This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Important Mumia Abu Jamal Update-Free Mumia
Click below to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.
The legendary social commentator and stand up comic Lenny Bruce, no stranger to the American ‘justice’ system himself, once reportedly said that in the Halls of Justice the only justice is in the halls. The truth of that statement came home on Thursday March 27, 2008 as a panel of the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals voted two to one to uphold Mumia’s conviction.
The only question left is that of resentencing- the death penalty or, perhaps worst, life in prison without parole. I have not yet read the decision but we are now a long way away from the possibility of a retrial-the narrow legal basis for even appealing in the legal system in the first place. Know this- in the end it will be in the streets and factories through the efforts of the international labor movement and other progressive forces that Mumia will be freed. That is the only way, have no illusions otherwise, whatever the next legal steps might be.
***** Some facts about the case from the PDC (2006):
Mumia Is an Innocent Man
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
Abolish the Racist Death Penalty
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row for nearly 24 years, falsely convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent and mountains of evidence show this, including the confession of another man, Arnold Beverly, to the murder. All the elements of the capitalist “justice” system colluded in framing up this former Black Panther and MOVE supporter because he is an eloquent and defiant spokesman for the oppressed. The fight to free Mumia has now reached a critical juncture. Last December, the federal appeals court put Mumia’s case on a “fast track” for decision, marking the last stages of the legal proceedings. Both Mumia and prosecutors are appealing decisions made in 2001 by U.S. District Court judge William Yohn, who overturned the death sentence but upheld every aspect of Mumia’s frame-up conviction. The state is as determined as ever to execute Mumia and has appealed. He has been barred by the courts from presenting evidence that he is innocent. But the district attorney filed legal papers in the federal appeals court in April, opening its case with a venomous, lying statement to portray Mumia as a cop-killer who must be executed. In a short time, even as soon as six months, the court could decide what is next for Mumia: death, life in prison or more legal proceedings.
Mumia was locked up on death row in 1982 based on lying testimony extorted by the cops without a shred of physical evidence. The judge at his trial, Albert Sabo—known as the “King of Death Row”—was overheard by a court stenographer saying, “I’m going to help ’em fry the n----r.” Rigging the jury to exclude black people, the prosecution incited jurors with the grotesque lie that Mumia’s membership in the Panthers as a teenager proved he was committed to kill a cop “all the way back then.” The 1982 conviction was secured with arguments that the jury could disregard any doubts about Mumia’s guilt because he would have “appeal after appeal.” In nearly two decades of appeals, each and every court has rejected the reams of documented evidence of the blatant frame-up of Mumia. For over four years, Pennsylvania state as well as federal courts have refused to even consider the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner.
The execution of Stanley Tookie Williams by the state of California in December casts an ominous shadow. The legal lynching of Williams, which provoked an outcry nationally and internationally, signaled the determination of the U.S. capitalist rulers to fortify their machinery of death in the face of growing reticence in the population over how the death penalty is applied. Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost political prisoner, is the executioners’ number one target. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made this clear when, in denying clemency for Williams, he cited the fact that Williams’ 1998 book, Life in Prison, was dedicated to—among others—Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia’s case demonstrates what the racist death penalty is all about. It is the lynch rope made legal, the ultimate weapon in the government’s arsenal of repression aimed at the working class and oppressed. A legacy of chattel slavery, the death penalty is maintained in a society where the segregation of the majority of the black population is used as a wedge to divide the laboring masses and perpetuate the rapacious rule of capital. The murderous brutality of the racist capitalist system was displayed for all to see when thousands of people, overwhelmingly black and poor, were left to die in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Mumia’s appeal takes place in the context of the government’s assertion of its “right” to disappear, torture or even assassinate its perceived opponents, and to wiretap and spy on anyone and everyone. In the name of the “war on terror,” rights won through tumultuous class and social battles are being put through the shredder by the Bush administration with the support of the Democratic Party. The purpose is to terrorize and silence any who would stand in the way of the capitalist rulers’ relentless drive for profits and their imperialist adventures, like the colonial occupation of Iraq.
As Mumia’s case moves through the final stages of legal proceedings, the fight for his freedom is urgently posed. The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League/U.S.—stands for pursuing every legal avenue in Mumia’s behalf while putting no faith in the “justice” of the capitalist courts. Through publicity and action, we have struggled to mobilize the broadest social forces, centered on the labor movement, to demand Mumia’s freedom and the abolition of the racist death penalty. As Mumia faced execution in August 1995, a mass outpouring of protest nationally and internationally—from civil liberties organizations and such heads of state as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela to trade unions representing millions of workers—succeeded in staying the executioner’s hand.
Today we face greater odds. But if undertaken through a mobilization based on the social power of the working class, the fight for Mumia’s freedom would be a giant step forward in the defense of all of us against the increasingly depraved and vicious rulers of this country.
Anatomy of a Frame-Up
In the eyes of the capitalist state, from the time Mumia was a 15-year-old spokesman for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia in 1969, he was a dead man on leave. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover pronounced: “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” This policy was carried out under both the Democratic administration of Lyndon Johnson and his Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, and the Republican Nixon administration. Under the FBI’s “counter-intelligence” program known as COINTELPRO, 38 Panthers were murdered and hundreds of others framed up and railroaded to prison.
The 900 pages of FBI files the PDC was able to obtain on Mumia’s behalf, even though highly expurgated, make clear that the FBI and cops used any “dirty trick” in their mission to get him. His every move was tracked and his name put on the FBI’s Security Index, the 1960s version of a “terrorist” hit list. Even with the demise of the Panthers, the state did not call off its vendetta against Mumia. As a journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless,” Mumia’s impassioned defense of black rights continued to enrage them. The Philly cops particularly seethed over his sympathetic coverage of the MOVE organization, which was subjected to an onslaught of state terror.
Mumia was targeted for death because of his political beliefs, because of what he wrote, because of what he said. And in the early morning hours of 9 December 1981 at the corner of 13th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, the cops finally saw their chance. Mumia was driving a cab through the area that night. He heard gunshots. He saw people running, saw his own brother and got out of his cab to help him. Moments later, Mumia was critically wounded by a bullet through the chest. Nearby lay a wounded police officer, Daniel Faulkner. The cops found their long-awaited opportunity and seized on it to frame up Mumia as a “cop killer.”
The prosecution’s case rested on three legs, all based on lies: the testimony of “eyewitnesses” coerced through favors and terror; a “confession” purportedly made by Mumia the night of the shooting that was such a blatant hoax that it didn’t surface until months later; and nonexistent ballistics “evidence.” In 2001, this frame-up was completely blown to pieces with Arnold Beverly’s confession that he was the man who shot Faulkner. In a sworn affidavit printed in the PDC pamphlet Mumia Abu-Jamal Is an Innocent Man!, Beverly stated:
“I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner. I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs without prosecution in the center city area.
“Faulkner was shot in the back and then in the face before Jamal came on the scene. Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.”
Beverly stated that the second shooter also fled the scene. This is supported by a sworn affidavit by Mumia’s brother, Billy Cook, who testified that his friend Kenneth Freeman was a passenger in Cook’s VW at 13th and Locust that night. Freeman later admitted to Cook that he was part of the plan to kill Faulkner and had participated in the shooting and then fled the scene. This is further corroborated by the testimony of a witness at the scene, William Singletary, who said he saw a passenger get out of Cook’s VW, shoot Faulkner and then flee the scene.
At least half a dozen witnesses who were on the scene the night of the shooting saw, from several different vantage points, one or more black men flee. Police radio “flashes” right after the shooting reported that the shooters had fled the scene with Faulkner’s gun. Five witnesses, including two cops, describe someone at the scene wearing a green army jacket, which both Beverly and Freeman were wearing that night. Neither Mumia nor Cook wore a green army jacket: Mumia wore a red ski jacket with wide vertical blue stripes and Cook had a blue jacket with brass buttons.
Beverly said that Mumia was shot by a cop at the scene. This is confirmed by no less an authority than the state Medical Examiner’s office, whose record written the same morning as the shooting quotes a homicide officer saying that Mumia was shot by “arriving police reinforcements,” not by Faulkner. Other witnesses have corroborated Beverly’s testimony that undercover and uniformed police were in the vicinity at the time of the shooting, which Beverly assumed meant that they were in on the plan to kill Faulkner. One witness, Marcus Cannon, saw two undercover cops on the street across from the shooting. William Singletary also saw “white shirts” (police supervisors) at the scene right after the shots were fired.
