Saturday, April 04, 2015

Just Before The Sea Change - With The Dixie Cups Going To The Chapel Of Love In Mind

There were some things about Edward Rowley’s youthful activities that he would rather not forget, things that defined his life, gave him that “fifteen minutes of fame,” if only to himself and his, that everybody kept talking about that everyone deserved before they departed this life. That is what got him thinking one sunny afternoon in September about five years ago as he waited for the seasons to turn almost before his eyes about the times around 1964, around the time that he graduated from North Adamsville High School, around the time that he realized that the big breeze jail-break that he had kind of been waiting for was about to bust out over the land, over America. It was not like he was some kind of soothsayer anything like that back then, could read tea leaves or tarot cards like some latter day Madame La Rue who actually did read his future once down at the Gloversville Fair when she had come to that location with her daughter, Gypsy Anne, one hot August week when he was about twelve, read that he was made for big events. The big event that he was interested in just then was winning a doll, a stuffed animal or something like that for Gypsy Anne at the Skee game which he was an expert at.  And he did win her a stuffed animal and got a very big long wet kiss for his heroics. No way though that tarot reading when he was twelve left an impression for a while.


That big breeze blowing through the land thing was not his idea anyway but came from “the Scribe,” the late Peter Paul Markin, a corner boy at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys on Thornton Street where he occasionally hung out since he was childhood friends with the leader of that crowd, Frankie Riley, who read books and newspapers a lot and would go on and on about the thing on lonesome Friday nights when all the guys were waiting, well, just waiting that is all you need to know. Here is where that big breeze twelve million word description thing Markin was talking about intersected though. Edward’s take on the musical twists and turns back then is where he had something the kids at North Adamsville High would comment on, would ask him about to see which way the winds were blowing, would put their nickels, dimes and quarters in the jukeboxes to hear based on his recommendations. Even Markin deferred to him on this one, although the main way that Markin worked the jukebox was to con some lonely-heart girl who maybe had just broken up with her boyfriend, maybe had been dateless for a while, or was just silly enough to listen to him into playing what he wanted to hear based on what Edward had told him. Jesus Markin was a piece of work.

See Edward’s senses were very much directed by his tastes in music, by his immersion into all things rock and roll in the early 1960s where he sensed what he called silly “bubble gum” music (what high priest Markin called something like the musical counter-revolution but he was always putting stuff in political bull form like that) that had passed for rock.  Which, go figure, the girls liked, or liked the look of the guys singing the tunes, guys with flipped hair and dimples like Fabian and Bobby Rydell but was strictly nowhere with Edward. The breeze Edward felt was   going to bury that stuff under an avalanche of sounds going back to Elvis, and where Elvis got his stuff from like Lonnie Johnson and the R&B and black electric blues guys, the rockabilly hungry white boys, and forward to something else, something with more guitars all amped to big ass speakers that were just coming along to bring in the new dispensation.

More importantly since the issue of jailbreaks and sea changes were in the air Edward was the very first kid to grasp what would later be called “the folk minute of the early 1960s,” and not just by Markin when he wrote stuff about that time later before his sorry end. Everybody would eventually hone in on Dylan and Baez, dubbed the king and queen of the moment by the mass media always in a frenzy to anoint and label things that they had belatedly found about out about and run into the ground.  But when folks tunes started showing up on the jukebox at Jimmy Jack’s Diner it was guys like the Kingston Trio, the Lettermen, and the Lamplighters who got the play after school and some other girls, not the “bubble gum” girls went crazy over the stuff when Edward made recommendations. He had caught the folk moment almost by accident late one Sunday night when he picked up a station from New York City and heard Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie songs being played, stuff that Mr. Dasher his seventh grade music teacher would play in class to broaden youthful minds, meaning trying to break the Elvis-driven rock and roll habit. So that musical sense combined with his ever present sense that things could be better in this wicked old world drilled into him by his kindly old grandmother who was an old devotee of the Catholic Worker movement kind of drove his aspirations (and Markin’s harping also triggered by his grandmother’s devotion to the Catholic Workers movement added in). But at first it really was the music that had been the cutting edge of what followed later, followed until about 1964 when that new breeze arrived in the land.

That fascination with music had occupied Edward’s mind since he had been about ten and had received a transistor radio for his birthday and out of curiosity decided to turn the dial to AM radio channels other that WJDA which his parents, may they rest in peace, certainly rest in peace from his incessant clamoring for rock and roll records and later folk albums, concert tickets, radio listening time on the big family radio in the living room, had on constantly and which drove him crazy. Drove him crazy because that music, well, frankly that music, the music of the Doris Days, the Peggy Lees, The Rosemary Clooneys, the various corny sister acts like the Andrews Sisters, the Frank Sinatras, the Vaughn Monroes, the Dick Haynes and an endless series of male quartets did not “jump,” gave him no “kicks,’ left him flat. As a compromise, no, in order to end the family civil war, they had purchased a transistor radio at Radio Shack and left him to his own devises.

One night, one late night in 1955, 1956 when Edward was fiddling with the dial he heard this sound out of Cleveland, Ohio, a little fuzzy but audible playing this be-bop sound, not jazz although it had horns, not rhythm and blues although sort of, but a new beat driven by some wild guitar by a guy named Warren Smith who was singing about his Ruby, his Rock ‘n’ Roll Ruby who only was available apparently to dance the night away. And she didn’t seem to care whether she danced by herself on the tabletops or with her guy. Yeah, so if you need a name for what ailed young Edward Rowley, something he could not quite articulate then call her woman, call her Ruby and you will not be far off. And so with that as a pedigree Edward became one of the town’s most knowledgeable devotees of the new sound.

Problem was that new sound, as happens frequently in music, got a little stale as time went on, as the original artists who captured his imagination faded from view one way or another and new guys, guys with nice Bobby this and Bobby that names, Patsy this and Brenda that names sang songs under the umbrella name rock and roll that his mother could love. Songs that could have easily fit into that WJDA box that his parents had been stuck in since about World War II.


