Category Archives: History

Understanding the Red Menace

For anyone who has read or listened to Jordan Peterson, it is obvious that he has an intense dislike of communism. On this subject his reasoning appears very shallow.

Thus the author asserts in his 12 Rules for Life: “Solzhenitsyn’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of communism, as ideology or society.”1

First, Peterson’s claim that Solzhenitsyn’s writing demolished “the intellectual credibility of communism” is a non-sequitur for one fundamental reason: there is no dialectical validity whatsoever when support for a claim comes from places with similar or identical ideological views. In this case, for an apparently anti-communist thinker such as Peterson to quote another anti-communist thinker such as Solzhenitsyn in support for his thesis is a futile intellectual exercise in the art of persuasion. In terms of analogy consider this: what do you think of American supremacists or ultranationalists who when asked to prove the notion of so-called American exceptionalism, reply by citing what Barack Obama said on the subject?

Pertinently though, in none of his literary and political writings dealing with communist issues had Solzhenitsyn succeeded at demolishing Marxism — the ideological, economic, and philosophical matrix of communism. His ire, however, was directed at Soviet communism. But even here, Solzhenitsyn was mostly critical of the excesses of the Soviet state while never delving into the details of the positive social manifestations of Soviet social structures. In other words, his tight bias against communism was such that he just saw things through the prism of his personal views.

Second, I am not here to defend or denigrate communism; this is not the subject of this article. But from an intellectual viewpoint, if Peterson wants to demolish either Marxism or communism, he should do that by pointing to where Marx went wrong in his over 20 books and papers, or at least show us where Lenin, the founder of the first communist state, erred in his conception of such a state. It seems that he skipped this crucial step entirely, maybe because dealing with the Marxian concept of historical materialism from multiple angles requires special preparation that he was not ready to undertake. Said alternatively, what passages in Das Capital, Theories of Surplus Value, The Holy Family (Marx and Engels), Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, etc., did Peterson find to be intellectually corrupt enough to demolish communism? Based on the preceding, how is it possible then that Peterson goes straight to the climatic point by giving a verdict without trying to evaluate all philosophical, political, social, or economic debates initiated by Marx?

Furthermore, others might counter that Karl Marx demolished the credibility of capitalism as an ideology that has any place in a morally based society. However, I will not comment on the intellectuality of capitalism. I would not characterize Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as intellectually devoid — quite the contrary. Likeliest, what passes for capitalism today would nonplus Smith. Yet Peterson would hold Marx’s Capital and Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto to be intellectually deficient?

What, in essence, does such a statement reveal? To pronounce on intellectual credibility inescapably means that the person doing the pronouncing considers himself intellectually credible and sufficiently informed of the subject matter. In any case, such a person would be capable of reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; tying it to communist theory, as applied in the Soviet Union and elsewhere; and determining the ineluctable, consequential impact of such an ideology on society.

A subsequent epistemological analysis would speak to the veracity of any conclusion having been reached and also to the intellectual rigor of the individual making such a claim.

The events that are documented in The Gulag Archipelago are not denied or contested. What I contest is that the prison labor camps, as is intimated by Peterson, are a predictable outcome of communism. Either the Gulag was an aberration that appeared in a society striving towards a communist state or it was an inevitable outcome of a state on the path to communism. Many more questions arise: for example, were prison labor camps the norm throughout the history the Soviet Union? Or were they bound, particularly, to the authoritarian rule of Josef Stalin? Does the Gulag system exist in other communist states? Does the Gulag system exist in capitalist states?

It is important to understand what is a Gulag. Writing in a forum — which Peterson touts — Konstantin Zhiltsov (whose profile identifies him with a LLB from Moscow State University) wrote: “GULag was a simple administration, not much different from US Federal Bureau of Prisons.”2 Specific to camps, as opposed to locked-in penitentiaries, Zhiltsov wrote that they “existed long before communists and will exist without them just as well.”

On the question of camps:

Do they exist in modern Russia? Of course, yes. The majority of prisoners serve their sentence there. Of course, the regime is much different from Soviet times, much more lenient (that depends on security level, though). For example, prisoner’s labour is a right and not a duty (in the GULag system of camps, for example, it was mandatory, nowadays prisoners decide themselves to work or not to work).

So, the form is the same, but the “soul” inside of them is much different.3

Penitentiaries, rightly or wrongly, exist in most nation states. And forced labor camps are found in the US. It is via the US that in communist Cuba, the most notorious Gulag continues. Irene Khan, Amnesty’s general secretary, described the United States’ incarceration facility at Guantánamo Bay (de facto US-occupied territory in Cuba) as “the gulag of our time.”

Did the fact that Solzhenitsyn criticized the Gulag in the Soviet Union confer his approval of capitalism in the West? Political analyst Radha Rajan wrote, “Solzhenitsyn was as critical of what America and Europe represented in the twentieth century as he was of the Soviet Union and Stalinist repression.”4

Does this point to a bias ingrained in Peterson’s thinking? Nowhere in 12 Rules did Peterson mention, for example, that “Noam Chomsky’s writing utterly and finally demolished the intellectual credibility of capitalism, as ideology or society.”5

What happened to the Soviet Union immediately after the fall of communism? Has capitalism burnished its credibility?

If communism is not defined by the Gulag system, then what is it? What is this communism that Peterson despises?

The Real News editor-in-chief Paul Jay spoke with Alexander Buzgalin, a professor of political economy and the director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. Buzgalin has lived under communism in the Soviet Union and in post-communist Russia. Thus, he is uniquely positioned to comment on what communism is and was.

PAUL JAY: So, for an American or Western audience, that word, “communism,” has- less and less now, the further we get away from the cold war- but still, the idea of communism, socialism, particularly communism, it means “police state.” It means “tyranny.” For most American ears, they can’t understand how someone would actually hope for communism. What did that mean for your family?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: For us, it was absolutely another meaning because of literature, because of movies, because of some practical communal-associated activity. So, what was communism for us? First of all, labor is pleasure. I am glad, I am happy to have my work. I am going for the work because I like it, not because I must make as small as possible and receive as much money as possible. Another motivation, another logic. Second, at the workplace we have comrades, not competitors, and together we will do something interesting. This is communism. Communism is space where you have beautiful things; useful, beautiful, cheap things around you. Dress, furniture, everything. And these things are just, I don’t know, basis for your life, for interesting life, for communications, creativity. That was the image of communism. And if you read books of Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky or Boris Strugatsky, two very famous writers, you will find a very beautiful description of such a world, and some elements of this world, we had sometimes.

PAUL JAY: Like when?

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Like when we were together as schoolboys and schoolgirls, we were making something good for Vietnamese kids. We were spending our free time, not to play games with computers, it was no computer or football- we were playing football, but not all the time. But it was interesting to work and to buy bicycles for Vietnamese kids together. Just one example. To help to the elder people together. To create museum with memory about victims of World War II in school, from the fortress of our parents and grandparents, and so on.

So, one example. And an example in university, we have a union of young students and young scientists, scholars. And we made ourselves with state finance, three, four conferences every year for free in different cities of Russia. We were travelling, we were inviting students from other cities and state paid for their trips, for airplanes, for hotels, for us to go to other places. And it was self-organization. We organized these conferences by ourselves. We had a scientific supervisor, but he or she was controlling the program, nothing else.

PAUL JAY: But this vision, I mean, communism, the Marxist vision, a classless society with very little government, if any, as the ideal. But the reality of life was quite the opposite.

ALEXANDER BUZGALIN: Yes, but not one hundred percent opposite.6

*****
Peterson continues his criticism of communism: “No educated person dared defend that ideology again after [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago. No one could ever say again, ‘What Stalin did, that was not true communism.’” (loc 3845)7

Peterson attempts to support his contention by ad hominem against those who disagree. Peterson limits the parameters of debate: one must agree that Stalin’s governance was true communism. Moreover, according to Peterson, one must not defend communism or he will be counted among the uneducated. Once again, Peterson relies strongly on Solzhenitsyn to shoot down the entirety of communism:

Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago–not even the communists themselves. (loc 5314)

This comes across as pure bluster. Peterson seems to think that by citing a book he can draw a definitive conclusion. Moreover, even given that the events as described by Solzhenitsyn are unerringly accurate, this does not inextricably bind communism to the Gulag because the Gulag happened under nominal or experimental communism. Now whether that communism was as propounded by Marx is debatable. Marx’s communism was about the liberation of workers. The communism of Marx differs from that put into practice by Lenin and Stalin.8 Moreover, communism was not envisioned as a perfect theory, free from need for revision, to be applied to all societies in all situations. Unless Marx considered himself to embody perfection, then he would not construe his thought as free from error. Indeed, self-criticism is a key component of Marxism. As Marxists are aware: “The use of criticism-self-criticism is widely recognized in the Marxist-Leninist movement as a tool that is vital to improving our work.”9 Thus, just as different countries practice a particular form of capitalism construed to meet the needs of their societies (or, more accurately, to meet the needs of the elitists in society), communism has been adapted to the exigencies of time and location.

Peterson points to the Gulag system as the distinguishing feature of communism. The gulags existed, and as horrific and wicked such places were for so many people, they were an outcome of people in power with out-sized egos and blackened souls.

If the Gulag is not the distinguishing feature of communism, then what is? Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated: “The distinguishing feature of Communism is … the abolition of bourgeois property.”

Peterson commits the logical fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc scenario. Because of communism, there are gulags. What is wrong with such a postulation? Did prisons and torture not exist under the Czarist regimes? Do gulags not exist under capitalism? To institute an analogy, did it occur to Peterson that United States gave torture a meaning worse than that used in the former USSR? Could Peterson educate us about “the Gulag Abu Ghraib,” “the Gulag Guantanamo Bay” or “the Gulag Bagram”?

Also, Peterson should realize that a state does not become a full-fledged communist state overnight, and in the Soviet case, not without fierce resistance. Capitalist powers were not inclined to permit a challenge to their preferred economic order.

Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn wrote that by the summer of 1919, 14 western nations and their client states had invaded Bolshevik Russia.10 US Senator William Edgar Borah admitted at that time that the US was at “war with Russia, while Congress has not declared war.… It is a violation of the plain principles of free government.”11

For the next two and a half decades “the anti-democratic and anti-Soviet conspiracy.… kept the world in an incessant turmoil of secret diplomacy, counterrevolutionary intrigue, terror, fear and hatred, and which culminated inevitably in the Axis war to enslave humanity.”12

Peterson writes,

Communism, in particular, was attractive not so much to oppressed workers, its hypothetical beneficiaries, but to intellectuals—to those whose arrogant pride in intellect assured them they were always right. But the promised utopia never emerged. (loc 3909)

This passage by Peterson is not only the epitome of intellectual manipulation because of how it was phrased, but it is also a demonstration that Peterson has no clues regarding the core tenets of Marxism — specifically Marx’s concept of communism.

On the side of manipulation, Peterson clearly implies that communism is no more than an intellectual product that oppressed workers could not possibly relate to or understand. In addition, he seems to be annoyed — better yet, intimidated — by certain intellectuals whom he debits to the arrogance for feeling “always right.” In psychological terms, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson appears to acknowledge that he is short on deploying the necessary intellectual tools to counter the arguments of well-informed intellectuals. This impression is enforced by noting that he resorted to name-calling in the attempt to downgrade the competence of intellectuals on the subject while upgrading his own, which is obviously ridden with serious shortcomings.

On the side of Marxian tenets, the scope of communism is not as he erroneously painted it. Marx never thought of communism as a platform solely directed to workers. What he envisioned was for the working class and intellectual pioneers to lead the struggle to abolish the class system thus creating egalitarian societies without classes, exploitation, and discrimination.

Now let’s turn to the debate on the issue of “credibility.” Obviously Peterson must be referring to intellectuals without credibility, but some might argue that such a premise is a contradiction. This forces one to wonder how well Peterson understands the communism of Karl Marx. Peterson does not define the “promised utopia.” Marx and Engels wrote of an end to the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. At which time the “purely Utopian character” would be revealed by “such as the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, of the carrying on of industries for the account of private individuals, and of the wage system, the proclamation of social harmony, the conversion of the function of the state into a more superintendence of production.”13

Peterson’s second contradiction is acknowledging that workers are oppressed while also arguing that oppressed workers are not attracted to a system to end their exploitation. In other words, one surmises from Peterson that workers would prefer to be exploited by a capitalist class. Or Peterson considers that workers are not exploited under capitalism? But no one could be that deluded.

Marx and Engels shot down the notion of worker acquiescence to the capitalist structure: “But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bot. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation.”14

Moreover, utopia, if ever promised, was never promised overnight. As long as communist countries were surrounded by opposing capitalist countries, the class struggle remained ongoing.

Communism, in name, was brought about through revolution. Hated regimes like Batista in Cuba, the Czars in Russia, and the Guomindang in China were capitalist or feudalistic in orientation.

Peterson seems eager to criticize and excoriate communist states, yet in his book his home country, Canada, emerges relatively unscathed. Peterson rightly denounces Nazi atrocities committed against Jews, although he does not condemn Nazi atrocities against communists, Roma, homosexuals. Now let’s consider Canada. It is a capitalist state established through genocide against the Original Peoples. Why no criticism by Peterson?15

One shouldn’t just read Chomsky, Solzhenitsyn, Marx, and Adam Smith to get a handle on capitalism versus communism and socialism. In particular, one should not solely rely on the clinical psychologist Peterson to get an understanding in political-economics and associated ideologies. However, one should be open to learning from other political-economic systems, especially adding anarchism to one’s reading list. Become well informed. Devour information with open-minded skepticism and form your own conclusions. Above all, don’t unquestioningly accept ex cathedra statements from professors, politicians, intellectuals, or non-intellectuals.

  1. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
  2. In Part 5: understanding the Soviet Union and the fallibility of capitalism
  1. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, (Penguin Random House UK, 2018): loc 2879.
  2. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
  3. Konstantin Zhiltsov, “Do Gulags still exist in Russia?” Quora, 26 December 2017.
  4. Radha Rajan, “Russian nationalism through the eyes of an Indian nationalist – 1,” Vijayvaani.com, 28 November 2018.
  5. Chomsky’s focus is not the intellectual credibility of capitalism but the morality of an economic system that leaves behind so many in society. See, e.g., Noam Chomsky, Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Seven Stories Press, 1999).
  6. Growing Up in the USSR – RAI with A. Buzgalin (1/12),” The Real News, 11 July 2018.
  7. Later Peterson’s repeats “The Gulag Archipelago … utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility…” (loc 5307).
  8. See Thomas G. West, “Marx and Lenin,” in Marx and the Gulag (Claremont Paper No. 8, 1987).
  9. Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist) and Friends from the East Coast, “Open Letter on Criticism-Self-Criticism,” in The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 12, 11 September 1978. Available online at marxists.org.
  10. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia Proletarian Publishers (Little, Brown and Company, 1946): 79.
  11. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 85.
  12. Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, 392.
  13. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Chapter III. Socialist and Communist Literature” in Karl Marx: Selected Writings.
  14. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Communist Manifesto in Karl Marx: Selected Writings (London: Essential Thinkers, 2004): 39.
  15. The professor Noam Chomsky proffered a moralistic guideline that people should focus on the actions of their own states: “My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.” See Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987).

Dull in the Heart

When I was growing up, folks sometimes referred to the intellectually disabled as “dull in the head.” I think about that today as I contemplate a terrible anniversary for the state of Texas. An instance of that the state of Texas and Hill County pretend has no meaning and no place in contemporary discourse. A day that the city of Hillsboro gets away with every January 20.

One hundred years ago today, an African American man named Bragg Williams was burned at the stake in Hillsboro, Texas.

On December 2, 1918, a white woman named Annie Wells and her five-year-old son Curtis were beaten to death outside their home near Itasca. Their murderer utilized a blunt object to dispatch them and then carried their bodies into the house, setting it aflame to destroy any evidence. Neighbors saw smoke from the fire and retrieved the mother and son’s remains before they were too badly burned.

