Thursday, June 14, 2007




Arthur Miller had a good ear for the foibles and traumas of the ordinary people of the old middle class put up against the wall in a world that was dramatically changing after World War II. The time of the man in the gray flannel suit and the victory of corporate culture that destroyed the old independent professions was not the main character of the piece Willie Loman’s time. In this play, seemingly only about the trials and tribulations of Everyman Willie Loman a used up salesman at the end of his career, the underlying tension is that he cannot keep up with those changes required by modern capitalist technique and therefore has to be discarded. In a recent review of the book The Disposable American, that is essentially a study of today’s used up Willie Lomans, I noted that the author had caught the desperation of that layer of working people that had gotten waylaid by globalization. Seemingly Willie is their voice-the voice of shame, individual impotency and sense of lost and betrayal but also a certain pridefulness. Unfortunately, Willie Loman and today's Willies are disturbingly clueless about the forces that have done them in.

This occupational demise naturally has a fallout effect on Willie’s personal life as well. He does not understand what has happened to destroy the integrity of his dysfunctional nuclear family. The old standards that had guided him do not stand up in the new suburban-dominated world where he must try to survive. Obviously there is some dramatic tension between him and his sons who have in their own way nothing but contempt for the old man, his old ways, his illusions and his duplicity. But also, as is always the case with rebellious children, love, at least their conception of it, as well. That this love is not good enough to save Willie in the end is one of the lessons to be learned from the play. That is where the need for political solutions begin. But enough. Read the play and see the Lee J. Cobb version of the movie. Cobb IS Willie Loman.




This play, based on the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690’s that New England still has not lived down, was written by Arthur Miller in an earlier period in American history, the 1950’s, when hysteria over the alleged internal “Communist menace” dovetailed with the opening of the coldest part of the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The dramatic tension of the play cannot be understood except as a parable on that then current atmosphere. Miller draws parallels with the earlier period of hysteria, in this case the irrational hysteria over witches in the isolated, inward-looking Puritan community of Salem, Massachusetts. The comparisons in reaction to the witches and ‘reds under the bed’ are startling as far as the response of the societies and individuals in those communities were concerned.

Obviously in the play one needs a hero, even if it is the flawed and ‘fallen’ John Proctor who will stand up, in the final analysis, even unto death for his principles. We will always find a few, even if reluctant, fighters to stand against the herd. In fact we depend on that occurrence. What is more compelling, and frightening, is the reaction of the ‘honest’ town folk. Then, as in the case of the Cold War hysteria, those ‘good’ folk turned the other way, joined actively in on the action or in some way justified the trials. As we are again in a period when the new hysteria is over Islamic fundamentalists and their motives this play remains an extremely powerful cautionary tale. Read the play and/or watch a movie version of it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007




Although both the parliamentary and royalist sides in the English Revolution, the major revolutionary event of the 17th century, quoted the Bible, particularly the newer English versions, for every purpose from an account of the fall to the virtues of primitive communism that revolution cannot be properly understood except as a secular revolution. The first truly secular revolution of modern times. So why would the pre-eminent historian of the English Revolution, the late Christopher Hill, write a whole book about the influence of the Bible in that revolutionary period?

As been noted by more than one commentator there is sometimes a disconnect between the ideas in the air at any particular time and the way those ideas get fought out in political struggle. In this case secular ideas, or what would have passed as such to us, such as the questions of the divinity of the monarch, of social, political and economic redistribution and the nature of the new society (the second coming) were expressed in familiar religious terms. That being the case there is no better guide to understanding the significance of the mass of biblical literary articles produced in the period than Professor Hill. The only objection one can have is that he overloads his argument for the importance of the Bible in the social discourse of the times with more examples than necessary and with a certain redundancy and overlap in the subjects he looks at such as the importance of the garden (of Eden), the wilderness and the hedge in Biblical narrative, the concept of England as a chosen nation and the English as a chosen people and of the decisive weight of the Old Testament as a source of inspiration (and vengeance). However, this is only a minor objection.

In this expansive book Mr. Hill connects the wide spread use of the Bible with the revolution in printing bringing its message to the masses; the effects of the Protestant Reformation on individual responsibility for bible study and leading a moral life; various interpretations of Adam’s fall, the consequences of that fall and the possibilities for redemption; the theology of the divine right of kings and the concept of the man of blood exemplified by Charles I; the role of the priesthood of all believers that foreshadow a very modern concept of the validity of individual religious expression; radical interpretations of equality and primitive communism, particularly the work of Gerrard Winstanley ; the Puritan ethic and many more subjects of interests. Here Hill also uses his usual cast of characters that one has met in his other works including, Oliver Cromwell, Edmund Sexby, Hugh Peters, John Bunyan, the above-mentioned Gerrard Winstanley, Abiezer Coppe, the Levelers, the Ranters, the Quakers and the Fifth Monarchists. And seemingly threading through the whole narrative, John Milton. Take note and read on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Click on the title to link to an "Under The Hood" (Fort Hood G.I. Coffeehouse)Web site online article about the "Oleo Strut" Coffeehouse, an important development in the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Hats off to those bygone anti-war fighters.