So Edward was anxious for a new sound to go along with his feeling tired of the same old, same old stuff that had been hanging around in the American night since the damn nuclear hot flashes red scare Cold War started way before he had a clue about what that was all about. It had started with the music and then he got caught later in high school up with a guy in school, Daryl Wallace, a hipster, or that is what he called himself, a guy who liked “kicks” although being in high school in North Adamsville far from New York City, far from San Francisco, damn, far from Boston what those “kicks” were or what he or Eddie would do about getting those “kicks” never was made clear. But they played it out in a hokey way and for a while they were the town, really high school, “beatniks.”  So Eddie had had his short faux “beat” phase complete with flannel shirts, black chino pants, sunglasses, and a black beret (a beret that he kept hidden at home in his bedroom closet once he found out after his parents had seen and heard Jack Kerouac reading from the last page of On The Road on the Steve Allen Show that they severely disapproved of the man, the movement and anything that smacked of the “beat” and a beret always associated with French bohemians and foreignness would have had them seeing “red”). And for a while Daryl and Eddie played that out until Daryl moved away (at least that was the story that went around but there was a persistent rumor for a time that Mr. Wallace had dragooned Daryl into some military school in California in any case that disappearance from the town was the last he ever heard from his “beat” brother). Then came 1964 and  Eddie was fervently waiting for something to happen, for something to come out of the emptiness that he was feeling just as things started moving again with the emergence of the Beatles and the Stones as a harbinger of what was coming.

That is where Eddie had been psychologically when his mother first began to harass him about his hair. Although the hair thing like the beret was just the symbol of clash that Eddie knew was coming and knew also that now that he was older that he was going to be able to handle differently that when he was a kid.  Here is what one episode of the battle sounded like:                   

“Isn’t that hair of yours a little long Mr. Edward Rowley, Junior,” clucked Mrs. Edward Rowley, Senior, “You had better get it cut before your father gets back from his conference trip, if you know what is good for you.” That mothers’-song was being endlessly repeated in North Adamsville households (and not just those households either but in places like Carver, Hullsville, Shaker Heights, Ann Arbor, Manhattan, Cambridge any place where guys were waiting for the new dispensation and wearing hair a little longer than boys’ regular was the flash point) ever since the British invasion had brought longer hair into style (and a little less so, beards, that was later when guys got old enough to grow one without looking wispy, had taken a look at what their Victorian great-grandfathers grew and though it was “cool.” Cool along with new mishmash clothing and new age monikers to be called by.)

Of course when one was thinking about the British invasion in the year 1964 one was not thinking about the American Revolution or the War of 1812 but the Beatles. And while their music has taken 1964 teen world by a storm, a welcome storm after the long mainly musical counter-revolution since Elvis, Bo, Jerry Lee and Chuck ruled the rock night and had disappeared without a trace, the 1964 parent world was getting up in arms.

And not just about hair styles either. But about midnight trips on the clanking subway to Harvard Square coffeehouses to hear, to hear if you can believe this, folk music, mountain music, harp music or whatever performed by long-haired (male or female), long-bearded (male), blue jean–wearing (both), sandal-wearing (both), well, for lack of a better name “beatniks” (parents, as usual, being well behind the curve on teen cultural movements since by 1964 “beat”  except on silly television shows and by “wise” social commenters who could have been “Ike” brothers and sisters, was yesterday’s news).

Mrs. Rowley would constantly harp about “why couldn’t Eddie be like he was when he listened to Bobby Vinton and his Mr. Lonely or that lovely-voiced Roy Orbison and his It’s Over and other nice songs on the local teen radio station, WMEX (he hated that name Eddie by the way, Eddie was also what everybody called his father so you can figure out why he hated the moniker just then). Now it was the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a cranky-voiced guy named Bob Dylan that has his attention. And that damn Judy Jackson with her short skirt and her, well her… looks” (Mrs. Rowley like every mother in the post-Pill world refusing to use the “s” word, a throw-back to their girlish days when their mothers did not use such a word.)     

Since Mrs. Rowley, Alice to the neighbors, was getting worked up anyway, she let out what was really bothering her about her Eddie’s behavior, "What about all the talk about doing right by the down-trodden Negros down in Alabama and Mississippi. And you and that damn Peter Markin, who used to be so nice when all you boys hung around together at Jimmy Jack’s Diner [Edward: corner boys, Ma, that is what we were and at Jack Slack’s alleys not Jimmy Jack’s that was for the jukebox and for checking out the girls who were putting dough in that jukebox] and I at least knew you were no causing trouble, talking about organizing a book drive to get books for the little Negro children down there. If your father ever heard that there would be hell to pay, hell to pay and maybe a strap coming out of the closet big as you are. Worse though, worse than worrying about Negros down South is that treasonous talk about leaving this country, leaving North Adamsville, defenseless against the communists with your talk of nuclear disarmament. Why couldn’t you have just left well enough alone and stuck with your idea of forming a band that would play nice songs that make kids feel good like Gale Garnet’s We’ll Sing In The Sunshine or that pretty Negro girl Dionne Warwick and Her Walk On By instead of getting everybody upset."

And since Mrs. Rowley, Alice, to the neighbors had mentioned the name Judy Jackson, Edward’s flame and according to Monday morning before school girls’ “lav” talk, Judy’s talk they had “done the deed” and you can figure out what the deed was let’s hear what was going on in the Jackson household since one of the reasons that Edward was wearing his hair longer was because Judy thought it was “sexy” and so that talk of doing the deed may well have been true if there were any sceptics. Hear this:      

“Young lady, that dress is too short for you to wear in public, take it off, burn it for all I care, and put on another one or you are not going out of this house,” barked Mrs. James Jackson, echoing a sentiment that many worried North Adamsville mothers were feeling (and not just those mothers either but in places like Gloversville, Hullsville, Shaker Heights, Dearborn, Cambridge any place where gals were waiting for the new dispensation and wearing their skirts a little longer than mid-calf was the flash point) about their daughters dressing too provocatively and practically telling the boys, well practically telling them you know what as she suppressed the “s” word that was forming in her head. She too working up a high horse head of steam continued, "And that Eddie [“Edward, Ma,” Judy keep repeating every time Mrs. Jackson, Dorothy to the neighbors, said Eddie], and his new found friends like Peter Markin taking you to those strange coffeehouses in Harvard Square with all the unwashed, untamed, unemployed “beatniks” instead of the high school dances on Saturday night. And that endless talk about the n-----s down South, about get books for the ignorant to read and other trash talk about how they are equal to us, and your father better not hear you talk like that, not at the dinner table since he has to work around them and their smells and ignorance over in that factory in Dorchester.  And don’t start with that Commie trash about peace and getting rid of weapons. They should draft the whole bunch of them and put them over in front of that Berlin Wall. Then they wouldn’t be so negative about America."