A young African American man named Bragg Williams, described as “tall and ungainly, and seemingly of low mentality,” was discovered less than three miles from the Wells residence and immediately accused of the crime. His accusers subsequently attempted to lynch him, so Williams was transferred to Waco. Later, a group of Texas Rangers transported him to Dallas and he would remain there until his trial date.

On January 16, Williams was escorted back to Hillsboro by the Texas Rangers and his trial began. Two well-regarded Hill County attorneys—Walter Collins and A. M. Frazier—were appointed to defend Williams and did so under protest. As attorneys for the prosecution and defense seated a jury, Williams sat in the courtroom under the constant guard of six Texas Rangers.

Collins and Frazier entered a “not guilty” plea for Williams, by reason of insanity. Williams was obviously mentally handicapped, but the prosecutors—well aware of Williams’s “low mentality”—anticipated the defense team’s plea and brought in Dr. W. L. Allison, a Fort Worth “alienist” (the contemporary term for a psychiatrist or psychologist in those days). Dr. Allison undermined the defense team’s plea, insisting Williams was sane or at least not insane.

Williams never testified, but he did return to Hillsboro in the same yellow coveralls he had apparently left in, and the prosecution subsequently produced two white female witnesses who said they saw a black man in yellow coveralls heading in the direction of the Wells residence before the murder, and a young black girl (named Smithy McDuffy) who claimed she saw a black man in yellow coveralls running from the direction of the residence after she had heard the screams of Annie Wells. Then, a white jailer named Jess Vanoy and Bragg’s brother Natural were summoned and testified that Bragg had had blood on his shoes the day he was captured.

On Friday, January 17, Williams was convicted of murder and, quite possibly (if not quite clearly) unaware of what had just transpired or psychologically distraught, he began to laugh. And the Texas Rangers promptly departed.

Now: ignoring the fact that (a) it was obviously improbable that a man who was wearing yellow coveralls when he brutally beat a woman and her son to death with a blunt object would have noticeable blood on what were probably dark shoes and none on his light yellow coveralls and (b) the murder weapon was never produced and it arguably might have been difficult for an intellectually disabled person to successfully conceal or dispose of such a weapon—the case against Williams was strong—and that makes what happened after a guilty verdict was handed down exceedingly curious.

On the morning of Monday, January 20, the court reconvened for sentencing and Judge Horton B. Porter condemned Williams to be hanged by the neck until dead on February 21. His defense team, attorneys Collins and Frazier, had defended him under protest and his guilty verdict was hardly an unpopular result; but once it was handed down and the death sentence imposed, Collins and Frazier surprisingly and quite unexpectedly requested a new trial. And when their petition for a retrial was denied, they filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

At approximately 11:45 a.m., a mob—likely upset by the appeal and no longer in the mood for due process—assembled at the Hill County jail and demanded Williams be handed over. When the jailers refused, the mob stormed the facility and seized Williams from his cell. The lynch-mob dragged Williams to the courthouse square and tied him to a concrete “safety first” post at the corner of Elm Street and Covington Street.

Members of the mob quickly collected hay, wood and coal and piled them around Williams, dousing the combustibles in coal oil. A match was then applied and the conflagration killed Williams in a matter of minutes. He put up no resistance, but was heard to exclaim “Help me, Cap” three times before the flames consumed him.

On January 21, Texas Governor William P. Hobby denounced the lynching and initiated steps to investigate it. On January 22, Governor Hobby sent a message to the Texas Legislature requesting legislation which would put an end to mob violence and correct the assumption that members of white lynch-mobs are not prosecutable. On January 23, Governor Hobby instructed Attorney General Calvin M. Cureton, First Assistant Attorney General W. A. Keeling and E. A. Berry, Assistant Attorney General to the Court of Criminal Appeals to begin investigations of the lynching of Williams.

A Hill County grand jury subsequently examined charges against members of the lynch-mob and Judge Porter did his best to encourage impartiality. He sensed what the prosecution was up against and his instructions to the grand jury were specific and addressed the necessary integrity the jurors would have to uphold:

The statute of this State provides your duty, provides the penalty for those who participate in a riot or in a mob or in a lynching. . . As your oath has prescribed, it is not a matter of friendship, of love or affection or of feeling. It is a matter prescribed by statute—my cold duty and your cold duty under the law.

Despite Judge Porter’s charge, the grand jury adjourned without returning bills of indictment.

After a state investigation by First Attorney General Keeling, Attorney General Cureton and Assistant Attorney General Berry filed a motion to cite twelve members of the lynch-mob for contempt of court in regards to the Court of Criminal Appeals, because the vigilantes had lynched Williams after his appeal had been filed and was technically pending. In the absence of specific laws against lynching, it was a well-conceived attempt to prosecute members of the lynch-mob in a higher court, especially as it was obvious they wouldn’t face prosecution in Hill County.

The motion was described as the first of its kind in Texas, but it, too, fell short.

No action was taken on the motion in February or March and the effort eventually faded into obscurity.

Reviewing the details of the case today, it’s hard to determine if Bragg Williams was guilty or innocent. But no matter how you look at it, Williams was denied due process. His defense attorneys hadn’t just mailed it in in regards to his defense. It appears, at least, that they did the hard thing, the unpopular thing and, theoretically speaking, the appeal might have addressed the prosecution’s “alienist” surprise.

Guilty or innocent, mentally fit or unfit, what happened to Bragg Williams was a mockery of justice, an affront to human decency and a vile monstrosity. Whether or not he was “seemingly of low mentality” or dull in head, the community that roasted him alive was and is dull in the heart. And will remain so until they acknowledge their sins.

Long Live the Armed Struggle!

Murdering Truthsayers 

I am thinking of Karen Silkwood for some odd reason. Murdered November 13, 1974 as a twenty-eight-year-old labor union activist and chemical technician working for a nuclear power plant, Kerr-McGee Cimarron River nuclear facility in Crescent, Oklahoma. The industry was supplying nuclear fission rods for reactors. She found violations of health and safety regulations, and well, the story of this ordinary woman with an ordinary life has turned into a cause celebre with Meryl Streep playing her in a 1984 movie.

Karen was pursued by some dark figures on a cold night, and the manila envelope she was carrying with the evidence of safety violations bound for the New York Times inside her crashed Honda car mysteriously disappeared. She lay there dying.

Run off the road of protest and combating injustices and war. So go the lives of political prisoners, but in a much more tortuous and protracted way as Linda G. Ford develops in her spot-on book, Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart.

One such hero is Marilyn Buck, who was serving an 80-year sentence for aiding and abetting Assata Shakur’s escape, for a Brinks robbery and the bombing of the Capitol in protest of US role in Grenada and Lebanon. She was on the FBI’s “shoot to kill” list.

Women engaged in serious struggle with ties to Puerto Rican and Black liberation movements were given harsh sentences, and imprisoned where gulag-like, tortuous and isolating conditions were ramped up because of these political prisoners’ gender identity.

Exclusion and isolation are the tools of a fascist society, as these female politicals’ lives as activists, both peaceful and militantly violent, demonstrate over the course of four hundred years of this country’s white history.

“The women politicals jailed in the 80s would face a situation designed to destroy them as political activists, and as women,” Ford writes in the section of the book she tags as, “The Threat of Armed Struggle Against American Imperialism Posed by Defiant Revolutionaries Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg and Their Comrades Has The Facing Authoritarian Measures Designed to Destroy, 1960-1990.”

Jailers who willingly neglect the health of prisoners. Prison medical experts denying basic life saving treatment. Massive censorship of prisoners’ reading and writing. Male nurses ramming fingers up a political’s anus and vagina. Locked in High Security Units in what Silvia Baraldini called “a living tomb . . . a white sepulcher.” She was part of the May 19th Communist group and Black Liberation Army. She was charged with BLA robberies – however, she was in Zimbabwe when one of them took place.

I was arrested in 1982 on RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations, laws mean for the Mafia) charges accused of having aided members of the Black Liberation Army in a conspiracy against the United States. In reality I participated in the escape of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur who now lives in Cuba.

Rosenberg was sentenced to 43 years in prison, three for refusing to testify before the grand jury or give the names of members of the May 19th Communist Organization group.

These are bombings against imperialist targets:  a federal building on Staten Island (January 1983), the National War College at Fort McNair (April 1983), the US Senate in November 1982, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building in April 1984, the South African Consulate in September 1984, and the NYC Policemen’s Benevolent Association in February 1985.

Laura Whitehorn stated the last action (no person was targeted or hurt) was done because the NYC association supported cops “who had killed innocent civilians.” Whitehorn stated she readily participated in the bombings as an underground warrior as protest of US imperialism in Lebanon, El Salvador and Grenada.

“If you live in a country doing illegal acts, you have to take steps, or you’re complicit.” The author Ford follows up Whitehorn’s strongly put if you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem rejoinder with …

And if you break a law doing that, you become a political prisoner. 

Susan Rosenberg is another hero of resistance Linda forges as a real icon of the revolution: she was charged with involvement in the Senate, War College and NY Police bombings, but those were eventually dropped. She would later be tried in a FISA court – foreign intelligence surveillance act.

Judge Frederick B. Lacey didn’t consider she and her co-defendant, Tim Blunk, were part of an organized illegal resistance movement acting out of conscience against US actions in Central America, racism in South Africa and the oppressive COINTELPRO, according to Ford.

Rosenberg and Blunk were hit with possession of guns and dynamite charges, although there was no link they used them. She got 58 years in the federal penitentiary, twice as long as for the average first degree murderer. Bail was $5 million and no parole recommendation was provided.  Ford:

To US authorities, she represented the absolute worst of the 60s rebels: she was a BLA, Independista and Weather Underground sympathizer/activist, and she was a female and a lesbian.

No food for two days, no time to wash up, and she was beaten and left in a cold cell, in solitary confinement. The entire process of the fascist police state in this country is a psychological hell, designed to strip people of who they are, to erase their identity.

There was absolutely nowhere to go; it felt like death. All that lay in front of me were the ruins of my life. I was losing even my favorite color, favorite food, favorite season.

There is something so compelling in Ford’s unleashing of the floodgates of truth in this book, and the tides have shifted even more dramatically against revolt, against resistance, against simple discontents. Imagine, this faux pacifism of the bourgeoisie, peering through their looking glass designed by Hollywood and a fine Merlot, even barely entertaining the idea that armed revolt and violent overthrow are necessary components in righting all the wrongs in this country. Those middle and upper middle classers look for total destruction in countries their tax dollars and sometimes their direct employment support, but when it comes to the assault of everyday structural violence meted out on their fellow citizens, these middlings — who take their marching orders from the elites who pull out the Clinton America Must Have 100,000 More Police card every single time Hillary Clinton declares we are in super predator country – do not question the complexities of cause and effect when a society is over-policed, under organized, and flooded with privatizing all things American.

The tough times for prisoners like Rosenberg always get worse in America. The High Security Unit at Lexington is a doozy – a maximum security hell-hole – a chamber of horrors —  and set up by the best and the brightest of American corporal technocrats who show their love of the macabre Russian prisoner gulag or Nazi concentration camp techniques.

Historian Laura Flanders called the HSU an example of punishment “designed to experiment with the effects of physical deprivation on female inmates.” The myth (lie) that the US doesn’t use torture to coerce people to give up their politics is busted every time in Ford’s recounting of the fascism deployed by the American political/policing corporate Mafioso. Spending your entire sentence in solitary confinement “unless one renounces her beliefs” is against the laws of international conventions on torture and against the US Constitution’s first amendment.

The day before Slick Willy Clinton left office, in January 2001 Rosenberg was granted clemency after 16 years and three months inside. She worked for a human rights organization — American Jewish World Service — and fought to reform prison. She taught literature at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York until the college caved and did not rehire her. In her 2011 memoir, American Radical, she is defiant, proving she was not destroyed by American fascism, but conversely overcame the illegal and unethical torture and censoring with her political beliefs intact.

I tried not to weep. If I did I was afraid I would drown in the waters of my soul . . . The government’s goal was to destroy us through isolation, through exile, life sentences, medical negligence, and horrible physical conditions. In that they failed.

In May 1994, Marilyn Buck, the remaining female member of the May 19th Communist Organization,  talked about why she was a political prisoner, then locked up at the Shawnee HSU at Marianna prison.

I am a white woman from the middle class who has refused to accept the great American social contract: democracy for the white few, unmitigated oppression for the colonized and exploited many. I am despised because I have rejected and betrayed the bonds of white privilege, have defended Black people’s rights, and have engaged in the struggle to defeat U.S. imperialism, to support national liberation struggles and the right of all peoples to self-determination. I am censored, locked behind walls, and watched.

After starting her second prison stint, Buck talked of the repression orchestrated in Capitalist America, after earning a degree in psychology, working for fellow political Abu-Jamal and thrown into solitary after September 11 as a potential terrorist. She served 33 years of her 80-year sentence. “The exclusion from society is their weapon”, she writes. “Isolation silences voices of resistance and reverberates into society to stave off action. Destroying one’s political identify renders them as un-beings, but more destructive is that police fascism of America stifles the context from which to organize social opposition and organized resistance within the society.”

Think of the isolation and torture of a Nelson Mandela and African National Congress in South Africa. This need in the US to repress/destroy revolutionary movements goes way back against those dissidents and others who refuse this imperialist state, as Mary K. O’Melveney opined: punishing “those who resist racism, genocide, colonialism and imperialism.”

It is a legacy of an existential nightmare, and endless justice denied to politicals because the US expunges the very fact (history of) it has pursued relentlessly political dissidents they have then caught, prosecuted, persecuted, tortured, and many times disappeared. The lives of these women individually and collectively have been resuscitated by Linda G. Ford, and her book serves as testimony and a testament of the great harm done by our government in the name of capitalism/imperialism utilizing the most crude and sophisticated methods of anti-democratic repression.

Buck wrote in 2000 that more women political prisoners will emerge, and with Code Pink rabble-rousers, the Native American water protectors around facing federal charges and decades of incarceration, and the many women who have drawn and quartered the racist and misogynistic history of modern America in the Black Lives Movement, she was right. She implored that we all have a duty to resist and buck “the rapacious, anti-human system.” One will not see this call to action in today’s political leaders and intellectuals; in fact, this country is about protecting the trans-financial, military and global corporatist forces that make up the police state that denies equality and justice.

Over the course of the past 19 years, America has turned on itself, thrown the gates of freedom into the scrap pile of gauntlets and barricades built to prevent or forestall unfettered access by both the government/police state and corporations/trans-finance to not only pry into our lives, but to exact more than a pound of flesh from us as citizens, a term now code-switched to “consumers,” and on a larger gradient of more applicable descriptors for we, by, for, because of the people tethered to this non-democratic morass of penury and punishment:  suspects, persons of interest, pre-accused, targets, marks, inmates, disenfranchised, dispossessed, the other, the accused, evicted, foreclosed upon, fined, levied, sterilized, patients, the sick, mentally infirm, audiences, focus groups, and the taxed and damned!

In this book, Ford exposes the Post 9/11 systemic sickness of oppression and disappearing all administrations on both aisles of the political heap have green-lighted. Here, a chilling account from Moazzam Begg, 2012, about another political, female, we go hand-in-hand with in Ford’s book:

Of all the abuses [prisoner Abu Yahya al-Libi] describes in his account, the presence of a woman and her humiliation and degradation were the most inflammatory to all the prisoners [at Bagram] – would never forget it. He describes how she was regularly stripped naked and manhandled by guards, and how she used to scream incessantly in isolation for two years. He said prisoners protested her treatment, going on hunger strikes, feeling ashamed they could do nothing to help. He described her in detail: a Pakistani mother – torn away from her children – in her mid-thirties, who had begun to lose her mind. Her number, he said, was 650.

So, little known Aafia Siddiqui is highlighted in this book as a victim of “American white supremacy and imperialism; enduring the consequences of an extreme anti-terrorist/anti-Muslim era which began with the September 11, 2001 bombings of the World Trade Center.”

She was educated at MIT as a neuroscientist and worked in the US for years. Her Muslim activism got the fascist Attorney General John Ashcroft interested, and he put her on his watch-list. All the accusations of terrorism proved baseless, yet the FBI, CIA and American military tribunals held on like a rabid dog. She was kidnapped by Pakistani bounty hunters on the payroll of the Americans, with her three children snatched up too.

