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 <> 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


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,

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,

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

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,

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

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Friday, December 21, 2012

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

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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

By Bill Fletcher & Carl Davidson
Progressive America Rising via

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

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

The setting

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

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

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

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lessons for 21st Century Socialism from Buddhism

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

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

By David P Barash
Aeon Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

GOTV in Aliquippa: Walking with Walker

Tough times in Western PA’s Aliquippa

By Carl Davidson

I door-knocked on the streets of Aliquippa for getting out the vote yesterday, Saturday Oct 27. My walking partner was our new mayor, Rev. Dwan Walker.

People complain about discouragement and analyze every which way, but it looks different down here on the ground.

We talked almost entirely with the African American working class and their youngsters. I have never seen such determination, steadfastness and vision among a group of voters. They are very realistic about Obama, but even more about the GOP and Romney. They know exactly what to do, and they are well aware that it's only the beginning, with far heavier battles ahead.

I wish I could say the same of some of my other friends and people I know. Let’s ‘get ‘er done,’ comrades and friends, then take it from there.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Debates, the ‘Yellow Peril,’ and Tibet

Tibetans celebrating emancipation of serfs.

By Carl Davidson

I get turned off when the Presidential ‘Debates' hit on the topic of China. Some worthwhile points  may be made about trade relations, but I’m informed enough to know there’s more than one side to that story. The US has done more than its share of ‘dumping’ and other unequal and unfair economic dealings with the world far more and far longer than China.

What really worries me, however, is the lurking and old ‘Yellow Peril’ chauvinism seeking into the working class. It’s mainly a diversion to mask real problems with government policy at home. It’s not China’s fault, for instance, that the U.S. lacks a decent industrial policy.

But harsh anti-China views also emerge in left and progressive circles, often around the question of Tibet. It’s a complicated issue in some way, and in other ways, not complicated at all, at leas on a few things. Following are some items from a discussion on Facebook:

CarlD: Folks, Tibet is part of China. Whether you consider that true or false, right or wrong, anything else is a non-starter.

Same for the other 50 or so minority nationalities within its borders. Even the Dalai Lama holds to regional autonomy, not separation or independence.

Within that context, there is a just battle vs Han chauvinism, and gains can be made on it. But given China's relatively recent history, where the imperialist powers of the West sought to divide it up and carve out their own privileged sections, the Brits and French in Shanghai, the Brits in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the Germans with their chunk, and so on--there is simply no way China will tolerate even the slightest suggestion of separation.

The Opium Wars are a too bitter memory, one often forgotten here, but not in China.

Al-Quaeda is making an effort among to Uighurs and and other Muslim nationalities in China's far West, and China rightly moves to smash them. To their credit, they have also punished Han settlers for anti-Muslim pogroms in the area.

China, because of its history of being both an Empire AND subject to colonialism itself, never accepted the Comintern's approach to self-determination. They won't even let the Vatican have the decisive say on who gets to be a Chinese Catholic bishop. It holds to regional autonomy internally, and relatively strict non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

I think they would be wise to make a deal with this Dalai Lama, and there are some currents in the leadership who seem to think so as well. But simple demanding 'Free Tibet' will only put you in a camp with many half-hidden and unsavory allies--and I don't mean the Tibetans themselves.

Jay: Some years ago I had some experience with the "Free Tibet" people in my area, and in answer to the question "where else is that coming from," at that time it was two-fold. One camp consisted of countercultural Tibetan Buddhism adherents and supporters of the Dalai Lama, and the other camp was composed of right-wing anti-Communists. These two camps seemed to get along relatively easily. Now, "Free Tibet" may be more racist in nature, since I haven't been in contact with any of these folks in a while, I don't know.

I've also been to Tibet, and as a result, I must be one of Carl's "non-starters." There is no question but that the Tibetans are an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally distinct people. Tibet is not part of China.

However, it may be politically impossible at this point in history to make Tibet independent from China, which is a problem faced by a number of ethnically-distinct or indigenous populations, such as the Hawaiians.

CarlD: I agree that Tibetans are a distinct nationality--in every way but one: politically. In that respect, they have been 'part of China' going back a very long time. And given their strategic position in the Himalayas, their only access to the outside world is through China or India, with a degree of dependence either way. Each for their own reasons, the Nazis, the Brits, the Indians and the CIA have all tried to dislodge them from China to one degree or another, to no avail. Genuine regional autonomy within China, included respect for Tibetan Buddhism's efforts to maintain itself, is the only practical and reasonable way to go, IMHO.