Scene: Edward, Judy and Peter Markin were sitting in the Club Nana in Harvard Square sipping coffee, maybe pecking at the one brownie between them, and listening to a local wanna-be folk singing strumming his stuff (who turned out to be none other than Eric Von Schmidt whose Joshua Gone Barbados and a couple of other songs would become folk staples and classics). Beside them cartons of books that they are sorting to be taken along with them when they head south this summer after graduation exercises at North Adamsville High School are completed in June. (By the way Peter’s parents were only slightly less irate about their son’s activities and used the word “Negro” when they were referring to black people, black people they wished their son definitely not to get involved with were only slightly less behind the times than Mrs. Rowley and Mrs. Jackson and so requires no separate screed by Mrs. Markin. See Peter did not mention word one about what he was, or was not, doing and thus spared himself the anguish that Edward and Judy put themselves through trying to “relate” to their parents, their mothers really since fathers were some vague threatened presence in the background in those households.)

They, trying to hold back their excitement have already been to some training sessions at the NAACP office over on Massachusetts Avenue in the Roxbury section of Boston and have purchased their tickets for the Greyhound bus as far as New York’s Port Authority where they will meet others who will be heading south on a chartered bus. But get this Peter turned to Edward and said, “Have you heard that song, Popsicles and Icicles by the Mermaids, it has got great melodic sense.” Edward made a very severe funny face. Yes, we are still just before the sea change after which even Peter will chuckle about “bubble gum” music. Good luck though, young travelers, good luck.

The 150th Anniversary Commemoration Of The American Civil War –In Honor Of The Abraham Lincoln-Led Union Side The Hard Years Of War-A Sketch-Wilhelm Sorge’s War


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


I would not expect any average American citizen today to be familiar with the positions of the communist intellectuals and international working-class party organizers (First International) Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels on the events of the American Civil War. There is only so much one can expect of people to know off the top of their heads about what for several generations now has been ancient history.  I am, however, always amazed when I run into some younger leftists and socialists, or even older radicals who may have not read much Marx and Engels, and find that they are surprised, very surprised to see that Marx and Engels were avid partisans of the Abraham Lincoln-led Union side in the American Civil War. I, in the past, have placed a number of the Marx-Engels newspaper articles from the period in this space to show the avidity of their interest and partisanship in order to refresh some memories and enlighten others. As is my wont I like to supplement such efforts with little fictional sketches to illustrate points that I try to make and do so below with my take on a Union soldier from Boston, a rank and file soldier,Wilhelm Sorge.  


Since Marx and Engels have always been identified with a strong anti-capitalist bias for the unknowing it may seem counter-intuitive that the two men would have such a positive position on events that had as one of its outcomes an expanding unified American capitalist state. A unified capitalist state which ultimately led the vanguard political and military actions against the followers of Marx and Engels in the 20th century in such places as Russia, China, Cuba and Vietnam. The pair were however driven in their views on revolutionary politics by a theory of historical materialism which placed support of any particular actions in the context of whether they drove the class struggle toward human emancipation forward. So while the task of a unified capitalist state was supportable alone on historical grounds in the United States of the 1860s (as was their qualified support for German unification later in the decade) the key to their support was the overthrow of the more backward slave labor system in one part of the country (aided by those who thrived on the results of that system like the Cotton Whigs in the North) in order to allow the new then progressive capitalist system to thrive.       


In the age of advanced imperialist society today, of which the United States is currently the prime example, and villain, we find that we are, unlike Marx and Engels, almost always negative about capitalism’s role in world politics. And we are always harping on the need to overthrow the system in order to bring forth a new socialist reconstruction of society. Thus one could be excused for forgetting that at earlier points in history capitalism played a progressive role. A role that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and other leading Marxists, if not applauded, then at least understood represented human progress. Of course, one does not expect everyone to be a historical materialist and therefore know that in the Marxist scheme of things both the struggle to bring America under a unitary state that would create a national capitalist market by virtue of a Union victory and the historically more important struggle to abolish slavery that turned out to be a necessary outcome of that Union struggle were progressive in the eyes of our forebears, and our eyes too.


Furthermore few know about the fact that the small number of Marxist supporters in the United States during that Civil period, and the greater German immigrant communities here that where spawned when radicals were force to flee Europe with the failure of the German revolutions of 1848 were mostly fervent supporters of the Union side in the conflict. Some of them called the “Red Republicans” and “Red 48ers” formed an early experienced military cadre in the then fledgling Union armies. Below is a short sketch drawn on the effect that these hardened foreign –born abolitionists had on some of the raw recruits who showed up in their regiments and brigades during those hard four years of fighting, the last year of which we are commemorating this month.


Wilhelm Sorge’s father, Friedrich, was beside himself when, on opening the front page of his Boston Gazette that raw mid- April 1861 day, he read of the attacks on Massachusetts Sixth Volunteers down in secession-hungry, rebel-loving, negro-hating Baltimore. Friedrich had been a political partisan his whole life starting as a young man in his native Germany where he had been an ardent “Red Republican,” a working-class stuff who expected that the Revolution of 1848 would have led to the co-operative republic that they, the working stuffs, so well deserved, and for which they bled on the barricades. The “red” part came from his adherence to the Workman Co-Op in his home town of Cologne which was influenced by the ideas of Marx, LaSalle and even the Frenchman, Proudhon. Now here in Boston among the exiled German community, those who had had to flee for their lives, once the reaction pulled the hammer down and the “night of the long knives” had begun its now decade plus reign in Germany he had tempered his “red” spirit a little, but just a little, and had been an active participant in the slave abolitionist movement in Boston siding with the more activist  wing around the fiery Brahmin Wendell Phillips and ex-black slave Frederick Douglass out in Rochester in New York where he published his Northern Star.

