Saturday, February 20, 2010

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- The Grimke Sisters- Fighters For Slavery Abolition And Women's Rights

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the 19th century American radicals, Sarah And Angelina Grimke.

February Is Black History Month

March Is Women's History Month

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Women And Revolution, Volume 29, Spring 1985

The Grimke Sisters:
Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights

By Amy Rath

"I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours." —Angelina Grimke', address to Women's Loyal League, May 1863

Angelina and Sarah Grimke' were two of the earliest fighters for black and women's rights in America. Although far from being socialists or revolutionaries, the Grimke' sisters of South Carolina were among the foremost fighters for human equality of their time, the 1830s and the tumultuous era which saw the birth of the abolitionist movement, foreshadowing the great Civil War which freed the slaves. They were also among the the first women to speak publicly on political issues. "Genteel society" objected to the fact of their public appearances—and even more to the content of their speeches. Thus the first serious, widespread discussion of women's rights in the United States was directly linked to the black question and the liberation of the slaves, questions which 25 years later would tear the nation apart in civil war.

Further, the Grimke' sisters' almost visionary commitment to the fight for the liberation of all, exemplified in Angelina's famous statement to the Women's Loyal League, stands in stark contrast not only to early abolitionist anti-women prejudices, but also to the later, shameful betrayal of black rights by feminists during the Reconstruction era. "The discussion of the rights of the slave has opened the way for the discussion of other rights," wrote Angelina to Catherine E.Beecher in 1837, "and the ultimate result will most certainly be the breaking of every yoke, the letting the oppressed of every grade and description go free,—an emancipation far more glorious than any the world has ever yet seen."

The sisters and Theodore Weld published American Slavery As It Is (1840), the most influential anti-slavery document until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Though they had essentially retired from active politics by the time of John Brown's courageous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, the actual opening shot of the Civil War, they deeply believed in his cause. Angelina's stirring "Address to the Soldiers of our Second Revolution" (given at the May 1863 Women's Loyal League convention) advocated massive arming of the former slaves as part of the Union Army, and remains today a remarkably radical and prescient analysis of the implications of the Civil War:

"This war is not, as the South falsely pretends, a war of races, nor of sections, nor of political parties, but a war of Principles; a war upon the working classes, whether white or black; a war against Man, the world over. In this war, the black man was the first victim, the workingman of whatever color the next; and now all who contend for the rights of labor, for free speech, free schools, free suffrage, and a free government... are driven to do battle in defense of these or to fall with them, victims of the same violence that for two centuries has held the black man a prisoner of war— The nation is in a death-struggle. It must either become one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free."

Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights

On February 21,1838, hundreds of people swarmed to the great hall of the Massachusetts State Legislature. Angelina Grimke", the first woman ever to address an American legislative body, would argue for the most controversial subject of the day: the immediate abolition of slavery.

This speech—which continued over three days, despite efforts by pro-slavery forces to stop it—was the culmination of a nine months' tour by Sarah and Angelina Grimke', the first women agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), founded in 1833. While their speeches began as "parlor meetings" in private homes or church halls for women only, such was the power and growing fame of Angelina's oratory that men began to slip into the back to listen, and the Grimke' sisters became the first American women to address what were then called "promiscuous" audiences.

Uproar swept genteel society across the nation. The Grimke' sisters were breaking the rules of ladylike decorum by their "unwomanly" displays. Angelina was popularly called "Devilina"; "Fanny Wrightists!" screamed the pro-slavery press. (Fanny Wright was a Scots Utopian socialist who toured the U.S. in 1828 for abolition, public education, women's rights, the ten-hour day and "free love"; she set up an anti-slavery commune and edited a newspaper. When these projects failed, she left the country, having made little impact.) "Why are all the old hens abolitionists?" sneered the New Hampshire Patriot: "Because not being able to obtain husbands they think they may stand some chance for a negro, if they can only make amalgamation [interracial sex] fashionable."

The Congregationalist church, the descendant of the New England Puritans, issued a "Pastoral Letter" condemning the Grimke's for leaving "woman's sphere" and going against the biblical injunction, of Paul: "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Sarah answered this, and other attacks, in the brilliant Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, the first American book on the rights of women, predating Margaret Fuller's more famous work by six years.

In her arguments Sarah relied extensively on biblical sources, for to her it was important to prove that the equality of the sexes should be a Christian belief, and she wanted to show that women had the right and duty to work for the emancipation of the slave. Her concrete solutions to women's oppression were naive: for example, she suggested that husbands should content themselves with baked potatoes and milk for dinner, to give their wives time to educate themselves. She never understood that the institution of the family itself necessarily stands in the way of women's freedom. Indeed, she could not reconcile herself to the idea that divorce should be legalized. But for all these limita¬tions, Sarah's book is the pioneer American work on the subject. She was deeply interested in women workers, and polemicized against unequal wages; she attacked with great bitterness the lack of educational opportunities for women and their total lack of legal rights. "I ask no favors for my sex," she wrote, "All I ask our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy."

Many fellow abolitionists demanded that the sisters give up their arguments on women's rights, fearing that it would detract from the more important question of the hour: freedom for the slave. But Angelina pointed out that the outcry against women's public lecturing was a tool of the slaveholders: "We cannot push Abolitionism forward with all our might until we take up the stumbling block out of the road.... Can you not see the deep laid scheme of the clergy against us as lecturers?... If we surrender the right to speak in public this year, we must surrender the right to petition next year, and the right to write the year after, and so on. What then can woman do for the slave, when she herself is under the feet of man and shamed into silence?" (emphasis in original; letter to Theodore Weld and John Greenleaf Whittier, 20 August 1837).

The Making of a Southern Abolitionist

The sisters' effectiveness as abolitionist agents had to do not only with the power and sweep of their arguments, but with the fact that they were native-born eyewitnesses to Southern slavery. Yet precisely because they were gently bred daughters of one of South Carolina's most prominent slaveholding families, they had not seen the worst of it, as they themselves were quick to point out. They did not see the slave gangs on the plantations, the brutal whippings, but the "better" treatment of the house and city slaves.

Sarah was born in 1792. The invention of the cotton gin in her infancy led her father, like many others, to expand his plantation holdings and build up his slave force. He was one of the wealthiest men in Charleston, the political capital of the South, and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a former Speaker in the state House, a judge and author. Sarah grew up with every advantage that wealth and position could offer a woman of her time. But instead of satisfying herself with embroidery, piano and a little French, she studied her brother's lessons in mathematics, history and botany, and declared her wish to become a lawyer. Her family mocked her; her father forbade her to study Latin. Perhaps influenced by her own educational frustrations as well as her childhood revulsion for the slave system, she started to teach her personal maid to read. "I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting-maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my long locks. The light was put out, the keyhold screened, and flat on our-stomachs, before the fire, with the spelling-book under our eyes, we defied the laws of South Carolina."

As an adult Sarah's aspirations to make something of her life turned in the one direction open to "respectable" women of her day and class: religion. She became a Quaker. Later she converted Angelina, 12 years her junior. Before joining her sister in Philadel¬phia, the Quakers' center, Angelina undertook a personal conversion crusade against slavery among her family and friends. In her gray Quaker dress, she started arguments at tea against the sin of holding slaves, becoming quite unpopular with Charleston's ruling elite. Inquiries were made about her sanity.

Convinced at last that there was no future in this, Angelina went north. But she could not be satisfied with the orthodox Quaker doctrine, which at that time included colonization as a "solution" to slavery. Black "Friends" were made to sit on a separate bench. In the early 1830s Angelina became interested in the growing abolitionist movement, and was horrified at the violence the free North turned against anti-slavery spokesmen. William Lloyd Garrison was barely saved from lynching at the hands of a Boston mob in 1835. Theodore Weld was repeatedly mobbed as he toured the Midwest, as were many others. Early in the decade Prudence Crandall was forced to close her school for black girls in Connecticut when the well was poisoned, doctors refused to treat the students, and finally a mob torched the school building. In 1838 a pro-slavery mob, egged on by the mayor himself, burned down Philadelphia Hall, which had been built by the abolitionists as a partial answer to their difficulty in finding places to meet. An interracial- meeting of abolitionists was in progress there at the time; two days earlier, Angelina and Weld had married, and the attendance of both blacks and whites at their wedding fueled the fury of the race-terrorists.

The abolitionists were part of a broader bourgeois radical movement, the 19th century herrs of the 18th century Enlightenment, Protestant religious ideals, and the American Revolution so dramatically unfulfilled in the "Land of the Free" where four million suffered in slavery. Although opposition to slavery was by no means as widespread in the 1830s as it was to become immediately before the Civil War, nonetheless many prominent men, such as the wealthy Tappan brothers of New York and Gerrit Smith, the biggest landowner in the North, had joined the movement by the middle of the decade. Many of the abolitionists had been part of the religious and intellectual upsurge which swept the United States after 1820. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists were formulating their philos¬ophy. Religious revivalists such as Charles G. Finney, who converted Weld, preached temperance and that slavery was a sin against god.
Angelina became convinced that god had called her to work actively for the emancipation of the slaves. Defying the Quakers (who later expelled the sisters when Angelina and Weld married in a non-Quaker ceremony), the sisters went to New York where they participated in a conference for the training of abolitionist agents. Thus began the famous speaking tour of 1837-38.

