - Nearly 500 people turned out over the May 2-4, 2014 weekend for the ‘Jackson Rising’ conference in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a highly successful and intensive exploration of Black power, the solidarity economy and the possibilities unleashed for democratic change when radicals win urban elections.

The gathering drew urban workers and rural farmers, youth and the elderly, students and teachers, men and women. At least half were people of color. About 50 were from the city of Jackson itself, and most were from other Southern states. But a good deal came from across the country, from New York to the Bay area, and a few from other countries—Quebec, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The major sponsors included Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Praxis Project, Southern Grassroots Economies Project, US Solidarity Economy Network, and the US Social Forum. Funding came from Community Aid and Development, Inc., Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi, Fund for Democratic Communities, Ford Foundation, Wallace Action Fund, Surdna Foundation, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

But to grasp the meaning and significance of this meeting, a step back to see how it began—and why it almost didn’t happen—is required.

The conference was the brainchild of Jackson’s late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and one group of his close supporters, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) soon after he was elected on June 4, 2013 and had placed his people in a few key city positions. They had initiated the conference, which was then endorsed by the city council, to help shape and economic development plan for the city and the outlying Black majority rural areas, known as the ‘Kush.’--hence the name of the overall project, the ‘Jackson-Kush Plan.’

Chokwe Lumumba was rooted in the Black revolutionary organization, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), which claimed the Black majority areas of several states in the Deep South. He was one of its leading members, and a widely respected civil rights attorney. The RNA also had an economic outlook, a form of cooperative economics through the building of ‘New Communities’—named after the concept of ‘Ujamaa’, a Swahili word for ‘extended family,’ promoted by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. The new mayor connected this core idea with the long-standing role of cooperatives in African American history, the experience of the Mondragon coops in Spain, and the solidarity economy movement that had emerged and spread from the Third World in recent decades. Together, all these ideas merged in the mayor’s project, ‘Cooperation Jackson.’

Lumumba’s election had taken Jackson’s political elite off guard. Making use of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to run as an independent in the Democratic primary, he defeated the incumbent and forced a runoff. Given that Jackson is an 80% Black city, he then won overwhelmingly. So when he died suddenly of heart failure Feb 25, 2014, with his supporters in a state of shock, his opposition moved quickly to counterattack. The MXGM, the Peoples Assembly and other pro-Chokwe groups now had two tasks, trying to get Chokwe’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, elected mayor while continuing to plan the conference, but with city support on hold.

Lumumba, 31 years old, lost to Tony Yarber, 46% to 54%. Chokwe Antar received over 65% of the Black vote, but the turnout had dropped. The Yarber team immediately moved to fire all the Choke sympathizers from city government, and tried to sabotage the conference. Local rightwing web publications attacked it as “thinly veiled communism.”

A Tale of Two Cities

What is behind this antagonism? Jackson is indeed a tale of two cities, on the cusp of two competing visions. Given its demographics, any mayor is likely to be Black, but what that can mean is another matter. Just driving around the city gives you a quick glimpse of the problem. While the largest city in the state and the Capitol, replete with major government buildings, the city is eerily quiet and empty. There are a few upscale areas, but also large areas of older, wood-framed housing of the unemployed and the working poor. There are huge fairgrounds, but little in the way of basic industry.

So two paths emerged. One was neoliberal, and aimed at exporting as much of the Black poor as possible, in order to open up wider areas from gentrification attracting the better-paid servants of the businesses that served government. The other was progressive, the Jackson Cooperation plan, which aimed at growing new worker-owned businesses and new housing coops that worked in tandem with the Black farmers of the ‘Kush.’ It also stressed democratized city services, while creating new alternative energy and recycling startups and also taking advantage of the city’s position as a major regional transport hub. It’s a conflict not unique to Jackson and shared by many cities around the country. Here’s the four points summing up ‘Cooperation Jackson’:

  • Cooperation Jackson is establishing an educational arm to spread the word in their communities about the distinct advantages and exciting possibilities of mutual uplift that business cooperatives offer.
  • When Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was still in office, Cooperation Jackson planned to establish a “cooperative incubator.” providing a range of startup services for cooperative enterprises. Absent support from the mayor’s office, some MXGM activists observed, a lot of these coops will have to be born and nurtured in the cold.
  • Cooperation Jackson aims to form a local federation of cooperatives to share information and resources and to ensure that the cooperatives follow democratic principles of self-management that empower their workers. We’ve always said “free the land,” observed one MXGM activist. Now we want to “free the labor” as well.
  • Finally Cooperation Jackson intends to establish a financial institution to assist in providing credit and capital to cooperatives.