The prosecution dismisses the idea that the cops would kill one of their own as an outlandish invention. Leaving aside that Beverly passed two lie detector tests, his account fits with the fact that at the time of Faulkner’s killing in 1981, there were at least three ongoing federal investigations into police corruption in Philadelphia, including police connections with the mob. Police working as FBI informants were victims of hits in the early 1980s. A former federal prosecutor acknowledged that the Feds had a police informant whose brother was a cop, just as Faulkner had a brother who was a cop.
A sworn affidavit by Donald Hersing, a former informant in an FBI investigation into police corruption, confirms that at the time of Faulkner’s shooting the word was out that the Feds had an informant in the police force. The commanding officer of the Central Police Division, where the murder of Faulkner took place, the chief of the police Homicide Division and the ranking officer at the scene of Faulkner’s killing, Alfonzo Giordano, were all under investigation at the time on federal corruption charges. These cops were literally the chain of command in the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Giordano had been the right-hand man for Philadelphia’s notoriously racist police chief and later mayor, Frank Rizzo. From 1966 to 1970, Giordano was in charge of the cop “Stakeout” squad, which led the police raid on the Black Panthers’ headquarters in 1970. He was also the supervisor of the 15-month police siege of MOVE’s Powelton Village house in 1977-78, which resulted in nine MOVE members being sent to prison on frame-up charges of killing a cop. Giordano knew exactly who Mumia was. The senior officer on the scene, he had both motive and opportunity to frame up Mumia for the killing of Faulkner.
Giordano originated the claim that Mumia’s gun—the putative murder weapon—was lying beside him on the street. But according to police radio records, the cops were still looking for the gun some 14 minutes after hordes of police had arrived on the scene. Giordano arranged the identification of Mumia by cab driver Robert Chobert, who became a witness for the prosecution. Giordano was the central witness for the prosecution at Mumia’s pretrial hearing. But he was never called as a witness at Mumia’s trial. Shortly before the trial, he was assigned to a desk job. One working day after Mumia was convicted, Giordano resigned from the force. In 1986, Giordano copped a plea on federal charges based on his receiving tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payoffs from 1979 to 1980. He didn’t spend a day in jail.
Prosecution’s Web of Lies
The prosecution’s story is that two people were on the corner of 13th and Locust where Faulkner was shot: Mumia’s brother Billy Cook and Faulkner. They claim that Mumia ran across the street when he saw his brother being beaten by Faulkner. According to police and prosecutors, Mumia shot the cop in the back, the cop shot back at Mumia and then Mumia stood over the fallen cop and shot him “execution style” several times in the head. Even a close examination of the cops’ and prosecution’s own evidence gives the lie to this scenario. A look at the “three legs” of the prosecution’s case provides not only stark confirmation of Mumia’s innocence but clear corroboration of Beverly’s testimony. The Prosecution’s Witnesses: Even with police and prosecution threats and favors at the time of the 1982 trial, no witness testified to seeing Mumia actually shoot Faulkner. Only one, Cynthia White, the prosecution’s star witness, testified that she thought she saw a gun in Mumia’s hand when he crossed the street. A prostitute working in the area, White claimed to have witnessed the events from the southeast corner of 13th and Locust. Yet the other two prosecution witnesses, as well as two defense witnesses who knew White, all denied she was at the scene during the shooting! Other prostitutes testified in subsequent court hearings that White alternately got police favors or was threatened by police in order to extract her testimony. As for Robert Chobert, at first he told police that the shooter “ran away.” After further interrogation, he changed his story, claiming that Mumia stood over Faulkner while the shots were fired and that no one ran away. A cab driver using a suspended license while on probation for felony arson, Chobert was given favors by the prosecution in exchange for his testimony. He later admitted that he never saw the shooting. The third state witness was Michael Scanlan. He initially identified Mumia as the VW driver but then claimed that the shooter ran across Locust Street, which Beverly admits that he did. He also admitted that he did not know if Mumia was the man he saw. Ballistics and Forensics: The prosecution claimed that ballistics evidence was “consistent” with Mumia’s gun being the murder weapon even while admitting that the “consistency” applied to millions of handguns. There is no evidence that Mumia’s gun was even fired that night. There was every opportunity to test Mumia’s hands, or the gun, for evidence that it had been recently fired. But according to police no such tests, which are standard operating procedure, were ever done! The Stakeout officer who claimed he picked up Mumia’s gun did not turn it over for more than two hours, providing more than ample time to have it tampered with. The Medical Examiner’s report states that Faulkner was shot with a .44 calibre bullet, yet Mumia’s gun was a .38 calibre. Although the crime lab claimed that the main bullet fragment removed from Faulkner’s head was too damaged to test, the defense team’s ballistics expert denied this. A second bullet fragment removed from the head wound simply disappeared without a trace.
Evidence at the scene—bullet fragments, blood stains, the absence of divots in the sidewalk—refutes the prosecution claim that Faulkner was shot repeatedly while lying on the ground. The bullet patterns are far more consistent with multiple shooters, as Beverly testifies. A copper bullet jacket found at the scene was inconsistent with either Faulkner’s or Mumia’s guns, suggesting that a different gun was fired. Similarly, type O blood was found at the scene, but Faulkner, Mumia and Cook were all type A, suggesting that another person was present and injured. The angle of Mumia’s own wounds is impossible if he was shot while standing over Faulkner as the prosecution claimed. However, Mumia’s wounds are consistent with Beverly’s testimony that Mumia was shot by a cop at the scene. The “Confession”: The frame-up’s final leg was the claim that Mumia, lying in a pool of blood at the hospital where he was taken for treatment, shouted out that he had shot the cop. Yet the police officer assigned to guard Mumia there reported that same day that Mumia “made no comments.” In reality, he was so badly wounded, with a bullet hole through one lung, and had been so badly beaten by police on the street and at the hospital, that he could not have “shouted” anything. The “confession” was manufactured by the prosecution at a roundtable meeting with cops two months after the shooting.
Priscilla Durham, a security guard, was the only hospital employee who backed up the cops’ “confession” lie. In 2003 Durham’s stepbrother Kenneth Pate swore that Durham said she was pressured by the cops to say Mumia confessed. Pate also said Durham heard Mumia say, “Get off me, get off me, they’re trying to kill me.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal has always categorically maintained his innocence. As he declared in a 2001 affidavit: “I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent…. I never confessed to anything because I had nothing to confess to.”
Mobilize Now to Free Mumia!
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state. Its justice system is class- and race-biased to the core. The cops and courts who framed up this innocent man, the living tomb of the prison system in which he is jailed, the executioner who stands ready to kill—all are instruments of organized violence used to preserve the rule of the capitalist class through the forcible suppression of the working class and oppressed. Smashing this racist frame-up machine will require a socialist revolution that overturns the capitalist system. Demands for a “new trial” which have been raised by liberals, self-proclaimed socialist organizations, black nationalists and others have fed illusions that there can be justice in the capitalist courts. Those illusions demobilized a movement of millions around the world in Mumia’s defense.
The time is now to rekindle mass protest—nationally and internationally—on behalf of Mumia. Mumia’s freedom will not be won through reliance on the rigged “justice” system or on capitalist politicians, whether Democrat, Republican or Green. The power that can turn the tide is the power of millions—working people, anti-racist youth, death penalty abolitionists—united in struggle to demand the freedom of this innocent man. Crucial to this perspective is the mobilization of the labor movement, whose social power derives from its ability to shut down production. As we have stated since we first took up Mumia’s defense in the mid 1980s, what’s necessary are labor-centered united-front actions, generating effective protest across a spectrum of political beliefs while assuring all the right to have their own say.
The time is now to make Mumia’s case a rallying cry against the racist death penalty, against black oppression, against government repression. Raise your voice and organize now in your union, on your campus, in your community to demand: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the racist death penalty!
Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Then, And Now
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Several years ago, I guess about three years now, in the aftermath of the demise of the Occupy movement with the shutting down of its campsites across the country (and the world) I wrote a short piece centered on the need for revolutionary intellectuals to take their rightful place on the left, on the people’s side, and to stop sitting on the academic sidelines (or wherever they were hiding out). One of the reasons for that piece was that in the aftermath of the demise of the Occupy movement a certain stock-taking was in order. A stock-taking at first centered on those young radical and revolutionaries that I ran into in the various campsites and on the flash mob marches who were disoriented and discouraged when their utopian dreams went up in smoke without a murmur of regret from the masses. Now a few years later it is apparent that they have, mostly, moved back to the traditional political ways of operating or have not quite finished licking their wounds.