The politics of the Grimke sisters was radical bourgeois egalitarianism profoundly rooted in religion. They believed that slavery was a sin, that as "immortal, moral beings" women and blacks were the equals of white men. They argued that slavery was contrary to the laws of god (the Bible) and of man, as put forth in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; they disagreed with Garrison's view of the Constitution as a "pro-slavery" document. Again unlike Garrison, they wrote and spoke for rights of education and property for free blacks as well, and bitterly denounced racism within the abolitionist movement. They were the integrationists of their time.

For many years, however, the sisters agreed with Garrison that slavery could be done away with peacefully by moral persuasion. They preached a boycott of slave-made goods (Angelina's wedding cake was made of "free" sugar by a free black baker). One of Angelina's first writings was "An Appeal to the Christian Women of the Southern States," widely circulated by the AASS, in which she urged Southern women to begin a petition campaign for immediate emancipation, to free their own slaves and to educate them. When copies of this pamphlet reached Charleston, the postmaster publicly burned them and the police informed the Grimke' family that if their daughter ever attempted to set foot in the city, she would be jailed and then sent back on the next ship.

The sisters were also for many years staunch pacifists, as would be expected from their Quaker background. Sarah took this to such an extreme that she denied that abolitionists had the right to arm themselves in defense against pro-slavery mobs. This became a subject of controversy in the abolitionist movement in 1837 when publisher Elijah Lovejoy was murdered in Alton, Illinois by a mob. True to her pacifist idealism, Sarah ques¬tioned his right to bear the gun with which he tried to save his life.

Splits and the Coming Storm

By the 1840s the Grimke'sisters had largely withdrawn from public activity. In part this was due to ill health Angelina suffered as a result of her pregnancies, as well as family financial problems. But much of it was probably political demoralization. In 1840the abolitionist movement split over the issues of women's rights and political action. The Garrisonian wing wanted to include women in the organization, but was opposed to abolitionists voting or running for political office, since Garrison believed the "pro-slavery" U.S. Con¬stitution should be abolished and that the North should expel the South. The other wing, represented by eminent men like the Tappan brothers, excluded women from office within the organization, was against women's rights, and wanted to orient to political work in Congress. Since they agreed with neither side in this split, the Grimke's and Weld retired to private life. In later years Angelina spoke bitterly against "organizations."

Meanwhile, however, on the left wing of the abolitionist movement there were gathering forces which saw the irrepressible and inevitable necessity for a violent assault on the slave system, to end it forever by force of arms. The brilliant black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and John Brown spearheaded this growing conviction. As we noted in our SL pamphlet, "Black History and the Class Struggle," "Douglass' political evolution was not merely from 'non-resistance' to self-defense. Contained in the 'moral suasion' line was a refusal to fight slavery politically and to the wall, by all methods. That is the importance of the Douglass-Brown relationship: together they were planning the Civil War." And it was John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 which galvanized the nation; abolitionists who the day before were pacifists took the pulpit to proclaim the necessity of a violent end to the slave system.

The Grimke' sisters and especially Theodore Weld had earlier become convinced that only war could end slavery. Sarah believed she had communed with John Brown's spirit the night before his martyrdom at the hands of Colonel Robert E. Lee, acting under command of President Buchanan. "The John Huss of the United States now stands ready... to seal his testimony with his life's blood," she wrote in her diary. Two of the executed men from the Harpers Ferry raid were buried in the commune at Raritan Bay, New Jersey, where the sisters and Weld were living at the time. The graves had to be guarded against a pro-slavery mob.

When the Civil War officially began the Grimke's did emerge briefly from private life. They were staunch Unionists, supported the draft and were critical of Lincoln for not freeing the slaves sooner. They were founding members of the Women's Loyal League. It was at a meeting of this group that Angelina made her famous statement: "I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours."

Reconstruction Betrayed: Finish the Civil War!

Following the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction, the most democratic period for blacks in U.S. history, the former abolitionist movement split again. During that period, women suffrage leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—formerly avowed abolitionists—turned their movement for women's rights into a tool of racist reaction. They organized against passage of the Fifteenth Amendment because it gave votes to blacks and not to women (the Grin-ike sisters were silent on this question, even though this disgusting racism was foreign to everything they had fought for). Stanton and Anthony worked closely with such racist Southern Democrats as James Brooks, because he purported to support women's suffrage. In a letter to the editor of the New York Standard (1865), Stanton wrote,

", as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see 'Sambo' walk
into the kingdom first In fact, it is better to be the slave
of an educated white man, then of a degraded, ignorant black one."

It was Frederick Douglass who fought this racist assault. Douglass had been a fervent supporter of the infant women's rights movement, which began largely as a result of the chauvinism which women anti-slavery activists encountered from many abolitionists. At the 1869 convention of the Equal Rights Association, Douglass made a final attempt to win the suffragists from their reactionary policy:

"When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have [the same] urgency to obtain the ballot."
At this convention Douglass proposed a resolution which called the 15th Amendment the "culmination of one-half of our demands," while imploring a redou¬bling "of our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights without limitation to sex." And for the rest of his life Douglass remained a staunch champion of women's rights.

Though the Civil War freed the slaves, it was not the fulfillment of Angelina's vision of a great, all-encompassing human emancipation. The betrayal of Reconstruction by the counterrevolutionary and triumphant capitalist reaction of the 1870s, in which the bourgeois feminists played their small and dirty part, left unfulfilled those liberating goals to which the Grimke sisters were committed. Yet Angelina's statement—"I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours"—was and is true in a way the Grimke's could not understand. Their social perspective was limited to the bourgeois order: they never identified property as the source of the oppression of both women and blacks. Indeed, as bourgeois egalitarians, the basis of their arguments was that women and blacks should have the same right to acquire property as the white man and that this would liberate them completely. As Marx noted:

"The present struggle between the South and North is, therefore, nothing but a struggle between two social systems, the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer live peacefully side by side on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other."

—"The Civil War in the United States," Collected Works, Volume 19, 1861-64

The system of "free labor," capitalism, won out. Radical Reconstruction, enforced by military occupation, sought to impose equality of bourgeois democratic rights in the South. It was defeated by.compromise between the Northern bourgeoisie and the Southern land-owning aristocracy, thus revealing the ultimate incapacity of bourgeois radicalism to finally liberate any sector of the oppressed. This failure and betrayal of Reconstruction perpetuated the oppression of blacks as a color caste at the bottom of American capitalist society. This racial division, with whites on top of blacks, has been and continues to be the main historical obstacle to the development of political class con¬sciousness among the American proletariat. It will take a third American Revolution, led by a multiracial workers party against capitalism itself, to break the fetters of blacks, women and all the oppressed.

*Another View FromThe Left On The Situation in Haiti- From The Seattle Anti-Imperialist Group- A Guest Commentary

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston Indymedia" posting for February 5, 2010 from the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee.

*A Polemic On Haiti And What Revolutionaries Can Do About It- The Internationalist Group vs. The Spartacist League-Part 2

Click on the headline to link to an Internationalist Group online article, dated January 30, 2010, "Spartacist League Backs U.S. Invasion of Haiti" referred to in the article posted below.

Below is the second part of the International Group/Spartacist League polemic on the prospects for socialist revolution in Haiti and the question of the call for the U.S. to withdraw its troops there under present conditions.

Workers Vanguard No. 952
12 February 2010

Third World Cheerleading and Cynical Phrasemongering

Haiti: IG Conjures Up Revolution Amid the Rubble

Confronting the massive toll of death and destruction in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Marxists were obliged to underline the history of imperialist depredations that left the Haitian masses utterly exposed in the face of this natural disaster. Workers Vanguard’s front-page article, “Haiti Earthquake Horror: Imperialism, Racism and Starvation” (WV No. 951, 29 January), also documented the role of the Haitian lackeys of imperialism, including the populist Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Haitian leader embraced by the reformist left internationally. We told the bitter truth: Haitian society had been pulped by the earthquake. The desperate conditions of Haiti today cannot be resolved within Haiti: “The key to the liberation of Haiti lies in proletarian revolution throughout the hemisphere, in which the mobilization of the sizable Haitian proletariat in the diaspora can play a key role.”

We exposed the reformist “socialists” who cheered Obama’s election as U.S. Commander-in-Chief and now plead for U.S. aid without the exercise of American military might, revealing their touching faith in the bourgeois state. Our article also attacked the grotesque and cynical phrasemongering of the centrist Internationalist Group (IG). In the IG’s fantasyland, the earthquake placed workers revolution on the immediate agenda in Haiti: “This small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power, particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police” (“Haiti: Workers Solidarity, Yes! Imperialist Occupation, No!” Internationalist, January 2010). To this end, the IG demanded that “all U.S./U.N. forces get out,” claiming: “This huge military occupation is not intended to deliver aid, but to put down unrest by the poor and working people of Haiti” (emphasis in original). As we wrote in response:

“Notwithstanding the IG’s deranged and grotesque fantasies, there are no good alternatives facing Haiti today. The U.S. military is the only force on the ground with the capacity—e.g., trucks, planes, ships—to organize the transport of what food, water, medical and other supplies are getting to Haiti’s population. And they’re doing it in the typical piggish U.S. imperialist manner. We have always opposed U.S. and UN occupations in Haiti and everywhere—and it may become necessary to call for U.S./UN out of Haiti in the near future—but we are not going to call for an end to such aid as the desperate Haitian masses can get their hands on.”