The youngest was immediately killed, and the other two imprisoned separately for years. Dr. Siddiqui was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American empire.

Oh, the irony! January 15, 2019 and the Pedophile President Trump has nominated William Barr for attorney general. Barr served (sic) as George H.W. Bush’s AG from 1991 to 1993. That was a short time but enough to pardon six Reagan officials for the Iran-Contra scandal and then oversee Guantánamo Bay military prison opening up. Mass incarceration at home and designing a secret National Security Agency mass phone surveillance blueprint were two of his fingerprints that have followed us all into 2019. What would those women politicals say today about the Islamophobia?

What would they say about the limp, weak, conniving questioning by both sides of the political dung heap during this fascist Barr’s confirmation hearings? Barr sounds like the quintessential white supremacist, privileged, Ivy-League educated (sic)  elite that an Obama or Clinton or Trump or Bush presses the flesh with on a daily basis.

Ford puts a lot into context in her chapter titled: “The Empire Strikes Back: American Imperial Authorities Disappear, Torture and Destroy Aafia Siddiqui; and Routinely Jail Female Anti-Imperialist Dissenters, Muslim Women and Whistleblowers, 1990-Present.”

The three presidents in charge from 1990s until 2018, have had somewhat different doctrines of global empire: Clinton prepared the way, Bush implemented the 9/11 unleashing of new military adventures, and Obama (continued somewhat clumsily by Trump) streamlined, codified and expanded Bush’s new global warmongering.

A world of smart bombs, Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Taliban, collateral damage. Invasions of Iraq. A world of 300 nuclear bombs in Israel, Saudi Arabia aligned with the Zionists, Israel First pledges by US elected politicians. A world of Exxon more powerful than most nation states. This new spasm of fascism was codified with the Bush Doctrine. Chalmers Johnson stated this concept of World Domination by the USA  was laid out in 2002 at a West Point Academy gathering: Bush stated that “. . . our policy would be to dominate the world through absolute military superiority and to wage preventive war against any possible competitor.”

Things from the ‘60s through the ‘90s are dramatically different in terms of how the police state operates and how far-reaching now the American project to dominate, steal, harass, kill and contain has grown. Let’s look at Chalmers Johnson in an article for the Nation September 27, 2001 and then from his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, which Ford includes in her book:

The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not “attack America,” as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy. Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders who then became enemies only because they had already become victims. Terrorism by definition strikes at the innocent in order to draw attention to the sins of the invulnerable. The United States deploys such overwhelming military force globally that for its militarized opponents only an “asymmetric strategy,” in the jargon of the Pentagon, has any chance of success. When it does succeed, as it did spectacularly on September 11, it renders our massive military machine worthless: The terrorists offer it no targets. On the day of the disaster, President George W. Bush told the American people that we were attacked because we are “a beacon for freedom” and because the attackers were “evil.” In his address to Congress on September 20, he said, “This is civilization’s fight.” This attempt to define difficult-to-grasp events as only a conflict over abstract values–as a “clash of civilizations,” in current post-cold war American jargon–is not only disingenuous but also a way of evading responsibility for the “blowback” that America’s imperial projects have generated.

The Nation, Johnson

Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It would be more accurate to say that the attacks produced a dangerous change in the thinking of some of our leaders, who began to see our republic as a genuine empire, a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history, no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked or why their State Department began warning them against tourism in an every-growing list of foreign countries . . . . But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non-Americans already knew and had experienced over the last half century – namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be,, that it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination.

Blowback, Johnson

We are all terrorists, that is, those of us who use words, placards, hacking, bodies, grouped protests, and two-by-fours in an attempt to stop the juggernaut of corporate power and collusion with their government. Little Eichmann’s and henchmen and henchwomen in the Military-Pharma-Ag-Energy-Legal-Edu-IT-AI-Chem-Finance-Insurance-Med Industrial Complex. The new red scare is green, as in eco-terrorists. The anti-Boycott-Divest-Sanction movement is the new terror against the American Israel way of life. Anyone questioning Zionism or the Israeli policy of apartheid and genocide is the new-old-future enemy of the State of Fascist America.

You get arrested and prosecuted for setting up camps in public places, for throwing stage blood on the gates of Air Force installations that are harbingers of death missiles. You get thrown in jail/prison for torching a few internal combustion SUV’s. Jail-and-hard-time for protecting your Native American holy places. Jail time for putting water and food in the Arizona desert for migrating undocumented immigrants.

Jail-jail-jail, felonies-felonies-felonies, misdemeanors-misdemeanors-misdemeanors, eviction-eviction-eviction, bad credit reports-terminations from jobs, failure to pay taxes.

Americans are the enemy of the state, and when that American is a woman political activist – that can be a woman against death squads trained-supplied-abetted by USA, or someone wanting to expose the death camps of concentrated animal feeding operations, even a woman in a tree protesting the cutting of old growth forests, especially a woman on the streets proclaiming the end of violence against Black men, women, children. The enemy of this state is anyone, slipping into board rooms at college campuses fighting the rape culture, or getting into city hall meetings and decrying gentrification, or women building homeless camps or distributing clean needles.

You can be Sisters Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, 78 and 68 years old respectively (in 2015), who committed themselves to nonviolent protests. Eric Schlosser interviewed them, and the two told of being “shackled and chained, strip-searched in front of male guards, locked in filthy cells with clogged toilets and vermin.”

That global war on terror hit these sisters broadside, including Sister Jackie Hudson, for coming onto the grounds of a Minuteman II silo in Colorado.

They wore white jump suits embossed with Citizen Weapon Inspection Team; hammered railroad tracks, drew a cross in their blood, banged on the silo, and prayed. After their arrest, they were left on the ground for three hours. (Ford)

The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.

Abraham Lincoln, “Reply to a Committee from the Workingmen’s Association of New York,” March 21, 1864

I am now thinking about Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, three Maryknoll sisters and a lay missionary murdered in El Salvador. Thirty-eight years ago this past December 2, 1980, beaten, raped and murdered. They were working on international humanitarian aid projects, which were counter to the USA’s project of terror in Central America, under Jimmy Carter, who suspended aid to the Salvadoran Army, for a brief moment, and then reinstated it. The women were murdered by and with the collusion with US trained thugs who attended Fort Benning’s notorious School of the Americas.

Under Reagan and Bush Senior, the civilian murders in Salvador and Guatemala, to name two, continued with US backing, both material aid/advisers, and political and diplomatic (sic). In El Salvador’s Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero, Human Rights Watch reports:

During the Reagan years in particular, not only did the United States fail to press for improvements … but, in an effort to maintain backing for U.S. policy, it misrepresented the record of the Salvadoran government, and smeared critics who challenged that record. In so doing, the Administration needlessly polarized the debate in the United States, and did a grave injustice to the thousands of civilian victims of government terror in El Salvador. [23] Despite the El Mozote Massacre that year, Reagan continued certifying (per the 1974 amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act) that the Salvadoran government was progressing in respecting and guaranteeing the human rights of its people, and in reducing National Guard abuses against them.

I was in Central America then, and throughout the ’80s. The blasphemy of America then, and the outright denigration of those nuns by many in America, to include the media and politicos, was telling to me in my formative years as a newspaper reporter along the US-Mexico border. One can’t go back or turn one’s back on the act of bearing witness to crimes against humanity. For me going on 45 years of journalism and activism, America has lived up to its Murder Incorporated moniker.

The work of people like Linda G. Ford give some sustenance for me to continue fighting the oppressive and repressive mindset of the American individual and the system protecting those individuals.

I’m now thinking about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  I ended up in Spokane, May 2001, and quickly found out that Spokane, Washington, was where free speech was officially banned by the city fathers and thug cops. She was there, as a 19-year-old in December 1909, and arrested and jailed. She went to lumber camps in Montana and Washington, speaking at IWW meetings. She stated she fell in love with her country, calling it,

… a rich, fertile, beautiful land, capable of satisfying all the needs of its people – It could be paradise on earth if it belonged to the people, not to a small owning class.

She wrote about the experience in Spokane in the Industrial Worker and The Socialist, two journal articles that inspired other protests to the authorities.  She wrote about being safer with others locked up, rather than being alone. In Spokane, a jailer approached her at night, and while all the other mostly prostitute women had complied, Flynn told him to take his hands off her and he left her alone. Her article  “resulted in matrons for women prisoners in Spokane.” She was acquitted after two trials of “conspiracy to incite men to disobey the law.”

By the age of 15, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a committed socialist and was arrested, with her father, for public speaking without a permit. They were finally released on bail at 2 am. At their trial, the judge advised Elizabeth to go back to school for a while longer before she became a teacher. (Ford)

Defiant, she read the theories of socialists Upton Sinclair and Edward Bellamy and of anarchist Peter Kropotkin, as well as delving deeply into Marx and Engels.

Here’s what Flynn said at age 73 in 1963:

I was a convict, a prisoner without rights, writing a censored letter. But my head was unbowed. Come what may, I was a political prisoner and proud of it, at one with some of the noblest of humanity, who had suffered for conscience’s sake. I felt no shame, no humiliation, no consciousness of guilt. To me my number 11710 was a badge of honor.

Being a member of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA), for Flynn and others was about following through with American roots and American ideals. Defending constitutional rights made them good Americans. It was Flynn who supported her constitutional right to political belief and free speech, yet these arguments were for naught, as she said: “in the United States – boasted citadel of democracy – we were prisoners for opinion under a fascist-like thought control act.” Ethel Rosenberg was not defended by the CP, until after her death row orders were imminent. The CP defendants were “arguing their Americanness, when the Rosenbergs were in jail after being convicted of being totally un-American and dedicated to the downfall of the USA.”

Ford goes into great detail about the Ethel Rosenberg case, but the final argument against her American assassination vis-à-vis a death sentence comes from many scholars, including the 2010 book, Final Verdict, written by Miriam Schneir and Walter Schneir:

The evidence against Ethel “was so weak that it seems incredible today that she was even indicted, much less convicted and executed.”

It is clear there are fractures in the American “left,” whatever that is, and to this day, many leftists distance themselves from Ethel Rosenberg, which Ford finds counter to what her book on Political Prisoners is attempting to do:

To me, it is essential to include her as a woman political prisoner, and the only woman executed by the federal government since Mary Surratt was hanged for allegedly being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Rosenberg was a victim of a terrible, extreme, and wholly antifeminist time, which saw women in stereotypical ways, ways which often contradicted each other, making it difficult for women to achieve any acceptable balance. Ethel Rosenberg had been a young activist, a worker and union leader, an aspiring singer/actress, and like a good 5os woman, gave it all up to be a (nervous and anxious) wife and mother. As it turned out, she never came up with the right combination of certified female traits to convince her jailers that she was worthy of any sort of fair treatment.

Reading about Lynne Stewart and Assata Shakur in Ford’s book is both insightful and complimentary, even though their lives are divergent, and the time periods of their incarceration and prosecution are separated by more than four decades.

Ford does both women justice in their own lives plagued with injustice. Shakur still is alive in Cuba; Lynn Stewart died of breast cancer.

Here, in her own words, Shakur:

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

— “I am a 20th Century Escaped Slave”, Counterpunch, December 30, 2014

I first introduced myself to Linda Ford when I read her work at Dissident Voice on Red Fawn Fallis. I wanted to interview her about the stories of women Native Americans prosecuted and imprisoned for their valiant and righteous stand against the energy thugs and US government goons protecting the illegal interests of the big energy purveyors.

Here’s what Ford wrote in her intro paragraph about Red Fawn Fallis:

What happened to Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis is what has happened to many women political dissenters who go up against Big Government/Corporate power.  After she was viciously tackled by several police officers (caught on video), she was brought up on serious charges of harming those who harmed her.  Fallis, after months of intense corporate/military surveillance and handy informant reports, was targeted as a coordinator and a leader, a symbol and an inspiration.  For daring to make a stand for her people against the encroaching poison and destruction brought by the Dakota Access gas pipeline, she became a political prisoner.

— “Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops“, Dissident Voice, July 17, 2018

She was kind enough to submit to some lengthy questions by yours truly after the first part of this discussion/book review went live at Dissident Voice last week (January 13): “In The Eye of the Beholder: USA History of Imprisoning Women Politicals.”

Here is that Q and A:

Paul Haeder: Great book, great histories revealed. What one or two women you discovered in your research have inspired you to continue your own dissident writing? Why?

Linda Ford: There are many, many but I guess I would choose Assata Shakur and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as the biggest inspirations.  Assata Shakur is my cover photo because that image represents a perfectly lovely woman, shackled by her countrymen, and dragged to a murder trial for a murder she never committed, which the authorities knew, all because she dared to be part of a real resistance movement in the 60s.  She had tremendous courage and the courage of having and living consistent principles.  She never gave in.  She fought back against white supremacist oppression—and also against sexism in the Black Panther Party.  Plus she got away!  She was one of the very few to get out and away from very possible execution in jail, helped by her comrades, including sister politicals. Go Assata!  Exiled in Cuba, she’s still considered an enemy of the US.  She’s an inspiration to me to reveal the oppression and racism that is American society.  I framed a quote from her:  “I just have to be myself, stay as strong as I can and do my best.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a political prisoner and proud of it and the reason I wrote the book, curious to see how many other women were political prisoners throughout America’s history.  Turned out there were a lot and it took me about 10 years to find out how many and how that evolved.  What I identified with as far as Flynn was concerned was that she was always, throughout her very long career, for the workers and always fighting against the horrible inequities of capitalism.  Coming from a rural working class background, and having come up against elitism disdain because of it, especially in my academic career, I share her politics.  I also like the way she insisted that socialism, especially Debs-style socialism, was American–and had a proud history in the worker and farmer rebellions starting in the late 19th century, against capitalist American authority, repression and violence.  At her trial in the 50s, she used the arguments of Lincoln to show how steeped Communists were in American political philosophy.  Good luck there, of course.  And I admire her for staying with her socialist convictions, her work for unions and fairness, in spite of unreliable (male) relationships.  She reminds me of what real socialism is and what real feminism is and how what purports to pass for them now—is not it.  She reminds me of how important it is to continue to challenge the pseudo socialists and feminists of today.

PH: Women political prisoners is a fact most Americans have a tough time squaring with their own delusional educations, magical thinking and exceptionalist crap. How do you talk to the average person about what you have found to be a massive, concerted and systematic system of our police state, going on 400 years?

LF: Talking to “average person”?  Well, they think I’m crazy.  That’s why I read CJ Hopkins, John Steppling, Glenn Ford—and Paul Haeder!  I read people who let me know that I’m not crazy—that being what Lynne Stewart called a “left-wing wingnut” is okay.  Especially since the Russia hysteria, and my stubborn refuting of it, people shake their heads and some recommend I read certain articles or attend certain lectures to put me on the right path. Others avoid me. It really is like the 50s!  Some people I talk to about women as political prisoners and what they fought identify with parts of it.  In rural New York you do have strong anti-capitalist/banker sentiment.  And some are willing to believe my huge amount of research probably did uncover some truth.  But the book presents way too much bad news for most people—whether rural small town neighbors or academics or liberal Democrats who don’t want to deal.  In order to accept the entirety of what I’m arguing—that an authoritarian American government with its police, military, and corporate-led structure has systematically worked to destroy political dissent—people have to deny an entire corporate media/education/government authority as they know it.  You would have to understand that NBC’s Lester Holt is lying.  So it’s a tough sell.

PH: There is a deep chill in this country that has solidified in the past 25 years, and especially after US Patriot Act and the Obama Administration’s move to curtail our freedoms, that stems from a country that is so fixed on giving corporations ALL the power to strip our Constitutional Rights as workers. How do we inspire young people to be dissidents and to risk a lifetime of penury and imprisonment (both in the carcel state as well as in their lives as workers, renters, precarious citizens)?