Casey: The Tibetans disagree with your view of their nationality as part of China, Carl. Seems to me it's up to them, not you. But the position you outline, regional autonomy within China with respect for cultural identity, is HHDL and the government in exile's, position. No one is saying "Free Tibet" now except young Tibetan activists. The objection to the destruction of Tibetan cultural identity comes from respect for Tibetan culture and identity, Roxanne. It's not about race. I don't know where you find hatred in this issue. Can you identify a source? I don't see any in the Friends of Tibet, and HHDL has consistently preached and practice forgiveness. As does the leading Tibetan in Arizona, Garchen Rinpoche, who was a political prisoner for 20 years, still crippled from being tortured in prison. Both of you are quick to point out and critique the same issues as they exist in in capitalist countries while defending them in China. Perhaps it is Marxist romanticism. I can't see any other reason.

CarlD: Casey, I've seen human thigh bones of prisoners in Tibet's feudal prisons and torture chambers made into flutes by the monks of the old theocracy. The old Tibet was no Shangri-la for the Tibetans. It's connection with China goes back to the 7th Century, until the Brits and Indians broke it away temporarily. With the victory of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese reasserted control, and assisted Tibetan serfs in 'standing up.' Many crimes were committed by the Han vs the Tibetans, especially during the 'cultural revolution,' when Red Guards were smashing everything Buddhist or Confucian all across China, including Tibet. Whether a new and more just Tibet emerges remains to be seen. I think it can, and as a student of Zen myself, I certainly hope so. But I also think it will remain 'part of China.'

This is only a small opening to a long discussion. Feel free to offer your own views…

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pondering Strategy: The 4th Option

By Carl Davidson

Gregory Wilpert is an intellectual of the left now teaching political science at Brooklyn College, after some time spent in Venezuela. He recently wrote a long interesting piece on Z-Net about our electoral system, mentioning Bill Fletcher and myself in passing. He was perplexed as to finding a way forward, and spelled out these options:

In short, we could call these three positions about electoral politics, non-participation (or boycott), lesser evil voting (with or without Democratic party takeover), and third party voting.

Each of these three positions makes important points that are convincing and difficult to refute.

How can one counter the main argument of lesser-evil voting, that we have a moral obligation to prevent the worst from happening to the most oppressed? On the other hand, if that lesser evil is also involved in atrocities, as is all too often the case with the foreign policy of Democratic presidents, then wouldn’t lesser-evil voting perpetuate evil?

But doesn’t the solution of voting for a third party seems equally hopeless, since the third party candidate might just take votes from the marginally better candidate and enable the election of the even worse candidate? There seems to be no easy solution to this debate. One possible compromise solution has been to urge people to vote for the lesser evil in state where the races is close, but to vote for third party candidates in races where progressives are unlikely to make a difference in the outcome (a position that very many prominent U.S. progressives advocated in 2004 and in 2000).

Also, given that each side has convincing arguments, this helps explain why the progressive movement is so weak in the U.S.: the diversity and depth of conviction of attitudes towards electoral politics makes unity within the left nearly impossible.

What this strategy debate points to is precisely the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system. This is the kind of debate you would expect to see in countries with profoundly dysfunctional democracies.

If the U.S. had a more democratic system, there would be a general consensus among progressives to participate in the democratic process. The reason you do not see this kind of debate in the democracies of Western Europe or of Latin America (at least not since the 1970’s in Western Europe and since the 1990’s in Latin America) is that these countries, by and large, have far more democratic political systems than the U.S. does.

I thought this was too restricted, and that there was a fourth option, and wrote this reply:

Wilpert does a fair job of summarizing the system, and I have no quarrel with his suggestions for reforms in the electoral system.

But I think there in a 4th option--the one I hold to. That is to build a 'party within a party' among Democratic voters at the base, much as PDA does, but not with the illusion that we are going to 'move the Democrats to the left.' I think Wilpert is right that this isn't very realistic Rather, the approach should be to build our strength in that context, along all the fault lines in the clusters and coalitions of forces under the Dem umbrella, until the whole thing implodes and shatters. The aim is to get rid of it, not reform it--but in a way that helps the left more than the right.

The precedent is what happened to the antebellum Whig party.

Then forces on the outside, our forces on the former 'inside,' and new emerging forces, can come together to make a new 'first' party.

