Saturday, June 28, 2008

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for "Communism and homosexuality".

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer 1988 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.

In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Defense of democratic rights for homosexuals is part of the historic tradition of Marxism. In the 1860s, the prominent lawyer J.B. von Schweitzer was tried, found guilty and disbarred for homosexual activities in Mannheim, Germany. The socialist pioneer Ferdinand Lassalle aided von Schweitzer, encouraging him to join Lassalle's Universal German Workingmen's Association in 1863. After Lassalle's death, von Schweitzer was elected the head of the group, one of the organizations that merged to form the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD itself waged a long struggle in the late 19th century against Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which made homosexual acts (for males) a crime. August Bebel and other SPD members in the Reichstag attacked the law, while the SPD's party paper Vorwarts reported on the struggle against state persecution of homosexuals.

In 1895 one of the most infamous anti-homosexual outbursts of the period targeted Oscar Wilde, one of the leading literary lights of England (where homosexuality had been punishable by death until 1861). Wilde had some socialist views of his own: his essay, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," was smuggled into Russia by young radicals. When the Marquess of Queensberry called him a sodomist, Wilde sued for libel. Queensberry had Wilde successfully prosecuted and sent to prison for being involved with Queensberry's son. The Second International took up Wilde's defense. In the most prestigious publication of the German Social Democracy, "Die Neue Zeit", Eduard Bernstein, later known as a revisionist but then speaking as a very decent Marxist, argued that there was nothing sick about homosexuality, that Wilde had committed no crime, that every socialist should defend him and that the people who put him on trial were the criminals.

Upon coming to power in 1917 in Russia, the Bolshevik Party began immediately to undercut the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions responsible for the oppression of both women and homosexuals— centrally the institution of the family. They sought to create social alternatives to relieve the crushing burden of women's drudgery in the family, and abolished all legal impediments to women's equality, while also abolishing all laws against homosexual acts. Stalin's successful political counterrevolution rehabilitated the reactionary ideology of bourgeois society, glorifying the family unit. In 1934 a law making homosexual acts punishable by imprisonment was introduced, and mass arrests of homosexuals took place. While defending the socialized property forms of the USSR against capitalist attack, we Trotskyists fight for political revolution in the USSR to restore the liberating program and goals of the early Bolsheviks, including getting the state out of private sexual life. As Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, pointed out in "The Sexual Revolution in Russia," published in the USSR in 1923:
"Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:

'It declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters so long as nobody isinjured and no one's interests are encroached upon

"Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters." [emphasis in original]

—quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement 1864-1935

1950's Oldies But Goodies- Roy, Carl and Elvis

Here are few revivals out of our past, if you grew up in the 1950's.

Roy The Boy

Black and White Nights, Roy Orbison, Roy Orbison Productions, 1987

In another entry in this space I have reviewed Roy Orbison’s In Dreams that is a more ‘talking heads’ approach to his life and music. And that too has its merits. However, when we talk of Roy Orbison then the music is what we really want to deal with. And here one gets all the Roy the Boy one wants, and more. Backed by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Wait and Jackson Browne Roy goes through a litany of his greatest hits from Claudette to Pretty Woman.

But wait, what about the back up singers that were mandatory to late 1950’s rock music. Well, how about k.d. Lang, Bonnie Raitt and Jennifer Warnes. Well, not bad for backup, right? That tells you exactly what you are getting here. The best. Plus a bonus, bonus in some very, very fine licks by T-bone Burnett. Outstanding here are Sweet Dreams, Baby (with Springsteen on lead vocals along with Roy) and the finale Pretty Woman (with an incredible series of riffs by all the guitarists). Yes, Sweet Dreams, Baby.

How About Them Blue Suede Shoes

Carl Perkins- King of Rockabilly and Friends, Carl Perkins, 1985

Everyone who cares now knows that the roots of rock and rock came from a few sources, country blues, city blues, and rhythm and blues of the Big Joe Turner sort and from the white South rockabilly from the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and the artist reviewed here- Carl Perkins. Over the long haul I believe that the key is that Turner rhythm and blues on Shake, Rattle and Roll that defines the roots of rock and roll but that is just for argument’s sake. Carl Perkins can lay claim to a piece of that magic with Blue Suede Shoes (latter covered by Elvis, adding a great deal to his career, of course).