The IG seizes on this statement in a subsequent polemic posted on its Web site to revile the SL for nothing less than having “gone over from bending under pressure from the ruling class to outright apology for imperialism” (“Spartacist League Backs U.S. Imperialist Invasion of Haiti,” 30 January). Not only does the IG lie about our position but, by omission, it lies about its own position, doctoring a quote from its earlier statement in order to disappear its call for a revolutionary uprising “particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police.” The IG’s squeamish self-censorship is simply further evidence that this oh-so-revolutionary rhetoric was nothing but vicarious bravado. Has the IG informed the Haitian workers and oppressed masses that now is the time for them to rise up in revolution and drive the U.S. troops into the sea? There is certainly no evidence of this on the IG’s Web site, which has yet to even carry a French translation of their articles on the earthquake.

“Democratic” Imperialism and the Aristide Connection

In fact, the IG’s declarations are not intended for the Haitian masses but for the consumption of the domestic Third Worldist and reformist swamp the IG inhabits. Take, for example, the Workers World Party (WWP), which joins the IG in proclaiming “U.S. Troops Invade Haiti—Pentagon Sabotages Relief Effort, Escalates Suffering” (Workers World, 4 February). With greater honesty than the IG, WWP openly urges the Obama administration to engage in a purely humanitarian mission in Haiti. Workers World approvingly quotes Kim Ives of the weekly paper Haiti Liberté saying, “The earthquake was half a revolution, removing all the government buildings and virtually eliminating the repressive power of the state. That’s why the U.S. is rushing in to replace that state power, to control Haiti’s future and to prevent the people of Haiti from carrying out the other half.”

It should be noted that Ives is a passionate supporter of Aristide, who was toppled from power in 1991 shortly after his election, reinstalled by Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1994 at the point of U.S. Marine bayonets, and removed from office a second time through a U.S.-led invasion force in 2004. We opposed both the 1994 and 2004 invasions and called for the immediate withdrawal of all imperialist troops. Aristide protégé René Préval is now president of Haiti. Our previous article documented the role played by Aristide, Préval & Co. as quislings for the U.S. imperialists in helping to police the impoverished Haitian masses. Yet in its two articles on the earthquake, the IG has only oblique and passing references to Aristide.

It is no accident that the IG largely sidesteps the issue of Aristide. In its second article, the IG warns darkly that the U.S. military may “go beyond the patrolling of Haiti” by the existing United Nations occupation force and “take over the government and impose something like a U.N. protectorate on Haiti.” Put simply, this is a crass prettification of the imperialist occupation that resulted from the 2004 U.S.-led invasion. Haiti has been a UN protectorate in all but name for the past six years: the imperialist occupiers have been the real state power there, lording it over the Haitian masses. Préval was hand-picked by Washington in large part because, as a representative of Aristide’s “Lavalas” movement, he could hope to retain popular support and dampen unrest. Like Aristide, Préval is simply a toady of the imperialists. Exposing this reality is central to combating the widespread illusions among Haitian working people in the populism represented by Aristide. However, the IG’s shrieking about the supposed imperialist “invasion” of a country already under imperialist occupation does just the opposite. It essentially portrays Préval and his predecessor Aristide not as quislings of the imperialist powers but as the embodiment of national independence. The pro-Aristide liberals make this explicit. A petition initiated by the Canada Haiti Action Network on January 21, signed by Noam Chomsky, among others, declares:

“We demand that US commanders immediately restore executive control of the relief effort to Haiti’s leaders, and to help rather than replace the local officials they claim to support....

“We call on the de facto rulers of Haiti to facilitate, as the reconstruction begins, the renewal of popular participation in the determination of collective priorities and decisions.”

The petition goes on to call on the imperialists to bring back from exile “Haiti’s most popular and most inspiring political leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

The IG, the liberals and the reformists are perpetuating the fraud that Aristide and Préval are capable of some modicum of independent functioning. Under the imperialist occupation of Haiti that began in 2004, disaster relief has not been implemented by imperialism’s corrupt and ineffective agents in the Haitian government, who totally lack the requisite means and ability. Yet we don’t recall the IG screaming about an imperialist invasion when the U.S. and Canada dispatched warships to Haiti after the country was devastated by four hurricanes in the summer of 2008.

To back up its current claims of an “invasion,” the IG simply manufactures its own alternative reality, assuring us that “none” of the U.S. ships “carried cargo for Haiti” and that “U.S. military planes did not deliver anything.” Yet, even the IG acknowledges that the UN has been feeding up to 310,000 people. In the IG’s fantasy version of events, the question of how those hundreds of tons of supplies got to Haiti remains a mystery. The IG might also ponder why the “nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” the USS Carl Vinson, which the IG, in its diatribe against us, adduced as evidence of the U.S. presence in Haiti as purely and simply an invasion force, has already left Haiti along with a number of other U.S. warships.

In our article, we pointed out that U.S. authorities are building a concentration camp at Guantánamo where they can detain any Haitian refugees caught trying to flee the country by sea. At the same time, we noted that the Cuban deformed workers state, despite being under the guns of U.S. imperialism, had opened its airspace to American military planes in order to speed up aid efforts to Haiti. We challenged the IG to declare whether the Cuban government should be condemned for what, in the IG’s twisted logic, can only be seen as support to an imperialist invasion of Haiti. So far, the IG has preferred to duck that question. Yet this issue has taken on considerable importance as the U.S. military camp in Guantánamo has emerged as a key logistical hub for U.S. Navy planes flying relief supplies into Port-au-Prince. Because of the Cuban government’s overflight permission, which Havana has extended until the end of February, U.S. military and civilian planes carrying relief supplies for Haiti from the U.S. can save considerable time by flying directly to Guantánamo.

Nationalist Populism vs. Proletarian Internationalism

The cynicism of the IG’s vituperations against our refusal to oppose the U.S. military providing aid to the Haitian people is revealed not least by the fact that the IG itself did not oppose the deployment of National Guard troops to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In fact, in language similar to what we say regarding Haiti, the IG declared: “Revolutionary communists would certainly not stand in the way of troops actually providing aid or helping rescue survivors” (“New Orleans Death Trap: Thousands of Black Poor Left to Die,” Internationalist, September 2005). As far as the IG is concerned, it’s okay for U.S. military forces to provide aid to survivors of a natural disaster in the U.S., but not in the Third World.

Nor did the IG call for a workers revolt amid the devastation left in the wake of Katrina. Rather they took a page from Martin Luther King Jr. and called for a “march on Washington,” fatuously declaiming: “The sight of thousands of unemployed homeless camped out on the ellipse and the mall in full view of Bush’s White House and the Capitol, recalling the hunger marches of the early 1930s, would send shivers down the spine of the ruling class.”

In its response to us, the IG dismisses out of hand our reference to Leon Trotsky’s 1938 article, “Learn to Think,” sneering: “WV throws in a quote from Leon Trotsky about not interfering with soldiers extinguishing a fire or rescuing drowning people during a flood. But Trotsky was explicitly talking of a ‘national’ army, not an imperialist invasion force.” No. In fact, Trotsky was speaking here of not opposing on principle aid by an imperialist power to a national struggle in a semicolonial country. Trotsky’s example that “the workers would not interfere with soldiers who are extinguishing a fire” was meant to be a self-evident statement aimed at urging woodenheaded simpletons to learn to think. This is clearly too profound for the opportunists of the IG. By the IG’s logic, workers in the U.S. should be actively blocking any aid being shipped to Haiti by the U.S. military.

Adaptation to Third World populist nationalism is what lies behind the IG’s conjuring up fantasies of proletarian revolution in Haiti. The IG shrieks: “Haiti has now joined a growing list of places where, according to the SL, there is no working class. It started off with Bolivia in 2005, then came Oaxaca in 2006, now Haiti in 2010.” Well, it actually started much earlier than 2005. For example, in 1985, when current IG líder máximo Jan Norden was still editor of Workers Vanguard, we wrote in “South Africa: Razor’s Edge” (WV No. 376, 5 April 1985):

“South Africa is the one place in sub-Saharan Africa where there is the possibility for a workers state, because here the black population has been partially absorbed, at the bottom, into a modern industrialized society which can, based on the revolutionary reorganization of society, provide a decent life for its citizens.”

This, precisely, is the rather elementary point for Marxists, that socialist revolution requires an industrial proletarian concentration that is sufficient for overturning capitalist class rule and establishing a workers state, the dictatorship of the proletariat. And if such is not the case? “Then the struggle for national liberation will produce only very partial results, results directed entirely against the working masses” (Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution [1930]). This is clearly evident in Haiti, where bitter and bloody popular uprisings in recent decades have led to nothing more than the installation of bourgeois-populist regimes ultimately backed by the might of U.S. imperialism.

