Friday, February 15, 2008

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”-Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!-For a Workers America!-For Revolutionary Integration!

Click on the headline to link to the article from “Workers Vanguard” described in the title.

Markin comment:

As almost always these historical articles and polemics are purposefully helpful to clarify the issues in the struggle against world imperialism, particularly the “monster” here in America.

The Long Struggle Between Church And State


Becket, Starring Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, 1964

One of the decisive battles of Western civilization, one that lasted many centuries, once Christianity became the norm in late Roman times was the seemingly never-ending fight between the secular authority of the state (under God, of course) and the religious authority of the Catholic Church. That tension forms the backdrop for this film about an early English battle around the question.

At least as depicted in the film this seemed an unlikely controversy between two dear friends Norman Henry II (played by a young Peter O’Toole) and his personal political advisor Saxon Thomas a Beckett (played by Richard Burton). But that is the rub. Henry takes his kingship seriously, as he should at this point in history. Beckett does likewise as he grows into his role as Archbishop of Canterbury (when that job had real power). In the end one or the other had to win. With the benefit of hindsight and dressed in the full regalia of the Enlightenment and its modern extension, socialism I am glad that Henry won. But it was a near thing. See this interesting and well-performed film for a slice of our history not badly done.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga


Despite the highly theoretical sounding title of this commentary this is really a part of the very prosaic working class story that I have written about in several earlier commentaries in this space. As I have mentioned previously, this space is usually devoted to ‘high’ politics and the personal is usually limited to some experience of mine that has a direct political point. Sometimes, however, a story is so compelling and makes the point in such a poignant manner that no political palaver is necessary. This is the third part of what now has turned into a trilogy of the fate of a working class family from my old neighborhood. Let me continue the tale.

In An Uncounted Casualty of War (hereafter, Uncounted), written last May, and The Working Class Buries One of Its Own (hereafter, Working Class), written in January, I mentioned that I had recently returned to the old working class neighborhood where I grew up after a very long absence. I wrote in Working Class that maybe it was age, maybe it was memory, maybe it was the need at this late date to gain a sense of roots but that return has haunted me ever since. I have gone back a few times since last May to hear more of what had happened to those in the old neighborhood from a woman who continues to live there and had related the above stories to me. Uncounted was about the fate of my childhood friend Kenny. Working Class recounted the fate of Kenny’s mother, Margaret, and here I present the story of Kenny’s father, James. (Check the archives for the previous two stories.)

As I related in Uncounted and reemphasized in Working Class my own family started life in the housing projects, at that time not the notorious hell holes of crime and deprivation that they later became but still a mark of being low, very low, on the social ladder at a time when others were heading to the Valhalla of the newly emerging suburbs. By clawing and scratching my parents saved enough money to buy an extremely modest single-family house. The house was in a neighborhood that was, and is, one of those old working class neighborhoods where the houses are small, cramped and seedy, the leavings of those who have moved on to bigger and better things. The neighborhood nevertheless reflected the desire of the working poor in the 1950’s, my parents and others including Kenny’s parents, to own their own homes and not be shunted off to decrepit apartments or dilapidated housing projects, the fate of those just below them on the social ladder. That is where I met Kenny and through him his family, including his mother Margaret and his father James. She seemed like a nice woman although I never got to know her well. His father is just a distant, vague memory.

I also mentioned in Uncounted that in my teens I had lost track of Kenny who as he reached maturity took the death of a friend who died in Vietnam very hard. The early details of his behavior changes are rather sketchy but they may have involved illegal drug use. The overt manifestations were acts of petty crime and then anti-social acts like pulling fire alarms and walking naked down the street. At some point Kenny was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Then came the inevitable institutionalizations. Apparently, with drugs and therapy, there were periods of calm but for over three decades poor Kenny struggled with his inner demons. In the end the demons won and he died a few years ago while in a mental hospital.

Needless to say Kenny’s problems were well beyond his mother and father’s ability to comprehend or control. His father, like mine, had a limited education, few marketable skills and meager work prospects. They were always, as many workingmen in the neighborhood were, on the edge-last hired, first fired when an economic downturn came. Thus, there were no private resources for Kenny and he and they were thus consigned to public institutionalization schemes. The shame of this, among other things, led to his father’s early death many, many years ago in the mid-1980’s. This is where James’s story comes into focus.