As early as the fall 1859 he had known deep down in his bones that the reaction to the martyred Captain John Brown’s execution, North and South, could only lead to bloody conflict before long. He had admired Captain Brown the one time he had heard him speak, or rather had seen him, some 19th century great God Jehovah avenging angel, in Boston when he was trying to raise money for what was then an unknown expedition which turned out to be the attempted slave insurrection at Harper’s Ferry. Friedrich had also taken the lead, not without opposition from some of the more conservative German working men from the waterfront cotton warehouses who worried about their jobs, in commemorating the valor of Captain Brown after he had been hung down in traitorous Virginia.  


His party’s, the Republican Party’s victory in the presidential election with dark horse Abraham Lincoln’s fractured election victory in 1860 only confirmed that terrible conflict suspicion (fractured since he got no Southern electoral votes and in a four man race had only a minority of the non-decisive popular vote). Friedrich had been among the first, remembering back to those ’48 barricade days which they had established a little too late, to argue that every young able-bodied man who had his same thoughts should organize themselves into militias, to prepare for the coming fight arms in hand. Moreover he had offered his services as an instructor or in whatever capacity he could be most useful.


In early January 1861, as civil war approached with various Southern states refusing to acknowledge the election results and were convening sessions to discuss and vote on secession, Friedrich was delighted when the men of Massachusetts began to form volunteer militia units. Many workers in the textile cities of Lowell and Lawrence, many German-American artisans and skilled workers among them some known to him, were the first to join a new infantry regiment, the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, when it was formally organized on January 21, 1861. All through the winter and early spring, the men met regularly to drill. Friedrich assisting in small arms tactics and the construction of defensive fortifications. In March, they were issued uniforms and Springfield rifles and told to be ready to assemble at any time. When Fort Sumter was attacked on April 12th, the men of the Massachusetts Sixth knew their time had come.

Three days later, the newly inaugurated President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for three months. They were ordered to Washington, D.C. to protect the capital and lead the effort to quash the "rebellion." The Sixth Massachusetts gathered with other regiments in Boston on April 16th. The Boston Gazette captured the feelings of many when it published one soldier's letter home: "We have been quartered since our arrival in this city at Faneuil Hall and the old cradle of liberty rocked to its foundation from the shouting patriotism of the gallant sixth. During all the heavy rain the streets, windows, and house tops have been filled with enthusiastic spectators, who loudly cheered our regiment . . . The city is completely filled with enthusiasm; gray-haired old men, young boys, old women and young, are alike wild with patriotism." Among those on the streets stood gray-haired Friedrich Sorge in his “Red Republican” regalia dusted off for the occasion. And down in surly Maryland that fine regiment had tasted their first blood.  


Friedrich, after reading the hated news from Baltimore, became solemn thinking of past skirmishes back home in Germany where friends and comrades had fallen under hails of bullets when he had read of several soldiers, brave boys, killed and wounded when some pug-ugly crowd tried to block their passage forty or so miles further south to defend Washington, to defend the Republic. He thought again how just a few days before Boston had celebrated the departure of that regiment, as it would others later, including the prideful 54th Massachusetts Regiment ordered by Governor Andrews filled to the brim with freed and escaped black men many recruited by his friend Douglass, going down to defend the capital in Washington. To defend against the threats of the insurrectionary separatists who were attempting to form their own country based on the slave trade, the slave economy, and the lucrative cotton trade that had been fueled by the world’s increase in textile production as such technological changes in the previous few decades had allowed more production with less labor to feed a world looking for cheap clothing and bedding.


Just then Friedrich thought about how if he had not been so old and the little shop he had built from scratch once he and his family had landed on American shores after that first London exile did not need to be run personally by him he would have gone with the boys south to show the rebels a thing or two about human worth. Friedrich as he told one and all of late, especially those young German immigrants who knew not of battles in the old country, had been in military action before, back in the days in Europe, in Germany, in 1848 when they, he and his fellow students were trying to get a democratic government installed in his native Cologne. They/he had failed and rather than face a long term jail sentence with three young children to feed, including his eldest Wilhelm, he and his wife had fled first to Paris and then when that spot became inhospitable to radical German immigrants to London and then to Boston (via New York) where he had set up his small print shop.   


After setting the newspaper down Friedrich resolved that he would talk to Wilhelm, now eighteen and strong, about joining up in one of the regiments that was being formed daily in the town on orders from the governor and legislature and do his part to save the republic which had provided a haven for his family. Moreover, and this information of necessity was held closely among the German immigrant community of Boston and the now far-flung other German communities out in the Midwest farmlands and Texas settler lands, Friedrich had not only been a “red republican,” in the generic sense that a lot of ‘48s who were on the barricades espoused some socialist ideas but had been a converted follower in the Workmen’s Co-Op of the well-known (in Europe if not in America) communist thinkers and activists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Had been a sympathizer of their Communist League before everything got busted up in 1849 and 1850. He therefore held “advanced” views about the way the downtrodden of the earth should and could be treated. Here in Boston, not always to his benefit in the German community or to his profit in his print shop contracts, he was known as a “high abolitionist” of the Wendell Phillips school and become known beyond the German community as one who thrilled to the actions of Captain John Brown of blessed memory down in Harper’s Ferry (and had previously raised monies in the community at the behest of Theodore Parker to aid the anti-slavery forces in Kansas in the mid-1850s when they were in desperate need of arms, including Captain Brown). Yes he would speak to his son that evening at dinner.      