The conference project thus found itself in the eye of a storm. But with luck and some judicious tactics, one key figure, Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers, decided to stick with MXGM and allowed the conference to continue its plans on her campus, using the huge Walter Patton Center and two classroom buildings. A last minute fundraising blitz pulled in enough resources to squeeze through and make it happen.

Opening plenary: John Zippert, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ed Whitfield, Kali Akuno

When the hundreds of registered participants poured into the huge hall Friday evening and saw it filling up, one could sense the excitement and rising spirit of solidarity amidst diversity. The opening plenary keynote speakers included Jessica Gordon Nembhard of the US Solidarity Economy Network (SEN), Wendell Paris of the Federation of Southern Coops (FSC) Land Assistance fund, Cornelius Blanding, Special Projects Director of the FSC, Ed Whitfield of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project based in North Carolina, and Kali Akuno of Jackson’s MXGM.

Gordon-Nembhard started off. A professor at John Jay College in New York, she recently published Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, a groundbreaking study on the topic.

“Courage is a word I had to use,’ she explained. ‘Everywhere I turned, from the early efforts of free Blacks to buy others in their family out of slavery, to the Underground Railroad, to burial societies and other clandestine forms of mutual aid; it took courage to motivate all these cooperative forms of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, from the beginning down to our own times.”

She gave the example of Fannie Lou Hamer in the battles in Mississippi in the 1960s, well known as a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. “But do we know her as a coop member, a group that sustained her when she was denied an income. As Ms. Hamer put it, ‘Until we control our own food, land, and housing, we can't be truly empowered.’”

Wendell Paris who, as a young SNCC worker mentored by Ms. Hamer, continued the theme: “Land is the basis for revolution and it is important for us to hold on to our land base." He described the workings of the Panola Land Buyers Association in Sumpter County Alabama. “Freedom isn’t free. In the training to run coops successfully, you learn more than growing cucumbers. You learn organizing and administration, the training ground for taking political offices.”

At different times during introductions, or even in the remarks of speakers, the chant, ‘Free the Land!’ would rise from the participants, accompanied by raised fists. This came from the RNA tradition, referring to an older battle cry of self-determination for the Black areas of the Deep South. It clearly still had resonance, and was often followed with ‘By Any Means Necessary!’

The opening session was closed out by comments from Ed Whitfield and Kali Akuno. “All successful enterprises produce a surplus,” said Whitefield, "and our empowerment runs through retaking the surplus we have created, and putting it to uses that best serve us. We're not here making excuses. We're here making history. As long as we accept the current economic structures and approaches to development that flow from those structures and paradigms, we can’t get out of bondage.”

 

"It's an uphill climb here in Mississippi,” added Akuno. “The Republican Tea Party government we have on a state level is not in favor at all of what we're trying to push through cooperative development. There was a bill supporting cooperatives that they killed earlier this year. On a municipal level, we are looking to transform all of the procurement policies of the city, all of the environmental regulations and standard policies within the city, and particularly all of the land-use policies in the city, that will support cooperatives. On the more practical side, we are launching a new organization from this conference called Cooperation Jackson, and it is going to be the vehicle by which all of the follow-through is going to be carried out.”

But the municipal battle, Akuno concluded, would be difficult, given the neoliberal, repressive and pro-gentrification policies of the new team in charge.

All the items presented by the opening speakers expressed the common theme of the conference organizers—Political power in the hands of the Black masses and their allies, then anchoring and using that power to shape and grow a cooperative economic democracy that would serve the vast majority. It was both a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba and an expression of his vision. Winning it, however, would not come easy.

