Friday, May 23, 2008

The Battle For Britain?


Foreign Correspondent, Alfred Hitchcock, 1939

This is an early black and white political suspense classic by the master of the genre, Alfred Hitchcock. What makes this film somewhat different from his other later classics like The Birds or Rear Window is its evocation of up front patriotism at a time when Europe was getting set for war in the late 1930's. The Foreign Correspondent Johnny Jones(for an American newspaper, of course) in this case (played by boy next door Joel McCrea) is sent to Europe to get the facts, and nothing but the facts, about what was happening there-namely was war really in the offing or was it merely a European-based imperial ploy.

Along the way he runs into people and organizations (the leader of one played by arch-British gentleman Herbert Marshall) whose sole purpose is to agitate for war -for the benefit of the other (unnamed but we know, right?) side. As McCrea and later a British correspondent (played by George Sanders) dig deeper they figure out the real deal and try to each single-handedly try to crush it.

Of course, along the way there is a little off-hand romance involving McCrea (with Marshall's daughter- the girl next door- Larraine Day) but not to worry `justice' will out in the end. A rather interesting point is that the traitor Marshall in the end finishes up heroically. Well, I guess we have to remember this was still a time when the British Empire, at least formally, held sway in the world so that even scoundrels, as long as they were British scoundrels, had to keep a stiff upper lip and do the right thing for old John Bull. As a thriller this film is interesting. As a political statement it is much too ham-handed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

*Who 'Lost' The Sixties?- The Culture Wars In America Up Close And Personal

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Students For A Democratic Society (SDS), a central organizational expression of all the theoretical and strategic impulses that made the 1960s "very heaven" and, as well, a fount of confusion in the struggle against American imperialism. For those who are only familiar with the current version of SDS this is your parents' (or grandparents', ouch)SDS. On reflection, those were the days, warts and all.


I recently reviewed a biography of the late social democratic editor of Dissent, Irving Howe (by Professor Gerald Sorin, New York University Press, 2002), in this space. One of the grievous faults that I laid at Professor Howe’s door step was that he and his cohort of “greatest generation” intellectuals, mainly from New York City, had so thoroughly made their peace with bourgeois society that the bulk of the New Left in the 1960’s dismissed their efforts out of hand. Professor Sorin’s biography spent some time on this question and draws the conclusion that Howe and his compatriots were essentially right in their scorn for the confrontational tactics of the New Left. Furthermore, he argues that Howe was correct in his estimation that such New Left efforts would ‘turn people off’ and that a backlash would occur as a result. Thus, the question is posed point blank- who ‘lost’ the Sixties?

I titled my review of Professor Sorin’s biography The Retreat of the “Greatest Generation” Intellectuals for a reason. If nothing else the professor’s narrative of Howe’s political progression (if that is the correct word for such a trajectory) simply confirms that retreat. A quick synopsis of that odyssey is in order here. In the mid-1930’s Howe became an ardent anti-Stalinist socialist drawn to the American Socialist Party in New York City. As elements of that party moved leftward, responding to the labor struggles and general political turmoil of that period, he became a follower of Leon Trotsky. When the international situation heated up and the question of which side of the class divide one was on was unavoidable he slipped out the back door with the anti–Soviet defensist wing of the Trotskyist movement led by Max Shachtman.

Thereafter Howe spent the bulk of the Forties laboring to find a ‘third camp’ in a world that was becoming extremely polarized by the onrushing Cold War. By the early 1950’s he had begun his long-term position of ‘critical support’ to American imperialism. Perhaps out of old sentimental attachments he nevertheless still considered himself a socialist, at least as he understood socialism. The Trotskyist movement had another less kind, but apt, name for his type of politics- “State Department socialism”. Does that profile, and Howe was by no means the worst of the lot in this regard, read as if he was ready to ‘storm heaven’ in the 1960’s? To pose the question is to give the answer.

I have on more than one occasion been at pains to convey the fact that we of the New Left in the 1960’s made every political mistake in the radical/revolutionary handbook. (I have discussed my own political evolution in past entries and will make separate commentary on it in connection with this question in a future entry.) Part of the purpose of this blog site is to discuss and analyze those mistakes. What was not a mistake, because we were under the gun if for no other reason especially those in the black liberation struggle, was bringing our politics out into the street rather than solely relying on the good offices of the imperial state. One would think that those socialists who came of political age in the 1930’s, another great era of extra- parliamentary political struggle, would have taken that lesson as the ABC’s of political organizing.

To buttress my argument here is a graphic case in point. One of the defining issues of the Sixties was the question of the socialist position on the Vietnam War that was raging and tearing up (along with the effects of the black liberation struggle) the fabric of American society. One would think, and here we can use the current apparently never-ending Iraq war as a guidepost, that as an elementary political position that the call for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of American forces would be an early driving force behind the anti-war struggle of the times, say in about 1965 when the first mass escalations of troops were occurring. Howe, and not he alone, did not endorse such a slogan until 1968, rather late in the game. Of course, 1968 is one of those defining year in American politics. One of the reasons that it is so is that the North Vietnamese Army and the South Vietnamese Liberation Front also initiated their own version of the immediate, unconditional withdrawal slogan for American troops- it was called the Tet offensive. Frankly, I liked their version better.

Finally, Professor Sorin has favorable comments on Howe’s analysis that the confrontational tactics of the Sixties ‘turned the American people off’. We will put the question of whether socialist politics should be determined by polling the heartbeats of the population at any given moment to one side. We will further let the question of whether Howe’s take on the pulse of the American population was correct. We will even put aside the thorny question of whether, and which, tactics were or were no appropriate on the part of the New Left experience. Professor Howe, in his youth, saw social ills in the 1930’s and did something righteous about it. We of the generation of ‘68 saw social ills and did something righteous about it. There are social ills (mainly the same kind as it turns out) now to be righteously addressed. I think a little more of the Thirties and Sixties spirit is called for. What about you?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Iraq War Budget-Parliamentary Cretinism, Part 37


Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq and Afghanistan!

Okay, let us go by the numbers on the Iraq War budget question again for about the 37th time. On Thursday May 15, 2008, once again the Democratically led (that is with a capital D) House of Representatives put on its periodic display of what has become an embarrassingly familiar scenario. With a little twist this time though to provide gist for the political humorists. The bulk of Democrats, looking to the fall elections, wanted to be put on record as opposing the current Iraq war appropriations. Fair enough. The Republicans, in a fit of pique, decided that they did not like the set-up for various reasons and many of them abstained on the vote. The long and short of the maneuver is that the bill was defeated. Hooray, right? No, no no.

This is just grandstanding for the folks at home. The bill goes to the much more serious Senate next week where the appropriations will pass. Moreover, hovering over all of this, at least until January 20, 2009, and believe me beyond, well beyond that as well, is the presidential veto for any action that limits in any way the executive branch’s authority to wage war anyway it wants to. Thus, we are back to that proverbial square one from five years ago- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of all American and Allied Troops and Mercenaries. But, I will be damned if these cretins get it yet.

A Legal Victory for Same Sex Marriage in California


Sometimes democratic rights victories come from the streets. Sometimes they come from the picket line. And sometimes, although rarely, they come from .... the courts. Well, these days we cannot be choosy, as we will take our victories, large and small, any way we can get them. That is the import of the 4-3 decision by the California Supreme Court on May 15, 2008 that declares discrimination against same-sex marriage as unconstitutional as a matter of state law. We should cheer, at least for the moment, as an important state court (one that others look to) joins Massachusetts on the East Coast in affirming this elementary democratic right. Of course the blow back has already started, as it appears that an anti-same sex constitutional amendment will be on the state ballot in November trying to deny that right. That is where those above-mentioned streets come into play again. More later.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another Side of An Old Militant


Readers of this space over the past year or so have come to know that part of my task at this site is to not only to try to draw the lessons of the history of our struggles for a better world but also to add some personal reflections that highlight these lessons. Without going into detail here (check the archives for the series History and Class Consciousness and Tales From the ‘Hood for those details) that perspective got its start as a result of my returning to the old working class neighborhood where I attended high school.

As part of that trip down memory lane I have been drawn into, by one of my Class of 1964 class officers, what seems to be an endless series of commentaries. I have also run into a few friends from that period, especially my old track mate Bill C. As we have become reacquainted one of the things that we have discussed is why Bill had not been inducted into the school Sports Hall of Fame. Naturally, being an old politico I brought up the idea of starting a campaign around that issue. In order to show that this old militant is not just made up of historical facts and figures and the occasional witty political remark I post some remarks about Bill’s fight here. I also have a little commentary about the some of the responses so far. These commentaries are slightly edited to omit local references.