Although I initially addressed my remarks to the activists still busy I also had in mind those intellectuals who had a radical streak but who then hovered on the sidelines and were not sure what to make of the whole experiment although some things seemed very positive like the initial camp comradery. In short, those who would come by on Sunday and take a lot of photographs and write a couple of lines but held back. Now in 2014 it is clear as day that the old economic order (capitalism if you were not quite sure what to name it) that we were fitfully protesting against (especially the banks who led the way downhill) has survived another threat to its dominance. The old political order, the way of doing political business now clearly being defended by one Barack Obama with might and main is still intact. The needs of working people although now widely discussed (the increasing gap between the rich, really the very rich, and the poor, endlessly lamented and then forgotten, the student debt death trap, and the lingering sense that most of us will never get very far ahead in this wicked old world especially compared to previous generations) have not been ameliorated. All of this calls for intellectuals with any activist spark to come forth and help analyze and plan how the masses are to survive, how a new social order can be brought forth. Nobody said, or says, that it will be easy but this is the plea. I have reposted the original piece with some editing to bring it up to date.
No, this is not a Personals section ad, although it qualifies as a Help Wanted ad in a sense. On a number of occasions over past several years, in reviewing books especially those by James P. Cannon, a founding member of the American Communist Party and the founder of the Socialist Workers Party in America, I have mentioned that building off of the work of the classical Marxists, including that of Marx and Engels themselves, and later that of Lenin and Trotsky the critical problem before the international working class in the early part of the 20th century was the question of creating a revolutionary leadership to lead imminent uprisings. Armed with Lenin’s work on the theory of the imperialist nature of the epoch and the party question and Trotsky’s on the questions of permanent revolution and revolutionary timing the tasks for revolutionaries were more than adequately defined. A century later with some tweaking, unfortunately, those same theories and the same need for organization are still on the agenda although, as Trotsky once said, the conditions are overripe for the overthrow of capitalism as it has long ago outlived its progressive character in leading humankind forward.
The conclusion that I originally drew from that observation was that the revolutionary socialist movement was not as desperately in need of theoreticians and intellectuals as previously (although having them, and plenty of them, especially those who can write, is always a good thing). It needed leaders steeped in those theories and with a capacity to lead revolutions. We needed a few good day-to-day practical leaders, guys like Cannon, like Debs from the old Socialist Party, like Ruthenberg from the early Communist Party, to lead the fight for state power.
In that regard I have always held up, for the early part of the 20th century, the name Karl Liebknecht the martyred German Communist co-leader (along with Rosa Luxemburg) of the aborted Spartacist uprising of 1919 as such an example. He led the anti-war movement in Germany by refusing to vote for the Kaiser’s war budgets, found himself in jail as a result, but also had tremendous authority among the left-wing German workers when that mattered. In contrast the subsequent leadership of the German Communists in the 1920’s Paul Levi, Henrich Brandler and Ernest Thaelmann did not meet those qualifications. For later periods I have, as mentioned previously, held up the name James P. Cannon, founder of the American Socialist Workers Party (to name only the organization that he was most closely associated with), as a model. Not so Communist Party leaders like William Z. Foster and Earl Browder (to speak nothing of Gus Hall from our generation) or Max Shachtman in his later years after he broke with Cannon and the SWP. That basically carries us to somewhere around the middle of the 20th century. Since I have spent a fair amount of time lately going back to try to draw the lessons of our movement I have also had occasion to think, or rather to rethink my original argument on the need for revolutionary intellectuals. I find that position stands in need of some amendment now.
Let’s be clear here about our needs. The traditional Marxist idea that in order to break the logjam impeding humankind’s development the international working class must rule is still on the historic agenda. The Leninist notions that, since the early part of the 20th century, we have been in the imperialist era and that a ‘hard’ cadre revolutionary party is necessary to lead the struggle to take state power are also in play. Moreover, the Trotskyist understanding that in countries of belated development the working class is the only agency objectively capable of leading those societies to the tasks traditionally associated with the bourgeois revolution continues to hold true. That said, rather than some tweaking, we are seriously in need of revolutionary intellectuals who can bring these understandings into the 21st century.
It is almost a political truism that each generation will find its own ways to cope with the political tasks that confront it. The international working class movement is no exception in that regard. Moreover, although the general outlines of Marxist theory mentioned above hold true such tasks as the updating of the theory of imperialism to take into account the qualitative leap in its globalization is necessary (as is, as an adjunct to that, the significance of the gigantic increases in the size of the ‘third world’ proletariat). Also in need of freshening up is work on the contours of revolutionary political organization in the age of high speed communications, the increased weight that non-working class specific questions play in world politics (the national question which if anything has had a dramatic uptick since the demise of the Soviet Union), religion (the almost universal trend for the extremes of religious expression to rear their ugly heads which needs to be combated), special racial and gender oppressions, and various other tasks that earlier generations had taken for granted or had not needed to consider. All this moreover has to be done in a political environment that sees Marxism, communism, even garden variety reform socialism as failed experiments. To address all the foregoing issues is where my call for a new crop of revolutionary intellectuals comes from.
Since the mid- 20th century we have had no lack of practical revolutionary leaders of one sort or another - one thinks of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and even Mao in his less rabid moments. We have witnessed any number of national liberation struggles, a few attempts at political revolution against Stalinism, a few military victories against imperialism, notably the Vietnamese struggle. But mainly this has been an epoch of defeats for the international working class. Moreover, we have not even come close to developing theoretical leaders of the statue of Lenin or Trotsky.
As a case in point, recently I made some commentary about the theory of student power in the 1960’s and its eventual refutation by the May 1968 General Strike lead by the working class in France. One of the leading lights for the idea that students were the “new” working class or a “new” vanguard was one Ernest Mandel. Mandel held himself out to be an orthodox Marxist (and Trotskyist, to boot) but that did not stop him from, periodically, perhaps daily, changing the focus of his work away from the idea of the centrality of the working class in social struggle an idea that goes back to the days of Marx himself.
And Mandel, a brilliant well-spoken erudite scholar probably was not the worst of the lot. The problem is that he was the problem with his impressionistic theories based on, frankly, opportunistic impulses. Another example, from that same period, was the idea of Professor Regis Debray (in the service of Fidel at the time ) that guerrilla foci out in the hills were the way forward ( a codification of the experience of the Cuban Revolution for which many subjective revolutionary paid dearly with their lives). Or the anti-Marxist Maoist notion that the countryside would defeat the cities that flamed the imagination of many Western radicals in the late 1960s. I could go on with more examples but they only lead to one conclusion- we are, among other things, in a theoretical trough. The late Mandel’s students from the 1960s have long gone on to academia and the professions (and not an inconsiderable few in governmental harness-how the righteous have fallen). Debray’s guerilla foci have long ago buried their dead and gone back to the cities. The “cities” of the world now including to a great extent China had broken the third world countryside. This, my friends, is why today I have my Help Wanted sign out. Any takers?
Poets’ Corner- The 15th Century Mad Hatter Francois
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Once a long time ago an old communist
I do not remember which version of the creed he adhered to, although he had had
some impressive documented revolutionary credentials in Germany before Hitler
pulled the hammer down in 1933 and he just barely got out into American exile
by a very long and circuitous route, told me that as far as culture affairs,
you know art, novels, music and what I want to talk about here, poetry, is basically
subject to whatever personal whims a person may have on these matters. The
caveat to all this is that both creators and admirers should be left to their own
devises except if they are actively engaged with counter-revolutionary activity.
Now that I think about it he probably got the idea from Leon Trotsky himself who
wrote about such matters in the 1920s in books like Literature
and Revolution although I am sure that he did not consider himself a
follower of that great exiled revolutionary.
The point today is that if a left-wing
political activist like myself, say, were very interested in the poetry of
Emily Dickerson or Wallace Stevens or Thomas Mann or Edna Saint Vincent Millay then
what of it. Except those kinds of poets do not “speak” to me. Poets like Allan
Ginsberg burning the pages with his negro streets, his clamoring against the industrial
complex, his chanting against the fate of the best minds of his generation, the
gangster-poet Gregory Corso blazing the hot streets with his words, old Rimbaud
with his mad ravings, Verlaine too, Genet with his black soul they “speak” to
me. The troubadours, the “bad boys and girls,” the waifs, the gangsters, the
drifters, grifters and midnight sifter and those who act as muses are what
makes me sit up and listen.
And that brings us to Francois Villon, the “max
daddy” of bad boy poets (and brigands) from the 15th century. Strangely
while I have picked up on most of my favorite poets from some academic setting
I learned of Villon from two maybe unusual sources. First from the 1930s film The Petrified Forest where the Bette
Davis character, Gabby, was crazy for the Villon book of poems sent from her mother
in France. More importantly the poet and what he stood for was brought up in
the film in conversation with Leslie Howard’s character Alan who was a Villon-like
misplaced out of sorts wanderer out in the Arizona desert. The other source was
a poem by Villon used as a front-piece of an article by Hunter S. Thompson who
used the sentiment expressed by Villon where he considered himself a stranger in
his own country (as did Thompson back in Nixon times in America). Yes, wanderers,
waifs, strangers in a strange land, those are the poets I want to read and listen
to. And what of it.