The next day, Saturday, was a different story. Here space was opened up for more than 30 diverse workshops, spread out over three time slots, with two more plenary sessions. Topics included the influence of Mondragon, community land trusts, Black workers and the AFL-CIO, the communes in Venezuela, mapping the solidarity economy, coops on a global scale, waste management and recycling, working with legislatures, and many more. No one report can cover them all, but here’s the flavor of a few.

Mondragon and the Union Coop Model.

What were the nuts and bolts of Spain’s Mondragon Coops (MCC), and how could unions serve as allies in creating similar enterprises in the U.S.? This was the question posed at an excellent workshop with three presenters: Michael Peck, the U.S. representative of Mondragon; Kristen Barker of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative; and Dennis Olson, of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Peck began with a brief overview of MCC and its 120 coops and their accomplishments. The key point: In MCC, workers own their labor, but rent their capital, rather than the other way around. “But sometimes," he noted, "you can tell more about something by look at one of its failures than all its successes."

He was referring to the fact that a major MCC coop, FAGOR, which made kitchen appliances, recently closed down. “The housing market in Spain and Europe collapsed, and without new homes, new appliance sales sink Plus there was tough price competition from Asia.” MCC had carried FAGOR for several years, but could no longer justify it. Despite anger, “the vote of the workers to close it was unanimous.” In the regular world, the workers would get their pink slips, and be on the street.

But Mondragon was different. “MCC first set up a solidarity fund with every worker donating 1.5% of their salary, adding up to some 15 million Euros,” he explained. “This was to cushion the transition. Then it worked to reassign all the FAGOR workers to other coops, which it has now accomplished for the large majority.” Peck added that Mondragon would continued creating new coops both in Spain and around the world, and the true test was not that some would eventually close, which was natural, but what happened when they did.

Kristen Barker, right, at Our Harvest Coop

Kristen Barker then gave the workshop an enthusiastic account of how a small group in Cincinnati, armed with only a few good ideas, had over four years moved to a point where three substantial coops were opening in the city and several more were in the works.

“We were really inspired when we heard of the agreement between Mondragon and the United Steelworkers,” said Barker. “Our effort also stands on the shoulders of the Evergreen Coops in Cleveland. To date, Evergreen has launched three co-ops, Evergreen Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar that offers energy retrofits and solar panel installation, and Green City Growers that grows high end lettuce for hotels and restaurants in Cleveland. They have dozens of potential cooperatives in the pipeline. We are partnering with the major players of this initiative including the Ohio Employee Ownership Center for our unique project."

The first three coops in Cincinnati, Barker added, were Sustainergy, a building trades coop to retrofit buildings to better environmental standards; the Cincinnati Railway Manufacturing Cooperative, which will make undercarriages for rail cars, and partnered with both the United Steel Workers and the local NAACP; and Our Harvest, a food hub coop which starts with local farms and takes their produce to a central site for packaging and marketing. It’s partnered with the UFCW union and other agricultural groups. Dennis Olson explained how the UFCW was particular helpful in connecting growers through the distribution centers to the unionized grocery chains, as opposed to Wal-Mart.

“We only had a small study group to start—some community organizers, some Catholic nuns, a few union people,” concluded Barker. “But we did a lot of research, made partners and got the word out in the media. Soon we had more people calling with more ideas, like coop grocery stores in ‘food desert’ areas, jewelry makers’ coops and so on. We started getting some interest from the city, and now things are taking off.”

Starting Coops in Jackson and the ‘Kush’

This session was chaired by John Zippert of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. He started with an excellent short summary of ‘Cooperatives 101,’ but quickly turned to drawing out the workshop participants on their concerns. Most were Black women from Jackson—one was interested in whether an African hair care products and services was possible; another wanted to start a coop of home health care workers. One man from Memphis said he had a small business distributing African products to small Black stores in the surrounding states, but he was getting on in years. How could he turn it into a coop that would live after him? Everyone shared ideas and legal options

As the session ended, I ran into Ben Burkett, a Black farmer locally active the Indian Springs Farmers Association, part of the ‘Kush.’ I knew he was also president of the National Family Farm Coalition, but asked him more about his local operation.