In the Matter of Bill C. - Runner
Today's Question: Why is the great Class of 1964 cross-country runner and trackman Bill C. not in the school Sports Hall of Fame?

Okay, Okay I am a 'homer' (or to be more contemporary, a 'homeboy') on this question. In the interest of full disclosure the fleet-footed Mr. C. and I have known each other since the mist of time. We go all the way back to being schoolmates at S.H. Elementary School in the old G. housing project. (As did fellow classmate, the lanky linkster, Tom McPartlin. Are there others?). We survived that experience and lived to tell the tale. But enough of that. What I want to discuss today is the fact that this tenuous road warrior's accomplishments, as a cross-country runner and trackman (both indoors and out), have never been truly recognized by the school sports community. (For those who still have their Manet, see page 63 for a youthful photograph of the 'splendid speedster' in full racing regalia.).

And what were those accomplishments? Starting as a wiry, but determined, sophomore Bill began to make his mark as a harrier. Junior year he began to stakeout his claim on the path to Olympus by winning road races on a regular basis. In his senior year Bill broke many cross-country course records, including a very fast time on the storied school course. Moreover, in winter track that senior year Bill was the State Class B 1000-yard champion, pulling out a heart-stopping victory. His anchor of the decisive relay in a duel meet against Somerville's highly touted state sprint champion is the stuff of legends.

Bill also qualified to run with the 'big boys' at the fabled schoolboy National Indoor Championships in Madison Square Garden in New York City. His outdoor track seasons speak for themselves. I will not detain you here with the grandeur of his efforts, for I would be merely repetitive. Needless to say, he was captain of all three teams in his senior year. No one questioned the aptness of those decisions.

Bill and I have just recently gotten reconnected after some thirty years. After finding him, one of the first things that I commented on during one of our 'bull sessions' was that he was really about ten years before his time. In the 1960's runners were 'geeks'. You know -the guys (and then it was mainly guys) who ran in shorts on the roads and mainly got honked at, yelled at and threatened with mayhem by irate motorists. Admit it. That is what you thought then too.

In the 1970's and 1980's runners (of both sexes) became living gods and goddesses to a significant segment of the population. Money, school scholarships, endorsements, you name it. Then you were more than willing to share the road with a runner. Admit that too. You even got out on the road yourselves with your spiffy designer jogging attire and high-tech footwear. You ran the beach, Castle Island, the Charles River, Falmouth, LaJolla, and Golden Gate Park. Wherever. Until the old knees gave out. But that is a story for another day. By then though, Bill had missed his time.

Now there is no question that a legendary football player like Bill Cu. from our Class of 1964 should be, and I assume is, in the Sports Hall of Fame. On many a granite gray autumn afternoon old "Bullwinkle" thrilled us with his gridiron prowess. But on other days, as the sun went down highlighting the brightly-colored falling leaves, did you see that skinny kid running down East Street toward the beach for another five mile jaunt? No, I did not think so. I have now, frankly, run out of my store of sport's spiel in making my case. Know this though; friendship aside, Bill belongs in the Hall. That said, what about making a place in the Hall for the kid with the silky stride who worked his heart out, rain or shine, not only for his own glory but the glory of the school. Add your name to mine. Classmates, let us 'storm heaven' on this one.

Of course we are dealing with an aging population here that, apparently, has plenty of time on its hands and is on the brink of going over the edge so some elements have taken the opportunity to reach out and ‘touch’ someone. Hence the next commentary.

Once again, on Bill C.

What kind of madness have I unleashed? What kinds of monsters have I let loose? Recently, as a simple act of friendship, I wrote a commentary in this space arguing that my old friend and our classmate Bill C. from 1964 should be inducted into the school Sports Hall of Fame (See In the Matter Of Bill C.-Runner). Now my e-mail message center is clogged with requests from every dingbat with some kind of special pleading on his or her mind. A few examples should suffice, although as a matter of conscience (mine) they shall remain nameless.

One request argued for recognition based on finishing 23rd in the Senior Division of the Squantum Fourth of July Fun Run. Well, what of it? Another, arguing for inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, touted her near perfect imitation of Mick Jagger on Gimme Shelter. Please!! A third sought a testimonial from me for an employment opportunity, including a resume that made me truly wonder where she had been all these years. Here is my favorite. A fellow classmate wants me to get in on the ground floor, as a financial backer of course, for his idea of putting the ubiquitous teenage cell phone use and the Internet together. Hello! Jack (oops, I forgot, no names) I believe they call that Sidekick, or some such thing. As so it goes.

Listen up- I hear MySpace and YouTube calling all and sundry such untapped talents. Please leave the Class of 1964 site for serious business. You know, this writer’s musings on the meaning of existence, the lessons of history and the fight against mortality. That said, at the moment that serious business entails getting the gracefully gaited Mr. C. his shot at immortality by induction into the Sports Hall of Fame. Let us keep our eyes on the prize here. Join me in that effort. Enough said.

Friday, May 09, 2008

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”-For the Dictatorship of the Proletariat!

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

Markin comment:

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

Thursday, May 08, 2008

####Electoral Follies- Musings on "Operation Chaos"-The Presidential Campaign of 2008


Periodically I return to edit older blogs for spelling problems, technical glitches and to correct artless prose. Yesterday I was in the throes of such a process when I came upon a blog entitled Musings on Presidential Campaign 2008, dated March 7, 2008. The gist of that commentary, a response to a reader’s question, was to answer why I had reduced the amount of time and energy I had been spending writing on the mind-boggling but essentially trivial American presidential campaign. As described then I have kept on that track pretty faithfully, except I went off the wagon once when there was a tempest in a teapot controversy over the relationship between Obama and ex-Weatherpeople Professors Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. That is until I read a little article about the doings of one ex-drug addict (I assume) and drafter dodger (Vietnam) radio ‘talk jock’ Rush Limbaugh and his role in the just concluded Indiana Democratic primary.

In the real world it has not been a good spring. Fighting continues to rage in Baghdad. There are no timetables for troop withdrawals in sight, much less the necessary immediate, unconditional withdrawal that we fight for. The escalating war budgets, despite harmless Democratic parliamentary antics, keep getting funded. Fuel prices have skyrocketed. Previously ample and cheap food staples are starting to give the world economy the feel of Paris or Petrograd in their revolutionary days. Homeowners, their tenants and others are going to the wall during the relentless mortgage foreclosure crisis. And those are the good days. Into this mix comes one Rush Limbaugh who has presented a very simple idea. In order to give his beloved Republican Party at least the semblance of a fighting chance to win the presidency in November he has decided to muddy the waters of the Democratic Party nominating process by having Republicans, in states where it is permissible, vote in those primaries for Senator Hillary Clinton.

Well, nobody that I know, and that includes some very committed liberal Democrats, would have thought much of this sophomoric tactic except that in Indiana on Tuesday May 6, 2008 it is very possible that the tactic worked. At least the Obama campaign is acting like the small Clinton margin of victory was essentially based on this crossover vote. Of course, for the Obama campaign this meant something. It meant, in the coin of the realm of bourgeois politics, that they could not close the deal on the nomination.

But what about those of us outside and to the left of this process? That brings me back to my original point above from that March blog. Don’t look for relief from those quarters. This whole process now is about mudslinging and some antics that we would not accept from twelve year olds. But it also brings me back to the litany of problems that I presented above. If you want to address the real problems of this sorry old world then back away, way away from the Democratic and Republican Parties, their agents, apologists and hangers-on and come over and help us build a workers party we can call our own. Join us.

Monday, May 05, 2008

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Down with the Reactionary Anti-Porn Crusade!

Click on the headline to link to a Website featuring the paintings, nude and non-nude of the great artist, Titian. Close your eyes if you are offended by the nudes. Okay.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1985 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Down with the Reactionary Anti-Porn Crusade!
Granddaughters of Carry Nation in Bed with Jerry Falwell

Reprinted from Young Spartacus No. 123, December 1984/January 1985

MADISON— Formerly a hotbed of campus protest, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's "radical" reputation has given way in large part to smug, "me generation" liberalism. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), scabs on the anti-Vietnam War movement, carry a lot of weight in city and county government. With prudery that suits Madison's Protestant environs, "alternative" lifestylism has been institutionalized. You will live a wholesome life. Some manifestations are just plain silly: Madison was declared a "nuclear-free zone" and sandwiches come with beansprouts whether you order them or not. Some are absolutely infuriating: liquor stores close, at 9:00 p.m. and you can't buy cigarettes anywhere on the huge UW campus.