Kenny’s woes, as I found out this January, were only part of this sad story about the fate of Margaret and James's sons. Kenny had two older brothers, James, Jr. and Francis, whom I did not really know well because they were not around. Part of the reason for that was they were in and out of trouble or one sort or another and were not around the neighborhood much. My neighborhood historian mentioned in January that at some point both sons had dropped out of sight and had not been seen by their mother for over thirty years. They are presumed to be dead or that is the story Margaret told my historian. If I have time at some point I may try to track down what happened to them and then we will have a five-part story. At that point I will surely need the literary resources of someone like James T. Farrell in his Studs Lonigan trilogy for guidance.

For now, however, let me continue with James’s fate. My historian friend told me that James and my father when they were young married men were very, very close buddies, something that I was totally unaware of. Thick as thieves, as the old adage goes. Apparently they liked to go drinking together, when they could afford it. Nothing startling there. I do find it odd though that a South Boston-raised Irishman and a Kentucky-raised hillbilly hit it off. However, as James lost control over the behavior of his sons he became more morose and more introverted. At this point their long friendship faded away.

James, apparently, was like many an Irish father. His sons, good or bad, were his world. Hell, they were his sons and that was all that mattered. They were to be forgiven virtually anything except the bringing of shame on the household. I know the intricacies and absurditiies of that shame culture from my own Irish mother. The boys in their various ways nevertheless did bring shame to the household. Kenny we know about. It is hard to tell but from what my historian related to me for James, Jr. and Francis there were bouts of petty and latter grand thievery and other troubles with the law. She was vague in her recollections here although crimes, great and small, were not uncommon in the greater neighborhood. The old ironic saying in the neighborhood that a man’s son was destined to be either a thief or a priest ran truer here than one might have thought.

Well, the long and short of it is that James started to have severe physical problems, particularly heart problems and had trouble holding a steady job. In the end the shock of his sons' disappearances without a word literally broke his heart. Anything, but not abandonment. His end, as my historian related the details, was not pretty and he suffered greatly.

As I said in Working Class I am a working class politican. That is the great legacy that my parents left me, intentionally or not. As I have asked previously at this point in relating the other parts of the story -are there any great political lessons to be learned here? No, I do not think so but this family’s saga of turning in on itself in the absence of some greater purpose and solution goes a long way to explaining why down at the base of society we have never had as much as nibble of independent working class political consciousness expressed in this country. That, my friends, is why this saga can aptly be entitled history and class consciousness, but let us put them in small letters. As for Kenny, Margaret and James may they rest in peace.


Click on the title to link to the Partisan Defense Committee Web site.

I have added a link to the San Francisco 8 Web site. If you are unfamiliar with this case this is the tail end (if it will ever end) of the government's long, long vendetta against the Black Panthers and their offshoots of the 1960's. The lesson the government wants to impress on us today by this continued harassment is -don't be black and subjectively revolutionary in this country, period. Below is a statement that I passed along last year(2007) from the Partisan Defense Committee concerning the case.


JANUARY 27—In early morning raids on January 23 in California, New York and Florida, police arrested former Black Panther Party members on charges including murder and conspiracy in relation to the 1971 death of San Francisco police officer John Young. Two of the eight arrested were already in prison, and one more is being sought. Coming on top of decades of harassment, grand jury investigations and indictments, the racist roundup shows the relentlessness of the state's vendetta against the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an offshoot of the Black Panther Party, and other former Panthers. Fighters for black rights, labor activists and the left must demand: Drop all the charges now!

The San Francisco Chronicle's front pages have been filled with stories in which those charged are smeared as "classic domestic terrorists" carrying out a campaign aimed at "assassinating law enforcement officers." There was a campaign of terror in the 1960s and '70s: the government's murderous COINTELPRO effort to destroy an entire generation of black and leftist militants, in which 38 Panthers were killed. In September 1968, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country," Commenting on today's climate defined by the "war on terror," Ray Boudreaux, one of those arrested in the roundup, said, "When I watched on TV the twin towers come down, deep in my heart I knew that someone will come by and visit me as soon as they can get it organized, and they did. Once upon a time, they called me a terrorist too. To expedite something in the system, they put the 'terror' tag on it, and it gets done" (Los Angeles Times, 24 January).