Again, the precedent is the GOP, spurred by the Radical Republicans and base group tied to the First International, under Lincoln,

Of course capitalism today is not quite the same as in the crisis of the 1860s. Slavery will be replaced by finance capital, austerity and war as the organizing focus.

Others may have better ideas. If so, I'm all ears.

Feel free to post your two cents on the matter…

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Beaver County and the ‘Cracker’ Debate

Potential site for major new ‘cracker’ plant near Monaca in Beaver County, PA

By Carl Davidson

Our county was was hit hard and early by globalization and the export of jobs. Our towns were largely formed around mills, and when the mills were closed in the 1980s, the towns were stressed to the extreme. Many workers moved away or retired, and those remaining in the towns themselves were largely poor and Black with few options.

Now with the new natural gas boom creating by dubious and dangerous deep underground ‘fracking’ explosions, Shell Oil wants to build a new 'ethylene cracker’ plant that turns natural gas into plastics. Fewer than 1000 people would work in the new $1.2 billion facility, but 10,000 people would be hired over five years to build it, and perhaps another 7000 more for new plastic manufacturing plants draw to be created alongside it.

For the county, it means two things. First, a complete turnaround for employment and new small business and new orders for the tube mill still running. Second, since hundreds of new ‘fracking’ gas wells would be needed to feed the ‘cracker,’ there is serious danger to the county’s water supply and many other health and environmental issues.

So we have a big ongoing debate. Are you for or against the ‘cracker.’ Are you opposed to fracking? Or do you just want to tax and regulate it? And what about clean and green energy?

Natural beauty of our townships soon to be ‘fracked.’

The issue keeps coming up in various forums, including our Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee page on Facebook. I had posted some pictures to it showing the natural beauty of our area, which led some to say it could all be ruined by the ‘cracker’. Here’s my brief reply:

'Beauty' looks one way out in the townships. But in the deindustrialized mill towns along the rivers, you see something else--the impact of joblessness is not so pretty. You have to view these things strategically, meaning the whole, not just the part, the future, not just the present, and who are the key engines of change as your allies, if not the unemployed and underemployed. In order to unite the many to defeat the few, you have to find ways to unite people who disagree on many things--no easy task, but it's demanded of us.

Query to me: Why haven't jobs come to Beaver County? The skilled left the area for better jobs and now the perfect storm. I do not know the percentages of skilled or college grads or even people who only have a high school diploma or just a GED in Beaver County.

CarlD: The lack of opportunity means we already have exported a good number of our youth, or at least those with options and prospects. We are demographically now one of the oldest counties, if not the oldest, even though we still have many distressed young people among us, under-employed and unemployed. We have the means to create skills--BCCC, Robert Morris, Geneva and Penn State Beaver--and we have done so.

But I know younger folks in my own family, educated, who have moved away for lack of new industry. For those remaining, the fracking jobs, the trucker jobs related to it and the construction jobs related to the 'cracker' are viewed by them as a Godsend, or potentially so.

Our task is first, to defend clean water, and second figure out a positive way to deal with this developing industry. I doubt that it's going to be stopped, but it can be modified and a share of the profits from it can be diverted toward green renewables in the longer run. The devil is in the details, of course, but I don't think we do well simply to avoid those details with an abolitionist stance not likely to get very far and likely to separate us from real friends. Even people working at building a 'cracker' have an interest in clean water…

Don’t look for this debate to be resolved easily. The opinion and suggestion box is now open! Feel free to comment.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

'Lazy' People, Voting Rights and Republicans Caught with Their Pants Down

Our march on Harrisburg, PA to protest voter suppression.

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Sometimes Republicans just can't help themselves. Put a little heat on them, and they blurt out the truth, showing what they're really thinking.

The latest case in point: The retrograde Pennsylvania 'Voter ID' law was rejected today, Oct. 2, at least in part, by a state judge, Robert Simpson, allowing people to vote normally at least on this Nov. 6. The decision was a victory for labor, the NAACP, retiree groups and all who care about defending civil rights and liberties.

The main author of the bill, State Rep Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), however, chimed in with this comment:

"Justice Simpson's final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people. Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID."

Yes, you heard that right. This guy thinks those objecting to this bill are 'the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic.'  And all of us here in Western PA not fresh out of the pumpkin patch know exactly who he thinks he's talking about. When Gov. Romney went over the top in a recent closed session with his upper crust friends talking about a 47% of the population who wouldn't 'take responsibility' for their lives, I thought things had pretty much hit bottom in the racist dog whistle department. Little did I know!