The latest target for moral uplift of the community is pornography—Penthouse and Playboy have been pulled from the Student Union newsstand on the dubious grounds of "low circulation." DSAer Kathleen Nichols, a Dane County supervisor, is proposing legislation modeled on Andrea Dworkin's Minneapolis ordinance to make pornography a civil rights violation. Material in which "people" are "reduced to body parts," "presented in postures of sexual submission" or "presented as whores by nature" would be outlawed (Badger-Herald, 8 November 1984)! Under this law, you can't consent to buy, sell, photograph or pose for pornographic pictures. As the Badger-Herald commented, "Groups normally in solidarity, such as pseudo-feminists and homosexuals, are at odds. Groups normally in opposition, such as pseudo-feminists and the local fundamentalist ministers, support the ordinance." Talk about obscene!

We print below a slightly edited version of the Spartacus Youth League statement submitted to the Madison Isthmus and UW Daily Cardinal. It appeared in a shortened version in the Isthmus (16 November 1984) while the Cardinal has refused to publish it.

Contrary to prevailing liberal opinion, Madison is part of Reagan's USA, albeit with a twist. Witness the New Right's drive to "clean up America." It's going strong in Madison. There's legislation to ban dirty pictures. On 19 October 1984, demonstrators picketed at a State Street porno store; someone stenciled "Burn Me Down" on the wall—and they mean it. Rampaging fundamentalists? Nope. This particular anti-sex crusade is led by Madison's "alternative" to the Army of God— the "radical" feminists.
Finding Robin Morgan in bed with Jerry Falwell may surprise some who thought feminism had something to do with women's liberation. After all, the '60s feminists posed as right-on revolutionaries. They rejected "male-defined" sex roles, denounced "family values" as scams to keep women isolated, dependent, condemned to domestic servitude. They worried about racism and poor people. But the feminists never opposed the oppressive capitalist system itself: their "program" consists of escapist lifestylism, "consciousness raising," "women's" vegetarian co-ops. That's why the feminist "movement" didn't move. It remained confined to rarefied microcosms like Madison, lily-white and middle-class.

What's left of the "movement" no longer even worries about real human oppression. While the feminists are busy trying to stamp out fishnet stockings and high heels, genuine assaults on women's rights go unanswered. Legalized abortion is seriously threatened; abortion clinics get firebombed, their patients harassed, but you don't hear a peep from the feminists. Then there's the case of Patricia Ridge—a single, black, working mother. Last year her five-year-old son was shot pointblank in her bedroom in a Los Angeles-area housing project by a white cop. The cop got off, but a grand jury tried to charge her with everything from child neglect to Murder Two. The Marxist Spartacist League came to her defense. But the organized feminists did nothing. For them, "women's oppression" equals nude photos: they're blind to real class and race oppression facing working-class and black women.

This "Take Back the Night" crusade is a slice of middle America at its worst—about as progressive as forbidding sex education. It dovetails with the current incitement of every backward, sexist, racist, jingoistic prejudice of American society in preparation for war against the USSR. The Democrats and Republicans have been humming "Onward Christian Soldiers" since Cold War II began under born-again Jimmy Carter; with Reagan the crusade has reached new lows. They both want a "prepared" society with social relations straight out of "Leave It To Beaver." No "extramarital" sex, no porn, no abortion, no gays.

The feminists even share Cold War/Moral Majority terminology (e.g., "Porn is the new terrorism"). And there's a certain ideological congruence. The feminists basically buy the Moral Majority's "me Tarzan, you Jane" view of human sexuality: women are gentle nurturers, children are "innocent" and asexual, while men are sexual aggressors. That's what "Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice" boils down to: men are barely controlled rapists—all it takes is a little leg to set 'em off. In that case, why stop with censoring Penthouse? According to Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of the Feminist Connection, Rubens and Titian can go too: they painted women ravished by swans! (Perhaps when Gaylor leaves the Connection, she can get a job at the Elvehjem Museum chiseling the genitals off classical statues.)

Then there's the touchy question of First Amendment rights. With the exception of the rabid crackpot Andrea Dworkin, most feminists try to squeak past it by making a snooty differentiation between pornography and "erotica." It works like this. "Erotica" is printed on expensive paper with "tasteful" hand-drawn illustrations; "pornography" goes for $2.50, with tacky overexposed photos. As the saying goes, "perversion" is what you aren't into.

As Marxists, the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth League oppose all attempts at puritanical censorship, whether launched by outright reactionaries or feminist ayatollahs. You can't legislate sexuality. We defend the right of consenting individuals in any combination of age, race, sex, in any number, to engage in the sexual activity of their choice—or look at the photos of their choice—without state intervention.

Pornography is not violence: it's fantasy. Rape is a form of violent criminal assault. Among other things, we advocate the repeal of gun control laws: women should have the right to carry arms and use them in self-defense. To argue that "porn is rape" or, like Robin Morgan, that any sex not initiated by a woman is rape, is—aside from being pretty damned presumptuous— to trivialize and confuse the issue. Capitalist society— its forced poverty, rigid family structure, hypocritical straitjacket morality—breeds the poisonous frustrations that explode in violence. The liberation of women requires getting rid of the repressive constraints imposed on women by the nuclear family, thus creating the possibility of new relationships based on social equality—free from compulsion and stultifying "moral" restrictions. In short, women's liberation requires socialist revolution.

While the feminist anti-porn crusaders rely on candlelight vigils, their Reaganite allies have access to systematic state repression and vigilante terror. And Reagan has launched a full-scale attack on democratic rights. Political opposition becomes "terrorism." Cop/ media hysteria about child abuse at daycare centers carries the message that the only safe place for kids is locked up at home with a non-working mom. If your sexual preference doesn't suit Jerry Falwell, you could be locked up for life.

That's no idle threat. The campaign for "decency" has been viciously anti-gay from the start. Vanessa Williams lost her crown not least because those photos were of lesbian sex. Boston-area photographer George Jacobs got 20 years for the "crime" of having consensual sex with his 14-year-old roommate. Jacobs was tested to determine if he was a "sexually dangerous person" and could have been put away in a mental hospital permanently. The cops and press went wild over NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association), an organization for the defense of civil rights of "men and boys involved in consensual sexual and other relationships with each other." NAMBLA members were beaten, framed and sent to psychiatric institutions. And that's nothing compared with the Justice Department's plan to research "behavior modification, chemical treatments, physiological stud¬ies of those suspected of psychosexual dysfunction—as evidenced by...their divorces or homosexuality" (Village Voice, 7 August 1984)!

The reactionary nature of anti-porn legislation masquerading as protection of "civil rights" is spelled out in a new law pending in Suffolk County, New York. The bill is identical to Dworkin's Minneapolis anti-porn law, minus feminist verbiage. It's sponsored by groups like the National Federation for Decency (an actual organization!) explicitly to "wipe out sodomy" and, according-to one supporter, "pornography [that] could cause social decay leading to a possible communist takeover"!

It's not like the feminists can't smell this anti-gay stench; far from it. Kathleen Nichols, lesbian activist member of the "Democratic" Socialists of America, is the Dane County supervisor behind the Madison censorship. This bigot told OUT! magazine that if the ordinance closes adult bookstores where gay men meet, all the better to stop AIDS because "that kind of anonymous sexual congress has resulted in 5500 cases of AIDS" (OUT!, September 1984). For this anti-democratic liberal, male gay sex is a health hazard. This is vile anti-gay bigotry. Do lesbians active in the anti-porn movement believe that once they outlaw everyone else's sexual practices, their own will be protected? They're on mighty thin ice. Check out Khomeini's Iran: no porn there—and they stone homosexuals to death.

Pornography reflects, and only reflects, some human behavior. In this violent, irrational society, those reflections sometimes aren't pretty: but you can't change society by changing its images on a screen. "Positive images" won't materially advance the cause of women's equality any more than those movies with Sidney Poitier as the black neurosurgeon changed the harsh reality of racist oppression. Socialist revolution alone can create the economic basis to replace the nuclear family and liberate women. We don't pretend to know what human relations in socialist society will be like. But we assume that, liberated from the artificial constraints currently imposed on human expression, sexuality under socialism will be more free, more open, more tolerant, more rich and more diverse. May the day come soon.

Carla Norris
for the Spartacus Youth League

Thursday, May 01, 2008

*On Attorney Lynne Stewart's Case from Steven Lendman's Blog

Click on to title to link to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee site.

There is a very good chronology and update by Steven Lendman on the Attorney Lynne Stewart legal case that should be of interest to militants. I have added a link to that site here at right. You can also get information from the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee. A link to that site is also provided here at right. Check this out " http:/"

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

*Hard Times In Babylon- Growing Up Absurd in the 1950's

Click on title to link to a website that has information about the 1950's. This site is presented here for informational purposes only I will not vouch for its accuracy or political perspective.