***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- A Good Old Boy Tries To Keep It Together- For Prescott Breslin Wherever He Is
A YouTube film clip of Hank Williams performing You Win Again to set the mood for this piece.
Josh Breslin had been since he retired a couple of years ago as a journalist writing for half the alternative and special interest newspapers and journals in the country, make that half the unread, mostly, newspapers and journals in those categories in something of a reflective mood. Not every day, certainly not on golf days with his golfing associates over at Dunegrass, when reflection over some missed chip or putt on the previous hole spelled the kiss of death for the round. Much better to keep an empty mind on those days and just hope enough muscle memory kicks in to survive the round. But enough of golf, enough of unread journals, hell, enough of retirement except as the cushion that Josh’s thoughts fell on one day when passing through his old home town of Olde Saco, a town farther north in Maine than the one where he now lived, on some family business. While there he passed by his old growing up house, as was almost always the case since it was located near a main town road which he would have to cross to get on to the main highway and not always in some fit in nostalgia.Or rather he passed the plot of land where the old home was situated, an old house that had been little better than a shack, a cabin maybe then, maybe especially when his three sisters came of age and hogged the single bathroom and stuff like that. A place which left little room for a single growing boy to attend to his own toilet, his own sense of space, to any sense at all. The house may have been a shack, no, he thought better say a cabin but it had been located on about two acres of land and in the intervening years, years well after his parents had passed on and his sisters like him had left the dust of Olde Saco behind the land had become valuable and now had been developed into an eight-unit condominium complex. Not that his parents, not that his father Prescott Breslin derived any real financial benefit from that development since the house had been sold when he needed to go into a nursing home after his wife, Delores, passed away. Had been sold well before there was a resurgence in the Olde Saco economy which had taken a beating when the MacAdams Textile Mills shut down and moved south to North Carolina in the early 1950s and had only recovered with some “high tech” start-ups using the old factory space well after Prescott passed on. The sale of that old house had broken his father’s heart despite its shanty condition at the end. The damn thing in any case had not brought enough money. Not enough to cover all Prescott’s increasing medical expenses which Josh and his sisters wound up subsiding.
And so the passing of that lot got Josh to thinking about how Prescott Breslin never drew a blessed break in his hard-scrabble life. No drew a break although he was a hard-working man of the old school-a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages-when he had work. Got Josh to thinking about the early 1950s when he was coming of age, when he started even if unconsciously, or maybe semi-consciously to feel that some new breeze was coming, some new breeze that was going to break through and unfreeze that red scare Cold War time. And while Josh’s horizons in those days centered on the emerging rock and roll, coming from some “new” Memphis hillbilly sources, some black as night rhythm and blues sources, some down and out urban blues sources, again black as night, that was leading the jail-break out then his father’s fate was being sealed in another way. See Prescott Breslin was an employee, a machine tender and mechanic at the MacAdams Textile factory that was heading south and he had no other resources to fall back on. That last thought was pure Josh though, pure Josh remembering back to those hard days. Prescott Breslin, as he would be the first to say, and probably had said it a thousand times, with a wife and four children had no time to worry about whether he had resources to fall back or not. Josh chuckled to himself over that one, yeah, that was pure Dad.
As he travelled further along Main Street (really Route One but everybody called it Main Street since they had no real such street in the town) he passed by what in the old days was Millie’s Diner, now re-opened as Mildred’s, the one right across the street from the old textile plant where guys would go before their shift and grab a coffee and crullers, maybe grab a quick dinner if they were single, or maybe meet some sweetheart and talk before going off to work(he did not know this from personal experience but his father had once told him that right after World War II the plant was working three shifts and guys, and gals, were catching as much overtime as they wanted).
Millie’s did not long survived the shutdown of the mill and had been abandoned for a number of years (like a lot of other businesses in that section of the town that were dependent on the mill-workers) but had re-opened about a decade ago with the same “feel” as Millie’s including a jukebox which played current stuff but also stuff from back then, stuff that hard-working guys and gals would put their nickels, dimes and quarters in to listen to whatever was “hot” in those days. Josh knew all of this because a couple of years before he had been contacted by an old high school classmate, Melinda, Melinda Dubois (the place was crawling with French-Canadians including his mother), who had read some old article of his and got in touch to invite his up for a class reunion. During that previous time in town Melinda had taken him around town and showed him what had changed and told him the story of Millie’s resurrection as Mildred’s.
Something that day, probably the sight of the old homestead, maybe just the thought of Millie’s where sometimes when his father had been making good money he would take the family for an out of house dinner and where Josh on occasion had stopped in to play the jukebox and have a Coke while looking furtively around for any stray girls, prompted him to stop and go into Mildred’s for a coffee and maybe a piece of pie (that pie an iffy thing what with him and his new weight problem but he thought why go into a diner if you are not going to have something that is “bad “ for you). As a single he sat at the Formica-top counter complete with red vinyl-cushioned swivel stool to sit on and a paper placemat and utensils in front of him waiting for the smiling waitress to take his order (a career waitress as is usual in diners, middle-aged, her white uniform a little tight trying to look younger, pencil in her hair for ease of taking orders, chewing gum but friendly until you placed your order and then either still smiling or a frown if you only order coffee and, not the young college girls and guys you find in better restaurants marking time with a job to help defray college expenses or for walking around money). He placed his frowning order, coffee, black, and a piece of apple crumb pie with, yes, with ice cream (bad, indeed).
While he waited for his order he thumbed through the panels on the jukebox machine that was placed between him and the next placemat. And as if by some strange osmosis Josh came upon Hank Williams’ You Win Again his father’s favorite song when he was young. (His father been in a pick-up band for a while working a circuit and along the Ohio River.) Josh put his quarter in to play that one selection (yeah, times have changed even in jukebox land) and as Hank moan’s his lovesick blues that triggered Josh to start thinking about his father and where he had come from, where he would have picked up those country tunes in his DNA. And then he thought of that hard time when his father was so discouraged about his prospects when the mill had closed down temporarily and the final word had come that it would be closing for good and would play that song repeatedly as if to try and ward off some evil spirits. He could remember his father’s voice like it was yesterday as he sat beside him in Millie’s:
“Jesus, it’s been three months since the mill closed on the first day of our lord, January 1954, as the huge black and red sign in front of the dead-ass silent mill keeps screaming at us. And also telling us not to trespass under penalty of arrest, Christ, after all the sweat we have given the damn MacAdams family. I still haven’t been able to get steady work, steady work anywhere, what with every other guy looking for work too, and I don’t even have a high school diploma, not even close since I only went to eight grade and then to the mines, to do anything but some logging work up North when they need extra crews,” That is what Prescott Breslin had half-muttered to Jack Amber, a fellow out-of-worker sitting on the counter-stool next to his from the same MacAdams Mill that had been in Olde Saco since, well, since forever. This conversation and ones like it in previous weeks between the two, and by many previous parties on those self-same stools, took place, of course, right at Millie’s Diner right across the street from the closed, dead-ass mill the place where every guy (and an occasion wife, or girlfriend waiting to pick up her guy) who worked there went for his coffee and, and whatever else got him through another mill week.
Just then Prescott, hey no Pres, or PB, or any such thing, not if you didn’twant an argument on one of his few vanities, fell silent, a silence that had been recurring more frequently lately as he thought of the reality of dead-end Maine prospects and rekindled a thought that came creeping through his brain when Jack MacAdams, the owner’s son, first told him the plant was shutting down for good and moving south to North Carolina not far, not far at all, from his eastern Kentucky roots. Then it was just a second of self-doubt but now the thoughts started ringing incessantly in his brain.
Why the hell had he fallen for, and married, a Northern mill-town girl (the sweet, reliable Delores, nee LeBlanc, met at the Starlight Ballroom over in Old Orchard Beach when he had been Marine Corps short-time stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Base down in New Hampshire just before heading back to the Pacific Japan death battles), stayed up North after the war when he knew the mills were only a shade bit better that the mines that he had worked in his youth, faced every kind of insult for being southern from the insular Mainiacs (they actually call themselves that with pride, the hicks, and it wasn’t really because he was from the south although that made him an easy target but because he was not born in Maine and could never be a Mainiac even if he lived there one hundred years), and had had three growing, incredibly fast growing, girls and one boy with Delores. Then he was able to shrug it off but not now.