Whether Perkins is a key figure is the history of rock and roll beyond that initial contribution is also an open question. However, no one can question that here in a 30th Anniversary show in London to an audience that was perhaps more appreciative than a home-grown one at that time no one can doubt that he rocks the rockabilly with the best of them. As usual with this format we have the guests- and quite good ones in the likes of Roseanne Cash, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and George Harrison as well as a nice traveling band. Additionally there were some serious dancers, dressed in appropriate 50's style, in the audience kicking up a storm. The hit here is, without a doubt, the finale with a collective all out rendition of Blue Suede Shoes.

Inventing Elvis

Elvis-The First Year-1954, narrated by Jack Perkins, 1992

Elvis Presley a rock and roll hero of my youth, if not to me personally then to many I knew especially girls, is the subject of this in-depth look at the first year that Elvis began inventing himself as the King. Jack Perkins’s somber narration and idiosyncratic style sets the tone for a thoughtful look back at Elvis’s trials and tribulation on the road to stardom. We have the full ‘talking head’ treatment here from Elvis’s surviving band member, Scotty Moore, to ex-sweethearts, motel owners, agents, radio producers and announcers, cooks, bakers and candlestick makers. Basically anyone who crossed his path in 1954 in that first tough year out on the road.

And what a road it was. Playing small clubs, high school auditoriums, the Louisiana Hayride and every where he could get his foot in the door Elvis stretched and clawed his way to success, and apparently was not a bad guy to hang around with then either. He, moreover, exhibited all the virtues that small town Southerners liked in the 1950’s, except maybe those sideburns and, just maybe, swinging that pelvis just a little too much when their daughters were around.

An interesting part of this presentation is an attempt to place the roots of Elvis’s music in the context of his time and place. And, as has been expressed elsewhere as well, that included black musical influences in the deeply segregated South. Sun Records Sam Phillip’s old adage comes true through Elvis- finding a white boy who could sing black. This segment only adds to something that I have been arguing for the past few years- the roots of rock and roll owe more than a little to black blues musical influence – think in this regard of the importance of Big Joe Turner’s Shake, Rattle and Roll, also produced in 1954. But Elvis certainly rode the wave to great effect and this little valentine to him is good for those who like musical history with their music. For those who need just the music look elsewhere.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Victory For The Right To Bear Arms


Sometimes it is actually fun to watch the maneuverings of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court as they form their various majority opinions (when they can avoid those plurality opinions where every justice who can put pen to paper gives a concurring opinion). Today’s, Thursday June 26, 2008, big decision is really big as this court has held that the Second Amendment to the Constitution concerning the right to bear arms means more than provision of well- regulated militia by the state and entails the individual right to bear arms. The specifics of the case involved overturning Washington, D.C.'s extremely restrictive handgun laws (and upholding the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' previous holding overturning those laws). Justice Scalia, author of the majority decision (who by a fortunate quirk of fate as far as this decision goes never got past the legal decisions of 1791 in law school), is our ‘friend’ here. Along with ‘friends’ Roberts, Alito. Thomas and swing voter Kennedy.

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows and that is true on this issue. Of course we are also keeping company with the likes of the National Rifle Association but so be it. While they all have their own axes to grind here is what concerns us. We support, unlike the august Supreme Court Justices, the right to revolution just like our forbears did. That is why this decision is legally, at least, important to us. But as a practical matter here is the skinny- we do not want the cops, crazies and criminals to be armed while we are defenseless. No way. Enough said.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Another Small 'Victory' In The Death Penalty Struggle


Forgive me if I accuse the august justices of the United States Supreme Court (at least those who have been able to move beyond 1791 on a legal decision) for having severe cases of schizophrenia. Or, in any case, they should be subjected to analysis for that possibility. Several weeks ago the Court, by a 7-2 decision (including some of the majority in this child rape death penalty case commented on here), agreed that the current manner of administration of the lethal injection used by most states that have the death penalty on their books did not offend against the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the American Constitution. Moreover, there were so many opinions issued, as each justice tried to parse his or her way through that legal thicket, that I feared for the paper supply at the Court.

Now, on Wednesday June 25, 2008, the Court, by a 5-4 decision, has held that those states that permit the death penalty in cases of child rape without the murder of the victim cannot impose the death penalty for such actions. In the Justice Kennedy-authored opinion the majority found that, heinous as this crime may be, without more this is cruel and unusual punishment. (Kennedy also authored the majority opinion in the Guantanamo detainees federal courts access decision last week. His law clerks must be working overtime these days as he tries to atone for his many legal sins committed over the last several years.) This decision is in line with an attempt by a least a few members of the court to limit the scope of the death penalty without actually abolishing it. Other cases in recent years include forbidding the execution of mental incompetents and minors.