Prosecutors are now claiming new evidence and a secret government witness. Defense attorneys believe that the witness is Ruben Scott, whose "confession" following his arrest in 1973 was coerced through torture, as were those of two others. As Bill Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "The case against these men was built on torture and serves to remind us that the U.S. government, which recently has engaged in such horrific forms of torture and abuse at places like Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, has a history of torture and abuse in this country as well, particularly against African Americans."

Two other former BLA members, Assata Shakur and Sundiata Acoli, were victimized in a frame-up following a 1973 ambush by New Jersey state troopers, during which one of the cops was killed in the crossfire with a bullet from a police revolver. While Sundiata Acoli has been in prison for over 30 years, Assata escaped prison hell in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she still resides. In May 2005, the federal Department of Justice and the State of New Jersey raised the bounty on Assata Shakur's head to $1 million, and the Feds added her name to domestic and international "terrorist" lists. Hands off Assata Shakur! Free Sundiata Acoli!

After being imprisoned for 27 years for a murder the police and state authorities knew he did not commit, former Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) won his freedom in 1997. Dhoruba bin Wahad (formerly known as Richard Moore) won his freedom in 1990. Dhoruba was a leader of the New York Panther 21, who in May 1971, after the longest trial in New York State history, were acquitted of charges of conspiracy to blow up the New York Botanical Gardens and various buildings. He was subsequently railroaded to prison for 17 years.

A key focus of the fight against the state's racist frame-up machinery must be the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. A leader of the Philadelphia Panthers in his teens and later a renowned journalist and supporter of the MOVE organization, Mumia was falsely convicted in 1982 of killing a Philadelphia policeman and sentenced to death explicitly for his political beliefs as a Black Panther. Free Mumia! Abolish the racist death penalty!

We print below a January 27 protest letter by the Partisan Defense Committee to California Attorney General Jerry Brown.

We vehemently protest the nationally coordinated arrests of former Black Panther Party members who were charged with murder and conspiracy for the unsolved 1971 killing of San Francisco police officer, John Young. Those arrested were Richard Brown, Richard O'Neal, Francisco Torres, Ray Boudreaux, Henry Watson Jones and Harold Taylor. Two men already in jail—Herman Bell and Anthony Bottom—were also charged. The police are still seeking Ronald Bridgeforth who is additionally being charged with aggravated assault. This is a continuation of the decades-long government vendetta against the Black Liberation Army and other former members of the Black Panther Party. The Partisan Defense Committee demands: Drop the charges! Release them now!

This nationwide roundup is part of the state's campaign to paint those who stand up for black rights as "terrorists." For over 30 years the police have tried to pin this murder on these men. Charges brought in 1975 against John Bowman (who just died) and Harold Taylor were obtained through torture by the New Orleans police after they were tracked to New Orleans by two San Francisco police inspectors. According to press accounts, their torture included being stripped naked and beaten with blunt objects, placing electric probes on their genitals and inserting an electric cattle prod in each man's anus. The charges were dismissed because the prosecution had failed to tell the grand jury that the men's confessions had been coerced. Thirty years later, prosecutors were still unsuccessful in obtaining indictments of any of these men despite convening California state and federal grand juries—first in 2003-2004, May and August of 2005.

The State of California is no stranger to locking up Black Panther Party members on bogus murder charges. Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) spent 27 years in prison for a murder that the FBI and Los Angeles police knew he did not commit. Though the BPP was destroyed thirty years ago, the government vendetta has never ceased. The FBI COINTELPRO terror campaign resulted in the outright killing of 38 key Panther activists by the FBI and local police. Those they couldn't kill were framed up and locked away in America's prison hellholes, including Mumia Abu-Jamal who was sentenced to death on false charges of killing a policeman. Mumia's death sentence was secured by the prosecutor's grotesque lie that his membership in the Panthers as a teenager proved he had been planning to kill a cop for twelve years. Tuesday's arrests are but another instance where the government, having failed in earlier efforts, resorts to extraordinary repressive measures to ensure persecution of those it deems opponents.