The only thing that could break the cursed thoughts was some old home music that Millie, good mother Millie, the diner’s owner (and a third generation Millie and Mainiac) made sure the jukebox man inserted for “her” country boys while they had their coffee and. He reached, suddenly, into his pocket, found a stray nickel, put it in the counter-side jukebox, and played Will The Circle Be Unbroken, a song that his late, long-gone mother sang to him on her knee when he was just a tow-headed young boy. That got him to thinking about home, the Harlan hell home of worked-out mines, of labor struggles that were just this side of fighting the Japanese in their intensity and possibilities of getting killed, or worst grievously injured and a burden on some woe-begotten family, of barren land eroded by the deforested hills and hollows that looked, in places, like the face of the moon on a bad night. And of not enough to eat when eight kids, a mostly absence father and a fading, fading mother needed vast quantities of food that were not on table and turnips and watery broth had to do, of not enough heat when cruel winter ran down the ravines and struck at your very bones, and of not enough dough, never enough dough to have anything but hand-me-down, and then again hand-me-downs clothes, sometimes sister girls stuff just to keep from being bare-assed.
Then Prescott thought about the Saturday night barn dances where he cut quite a figure with the girls when he was in his teens and had gleefully graduated to only having to wear hand-me-downs. He was particularly lively (and amorous) after swilling (there is no other way to put it) some of Uncle Eddie’s just-brewed “white lightening.” And he heard, just like now on the jukebox, the long, lonesome fiddle playing behind some fresh-faced country girl in her best dress swaying through Will The Circle Be Unbroken that closed most Saturday barn dances.
As Millie asked him for the third time, “More coffee” he came out of his trance. After saying no to Millie, he said no to himself with that same kind of December resolve. A peep-break Saturday night dance didn’t mean squat against that other stuff. And once again he let out his breathe and said to himself one more time- “Yes, times are tough, times will still be tough, Jesus, but Delores, the four kids, and he would eke it out somehow. There was no going back, no way.”
And as if to put paid to that resolve, as Josh made a funny face, Prescott put a coin into the jukebox and played You Will Again, which he always said brought him good tidings, or at least made him feel better. A few minute after the song was completed and he and his father were ready to leave after saying good-bye to Jack Johnny Dubois came through the door and yelled, “Hey, Prescott, Jack, the Great Northern Lumber Company just called and they want to know if you want two months work clearing some land up North for them. I’m going, that’s for sure.” And, hell, he was going too.
comment (repost from 2012 just change the year date as noted in the title
On a day when we are honoring the 63rd anniversary of the Chinese
revolution of 1949 the articles by Leon Trotsky concerning the fate of the
second Chinese revolution in the 1920s posted in this entry and the comment
below take on added meaning. In the old days, in the early 1970s to put a time
frame on the period I am talking about, in the days when I had broken from many
of my previously held left social-democratic political views and had begun to
embrace Marxism with a distinct tilt toward Trotskyism, I ran into an old
revolutionary in Boston who had been deeply involved (although I did not learn
the extend of that involvement until later) in the pre-World War II socialist
struggles in Eastern Europe. The details of that involvement will not detain us
here long now although I should point out that he, Ludwig, to use his old time
party name which he insisted that I call him for memory’s sake (I never did get
his real first name although after he died somebody mentioned the name Peter),
had started his political career right around World War I in Poland at the time
ofgreat revolutionary ferment in Europe
after the rise of the Bolshevik Revolution in the wake of the slaughter in
World War I. He was just a kid, had been drafted into something that sounded like
the National Guard here, the Polish Home Guard. Did his time when the Armistice
finally descended on Europe and then having had a belly-full of the old ways
(his words) searched around like a lot of young alienated people then and
gravitated toward Marxism.
In those days before they were murdered by the reaction in Germany
where they had been exiled (abetted by the old time German Social-Democratic
leadership) in the aftermath of the Spartacist uprising that Polish party was
run by Rosa Luxemburg and her paramour (okay, okay political co-thinker) Leo
Jogiches. There was an old saying in the Communist movement of the 1920s and
1930s (before Stalin in the late 1930s virtually liquated the whole operation
to placate his temporary partner, Hitler, in his/their designs on Poland) that
the German party might have been the biggest (after the Soviet Union’s) in the
Communist International but the Polish party was the best. So Ludwig came to
his credentials with an impressive pedigree. Naturally he was a stalwart
Communist rank and filer under the Pilsudski dictatorship from the mid-1920s
forward, was torn apart politically by the failure of the German Communist
Party to stop Hitler in his tracks when there was still time to do so in the
early 1930s, and drifted (after flirting with the exiled Bukarinites, the
rights in the Russian party and CI) toward the small but energetic Trotskyist
group in the mid-1930s when to do meant to be hounded like a dog by both the
Stalinist and Hitler-ite police apparatuses.
So when you ran into a guy like Ludwig, whether you agreed with
his politics or not, you knew you were in the presence of a real revolutionary
and not some armchair dilettante. (Many times I did not agree with him,
especially all that stuff about the Trotskyist version of the theory of Permanent
Revolution, having adamantly defended what the Vietnamese Stalinists had done
there in their national revolution. Yeah, I learned but it took a while and it
took the disaster in Chile and a couple of other places to wise up to “what was
what” in 20th century revolutions).
So you (me), young and wet behind the ears with very slim
revolutionary credentials if rather more élan, you (me) listened and thought
through many of his comments. The one that I think is germane today and which
continues to drive me some forty years later was the importance of the defense
of revolutionary gains no matter how small has stuck with me until this day.
And, moreover, is germane to the subject of these articles from the pen of Leon
Trotsky -the defense of the Chinese revolution (in his case that of the second
revolution in the mid-1920s) and the later gains of that third revolution
(1949) however currently attenuated.
This old comrade, by the circumstances of his life, had barely
escaped ahead of Hitler’s police that pre-war scene in fascist-wracked Europe
and found himself toward the end of the 1930s in New York working with the
Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party in the period when that organization was
going through intense turmoil over the question of defense of the Soviet Union.
In the history of American (and international) Trotskyism this is the famous
Max Shachtman-James Burnham led opposition that declared, under one capitalist
reversion theory or another, that the previously defendable Soviet Union had
changed dramatically enough in the course of a few months to be no longer worth
defending by revolutionaries.
What struck Ludwig from the start about this dispute was the
cavalier attitude of the anti-Soviet opposition, especially among the
wet-behind-the-ears youth of that day (so we of the generation of ’68 had
forbears whether we acknowledged them or not), on the question of that defense
and consequently about the role that workers states, healthy, deformed or
degenerated, as we use the terms of art in our movement, as part of the greater
revolutionary strategy. Needless to say most of those who abandoned defense of
the Soviet Union when there was even a smidgeon of a reason to defend that
state then (and when the issue came to life as a political reality shortly
thereafter when Hitler marched his troops east) left politics and peddled their
wares in academia or business. Or if they remained in politics lovingly
embraced the virtues of world imperialism. (The confessional literature of
American ex-Stalinists, Trotskyists, and even-left Social Democrats from the
1950s especially is replete with “errand child gone wrong but now wiser”
language most of it barely readable for any useful political purpose, or
That said, the current question of defense of the Chinese
Revolution hinges on those same premises that animated that old Socialist
Workers Party dispute. And strangely enough (or maybe not so strangely) on the
question of whether China is now irrevocably on the capitalist road, or is
capitalist already (despite some very un-capitalistic economic developments
over the past few years), I find that many of those who oppose the position
that China is today still hanging by a thread as a workers’ state (deformed in
our language, deformed from its inception since the Chinese working-class
decimated and cowered by the reaction in the second revolution in the 1920s
played no significant independent role in the third revolution) have that same
cavalier attitude the old comrade warned me against back when I was first
starting out. There may come a time when we, as we had to with the Soviet Union
and other workers states of East Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, say
that China is no longer a workers state. But today is not that day.
In the meantime study the issue, read the posted articles, and
more importantly, defend the gains of the Chinese Revolution as tenaciously as
in his time old Ludwig defended the gains of the Soviet Union in the interests
of the world’s working classes and oppressed.
Comrade Liu’s Problem
(Nobody in the Chinese Communist Party, the party that he was
finally to come to see represented his political perspectives ever knew him as
anybody other than Comrade Lui and so we will stick with that name, although
later investigation found that he was the first son of a rich Shang-hai
merchant family whose name was Ki Zhou but Comrade Lui will do for our purposes
(I will use the old time Chinese language usages here in the
interest of some kind of historical accuracy although everybody by now should
be aware that for the past several decades there have been almost universal
spelling and phonetic changes when Chinese turns to English.)