Metcalfe has done us all a favor in self-exposing the racist mindset behind this GOP voter suppression effort, and revealing exactly why they thought that, if implemented, it could tip the state to Romney. Now they've been monkey-wrenched, at least for the time being.

But here's an interesting thought. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, even though I've studied it some. Where does it or our state voting laws suggest, anywhere, that lazy people or people with a hampered work ethic, don't have the same right to vote as energetic workaholics? 

The wealthy have best be careful here. As the saying goes, most people work for their money, but a few people are able to let their money work for them. They can laze about, enjoying the good life of the idle rich. There's a slippery slope here they may want to avoid for the future.

Carl Davidson is a member of Steelworker Associates. He lives in Western Pennsylvania and writes for, the website of the 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What to Do in November, and Beyond

The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him

The 2012 election will be one of the most polarized and critical elections in recent history.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Carl Davidson
Progressive America Rising via

August 9, 2012 - Let’s cut to the chase. The November 2012 elections will be unlike anything that any of us can remember.  It is not just that this will be a close election.  It is also not just that the direction of Congress hangs in the balance.  Rather, this will be one of the most polarized and critical elections in recent history.

Unfortunately what too few leftists and progressives have been prepared to accept is that the polarization is to a great extent centered on a revenge-seeking white supremacy; on race and the racial implications of the moves to the right in the US political system. It is also focused on a re-subjugation of women, harsh burdens on youth and the elderly, increased war dangers, and reaction all along the line for labor and the working class. No one on the left with any good sense should remain indifferent or stand idly by in the critical need to defeat Republicans this year.

U.S. Presidential elections are not what progressives want them to be.

A large segment of what we will call the ‘progressive forces’ in US politics approach US elections generally, and Presidential elections in particular, as if: (1) we have more power on the ground than we actually possess, and (2) the elections are about expressing our political outrage at the system. Both get us off on the wrong foot.

The US electoral system is among the most undemocratic on the planet.  Constructed in a manner so as to guarantee an ongoing dominance of a two party duopoly, the US electoral universe largely aims at reducing so-called legitimate discussion to certain restricted parameters acceptable to the ruling circles of the country. Almost all progressive measures, such as Medicare for All or Full Employment, are simply declared ‘off the table.’ In that sense there is no surprise that the Democratic and Republican parties are both parties of the ruling circles, even though they are quite distinct within that sphere.

The nature of the US electoral system--and specifically the ballot restrictions and ‘winner-take-all’ rules within it--encourages or pressures various class fractions and demographic constituency groups to establish elite-dominated electoral coalitions.  The Democratic and Republican parties are, in effect, electoral coalitions or party-blocs of this sort, unrecognizable in most of the known universe as political parties united around a program and a degree of discipline to be accountable to it. We may want and fight for another kind of system, but it would be foolish to develop strategy and tactics not based on the one we actually have.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

'We're Fired Up!' - Protestors in Harrisburg Vow to Defeat GOP Voter Suppression Law

Photos by Bill Allen

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

Nearly 500 people gathered on the steps of Pennsylvania's State Capitol in Harrisburg on the hot afternoon of July 24 to deliver a warning to the GOP-dominated legislature-all their efforts to suppress the right to vote will be met with stiff resistance.

The rally was organized by the NAACP, trade union, women's and church groups. Its tarrget was the GOP's so-called 'VoterID' law, which may forbid nearly nine percent of the electorate, from voting in November.

"Do you want to know where the voter fraud has occurred? I'll tell you right now where the vote fraud has occurred?" declared Rep. Ron Waters (D-Philadelphia). "It occurred when the people who wanted to disenfranchise the many 758,000 who are already registered to vote but do not possess a PennDOT-issued Photo IDs. They want to make sure that this is a way to get the candidate of their choice elected."

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Introducing the Online University of the Left

Univ of left poster copy Check Out This Project And Prepare To Be Amazed!

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Many people know the internet is full of instructional treasures for educating activists new to the left--and for the ongoing education of elder comrades as well.

One problem, however, is that these little gems are scattered far and wide, often in obscure places. It's a tedious task, even with Google and other research tools, to find and sort through them, making them handy and useful to key audiences.

Enter the `Online University of the Left,' a new `Left Unity' project initiated by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It's core orientation is Marxist, but it contains teaching resources reflecting the full range of views on the wider left. About 50 left academics are involved in the core group so far-Richard Wolff, David Schweickart, Rose Brewer, Tim Johnson, Gregory Morales, William Tabb, Ellen Schwartz, Jerry Harris, Linda Alcoff, Dana Cloud, Gar Alperovitz, to name a few.