Drop the charges! Release them now!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

*Writer's Corner- "The King Of Broadway"- The Stories Of Damon Runyon

Click on title to link to "Wikipedia's" entry for the great short story writer and Broadway character in his won right, Damon Runyon.

Book Review

Guys and Dolls: A Damon Runyon Reader, Damon Runyon, Viking, New York, 1993

Every working class neighborhood produces, if those that I have lived in are indicative, its fair share of drifters, grifters, lamsters, short moneymen, wise guys and just plain big talkers. In classical Marxist speak this element is called the lumpen proletariat and in political terms is a drag on the class struggle and the feeding grounds for fueling reactionary and counter-revolutionary movements. In short, bad news.

I am willing to bet, and make that bet 6/5, that any interested reader looking at this review to get the 'skinny' on Damon Runyon's short stories probably did not bargain for the above analysis. Fair enough. Okay, we will suspend disbelief about the true nature of these types for as long as it takes to get through this collection. Damon Runyon has taken that collection of drifters, grifters and con artists and their `dolls' and headquartered them, mainly in one place, New York's Broadway, the Great White Way of the 1920's and 1930's and given us some very memorable stories about the some time hilarious trials and tribulations of this motley crew.

Runyon's great art is to have an ear for the kind of dialogue that those on the hustle would produce if such a rogue's gallery of lumpen types as the Hot Horse Herbies, Skys, Sam the Gonolphs, Bookie Bobbies and the rest of the cock-eyed tribe every had time to talk to each other. It is no secret that every little sub-culture has its own mores, language and sense of what passes for honor. Runyon takes this and exaggerates the effect but also in many cases puts an edge on it. Some stories are just straight out funny like A Story Goes With It, with its improbable ending in the omnipresent world of the race track; some are tragic-comic like Lily of St. Pierre, a vignette of the seamy side of lumpen existence for those on the run; and others are just plain tear jerkers like Little Miss Marker.

Some commentators have argued that Runyon was just a cynic and had contempt for his characters (or for the real life characters that he based them on). Maybe, so. But if you want several hours of enjoyable reading about a time and place that never really existed except as caricature then this is your stop. By the way- Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Pie In The Sky?


Waitress, 2007

Readers of this space may have noticed that most of the DVD’s that I have reviewed tend to be from the black and white period of cinema history or, if later, have some overwhelming political significance like the movie Reds. For the record I do watch some current films but that I do not review them is for the most part I do not find them worthy of review in this space. However it is probably a surprise that I am reviewing a 2007 film about a spunky pie-making crazed waitress caught up in a world that is not of her own making and seemingly is a black hole as she attempts to get out.

The plot line of this film is that a young, seemingly wholesome and whimsical working class waitress in a pie café has become unintentionally (on her part, at least) pregnant by her oafish, crude and violent husband out somewhere in small town America. This predicament is exactly the nightmare scenario that this woman does not want. Initially she wants neither the baby nor her husband. What she does really want is to win a big pie bake-off and flee the small burg. The plot meanders around the struggle to reach that goal. Along the way she is romantically involved with her attending physician, begins to get out from under her husband’s thumb (and ultimately of the good doctor's, as well, who just happens to be married) and by a stroke of good fortune (provided by the old pie café owner, played by Andy Griffith) she is able to be independent and raise her now loved child on her own. Well, this is one possible take on the American dream, isn’t it?

But what about the politics? In a funny way the politics are very mixed. Her apparently adamant aversion to the thought of an abortion despite the boorish husband and the crimp it places on her dreams seems counter-intuitive but within the flow of current politics where the emphasis is on keeping abortion legal but rare. Her sex-crazed affair with her doctor while pregnant puts a very different spin on the assumptions about pregnancy and sexuality as previously portrayed on the screen. But in the end our little working class waitress gets her little slice of the American dream, right? She gets her ticket to the middle class dream café and her personal freedom. Nobody says that a commercial film has be politically correct, left or right(and despite all the clamor, most are thankfully not), or be profound but the definitely mixed messages of this film have got this old leftist scratching his head. See the thing and judge for yourselves.