The same applies in contemporary Bolivia, where measures by the imperialists and the domestic bourgeoisie, centrally the shutting down of the nationalized tin mines, led to the material devastation and atomization of the once powerful mining proletariat. The 2005 “Bolivian revolution” that the IG and other fake leftists enthused over was in fact a plebeian upheaval that resulted in the coming to power of bourgeois populist Evo Morales. And while Mexico does have a powerful industrial proletariat, the struggle in Oaxaca, one of the most economically backward parts of the country, was limited to teachers and sectors of the petty bourgeoisie such as students and peasants. We pointed out: “Although the struggle in Oaxaca could serve as a spark to ignite workers struggle, in itself it does not pose a ‘revolutionary danger’,” as the IG would have it (“Down With Bloody State of Siege in Oaxaca!” WV No. 880, 10 November 2006). At bottom the IG’s glorification of the struggle in Oaxaca reflects its opportunist tailing of the populist milieu around the bourgeois Party of the Democratic Revolution.

The IG notwithstanding, the virtual absence of an industrial proletariat in Haiti, even before the devastation wreaked by the earthquake, is an obvious fact. Despite some modest economic development over the past few years, mainly centered on the garment industry, the financial trade magazine TendersInfo (5 October 2009) reported last fall: “The country now has 25 garment factories that export primarily to the United States and employ more than 24,000 workers, mostly women.” By comparison, the garment industry in Bangladesh consists of 4,500 factories employing more than 2.5 million workers. Of course, Bangladesh is a much bigger country than Haiti. However, even as a proportion of GDP, the economic weight of the textile industry in Bangladesh is almost twice that in Haiti.

However, this does not mean that the masses in Haiti are consigned in perpetuity to imperialist oppression. Again, as we pointed out in our last article, there is a sizable Haitian proletariat in the diaspora, which went unmentioned in the IG’s revolution-mongering around the earthquake. These workers can be a vital link to class struggle by the powerful North American proletariat. But to infuse the multiracial U.S. working class with an understanding of its role as the gravedigger of U.S. imperialism requires a political struggle against the pro-capitalist labor misleaders who chain the working class to its capitalist exploiters, centrally through political support to the Democratic Party.

And here is where the soft opportunist underbelly of the IG’s Third World cheerleading is most exposed. At the time of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, we called for military defense of that country while stressing the need for class struggle against the American ruling class at home. At the same time, we highlighted our call at the time of the Soviet intervention beginning in December 1979 to “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” In contrast, when the IG initiated a November 2001 Hunter College rally in New York to protest plans by the administration to drive out undocumented immigrant students, IG speakers did not so much as mention the Soviet intervention, for fear of offending those anti-Communist leftists at the rally who had been on the imperialist side against the Red Army in Afghanistan (see “IG Disappears Red Army Fight Against Islamic Reaction in Afghanistan,” WV No. 772, 11 January 2002). While disappearing the one force capable of effecting a social revolution in Afghanistan, the IG idiotically raised the call for proletarian revolution in Afghanistan, where there is absolutely no industrial proletariat, writing in the Internationalist (September 2001): “Genuine communists defend semi-colonial countries against imperialist attack as we fight for socialist revolution against their bourgeois and, in the case of Afghanistan, feudalistic leaders.”

A few years later, the IG went a step further, amnestying the pro-capitalist International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) tops over the May Day 2008 antiwar West Coast port shutdown. That action was a powerful demonstration of the kind of working-class struggle needed against the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But, as we wrote, “the ILWU leadership politically undermined this action by channeling the ranks’ anger at the Iraqi occupation and desire to defend their union into pro-Democratic Party ‘national unity’ patriotism,” and support for Obama as the future Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism (“ILWU Shuts West Coast Ports on May Day,” WV No. 914, 9 May 2008). Thus, we noted that the ILWU tops buried any mention of the war in Afghanistan, which Obama championed.

The IG, echoing its favorite left-talking labor faker, ILWU Local 10 Exec Board member Jack Heyman, screamed bloody murder over our supposed slander. But antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who was a speaker at the ILWU rally and was then running as an independent candidate against Democrat Nancy Pelosi, confirmed what we said. Sheehan told Workers Vanguard that Heyman’s co-emcee at the rally and fellow Exec Board member Clarence Thomas “said that I couldn’t say anything bad about Nancy Pelosi or talk about Afghanistan; I was supposed to stay focused only on Iraq” (quoted in “Antiwar Reformists, Labor Bureaucrats and the Democratic Party: The Syphilitic Chain,” WV No. 945, 23 October 2009)!

To paraphrase the IG: it is one thing to read in history books about former revolutionaries capitulating to programs alien to Marxism, but here we see the process unfolding in real time, before our eyes.

*A Polemic On Haiti And What Revolutionaries Can Do About It- The Internationalist Group vs. The Spartacist League-Part 1

Click on the title to link to a "Workers Vanguard" article, dated January 29, 2010,"Haiti Earthquake Horror:Imperialism, Racism and Starvation" which contains a polemic against the Internationalist Group's position posted below.

Markin comment:

The polemic between the Internationalist Group and the Spartacist League centers on whether it is appropriate, in the short term, for revolutionaries to call for the withdrawal of American and Allied troops and organizations from recently earthquake- devastated Haiti and speculation on the immediate political prospectives for socialist revolution in Haiti in its wake.

Call me a dirty old revisionist but on this one the IG seems to be on a different planet, despite the professions of purity of its revolutionary anti-imperialism stance. Sometimes human and natural disasters, and the like, don't fit easily into our Marxist categories, especially when, as here, we are not in a position to concretely to do much about it. For now, and I mean just right now.

Below is the first Internationalist Group online entry on this subject. A separate second part is to follow today

Washington Exploits Earthquake to Reoccupy the Country

Haiti: Workers Solidarity, Yes!
Imperialist Occupation, No!

Stop Blocking Aid to Haitian People – U.S./U.N. Forces Get Out!

JANUARY 20 – Suddenly the earth began shaking. In less than a minute Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas lay in ruins, virtually destroyed in one of the worst geological calamities of modern history. Even a week later, the number of those who perished is uncertain: surely well over 100,000 dead, perhaps anywhere from 200,000 to half a million. An estimated 1.5 million people are now homeless. Agencies calculate that some three million people, a third of the country’s population, require emergency aid. And unlike the Asian tsunami of 2004, whose trail of destruction spread over a vast ocean expanse, the deadly force of the January 12 quake was concentrated in a few hundred square kilometers of this beleaguered Caribbean island nation. A land that was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was laid waste.

Now the human suffering has been enormously compounded by the militarization of the relief effort and reoccupation of Haiti by the United States. More than a dozen flights by aid groups, carrying rescue squads, tons of medical supplies and entire field hospitals, were refused permission to land at the Port-au-Prince airport by U.S. military air controllers who are now in charge. Currently some 12,000 U.S. Special Forces and Marines are landing in Haiti, supposedly to provide “security.” And the number of troops in the United Nations “peacekeeping” mission, which has occupied the country on behalf of the U.S. since 2004, is being increased from 9,000 to 12,500. This huge military occupation is not intended to deliver aid, but to put down unrest by the poor and working people of Haiti. For while President Barack Obama cynically talks of helping the Haitian people and the press and TV are filled with calls for donations, the reality is that the U.S./U.N. forces have been actively blocking aid efforts, just as they did after the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans under President George W. Bush.

Behind this propaganda is barely disguised racism. Some reactionaries openly spew out this filth. Christian fundamentalist TV preacher Pat Robertson blames the earthquake on the Haitian people, whom he accuses of making a “pact with the devil” by throwing off French colonial rule more than two centuries ago. The mainstream bourgeois media are barely more subtle, portraying Haiti today as a basket case, incapable of providing for itself or doing anything at all in the face of this disaster. They whip up hysteria about “looting,” and roaming gangs of “armed thugs,” when in fact instances of violence have been remarkably few and “looters” are arrested for having a sack of powdered milk. There were already large stocks of food in warehouses in Haiti, but the U.S./U.N. military and aid agencies refused to distribute it for fear of “riots.” And while groups of Haitian young men were desperately digging with their bare hands to try to pull out survivors from destroyed schools, what heavy equipment was available was focused on rescuing foreigners and U.N. officials in elite hotels.

U.S. soldier from 82nd Airborne as he clears Haitians out of Port-au-Prince General Hospital, January 19.
(Photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP)

The media blitz amounts to a propaganda war to embellish the image of U.S. imperialism. While Obama escalates the war on Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan, killing scores of Afghan children, Haiti would show that Washington “cares.” This hypocritical theme is bolstered by selective reporting. As medical professionals who rushed to Haiti complained there were no supplies available, there was hardly a mention of the more than 400 Cuban doctors already in Haiti, along with several hundred Haitian doctors trained in Cuban medical schools, who had three field hospitals up and running within a day. But the broader point is that the colossal hypocrisy, journalistic distortion and phony humanitarianism are being used to disguise a new U.S. occupation of Haiti.