That evening the two Sorges, father and son, had their first serious household dispute. Like many a son Wilhelm wanted to distance himself from his father’s activities, no matter what those activities were, no matter how good the cause. Wilhelm wanted to make a name for himself in the new land. So when Friedrich broached the subject of military service to Wilhelm he answered flatly “no.” No, he was not going to jeopardize his rising position in the firm of Sanborne and Son, the largest cotton merchants in Boston, to go save Mr. Lincoln’s bacon (he used another word but we will be kind here). He, moreover, considered himself like his employers, Charles and son Franklin, a “Cotton Whig,” a person who stood to benefit from increased cotton production to feed that never-ending stream of textile goods the world was demanding. So no, no indeed, one Wilhelm Sorge, moving up in the American world, was not going to try to save the old Union as it was, not as long as cotton was king. Moreover while he was at it he did not care a whit about freeing “nigras,” about the need to get them out of servitude. He had not been his father’s son getting all weepy about their plight down south. He, moreover, had to deal with them, freed slaves but still nirgas, in the Sanborne warehouses every day as they moved the heavy bales of cotton every which way and their bodies  “stank” stank to high heaven and he was not going to risk getting shot up for some heathen voodoo stink. No, no thank you.          


As The 100th Anniversary Of The First Year Of World War I (Remember The War To End All Wars) Continues ... Some Remembrances-Artists’ Corner-Fernand Leger    

In say 1912, 1913, hell, even the beginning of 1914, the first few months anyway, before the war clouds got a full head of steam in the summer they all profusely professed their unmitigated horror at the thought of war, thought of the old way of doing business in the world. Yes the artists of every school the Cubist/Fauvists/Futurists/Constructivists, Surrealists or those who would come to speak for those movements (hell even the Academy spoke the pious words when there was sunny weather), those who saw the disjointedness of modern industrial society and put the pieces to paint, sculptors who put twisted pieces of metal juxtaposed to each other saw that building a mighty machine from which you had to run created many problems; writers of serious history books proving that, according to their Whiggish theory of progress,  humankind had moved beyond war as an instrument of policy and the diplomats and high and mighty would put the brakes on in time, not realizing that they were all squabbling cousins; writers of serious and not so serious novels drenched in platitudes and hidden gazebo love affairs put paid to that notion in their sweet nothing words that man and woman had too much to do, too much sex to harness to denigrate themselves by crying the warrior’s cry and by having half-virgin, neat trick, maidens strewing flowers on the bloodlust streets; musicians whose muse spoke of delicate tempos and sweet muted violin concertos, not the stress and strife of the tattoos of war marches with their tinny conceits; and poets, ah, those constricted poets who bleed the moon of its amber swearing, swearing on a stack of seven sealed bibles, that they would go to the hells before touching the hair of another man, putting another man to ground or lying their own heads down for some imperial mission. They all professed loudly (and those few who did not profess, could not profess because they were happily getting their blood rising, kept their own consul until the summer), that come the war drums they would resist the siren call, would stick to their Whiggish, Futurist, Constructionist, Cubist worlds and blast the war-makers to hell in quotes, words, chords, clanged metal, and pretty pastels. They would stay the course.  

And then the war drums intensified, the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they made of ordinary human clay as it turned out, poets, beautiful poets like Wilfred Owens who would sicken of war before he passed leaving a beautiful damnation on war, its psychoses, and broken bones and dreams, and the idiots who brought humankind to such a fate, like e. e. cummings who drove through sheer hell in those rickety ambulances floors sprayed with blood, man blood, angers, anguishes and more sets of broken bones, and broken dreams, like Rupert Brooke all manly and old school give and go, as they marched in formation leaving the ports and then mowed down like freshly mown grass in their thousands as the charge call came and they rested, a lot of them, in those freshly mown grasses, like Robert Graves all grave all sputtering in his words confused about what had happened, suppressing, always suppressing that instinct to cry out against the hatred night, like old school, old Thomas Hardy writing beautiful old English pastoral sentiments before the war and then full-blown into imperium’s service, no questions asked old England right or wrong, like old stuffed shirt himself T.S. Eliot speaking of hollow loves, hollow men, wastelands, and such in the high club rooms on the home front, and like old brother Yeats speaking of terrible beauties born in the colonies and maybe at the home front too as long as Eliot does not miss his high tea. Jesus what a blasted night that Great War time was.   

And do not forget when the war drums intensified, and the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they, other creative souls made of ordinary human clay as it turned out

And then the war drums intensified, the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they made of ordinary human clay as it turned out, artists, beautiful artists like Fernand Leger who could no longer push the envelope of representative art because it had been twisted by the rubble of war, by the crashing big guns, by the hubris of commanders and commanded and he turned to new form, tubes, cubes, prisms, anything but battered humankind in its every rusts and lusts, all bright and intersecting once he got the mustard gas out of his system, once he had done his patria duty, like speaking of mustard gas old worn out John Singer Sargent of the three name WASPs forgetting Boston Brahmin society ladies in decollage, forgetting ancient world religious murals hanging atop Boston museum and spewing trench warfare and the blind leading the blind out of no man’s land, out of the devil’s claws, and like Umberto Boccioni, all swirls, curves, dashes, and dangling guns as the endless charges endlessly charge.        

And do not forget when the war drums intensified, and the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they, other creative souls made of ordinary human clay as it turned out sculptors, writers, serious and not, musicians went to the trenches to die deathless deaths in their thousands for, well, for humankind, of course, their always fate ….            
***Damn It- Free Leonard Peltier Now-He Must Not Die In Jail!

Click to Leonard Peltier Defense Committee site. 

Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was framed up for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents marauding in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 69-year-old Peltier is not scheduled to be reconsidered for parole for another eleven years! Peltier suffers from multiple serious medical conditions and is incarcerated far from his people and family.


This entry is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee. I need add little except to say that this man, a natural leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), should never have spent a day in jail. Free him now.

"We, along with millions of others, do not believe that Leonard Peltier should have been incarcerated at all. We demand his unconditional release from prison."