LF: Inspire youth to dissent—there’s another REALLY tough sell.  My last teaching job was at Colgate, so not a lot of worker activism for sure; they weren’t buying all the Native American or female tribulations I told them about for the most part.  They weren’t necessarily buying my relentless socialist feminist history.  But there were some pretty strong feminist students.  Some youth can identify with dissident heroism.  Some can see the reality of the job world, and the evils of war and racism.  I see groups of students who have lived through mass murders at their schools, doing rallies, going to legislatures and Congress.  And I see them turned away for their efforts.  That is a hard but very true lesson of what it might take to change the violence- as- fabric of this culture.  They need to decide to be in it for the long haul.  But it starts with a dose of reality eye-opening.

PH: Many Americans, unfortunately, relish the American police state and the war state, largely because of brainwashing and shifting baseline syndrome. Where do you see some of these heroic women of the past fitting in today in this Homeland Security loving populous?

LF: There’s a good question.  How about all those TV shows with cops, FBI, CIA, homeland goons?!  Wow, talk about brainwashing.  I think Mother Jones, Ma Bloor, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn—would be so appalled today.  These are socialist union people in a world where capitalism has gone completely insane.  All their work, all their suffering, jailing, all for naught.  Workers have less than zero power—so many have had to give up.  And the populace, as noted, brainwashed thoroughly that that’s their fault, that socialism or dissent is evil and un-American.  (Ohhhh—Venezuela!!)  People have been conditioned—and they can also see the evidence—that it’s hopeless to resist.  If you do resist our basic inequality, like Occupy, or like some teacher unions, there is a huge oppressive countervailing apparatus to put you down.  Some female protests continue though.  Anti-imperialist dissenters just keep it going.  As I wrote in Dissident Voice on January 8th, women like former nun Elizabeth McAlister continue to bear witness against nuclear insanity.  She fights even though she doesn’t expect success, with the “absurd conviction” that her protest can make a small difference.

PH: What key points have you learned in your research, interviews, studies and writing?

LF: Well, what I’ve learned has added to my radicalization big time.  I believe that socialism is the only way, that patriarchy and racism remain really really bad today; they’ve taken different forms over time but they are there.  Many American women remain heroes and still fight against what’s wrong in America anyway.  From my interviews I’ve concluded that these women radicals stayed radical.  It hasn’t mattered to them which administration is in power.  It’s depressingly obvious to me how incredibly strong our capitalist culture is now, and the close connection it has with government authoritarianism—fascism.  And how present-day fascism enhances patriarchy, racism and anti-Earth policy.  By the end of the book, I had some rants going against it all—it became a jeremiad for me, a` la Anne Hutchinson.

PH:  Naomi Wolf wrote about fascism under W Bush. In her book, The End of America.

The 10 essential steps the state must implement to take total control are:

  • Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
  • Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
  • Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
  • Set up an internal surveillance system.
  • Harass citizens’ groups
  • Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
  • Target key individuals.
  • Control the press.
  • Treat all political dissidents as traitors.
  • Suspend the rule of law.

Seems like she was 300 years too late. However, this is United States of Amnesia, Groundhog Day, and plagued with consumerist and spectacle loving people. Discuss.

LF: Interesting choice.  Well, one thing I have to confess is that books like this—out in 2007—is about Bush fascism.  I get itchy about books that seem to indicate that such American fascism started with Bush, or grew appreciably more.  And she does seem to say that given time, Democrats can change the laws.  I liked Jules Boykoff’s book, 2006, Suppression of Dissent which talks about how American protest has been dismantled by a media-state partnership, by talking about Black Panthers (60s) and Judi Bari (90s); and also Bill Quigley, writing in 2011 about how police have become SWAT teams which have become military operations against protesters.  And in my book, I obviously argue that American fascism is from the way-back.  It’s like people who argue, “Well, hey Trump,” like he’s the be-all and end-all of bad American government, when mostly Obama did the same but he’s apparently now a god.  Anyway.  Wolf’s 10 steps—My women have seen all of that, and before 2007.  You’ve got internal/external enemies as in communism and terrorism, or wartime enemies leading to imprisonment.  Secret prisons we have as in black site prisons for Siddiqui, or the conditions for the women prisoners of the Lexington High Security Unit being kept quiet—conditions of extreme torture.  Plus most people don’t know we have many many political prisoners in jail, mostly in solitary—like Red Fawn Fallis and Aafia Siddiqui and Marius Mason at Carswell, TX.  The paramilitary was at Standing Rock, but also used against Mother Jones.

And surveillance—oh yeah—Standing Rock, Occupy, and also against the National Woman’s Party in 1917, done by the brand new FBI.  Government has harassed citizen groups from the pro-Palestinian to those equated with Communism in the 50s.  We’ve seen arbitrary detention of suffragists, Occupy protesters and, of course, lawyer Lynne Stewart.  Stewart was also a targeted key individual, as was Ma Bloor in the 40s, Wounded Knee resisters in the 70s and Standing Rock protectors a couple of years ago.  Occupy tried not to say who their leaders were to avoid that.  The press is totally controlled now, except Dissident Voice and a few stalwarts, but a controlled media was used against Shakur and the Panthers, Siddiqui, Judi Bari and (“Red”) Emma Goldman.

Political dissidents have been considered traitors—especially in wartime, WWI being an egregious example, as also the communists, the Ohio 7 and Weatherwomen, even 83-year-old Plowshares nuns. The lack of the rule of law is definitely horrible today—that’s why Lynne Stewart was jailed, because she tried to fight for that principle—no defender rights, especially against “terrorists”, but it was no picnic for Communists or Japanese-American women jailed for their race. Wolf’s is a useful list—and again, government control gets worse and worse and people don’t seem to notice, or want to notice, much less fight it

PH: Now universities, businesses, Homeland Security, police, FBI, banks, state, city, county governments, police forces, private corporations seemingly work together to quell dissent, quell debate, stave off any criticism of the vanguard and elites. Are we in very different times now, and how and why, than when the Weather Underground, BPP, et al were protesting and dissenting in the 1960s-’90s?

LF: Well, things are different now and mostly not better for dissent, but as I’ve argued, it’s never been good.  For instance, in the 1960s to the 90s, the media was not completely controlled, so you could have some truthful coverage, some anti-authority coverage, some sympathy for dissenters which is hard to find now.  It was not Standing Operating Procedure to use an all-out military attack on just about any or all serious protest.  After the Kent State student killings in 1970, as a student, I joined a very big rally which shut down the Northway in Albany because of what the National Guard did.  So a different time in that way—constant protest is needed now over police/military brutality in this country.  And look what happens—Sandra Bland was killed in her cell and Rev. Joy Powell was railroaded on a murder charge after they took on police brutality against Black Americans.  There is no habeas corpus or fair legal treatment; there is ultra surveillance—and there is a very tight and efficient bond between Big Business and global elitist government.  There is brainwashing with an emphasis on sexist, racist and vacant thinking; workers have no power, and no jobs.  So—here’s what’s the same as the 60s—we need a revolution!

In The Eye of the Beholder: USA History of Imprisoning Women Politicals

I was born a protester … My mother had to go to the school a lot and talk to the principal.

— Dorli Rainey (In conversation with author Paul Haeder)

I am being jailed because I have advocated change for equality, justice, and peace. … I stand where thousands of abolitionists, escaped slaves, workers and political activists have stood for demanding justice, for refusing to either quietly bear the biting lash of domination or to stand by silently as others bear the same lash.

— Marilyn Buck, at her 1990 sentencing (epigram in Linda Ford’s book, Women Politicals in America)

Personal Truth

Personal experience is like the yeast in good sour dough bread – lifts truth to the heavens. It wasn’t just a shame to see Dorli Rainey, 80-year-old activist, sprayed with corrosive eye-nose-lung chemicals by the bicycling Seattle Police Department during a peaceful Occupy Seattle rally. That was November 16, 2011.  We were all kettled in and sprayed by the fascist police force, all warm and fuzzy looking in their spandex bike shorts and on black Trek mountain bikes.

Seattle is a libertarian town, a city of racist and Nazi-loving cops and officers that kill Blacks, Latino/a citizens and Native Americans. The images of Dorli with milk splashed on her face being helped out of the crowd that hit the Associated Press headlines didn’t change the patriarchal and thuggish leaders of the Emerald City.

The legacy of Rachel Carson and her work on environmental fascism by the purveyors of the chemical industrial war complex also was deep in my soul after I read Silent Spring at the impressionable age of 15.

Luckily, when I was a first-year high school student, one of my English teachers turned me onto the National Farm Workers Association and Dolores Huerta’s role in leading with Cesar Chavez grape and lettuce boycotts. Ms Courtney was instrumental in inculcating my interest in women heroes in history, highlighting the work of both Mother Jones and Angela Davis.

A legacy of women activists in the streets and my own participation with their causes goes back when I was in my third year of high school, protesting the invaders trying to block people from receiving services from Planned Parenthood in Tucson. I was alongside women who demanded their right to reproductive medicine facing down angry men and women protected by a phalanx of Tucson Police Department goons.

A year later I was covering the police beat for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, a reporting job that put me face to face with the rape culture – most of the stories I covered involved the sexual assaults on and around campus and then throughout the metropolitan area. Four to eighty (4-2-80) was the figure I had emblazoned in my mind – a four year old girl raped by three men in a drug house and an eighty-year-old artist using a walker raped by what the fascist cops dubbed the “Apologetic Rapist.” All ages, all walks of life, all races, that’s what I had come to know as the rape culture engulfing me.

I wrote about judges who sided with the alleged rapists, double raping the sexually assaulted by admonishing her for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for wearing provocative clothes, for playing drinking games with young healthy men – “what did you expect would happen?” I learned early on that my words as a journalist were nothing compared to a baseball to the heads of the perpetrators, both the violent sexual assaulters and the DA’s, and judges, coaches, cops and colonized public.

I was told flat out that I was no longer a protected member of my own gender when I was accused of  “siding with the radical fems castrating men” as I covered stories on Take Back the Night and protests against my campus sweeping under the rug (university politics then and now) of star athletes (male) leveled with rape charges that “mysteriously disappeared.”

I fought tooth and nail around the various newsrooms I worked in, since I was both a hard left socialist and communist in name. I blasted the American Police state (with the full support and logistics of the city government) when they spearheaded and carried out an illegal and unconstitutional military assault against African Americans, while my news reporter brothers and sisters defended the cops and the bureaucrats. I called some of the defendants “the brave women in Philadelphia who had the guts to defend home and family and who witnessed their loved ones firebomb murdered.” I was lambasted by both male and female editors while Debbie Sims and Janine and Janet Africa of the MOVE 9 ended up with 100-year sentences with no chance of parole because a cop was killed by friendly fire. They were political prisoners of a vicious killing machine, propped up by a schizophrenic rule of law pistol in one hand and a machine gun of empty constitutional rights in another hand. The three were locked up in a state correctional (sic) institution starting in 1978, although Debbie was released in June 2018.

Add to the many heroes of the women political prison class others less militant, like Lois Gibbs and other “housewives and mothers” fighting the patriarchal death goo of Love Canal’s Hooker Chemical Co that dumped 21,800 tons of industrial hazardous waste from 1942 to 1953 that ended up being under a Niagara Falls middle class housing development of death. Birth defects, developmental disabilities, and tortuous death.

Free Speech on the Line – Early Beginnings of Fascism in a Stolen Country

The United States has imprisoned women dissidents from the beginning, even as a colony. The intolerance of dissent, of questioning the established order, began then and it has continued.

It is time to recognize, as America slides toward becoming an autocratic fascist state, that we have, and always have had, political prisoners. We also have and always have had, those who have dissented, who have fought injustice, inequality, racism, imperialism and sexism. Many of these dissenters are, and have been, women.

— Linda Ford, Women Politicals

Getting through Linda Ford’s Women Politicals in America: Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart (2018) is both a joy and an unsettling experience. Bearing witness to the incredible depth of courage and conviction of women fighters for justice — and in most cases, these are female soldiers against American empire, fighting military and environmental wars, muckraking against capitalism, battling racism, and charging against sexism, and exposing the cancer of capitalism under a patriarchy, which in the end defines capitalism at its core — forces the reader to DO something with the information and terrible reality of this insane and misogynistic fascism.

An American colony seeded by degenerates, a coven of thieving, fearing, Indian-killing, superstitious and authoritarian whites was bound to start with men trying to whip and stockade their own brand of sadistic order into the society that saw black and white – damned or saved – as the defining philosophy in their Indian hating, woman sniping, slave owning selves!

Burning witches as heretics was the precursor of today, even as I pen this when the spineless Birmingham Civil Rights Institute withdrew its Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award to Angela Davis because of the apartheid forces of Zionism and Israel-too-genocidal/big-to-jail lunatics putting pressure on that civil rights (sic) group to follow lock step the Zionist Lies are Truth shit. Linda Ford talks about Black Panther Angela Davis as one political prisoner of note in her book, and the irony is the Hillary Clinton-supporting Davis, tenured faculty that she is, is back in the white patriarchy gun sights.

This witch-burning continues today, against the accusers of Kavanaugh or Weinstein or any woman going against any number of men in power, from Trump to Epstein, from Charlie Rose to Bill Clinton. Here, from Henry Miller, The Crucible, a telling reminder of what Western White Patriarchy has unleashed in the Americas:  

When it is recalled that until the Christian era the underworld was never regarded as a hostile area, that all gods were useful and essentially friendly to man despite occasional lapses when we see the steady methodical inculcation into humanity of the idea of man’s worthlessness – until redeemed – the necessity of the Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church state.

The McCarthy Era and loyalty oaths go way back. Anne Hutchinson became a major threat to the authority of Governor John Winthrop in the 1630’s. Linda Ford starts her book looking at Anne who was “upholding an ideal of self-government and liberty. Anne Hutchinson may have been acceptable as a female prophet, but she went well beyond acceptable political/social norms and religious creed, when she taught her own beliefs in her own meetings.”

Jailed, punished, banished. Those three words rip through the historical record as Linda Ford advances through the epochs and decades to cogently look at the harsh, tortuous and illegal nature of punishing women dissenters. “Early women Travelling Preachers had been whipped through towns for 80-mile stretches, dragged behind wagons, and left in the snowy countryside to fend for themselves.” Mary Dyer, supporter of Hutchinson, was hanged in Boston in 1660.

Most telling in Ford’s book is how well she personalizes the heroines and draws a strong point of view from each of the women’s “selves” she features, large or small, in this timely and powerful book. Words of the condemned (and many times murdered) prove to be powerful in the hands of this gifted writer, Linda Ford:

You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm. No further do I esteem of any mortal man. I fear none but the great Jehovah which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands . . . . And see!This scripture fulfilled this day in mine eyes, therefore take heed what ye goe about to do unto me …  for I know that or this ye goe about to do to me, God will ruine you and your posterity, and this whole state.

— Anne Hutchinson, to the Massachusetts General Court, 1637

This is in Ford’s prologue, and then we get caught in her riptide of narratives in thirteen more sections, as the headwinds of those early days of dissent reverberate throughout Ford’s writing. She writes about the hard row to hoe being not just a dissenter in this country, but a woman dissenter, and when one is a woman of color dissenter, both barrels of the fascist shotguns come blazing against the respective heroes.

They are heroes, no doubt about it, and this book is timely, one for the ages and one that all young women should read with their sisters, aunts, mothers and, of course, their male advocates.

The author alludes to her previous work, Iron-Jawed Angels,  covering the militant suffragists protesting the patriarchal Wilson government from 1912 to 1919:

I found their jail experience as political prisoners dramatic, romantic, horrifying . . . and kind of quaint. But working on this book, which takes women politicals through the present, through the 1980’s and 1990’s to 2018, suddenly it is not so romantic and quaint. Suddenly it is extreme, scary, appalling and way too real.

What’s also relevant about her work that should be the millionth teachable moment for this consumerist, capitalist, predatory loan-bearing, infantile society is the power of women to not only dissent and protest, but to put their lives on the line in this country for the ideals of social justice of a real kind, where freedom and equality and anti-war/anti-imperialism cut to the heart of their struggle.

The end of slavery, the end of chattel laws, the end of misogyny, the end of land-culture-ecosystems theft, and the end of capitalism are worthy battles this book explores through the lives and voices of political women prisoners.