Clearly the needs of the Haitian masses are so overwhelming that they would accept aid from any source. Moreover, the Haitian government of puppet president René Préval, barely functional in normal times, has all but disappeared. Yet there is huge concern over what the U.S. forces are up to. When elements of the 82nd Airborne Division marched to the General Hospital skeptical crowds looked on, and as soon as the troops arrived they began forcing Haitians out. Washington is gearing up to declare Haiti a “failed state,” like Somalia, and to call for some sort of international protectorate, perhaps under United Nations auspices. The U.N. “peacekeeping” mission for the “stabilization” of Haiti (MINUSTAH), set up after U.S., French and Canadian forces ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, was already a U.S. occupation using Brazilian and other Latin American troops as mercenaries. Now Obama has apparently decided to assume more direct control.

Amid the media madness, it is necessary to sharply denounce the imperialist occupation of Haiti and demand all U.S./U.N. forces get out! To those who worry that this would mean cutting off aid to the suffering Haitian people, it should be pointed out that the U.S. military is not there to deliver humanitarian aid. You don’t need Navy guided missile destroyers and combat troops recycled from Iraq to provide medical supplies or food. And in fact, for more than a week the U.S. government provided no assistance whatsoever. All the rescue teams, doctors, medicines, water and food were provided either by American and international volunteer groups and agencies or by other countries, where they weren’t directly blocked by the U.S. Yet every day 25,000 people were dying due to lack of medical attention, according to a spokesman for Boston-based Partners in Health, which has been providing medical services in Haiti for years.

In the United States, various reformists are calling for one or another version of “aid not occupation,” much as in the “peace” movement they call for “jobs not war.” They want to change the government’s priorities, not attack the imperialist system. Certainly it is vital to oppose the occupation, and the Haitian masses desperately need aid. But to call on the U.S. government, either implicitly (as does the social-democratic International Socialist Organization) or explicitly (in the case of the Mao-Stalinist Revolutionary Communist Party) to provide such aid feeds dangerous illusions. The RCP writes that “The U.S. government must immediately focus its resources on getting aid directly to the Haitian people” (statement, January 13). It is not only U.S. military forces who are involved in imposing imperialist tutelage. Financial “aid” from the U.S./U.N./IMF, etc., whether in the form of loans or grants, always comes with numerous strings attached. By placing distribution of vitally needed supplies in the hands of outside agencies, they prevent the Haitian population from organizing a capability to respond.

We demand that the U.S., U.N., Red Cross and other imperialist agencies stop blocking aid from reaching the Haitian people. While Obama has announced that Haitians already in the United States will be eligible for Temporary Protected Status, the U.S. is still threatening to return any Haitian caught in a boat headed for the U.S. It won’t even let many earthquake victims needing intensive medical care into the country for treatment. Thus we demand that the U.S. stop blocking the entry of Haitian refugees at the same time as we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. In addition to demanding that all U.S. forces get out, we oppose all measures subjugating Haiti to imperialist economic domination, such as the infamous Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the World Bank and USAID that have led to the destruction of Haitian agriculture and wholesale privatization of government-owned utilities. We also emphasize that the military deployment is a threat to Cuba, just 45 miles away, where the U.S. maintains a torture prison. We defend Cuba, a (bureaucratically deformed) workers state, against imperialism and counterrevolution, and demand that the U.S. return the Guantánamo naval base.

“Looter” arrested for possession of a bag of powdered milk, Port-au-Prince, January 15.
(Photo: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Haiti has a special place in world history, as the home of the only successful slave revolution in history. The Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 inspired slave revolts in the United States, from Denmark Vesey to Nat Turner, and served as a beacon of liberation to oppressed blacks throughout the Caribbean and South America. Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture at the head of an army of former slaves was able to defeat three colonial powers: the French, Spanish and British. This struck terror in the hearts of the capitalists, who quarantined the black republic for decades. The United States militarily occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, and sent in the Marines in 1994 (under Bill Clinton, to put in Aristide as Washington’s man in Port-au-Prince) and again in 2004 (under Bush, to oust Aristide). Obama’s dispatch of thousands of U.S. troops amounts to yet another U.S. invasion of Haiti, using the cover of “humanitarian” aid. To symbolize it, he invited the two former presidents to the White House to announce an obscenely named “Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.”

The earthquake was a natural disaster, but the horrendous death toll and monumental destruction were caused by capitalism and imperialism. As class war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal noted from Pennsylvania’s death row, the media incessantly refer to Haiti as the poorest country in the hemisphere, but they never tell you how it got that way. One reason why there was such massive destruction is that some 2 million Haitians live in shantytowns around the capital where their flimsy dwellings can hardly withstand hurricanes, much less a 7.0 earthquake. Many of these urban poor were formerly peasants, forced off the land by the collapse of agricultural prices as a result of U.S.-engineered “free trade” policies. In the 19th century, the former French colonial masters demanded that Haiti pay a ransom amounting to $21 billion in today’s currency as the price of its independence. Since then, whenever the U.S. wasn’t directly occupying Haiti, it employed puppet governments such as the notorious Duvalier dynasty (“Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc”), who ruled from 1957 to 1986. Even former Liberation Theology priest Aristide dutifully carried out Washington’s dictates.

Reactionary imperialist forces such as the Heritage Foundation see the earthquake as an “opportunity” to impose new constraints on Haiti. For those fighting against imperialism, the popular mobilization to rescue earthquake victims, organize tent camps of the survivors and distribute aid can offer the basis for the only real solution to Haiti’s woes: international socialist revolution. In Mexico following the 1985 earthquake, tens of thousands of Mexico City working people who were left homeless organized independently of and against the government whose soldiers prevented them from rescuing their neighbors and relatives. But leadership was key, and various self-proclaimed socialist groups that took charge of the organizations of those affected by the quake turned them into agencies for channeling government welfare funds, thus squandering an opportunity for revolutionary mobilization.

IG at demo called by Haiti Emergency Committee outside U.S. Mission to United
Nations, January 22, demanding U.S./U.N. forces stop blocking aid, no to occupation.
(Internationalist photo)

Although Haiti is indeed a desperately poor country, in addition to slum dwellers and peasants it has a working class, much of it employed in factories producing directly for the U.S. market. These workers last summer waged a bitter battle seeking to raise the minimum wage to a mere $5 a day (see “Haiti: Battle Over Starvation Wages and Neocolonial Occupation,” in The Internationalist No. 30, November-December 2009). This small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power, particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police, many of them former members of death squads. The key is to forge the nucleus of a revolutionary workers party that can wage an internationalist struggle against imperialism and its local capitalist flunkeys, to fight for a workers and peasants government to expropriate the bourgeoisie, call for a voluntary socialist federation of the Caribbean and extend the revolution to the imperialist heartland of North America. ■

Friday, February 19, 2010

*Poet's Corner- Happy Belated 200th Birthday Anniversary To Edgar Allan Poe

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the great Boston-born poet and storyteller Edgar Allan Poe's, "Annabel Lee.

Below is a comment that I made in an earlier blog entry today that stands as an adequate comment on this occasion as well, a belated 200th birthday anniversary(2009)salute to the great poet and storyteller Edgar Allan Poe.

Markin comment:

Today, since I am taking a little trip down young love’s memory lane, seems like an appropriate time to post an entry for Boston’s very own poet and storyteller, Edgar Allan Poe. I should note that before he recently gained new-found friends in half the cities of America wanting to take credit for being his birthplace or his residence around the bicentennial anniversary of his birth old brother Poe was something of a pariah for his incestuous ways, bohemianism, and love of dope. Hell, half the mad poets and writers in the universe were doped up one way or another. How else can one get that fine edge that allows one to say something new in the universe, and sometimes anything at all? The likes of old time dopesters DeQuincey and old Sam Coleridge, moreover, practically flaunted it in the face of their respective audiences as a badge of honor. I won’t even bother to mention the litany of hop heads, perverts (so-called), addicts, and other assorted free spirits that have made our modern current literary scene jump. If old brother Poe needed a little pipeful to write the haunting beautiful “Ulalume” then I say that is a small price to pay for my lifetime of delight drawn from the poem.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Edgar Allan Poe

Out In The Be-Bop 2000s Night- A Class Website Of One's Own, For The Class Of 1964 Wherever You Are

Markin, Class Of 1964, comment:

Although these blog sites that I have established tend to reflect old time, be-bop night, hard times, beat times, beat down times, beat down, beatified schoolboy concerns and memories I am not adverse to coming into the new millennium to try, try hard by the way, to deal with the implication of the new technologies like the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and whatever comes up next as the “new” mode of so-called social networking in order to get that “message” out. That said, I was surfing the one such social networking site looking at the class message boards of the classes at North Adamsville just before and after my class, the Class of 1964, and found that Rodger Goldman had made an announcement that the Class of 1965 has its own website hosted by its own webmaster. Correct me if I am wrong but didn't the Class of 1964 have several members who went to MIT or other scientific or technically- oriented schools who could take on such a task?