Leonard Peltier

  • Leonard Peltier is an imprisoned Native American considered by Amnesty International, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Congress of American Indians, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Jesse Jackson, among many others, to be a political prisoner who should be immediately released.
  • Leonard Peltier was convicted for the deaths of two FBI agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mr. Peltier has been in prison for over 29 years.
  • The Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 marked the beginning of a three-year period of political violence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The tribal chairman hired vigilantes, self titled as “GOONS,” to rid the reservation of American Indian Movement (AIM) activity and sentiment. More than 60 traditional tribal members and AIM members were murdered and scores more were assaulted. Evidence indicated GOON responsibility in the majority of crimes but despite a large FBI presence, nothing was done to stop the violence. The FBI supplied the GOONS with intelligence on AIM members and looked away as GOONS committed crimes. One former GOON member reported that the FBI supplied him with armor piercing ammunition.
  • Leonard Peltier was an AIM leader and was asked by traditional people at Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to support and protect the traditional people being targeted for violence. Mr. Peltier and a small group of young AIM members set up camp on a ranch owned by the traditional Jumping Bull family.
  • On June 26, 1975 two FBI agents in unmarked cars followed a pick-up truck onto the Jumping Bull ranch. The families immediately became alarmed and feared an attack. Shots were heard and a shoot-out erupted. More than 150 agents, GOONS, and law enforcement surrounded the ranch.
  • When the shoot-out ended the two FBI agents and one Native American lay dead. The agents were injured in the shoot-out and were then shot at close range. The Native American, Joseph Stuntz, was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet. Mr. Stuntz’s death has never been investigated, nor has anyone ever been charged in connection with his death.
  • According to FBI documents, more than 40 Native Americans participated in the gunfight, but only AIM members Bob Robideau, Darrell Butler, and Leonard Peltier were brought to trial.
  • Mr. Robideau and Mr. Butler were arrested first and went to trial. A federal jury in Iowa acquitted them on grounds of self-defense, finding that their participation in the shoot-out was justified given the climate of fear that existed on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Further, they could not be tied to the close-range shootings.
  • Leonard Peltier was arrested in Canada on February 6, 1976, along with Frank Blackhorse, a.k.a. Frank Deluca. The United States presented the Canadian court with affidavits signed by Myrtle Poor Bear who said she was Mr. Peltier’s girlfriend and allegedly saw him shoot the agents. In fact, Ms. Poor Bear had never met Mr. Peltier and was not present during the shoot-out. Soon after, Ms. Poor Bear recanted her statements and said the FBI threatened her and coerced her into signing the affidavits.
  • Mr. Peltier was extradited to the United States where he was tried in 1977. The trial was held in North Dakota before United States District Judge Paul Benson, a conservative jurist appointed to the federal bench by Richard M. Nixon. Key witnesses like Myrtle Poor Bear were not allowed to testify and unlike the Robideau/Butler trial in Iowa, evidence regarding violence on Pine Ridge was severely restricted.
  • An FBI agent who had previously testified that the agents followed a pick-up truck onto the scene, a vehicle that could not be tied to Mr. Peltier, changed his account, stating that the agents had followed a red and white van onto the scene, a vehicle which Mr. Peltier drove occasionally.
  • Three teenaged Native witnesses testified against Mr. Peltier, they all later admitted that the FBI forced them to testify. Still, not one witness identified Mr. Peltier as the shooter.
  • The U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case claimed that the government had provided the defense with all FBI documents concerning the case. To the contrary, more than 140,000 pages had been withheld in their entirety.
  • An FBI ballistics expert testified that a casing found near the agents’ bodies matched the gun tied to Mr. Peltier. However, a ballistic test proving that the casing did not come from the gun tied to Mr. Peltier was intentionally concealed.
  • The jury, unaware of the aforementioned facts, found Mr. Peltier guilty. Judge Benson, in turn, sentenced Mr. Peltier to two consecutive life terms.
  • Following the discovery of new evidence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Mr. Peltier sought a new trial. The Eighth Circuit ruled, “There is a possibility that the jury would have acquitted Leonard Peltier had the records and data improperly withheld from the defense been available to him in order to better exploit and reinforce the inconsistencies casting strong doubts upon the government's case." Yet, the court denied Mr. Peltier a new trial.
  • During oral argument, the government attorney conceded that the government does not know who shot the agents, stating that Mr. Peltier is equally guilty whether he shot the agents at point-blank range, or participated in the shoot-out from a distance. Mr. Peltier’s co-defendants participated in the shoot-out from a distance, but were acquitted.
  • Judge Heaney, who authored the decision denying a new trial, has since voiced firm support for Mr. Peltier’s release, stating that the FBI used improper tactics to convict Mr. Peltier, the FBI was equally responsible for the shoot-out, and that Mr. Peltier's release would promote healing with Native Americans.
  • Mr. Peltier has served over 29 years in prison and is long overdue for parole. He has received several human rights awards for his good deeds from behind bars which include annual gift drives for the children of Pine Ridge, fund raisers for battered women’s shelters, and donations of his paintings to Native American recovery programs.
  • Mr. Peltier suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and a heart condition. Time for justice is short.
  • Currently, Mr. Peltier’s attorneys have filed a new round of Freedom of Information Act requests with FBI Headquarters and all FBI field offices in an attempt to secure the release of all files relating to Mr. Peltier and the RESMURS investigation. To date, the FBI has engaged in a number of dilatory tactics in order to avoid the processing of these requests.


Thirty years ago, on 6 February 1976, American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Leonard Peltier was seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in western Canada. Peltier had fled there after a massive U.S. government attack the previous June—by FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) agents, SWAT cops and white vigilantes—on South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation during which two FBI agents were killed. After Canadian authorities held Peltier for ten months in solitary confinement in Oakalla Prison, he was extradited to the U.S. on the basis of fabricated FBI testimony. In 1977, Peltier, a member of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations, was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences on frame-up murder charges stemming from the shooting of the two FBI agents.

While Peltier had sought refuge in Canada, two others charged in the agents' killings were acquitted in a federal court in Iowa. Jurors stated that they did not believe the government witnesses and that it seemed "pretty much a clear-cut case of self-defense" against the FBI invasion. In Peltier's trial the prosecution concealed ballistics tests showing that his gun could not have been used in the shooting, while the trial judge ruled out any chance of another acquittal on self-defense grounds by barring any evidence of government terror against the Pine Ridge activists. At a 1985 appeal hearing, a government attorney admitted, "We can't prove who shot those agents."