Ironically, environmental warriors (deemed terrorists by the police state) now represent the backbone of Mother Earth protectors, and women are at the forefront of the battles to protect water, air, land and farming rights. We know about earth protectors in other countries being murdered: Berta Caceres murdered in 2016 after resisting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Honduras. Her daughter, Laura, stated:

We are defenders of life. We are willing to do anything to allow life to continue. We don’t want to lose our lies and lose our mamas and families. But we assume that risk. If they can murder someone with high recognition like me mother Berta, then they can murder anyone.

Ford takes us to Indian country from the beginning of the country’s concerted genocide and overt hatred of both men and women of every tribe, up to the current struggles, to include the Standing Rock campaign, and the horrific, anti-democratic and abusive FBI and police protection of the millionaires and billionaires, in the form of Dakota Access Pipeline Company: A pro-business/big energy thuggery “forcing a pipeline carrying explosive Bakken crude oil through Native-American lands without tribal consultation or consent. There have been no environmental reviews, and it’s clear to dissidents that there is no respect for rights of tribal governments or tribal cultural resources and vital natural resources,” Ford writes.

Ford traverses much spiritual, legal, historical and narrative territory in her chapters, from Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons (1870-1920), to Lucy Burns and her militant suffragist stance; to the anti-war/anti-capitalistic imperialism of Emma Goldman, to the fascism of Japanese internment through a woman hero, Mitsuye Endo; into the communist struggle with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Ethel Rosenburg and deeply into Assanta Shakur’s struggles and other warrior women of the anti-white supremacy/black liberation movement versus the FBI’s COINTELPRO; into the struggle of Mary Brave Bird and Alejandrina Torres against US colonialism; into the period of 1960-1990 with Feminist Barbara Demin and anti-nuclear activist Anne Montgomery; into the armed struggle by “defiant revolutionaries” Laura Whitehorn and Susan Rosenberg; into 1990 to the present with the disappearance, torture and destruction of Aafia Siddiqui, anti-imperialist dissenters, Muslim women and whistleblowers; into the current police state cracking down on women anti-capitalist/racist dissenters and on Human Rights Lawyer Lynne  Stewart; through the 1990s to the current state of the amped up police state with the crackdown on the Black and Occupy Movements.

The struggle and defiance and the powerful resistance of women have gone unreported, or misreported, in this United States of Amnesia as Gore Vidal pegged this country; and as Ford states in her opening, her male colleague was completely unaware of most of the history of deeply committed women, who de facto become political prisoners because of their social and environmental justice bulwark/defense and defiance against the bulwark of Wall Street, bankers, military industrial complex and robber barons — pre-industrial moneyed thugs, through to the industrial revolution war mongers, into the post industrialization billionaire monopolies and anti-worker massive corporations, now, currently, into the surveillance and digital transnational banking stage of late stage capitalism of the Too Big to Fail and Davos kind of money grubbers/controllers.

The stories of the people’s history and the voices of the indigenous people’s history of the United States as clearly written by Howard Zinn and Rozanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Loaded: A Disarming History; Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States) are precursors to this work by Ford, one that is detailed, full of the staff of life, as women throughout the ages of this country’s history are strip- searched, raped, medically tortured, beaten and disappeared for their clarion calls to stop the violence and oppression and ecocide of capitalism USA style. We are exposed to the blatant terroristic tactics of the police state, from redneck bruisers in county sheriff departments all the way up to states’ attorneys general and the country’s AG and all the way up to presidents.

In many of the hero cases Ford lays out, with all the prisoners exposed through her book’s raison d’etre of cataloging the lives of true warriors and politically incarcerated or lynched, we see a line between pacifism of Catholic nuns shackling themselves to the gates of Air Force compounds housing thermal nuclear weapons of mass destruction, to the outright anarchy of the fist and pipe bomb, as seen in the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army, to name just a few in the book where women were not only leaders, but fighting inside the radical groups to stop the sexism that was both rampant and contradictory to true socialism and equality of the working class, all classes.

It’s clear that the women of color have had two or three major impediments put in front of them as revolutionaries and dissidents:

Linda discusses much in her life and writes much about Sioux water protector, Red Fawn Fallis, who is facing 20 years to life for a federal offense of “possessing a weapon.” All trumped up, all out of sync with reality, all part of a system that oppresses women dissidents, women political prisoners. Police are brownshirts, DA’s are Gestapo, judges are SS. The entire white male class is rotten to the core, but when they have positions of power and are the jury, judge and executioner, and when they not only defend extrajudicial killings but encourage them, as their paymasters in the elite class not only demand this force of anti-democratic SOP, but pay for the killings, THEN why the hell do we take it?

In this screwed up Hollywood spectacle society, passivity, compliance and fear rule, when we should be angry daily, mounting daily a contempt of and disregard for the bosses, the Little and Big Eichmann’s.

Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world. Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich. — Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The women political prisoners of the past would be turning in their graves to see how compliant and infected with celebrity fawning disease and rich man/woman coveting syndrome this society has been buried under. But alas, the racism of this society far exceeds the regular patriarchy the society has and continues to fall under like an avalanche of new and more draconian/high tech oppressions.

Environmental racism is twofold for women dissenters. First, the dominant white/capitalist power structure has never had a problem poisoning the lands and neighborhoods of black and brown people, assigning them little worth or consideration when it comes to their healthy existence. Second, any protest coming from nonwhite activists has little chance of success, and any excess force used against such protest will bring few consequences. So, Native-American women who stand as water protectors for their threatened lands, and African-American women who dare to confront state/corporate pollution of their cities face strong reprisals from the police state.

— Linda Ford, Chapter Eleven, Police State I.

In the second part of this analysis, we will drill down on Ford’s forms of agitation women have engaged in and for which they have been treated as political prisoners, though the society in general doesn’t recognize our fascism, doesn’t acknowledge our police state underpinning and fails to collectively understand how the power of the government wedded to the corporation will stop dissent. I will also talk with Linda concerning a few key points that brought her to write the book and her assessment of the world now, which is becoming supercharged and on steroids, as this country – and the world – spirals down the drain of fascistic lock step compliant acceptance.

Here, early on in her book, Linda lays out the types of protests and dissent which have been embraced by “women agitators who have become political prisoners.”

  1. Anti-capitalist – This would include women labor organizers. It encompasses socialists and anarchists, who have long worked against the profit-based capitalist/government system, working to improve the lot and the rights of workers, and so have frequently run afoul of the authorities accordingly.
  2. Antipatriarchal – Feminist activist, primarily in the early and late 20th Century, have used protests and civil disobedience in their critique of a male-dominated, militaristic society which has sometimes meant going up against police and government officials – and jail time.
  3. Anti-imperialist and authoritarian/anti-war – Women have long worked as pacifist and anti-war protesters. Caught up in war hysteria, they have historically been jailed for their efforts, whether World War I, the Vietnam War or the invasion of Iraq. Sometimes they have been victims of political decisions that labeled them enemies for their relation to external foes, as with Japanese- American or Muslim-American women. They have fought against US wars and the authoritarian nature of American government foreign policy, and also against imperialism/authoritarianism in its domestic policy, particularly toward African-Americans, but also against Native-Americans, and more broadly, to protest the abuse of the poor by elites.
  4. Anti-white supremacy — Women who have been civil rights activists, whether anti-lynching/white violence, Martin Luther King marchers, or Black Panthers, have been punished for resisting racism which has persisted in this society since its inception. The recent protests against anti-black police brutality have resulted in very harsh reprisals. Women have also paid dearly for supporting the American Indian movement, and the Puerto Rican independence movement. And now women who are Muslim activists or defenders, or even in some cases because they are Muslim, in a time of an amorphous war on terror, have also been imprisoned by the American government.  

These categories are touchstones for illustrating the history of dissent that has created this political class of heroines, Women Politicals. Today, however, in a hyper-distracted society and one dovetailed to many superficial things created by hyper-consumerism, with the white dominant Western Civilization normalizing war, destruction and theft, I would be hard pressed to find that many Americans willing to engage in self-reflection and self-condemnation through the very catharsis of reading Linda’s book. Causes they can relate to? Seeing these women dissenters as both leaders of thought and necessary people of liberation in democracy?

I am hopeful I will do justice to the book’s core humanness and the principal architectonics of Ford’s investigation of a hidden and covered up history.

Re-enchanting Socialism: How Not To Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

Summary of Part I

In part I of this article Facing the Music I began by arguing that religion very skillfully uses propaganda to convince people they should behave in a docile way relative to elites. It uses architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, visual symbols and techniques for altering states of consciousness as a means for introducing and sustaining this docility. Though nationalism and sports have different ends than religion, surprisingly the techniques used to induce loyalty are very similar. Nationalism and sports have been built on a religious foundation. The work of Anthony D. Smith is devoted to showing how nationalism has used religious techniques to start and sustain itself. Also, George Mosse’s book Nationalization of the Masses discusses similar themes.

In the case of sports, whether it is through the personal experience of participating in a team sport or following a professional team as a fan, these games often create “flashbulb memories” that are remembered, retold and spread to friends, acquaintances and workmates.

My claim in Part I was that:

  • The socialist movement has failed miserably to understand how religion, nationalism and sports inspire and sustain the interest of the Yankee population over months and years.
  • But even worse, it makes little attempt to use the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports to draw people to it.

In part, the failure of socialists to understand what religion, sports and nationalism give people has to do with whether the socialists are from Protestant or Catholic countries. Historically, Protestants condemned all image-making, singing, dancing and sensual gratification as degenerate Catholicism. Whether they are aware of it or not, I think socialists who live in Protestant countries have unconsciously internalized Protestant cynicism about pageantry and ritual. They think it is nothing but smoke and mirrors since it creates illusions.

On the other hand, Catholicism has been the mothership from which most of the religious techniques are derived. This impacts how people in Catholic countries relate to nationalism and sports in their countries. Furthermore, in Catholic countries, even socialists who are anti-clerical atheists have some appreciation of collective theatricality as being important to socialist gatherings. This can be seen in Spain or Italy on May Day.

I The Means By Which to Enchant Socialism

The importance of remembering the big picture

Religion at its very best invites people to remember the big picture. On a micro level that means that amidst the petty aggravations of the week-day world, there is Sunday, a time for reflection. What is the reflection designed to do? To answer three questions:

  1. What are we?
  2. Where have we been?
  3. Where are we going?

These questions are designed to encourage people to remember that:

  1. The whole (God) is greater than the sum of the parts (human individuals).
  2. The whole is in all the parts.

Optimally, at a micro level, on Sunday, religion is designed to guide people as we descend into the detail of another work-week. In temperate climates in the West, at a macro level, we have religious holidays throughout the year (rather than the week) which are ultimately grounded in the four seasons.

If as socialists, we want people to stay with us despite all distractions of capitalist commodities, despite all the distortions or marginalization of our work, despite the repression we have to deal with, doesn’t it make sense that we try to rejuvenate socialists? We remind them by answering the big questions in our own way:

  1. What are we? Socio-historical beings who shape and control our destiny for better or for worse.
  2. Where have we been? We are a young movement which has many proud moments – the French revolution, the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Revolution, to name a few.
  3. Where are we going? We are moving in a direction of communism where all resources are collectively owned.

Isn’t it worth reminding people of these questions and answers, if not weekly, at least seasonally? Why can’t socialists have quarterly seasonal celebrations just the way religion has various Catholic, Jewish or Muslim holy days?

Celebrating revolutionary holidays and socialist heroes

On average, there might be ten holy days per year for Catholics. Nationalism, at least in Yankeedom, has close to the same. Sports has opening day, the All-Star game and the World Series as temporal markers. Does socialism have any “holy days?” We have May Day. But we have many more days than that if we take the time to collect and display them. Recently we bought a 2019 calendar of radical labor history which is filled with labor strikes and revolutionary events every month throughout the year. Conservatively speaking, there are at least five major radical strikes and revolutionary dates per month. Why don’t socialists commit to a project of celebrating clusters of these holidays four times a year? Why aren’t these days celebrated the way May Day is celebrated?

What about socialist heroes and heroines? Baseball has Cooperstown. Musically, we have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Why is there no socialist Cooperstown Hall of Fame? Do we have no socialist heroines or heroes to put into this Hall of Fame? Just in Yankeedom alone, off the top of my head I can name a few – Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Kate Richards O’Hare, Carlo Tresca, Mother Jones, Sacco and Vanzetti. Why hasn’t the socialist movement seen fit to celebrate their birthdays the way religion celebrates its saints days and nationalism has its presidents days? During the French Revolution, busts of Rousseau and Voltaire were paraded through the streets of Paris. Why then can’t we celebrate regularly and seasonally the birthdays of our heroes and heroines?

But isn’t this too costly?

One reasonable objection is the time and the cost of doing this. A sympathetic skeptic might say “You are not considering that religious institutions, political organizations and the owners of football teams are extremely wealthy. They have the money to pay people to work full time to create productions for these holy days and patron saints. Socialists do not have this kind of money.”

This is a good point. We know that it takes a great deal of effort to put on, say, a socialist conference on a national level. The cost of roundtrip plane fare alone makes this difficult. But is the same thing true at a local level? Celebrating socialist heroes and special days can be done locally in major cities. The important thing is to celebrate them all at the same time on a given day so that people living in big cities can see and share their presence in other cities.

We don’t have time

Another objection a socialist might make is to say, “look, it is enough to get people together to coordinate their efforts around a campaign like the fight for $15 dollars an hour” or a 35-hour workweek. We can’t afford to add to that these celebrations.

This way of looking at things separates content and form. It says specific campaigns (the content) and the celebrations (the form) are separate processes. But do they have to be? Whether or not people are pressed for time and money, the content and form should be part of the same process. It is true that at socialist conferences there is time for recreation, but recreation is not ritual.

If we are to make room for reenchanting rituals that means there is less time to discuss specific socialist current events. I would argue that it is worth it. We must consolidate and support other socialists through renewal and replenishment techniques. In fact, the content of various campaigns should be organized so that they are a sub categorical expression of the historical celebration of revolutionary memories and the celebrations of socialist heroes. I’ll discuss this more later in this article.

Singing and dancing

Of course, the mighty Internationale heads any list of music. Any of you who have seen the movie Reds will remember the scene of Jack Reed talking to Russian workers as the Internationale swelled in the background and the red flags flew. However, we have much more than this song. Some of the best radical songs in the world came out of the Industrial Workers of the World songbook. Why aren’t these songs sung on a regular basis throughout the year by socialists, not just Wobblies? Do socialists dance? Well, of course we do, but not as much as we could. As Red Emma Goldman once said “If I can’t dance to it, its not my revolution”

Rites of passage

The socialist and communist movements used to have youth groups which initiated them into socialism. People of different ages were given very specific tasks to do relative to up-coming campaigns. There were socialist children’s magazines and books. In his book Ritual, Politics and Power, David Kertzer points out that the communist party in Italy once competed with the Catholic Church over the right to baptize. They did something similar at funerals, according to Kertzer:

“Comrades carry bright red flags, baring the name of the deceased’s party section as well as those of neighboring sections…A local party official delivers the eulogy which, rather than extolling the deceased Christian virtues, pays tribute to his or her dedication to the Communist cause.” (Ritual, Politics and Power, 118)

Socialists badly need to get re-involved in rites of passage once again: socialist births and baptism, coming of age rituals, socialist marriages and socialist deaths. We can’t cede this to religious traditions.

Making pilgrimages

In San Francisco, once a year in July there is something called “Laborfest”. This is a month-long series of movies, talks, panels and plays held at various locations around the city. A comrade of mine would give a walking tour of downtown Oakland and revisit some of the various scenes of the General Strike in San Francisco. Between 50 and 100 people attend this walk every year. Most major cities in the United States have their version of special places connected to labor strikes. Why aren’t they celebrated? There could be Laborfests in every major city in Yankeedom.

Sacred sites and new calendars

In her book Romance of the Communist Party, Vivian Gornick reports that one of her interviewees told her of a cooperative housing development called United Workers Coop Association consisting of two five-story buildings, each a block square. There were club rooms, meeting halls, a library, nursery schools, a community center, a print shop and an auditorium. People read, talked, held meetings, danced and flirted. It was a little city within a city. Janet Biehl, Murray Bookchin’s biographer, tells a story of how these places were a substitute home away from home for Murray. The buildings stayed open to the wee small hours of the morning. Why can’t we have these kinds of sacred sites again?