Actually, these days doesn't someone have an eight-year-old grandchild who could serve in that Webmaster capacity? In either case, isn't there someone who can take on this chore so that we get to see all the photos of children and grandchildren, the family dogs and cats, the aging children of the Class of 1964, and whatever else cyberspace will accept. I am on a crusade, fellow classmates.

Now I have not always been a technie fan. In fact in the past I have been something of a technological Luddite (if you do not know who a Luddite is go to Wikipedia). During most of my life I have consciously kept a few too many steps behind the latest technology, at times from a political prospective and at others from a desire not to get too much clutter in my space. Now, however, although cyberspace does not necessarily bring us the golden age of the global community that I have long hankered for, it does permit those of us from the Class of 1964 to take a stroll down memory lane.

I know there is someone out there who, with evil intent in his or her heart, someone like Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, king hell king of the be-bop early 196s schoolboy night, says " Well, why doesn't old Markin take on this task?" Fair enough. However, as this is a confessional age, I must come clean here. While I appreciate and can certainly use the Internet when the deal goes down and I get into technological trouble or have to upgrade, etc. I must call in my "significant other" to rescues me. When I say, Cindy, the #*& computer just went kaput she comes to the rescue. Moreover, if the truth were known I also still use a CD player when I go for my walks. In the age of the iPod how yesterday, right? I, however, would be more than happy to write a little something for our website. But we need a Webmaster extraordinaire to get us up and running. And I know it will not be old Frankie and his progeny because, king of the night he might have been but he was (and is) a techno-no. His thing was pitter-patter, and girls. Where is there room for techno-competence in that world. So, as this is also an age that is addicted to sports metaphors- who will step up to the plate?

*Poet's Corner- Edgar Allan Poe's "Ulalume"

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the American poet Edgar Allan Poe.

Markin comment:

Today, since I am taking a little trip down young love’s memory lane (see "From The Depths Of Memory- A Very Personal Note On Youthful Romance" posted earlier), seems like an appropriate time to post an entry for Boston’s very own poet and storyteller, Edgar Allan Poe. I should note that before he recently gained new-found friends in half the cities of America wanting to take credit for being his birthplace or residence around the bicentennial anniversary of his birth old brother Poe was something of a pariah for his incestuous ways, bohemianism, and love of dope. Hell, half the mad poets and writers in the universe were doped up one way or another. How else can one get that fine edge that allows one to say something new in the universe, and sometimes anything at all? The likes of old time dopesters DeQuincey and old Sam Coleridge, moreover, practically flaunted it in the face of their respective audiences as a badge of honor. I won’t even bother to mention the litany of hop heads, perverts (so-called), addicts, and other assorted free spirits that have made our modern current literary scene jump. If old brother Poe needed a little pipeful to write the haunting beautiful “Ulalume” then I say that is a small price to pay for my lifetime of delight drawn from the poem.


The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere -
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year:
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir -
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through and alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul -
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll -
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole -
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere -
Our memories were treacherous and sere, -
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!) -
We noted not the dim lake of Auber
(Though once we had journeyed down here) -
Remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn -
As the star-dials hinted of morn -
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn -
Astarte's bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said: "She is warmer than Dian;
She rolls through an ether of sighs -
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies -
To the Lethean peace of the skies -
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes -
Come up through the lair of the Lion,
With love in her luminous eyes."

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said: "Sadly this star I mistrust -
Her pallor I strangely mistrust:
Ah, hasten! -ah, let us not linger!
Ah, fly! -let us fly! -for we must."
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings until they trailed in the dust -
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust -
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied: "This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybilic splendour is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty tonight! -
See! -it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright -
We safely may trust to a gleaming,
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night."

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom -
And conquered her scruples and gloom;
And we passed to the end of the vista,
But were stopped by the door of a tomb -
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said: "What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?"
She replied: "Ulalume -Ulalume -
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!"

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere -
As the leaves that were withering and sere;
And I cried: "It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed -I journeyed down here! -
That I brought a dread burden down here -
On this night of all nights in the year,
Ah, what demon hath tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber -
This misty mid region of Weir -
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."

Literature Network » Edgar Allan Poe » Ulalume

**An Atlantic Summer's Day, Circa 1960-For Frank, Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Capris performing their doo-wop classic, There's A Moon Out Tonight. This is sent out by request to Frankie, from the old neighborhood.

Markin, Class Of 1964, comment:

An Atlantic Summer's Day, Circa 1960-For Frank, Class Of 1964

This is the way Frank told me the story, mainly, so it’s really a Frank story that I want to tell you about but around the edges it could be my story, or your story for that matter:

Frank, long, winter-weight black-panted, long sleeve plaid flannel-shirted, thick-soled work boot-shod, de rigueur pseudo-beatnik posing attire, summer or winter, that he thought made him “cool”, at least for the be-bop, look-at-me-I'm-a-real-gone daddy, bear-baiting of the public (and not just the public) that he relished anguished over the job ahead the details of which will concern us later, not now. Melted by the late August sun like some Woolworth’s grilled cheese sandwich, he stood almost immobile, on the Sagamore Street side, looking toward the early morning vacant Welcome Young Field in front of him, as he slowly and methodically pulled out, for about the eighteenth time, or maybe about the eighteen thousandth, a now sweat-soaked, salt-stained, red railroad man’s handkerchief (also de rigueur) to wipe off the new wave of venial sin-producing (at least), swear-to-the-high-heavens-inducing sweat that had formed on his brow.

Frank had, after leaving his own house, already crossed the long-abandoned, rusty-steeled, wooden-tie worn Old Colony railroad tracks that separated the almost sociologically proverbial well-worn, well-trodden “good” from “bad” side of our town, his the “bad”, and mind too (that track, now used as part of the Red Line subway extension system, still stands guardian to that dividing line). He faced, and he knew he faced, even this early in the morning, another day in hell, Frank-ish hell, or so it seemed to him like that was where the day was heading, no question. Another one of those endless, furnace-blasting, dirt-kicking, hard-breathing, nerve-fraying, gates of hell, “dogs days”, August days. Worst, worst for old weather-beaten, you might as well say world-beaten Frank, a fiendish, fierce, frantic, frenzied 1960 teenage August day.

And, like I said, it was not just the weather either, although that was bad enough for anybody whose body metabolism cried out, and cried out loud and clear, for temperate climates, for low humidities, or just the cool, sweet hum of an ocean breeze now and again. But also, plain truth, it was just being a befuddled, beleaguered, bewildered, benighted, be-jesused kid that gummed up the works as well. Frank had it bad. I want to say, if memory does not fail me, that there aren’t double “dog days” like that now, heat-driven, sweltering, suffocating, got-to-break-out-or-bust teenage days, not August days anyway.

But, no, now that I think about it, that’s just not right, not at least if you believe, and you should, all the information about climate change and the rip-roaring way we, meaning you and me, and Frank too, have torn up old Mother Earth without thinking twice about it. Or even once, if you really look around. And about the 21st century angst-filled Franks that you see on those heat-swept streets now, except now the Franks are buried beneath some techno-gadgetry or other, and are not worrying about being be-bop, or real gone daddies, or being “beat”, or about bear-baiting the public or anything like that. But that’s a screed for another day; at least I want to put it off until then. Even writing about this day, this Frank-ish day, right now makes me reach for my own sweaty, dampish handkerchief. Let’s just call it a hot, dusty, uncomfortable, and dirty day and leave it at that.

What’s not “not right” though is that, Frank, a by now finely-tuned, professional quality sullen and also an award-worthy, very finely-tuned sulky teenage boy, usually, waited this kind of day out, impatiently, in his book-strewn, airless, sunless room, or what passed for his room if you don’t count his shared room brother’s stuff. And, maybe, the way Frank told it to me, he might have been beyond waiting impatiently, for he was ready, more than ready, for school to go back into session if for no other reason than, almost automatically come the “dog days”, to get cooled-out from this blazing, never-ending inferno of a heat wave that never failed to drain him of any human juices, creative or not.

And nothing, nothing, in this good, green world, seemingly, could get this black chino-panted, plaid flannel-shirted, salty sweat-dabbled, humidity-destroyed teenage boy out of his funk. Or it would, and I think you would have to agree, have to be something real good, almost a miracle, to break such a devilishly-imposed spell. In any case, as we catch up to him, he is not in his stuffy old bookcase of a room now but there he is walking, in defiance of all good, cool, common sense, long-panted, long-shirted, and long-faced, as I said was his fashionista statement to this wicked old world in those days, across Welcome Young Field on to Hancock Street. On a mission, no less. That is as good a place, the field that is, as any to start this saga.

Now come late August this quirky, almost primitively home-made-like softball field (with adjoining, little used asphalt tennis courts, little used in those days, anyway) was a ghost town during the day. The city provided and funded kids recreation programs were over, the balls and bats, paddles and playground things are now put away for another season, probably also, like Frank, just waiting for that first ring of the school bell come merciful September. The dust this day is thick and unsettled, forming atomic bomb-like powder puffs in the air at the slightest disturbance, like when an odd kid or two makes a short-cut across the field leaving a trail of such baby atomic bomb blasts behind them.