For regular readers of this space the following first few paragraphs will constitute something of a broken record. For those who are not familiar this commentary constitutes an introduction to the politics of class struggle as it gets practiced down as the base of society-away from the headlines of the day. As I have mentioned in my profile, and also in the purpose section of this space, I am trying to impart some lessons about how to push the struggle for working class solidarity forward so that, to put it briefly, those who labor rule.

My political grounding as I have evolved as a socialist over the years speaks for itself in my commentaries. The prospective that had been lacking, and which has probably plagued my efforts over the years, since I long ago first started out on my political journey is a somewhat too strong attachment to the theoretical side of the need for socialist solutions. Oddly, perhaps, although I now proclaim proudly that I am a son of the working class I came to an understanding of the need for the working class to take power without taking my being part of the class into consideration. One of the tasks that I have tried to undertake in this space over the past year, as a corrective, is to make some commentary about various events in my life that reflect my evolving understanding of class society and the class struggle. I am actually well qualified to undertake that chore.

The impetus for undertaking this task, as is also now well known to readers, was an unplanned trip back to the old working class neighborhood of my teenage years. That led to a series of stories about the trials and tribulations of a neighborhood family and can be found in this space under the title "History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga" (Yes, I know, that is a rather bulky title for a prosaic story but, dear reader, that is the price for my being a ‘political junkie’. If I were a literary type I would probably have entitled it Sense and Sensibility or something like that, oops, that one is taken- but you get the point.).

I have also started another series here, one that indirectly came to life through that trip back to the old neighborhood, entitled "Tales From The ‘Hood" going back to my early childhood days as a product of a housing project. However, in that effort, I consider myself merely the medium, as the narrator is really a woman named Sherry whom I consider the ‘the projects’ historian. This present series will center on my personal experiences both about the things that formed and malformed me and that contributed to my development as a conscious political activist. The closest I have ever come to articulating that idea through examination of my personal experiences was a commentary written in this space last year entitled "Hard Times in Babylon" (and hence the genesis for the current series title). Even at that, this was more an effort to understand the problems of my parents’ generation, the generation that came of age in the Great Depression and World War II. That, my friends, nevertheless, is probably a good place to take off from here.

The gist of the commentary in "Hard Times in Babylon" centered on the intersection of two events. One was the above-mentioned trip back to the old neighborhood and the other was a then recent re-reading of famed journalist David Halberstam’s book "The Fifties", which covered that same period. His take on the trends of the period, in contrast to the reality of my own childhood experiences as a child of the working poor that missed most of the benefits of that ‘golden age’, rekindled some memories. It is no exaggeration to say that those were hard times in Babylon for Markin’s family. My parents reacted to those events one way, this writer another. The whys of that are what I am attempting to bring before the radical public. I think the last lines from Babylon state the proposition as clearly as I can put it. “And the task for me today? To insure that future young workers, unlike my parents in the 1950’s, will have their day of justice.”

There are many myths about the 1950’s, to be sure. One was that the rising tide of the pre-eminent capitalist economy in the world would cause all boats to rise with it. Despite the public myth not everyone benefited from the ‘rising tide’. The experience of my parents is proof of that. I will not go through all the details of my parents’ childhoods, courtship and marriage for such biographic details of the Depression and World War II are plentiful and theirs fits the pattern. One detail is, however, important and that is that my father grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Hazard, Harlan County to be exact, coal mining country made famous in song and by Michael Harrington in his 1960’s book "The Other America". This was, and is, hardscrabble country by any definition. Among whites these ‘hillbillies’ were the poorest of the poor. There can be little wonder that when World War II began my father left to join the Marines, did his fair share of fighting, settled in the Boston area and never looked back.

I have related in "Tales From The ‘Hood’" some details that my ‘ the projects’ historian Sherry told me about her relationships with some of the girls from the wealthier part of town with whom we went to elementary school. She spend her whole time there being snubbed, insulted and, apparently, on more than one occasion physically threatened by the prissy girls from the other peninsula for her poor clothing, her poor manners and for being from the ‘projects’. I will spare you the details here. Moreover, she faced this barrage all the way through to high school graduation. It was painful for her to retell her story, and not without a few tears.

Moreover, it was hard for me to hear because, although I did not face that barrage then, I faced it later when my family moved to the other side of town and kids knew I was from the 'projects’. I faced that same kind of humiliation on a near daily basis from the boys, mainly. I will, again, spare the details. I can, however, distinctly remember being turned down for a date by an upscale girl in class because, as she made clear to all within shouting distance, although she thought I was personally okay (such nobility) my clothes were ‘raggedy’ and, besides, I did not have a car. That is the face of the class struggle, junior varsity division.

The early years of the Kennedy Administration were filled with hopes and expectations, none more so than by me. As I have noted elsewhere in this space I came of political age with the elections of 1960. This, moreover, was a time where serious social issues such as how to eradicate poverty in America were seriously being discussed by mainstream politicians. I mentioned above the widespread popularity of Michael Harrington’s "The Other America" and its mention of quintessential other America, including Hazard, Kentucky. But, here is the personal side. One of the most mortifying experiences of my life was when the headmaster of my high school came over the loudspeaker to announce that our high school was going to begin a fundraising drive in earnest to help those less fortunate in Other America. And that other America in this case had a specific name-Hazard, Kentucky. I froze in my seat. Then came the taunts from a couple of guys who knew my father was from there. That is the face of the class struggle, varsity edition

As I finished up my remarks in "A Tale of Two Peninsulas" trying to sum up the meaning of the events that Sherry had related about her brushes with the class struggle in her youth I asked a couple of rhetorical question. After what I have described here I asked those same questions. Were the snubs and other acts of class hatred due to our personalities? Maybe. Are these mere examples of childhood’s gratuitous cruelty? Perhaps. But the next time someone tells you that there are no classes in this society remember Sherry’s story. And mine. Then remember Sherry’s tears and my shame. Damn.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Battered, Tattered Generation of ' 68, Part II- Hands Off Professors Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn

There is currently a tempest in a teapot swirling around Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama concerning his relationship with former Weatherpeople Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Here are a couple of reviews from last year on the historic significance of that movement. The real question to ask though is not why Obama was hanging around with Ayers and Dohrn but why they were hanging around with this garden-variety bourgeois candidate on the make. Enough said.




In a time when I, among others, are questioning where the extra-parliamentary opposition to the Iraq War is going and why it has not made more of an impact on American society it was rather refreshing to view this documentary about the seemingly forgotten Weather Underground that as things got grimmer dramatically epitomized one aspect of opposition to the Vietnam War. If opposition to the Iraq war is the political fight of my old age Vietnam was the fight of my youth and in this film brought back very strong memories of why I fought tooth and nail against it. And the people portrayed in this film, the core of the Weather Underground, while not politically kindred spirits then or now, were certainly on the same page as I was- a no holds- barred fight against the American Empire. We lost that round, and there were reasons for that, but that kind of attitude is what it takes to bring down the monster. But a revolutionary strategy is needed. That is where we parted company.

One of the political highlights of the film is centered on the 1969 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) Convention that was a watershed in the student anti-war protest movement. That was the genesis of the Weathermen but it was also the genesis of the Progressive Labor Party-led faction that wanted to bring the anti-war message to the working class by linking up the student movement with the fight against capitalism. In short, to get to those who were, or were to be, the rank and file soldiers in Vietnam or who worked in the factories. In either case the point that was missed, as the Old Left had argued all along and which we had previously dismissed out of hand, was that it was the masses of working people who were central to ‘bringing the war home’ and the fight against capitalism. That task still confronts us today.

One of the paradoxical things about this film is that the Weather Underground survivors interviewed had only a vague notion about what went wrong. This was clearly detailed in the remarks of Mark Rudd, a central leader, when he stated that the Weathermen were trying to create a communist cadre. He also stated, however, that after going underground he realized that he was out of the loop as far as being politically effective. And that is the point. There is no virtue in underground activity if it is not necessary, romantic as that may be. To the extent that any of us read history in those days it was certainly not about the origins of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 19th century. If we had we would have found that that movement also fought out the above-mentioned fight in 1969. Mass action vs. individual acts, heroic or otherwise, of terror. The Weather strategy of acting as the American component of the worldwide revolutionary movement in order to bring the Empire to its knees certainly had (and still does) had a very appealing quality. However, a moral gesture did not (and will not) bring this beast down. While the Weather Underground was made up a small group of very appealing subjective revolutionaries its political/moral strategy led to a dead end. The lesson to be learned; you most definitely do need weather people to know which way the winds blow. Start with Karl Marx.




Recently in this space I reviewed the documentary Weather Underground so that it also makes sense to review the present book by Bill Ayers, one of the ‘talking heads’ in that film and a central leader of both the old Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground that split off from that movement in 1969 to go its own way. Readers should see the documentary as it gives a fairly good presentation of the events around the formation of the Underground, what they tried to accomplish and what happened to them after the demise of the anti-war movement in the early 1970’s.