During and after the French Revolution, the leaders created a revolutionary calendar to symbolize the breaking with the old world. Capitalism is failing badly. Don’t we need to get busy with drafts of a new world socialist calendar?

We can’t afford to own these buildings

One objection to this “sacred site” renewal might he the cost of owning, let alone renting a building in a downtown metropolitan area. It is true that the cost of renting or owning city buildings is much higher than fifty or seventy years ago before the gentrification of cities drove out working-class people to the periphery. Still, there are liberal fellow travelers or even upper middle-class socialists who might be in a position to buy buildings through a joint pooling of funds. If these socialists withdrew their money from “socially responsible investments” for the project of building at least semi-permanent socialist centers, it would be a huge advance. With the newfound sympathy and support for socialism in the US among people under 30, those upper middle-class socialists could really make a difference by investing their money or their inheritance in a sacred home for socialists. Is that too far-fetched? I hope not. It is hard to sustain a movement when you don’t have a home you can call your own.

Bringing it on home

To summarize, what we need is designated times of the year, perhaps every season, in which socialists in every major city come together, sing and dance across generations, celebrating “holy days”, the birthdays of the great socialists. At the same gatherings, there is time allotted to celebrate rites of passage and make pilgrimages to the scenes of the great labor struggles in that city.

II Fertile Ground: The Unexplored Relationship Between Materialists and Pagans

Cranky materialists, dry as sawdust

A number of years ago I joined the Humanist community of San Jose. This was an organization for people who hated religion and were either agnostics or atheists and met every Sunday morning for a lecture, discussion and lunch. They were classical left-wing Enlightenment people: pro-science and pro-technology. They looked at religion as deception by religious authorities, errors in human cognition and ignorance or emotional insecurity of the population. For Humanists, as for the Protestants, all music, dance, ritual and imagery would lead you down the road to religious enslavement. It was difficult to have any kind of ceremony – lighting a candle or burning incense – that was not dismissed as superstition.

Unfortunately, many Marxists are cranky materialists as well. While denouncing all the religious holidays, they find themselves isolated and lonely around Christmas time. They see through the commercial side of Christmas, they might not even like Christ, but they haven’t built the institutions to replace it. The winter solstice has meaning for human beings and we must give it up. Marxists need neo-paganism, only they don’t know it.

While neo-paganism is a diverse movement, it is safe to say that what it shares with materialists includes:

  • A belief that the material world and matter is good, rather than an illusion or a reform school for sinners;
  • An appreciation of this life, rather than an afterlife;
  • A sense that nature is self-regulating and not in need of divine intervention; and,
  • A belief that nature and society are evolving as opposed to being created once and for all.

What pagans have that most materialist Marxists, at least the Protestant ones, lack is a sense that ritual, singing, dancing rites of passage and all the rest are not superstitious illusions but important ingredients in what makes us human.

Greek mythology in the service of re-enchanting socialism

In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses all had strengths and weaknesses. In addition, they were in charge of a specific domain of human life. So, for example, Aphrodite was the goddess to go to in matters of love. Hermes was the god of travel and he would be consulted before taking a dangerous journey. If a socialist group wanted to get behind a campaign around building mass transit or lowering the cost of public transportation, if they were operating within the Greek mythology, there would be a celebration or a ritual around the god Hermes. All the major areas of human life were covered by the various gods or goddesses: agriculture, industry, family life, friendships, the arts, sciences, physical health, everything. Pagans would have rituals before and after these activities.

Typical areas socialists are interested in are democracy in the work place, harnessing energy, technological innovation, transportation, city life, food production, housing, water, education, circulation of products (money, wages, financial planning), child care, health care and mental health. Every one of these areas can easily be connected to the 10 or 12 gods and goddesses that exist in Greece or in other parts of the world. In the case of May Day, there is a clear relationship with the pagan spring festival and International Workers Day. We can easily connect up the other areas of socialists’ interests to the gods and goddesses.

The same thing could be done with socialist heroes. The characteristics of socialist heroines and heroes can be mapped onto the gods and goddesses of Greece. The value of using an already built-up pagan system is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I am intentionally drawing on Greek mythology because many socialists may object to using any of the symbols and artifacts of Catholicism. Pagan traditions are full of rich history and they can be easily connected to the wiccan feminism that began in the early 1970’s. Relatively speaking, socialism is a very young movement, not even 200 years old. We should take an existing system which has been in place for thousands of years and use it as our skeleton.

I have no doubt many pagan socialists like Starhawk have already stepped forward to connect political activity with pagan rituals. There are many more processes to be connected and many more people are needed. Any socialists who have an appreciation for theatre, interior design and social psychology should step forward. Socialists rightly have no need of God, but we do need the gods and goddesses. More earth, less air; more water, less air; more fire, less air.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Singing The Internationale

Capitalist Society Under the One Party of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.

— Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism

While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid.

— South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008

That puking up barbarism phenomena in this enclave of genocide and perpetual war, resource theft and global toxification come in a coat of many colors. In the simplest terms I see it daily in my job as underpaid and spat upon social worker jiggering with the penury, punishment and putrefying systems of bureaucratic hell and legal rape exemplified in the schizophrenic American version of capitalism.

In no way am I ever NOT entertained by the magical thinking and retrograde beliefs of those I serve – homeless veterans who in some cases decry welfare for the masses while picking up their welfare checks and benefits from the Veterans Administration. On top of that, they feel entitled because they ended up in the economic draft of the US Military Industrial Complex. These are not the ones who saw “battle” overseas, but the ones who were snookered into thinking a tour here or there, in a non-combatant role would get them somewhere in life.

Broken people come to the military, and the military breaks them again, and, the gift that keeps on giving are the systems of oppression and criminalization of living life in Trump’s “MAGA, MAGA über alles, über alles in der Welt.”

Reality is that this thing called America, united snakes one in all, was running on that manifest destruction at the moment those Puritanical misanthropes ended up on the east coast with their fears, dark perversions, warped criminal religiosity and white DNA primed for a taking, eminent domain and killings far and wide.

On the one hand, my clients with mental strains beyond repair and hobbled with a truck-load of PTSD, and another container ship full of physical ailments believe their “service” was honorable, somehow divorced from the huge welfare trough that is the military-private contractor complex, and more so, suspended from the reality that their own kind — fellow soldiers ranging from the likes of a Private Gomer Pyle to Gen Schwarzkopf — screwed them in every which way possible inside the human frame of exploitation and downright pathological assault on every front.

Screwed them with shitty equipment, shittier intel, rampant rotten orders, and a million environmental assaults that have rendered millions of men and women who individually barely served a few years into the walking-wheelchaired-vegetative state wounded.

There have been a million battles and skirmishes that were set up as suicide assaults.

Then on the other hand, some of the clients who are self-declared  deplorables — who believe in Trump as something more than a rotten, lying, wimp of a man with his self-anointed Six Star General’s Bully Epaulets and Bone Spurs Yellow Streak Academy Jumpsuit — are not limited to a bunch of uneducated cretins, but also those who thought time served would be a touchstone in their lives.

Constantly, I have to wrestle with my clients’ reprobate ideas that anything about the government sucks and everything about private capital shines. It’s a reverse ideology of anti-Americanism: against teachers, against librarians, against the postman, against scientists and doctors and others from the so-called Great American Democracy as products of state schools, state governments, municipalities, and the like. They’ll root for these pathetic sports teams, both college and the pros, rendering stupid their concept of where those facilities are and where the billionaire owners get their sports gladiators.

Delusional, really, as my clients shudder with spiritual epiphany at those millionaire preachers like the Billy-Frank Graham Klan and hyper-millionaires running the retail show and all those attendant systems of destruction in the Big Pharma-Big Prison-Big Energy-Big Mining-Big Ag-Big Construction Complex they so often defend as the Defenders of Democracy in Private enterprise.

Here’s a common link to the duality of systems of oppression, that structural violence that leads communities and entire classes and races of people into more and more dungeons of despair and destruction:

One fellow, 62, homeless because the apartment management tossed him out as the maintenance man, with the free apartment in the mix. Out of a job and no longer making the dough to pay rent, he was forced to squat for a while before the iron jaws of the sheriff department came in and served him eviction papers.

Lapsed car insurance, lapsed driver’s license, and, alas, a speeding ticket in a school zone. And, now, 8 years later after eight years on the road and homeless, this little shithole town of King City has him in their vise for $1700. The original ticket was $700 with the add on’s of court fees, administrative costs and other highway robbery checks and balances. So, this fellow is in need of a driver’s license, but these cities have been colonized by those PRIVATIZERS – in this case some multi-millionaire outfit out of Gig Harbor, Washington, which takes on the collections. Imagine, we want to set up a payment plan, even though this fine has passed the statute of limitations. But the City of King City, OR, puts a hold on releasing licenses until every red-blooded Yankee cent is paid off.

We can only imagine what the cut is for this Little Eichmann outfit collecting fines from hundreds of cities, maybe thousands. The interest of a thousand bucks might be waived, but still, the $700 is probably only pennies on the dollar for the city as the Collection Agency (AKA mob in MBA clothing) racks up the largess of the original out of wack fine as profit running their boiler rooms of collection workers.

Punishment, boomerang retribution. Name one place and one job where a personal vehicle can easily be pushed aside as part of the work routine, discounted as a necessity of getting to and from work, or the fact that blue collar work never requires a driver’s license for using company vehicles. Right! A driver’s license is a right, not a privilege, in this bunkered society!

The great American rah-rah, fighting for one’s country, fighting for these evil punks like a Trump, just doesn’t cut it when the ex-soldiers start adding up the contradictions and outright lies of the elite class, which a Trump and his cronies signify and exemplify.

The core of these systems of pain and recurring punishment generates hate, fear, resentment, anger and violence – of the mind, violence of the soul and possible violence exacted on the innocents and not so innocents around them.

These characters I work with mostly never look at the concurrency of pathological serial shooters and these racist, homophobic anti-tolerance military experience, or how these synagogue attackers were subliminally and overtly recruited into the Armed Services with the true blue Yankee Doodle Dandy and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again glee perpetrated again by the neo-fascist army of Republicans and Trump Lagoon Monsters, all of which the Democrats simultaneously hide from and deal with.

Colonized With Hive and Mob Mentalities Simultaneously

I’ve signed permission passes (we force adults to sign and ask for permission to leave a homeless facility!) for overnight stays away from the shelter where I work for people who have brokered this idea of “anomie” into their very existence, a lack of meaningful and structuralized social life in return for Black Friday, the height of meaningless self-gratification at the expense of not only the planet but the faceless and nameless people charged with running this engine of Retailapithecus restlessness. As Émile Durkheim the sociologist stated, we are a modern culture where the individual follows an increasingly “restless movement, a planless self-development, an aim of living which has no criterion of value and in which happiness lies always in the future, and never in the present achievement.”

More and more of the clients I work with have as their end goal individualized happiness, their 40 acres and a mule dream, for me myself and I. They come from a hive of military brainwashing and propaganda, one where leaders are followed and hated at the same time, one where the broken system of war, empire, manifest destiny, nation invasions and nation building (sic) is their ultimate plan of self-gratification – I joined to protect the flag, our way of life and to protect our borders from savages and invaders. Except the borders, as anyone knowing the history of these here United Snakes of America, is all about Norte Americanos encroaching and breaking the borders of others.

As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz states in the Boston Review:

Even during the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies continued to war against the nations of the Diné and Apache, the Cheyenne and the Dakota, inflicting hideous massacres upon civilians and forcing their relocations. Yet when considering the history of U.S. imperialism and militarism, few historians trace their genesis to this period of internal empire-building. They should. The origin of the United States in settler colonialism—as an empire born from the violent acquisition of indigenous lands and the ruthless devaluation of indigenous lives—lends the country unique characteristics that matter when considering questions of how to unhitch its future from its violent DNA.

So, when I speak to the veterans and their families I work with on this matter of America’s soul wrapped in the banner of decimating other peoples who were here first, there is bloviating, knee-jerk proclamations that the victors enjoy the spoils, and that there is a god-given right to the American (white) ideal of moving the world toward His image.

This calculus I deploy for the homeless, those who have been screwed-blued-and-tattooed by the systems of oppression, by those debt collectors, those police and sheriff departments, by the judges and lawyers, top and bottom feeders all: I remind them that the so-called victors in their America are the One percent, including cretins from Hollywood, all the way to former generals/lobbyists/ contractors, and to include their sacred religious snake oil men like Graham. I remind them the wars they maybe have participated in were wars of oppression and wars of profits, completely tied to the ideals of screwing and stealing from your neighbor. That karmic doozy comes boomeranging back in the form of the victors on Wall Street, in the Boardrooms, and at the corporate tables of the Military-Pharma-Med-Prison-Education-Real Estate-Chemical-IT-Retail Complex. These too are the American ideals they supposedly signed up to protect with their lives in someone else’s country.

Again, what are we fighting for, sir?

This country’s leaders have always been Bill-Barak-Donald; Bezos-Adelson-Walton; CNN-FOX-Breitbart. “Money talks and money rules” is not some new Mar-a-Lago printed saying on Trump Condoms! As I continually told my 32-year military veteran father, his “work” in Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, et al was work for-by-and-because of the elites, the ones making two-bit Tin Soldiers jump through burning buildings and forced marches up another Pork Chop-Hamburger-Gizzard Hill. Marching orders by these bastions of money power and debt dread have been the history of these Un-united States.

Of course, the soldiers who are of color rarely jump on this Sherman Tank towed “bandwagon,” but to be sure, we talk about their own dire circumstances enveloped in the same sort of so-called “The Victors Enjoying the Spoils” mentality. The spoils include a complete but suppressed history of theft, lynchings, treaty breaking, incarcerations, land despoilments, eminent domain.

Black men and women fighting against black men and women from their mothership — Africa. AFRICOM. Imagine, a Black Alliance for Peace, and a movement to stop US military involvement in Africa, and again these disruptions of the narrative of white supremacy get flummoxed, and the irony of brown and black and red soldiers fighting for what, who knows, but definitely part of the system of oppression of their own people.

So, again, I go for the jugular, the fact that my old man and I argued much about the military’s legitimacy while on the same hand he agreed in my pursuit of journalism, writing, teaching, and education:

Not only does there need to be a mass movement in the U.S. to shut down AFRICOM, this mass movement needs to become inseparably bound with the movement that has swept this country to end murderous police brutality against Black and Brown people. The whole world must begin to see AFRICOM and the militarization of police departments as counterparts.

 Netfa Freeman, of Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Freeman represents PACA, a BAP member organization, on BAP’s Coordinating Committee.

It cost $267 million to fund AFRICOM in 2018. Probably a lot more in dark money and secret budgets; let alone the billions coming from the Economic Hit Men:

That money is stolen from Africans/Black people in the U.S. to terrorize and steal resources from our sisters and brothers on the African continent. Instead, that money should be put toward meeting our human needs in the U.S. and toward reparations for people in every African nation affected by U.S. imperialism.

—  Vanessa Beck, BAP research team lead and Coordinating Committee member.

So, them’s fighting words, as the white damaged veterans reach for words, epithets, rejoinders, and false dichotomies in the form of, Might Makes Right. There is a greater good in what us mere mortals see. Money Talks, of course, as many of them believe this irreligious, woman thumper, chubby bully, inconceivably smut-riddled man is THEIR commander in chief.

This ground truthing isn’t a hot commodity on the lefty or progressive or socialist web sites, for sure, where their own respective tidy thinking is vaunted over messy shit coming from the mouths of people scratching for a living doing this dirty work of counseling assuredly lost, wounded, broken and in many cases, mean as cuss souls.

That 35,000-foot Noam Chomsky view is heralded over the gutter view, and it’s no deep search for meaning to understand the hive and the mob mentality colonizing those Democratic Socialists of America folk, those pro-Israel-at-any-cost Bernie folk, those Pried from My Cold Dead Hand NRA folk. You got the Godfather Cuomo in Albany getting some robed lion of repression judge to legally change his name to Mario Amazon Direct Cuomo, with all the dildos and vibrators free for life!