At this early hour the usually game-time firm white lines of the base paths are now broken, hither and yon, to hell from last night's combat, the battle for bragging rights at the old Red Feather gin mill, or something. They await some precious manicure from the Parks Department employees, if those public servants can fight their own lassitude in this heat. And while they are at it they should put some time, some serious patchwork time, fixing the ever-sagging, splintered, termited, or so it seemed on close inspection, but in any case rotted out wooden bleachers that served to corral a crowd on a hot summer’s night. Good luck, men. And if the work is not done, not to worry, the guys who play their damned, loud-noised, argue, argue loudly, over every play with the ever blind umpire, softball under the artificial night lights, if I know them and I do just like Frank does, know the grooves and ridges of the surfaces of the base paths like the backs of their hands, so don’t fret about them.

This field, this Welcome Young Field, by the way, is not just any field, but a field overflowing, torrentially overflowing, with all kinds of August memories, and June and July memories too. Maybe other months as well but those months come readily to mind, hot, sticky, sultry summer mind. Need I remind anyone, at least any Atlantic denizen of a certain age, of the annual Fourth of July celebrations that took place center stage there as far back as misty memory recalled. The mad, frenetic, survival-of-the-fittest dashes for ice cream, the crushed-up lines (boys and girls, separately ) for tonic (aka soda, with names like Nehi, grape and orange, and Hires Root Beer for good measure, for those too young to remember that New Englandism and those brand names), the foot races won by the swift and sure-footed (Frank said he almost won one once but “ran out of gas” just before the finish), the baby carriage parade, and the tired old, but much anticipated, ride on a real pony, and other foolery and frolic as we paid homage to those who fought, and bled, for the Republic. Maybe, maybe paid homage that is. A lot of that part gets mixed up with the ice cream and tonic. (Remember: that’s soda, you can look it up, but I’m telling you all the truth.).

Hell, even that little-used, like I said before little-used in those days, usually glass-strewn but now Parks Department cleaned up asphalt-floored tennis court got a workout as a dance/talent show venue, jerrybuilt stage platform and all. Every 1960 local American Idol wanna-be, misty Rosemary Clooney/McGuire Sisters-like 1940s Come On To My House, Paper Dolls torch singer jumped, literally, on stage to grab the mike and "fifteen minutes (or less)of fame." Needless to say every smoky-voiced male crooner who could make that jump got up there as well, fighting, fighting like a demon for that five dollar first prize, or whatever the payoff was. Later as it got dark, tunes, misty tunes of course, some of them already heard from those "rising stars" like some ill-fated encore, wafted in the night time air from some local band when the Fourth of July turned to adult desires come sundown after we kids had gorged, completely gorged, and feverishly exhausted, ourselves. That story, the dark night, stars are out, moony-faced, he looking for she, she looking for he, and the rest of it, (I don’t have to draw you a diagram, do I?), awaits its own chronicler. I’m just here to tell Frank’s story and that ain’t part of it.

This next thing is part of the story, though. In this field, this bedlam field, as Frank just reminded me, later, after Fourth Of July celebrations became just kids stuff for us, and kind of lame kids stuff at that, we had our first, not so serious, crushes on those glamorous-seeming, fresh-faced, shapely-figured, sweetly-smiling and icily-remote college girls, or at least older girls, who were employed by the Parks Department to teach us kids crafts and stuff in those summer programs that I mentioned before. Or had our first serious crushes on the so serious, so very serious, girls, our school classmates no less, determined to show Frank, Frank of all people, up in the craft-creating (spiffy gimp wrist band-making, pot-holder-for-Ma-making, copper-etching, etc.) department when everyone knew, or should have known, Frank was just letting them win for his own “evil” designs. (And maybe me, maybe I let them "win" too, although I will plead amnesia on this one.) Now that I think of it I might have tried that ruse on the girls myself, there was nothing to it then.

But enough of old, old time flights of fancies. I have to get moving, and moving a little more quickly, if I am ever going to accomplish “my mission”, or ever get Frank out of that blessed, memory-blessed, sanctified, dusty old ball field, sweaty flaming red railroad man’s handkerchief and all. I‘ll let you know about the mission, Frank's mission that is, as I go along like I told you I would before but it means, in the first place, that Frank has to go on this “dog day” August day to Norfolk Downs, or the “Downs” as I heard someone call it once and I didn’t know what they were talking about. We always called it just plain, ordinary, vanilla-tinged, one-horse Norfolk Downs. And Frank had to walk. He, hot as he was and as hot as it was, was certainly not going to wait for an eternity, or more, for that never-coming Eastern Mass. bus from Fields Corner to meander up Hancock Street. Not that Frank was any stranger to that mode of transportation, to that walking. Frank, as I know for certain and have no need to plead amnesia on, had worn down many a pair of heel-broken, sole-thinned shoes (and maybe sneakers too)on the pavements and pathways of this old planet walking out of some forlorn place (or, for that matter, walking into such places). Just take my word for that, okay.

You can take my word for this too. Frank is now officially (my officially) out of the softball field and walking, walking slowly as befits the day, past the now also long gone little bus shelter hut as you get up onto Hancock Street. You know that old grey, shingled, always needed painting, smelly from some old wino's bottle or something, beat-up, beat-down thing that was suppose to protect you against the weathers while you waited for that never-coming Eastern Mass. bus. He, Frank that is, insists that his observation of that hut be put in here despite the fact that he had no intention of taking the bus as I already told you. He is not even going to step into its shade for a minute to cool off. But get this. We have to go through this hut business because, if you can believe this, that lean-to has "symbolic" meaning. Apparently every time this know-it-all pseudo-“beatnik”, long pants, heavy shirt and all, had a beef with his mother (and, you know, let’s not kid each other, when the deal went down, the beef was ALWAYS with Ma in those pre-“parenting-sharing” days) he sought shelter against life’s storms there, before caving into whatever non-negotiable demands Ma insisted on. Sound familiar? But enough, already.

Well, if you get, or rather, if back then if you got on to Hancock Street, (and you actually made it past that historic Eastern Mass. hut, oops, "symbolic" hut) down at the far end of the Welcome Young Field and were heading for Norfolk Downs you have to pass the old high school just a few blocks up on your journey. Just past the old Merit gas station, remember. That gas station (now Hess at that location) had been the scene of memories, Frank memories and mine too. But those are later gas-fumed, oil-drenched, tire-changed, under-the hood-fixated, car-crazy dreams; looking out at the (hopefully) starless be-bop ocean night; looking out for the highway of no return to the same old, same old mean streets of beat town; looking for some "high white note" heart of Saturday night or, better, the dreams accumulated from such a night; and, looking, and looking hard, desperately hard for the cloudless, sun-dried, sun-moaning under the weight of the day, low-slung blue pink Western-driven be-bop, bop-bop, sun-devouring sky and need not detain us here.

Don’t be scared by the thought of approaching the old school though, we all did it and most of us survived, I guess. Frank included. What makes this particular journey on this particular day past the old beige-bricked building “special” is that Frank (and I) had, just a couple of months before, graduated from Atlantic Junior High School (now Atlantic Middle School, as everyone who wants to show how smart and up-to-date they are keeps telling me) and so along with the sweat on his brow from the heat a little bit of anxiety is starting to form in Frank’s head about being a “little fish in a big pond” freshman come September as he passed by. Especially, a pseudo-beatnik “little fish”. See, he had cultivated a certain, well, let’s call it "style" over there at Atlantic. That “style” involved a total disdain for everything, everything except trying to impress girls with his long-panted, flannel-shirted, work boot-shod, thick book-carrying knowledge of every arcane fact known to humankind. Like that really is the way to impress teenage girls, then or now. In any case he was worried, worried sick at times, that in such a big school his “style” needed upgrading. Let’s not even get into that story now, or maybe, ever. Like I said we survived.

Frank nevertheless pulled himself together enough to push on until he came to the old medieval-inspired Sacred Heart Catholic Church further up Hancock Street, the church he went to, his church (and mine) in sunnier times. Frank need have no fear this day as he passed the church quickly, looking furtively to the other side of the street. Whatever demons were to be pushed away that day, or in his life, were looking the other way as well. The boy is on a mission after all, a trusted mission from his grandmother. Fearing some god, fearing some forgotten confession non-confessed venial sin like disobeying your parents, was child’s play compared to facing Gramma’s wrath when things weren’t done, and done right, on the very infrequent special occasions in his clan’s existence. I knew Frank's grandmother and I knew, and everyone else did too, that she was a “saint” but on these matters even god obeyed, or else. This special occasion, by the way, the reason Frank felt compelled to tell me this story, and to have me write it, or else, was the family Labor Day picnic to take place down at Treasure Island. (That’s what we called it in those days; today it is named after a fallen Marine, Cady Park, or something like that.) This occasion required a food order; make that a special food order, from Kennedy’s Deli.

And there it is as Frank makes the turn from Hancock Street to Billings Road. You knew Kennedy’s, right? The one right next to the big A&P grocery store back in those days. As Frank turned on Billings, went down a couple of storefronts and entered that store he had to, literally, walk in through the piled sawdust and occasional peanut shell husks on the gnarled hardwood floor. At once his senses were attacked by the smells of freshly ground coffee, a faint whiff of peanut butter being ground up, and of strong cheeses aging. He noticed a couple of other customers ahead of him and that he will have to wait, impatiently.