To get a better understanding of what drove thousands of young American students into opposition to the American government at that time the documentary Rebels With A Cause (also reviewed in this space) is worth looking at as well. Between those two sources you will get a better understanding of what drove Professor Ayers and many others, including myself, over the edge. Professor Ayers makes many of those same points in the book. Thus, I only want to make a couple of political comments about the question of the underground here. They were also used in my review of the Weather Underground documentary and apply to Professor Ayers thoughts as well. I would also make it very clear here that unlike many other leftists, who ran for cover, in the 1970’s I called for the political defense of the Weather Underground despite my political differences with their strategy under the old leftist principle that an injury to one is an injury to all. Moreover, and be shocked if you will, the courageous, if misguided, actions of the Weather Underground require no apology today. I stand with the Professor on that count. Here are the comments.

“In a time when I, among others, are questioning where the extra-parliamentary opposition to the Iraq War is going and why it has not made more of an impact on American society it was rather refreshing to view this documentary about the seemingly forgotten Weather Underground that as things got grimmer dramatically epitomized one aspect of opposition to the Vietnam War. If opposition to the Iraq war is the political fight of my old age Vietnam was the fight of my youth and in this film brought back very strong memories of why I fought tooth and nail against it. And the people portrayed in this film, the core of the Weather Underground, while not politically kindred spirits then or now, were certainly on the same page as I was- a no holds- barred fight against the American Empire. We lost that round, and there were reasons for that, but that kind of attitude is what it takes to bring down the monster. But a revolutionary strategy is needed. That is where we parted company. ......

"One of the paradoxical things about the documentary is that the Weather Underground survivors interviewed had only a vague notion about what went wrong. This was clearly detailed in the remarks of Mark Rudd, a central leader, when he stated that the Weathermen were trying to create a communist cadre. He also stated, however, that after going underground he realized that he was out of the loop as far as being politically effective. And that is the point. There is no virtue in underground activity if it is not necessary, romantic as that may be. To the extent that any of us read history in those days it was certainly not about the origins of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 19th century. If we had we would have found that that movement also fought out the above-mentioned fight in 1969. Mass action vs. individual acts, heroic or otherwise, of terror. The Weather strategy of acting as the American component of the worldwide revolutionary movement in order to bring the Empire to its knees certainly had (and still does) had a very appealing quality. However, a moral gesture did not (and will not) bring this beast down. While the Weather Underground was made up a small group of very appealing subjective revolutionaries its political/moral strategy led to a dead end. The lesson to be learned; you most definitely do need weather people to know which way the winds blow. Start with Karl Marx.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tales From The 'Hood- The Endless Road?


This is the fifth and final story about growing up in the 1950’s, the childhood period of the generation of ’68 and of my own. This series got its start as a spin-off from a previous series in this space entitled History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga that came from a look back at the trials and tribulations of a family from my old working class neighborhood where I came of political age. The stories here go back to an earlier time and different location to that of the housing project where my family first started out. They are motivated by a search to find out the whys and wherefores of how consciousness of being poor gets implanted early in life. The poor really are different from you the reader. The what to do about it part I discuss, ad infinitum, elsewhere in this space.

As I write this final piece a line from a song is going through my head, Jerry Garcia’s Ripple-“There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night” That idea of the road, as I will discuss below, very neatly sums up the situation here. Some of this tale is meant as obvious metaphor, other parts are the real deal. In any case here is the central axis of this story line. We are in series talking about growing up 1950’s. This is quintessentially the 'golden age' of the automobile in America. You know the vast possibilities of the open highway – the road-and the promise of adventure-fast and effortless.

The hard fact for the Markin family was that through most of this period we did not have that automobile to break out with. When we did this writer remembers mainly ‘clunkers’ with their inevitable breakdowns in odd and foreboding locations. But, mostly, we had no car. Even in a housing project there was a social dividing line between those with automobiles who could get out and those who were stuck. We were, forever it seems, dependent on the kindnesses of neighbors. Or, ususally, walking, public transportation in that isolated location then, as now, being haphazard. I learned to dread the weekly walk to get groceries, etc. Ouch, I can still feel those hot summer roads.

Okay, so you can now say that walking is good for you. Fair enough. But here is where the tale gets weird. I have mentioned on several other occasions another wealthy peninsula (detailed in the first tale – A Story of Two Peninsulas) that abutted the peninsula where my housing project was located. I have also mentioned that I had been stopped, young as I was, in that locale by the local constabulary who asked where I was from and what was my purpose in being there. Hell,all I wanted to do was to walk along the streets that paralleled the ocean there. The tip-off for the police, apparently, was that I had entered the area on foot (as opposed to having been driven there like ‘normal’ people, I suppose) and they took it from there. When cops start infringing on your right to walk in public space wherever and whenever you feel like then you know that you are in a very class bound society-at least in these neighborhoods. In short, I was guilty of walking while poor. Enough said.

What have I tried to present here? Clearly, not all class struggles are limited to the visible ones of the picket line or the barricade. Certainly the working class struggles that I have noted here fall well below the radar but they also point some hard facts about why we have so little working class political class-consciousness. Putting up with their class hatred of us, their social humiliation of us, the mere fact of being poor, of being constantly on the edge of violence, and of facing the hazards of life in a dysfunctional family that detailed in these stories are all impediments to political class consciousness. And that is before we even get to the streets. Remember though ‘there is a road, no simply highway’-the class struggle road.

Tales From The 'Hood- Growing Up Absurd


This is the fourth of a short series of stories about growing up in the 1950’s, the childhood period of the generation of ’68 and of my own. This series got its start as a spin-off from a previous series in this space entitled History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga that came from a look back at the trials and tribulations of a family from my old working class neighborhood where I came of political age. The stories here go back to an earlier time and different location to that of the housing project where my family first started out. They are motivated by a search to find out the whys and wherefores of how consciousness of being poor gets implanted early. That the poor are really different from you the reader. The what to do about it part I discuss, ad infinitum, elsewhere in the blogosphere.

The previous tale in this series, A Piece of Cloth, about my less than heroic misadventures as an up and coming square dancer (apparently in preparation for an career on the Grand Ole Opry) sets the tone for this story. In that tale I was subjected to a poor working class mother’s rage for cutting up one of my precious few pairs of pants in order to impress a girl. I learned then, if more painfully than necessary, the hard lesson that the Markin family was poor, dirt poor, in this world.

Those kinds of incidents involving my mother and I (and my brothers, as well), although generally more severe and less amiably subject to public treatment than that bittersweet tale, were standard fare in the Markin household. Their type is, moreover, well documented in literature and the media and would be merely cumulative if discussed here. Only the reality is grimmer than anything portrayed in book or film. Not physically, there was thankfully little of that, but the psychological warfare was almost as devastating. Let me nevertheless try to put this thing in some perspective now, although Lord knows I was incapable of that as I was going through it.

I have mentioned elsewhere in this space some of the small details of my parent’s struggle for survival. (See archives for Hard Times In Babylon). I have also mentioned that their life profiles fit into a familiar pattern similar to others who survived the Great Depression of the 1930’s and fought or endured World War II. I still feel no need to go into great detail about that here. I however find that I need to mention that my mother married my serviceman father just out of high school and quickly became a teenage mother. Moreover, she had great difficulties with the births of my brothers and I. The bunch of us furthermore were only separated by a year or so each. In short, a handful.

Those facts along with my father’s continual and constant difficulties in holding onto the unskilled jobs that he was forced into meant a very, very tough existence for a woman who was something a princess (a working class one, to be sure-there is a different but a princess nevertheless) to her parents and brothers. The woman’s respond to her conditions was to be in a constant rage. It was not pleasant. We called it, among us boys, the Irish shaming routine. In short, what is apparent here is that the nuclear family structure was far too narrow a basis for her and us to survive under the circumstances. I survived. My brothers did not.

Sherry my invaluable ‘hood historian has related some of the same kind of stories to me about her family life except her family was larger, her mother died when she was a teenager and she found herself as the oldest girl taking care of the household. Others survivors of ‘the projects’ have related very similar stories, almost monotonously so. We need not even speak here of such things as the effects of alcoholism, and later drugs and other social maladies on this fragile nuclear family structure.

To be sure, even under socialism, it will take a massive reallocation of funds to right these kinds of situations. Moreover, and here is the hard part for many to understand today, rich or poor, the nuclear family structure is just too narrow a setting to free up the potential energies of humankind. It needs be replaced. Despite all the pains of growing up poor, despite all the dislocations of psyche that I have dealt with over lifetime to fight the good fight for socialism it has still been worthwhile if only for the promise that some future generation will not have to go through my childhood experiences. Although I will not live long enough to see the replacement of the nuclear family with something better and more attuned to human potentialities I am satisfied with that. On reviewing this piece I find that it was not really a story after all but one of my political screeds. However, remember that mother’s impotent rage against her fate. That is the story.