One of the OUL's key aims is to solve this problem of scattered resources, creating a web portal that will bring much of this valuable material together in one spot in cyberspace. The link is, and you can also search for its Facebook page by name-and be sure to `like' it on Facebook, if you do. More `likes' expand the features available to it.


The core idea is that anyone with a smartphone, a laptop, a large computer screen or, best of all, a digital projector connected to any of these, can now run any mixture of hundreds of video lectures and documentary films on a wide range of topics. Whether for individuals, small groups or large classes, it offers a multimedia dimension to revolutionary education at no cost.

That's only the beginning. One marvelous feature will be the ability to hold lectures, classes and discussion groups in real time. The participants will be able to hear and see each other via video-conferencing, permitting back-and-forth dialogue. These can also be recorded, edited for improvement and added detailed, then preserved as on-line `webinars' for future repeated use. The OUL will likely charge a small fee, or require a low-cost subscription, however, for access to this particular feature.

This raises an important question: how will the OUL be sustained financially? For the moment, it's being supported by a small grant that will launch it and keep it going for a year or so. After, that, it will have to find or create a number of revenue streams to keep it rolls. One example is the subscriptions and fees for real-time events mentioned above. Another is the `Bookstore' tab, which connects the viewer to our `shelf' at Powell's, one of the country's major unionized booksellers. If you go to Powell's through this OUL link and purchase anything there, a small percentage in commission for the sale goes to the OUL.

The site is organized into academic departments-each with dozens of video lecture and documentaries, achieves with the entire range of theory and analysis of hundred of writers, and study guides and course outlines.

Make use of it! In the future, we will also pursue the usual package of fundraising efforts-donations, small and large, grant writing, public events, benefit dinners and so on. In the meantime, lend a hand by using the `Donate' button at  Once again, check out the site itself at If you want to link your own materials to it or make suggestions, contact Carl Davidson at

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

USW Report: A ‘Union Model’ Plans to Bring Worker Coops to the Ohio Valley

Michael Peck, Mondragon Cooperative delegate in North America, speaking at recent USW press conference in Pittsburgh

Steelworkers Announce 'Union Model' for

Bringing Worker-Owned Coops to the U.S.

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

The United Steel Workers and the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation-the largest industrial union in the U.S. and the world's largest network of worker-owned cooperatives respectively-held an upbeat press conference at USW headquarters in Pittsburgh March 26, announcing new progress in their innovative two-year-old partnership.

"For American workers, the traditional corporate model for organizing production and producing jobs has broken down," stated Tom Conway, USW International Vice-President for Administration. "It's simply not fair, and we're not afraid to try something different."

For those unfamiliar with Mondragon, 'something different' was inspired by the Steelworkers investigation into the Mondragon cooperatives (MCC) in Spain's Basque country. MCC is a 50-year-old thriving and ongoing experiment in radical democracy consisting of some 120 worker-owned cooperatives involving nearly 100,000 workers and allied with another 130 allied coops in the region, with revenues in 2011 of some $24 billion.

The MCC coops operate one the basis of one worker, one share, one vote-and no one outside MCC holds any shares. It is the leading edge of the Spanish industrial economy.

The USW took note of MCC after a successful effort with the cutting edge Spanish wind turbine firm, GAMESA, to build three innovation green energy factories in Pennsylvania. While not part of Mondragon, GAMESA and MCC shared a common representative in the U.S., Michael Peck, who then took a USW team to Spain to visit MCC.

Leo Gerard, the USW's president, has long been an advocate for a 'clean energy and green manufacturing industrial revolution' as a progressive way out of the current economic crisis. But given the conflicted and deadlocked Congress on such matters, little is being done on the matter trough traditional channels. Hence the turn toward the Mondragon partnership.

After the initial announcement of the joint effort in the fall of 2009, little was heard about any progress on the matter. Yesterday's press conference, however, revealed what was going on behind the curtains. There were three major projects underway.

The first was the production of 'Sustainable Jobs, Sustainable Communities: The Union Coop Model.'