“Well, I don’t do cotton anymore, not much cotton in Mississippi these days,” he explained. ‘I do many vegetables, and sweet potatoes are a good crop. But it’s one thing for a farmer to grow and dig sweet potatoes. It’s quite another to have the equipment to scrub them, cut them into French fires, and then bag and store them, while getting them quickly to your markets. That’s where the value of the coop comes in. We can pool our resources for these things, and it makes a big difference. We’d be in bad shape without the coop.”

Waste Management, Recycling and City Politics

The politicss of garbage was the main topic here. Chaired by Kali Akuno, this workshop gave the most insight into what was going on in Jackson as a new and backward regime was replacing that of Chokwe Lumumba. “Waste Management serves the city poorly,” said Akuno. “It often ignores our neighborhoods. It does no recycling; it dumps the waste in a landfill in a small city to the North of here, gives them a payment, and that’s the end of it.”

Akuno explained they had a different plan. Since a large part of the city budgets deal with services like these, they wanted to break them into smaller pieces so local contractors or coops could bid on them, then recycle the waste into a revenue stream. In addition to helping the environment and employment, it would keep the money circulating locally.

“Another piece was setting up an incubator to foster the development of cooperatives,” Akuno added. “The government can’t run the co-ops. It won’t build them, but it can set the table. For most of the past 20 years, even though there has been a succession of black mayors, 90-95 percent of contracts to people who don’t live in Jackson. It was all about hiring people in Jackson.”

“Now everything is going to be a fight,’ he added. “Even if your plan is reasonable and sustainable, it won’t matter if it’s stepping on the wrong toes.”

Saturday also included two mealtime plenary sessions, one, at lunch, featuring the diverse organizations taking part, and the other, at dinner, giving everything an international dimension.

The lunch plenary included Omar Freilla of Green Workers Cooperatives, Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative, Michael Peck of Mondragon USA, Ricky Maclin of New Era Windows, and Saladin Muhhamad of Black Workers for Justice and MaryBe McMillian, Secretary Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

“Community cooperatives,” said Steve Dubb, “can be considered part of a long civil rights movement that fights for both racial and economic justice. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King in the last year of his life helped launch the Poor People’s Campaign for an Economic Bill of Rights. The return of cooperatives to the movement, as illustrated by what’s happening here, is a welcome development.”

MaryBe McMillian stressed the importance both of labor and the concentration of forces in the South. “Why organize in the South? Because what happens in the South affects the entire nation." Speaking for Black workers, Saladin Mummamad added, ‘We need power not just democracy; we need power that shapes what democracy looks like. When plants shut down workers, should seize control and turn them into cooperatives.”

The evening session started with a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba by his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “We are victorious because we struggle. I'm not afraid of the term revolutionary. We need to be as revolutionary as the times require. Free the land! The struggle my father started is not over, but only beginning. It continues, by any means necessary.”

Also featured were Francoise Vermetter of Chantier in Quebec, Pierre LaLiberte on the International Labor Organization in Switzerland, Mazibuko Jara of AMandela! Magazine in south Africa, Elbart Vingwe, Organization of Collective Cooperative in Zimbabwe, Omar Sierra, Deputy Counsel General of Venezuela-Boston, and Janvieve Williams-Comrie, Green Worker Coops in the U.S.

"Freeing the land has given our people a new sense of belonging," said Omar Sierra, of Venezuela. “Chokwe Lumumba extended his solidarity to us in a time of need. Our people are saddened by his passing, and will not forget him.”

William Copeland, a cultural organizer from Detroit. Summed up the spirit of the crowd: “These presentations demonstrate the international significance of the Black Liberation Movement and Southern movement building.”

On Sunday morning, those who hadn’t had to leave early for the airport, gathered in a large session of the whole that closed out the weekend. One after another, people stood up and testified to how their consciousness had been altered by their discussions and new experiences over the weekend. Emily Kawano of the Solidarity Economy Network made the point of understanding that the projects ahead, while including coops also reached beyond them to other forms, such as participatory budgeting, public banks and alternative currencies. Finally, at an auspicious moment, an African American women rose and in a strong church choir voice, began singing an old civil rights anthem, “Organize, organize, organize!” Everyone was on their feet, hands clapping, fists raised, and interspersing ‘Free the Land! with the chorus. It couldn’t have had a better closing moment.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

James Dean and the Birth of Modern Masculinity

James Dean. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesA life mesmerizingly truncated, James Dean left behind only three films, and the gaping absence of the career that might have been.