Tales From The 'Hood- A Piece of Cloth

This is the third of a short series of stories about growing up in the 1950’s, the childhood period of the generation of ’68 and of my own. This series got its start as a spin-off from a previous series in this space entitled History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga that came from a look back at the trials and tribulations of a family from my old working class neighborhood where I came of political age. The stories here go back to an earlier time and different location to that of the housing project where my family first started out. They are motivated by a search to find out the whys and wherefores of how consciousness of being poor gets implanted early. The what to do about it part I discuss, ad infinitum, elsewhere in the blogosphere.

The question posed above concerning how working class consciousness gets instilled is important to know, especially for ‘politicos’ trying to organize working people so that labor can rule. So, how does one become conscious that one is poor, comes from a poor family, and lives in poor housing in a poor neighborhood when one is, say, ten years old, the time frame for the story I want to tell here? This requires some reflection because, without exterior prompts, it is not immediately obvious to a ten year old; at least it was not to this ten year old.

Is it the run down school that one goes to? Is it the garbage-strewn unkempt yards? Is it the constant screaming of kids, parents, or anyone who has a voice and wants someone in this sorry world to listen? Is it your father home on a workday because he has no work? Or is it that very much smaller portion of Christmas presents under the tree than one had wished for? Well, all of those things are certainly candidates but follow me here and I will tell you exactly how this writer learned the elemental social facts of life. Moreover, Sherry, my invaluable ‘hood historian for this series was there to witness my baptism of fire.

At some point in elementary school a boy is inevitably suppose to learn to do two intertwined socially-oriented skills- the basics of some kind of dancing and be paired off with, dare I say it, a girl in that activity. I can already hear your gasps, dear reader, as I present that scenario. In my case the dancing part turned out to be the basics of square dancing (go figure, for a city boy, right?). Not only did this clumsy young boy have to do the basic 'swing your partner’ but I also had to do it while I was paired, for this occasion, with a girl that I had a ‘crush’ on. That girl, moreover, was not from the ‘hood but from that other peninsula, the rich one, that formed the backdrop for the first story in this series- A Story of Two Peninsulas. I will not describe her, although I could do so even today, but let us leave it that her name was Rosalind. Enchanting name, right? Nothing special about the story so far though, right? Just your average one of the stages of coming of age story. I wish.

Well, the long and short of it was that we were practicing this square dancing to demonstrate our prowess before our parents in the school gym. Nothing unusual there either. After all there is no sense in doing this type of activity unless one can impress one’s parents. I forget all the details of the setup of the space for demonstration day and things like that but it was a big deal. To honor the occasion, as this was my big moment to impress Rosalind, I had, earlier in the day , cut up my dungarees to give myself an authentic square dancer look.

I thought I looked pretty good. That is until my mother saw what I had done to the pants. In a second she got up from her seat, marched over to me and started yelling about my disrespect for my father’s and her efforts to clothe me and about the fact that since I only had a couple of pairs of pants how could I do such a thing. In short, airing the family troubles in public for all to hear. That went on for what seemed like an eternity. Thereafter I was unceremoniously taken home and placed on restriction for a week. Needless to say my father heard about it when he got home, and I heard about it for weeks afterward. Needless to say I also blew my ‘chances’ with dear, sweet Rosalind.

Now is this a tale of the hard lessons of the class struggle that I am always more than willing to put in a word about? Surely, not. Is this a sad tale of young love thwarted by the vagaries of fate? Maybe. Is this a tale about respect for the little we had in my family? Perhaps. Was my mother, despite her rage, right? Well, yes. Did I learn something about being poor in the world? Damn right. That is the point. But, ah, Rosalind…

Tales From The 'Hood- "The Romance of the Gun"


This is the second of a short series of stories about growing up in the 1950’s, the childhood period of the generation of ’68 and of my own. I spent my early childhood in an all-white public housing project that is the locale for the stories that form this series. My later childhood was spent in a poor all-white working class neighborhood filled with small, cramped single-family homes packed in closely together with little yards and few amenities. Places where one could almost hear one neighbor snoring in the night or another screaming, usually at anyone at anytime. And those were the good days.

In adulthood I have lived in poor white neighborhoods, mixed student neighborhoods, the black enclaves of Oakland, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and, back in the days, in an integrated urban commune (for those who do not know, that is a bunch of unrelated people living on the same premises by design). I have even, during the few times that I have had rich girlfriends, lived in the leafy suburbs. I now live in a middling working class neighborhood. In short, I have been all around the housing question. Today’s story from the ‘hood deals with the relationship between where you live and crime. More particularly the tolerance for the culture of crime, really, the 'romance' of crime, if you will, that is inherent in living down at the bottom of society. Make no mistake, my friends, that is indeed a dangerous place.

More than one sociological survey has noted the correlation between low income and high crime rates, although I note that they tend to come up short, very short on what to do about it. That is, however, a point for another time. More importantly now is this question-where, dear reader, is that correlation closer than in the housing projects- down there in the mean streets of America, the streets of busted dreams, or no dreams? My housing project did not start out as a haven for hoodlums. As I have mentioned it initially was a way station, due to the extreme housing shortage, for returning World War II veteran like my father. But, in the nature of things, as those who were going to make it in post-war society moved on and the rest of us were left behind that is the reputation that it started to develop well before it was converted to a subsidized low-income housing project in the 1960's. We had left by that point, but not without the scars.

In conversation with Sherry (my invaluable ‘hood historian for this series and elementary school classmate) I asked about the fate of a number of our classmates, mainly boys that I had hung around with. Without exaggerating their numbers to buttress my point here, it appears to me, from her very detailed knowledge of their fates that an extraordinary number of boyhood friends wound up serving prison sentences for aggravated crimes, or died from unnatural causes early as a result of that life. Sherry related a number of such cases in her own family, including one younger brother still imprisoned, through several generations, not without a sense of embarrassment. Down among the desperate working poor the line between respectability and the lure of the lumpen lifestyle is, indeed, a very, very close thing.

I further note that this is true, if a little less so, for the neighborhood where I came of political age. (See my History and Class Consciousness series for details of the fate of one such other family). I will, moreover, confess here that one of my own brothers spent considerable time in state prison for a laundry list of offenses, and another was in and out the county jails for many years for a host of petty crimes (mainly against property). My own brushes with the law have been for political offenses (except for one silly hitchhiking offense in Connecticut way back when, but you know how that state is) so those do not count. I guess that makes me the ‘good’ son just like Sherry was the good survivor. What gives here?

Part of the headline of this piece is titled “Romance of the Gun”, and with reason. The gun, whether I am using this term here as a metaphor for toughness and a lumpen existence or actual guns, was central to ‘the projects’ culture. Not that we young boys ever had one (as far as I know) but we knew older boys and men who did and did things with them. Things like gas station stickups, robbing taxis or the like. Those who were capable of that or, at least, had that reputation we looked up to, if not idolized (with a little fear thrown in). These things did not occur every day nor did they include police shoot-outs, drive-bys or anything dramatic but the thrill of learning about such exploits was palpable. It was like the air we breathed.

If imitation is a form of flattery then the lumpen existence of the older boys and men set the standard. The main thing was that they seemed to always have money in contrast to, let us say, my poor father who lived from check to check with hungry young mouths to feed and who constantly feared been laid off from the little work that he was able to obtain. No hero there for young boys, right? My brothers could not resist the draw of the lumpen life style and eventually were drawn into that life, as a way of life. But that is not where lumpen influence ended. Even for a ‘good’ boy like myself and some of the boys that I hung around with there were certain rituals to prove our ‘manhood’. This, inevitably entailed stealing things, at first from grocery stores, then department stores, and ultimately jewelry stores. I did it for a while but the glamour wore off soon enough and I retreated to the library and adventures of the mind. Some others, however, took it seriously and form part of the statistic of the ‘hood mentioned above but for me it was just too much work. But I was in the minority and took more than one physical beating for my nerdishness from the ‘boyos’. Still, those ‘hard boys’ were something to wonder at.