Trump or Biden, Adelson or Soros, Chris Wallace or Rachel Maddow, Daryl Hannah or Caitlyn Jenner. Charmin or Cottenelle. Coke or Pepsi. Prozac or Zoloft. Raytheon or Northrup Grumman. Mad dog Mattis or Old Blood and Guts Patton. Steelers or Florida State. A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody.

The trenches are rarely delineated or written about, just these huge “investigative research white papers” on the power of the elite to powerfully corrupt all systems that were supposed to be set up to help-aid-assist-protect-empower-develop we the people’s communities. However, there are no more communities, just chaos (controlled chaos), disruptive technologies-economies-structural systems of repressions. Just Madison Avenue, Just Manufactured Narratives, Just Fallen Anti-Heroes, Just Entertainment.

Feeding the dopamine hits as the marketers of disaster-demented-demolition capitalism control all markets, all psychologies, all media, all armies.

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

— Eric Fromm, The Sane Society

The Jeff Sessions Matter

(This is intended as a study-aid to anyone trying to make sense out of the unfolding scandal. I proceed from the premise that the study of history is fundamentally the study of causal relationships over time. What leads to what? Scrolling up and down this timeline, expanding it, clarifying, repeating until it’s memorized, maybe we can get some small insights into the reasons for the imminent constitutional crisis.)

Note 1: The Attorney-General of the United States is the chief legal advisor of the U.S. government. Since 1789 this officer’s duties have been defined as “to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments.” Especially since the formation of the Justice Department in 1870 the functions of this official resemble those of Ministers of Justice elsewhere in the world. The Justice Department ranks with State, Defense and Treasury as among the four top power-centers in the regime.

Note 2: Past Attorney-Generals have included John Mitchell of Watergate fame (who served 19 months in federal prison for covering up for Nixon); and Elliott Richardson, who resigned rather than heed Nixon’s demand that he fire special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox. They have included Robert Kennedy, Ramsey Clark, Robert Bork, Edwin Meese, Janet Reno, Eric Holder, John Ashcroft–a mixed bag of liberal opportunists, slowly evolving progressives, total reactionaries, weird religious fanatics.

That someone like Matt Whitaker, who three years ago was threatening a victim ripped off by his bogus firm with “criminal consequences”–positively boasting of his own status as “a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa,” adding: “and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board” should not shock those of us familiar with history. (But I fear we are a small minority.)

It should surely not shock anyone who remains unshocked by Trump’s pussy-grabbing talk, his support for Roy Moore, the Kavenaugh confirmation, his apparent satisfaction with Prince MbS’s explanation for the Khashoggi murder, etc., that he would appoint (as “a great guy”) this person he says he doesn’t really know except by reputation as Minister of Justice of this benighted country.

Note 3: Understanding the power and significance of the position, and the fact that it is sometimes held by a total thug who manipulates and avoids the law at will as their power allows, we should encourage anyone entangled in the legal system in the U.S. to soberly consider the possibility that the whole damned thing is presently under constitutionally illegitimate leadership. May doubt and disillusionment reign. They make sense.

Timeline

2015

June 16, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for president.

August: Matthew Whitaker, on behalf of World Patent Marketing, in an email threatens a bilked customer asking for refund: “I am a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and I also serve on World Patent Marketing’s Advisory Board. Your emails and message from today seem to be an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion. You also mentioned filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and to smear World Patent Marketing’s reputation online. I am assuming you understand that there could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you if that is in fact what you and your ‘group’ are doing.”

(In May 2018 a federal judge dissolves World Patent Marketing and fines it $26 million for fraud.)

2016

Feb. 18, 2016: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) surprises the political world by becoming the first senator to endorse Trump for president.

March: Sessions attends campaign meeting with Trump in which aide George Papadopoulos mentions a Russian connection that could produce campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. His reaction unclear.

July: Campaign staffer Carter Page tells Sessions about his Russian business and other ties later revealed by the Mueller investigation and press reports.

Oct. 7: CIA director James Clapper accuses Russia of election interference.

Nov. 8: Trump unexpectedly elected president.

Nov. 18: newly-elected president Trump announces pick of Sessions as his attorney-general.

2017

Jan. 6, 2017: U.S. intelligence community releases report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” asserts with high confidence that Russia attempted to interfere in U.S. elections.

Jan. 10: Sessions under questioning in Congress is asked if Trump campaign had any Russian contacts; says he was unaware of any.

Feb. 8: Congress confirms Sessions as Attorney-General, voting 52-47.

March 1: Washington Post reports Sessions had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyk at least twice during campaign, one privately in his Senate office.

March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself from Russia probe, admits to having had contacts (brief conversations) with Kislyak during campaign. Trump immediately castigates him for this recusal.

May 9: Trump fires FBI director James Comey, stating this is at Sessions’ recommendation. (Deputy director Rod Rosenstein may have written up the argument.) Rosenstein appoints Paul Mueller to direct investigation of Russia election interference.

May: Washington Post reports that Rosenstein threatened to resign if held responsible for Comey’s firing.

May 17: Rosenstein appoints Paul Mueller special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

May 18 (4:20 AM EST): Trump tweets, ”This is the greatest witch hunt of any president in American history!”

June 21: As executive director of the (soon discredited) Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, Matthew Whittaker (former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, 2004-9)) appears on the Wilkow Majority show and declares, “The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign. There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues. The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”

August 6, 2017: Whitaker writes an opinion column for CNN entitled “Mueller’s Investigation of Trump is Going Too Far.” On same day highlights on Twitter a Philly.com opinion article “Note to Trump’s Lawyer: Do Not Cooperate With Mueller Lynch Mob.” Says it’s “worth a read.” Catches Trump’s attention.

April: On tweet Trump denies plan to dismiss Sessions and replace with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt.

Sept. 22: Sessions appoints Whitaker as his chief-of-staff.

2018

Feb. 21: Trump tweets that people should ask Jeff Sessions why Clinton’s crimes are not being investigated. Calls Justice Department “disgraceful.”

Feb. 28: Washington Post says Mueller investigating Trump-Sessions relationship in relation to possible obstruction of justice.

April: Rosenberg personally orders raid on the home and office of Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, in a spin-off investigation from the Mueller probe. Trump infuriated.

May: Trump blames Mueller investigation on Sessions’ recusal, accuses him of disloyalty (according to NYT.)

June 5: Trump tweets, “The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!”

July 19: Trump tells NYT that Sessions should have told him when he nominated him for AG that he would recuse himself on the Russia thing. The same month he tells the Wall Street Journal that he feels no special appreciation for Session due to his astonishingly early and risky endorsement in July 2015. In his articulate way, Trump says: “It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”

July 25: Trump tweets: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

Aug. 23: Trump demands, by tweet, that Sessions “look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side’ including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr.”

Aug. 25 tweet: “Jeff Sessions said he wouldn’t allow politics to influence him only because he doesn’t understand what is happening underneath his command position. Highly conflicted Bob Mueller and his gang of 17 Angry Dems are having a field day as real corruption goes untouched. No Collusion.”

Sept. 3: Blames Sessions for indicting Republican candidates. “Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen [California Rep. Duncan Hunter and New York Rep. Chris Collin] were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……”

Sept. 21: NYT reports that in Spring 2017 soon after Comey dismissal Rosenstein discussed with John Kelly the prospect of recording the president’s conversations and using them to employ Article 25 of the constitution.

Sept. 24: At White House Rosenstein offers resignation to Kelly; not accepted.

Oct. 11 (on Fox): Trump: “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”

Nov. 6: Democrats sweep the House of Representatives in mid-term elections.

Nov. 7, 2018: Sessions submits undated resignation at Trump’s request after 6 months of criticism. Replaced by his chief-of-staff Matthew Whitaker.

Nov. 9: Trump tarmac interview: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.”

*****

Pundits suggest that the various statements Whitaker made in August 2017 were a campaign to get hired as a Justice Department lawyer, and that Trump directed Sessions to hire him (thinking he could take over when needed, to defend him against congressional inquiries). Think, people, is that really plausible?

And is it really true–what some people are saying–that the attorney-general even an acting one needs Congressional approval, and that this power transfer without that approval is invalid? Again, may doubt and disillusionment reign, because they make sense in these troubled times.

Unthinkable Operations

In the preface to his remarkable three-volume History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, writing in 1930 about earth-shaking events in which he was a key actor, explains his view of writing history. He cites reactionary French historian Louis Madelin, who wrote that “…the historian ought to stand upon the wall of a threatened city, and behold at the same time the besiegers and the besieged” in order to achieve a “conciliatory justice.” Trotsky then scoffs that if Madelin himself  “climbs out on the wall dividing the two camps, it is only in the character of a reconnoiterer for the reaction.” In contrast Trotsky, vowing to draw on historic documents, “not fallible personal memory or anecdote,” promises to write with a “scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies — open and undisguised — seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movements.”

Ron Ridenour, a veteran journalist and author, former member of the US Communist Party, dedicated anti-war activist and a self-described revolutionary socialist, like Trotsky (though no Troskyite himself) writes from a perspective of outside the city wall. In his latest book, Pentagon on Alert: The Russian Peace Threat (Punto Press, New York, 2018).  He does an admirable of job of it too,  providing an abundance of readily accessible citations (hot-linked in the book’s online version), instead of some coldly “objective” history. The Russian Peace Threat offers the perspective of someone passionately involved in combating American imperialism and  this country’s century-long hostility towards Russia and its revolution against capitalism. He documents how from the outset of the Russian revolution of 1917, when 13,000 US troops joined other European forces in seeking to overthrow the new socialist state by force, down to the present, whichever party was dominant in Washington has sought to hem in and undermine first the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation. The ultimate aim, he demonstrates, has been to create a client regime in Russia through “regime change,” or to destroy the country with a nuclear first strike.

As someone who studied modern Russian history, I found myself nonetheless being continually surprised as I read The Russian Peace Threat, by shocking new facts about this enduring US hostility that I had clearly not been fully aware of. For example, at the end of Chapter 10, writing about the launching of the Cold War by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Harry Truman as World War II was ending, Ridenour describes how Churchill proposed a plan to the US called “Operation Unthinkable.” This criminal nightmare vision had the combined forces of the US, Britain and Canada, along with some 100,000 rearmed Nazi troops, attacking the presumably exhausted and over-extended Soviet Red Army then still battling remnants of the Wehrmacht in eastern Germany. Operation Unthinkable, which Ridenour tells us was kept secret until 1998, also envisioned, as early as mid-1945 before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using the new atomic bombs being developed by the US and Britain in the Manhattan Project, against Soviet troops and even on the Soviet capital of Moscow.

He goes on in the next chapter about the launching of the Cold War (which he notes was begun not by Stalin, but by Churchill and Truman), to describe how, over the period from 1946-1949, Truman had his Pentagon generals feverishly developing a series of nine equally monstrous plans, more detailed than the thankfully never launched Operation Unthinkable. All nine of these  various plans centered on the use of America’s growing nuclear arsenal to completely annihilate the USSR’s industrial base, and its population along with it.

With names like Operation Pincher and Operation Dropshot, these plans continued to be developed until 1949, when Russia, thanks in part to the assistance provided by sympathetic Manhattan Project scientists and workers who feared — rightly it turns out! — a hegemonic US with a monopoly on atomic weapons after the war. Even though fanatic Pentagon planners estimated that dropping some 300 nuclear weapons on Soviet military bases and industrial centers could kill half the that war-battered country’s remaining population, it was the only the recognition, in 1949, that the Soviets could finally strike back that halted that active planning (and it was only the lack of a sufficient number of bombs and delivery systems to finish the job that had kept them from launching a “pre-emptive” genocidal war earlier than that).

Over and over Ridenour exposes how it has been the US, not Russia or the USSR, that has created the wars and tensions with the Soviet Union. Take Vietnam, which Ridenour, an Air Force recruit himself for a few years before that war really escalated, claims was central to his political evolution as a revolutionary activist. He recounts how the US military in Vietnam was practically in open revolt after the 1968 Tet Offensive. He says following Tet, the smoking of marijuana by US soldiers became widespread as did LSD use, but adds that heroin became the drug of choice. Here he cites the Pentagon as saying that by the early 1970s 15% of Army troops were on smack. He also talks about fragging, again quoting Pentagon sources as documenting more than 900 cases of soldiers using their fragmentation grenades to kill commanding officers they felt were incompetent, aggressive or a threat to their survival . (Note: this number is actually on the low end of estimates of the frequency of this particularly dramatic and deadly act of resistance.)   He concludes that these developments, combined with an expanding and increasingly militant anti-war movement and a politically driven end to conscription back in the US, contributed to the US finally losing the war.

Not afraid (as are most mainstream academic historians) to wade into the politically contentious present, Ridenour gives a solid account of the current era in which both the Obama and Trump administrations have deliberately increased tensions with Russia, from the coup in Ukraine orchestrated and funded by the US under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which led to a fascist, anti-Russian government in Kiev, to the current illegal US military role in Syria backing jihadi terrorist groups against the Syrian government, which is being aided by Russia.

Ridenour provides a well documented history of the rise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He explains in detail how the US first helped install the corrupt and alcoholic Boris Yeltsin — a man who allowed US business interests to rob his country blind — in a second term as president and how Putin, at the time a little-known Yeltsin subordinate, at first supported by the US, followed. That support ended when Putin surprised his critics and turned the country around, halted the privatization free-for-all and ending Russia’s  headlong plunge into economic and social decline. At that point, Ridenour explains, the US turned on him.

Putin’s “crime,” Ridenour argues, is that after the Ukraine coup, he finally took action to halt the US-led undermining of Russia. He explains in detail how Russia’s only warm-water naval base in the south in Crimea was threatened by the US-orchestrated change in government in Kiev. Then, quoting Harvard political scientist John Mearsheimer, he writes: “Putin saw that the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived.”

There was no “invasion” of Crimea, Ridenour explains. Russia already had 25,000 troops legally based in Crimea under a base-leasing agreement with Ukraine. They were there to defend the Russian naval base at Sebastopol, which was leased from Ukraine under an treaty signed when Ukraine became independent as part of the break-up of the USSR. Crimea, historically a part of Russia, and only annexed to Ukraine in 1954 as a “gift” ordered by Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, himself a Ukrainian, was 68% ethnically Russian and only 16% Ukrainian. When the people of Ukraine expressed a desire to have their territory returned to Russia because of threats against ethnic Russians from the new Kiev government, a plebiscite was held. The result: 83% of eligible voters cast ballots, and 97% of them favored reintegration with Russia. Putin agreed.

That was the “invasion” that the US and other Western media continue to refer to ad nauseam.

Ridenour, quoting Western sources, says the “invasion” in truth only involved Russia sending over to Crimea six helicopters and two small boats with 500 so-called “little green men” — actually Russian Special Forces acting as “polite police.” The Ukrainian garrison in Crimea was given the option of leaving or fighting, and in the event many, including senior officers, defected to Russia, while the rest of the garrison left for Ukraine peacefully.

There were six killings during the transfer of Crimea to Russia, he reports:  two were Crimean ethnic Russian civilians, one a Crimean ethnic Ukrainian civilian, one Russian soldier, one Ukrainian soldier and one Crimean self-defense soldier. He adds that the Russian soldier was killed by a Ukrainian Right Sector militant who fled to Ukraine and that none of the other deaths was reportedly caused by a Russian soldier. While Hillary Clinton was comparing the Crimean re-annexation by Russia to Hitler’s march into Sudetenland, Ridenour quotes Forbes magazine as writing: “The US and European Union may want to save Crimeans from themselves. But the Crimeans are happy right where they are. One year after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea, poll after poll shows that the locals there — be they Ukrainians, ethnic Russians or Tatars, are mostly all in agreement: life with Russia is better than life with Ukraine.”