In the fall of 1918, the year Comrade Liu entered Peking
University held many portents for the brash young man who refused to discuss
his family origins other than that he had come like virtually every young
student in the post- revolutionary period (the first revolution of 1911-12
which dispose of the dynasty like some much dirty linen and with about as much
effort as throwing such material in the laundry) from some wealth and that he
was seriously attracted to the anarchists and bookish intellectuals who held
sway there in the wake of World War I.
Like many of the young of most modern generations whocame up in some measure of privilege, came up
in Comrade Lui’s case in the stifling atmosphere of old China the breath of
fresh air provided by the university was both exhilarating and filled with many
doubts about the old ways, about the way that he grew up. And so like more than
a few young first generation intellectuals he gravitated to those ideas which
were farthest away from his home life, from his strident worker bee youth
studying to make university life. That over he breathed in the new ideas, and
no ideas hit newly liberated students harder than the ideas of anarchism, at
least as understood by those so liberated.
Comrade Liu like many others was first influenced by that old
Russian dog, Prince Kropotkin, and his eclectic communal ideas, his idea of
oneness of the whole universe which had a certain Zen-like attraction to those
born into the stratified old Chinese ways (including, as has been noted, the
tremendous efforts to make sure the first son succeeded at the expense of
younger brothers. Daughters did not even enter the picture), and his basically
moralistic way to transform society. That held many attentions for a while but
if anything universal came out the First World War it was thatthe younger generations were looking to
break-out of the old ways and so they were looking for more activist ways to
change society. Comrade Liu with others formed a semi-secret group of
like-minded individuals bent on action to make a new anarchist-derived world.
They called themselves the Black Flag Front. That is the state of affairs as
the May Fourth Movement hit all Chinese students, from anarchists to extreme
nationalists, like a storm.
Comrade Liu and his comrades in the Black Flag
Front while then not in the leadership of the student movement having just
started to finish their first year’s studies participated fully when that big
day came. This was the action they were looking for, the chance to create that
more equalitarian society they were discussing in their rooms. Here is a little
of what the movement itself was attempting to do which forms the background for
most of what Comrade did until that time in the mid-1920s when he moved away
from the Black Flag Front and began to toy a little with Communism.
On the morning of May 4, 1919, student
representatives from thirteen different local universities met in Beijing and
drafted five resolutions:
1.to oppose the granting of
Shandong to the Japanese under former German concessions.
2.to draw awareness of
China's precarious position to the masses in China.
3.to recommend a large-scale
gathering in Beijing.
4.to promote the creation of
a Beijing student union.
5.to hold a demonstration
that afternoon in protest to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
On the afternoon of May 4 over 3,000 students
University and other
schools marched from many points to gather in front of Tiananmen. They shouted such slogans as "Struggle for the sovereignty
externally, get rid of the national traitors at home", "Do away with
"Don't sign the Versailles Treaty". They voiced their anger at the Allied
betrayal of China, denounced the government's spineless inability to protect
Chinese interests, and called for a boycott of
Demonstrators insisted on the resignation of three Chinese officials they
accused of being collaborators with the Japanese. After burning the residence
of one of these officials and beating his servants, student protesters were
arrested, jailed, and severely beaten.
The next day, students in Beijing as a whole
went on strike and in the larger cities across China, students, patriotic
merchants, and workers joined protests. The demonstrators skillfully appealed
to the newspapers and sent representatives to carry the word across the
country. From early June, workers and businessmen in Shanghai also went on
strike as the center of the movement shifted from Beijing to Shanghai.
Chancellors from thirteen universities arranged for the release of student
prisoners, and Peking University's Cai Yuanpei resigned in protest. Newspapers,
magazines, citizen societies, and chambers of commerce offered support for the
students. Merchants threatened to withhold tax payments if China's government
remained obstinate. In Shanghai, a general strike of merchants and workers nearly devastated
the entire Chinese economy. Under intense public pressure, the Beiyang government released the
arrested students and dismissed Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang and Lu Zongyu. Chinese representatives in Paris refused to sign on the peace treaty: the
May Fourth Movement won an initial victory which was primarily symbolic: Japan
for the moment retained control of the Shandong Peninsula and the islands in
the Pacific. Even the partial success of the movement exhibited the ability of
China's social classes across the country to successfully collaborate given
proper motivation and leadership.
Certainly the efforts here by the students
and the actions of the members of Black Flag did not point directly to a new
society but the thrill of political activity, mixing with other groups and
programs and also recruiting a small number of the most militant students
(especially from those arrested and jailed by the government) gave rise to
great expectations of things to come. It was during this period that Comrade
Liu decided to devote his life to the struggle, a decision that he held to
until the end of his life.
One of the great mistakes students have made
once they have led a movement, a radical or revolutionary movement in the
struggle for power is that they fail to see the ebbs and flows of all social
movements thinking that there is only one direction once the masses are in
motion. The Chinese students and the now Comrade Liu-led Black Flag in particular
composed mainly of students (although recruitment had brought a smattering of
professionals and young workers from the textile mills in Shanghai just of the
farms) fell prey to just that phenomenon. (They will not be alone in that
failure as the French students in May 1968 and American students throughout the
1960s attest to.) So some formerly very militant young anarchists ready to man
the barricades in a flash dropped away from the Front, got professional careers
going , started families and the million and one other things people do when
there is an ebb tide. This is the period when Comrade Liu, determined as ever,
came to the fore, came to be recognized as the leader (although being
anarchists they shied away from any official designation). And this is the
period when Comrade Lui learned about the necessity of patience waiting for
another opportunity to present itself that everybody knew was coming just as
one could see the signs in Russia well before 1917 bring the masses into the
struggle, to build those communes and local collectives that would create the
The early years of the 1920s were not a good
time to be an anarchist (or for that matter a dissident communist) once the
Nationalist reaction under Chiang-kai-shek and the various warlords who
effectively ruled vast swaths of China after the central government
half-heartedly granted some of the demands of the initially student-led May
Fourth Movement and sucked all the political air out any dissenting politics.
Those were also the years that the fledgling Chinese Communist Party, under
orders from the Communist International then led by the deceased Lenin’s old
right-hand man, Zinoviev (and with the emerging leader Joseph Stalin’s
blessing) to work within the Chiang operation, the Kuomintang (hereafter KMT).
So the political space for some kind of radical commune short of taking power
seemed less than fruitful since Comrade Lui, who had gone to school with some
of the leading Nationalist cadre who emerged after 1919 and especially with the
death of Sun-Yat-sen in leading positions in the national government refused to
support that government despite various entreaties by his former schoolmates (always
taking into consideration that the national government in many places was
non-existent at various times and for many reasons including vast corruption at
At that time the semi-secret Black Flag under
a political program worked out by Comrade Liu and his closest associates. As
the decade progressed toward the decisive struggles around the second
revolution from 1925 on those associates tended to increasingly be first
generation departed from the villages turned to factory workers. A few with
some education and the few students left who had gone to study in Paris looked to
the various strands of syndicalism that mademore sense to them that the old time Kropotkin moral commune. And as the
ideas of factory-centered communes took hold of the organization a collective decision
(urged on by Comrade Liu and his friend, Lu Chen, was made in late 1923 to move
the main Black Flag operation out of Peking to Shanghai where the foreign
settlements and their Chinese lackeys were building upon the factories created
by the needs at home while the war in Europe had been going on where the imperialists
were busy eating up their resources on the bloody battlefield and said the hell
with the colonials and other lesser markets.
Shanghai with its vast factories and
up-from-hunger working class treated like their coolie forbears before them by
foreign nationals and home-grown capitalists alike was a prime recruiting
ground for the Black Flag with its newfound syndicalist orientation (the
Communist Party was also gaining recruits and supporters as well among that
same population). Shanghai was also the place where Comrade Lui learned his
trade as a revolutionary cadre leader in integrating the raw recruits into the
organization. It was his idea to set up reading circles where literary was
taught and the classics of anarchism explained in simple terms. It was also his
idea to set up some underground operations since he could read the signs that
the big struggle ahead would require such an operation just like in Russia
before 1917.This was also the time when Comrade Lui would start to mix it up politically
with his arch political opponents, the Communists, who were gaining strength in
the factories and it appeared in the government as well. (They, Comrade Lui and
his associates, would laugh among themselves that the level of influence that
the Communist Party had on Sun Yat-sen and after his death Chiang was directly
proportional to the arms and other aid coming into KMT headquarters. Later when
those guns were turned around the matter was no longer laughable and required a
different appreciation of the situation).