When I commented on the Guantanamo case I mentioned that such a decision is a victory, if a small one, for us. This child rape decision is a ‘victory’ in that same sense. Nobody feels anything but contempt for a child rapist. Nasty little factual aspects of cases like these cause one to gulp when we use the word ‘victory’ here. Nevertheless to the extent that we are unable today to eliminate the state’s ability to impose the death penalty- our ultimate goal- then anytime a legal decision reins in that capacity it is a victory. Not in the way that we would claim a victory if Mumia Abu Jamal, for example, was freed- a case of a wrongly convicted innocent man that we are conspicuously trying to fight and win and have put resources into- but I think you get the drift of my comment. Really though, the best way to insure a real victory for our side (and get rid of some of the underlying causes of these ugly child rape cases in the world), is not to depend on the good offices of Justice Kennedy or any other Justice to rein in the death penalty, but to create a workers party that fights for a workers government.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Preacher Man- Son House


Son House Revisited, Son House, 2-disc set, Fuel Records, 2002

This review was used for a previous review of Son House's work. This compilation is very similar although there are more preacher type blues in this set.

I recently reviewed Mississippi John Hurt’s The Last Sessions in this space. Hurt was ‘discovered’ in the early 1960’s by young, mainly white, folk singers looking to find the roots of American music. Well, Hurt was not the only old black country blues player ‘discovered’ during that period. There is a now famous still picture (as well as well as video performance clip. I wonder if it is on YouTube?) of Hurt along with the legendary Skip James and the musician under review Son House jamming at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. That was a historic (and probably one of the last possible) moments to hear these legends of country blues in one spot together.

And why was House on that stage with Hurt and James? Well, the short answer is that old flailing National steel guitar of his. However, the real answer is that like Hurt he represented a piece of American music that was fast fading away, at least in its original form –the country blues. Can anyone beat the poignancy of Death Letter Blues or bitterness of Levee Moan? Or when House gets preachy on John the Revelator and other old time religious songs of shout and response. The tension between being a preacher man and doing the ‘devil’s work (playing the blues) is more clearly felt in House’s work than in Hurt’s.

House’s repertoire is not as extensive as Hurt’s and there is a little sameness of some of the lyrics here but when he is hot watch out. There is another famous film clip of him sitting in a chair on stage alone under the hot lights flailing away at the guitar almost trance-like, sweating buckets doing Death Letter Blues. That is the scene you want to evoke when you listen to this selection. And do listen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Of Music and Movies and Politcal Doldrums


Over the past several weeks I have been doing more commentary on music and movies than I have previously done in this space. Part of this is a conscious effort on my part to integrate those cultural phenomena into this blog as part of our common history, whether they have impact today or not. My own political evolution is bound up with, as is that of many of the Generation of ’68, the cultural phenomena associated with the times- folk and rock concerts, various communal activities, people’s art, etc. Moreover, at least for the 1960’s, one cannot separate out, at least not easily, the cultural from the political in trying to draw some lessons for today’s struggles.

Those are personal reasons to be sure but, my friends, the main reason that I am writing more of this kind of material is that there is not much doing on the political horizon today. And that fact does not have to do with the summer doldrums, although that is always part of the mix. What it has to do with is the hard fact that the bourgeois politicians, and here I mean Obama as well as McCain, have sucked the best part of the air out of politics. Surely, there are things to comment on in the world beyond that narrow, basically technical presidential campaign trip but other than our traditional on-going propaganda efforts we are not getting a hearing on those issues.

One indication of that impasse is the material posted on various Indy Media sites that I monitor. Up until a couple of years ago there were plenty of hard-hitting reports on struggles and commentary on what to do next. Today, most of the items concern various crank conspiracy theories or fervent messages that we get behind Obama in order to deprive Bush of a third term (meaning a vote for McCain). Meanwhile we have those few little problems in the Middle East and South Asia like Iraq and Afghanistan that are not being addressed by those we wish to reach. I wish I had a positive message of encouragement right this minute but more later. Given world conditions though our day will come, or at least we will get our chances at it.