Over the past year or so I have been propagandizing for the creation of anti-war soldiers and sailors solidarity committees as a practical organizational vehicle for implementing the Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq slogan. I have dealt in an earlier post with the fact that I have taken flak in some quarters for a ‘military deviation’ on anti-war strategy. This charge comes mainly from people who have advocated, and continue to advocate for, the manifestly dead-end strategies of reliance on parliamentary procedures or organizing ever more mass peaceful protest in the streets. I will not re-fight that issue here.

However there is, on reflection, a kernel of truth to the ‘military deviation’ argument of my opponents. I have always conceptualized the committees as a stopgap measure to reach our political goal of immediate withdrawal in the face of the obvious lack of class struggle by working people in America in the present period. In better political times we would be calling not for action by the troops to end the war but for labor strikes and other militant actions by the working class to slow the war machine down. We will know that we are in a very different political time when the labor movement strikes not only for its necessary wage and benefits packages but also against the Iraq war. Today, however, that is the music of the future.

Or is it? I bring to your attention the following. In mid-May a group of anti-Iraq war protesters organized as an ad hoc Port Action Committee demonstrated in front of the ship terminals in Oakland, California and asked the longshoremen there not cross their lines. In response the longshoremen honored the line and no ships were unloaded that day. Bravo. The ships in port at the time were not, however, loading or unloading military cargo. Moreover, the longshoremen did not themselves initiate the action. Nevertheless this exemplary labor action is just a taste of what working people could do to bring this damn war to an end. I note that the West Coast-based International Longshoreman’s Union has a long history of respecting picket lines for political purposes and has been a haven for left-wing political activities since the days of the San Francisco General Strike in 1934. This event points to the way we have to be thinking strategically these days. Linking up labor’s untapped power to slow down the war machine with the political fight in the barracks to end the war. That is the ticket.

An appropriate call today by militant unionists in the affected unions is the call to ‘hot cargo’ military shipments to Iraq and Afghanistan. That call is particularly important in the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports that do the bulk of the maritime transport to the Middle East. And as this call is raised other militant unionists and their unions must be ready stand in solidarity. Raising this tactic should, moreover, finally get me out from under the ‘military deviation’ charge. Right? LABOR ‘HOT CARGO’ MILITARY SHIPMENTS TO IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN.

Monday, June 11, 2007



I must apologize at the outset for not having posted a solidarity statement with the Quincy, Massachusetts Education Association (QEA) before today, June 11, 2007, the second day of their walkout. This is doubly egregious as I was born in Quincy-the City of Presidents (John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams). The Quincy teachers walked out on Friday June 8, 2007 after taking a vote. From the news that I had heard I believed that their action was a one day affair, a fairly familiar way to deal with stalled contract negotiations. However these brothers and sisters are for real and seem determined to make their point and get a just contract. This in the face of a state Labor Relations Board decision that their walkout is illegal and the determination of the Quincy School Committee to seek a court injunction to force the teachers back to work.

The major issue, and a recurring stumbling block to many of today’s labor contracts, is health benefits. That is the surface issue at least but the reality is wages. The favorite ploy for the government (and private employers, as well) is to grant some seemingly reasonable wage increase and then off-set it with an increase in employee contributions to their health insurance plans. The net effect is that over the life of a contract the teachers will either stand still or go backwards in their real standards of living. Make no mistake this is an important fight and is being watched by teachers unions (and school committees) throughout the state of Massachusetts where this same issue is in dispute in many contract negotiations. Let us be clear-teachers do not make nearly enough in comparison with other highly skill professions. In a just world teachers, the transmitters of learning and culture to the young generations, would be held in higher esteem and compensated accordingly. And would have much more say in educational decisions, along with parents, students and other school employees. However until that day-Victory to the Quincy, Massachusetts School Teachers

Sunday, June 10, 2007




Leave it to legendary blues man Skip James to come up with just the right phrase to capture my feelings after having just read part of an ‘unauthorized’ biography of Senator Hillary Clinton. Believe me even that much was tough going and I refuse to go further. No, not because of the nasty details of the Clintons’ lives ‘exposed’ but because I knew all of this before as did almost any political neophyte. These people, the Clintons, have been part of the political landscape so long it seems really improbably that there is much we haven't had our noses rub in already. Between, snoops, special prosecutors and impeachment interrogators what is left?

The ‘highlight’ of the current expose is thus suppose to be the ‘pact with the devil’ that Bill and Hillary made that they would support eight year presidencies for each other. First for Bill, and then (now) for Hillary. I do not know what they call it in bourgeois circles but in the workers movement we call it a united front- that is a temporary agreement over a certain issue or goal. What is the big deal? That such a non-starter is seen as some kind of conspiracy to take over the republic tells more about the authors than about the Clintons. I repost a comment that I made in an earlier post dealing with the presidential campaign. I think it rather sums up the real point that eludes of all these biographies and exercises in conspiracy theory.

"Not to be outdone the Democrats have had some tempests in teapots themselves. A couple of “unauthorized” campaign biographies have come out on one ex-First Lady and current New York Senator Hillary Clinton. I have only read reviews on the books but seemingly they are as the Clinton campaign has argued they are- old news, or no news. The only important point to note is that it is obvious that Ms. Clinton has that same “fire in the belly” to be president that commentators, including myself, have noticed about the more successful candidates in presidential contests. Hillary is still 5/2 against the field in my book and now we are getting a better understanding of why. It is not a pretty sight. And once again, as with the Republicans, we are in trouble."