On a personal note this period is also where
Comrade Lui met his future wife, Li San, Li San who would stick by him through
the rest of his life. They had met at a reading circle after Li had heard
rumors about the Black Flag having moved its main operation to Shanghai. As
noted previously this reading circle was the main way to organize young
recruits under the increasingly hard conditions of the Nationalist government. The
circle that Li would eventually join however was not a workers’ circle since she
was a daughter of a Shanghai merchant family although not known to Comrade Liu
previously and had been educated in Paris. The decision was made in order to
not intimidate the raw young workers and to give them space to be heard and
work toward leadership to keep the worker circles separate from the young
professionals and academics until the training period was over. Li had been somewhat
“liberated” for the times (she wore Western clothing, spoke English and French
well, lived a half-Bohemian existence with a few other such women and men in a
large house just outside the settlement area) and so she was intrigued by what
the reading circle provided after she had dismissed out of hand the Communists (feeling
as she confided to Comrade Lui that having come from a merchant family that the
Communists would do like that had done to such families in Russia in the
aftermath of the revolution. Her family, or what was left of it, fled to Taiwan
After a formal old time courtship (to appease
her family, his he had lost track of when he went underground although the
family name was still on placard of the rice company doing business at the
family’s old location according to a source that he sent to find out about the
matter.And so this is what the personal
and political situation of Comrade Liu looked like when the great Shanghai
uprising blew the final bit of old China away (although that process would take
another twenty plus years).
The second revolution began in in 1925 and so
we should take note of what that meant for Comrade Liu and his Black Flag
comrades because although the revolutionary possibilities would find their
greatest expression in Shanghai before the KMT machine guns started blazing
away the initial impetus came from Canton:
“The Revolution Begins-the event that really sparked off the
enormous movement of the working class was the shooting down of a demonstration
of students and workers by British and French machine gunners on June 23, 1925.
This provocation triggered off an explosion that had been gathering in the
previous period. The workers of Canton and Hong Kong came out in a huge strike
which lasted for about 16 months, and a paralyzed imperialism throughout the
whole of China. This movement – a strike and the boycott of French goods, and
of British goods in particular – was so complete that 100,000 Chinese workers
moved from Hong Kong to Canton, where the workers were the real power. They
cleared out the opium dens, closed down gambling joints, and improvised an
embryonic soviet in Canton. (As things were fluid in the first days of the
uprising the few Black Flag adherents in Canton were advised to enter the
soviet and spread the anarchist word while doing the practical work noted just
above. The won over many textile workers including an important trade union cadre
who would later in Shanghai lead important textile mill strikes.)
The anarchist movement had never been strong in China seeminly
too esoteric for a tradition-bound society bound together at the family, kinship
and village level (nor, for that matter the ideas of the post-World War I
Social Democracy either as that tendency acted as accomplices of their national
colonial enterprises). So unique opportunities really existed for the Communist
Party. The independent movement of the working class began to change the
relationship of forces in China in favor of the working class. But, the
Communist Party deliberately subordinated themselves to the Kuomintang (KMT) and
to Chiang Kai-shek. The counterrevolution over time gained ground using the
gangsters of Canton and Hong Kong as well as shock troops to crush the labor
movement. At this stage the slogan of the Communist Party in China, and of the
Communist International under the direction of Stalin and Bukharin was ‘full
support to the revolutionary Kuomintang’. The KMT was accepted as a sympathetic
section of the Communist International in 1926.
The Shanghai working class was also looking expectantly
towards the movement in Canton. Tragically, that did not happen, because the
Chinese Communist Party subordinated itself to the Kuomintang while Chiang
Kai-shek gathered the reins of power in his hands. After 1923, the Russian
revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky, opposed the entry of the Communist Party
into the Kuomintang. He stood for the complete independence of the Communist
Party from the Kuomintang. While tactically working on anti-imperialist actions
that came up. This position would become important later when Comrade Liu was
analyzing what had gone wrong in the second revolution. Trotsky was not opposed
to a limited bloc on specific anti-imperialist action. But, Trotsky argued, the
Communist Party should not have subordinated itself politically to the KMT and
losing its anchor among the working class militants who were following its
One of the most important developments in the Chinese
revolution was undoubtedly the heroic movement of the proletariat in Shanghai
in 1927. Chiang’s Northern Expedition reached the gates of that city by January
or February. When the first detachments of the Kuomintang were 25 miles from
Shanghai, the trade unions there, particularly the General Labor Union, called
for the workers to come out in a general strike. (Black Flag trade union
militants, especially in the Delwar Textile Mills, were central to bring out
the workers in the whole industry.)
On February 19 approximately 350,000 workers answered the
call for a general strike. Then, however, the detachments of the northern
warlords went out into the city, joined by the imperialists from the foreign
concessions of Shanghai, and shot down demonstrating workers. A worker found
reading a leaflet was immediately beheaded and his head put on a stake and
paraded through the city in order to terrorize the Shanghai working class. A
reign of terror ensued in the following week. Yet the Kuomintang armies refused
to go into the city. Instead they waited for the Chinese capitalists to crush
the workers. There was a pause, then on March 21 at least 500 workers were
The Shanghai working class rose again on March 21, 1927,
when about 800,000 workers came out onto the streets. They improvised an army
of 5,000 workers. Armed with a few pistols, mostly with bare hands, they
marched against the barracks and against the troops of the northern warlords
and smashed them. The First Division of the Kuomintang – seasoned troops
largely influenced by the Communist Party – decided that they would delay no
longer and marched into Shanghai in defiance of Chiang Kai-shek’s orders. The
leader of the First Division was a general who looked towards the Communist
Party. The whole of Shanghai was in the hands of the working class within two
or three days. Secretly, on the outskirts of Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek met with
gangsters and representatives of the imperialist powers. Together they
discussed a program of repression to crush the workers’ movement in the city.
experience of Canton 12 months before, the Communist Party again reinforced the
illusions of the Shanghai workers in the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek, with
calls of ‘Long live the heroic general! Long live the Kuomintang army!’ Had the
Communist Party based itself on an independent movement of the working class, it
could have taken power. The police had been smashed, and the policing of
Shanghai was under workers’ control. The trade unions in effect controlled
Shanghai and the working class was in the majority, yet the trade unions and
Communist Party formed a coalition with the capitalist party – the Kuomintang.
Of the 19 representatives in the government, the Communist Party had only 5.
The blow was struck on April 12, 1927. The Kuomintang
troops used all the dirty tricks of the capitalists. When they attacked one
workers’ headquarters in Shanghai, these Green gangsters dressed up in workers’
blue denim overalls. Kuomintang troops came along to ‘mediate’. Once inside the
headquarters, the troops lined up the workers against the wall and shot them, including
Comrades Wong and Chan two well-known leaders in the Delwar Textile Mills. The
workers were politically disarmed because they had been told that the
Kuomintang troops were on their side.
In the days preceding the coup of April 12, the General
Labor Union had actually warned that a coup was being prepared and that a
general strike should be organized. Never once was the fountainhead of the
counterrevolution – Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang leaders – mentioned by
the Communist Party or the workers’ leaders of Shanghai.
The Shanghai working class was crushed in blood. An
estimated 35,000 workers, many of them Communist Party members, were killed in
Shanghai alone between April 12 and the end of 1927.
The defeat of the Shanghai working class in 1927 meant the
crushing of the Chinese working class for a whole historical era, but it was
not the end of the matter. There were the beginnings of movements in Hunan and
Hupei, the other two important provinces of China where the peasantry, and the
working class, had begun to move into action.
Naturally the Black Flag was in the thick of things in a
small way in Canton where they had some supporters and the influence of the
Communists was not as strong as in Shanghai. When things were tense there
Comrade Ming and Chou (their organizational names since nobody knew them as
anything else) before they were executed and dumped into a mass grave by the
government troops when the reaction triggered by the demands of British and
French concessionaries went to work did excellent and well-regarded work. They were even were well thought of by the
rank and file Communists in the days before the hard lines between Communists,
Left-Communists (Trotskyists), and the various anarchists’ collectives set in. Comrades
Ming and Chou were central figures in the commune set up at the Trafalgar
Textile Works and they were fingered by company spies, Chinese company spies
paid for by as it turned out Chinese capitalists doing lackey work for the
foreign nationals, for their leadership roles.
Before the end they had been able to set up working committees
to oversee materials, transport, repair, and the commissary that effectively ran
the factory and provided goods to the local population at good prices, (Whether
they would be able to sustain that work as an individual enterprise over the
long haul was problematic and in any case that situation never developed
although we know from Spain, particularly Catatonia, that such workers’
collectives were able to survive for almost a year so outside the long term
question of state power and who has it the prospects were far from impossible.)