Well, I can end this story by trying to draw a few conclusions. One of the things that drew me to working to defend the Black Panthers (at the times when they would cooperate with white leftists) and later the Irish Republican Army (Provos) in the old days were the simple facts that they, as least the street cadre, were from their own ‘hoods like mine, knew the busted dream scheme of life by heart just as I did, and were not afraid to pick up the gun to defend themselves, if necessary. I did not need to glorify the lumpen proletariat as the vanguard. I did not need to read Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth to theorize about the purifying nature of violence against the oppressor. I did not need to justify every idiotic criminal act as a revolutionary act. All I needed to do was remember those ‘hard boys’, including my brothers, from my youth and what happened to them without a political perspective. So much for the “romance of the gun”.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tales From The 'Hood- A Story of Two Peninsulas

This a repost of the first story of this series that I have decided to run in consecutive order rather than as occasional commentaries.


This is the first of a series of stories that I have previously introduced in this space (See Tales From the 'Hood- An Introduction)about growing up in the 1950’s, the childhood period of the generation of ’68 and of my own. This series got its start as a spin-off from a previous series in this space entitled History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga (hereafter H&C) that came from a look back at the trials and tribulations of a family from my old working class neighborhood.

For the benefit of the two or three people in the blogosphere who do not know by now my own family started life in the housing projects, at that time not the notorious hell holes of crime and deprivation that they later became but still a mark of being low, very low, on the social ladder at a time when others were heading to the nirvana of the newly emerging outer suburbs. The housing project that I grew up in was originally meant to serve as a way station for returning veterans from World War II caught up in the post war housing shortage. Thus, we were actually the first tenants in our unit, although it did not take long for the place to seem old. Perhaps, needless to say as well this project was all white, reflecting the population of city at the time where it is located. Now it is about 20% minority, mainly Asian-American, reflecting the city's population change.

A recent trip back there in order to do research for this series revealed that the place is in something of a time warp. The original plot plan consisted of a few hundred four-unit two-floor apartment complexes, a departure from the ubiquitous later high-rise hellholes at least. It looks, structurally, almost the same as in the 1950’s except that it is dirtier, much less kept-up and I believe that the asphalt sidewalks and streets have not been repaved since our family left in the late 1950’s. A very visible police substation is the only apparent addition to the scene. That tells the tale.

This housing project is located on what was an isolated, abandoned piece of farmland on a peninsula that juts out into a bay and is across from various sea-going industrial activities. This complex of industrial sites and ocean-related activity mars the effect of being near the ocean here. Certainly no Arcadian scenes come to mind. Moreover, I recall that the smells and sounds from those activities were nauseating and annoying at times. A particularly pungent smell of some soap product filled the air on many a summer’s evening. Ships unloading provided the sound effects.

A narrow two-lane, now deeply pot-holed, road is the only way in or out of this location. Over fifty years later the nearest shopping center or even convenient store is still several miles away requiring an automobile or reliance on haphazard and apparently infrequent public transportation. In short, and I have asked people about this, one could live within shouting distance of the place and not know where it is. Does that sound like a familiar concept of public welfare social planning-out of sight, out of mind?

This is, in any case, where I passed my early childhood, including elementary school. The elementary school was, however, located not in the project but up that narrow road some distance away at the beginning of another peninsula. That other peninsula, with its unobstructed views of the open ocean and freedom from the sight and sound of those previously mentioned industrial complexes, had many sought after old money, old fashioned Victorian houses and a number of then recently constructed upscale colonial-type houses favored by the up and coming middle class of the fifties. The place might as well have been in another world. The school nevertheless, at least in the 1950’s, serviced the children of both peninsulas.

I might add here that I never had one friend from that other peninsula. Conversations with others, who also grew up in the housing project, concur with my observation. I can also relate a couple of stories of being stopped by the local constabulary, even at that young age, and asked where I was from and what I was doing there but the details of those episodes will wait for another time. You can see what is coming though, right?

This is as good a place as any to introduce my ‘hood historian Sherry. As part of my research for H&C I connected, by use of various resources including the Internet, with a number of people. One of them is Sherry who is the real narrator of these tales and is the source for many of the observations and physical details that fill out this series. Sherry and I went to elementary school together and she and her family, after my family left, stayed in the projects for almost thirty years so that she saw the place as it evolved from that previously mentioned way station to the classic ‘projects’ of media notoriety. She knows 'the projects'. Moreover, from what I have gathered so far, although she does not have a political bone in her body she wears her working class background on her face, in her personality and her whole manner. Not in abject defeat, however, but as a survivor. That too tells a tale.

As we reconnected the obvious place to start was a little trip down memory lane to old school days. Naturally, since I had an ulterior motive and have a fierce sense of class society, I wanted her opinion on the kids from the other peninsula. Sherry then related, in some detail, what she had to tell about her life in elementary school, not without a tear in her eyes even at this remove. She spend her whole time in that school being snubbed, insulted and, apparently, on more than one occasion physically threatened by the prissy girls from the other peninsula for her poor clothing, her poor manners and for being from 'the projects’. I will spare you the details here, although if you have seen any of the problematic working class ‘coming of age’ movies or suburban teenage cultural spoofs the episodes she related to me are the grim real life underlying premises behind those efforts. Moreover, she faced this barrage all the way through to high school graduation.

It was painful for her to retell her story, and as I said, not without a few tears. Moreover, it was hard for me to hear because, although I did not face that barrage then, I faced it later when my family moved to the other side of town and kids taunted me when they knew I was from ‘the projects’. Now were the snubs and hurts due to Sherry’s personality? Maybe. Is this a mere example of childhood’s gratuitous cruelty? Perhaps. Is this story the equivalent of the working class battles at their nastiest on the picket lines of a strike? Hell, no. But the next time someone tells you that there are no classes in this society remember this story. Then remember Sherry’s tears. Damn.

Tales From The 'Hood- An Introduction


I am reposting this introduction here as the start to a consecutive presentation of the stories that I will to tell. Originally I intended to make them occasional pieces but I think they work better as a consecutive series.

This entry announces what promises to be the start of another short series of commentaries like my recently completed History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga (hereafter H&C). Those who followed that story (see archives) know that I have been, for a whole number of reasons both personal and political, on the trail of my roots, including trips to the old working class neighborhood where I came of political age. There through various methods, including extensive use of the Internet, I was able to track down a couple of guys from the old neighborhood whose family story had gripped me and whose personal stories I presented as part of that series.

As an unintended result of that research I have also come in contact with some helpful old high school classmates. One such helpful person, a class officer, asked me to answer some questions that her committee is putting together for our class, the Class of 1964. have posted some of the more pertinent answers here, although this is getting to be a seemingly endless task as the more questions I answer the more they keep sending me. Such is life. But, now I have uncovered more information about my roots coming from an earlier period.

I mentioned in H&C that my family had started life in a housing project with all that implied, then and now. By the beauties of the Internet I have now come in contact with someone who remembers me (or rather my brother- she was sweet on him in elementary school), lived in that housing project during our stay there and for many, many year after my family left, and saw its transformation from a way station for returning World War II veterans to a classic ‘den of iniquity’ as portrayed in media accounts, She has agreed to be my ‘hood historian for this series. Moreover she has brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren who have memories from that place.

If thing work out this could very well be a slice of life series on the trials and tribulations of members of the marginally working poor, a section of the working class with which I am very familiar. And from my vantage point can produce a study, with all its inherent limitations, of the decline and disintegration of working class political consciousness in America since World War II. In H&C that played out one way with a section of the class that is slightly above the one that will be featured here. That saga did not paint a pretty political picture. Nor will, I fear, this one. But, damn, why shouldn’t these people have their stories told, warts and all.

Again, like H&C, this series will really narrate a very prosaic working class set of stories. I will, however, organize these stories differently because now I know what I am looking for and each story will be able to stand on its own. In H&C the story as it unfolded piecemeal, frankly, got out of control and I do not believe that when I put all the parts together at the end that it had the power that I wanted it to have, and that it did have as it unfolded.

That said, if this time last year somebody asked me if I would be doing a series like I would have said they were crazy. I then wanted to discuss the finer theoretical points of organizing for withdrawal from Iraq or building a workers party. But now this is like finding the philosopher’s stone. This is the real deal down at the base of society.

I am now preparing the first story that will deal with how this poor woman Sherry, my ‘hood historian, was humiliated by other students at our elementary school for the mere fact of being from ‘the projects’. This writer is painfully aware of that type of humiliation as he faced the same thing later when he moved to the neighborhood featured in H&C. Again, will there be political lessons to be learned? I do not believe so, directly. However, real stories about the fate of the working class down at the base can help explain the very real retardants to working class political consciousness that we face as we try to organize here in America. I can quote socialist principles, chapter and verse, elsewhere in this space. These stories desperately need to be told here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008




The United States Supreme Court has just handed down (on April 16, 2008) it latest death penalty-related decision, in this case concerning the mechanics of its application. In a 7-2 decision (with reasoning being all over the place as seven different opinions have been reported) the Court held that the three-stage lethal injection used by Kentucky (and other states) is not cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution. No real surprise there because, as I have noted before, this court, filled as it is with original intent constitutional theorists, still has not decided whether drawing and quartering is unconstitutional. I am sure that they do not believe that it is torturous.