AIM had been in the Feds' gun sights because of its efforts to fight the enforced poverty of Native Americans and the continued theft of their lands by the government and energy companies, which were intent on grabbing rich uranium deposits under Sioux land in South Dakota. The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee stated in 2004: "Virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in either state or federal prisons since (or even before) the organization's formal emergence in 1968, some repeatedly." Between 1973 and 1976, thugs of the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOON), armed and trained by the hated BIA and FBI, carried out more than 300 attacks in and around Pine Ridge, killing at least 69 people.
As we wrote during the fight against Peltier's threatened deportation, "The U.S. case against Peltier is political persecution, part of a broader attempt by the FBI to smash AIM through piling up criminal charges against its leaders, just as was done against the Black Panthers" (PTFNo. 112, 4 June 1976). AIM and Peltier were targeted by the FBI's deadly Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of disruption, frame-up and murder of the left, black militants and others. Under COINTELPRO, 38 Black Panthers were killed by the FBI and local cops. Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) spent 27 years in prison for a crime the FBI knew he could not have committed before finally winning release in 1997. Mumia Abu-Jamal—also an innocent man— remains on Pennsylvania's death row today.

In November 2003, a federal appeals court ruled, "Much of the government's behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed." But the court still refused to open the prison doors for Peltier. Last year, U.S. District Court judge William Skretny turned down Peltier's request for documents suppressed by the government, even while acknowledging that he could have been acquitted had the government not improperly withheld them. Peltier attorney Michael Kuzma stated that the evidence withheld by the government amounts to a staggering 142,579 pages!

On February 24, Skretny again ruled that the FBI can keep part of its records secret in the name of "national security." Peltier noted in a message to the March 18 protests against the Iraq occupation, "Our government uses the words 'national security' and fighting the war on transnational terrorism as a smoke screen to cover up further crimes and misconduct by the FBI." Also this February, defense attorney Barry Bachrach argued in St. Louis federal court that the federal government had no jurisdiction in Peltier's case, since the shootings occurred on a reservation.

Millions of people have signed petitions for Peltier over the years, including by 1986 some 17 million people in the former Soviet Union. His frame-up, like that of Geronimo ji Jaga and Mumia Abu-Jamal, demonstrates that there is no justice in the capitalist courts of America. While supporting all possible legal proceedings on behalf of the class-war prisoners, we place no faith whatever in the "justice" of the courts and rely solely on the power of mass protest centered on the integrated labor movement.

After Peltier's third appeal for a new trial was denied in 1993, thousands of prominent liberals, celebrities and others—ranging from Willie Nelson to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa—called for a presidential pardon. In a recent column titled "Free Leonard Peltier!" (5 February), Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote: "Many Peltier supporters put their trust in a politician named Bill Clinton, who told them that when he got elected he 'wouldn't forget' about the popular Native American leader. Their trust (like that of so many others) was betrayed once Clinton gained his office, and the FBI protested. In the waning days of his presidency, he issued pardons to folks like Marc Rich, and other wealthy campaign contributors. Leonard Peltier was left in his chains!"

Peltier is one of 16 class-war prisoners to whom the Partisan Defense Committee sends monthly stipends. For more information on his case, or to contribute to Peltier's legal defense, write to: Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, 2626 North Mesa #132, El Paso, TX 79902. Free Leonard Peltier and all class-war prisoners!
Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Then, And Now




From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Several years ago, I guess about three years now, in the aftermath of the demise of the Occupy movement with the shutting down of its campsites across the country by the police actually in concert with other governmental bodies (and the world) I wrote a short piece centered on the need for revolutionary intellectuals to take their rightful place on the left, on the people’s side, and to stop sitting on the academic sidelines (or wherever they were hiding out, maybe think tanks, maybe ala Henry David Thoreau out in some edenic gardens). One of the reasons for that piece was that in the aftermath of the demise of the Occupy movement a certain stock-taking was in order (and which is in 2015 still in order). A stock-taking at first centered on those young radical and revolutionaries that I ran into in the various campsites and on the flash mob marches who were disoriented and discouraged when their utopian dreams went up in smoke without a murmur of regret from the masses (and with not a little hostility as well but mainly indifference to the fight, really their fight too since that ahd been pummeled by the main Occupy culprits, the band who got bailed out). Now a few years later it is apparent that they have, mostly, moved back to the traditional political ways of operating or have not quite finished licking their wounds.

Although I initially addressed my remarks to the activists still busy out in the streets I also had in mind those intellectuals who had a radical streak but who then hovered on the sidelines and were not sure what to make of the whole experiment although some things seemed very positive like the initial camp comradery, the flow of ideas, some half-baked on their faces, the gist though for any academic. In short, those who would come by on Sunday and take a lot of photographs and write a couple of lines about what they saw but held back. (I would argue and this may be the nature of the times that the real beneficiaries of Occupy were all those film students and artists who made the site their class project or their next documentary.) Now in 2015 it is clear as day that the old economic order (capitalism if you were not quite sure what to name it) that we were fitfully protesting against (especially the banks who led the way downhill) has survived another threat to its dominance. The old political order, the way of doing political business now clearly being defended by one Barack Obama and his hangers-on, Democrat and Republican, with might and main is still intact. The needs of working people although now widely discussed have not been ameliorated (the increasing gap between the rich, really the very rich, and the poor, endlessly lamented and then forgotten, the student debt death trap, and the lingering sense that most of us will never get very far ahead in this wicked old world especially compared to previous generations). All of this calls for intellectuals with any activist spark to come forth and help analyze and plan how the masses are to survive, how a new social order can be brought forth. Nobody said, or says, that it will be easy but this is the plea. I have reposted the original piece with some editing to bring it up to date.          