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

April 4 Vigil Vows to Fight GOP on Voting Rights

mlkrally 040

HB 934 Exposed as ‘Modern-Day Poll Tax’

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

About 80 labor and civil rights activists, together with a few elected officials, gathered at dusk at the Beaver County Courthouse April 4 for a candlelight vigil. The somber but militant event commemorated the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and protested the current efforts of rightwing PA Republicans to block citizens from voting in 2012.

mlkrally 008 "They're declaring war on us," said Lynwood Alford of the Beaver County Labor Council and the Minority Coalition. 'Taking away our voting rights is taking away the little power we have in the fight for survival."

Lynwood repeated the refrain several times as he introduced new speakers. The vigil was also sponsored by the Lawrence County Labor Council, SEIU Local 668, and the Beaver County NAACP. The 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America also endorsed the vigil, and turned out a good-sized contingent.

The target of everyone's anger was the passage into law of HB 934 last month, the so-called 'Voter ID Law'.

"We plan to challenge this as a new version of the unconstitutional 'poll tax,'" explained a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union to the crowd. "They claim that a state driver's license or state ID is free. But since the new homeland security rules, you have to have a legal copy of you birth certificate. May people don't have one, and there is a charge for getting one, and you have to appear personally, also a cost.

"Many older people were also born at home, and never had a birth certificate. Also, if you are living in an assisted facility for the elderly, all of your old bills with old addresses are no longer legal backup ID. So this does have all the undue burden of a poll tax."

mlkrally 019 Mike Scarver, International PAC Coordinator of the United Steel Workers, tore into the entire nationwide GOP effort as anti-union and anti-worker.

"Who are the main groups registering new voters", he asked? "The League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the unions. But now in Florida they want to make it so that if your forms aren't turned in 48 hours, you're up on a felony for voter fraud. One union teacher registered her seniors on a Friday, but Monday was Memorial Day, and offices were closed. So she turned them in the next day. Not good enough, says Florida, they're a day late. Now she's hit with felony voter fraud charges. With this kind of stuff going on, what do you think is going to happen to volunteer voter registration efforts? Make no mistake about it. This is an attack on all of us, especially our unions."

"Our right to vote is precious," added County Commissioner Joe Spanik. "It's an outrage, and we have to fight it with all we've got."

Other speakers included Congressman Mark Critz, Willy Sallis, President of Beaver County NAACP, and Kathy Jellison, President of SEIU Local 668. Kim Villella, a Baden resident running for State Senator against Republican Senator Elder Vogel, who voted for the bill, spoke about the difficulties nursing home residents will have with this new voting restriction.

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"Something has to change," said Rev. Kevin Lee, also and IBEW member, at the close. We have to find a way to mobilize the energies of a new generation." As everyone was lighting candles, the NAACP's Mtume Imani followed by recalling her own experiences at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,' then led everyone in singing the civil rights anthem, 'Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Us Around." It captured the spirit of the gathering as it dispersed, newly informed and energized.

Eric Hoover, Vice-President of the Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council, closed the program by reminding everyone of the importance of standing together.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tragedies, Crimes and Trayvon Martin

How Newt Played the ‘Race Card’ Against Obama’s Decency

By Carl Davidson
United Steel Workers Blog

Every so often an outrage happens that lights up the sky, like when lighting strikes at night, and all of a sudden everything previously hidden in darkness and shadow stands out in sharp, bright relief.

The murder of Trayvon Martin was such an event, even though it took a while for the rolling thunder of its full impact to spread across the country. Slowly at first, and then in greater leaps, the news media, after being nudged, picked it up.

I have one quarrel with most of the reports and statements. This was not so much a tragedy as a crime. It was an old-fashioned lynching dressed up with modern-day ‘gun rights’ being exercised in today’s gated communities.

But put that to the side. Most everyone now has dutifully called it a tragedy, called for an impartial investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of it and see that ‘justice is served.’ Even President Obama finally spoke up, with the proper caveats against prejudging “current investigations,’ but adding that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, a point he made to show empathy with the Martin family.

Then we have our former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who, after deploring the tragedy, came up with this attack on Obama in an interview with Sean Hannity:

“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background," Gingrich said. "Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?"

"That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot," Gingrich continued on Hannity's show. "It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

Newt, I have news for you. There’s something truly appalling here; in fact it stinks to high heaven. But it’s not Obama, and if you want to see the source of it, look in the mirror.

Gingrich fancies himself an historian, even something of an expert on the Civil War and its aftermath. He should then know something about lynching. If so, he would know that when the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, the KKK terror started in South Carolina by lynching nearly as many poor whites as Black Freedmen. The aim was to deeply drive home the wedge of the original ‘Southern Strategy’ aimed at dividing the working class in the South and elsewhere.