In another piece of news on the death penalty front the court also heard arguments that same day on whether child rape is a capital offense and therefore can constitutionally be subject to the death penalty. I would be surprised (but only a little) if the court expanded the number of crimes legitimately subject to the death penalty at this point.

That said, what I really want to discuss here is Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Steven’s commentary (and that is all it is legally because it was not germane to the decision in the case) in his separate opinion (in which he supported the constitutionality of the lethal injection application) that he believed that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. This is the first time in a long time that a sitting justice of the Supreme Court has taken such a position. And that, my friends, is to the good. Here, however, is my problem with all this. What is he going to do about it?

I remember several years ago liberal anti-death penalty advocates fell all over themselves in honoring former Associate Justice Harry Blackmon when he came out against the death penalty. Of course, that was after he had retired so it did not do one death row inmate one damn bit of good. Is this the case here with Stevens? It does make a legal/technical different for the possible fates of current individual inmates. More to the point this development permits me a chance to restate what we should be fighting for-not in the courts (or not solely in the courts) but in the streets. We do not recognize the state’s right to take a life, for the guilty or the innocent. Abolish the death penalty now!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

*The Russian Revolution in Red and Black- Once Again on Kronstadt

Click on title to link to YouTube footage of the Russian Revolution. Click on from there for other examples.


The Russian Revolution in Color, 2007

The sailors of the Baltic Fleet stationed at Kronstadt on the entrance way to Petrograd played a vanguard and heroic role in the various stages leading up to, and including, the October revolution in Russia in 1917. The sailors of the Baltic Fleet played a vanguard and heroic role in defending that revolution on the many fronts of the three-year Civil War against the Whites. According to the premise of this docudrama, tinged as it is in anarchist and anti-communist colors, the Kronstadt sailors also played a vanguard role in defending the premises of that revolution in their uprising against the seemingly power-crazed Bolsheviks in 1921.

That is where Bolshevik sympathizers, including this writer, part company with the creators of this work on the virtues, especially the political virtues, of the sailors. And it is, whether viewed tragically or not, also the point of departure for those who saw the necessity of defending the Bolshevik experiment, arms in hand, as it lay prostrate after years of civil war and those who later, mainly from their cozy armchairs, made this the definitive point of the degeneration of the revolution of 1917. Moreover, apparently until the end of times someone, somewhere, in some cozy armchair, is going to pose the question of the Kronstadt uprising of 1921 as the defining moment in the process of degeneration of the Russian revolution. I, like the exiled Bolshevik Left-Oppositionist Leon Trotsky, ask the simple question- why? For what purpose? (See archives article entitled Hue and Cry Over Kronstadt, written by Trotsky in 1938).

This two-part docudrama (The Fight For Freedom and Civil War) adequately highlights the social facts that made the Baltic sailors play an important role in the various stages of the revolution during 1917. Their skill levels, their camaraderie and their ties to the peasantry and working class back home made them a lynch pin for all kinds of actions planned by the Bolsheviks once the sailors were won to the need for decisive actions. In fact, as the docudrama points out, at a couple of points-the April and July Days they were ahead of the curve of the revolution. Moreover, the sailors played a decisive role in the actual physical overthrow of the Provisional Government in October and later the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. Throughout the period, however, one should recognize that they did not act as an independent revolutionary factor but acted, for the most part, as agents of a civilian revolutionary party- Lenin’s Bolsheviks.

Needless to say when the storm cloud of civil war raised its head with the uprising of the Czech Legion and the intervention of the united imperialist powers the Kronstadt sailors were at their posts, especially at the critical moments in front of Kazan. They laid down their heads on all the civil war fronts, as well. I should note here that the pen name that I use in this space, Markin, is to honor one of those heroic sailors who laid down his head on one of the many fronts being contested by the Red and White Armies. It is also rather germane to note here that the bulk of the cadre sailors from 1917 either shared Markin’s fate, took administrative jobs with the Bolshevik government of otherwise provided service to the revolution. The upshot, of all this, is to point out, as Trotsky did, that those sailors who rose against the Bolsheviks in 1921 were not the same cadre that performed heroic service earlier.

That view has been contested, and is contested here by some of the inevitable ‘talking heads’ that are interspersed between various action segments. And that is the rub. As pointed out up above the creators of this film have their own axes to grind. So we get the inevitable diabolical Lenin and the Bolsheviks as the personification of evil, all hungry bureaucrats ready to pounce on any political opposition. In short, the traditional anarchist/anti-communist litany that we have heard for the past 90 years. Here, however, beyond the specific chronology of the Kronstadt uprising itself (and the point Trotsky was trying to make in his 1938 article mentioned above) is the key question of when the revolution degenerated (the whys and what to do about it we will leave for another time).

I would argue that if 1921 is the point of qualitative degeneration (and therefore the point that a third revolution is necessary) then the whole Bolshevik experiment was wrong from the beginning, including the heroic role of the Baltic sailors. That means, and here we have the benefit of hindsight such as it is, that the working class is organically incapable of making a working class revolution to implement socialism. I do not subscribe to that opinion but that should send those who are stuck intellectually imprisoned in Kronstadt 1921 cause for pause.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

*An Open Letter to Mumia Abu-Jamal Supporters-A Personal Commentary

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


The Partisan Defense Committee has passed "An Open Letter to All Supporters of Mumia‘s Freedom" to this writer. Check links to the right under Partisan Defense Committee to read the letter (or click on title). Those few who might not know of the torturous legal battles to free this innocent man can find further information at the above-mentioned Partisan Defense site. I make my own comments below.

Normally I pass information about the case of political prisoner Mumia abu-Jamal on without much comment because the case speaks for itself. The case has been front and center in international labor defense struggles for over two decades. However, in light of the adverse ruling by a majority of a federal Third Circuit Court of Appeal panel in March 2008 that affirmed Mumia’s 1982 conviction for first-degree murder of a police officer and left the only issue for decision that of resentencing to either reinstate his original death sentence or keep him imprisoned for life without parole I have some things to say about this fight.

Occasionally, in the heat of political battle some fights ensue around strategy that after the smoke has cleared, upon reflection, leave one with more sorrow than anger. Not so today. Today I am mad. Am I mad about the irrational decision by the majority of the Third Circuit panel in Mumia’s case? Yes, but when one has seen enough of these cases over a lifetime then one realizes that, as the late sardonic comic and social commentator Lenny Bruce was fond of saying, in the Hall of Justice the only justice is in the halls.

What has got me steamed is the obvious bankruptcy of the strategy, if one can use this term, of centering Mumia’s case on the question of a new trial in order to get the ‘masses’- meaning basically parliamentary liberal types interested in supporting the case. This by people who allegedly KNOW better. The bankruptcy of this strategy, its effects on Mumia’s case and the bewildered response of those who pedaled it as good coin is detailed in the above-mentioned Open Letter. Read it.

Today, in reaction to the Third Circuit court’s decision, everyone and their brother and sister are now calling for Mumia’s freedom. At a point where he is between a rock and a hard place. However, it did not have to be that way. Mumia was innocent in 1982 and he did not stop being innocent at any point along this long road. Freedom for Mumia was (and is) the correct slogan in the case. A long line of political criminal cases, starting in this country with that of the Haymarket Martyrs if not before, confirms that simple wisdom. Those who consciously pedaled this weak ‘new trial’ strategy as a get rich quick scheme now have seen the chickens come home to roost. And Mumia pays the price.

I would point out two factors that made a ‘retrial’ strategy in the case of an innocent man particularly Pollyanna-ish for those honest militants who really believed that Mumia’s case was merely a matter of the American justice system being abused and therefore some court would rectify this situation if enough legal resources were in place. First, it is illusory that somehow, as exemplified in this case, a higher court system would remedy this egregious wrong. Long ago I remember a lawyer, I believe that it might have been the late radical lawyer Conrad Lynn no stranger to political defense work, telling a group of us doing defense work for the Black Panthers, that all these judges belong to the same union. They do not upset each other’s work except under extreme duress.

Second, and this is where the ‘wisdom’ of the reformists about reaching the ‘masses’ by a stagest theory of defense work (fight for retrial first, then freedom) turns in on them. As witness the list of names of those who have signed the Partisan Defense Committee’s call for Mumia’s freedom, excepting professional liberals and their hangers –on, those interested in Mumia’s case (or any leftwing political defense case) will sign on just as easily for freedom as retrial. Thus, opportunism does not pay, even in the short haul. That said, Free Mumia- say it loud, say it proud.