No, this is not a Personals section ad, although it qualifies as a Help Wanted ad in a sense. On a number of occasions over past several years, in reviewing books especially those by James P. Cannon, a founding member of the American Communist Party in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and with the demise of that revolution he followed the politics of the Trotsky-led International Left Opposition  and eventually helped found the Socialist Workers Party in America, I have mentioned elsewhere  that building off of the work of the classical Marxists, including that of Marx and Engels themselves, and later that of Lenin and Trotsky the critical problem before the international working class in the early part of the 20th century was the question of creating a revolutionary leadership to lead imminent uprisings. Armed with Lenin’s work on the theory of the imperialist nature of the epoch and the party question and Trotsky’s on the questions of permanent revolution and revolutionary timing the tasks for revolutionaries were more than adequately defined. A century later with some tweaking, unfortunately, those same theories and the same need for organization are still on the agenda although, as Trotsky once said, the conditions are overripe for the overthrow of capitalism as it has long ago outlived its progressive character in leading humankind forward.   

The conclusion that I originally drew from that initial  observation was that the revolutionary socialist movement was not as desperately in need of theoreticians and intellectuals as previously (although having them, and plenty of them, especially those who can write, is always a good thing). It needed leaders steeped in those theories and with a capacity to lead revolutions. We needed a few good day-to-day practical leaders, guys like Cannon, like Debs from the old Socialist Party, like Ruthenberg from the early Communist Party, to lead the fight for state power.

In that regard I have always held up, for the early part of the 20th century, the name Karl Liebknecht the martyred German Communist co-leader (along with Rosa Luxemburg) of the aborted Spartacist uprising of 1919 as such an example. He led the anti-war movement in Germany by refusing to vote for the Kaiser’s war budgets, found himself in jail as a result, but also had tremendous authority among the left-wing German workers when that mattered. In contrast the subsequent leadership of the German Communists in the 1920’s Paul Levi, Henrich Brandler and Ernest Thaelmann did not meet those qualifications. For later periods I have, as mentioned previously, held up the name James P. Cannon, founder of the American Socialist Workers Party (to name only the organization that he was most closely associated with), as a model. Not so Communist Party leaders like William Z. Foster and Earl Browder (to speak nothing of Gus Hall from our generation) or Max Shachtman in his later years after he broke with Cannon and the SWP. That basically carries us to somewhere around the middle of the 20th century. Since I have spent a fair amount of time lately going back to try to draw the lessons of our movement I have also had occasion to think, or rather to rethink my original argument on the need for revolutionary intellectuals. I find that position stands in need of some amendment now.

Let’s be clear here about our needs. The traditional Marxist idea that in order to break the logjam impeding humankind’s development the international working class must rule is still on the historic agenda. The Leninist notions that, since the early part of the 20th century, we have been in the imperialist era and that a ‘hard’ cadre revolutionary party is necessary to lead the struggle to take state power are also in play. Moreover, the Trotskyist understanding that in countries of belated development the working class is the only agency objectively capable of leading those societies to the tasks traditionally associated with the bourgeois revolution continues to hold true. That said, rather than some tweaking, we are seriously in need of revolutionary intellectuals who can bring these understandings into the 21st century.

It is almost a political truism that each generation will find its own ways to cope with the political tasks that confront it. The international working class movement is no exception in that regard. Moreover, although the general outlines of Marxist theory mentioned above hold true such tasks as the updating of the theory of imperialism to take into account the qualitative leap in its globalization is necessary (as is, as an adjunct to that, the significance of the gigantic increases in the size and importance of the ‘third world’ proletariat). Also in need of freshening up is work on the contours of revolutionary political organization in the age of high speed communications, the increased weight that non-working class specific questions play in world politics (the national question which if anything has had a dramatic uptick since the demise of the Soviet Union), religion (the almost universal trend for the extremes of religious expression to rear their ugly heads which needs to be combated), special racial and gender oppressions, and various other tasks that earlier generations had taken for granted or had not felt they needed to consider. All this moreover has to be done in a political environment that sees Marxism, communism, even garden variety reform socialism as failed experiments. To address all the foregoing issues is where my call for a new crop of revolutionary intellectuals comes from.

Since the mid- 20th century we have had no lack of practical revolutionary leaders of one sort or another - one thinks of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and even Mao in his less rabid moments. We have witnessed any number of national liberation struggles, a few attempts at political revolution against Stalinism, a few military victories against imperialism, notably the Vietnamese struggle. But mainly this has been an epoch of defeats for the international working class. Moreover, we have not even come close to developing theoretical leaders of the statue of Lenin or Trotsky.

As a case in point, recently I made some commentary about the theory of student power in the 1960s and its eventual refutation by the May 1968 General Strike lead by the working class in France. One of the leading lights for the idea that students were the “new” working class or a “new” vanguard was one Ernest Mandel. Mandel held himself out to be an orthodox Marxist (and Trotskyist, to boot) but that did not stop him from, periodically, perhaps daily, changing the focus of his work away from the idea of the centrality of the working class in social struggle, an idea that goes back to the days of Marx himself.

And Mandel, a brilliant well-spoken erudite scholar probably was not the worst of the lot. The problem was that “he was the problem” with his impressionistic theories based on, frankly, opportunistic impulses. Another example, from that same period, was the idea of Professor Regis Debray (in the service of Fidel at the time ) that guerrilla foci out in the hills were the way forward ( a codification of the experience of the Cuban Revolution for which many subjective revolutionary paid dearly with their lives out in bloody nomadic jungles of the American continent). Or the anti-Marxist Maoist notion codifying the experiences of the third Chinese revolution that the countryside (the “third world with its then predominant peasantry now increasingly proletarianized) would defeat the cities (mainly the West but the Soviet Union as well in some circles) that flamed the imagination of many Western radicals in the late 1960s. I could go on with more examples but they only lead to one conclusion- we are, among other things, in a theoretical trough. The late Mandel’s students from the 1960s have long gone on to academia and the professions (and not an inconsiderable few in governmental harness-how the righteous have fallen). Debray’s guerilla foci have long ago buried their dead and gone back to the cities. The “cities” of the world now including to a great extent China had broken the third world countryside. This, my friends, is why today I have my Help Wanted sign out. Any takers?