But as lynching rolled on over the decades, tens of thousands of Blacks bore the brunt of it. Anti-Lynching laws, also for decades, were promoted mainly by Blacks and a few radical allies, while white reactionaries blocked them.

There is nothing colorblind about lynching. It never ceases to amaze me when Republicans claim to be colorblind lovers of Dr. King, while being ‘appalled’ at what they consider the main racists in high places, who are the African Americans supposedly ‘playing the race card.’

The trade union movement over the years has paid some high tuition to learn that mutual respect among nationalities is not rooted in being ‘blind’ to each other’s distinctiveness. Solidarity with a white top and a Black bottom simply doesn’t get the job done.

But the race card is indeed being played against us. It’s been constantly played by those who would keep us under their thumbs, from Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 up to a ‘gated community’ in Stanford, Florida. If you want to see it in action, for starters, watch Fox News or the GOP campaign any day of the week—then to oppose it, gather up some friends to attend a ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rally and work to defeat every candidate and incumbent of the party of the ‘Southern Strategy’ in November.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Occupy Pittsburgh Teach-In: Feb 4

From Occupy Wall St. to Occupy the Hood:

Building Power for the 99%


Saturday, Feb 4, 2012

Start: 02/04/2012 12:00 pm
End: 02/04/2012 5:30 pm

Will be held at Community Empowerment Association Training & Culture Center, 7120 Kelly St. in Homewood (accessible by the 67, 69, 71C, and all East Busway (P) buses -

Join Occupy Pittsburgh for our second teach-in, organized by the Occupy the Hood, People of Color and Education Work Groups.

We hope to bring together the social and economic justice community in Pittsburgh, from all neighborhoods, acitivist concentrations, backgrounds, life circumstances and political viewpoints. By speaking together and sharing experiences and insight, we hope to strengthen the community that the Occupy has caused to take shape - in all our diversity of experience.

12 Noon: Lunch

!2:30 pm: Opening Plenary: From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy the Hood:  Building Power for the 99%

Speakers: Helen Gerhardt & Carl Redwood, facilitators: Guillermo Perez

Two Rounds of Workshops

1:45-3:15 p.m. - workshop session #1
3:15-3:30 p.m. - break
3:30-5:00 p.m. - workshop session #2
5:00-5:30 p.m. - group debrief

There will be at least 10 workshops.  Half will be presented by the Occupy the Hood/People of Color Work Group and half by the Education Work Group


Workshop Session #1 (1:45-3:15)

1. Who are the 99%?

(facilitator: Nicholas Rushin)

This is a discussion about the workings of class, oppression and exploitation through a materialist and historical perspective.  We are the 99% fighting against the 1%, but how do the 1% and the 99% get to be the 1% and 99%?  Where does wealth come from and who creates it?  How does class affect political struggles?  And how is class different and similar to other forms of oppression like sex and race?

2. The Disparity & Education of Black Students

(facilitator: Vickki Ayanna Jones)
This workshop will recognize, develop & repair the damage that has been done to our children in the educational system & Black people in general.

3. Healthcare for the 99%: Ending Race-Based, Class-Based, All-for-Profit Care

(panelists: Scott Tyson, Physician, PUSH/ Healthcare4ALLPA; Ed Cloonan, Save Our Community Hospitals & Western Pennsylvania coalition for Single Payer; Sandra Fox, Western PA Coalition for Single Payer; Residents from Braddock and surrounding areas, Footage from Tony Buba, Save Our Community Hospitals)

This workshop will consist of film footage and a panel of speakers who will tell the story of how UPMC created race- and class-based barriers to health care with its demolition of Braddock Hospital and building of a surplus hospital for Monroeville. Speakers will also discuss how and why they fought back, from street theatre to a civil rights lawsuit. What are the roots of this problem in U.S. healthcare and what would alternative system look like?

4. Impact of Mass Incarceration

(facilitator: Khalid Raheem, president/CEO of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice; Steering Committee member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Persons Movement; member of Occupy the Hood Pitstburgh)

This workshop will explore the prison industrial complex as it pertains to mass incarceration of black males.

5. Gentrification and Our Right to the City

(facilitator: Carl Redwood)

This workshop will share information about the Right to the City Alliance organizing against gentrification using an urban human rights framework. The workshop will explore the forces behind gentrification and provide historical context for the issues we face. Through discussion we will examine how gentrification has impacted our neighborhoods and help us begin to look beyond our current reality to envision the rights we are fighting for. 