The situation in Canton by the end where armed resistance, general strikes were
met by the overweening desire of the foreigners to impose the greatest butchery
on the workers (and their peasant supporters who were beginning to awaken once
the news from their former farm boys came through talking about the classic
peasant question- “land to the tiller”) had worked their courses things began
to be questioned within the Black Flag about its role in the revolution. That huge defeat in Canton and the aftermath made
the Black Flag comrades think things through a bit more critically as Shanghai
became the center of the struggle in 1927.
Nobody thought things through in Shanghai more than
Comrade Liu. He was still adamantly opposed to any support to the Kuomintang
having an almost visceral distrust of those whom he had known at school and in
the early days of the May Fourth Movement as well as his well-thought out political
opposition to working with bourgeois forces except in tactical situations where
a temporary common front was required to confront a situation, usually a
military situation. After examining what went right and wrong in Canton (based on
reports sent back by comrades and supporters there as great peril) Comrade Liu
knew great events were going to be decided in Shanghai, a final show-down among
the various contenders for power was already in the making before Chiang made
his various moves to take individual power. More importantly he that the
Communists were much stronger than the Black Flag forces, although that
situation was somewhat fluid at the rank and file level since many militant but
uneducated workers were flooding into the party. He also knew that if the Black
Flag was to have any influence on the Shanghai workers who were being organized
into trade unions, workers committees and street collectives as a very quick
pace he, they, needed to get to the still unformed Communist rank and file (the
leadership too was open to greater prospects of influence than later after
Stalin in Russia and then via the Communist International internationally
including the Chinese party hardened those left up). Moreover Comrade Liu on
the basis of the Canton commune experience was beginning to see that as
important as factory committees, as that syndicalism that had animated the work
of the Black Flag for the previous few years was that the Russian soviet idea,
particularly its role in the struggle for state power, was the only way to get
rid of the foreigners, their military operations and their damn Chinese
And so not without some trepidation, and not without some
fear that the Black Flag comrades would be devoured by the Communists a
decision was made to enter the Chinese Communist Party and work there for the
ideas that had made them revolutionaries. Comrade Liu in the bargain worked out
with the local Communist leadership was placed in charge of the political
commissars in the factories since he was well-known in those locations and
trusted by many of the factory workers. (By the way the local Communist
leadership, some who had known Comrade Liu since the May Fourth Movement days,
unlike later was happy to see a small experienced factory cadre come to their
organization even though they still were personally a little wary of Comrade
Liu on his adamant opposition to working in the KMT)
And once Comrade Liu entered the Communist Party there was
no better communist, just like there had been no better anarchist/syndicalist
in the independent Black Flag operation. A number of comrades would speculate
later, after the second revolution ground to a halt, and once the reaction took
its bloody revenge, that such comrades like Liu were hard to come by and that
it would take maybe a few generations to produce masses of such cadre. But back
to the moment. Comrade Liu began immediately to set up readers’ circles in the
factories (aided now in this work by Comrade Li who had developed a very
patience and winning style that made her ideal for such work especially among
woman workers and housewives who had become politicized of necessity by the
Those who know the least bit about the history of the
second Chinese revolution and its aftermath know that that revolution was
drowned in blood by the barbarous former “allies” Chiang and his KMT troops.
While we do not know all the specifics since Chiang put a veil of secrecy over
most of his bloody actions once he was victorious we do know that the mass of
rank and file communist workers in Shanghai were executed on his orders, and
know that in the first rank, since there was then no reason to eliminate the
heroic city past by the Communists, who fought Chiang were rank and file
members of the Black Flag who were especially effective against the criminal gangs
employed by Chiang to aid in his dirty work. That remnant was decimated in the
fight and Comrade Liu (and Li) who had gone underground before the Nationalists
entered Shanghai was one of the few that survived. But survive he did, survived
to take part in the discussion about what the hell went wrong, what policies
were followed that precluded victory.
No question that the number one question when the
survivors were looking for “scapegoats” was the policy of entry into the KMT,
the unending, uncritical carte blanche entry complete with Communist
International/Soviet Army guns and military expertise which was turned against
the party and its supporters by Chiang. At this point Comrade Liu, who had
personally buried himself in work to avoid having to deal with the question
while the party was under the gun, spoke up strongly although without rancor
about the false policy of depending on the good offices of the KMT to the end. Worse
to still exhibit naïve about the way the KMT used the Chinese party. To be
naïve at a personal level about Chiang and his cohorts. Initially Comrade Liu’s
analysis centered strictly on the perfidy of the KMT, the bourgeois nature of
the organization and less on what role in the wake of the Russian revolution
the bourgeoisie as represented in China by the KMT (and the warlords in the
outer regions) would play in colonial and undeveloped nations’ revolutions.
Always a thoughtful man Comrade Liu began to question exactly what type of
revolution China needed and what process would lead to the revolution. As a
syndicalist that question, really as always the question of state power, of
whose interests will be taken care of in the revolution, was secondary to
creating those organizations at the base of society that would somehow carry
themselves to the top and the question of state power would wither away of its
The flow of the second revolution put a huge crimp in
Comrade Liu’s thinking on the matter. He knew instinctively that the rotten
Chinese bourgeoisie (and remember he came from that strata so he had some
experience at how rotten they really were) so very connected with the European
imperialists were not going to make a great social revolution for the coolies
and peasants who they lorded it over. And so he belatedly came to see that the
social revolution was now on the agenda just like in Russia in 1917 although he
was then unfamiliar with Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution and so he was
not quite sure how this would work out in China with its mass of peasantry not
quite ready to do much more than fight for the land.
Needless to say there would be recriminations over the
failed policies that derailed the promising Chinese revolution. The national
leadership, the Chen leadership, took it on the neck even though Chen had
personally argued for a political break with the KMT fairly early on but was
overruled by the agents of the Communist International who had flooded into
China along with the military aid to the KMT. Comrade Liu, too low then to be
on the CI radar, was left alone (he also had protectors in the party who
vouched for him and his work something that could be done, done for the last
time then before the lines hardened) and so he continued his low level
underground work as the leadership fights boiled over.
Of course the leadership struggle centered on what the
hell to do about insuring the survival of the party and what forces to try to
organize now that defeat stared the party in the face for who knew how long.
Without going into great detail here the argument would be between those like
Mao, who eventually had his way, wanted to move out of the clamped down cities
and depend on the volatile peasantry to drive the social revolution and those
like Comrade Liu who argued that a working-class revolution had to be based on
the workers and the workers were in the cities. Comrade Liu and those like him
would lose that argument but he would remain in Shanghai all through the
dispute and all through the various extermination campaigns that Chiang was
endlessly trying to carry out that would ultimately lead Mao and his party
remnant on the long march to Yenan.
Little is known of the work of Comrade Liu during this
period except that people remember that there were always reading circles
popping up around Shanghai associated with his name (and Li’s) and that he
secretly recruited many to the underground party. What is known, known now
through the exile literature of the time was that Comrade Liu had received
literature from the Trotsky-led Left Opposition in Russia over the debates on
the China question in the late 1920s and had formed a very secret circle in
Shanghai supporting that position although he was never bothered by the party
about it as he most certainly would have been in Russia. Probably, according to
later speculation, the main forces with Mao were too busy trying to survive
themselves to worry excessively about political deviations at the time.
What is known is how Comrade Liu ended. Once Mao had
established himself in Yenan and communications back to the cities were set up
he put out the call for those like Comrade Liu with experience in readers’
circles to go out there to educate the masses of peasants who were coming to
the party in throngs. Comrade Li was not invited. Although there is still some
uncertainty about who did the deed as Comrade Liu was travelling to the now
familiar if still difficult path to Yenan he was killed either by KMT soldiers
who had been warned that he was travelling to Yenan or that agents of the Green
Tea Gang who had had it in for Comrade Liu since the Shanghai days and his
efforts to eliminate these treacherous criminal gangs got to him. He died a
good communist. Li San would stay in Shanghai underground and do work in the
women’s section of the party, a job that would turn into a government job once
the party came to power in 1949. Her date of death in uncertain since she was
rounded up in the aftermath of the Hundred Flowers experiment and not heard
As for Comrade Liu’s problem, the problem that animated
this piece, the problem of how to overthrow the old order and what kind of more
equitable society to form in the wake of the overthrow of the capitalist class,
although he was not around to see it, and the state created probably was far
from what he had envisioned when he started on the political road with the May
Fourth Movement, he probably would have been proud that old Chiang got beaten
out in the end and that the forgotten of China would be better off than they
had ever been in history. Not a bad epitaph.