He also noticed that the single employee, a friendly clerk, was weighing a tub of butter for a matronly housewife, while a young mother, a couple of kids in tow, was trying, desperately, to keep them away from the cracker barrel or the massive dill pickle jar. The butter weighed and packaged the matronly women spoke out the rest of her order; half pound of cheese, thinly sliced, a pound of bologna, not too thin; a third of a pound of precious ham, very thinly sliced; and, the thing that made our boy pay attention, a pound of the famous house homemade potato salad, Kennedy's potato salad.

Frank winced, hoping that there will be enough of that manna left so that he could fill his order. That, above all else, is why he is a man on a mission on this day. Something about the almost paper thin-sliced, crunchy potatoes, the added vinegar or whatever elixir was put in the mix that made any picnic for him, whatever other treats might surface. Hey, I was crazy over it too. Who do you think got Frank "hip" to it, anyway? Not to worry though, there was plenty left and our boy carried his bundled order triumphantly out of the door, noticing the bigger crowds going in and out of the A&P with their plastic sheathed, pre-packaged deli meats, their tinny-tasting canned goods, their sullen potato salad, probably yesterday’s, and their expressionless fast exit faces. Obviously they had not been on any mission, not any special mission anyway, just another shopping trip. No, thank you, not today to all of that. Today Frank’s got real stuff.

“Wait a minute,” I can hear patient readers, impatiently moaning. This madman of a Frank story-teller has taken us, hither and yon, on some seemingly cryptic mission on behalf of an old friend, under threat or otherwise, through the sweat-drenched heat of summer, through the really best forgotten miseries of teenage-hood, and through the timeless dust and grime of vacant ball fields. He has regaled us with talk of ancient misty Fourth of July celebrations, the sexual longings of male teenagers, the anxieties of fitting in at a new school, and some off-hand remarks about religion. And for what, just to give us some twisted Proustian culinary odyssey about getting a pound of potato salad, famous or not, for grandmother. Well, yes. But hear me out. You don’t know the end. I swear Frank said this to me, shaking off the heat of the day on which he told me the story with a clean white handkerchief from the breast pocket of his light-weight suit jacket. After the purposeful journey the heat of that day didn’t seem so bad after all. That, my friends, made it all worth the telling, right?


Theres A Moon Out Tonight -The Capris Lyrics

There's a (moon out tonight) whoa-oh-oh ooh
Let's go strollin'
There's a (girl in my heart) whoa-oh-oh ooh
Whose heart I've stolen
There's a moon out tonight (whoa-oh-oh ooh)
Let's go strollin' through the park (ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)

There's a (glow in my heart) whoa-oh-oh ooh
I never felt before
There's a (girl at my side) whoa-oh-oh ooh
That I adore
There's a glow in my heart I never felt before (ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh)

Oh darlin'
Where have you been?
I've been longin' for you all my life

Whoa-uh-oh baby I never felt this way before
I guess it's because there's a moon out tonight

There's a (glow in my heart) whoa-oh-oh ooh
I never felt before
There's a (girl at my side) whoa-oh-oh ooh
That I adore
There's glow in my heart
I guess it's because

There's a moon out tonight
Moon out tonight
Moon out tonight
Moon out tonight
There's a moon out tonight

*From The Depths Of Memory- A Personal Note On Youthful Romance

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for Vladimir Mayakovsky, the great Russian poet who is mentioned in the entry below.

Markin comment:

Not all the entries in this space are connected to politics, although surely most of them can be boiled down into some political essence, if you try hard enough. The following is one of those instances where trying to gain any “political traction”, or as I am fond of saying drawing any “lessons” would be foolhardy. I should also note that this entry is part of a continuing, if sporadic, series of “trips down memory lane” provoked by a fellow high school classmate who has been charged with keeping tabs on old classmates and their doings, even those of old-line communists like this writer. Go figure?

Trotsky once noted, as his most famous biographer Issac Deutscher related, and which is most prominently addressed by him in the last chapter of his seminal work, "Literature and Revolution", that of the three great tragedies of life- hunger, sex, and death-the modern labor movement had taken up the struggle against hunger as its goal. Trotsky also noted that under conditions of material abundance in a future communist society that the other two questions would be dealt with in a much more rational manner. Well, as this tale of my youth's thwarted 'passions' demonstrates it cannot come soon enough. Resolving the tangled questions of sex and love, moreover, will be a lot more interesting that the infernal struggle against international capitalism, racism, sexism, and the myriad other social ills that we are duty-bound to fight today. That too is worth the fight.


For Margaret G. - In Lieu Of A Letter

I make no claim to any literary originality. I will shamelessly ‘steal’ any idea, or half-idea that catches my fancy in order to make my point. That is the case today, as I go back in time to my elementary school days down at the old school in the X housing project. Part of the title for today’s entry and the central idea that I want to express is taken from a poem by the great Russian poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky.

So what do a poet who died in 1930 and a moonstruck kid from the 'projects', growing up haphazardly in 1950s America, have in common? We have both been thrown back, unexpectedly, to childhood romantic fantasies of the “girl who got away”. In my case, Margaret G., as the title to this entry indicates. I do not remember what triggered Mayakovsky’s memories but mine have been produced via an indirect school Internet connection. In this instance, damn the Internet. I do not know the fate of Margaret G., although I fervently hope that life has worked out well for her. This I do know. For the time that it will take to write this entry I return to being a smitten, unhappy boy.

Mayakovsky would, of course, now dazzle us with his intoxicating use of language, stirring deep thoughts in us about his unhappy fate. I will plod along prosaically, as is my fate. Through the dust of time, sparked by that Internet prod, I have hazy, dreamy memories of the demure Margaret G., mainly as seemed from afar through furtive glances in the old schoolyard at the elementary school(which is today in very much the same condition as back then) . This is a very appealing memory, to be sure, of a fresh, young girl full of hopes and dreams, and who knows what else.

But a more physical description is in order that befits the ‘real time’ of my young ‘romance’ fantasies. Margaret G. strongly evoked in me a feeling of softness, soft as the cashmere sweaters that she wore and that reflected the schoolgirl fashion of those seemingly sunnier days. And she almost always wore a slight suggestion of a smile, working its way through a full-lipped mouth. And had a voice, just turning away from girlishness to womanhood, which spoke of future conquests. I should also say that her hair… But enough of this. This is now getting all mixed up with adult dreams of childhood. Let the fact of fifty years' remembrances speak to her charms.

Did I ‘love’ Margaret G.? That is a silly thought for a bashful, ill-at-ease, ragamuffin of a project boy and a ‘princess’ who never uttered two words, if that, to each other, ever. Did I ‘want’ Margaret G.? Come on now, that is the stuff of adult dreams. Did Margaret G. disturb my sleep? Well, yes, she was undoubtedly the subject of more than one chaste dream, although perhaps not so innocent at that. But know this. Time may bury many childhood wounds but there are not enough medicines, not enough bandages on this good, green earth to stanch some of them. So let’s just leave it at that. Or rather, as this. For the moment it takes to finish this note I am an unhappy man and… maybe, for longer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

***From The Pen Of The Late Radical Historian Howard Zinn- "A People's History Of The United States"

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the late radical activist and historian, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of The United States.

I have remarked elsewhere on the poverty of information about the ‘making and doing’ of the non-ruling classes, their social concerns, and their hopes and aspirations in America in my own high school history classes in the early 1960s. Such locally important events as the creation of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment (led by Robert Gould Shaw) during the American Civil War and the case of the executed anarchist martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti, never got onto the radar. This despite the fact that I passed, at one point, the Saint-Gaudens memorial plague to the 54th in front of the State House 54th almost every day and grew up within a stone’s throw of where the major events in the Sacco and Vanzetti case took place. All that I know, or almost all that I know, about the micro-history of the American experience (and internationally, as well) came from painfully digging out the information from many scattered sources during my younger political days.

A lot of good things happened as a result of the social struggles in the 1960s, or at least well-intended things that we can proudly stand on, and the dramatically increased interest in getting the “people’s” story out was one of them. And that is where one of the best examples, the late Boston University Professor Howard Zinn, and his book under review, "A People's History Of The United States" comes in. In addition to his up-front radical political activist perspective on the political issues of the day Professor Zinn wrote a number of books, and many articles, about various aspects of the American experience that had been ignored or neglected by those earlier historians who concentrated on the movements of ruling elites, their predilections and their follies or on great events, minus the under classes that bore the brunt of, or carried out, those policies. The most important, of course, is "A People's History".

Under one roof, and in one place Professor Zinn’s “A People’s History" can act as a primer for those who are interested in the underside of history, and, like Zinn, doing something about it. Of course there is more investigation to do, but that is why I used that word primer. Professor Zinn and I were mainly political opponents within the left. However every young reader, every young searcher for the meaning of the American experience, and every just plain thoughtful budding historian owe the professor a debt of gratitude. Hats off to Professor Zinn.