5. Bringing Occupy Pittsburgh to the Neighborhoods: Outreach Strategies and Initiatives


Workshop Session #2 (3:30-5:00)

1. "Why Dismantle and Not Reform?" The Call of Occupy the Hood Pittsburgh

(facilitators: J.O. Yejide KMT & Bekezela Mguni)

This workshop will discuss why the Occupy movement needs radical approaches to change vs. reform of the current economic system in order to meet the needs of people of color and to ensure an equitable and humane future for all.

2. What are the Alternatives to Corporate Power?

(PANELISTS - Jackie Smith, Carl Davidson, etc)

So far the Occupy movement has helped draw public attention to what we're against, but what are the alternatives? This workshop will invite organizers from the region to present ideas that have been developed and tested in communities around the world to show that another world is possible. We will explore publicly-owned banks, community-supported agriculture; community currencies and barter systems; Davidson will present on the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain, and other forms of what is known as the "solidarity economy." Finally, campaigns that are working to counter corporate power to make room for community-based economic initiatives will be discussed.

3, Organizing within Marginalized Communities

(faciliators: Calvin Skinner & Kyndall Mason)

A workshop dedicated to successful strategies to do organizational outreach in marginalized communities with an emphasis on outreach to African-American and members of the LGBT communities.

4. Organized Labor & Occupy: Waging Class War on Two Fronts

(facilitators: Paul Le Blanc & Guillermo Perez)

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the issue of income and wealth disparity in the U.S. and the damage it's doing to our democracy are now front and center in the national discourse. Since its inception the Occupy movement has received considerable support from organizations affiliated with another national movement, organized labor. In this workshop we hope to engage union and Occupy activists in a discussion of how these two movements diverge and intersect and the ways we can work together to advance a common agenda.

5. Economic Disparities: Occupying Solutions for Black Communities

(Nazura Asaseyeduru)

This workshop will challenge the power structure of banks & government as it pertains to economic disparities for People of Color. Thus, participants will look at solutions in which Black communities have to be creative, innovative & self-determining.

Sponsors: Occupy the Hood ( or call 412-244- 0298) &Occupy Pittsburgh ( and it'sPeople of Color & Education Working Groups

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We're All in the Same Boat?

On the Topic of Obama, the

GOP Can't Even Blush Anymore

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On!

If Hollywood gave Oscars for shamelessness, the Republican responses to President Obama's State of the Union speech last night, Jan 24, would have swept the field.

Take Indiana's Gov. Mitch Daniels, who gave the official GOP response:

"No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others," he said. "As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat."

Amazing. One top GOP candidate, Newt Gingrich, is running around the country attacking Obama as the 'Food Stamp President,' while the other, Mitt Romney, whose newly released tax returns show he takes in more in a day than a well-paid worker does in a year, critiques Obama's business skills using a shuttered factory as a stage prop.

Obama, of course, never shut down a single factory, yet that was precisely the business Mitt Romney and his outfit, Bain Capital, was famous for, including shutting down a factory in Florida, where his video message was being recorded.

"All in the same boat" and 'castigating others' indeed. Governor Daniels uttered these words as the state he presides over is currently engaged in a notorious 'right to work for less' battle to strip Indiana's workers on their ability to bargain collectively.

Like many Americans, I watched the President's speech with a critical eye. As he detailed a number of manufacturing and alternative energy industrial policies, I thought, finally, he's giving some voice to his 'inner Keynesian' and forcing a crack in the neoliberal hegemony at the top. I cheered when he took aim at Wall Street and declared, "No more bailouts, no more handouts, and no more cop outs." On the other hand I winced more than once at the glorification of militarism and the defense of Empire-I'm one quick to oppose unjust wars and who has long believed a clean energy/green manufacturing industrial policy needs to trump a military-hydrocarbon industrial policy.

This speech was also Obama in campaign mode. One thing we've learned over the last four years is that his governing mode is not the same thing, and requires much more of us in terms of independent, popular and democratic power at the base to make good things happen.

But one thing is clear. My critical eye has nothing in common with what's coming from the GOP and the far right. The first Saturday of every month, the pickups trucks from the local hills and hollows, growing numbers of them, fill the parking lot of the church on my corner, picking up packages from the food pantry to help make ends meet. In these circumstances and lacking better practical choices, I'll go with the 'Food Stamp' President any day of the week.

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