Even though he only made three films, James Dean introduced Hollywood to a new kind of man: Photo above: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

by India Ross

New Statesman

17 April, 2014 - In Rebel Without A Cause, from 1955, a 24-year old James Dean, red-jacketed and tight-jeaned, climbs behind the wheel of an old black Mercury. To his right, the opponent he will race to the edge of a cliff hangs out of his driver-side window for a last slug of bravado: “Hey Toreador!”, he jeers. “First man who jumps is a chicken.” Re-inserting a trademark cigarette, Dean flicks on his headlights and hits the gas, and the two cars accelerate towards the brink. Frames from the edge, Dean glances right, grabs for the door and rolls out onto the turf. His adversary, jacket sleeve caught on his door handle and jammed into his driver’s seat, slips wrenchingly over the edge with his car.

Less than a year later, the real life James Dean, whose legacy is the subject of an upcoming retrospective at the BFI, was to die in an echoing event, flipping a race-car on a bend on a California highway. A life mesmerisingly truncated, he left behind only three films, and the gaping absence of the career that might have been. It was a sequence of events morbidly inkeeping with the themes of doomed youth his characters embodied.

The word “iconic” is tossed around ad nauseum, but if ever it were to apply, in the sense of an individual and a star whose off-screen persona outshines the sum of their roles, who bends the fabric of the society in which they live, Dean would surely qualify. In life, and even more so in death, the bee-stung darling of early Technicolor has held the awe of the movie-going public.

But facial anatomy and excellent hair were not the traits for which Dean was influential. Hollywood does not suffer a shortage of cheekbones. He slotted into a blurry interlude following the second world war but before the flowering of the Beat movement, in which the role of a man in society was under sudden and unsuspected dispute. A generation primed for combat found itself at a loss of purpose, and gender roles that were without meaning overnight began to merge and reconfigure themselves.

 

Dean was a new kind of man. His characters cried and struggled and screamed in frustration at the blurry world they had to live in. They were awkward and uncertain, grappling with sexuality and the disappointment in older men around them. “What can you do when you have to be a man?”, screams Jim, the tortured hero of Rebel Without A Cause, at his impotent father.

The cut of the male star was formerly more robust: Charlton Heston, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable – these were men’s men, manoeuvring from the Alexandrian chariot to the Western Front with a raised eyebrow in place. But the type of machismo with which Hollywood used to cash cheques, which slipped so easily into the rhythm of day-saving and woman-placating, is now all but redundant. George Clooney is perhaps the only contemporary relic of that 1940s flavour of heterosexuality. With a Cary Grant jawline and non-threatening cool, Clooney lingers as a housewives’ favourite, occasionally modernising his brand with political activism and dips into independent pictures. He banks on a nostalgia for the screen heroes that preceded him.

But the successors to James Dean are in evidence everywhere. From the contemplative Ryan Gosling to the part-time poet James Franco, the Emotional Man is now a marketable asset. Matthew McConaughey, 2014’s case in point, has lived an entire spectrum of masculinity, latterly dropping frat-boy kilos to become a thoughtful shadow of himself – a feminised brand that has been remunerated well beyond his Oscar.

In Hollywood today, a “male icon” is a contradiction in terms. Where fame has become all but genderless, a new batch of androgynous stars has fumbled its way to the surface. From Michael Cera to Jesse Eisenberg, the cinema is synonymous with a group of loping, hobbit-haired boys so divorced from masculinity that their characters actively mock the idea of sexual power. A swelling interest in superheroes, as an object of ironic admiration by the tech generation, is not coincidental, as fanboys reflect on a lost type of man, so distant from themselves.

James Dean opened a door for the re-imagining of the male star. An awkward icon, he gave early shape to a model that would take decades to take hold. A man not just uncomfortable in himself but in the very idea of what a man represents, alongside Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash he broke a cycle of sexual dogma, laying the tracks for a half-century of flexible, sensitive masculinity. From the Beatles to The Graduate, The Smiths to Superbad, another type of man entirely was to dominate a soft, new horizon.

Read more!

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   

--------------

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

---------------

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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