While Trotsky may have disparaged the use of anecdotes in his History, Ridenour, who spent eight years living in Cuba (he famously burned his passport and renounced his US citizenship after the US launched the Gulf War against Iraq, throwing the ashes at the US Interest Section compound in Havana, eventually moving to Denmark where he now lives), provides many anecdotes, some critical, about his life in Castro’s Cuba. He also recounts his experience as a US Airman stationed in Japan, and about his experience as an activist in the US. These accounts enrich the book and allow the reader to understand where the author is coming from.

Example: In his chapter the US War on Vietnam, he describes how on May 1, 1975, he took out a promotional recording he had been given years earlier that had been intended to be performed at early anti-war marches and rallies. Called “War is Over,” he says he felt it was too optimistic for the times so for years he’d never played it. “After 15 years of anti-war activism, Vietnam won so now I could play it,” he writes, “and I did repeatedly, crying on and off for hours.” He writes in his book that even just reading those sentences back out loud as he writes them, “I break out in tears and heartache.”

That’s the Ron I remember from the days back in 1976 when he and several other Los Angeles journalists, myself included, founded a feisty if short-lived worker-owned-and-run alternative left news weekly, the Los Angeles Vanguard. A committed socialist revolutionary, Ron has always been radical journalist, an excellent writer and a passionate believer in the pure evil of war and in the need for a re-ordering of global society on the basis of real socialism, not capitalism or welfare-statism.

His book The Russian Peace Threat is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what is driving the insane US effort to gin up a new cold war with both Russia and China at a time when the real threat facing humanity is of either nuclear annihilation or the destruction of the very planetary ecosystem that allowed the human species to evolve and thrive. As Ridenour meticulously documents, mostly drawing on western news sources, from the end of World War II the US has been the driving force for increasing enmity between itself and first the Soviet Union and today Russia (and increasingly towards China too). It is also the US, not Russia, he writes, that has been responsible for tens of millions of mostly Third World deaths since the end of that last horrific global conflict.

As World Burns, Half US Population Chronically Ill . . .

Stealing Life with the Big Bad Retail King — One-third of All Buying Transactions 

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

— Iago, Shakespeare’s Othello

It’s more than disconcerting to hear the blathering now, September 2018, about Jeff Bezos. About Amazon dot com as richest company ever. To hear the fawning love of the rich guy, now, when we were predicting a slave master killing publishing, killing independence; news reports and tribute after tribute for this full-fledged Midas of tax cheating, our homegrown monopolist of the highest order, anti-American who gives a shit about main street America, a misanthropic fake news purveyor, a full-bore felonious PT Barnum and smoke and mirrors double shuffle guy who thinks of his tens upon tens of thousands of warehouse workers as spindles, interchangeable parts, and to hell with their precarity, their one nose-bleed from homelessness.

This is a time of same sides of the coin of the realm: the conservative and the liberal, the War-Mongering Democratic Party drooling at the McCain fiasco and the Sycophantic Zio-Christo Republicans confused about who is going to own what while scampering away like rats into the alleys as the headlights of their narcissist-in-chief blowtorches the world.

The most important characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, seeking excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. These identifying features can result in a negative impact on an individual’s interpersonal affairs and life general. In most cases, on the exterior, these patients act with an air of right and control, dismissing others, and frequently showcasing condescending or denigrating attitudes. Nevertheless, internally, these patients battle with strong feelings of low self esteem issues and inadequacy. Even though the typical NPD patient may achieve great achievements, ultimately their functioning in society can be affected as these characteristics interfere with both personal and professional relationships. A large part of this is as result of the NPD patient being incapable of receiving disapproval or rebuff of any kind, in addition to the fact that the NPD patient typically exhibits lack of empathy and overall disrespect for others.**

** Note that NPD runs through the DNA of these ministers like Jimmy Swaggart or Billy-Franklin Graham, through the family RNA of so-called royalty of the world, in the brain chemistry of the likes of a Henry Kissinger or Adolph Hitler, in the hypothalamus of fruit-salad bedecked generals and in the frontal cortex of all great and not-so-great thespians, from politicos to actors.

Moreover, this Bezos, our great Albuquerque-born plumbing showroom huckster peddling absolutely all the stuff we do not need piled up in his fulfillment centers, represents those two sides of the same coin: powerful, libertarian, ruthless and spirit-less, driven to conquer/distribute/hawk all the stuff in any sort of catalog that exists out there to fulfill the needs and mostly not so necessary junk of obsolescence and consumer addiction. A cold anti-philanthropy multi-billionaire, whose net worth of $160.7 billion is headline news now as the TV clowns present the Top Five, Top Ten/Twenty diligently, Bezos is the top of the dung heap according to another rag with all the news unfit (for humanity) to print . . .

. . . Who is the richest person in the world? While Forbes updates their list of the world’s billionaires in real time as markets fluctuate, the magazine also releases a more static list each year. The total net worth of these money-makers when the 2018 list was released in March was $7.67 trillion. Click through to see 2018’s top 20 richest billionaires on the planet.

forbes-cover-03-31-2018.jpg

With his company — which epitomizes the heights of death star techie logic, next gen robotics, drones, massive crisscrossing of products through a digital satellite-fed network of Prime Time orders — Bezos has continually kicked out with the help of Seattle PD we protesters with one share of his shit stock at shareholder meetings protesting his sadism around refusing to air condition fulfillment centers while instead putting rent-an-ambulances outside the doors! Oh, this economic disruptor of small and large businesses, all part of that gift of unfettered homicidal capitalism a la retail conglomeration, is reviled, hated, but will be the big section in those econ books from many years to come.

Bernie Sanders wants a special tax on this white shark-eyed Jeff Bezos? Funny follies of the political kind. Imagine, justifying all the tax evasion and felonies of the billionaires and millionaires and banks and hedge funders and the rest of the elites — that’s the cool truth of our state of misrepresentation in Washington. Never political cries of “tax them all for their externalities — all the damage capital and capitalists have done to the world.”  Major and minor municipalities and entire states fall over themselves with money dripping tongues out of their mouths while courting this company with so many freebies in the billions to get another load of office buildings or fulfillment centers or even another headquarters/campus or pod of fulfillment centers. At any cost.

Image result for fulfillment center

Walmartization of the world, or was it McDonaldization first, or Fordization, but now Amazonization of the culture outstrips anything up to this point in this country’s lunacy. You can get anything anytime anywhere for anyone from this five and dime on steroids.

Or,

The Details About the CIA’s Deal With Amazon: A $600 million computing cloud built by an outside company is a “radical departure” for the risk-averse intelligence community

Just in Time Employment, 11th Hour appointments, Permanent Temp, a Precarity defined as the New Almost Slavery Gig gigs — Coulda Been HuffPost Slave

Yet, on Democracy Now, again, in September 2018, we are led to believe we now have to be aghast about those fulfillment centers and those Americans being worked to the bone, worked down to the shredded screws in their hip replacement hardware, worked to confusion and exhaustion and then discarded for not working hard enough for this Master Blaster of the Retail Monopoly.

Juan Gonzalez of DN tells us about these “cutting edge” stories from his Rutgers University Department of Journalism and Media Studies students working on this “breaking news,” while Juan laughs and smirks at the reality of “us” (not me) ordering everything on Amazon.

Here, the DN reports:

As Amazon Hits $1 Trillion in Value, Its Warehouse Workers Denounce “Slavery” Conditions

Exposed: Undercover Reporter at Amazon Warehouse Found Abusive Conditions & No Bathroom Breaks

Ahh, but we over at DV have been printing these stories for more than six years:

Nichole Gracely / May 21st, 2012

Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley (LV) is a distribution hub, and many fellow Amazon associates and Integrity Staffing Solutions temps had previously worked in other local warehouses.

I have and I can say that they’re typically rough workplaces.

At first glance, Amazon’s LV fulfillment center appears benign.

Primary red, yellow, green and blue splashes of color brighten the place, and motivational posters and friendly educational signs that feature cute characters provide guidance. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of workers populate the warehouse at once, diligently taking direction from hand-held scanners or computers, and the place is enormous so it doesn’t appear cramped. Seriously, the place could house a small city.

Physical strength is not a necessary qualification to perform any of their warehouse job functions, and management is ostensibly concerned with worker safety. Just about anyone could staff Amazon’s FC, especially since it only takes a couple of hours to train workers to perform any specific job function. It’s safe to say that anyone laboring in an Amazon FC has fallen into hard times, and many of my former coworkers’ resumes featured distinguished past titles, impressive demonstrations of manual skill and ability, and/or lofty educational attainment.

Many never thought they’d wind up in a warehouse and so, yes, this was all foreign for many. Other workers who staffed other warehouses in the past didn’t know what to make of the place because there is something different about Amazon, something alien.

“Chairman” Bezos once said that Amazon workers don’t need a union because we own the company. “Chairman” Bezos has zero tolerance for union activity and several Amazon unionization attempts were summarily squashed.

After two years on the job an Amazon FC associate is entitled to eight shares of stock. If Amazon is trading at, say, $250 a share, that’s $2,000. Ownership? $250 per share is a generous projection. Seasoned investors are baffled by AMZN’s current overvaluation because of its unhealthy 188:1 (fluctuates, yet always unhealthy) price to earnings ratio, and they’re waiting for the bubble to burst.

Nichole went on to write a piece in the Guardian: Amazon Seasonal Work  And the Guardian published another one, more than four years ago: Being homeless is better than working for Amazon

Bread and Roses — 106 Years Ago, Back to Now: Strike Amazon, Strike US Correctional Institutions, Boycott

I got this from a friend, Andy Piascik, a long-time activist and award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion. He can be reached at ###.

In the end, in the face of the state militia, U.S. Marines, Pinkerton infiltrators and hundreds of local police, the strikers prevailed. They achieved a settlement close to their original demands, including significant pay raises and time-and-a-quarter for overtime, which previously had been paid at the straight hourly rate. Workers in Lowell and New Bedford struck successfully a short while later, and mill owners throughout New England soon granted significant pay raises rather than risk repeats of Lawrence. When the trials of Ettor, Giovannitti and a third defendant commenced in the fall, workers in Lawrence’s mills pulled a work stoppage to show that a miscarriage of justice would not be tolerated. The three were subsequently acquitted.

More than a century ago and it’s rabbit-holed history . . . and what do we fight for in this country now? We have fear of unions, we embrace the gig economy/outsourcing on Kratom (called near slavery by socio-economists), and the unimaginable bullshit and shit jobs have generated aimlessness, screen addiction, be mean to thy neighbor mentality, cold hearts and Homo Retailipithecus. Bullshit jobs, as Graeber states:

A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.

Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried. We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself.

What is Labor Day or May Day now in a world of Marvel comics and infantilization of every intercourse we have with every sort of humanity? Do we care about solidarity? Do we know how to build communities? Do we see neighbors and people in and on the streets as equals, people, us? What is the value of work when it is drudgery, dog-eat-dog, king of the hill and top of the dung heap relationships? We have to go beyond now this simpleton way of seeing the world from the bifurcated Groucho Marx eyeglasses. This is a great time of upheaval, splintering, hot house planet, Sixth Mass Extinction, a world of capital making more capital off of war, resource theft, thievery of other nations’ and cultures’ futures.

Jobs, Who Doesn’t Choose to Collapse, Hothouse Planet, People

As I continually teach young people to think, you are what you eat, what you do, what you think, what your read, what you say, what you believe, what you aspire to, what you hope for, what you do or not do to be one with humanity. If your life is one of toil, what is inside the heart, and what do you do with those beliefs and philosophies while slogging away? Are you a believer in exceptionalism, Zionist or Christian superiority? Is the white shade of skin the defining element in your life? Do you have passions that are your own, or are they manufactured, designed, and cajoled by the money changers and propagandists?

 The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

This line was from a speech by Rose Schneiderman, Polish-born socialist and feminist and prominent labor union leaders in America. It’s a phrase embodying everything today we workers need to utilize as a galvanizing force upon our souls to break away from these people like Bezos and the entire master crafters of our pain, poverty and penury. When I say “our,” I mean the world’s collective pain in the form of billions of people, for whom Western Culture (sic) has set loose a wildfire of forced displacement, murder, resource extraction, war and disease of the mind and body.

It was also a successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, during January–March 1912, which is pretty much universally referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike. Pairing bread and roses not as counter-balances — fair wages and dignified conditions. Defining “the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances in the light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect,” as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.

I imagine the Bezos types wanting every last penny from every last $2-a-day inhabitant on earth, and I imagine this fellow is as steely-hearted as any in an Upton Sinclair book — and note this first quote by Sinclair is for me about men and women working today, even though Sinclair was writing about a living livestock animal torn from life:

One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe…. Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.

― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

Delusions  of Terra-Forming and Mickey Mouse Grabbing Adults’ Attention

So what do we do with these Titans of idiocy, with their billions and their algorithms, with their broken telescopes peering into the black hole of humanity?

What about the 150,000 chemicals in human cells created by the industrialists, those synergistic variant effects we have zero knowledge about, which have helped push our American society into a chronically ill species of over 50 percent of a population cycled through Western (Un-)Medicine. Children with autism or on the spectrum — count that as possibly 30 percent of all births by 2040. Diabetes 1 and 2, more than 15 percent or more of the population by 2040.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a really important concept that is difficult to teach the public, and when I say the public, I include my clinical colleagues.

Still, atrazine is not the only human hormone-altering chemical in the environment. Dr. Winchester tested nearly 20 different chemicals and all demonstrated epigenetic effects, for example, all of the chemicals reduced fertility, even in the 3rd generation.

Still, why do 150,000,000 Americans have chronic diseases?

Researchers believe that every adult disease extant is linked to epigenetic origins. If confirmed over time with additional research, the study is a blockbuster that goes to the heart of public health and attendant government regulations.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a huge thing that is going to change how we understand the origin of disease. But a big part of that is that it will change our interpretation of what chemicals are safe. In medicine I can’t give a drug to somebody unless it has gone through a huge amount of testing. But all these chemicals haven’t gone through anything like that. We’ve been experimented on for the last 70 years, and there’s not one study on multi-generational effects.

Environmental Working Group tested more than a dozen brands of oat-based foods to give Americans information about dietary exposures that government regulators are keeping secret. In April, internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the Food and Drug Administration has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and has found “a fair amount,” but the FDA has not released the findings.

Ahh, the melting planet, the water cycle’s disrupted, the entire mess of planetary re-shifting is on a collision course with Homo Sapiens. Everyday I get more and more notifications from friends and thinkers about the impending collapses, the impending peak this and peak that (Peak Everything).

Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote … can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we also are the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.”

― Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Feudal Factories of Propaganda and Propagating .001 Percenters — Water, Man, Water

We trust ourselves, far more than our ancestors did… The root of our predicament lies in the simple fact that, though we remain a flawed and unstable species, plagued now as in the past by a thousand weaknesses, we have insisted on both unlimited freedom and unlimited power. It would now seem clear that, if we want to stop the devastation of the earth, the growing threats to our food, water, air, and fellow creatures, we must find some way to limit both.

― Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West

We are seeing this circling of the billionaires’ wagons (vultures circling the 7.8 billion marks, us), this Bezos and Musk lust for space, for some planetary gated-armed-Utopian community. These fellows and dames are something else, and the conjurers of news unfit to consume fall over them, recording and publishing story after story about their wisdom and foresight and shamanistic ways of predicting the future.

Remember George W. Bush and his big ranch buy in Paraguay? That was 12 years ago, readers, yet, back to the future, with news (sic) report after news report (sic) keeps tracking the next billionaire economic ejaculation. W, and we thought he was only painting pets!

Image result for george bush painting pets

Image result for george bush painting pets

The Chaco is a semiarid, sparsely populated area known — to the extent that it’s known at all — for its abundant wildlife, rapid deforestation, nothing in particular… and what lies beneath it…

Our Real Wealth Trader and Outstanding Investments contributor Jody Chudley thinks he knows the true gen about the Bush land grab.

Jody says he has a “secret” about the Bushes. And he adds, “It has to do with an investment idea that’s hardly on anyone’s radar.”

The real reason Jody thinks Bush 43 and family snapped up nearly 300,000 acres in those semiarid, sparsely populated wastes of Paraguay?

Water.

That’s right, blue gold. Bush bought the rights to a veritable ocean of fresh, clear-as-glass, Grade A water.

His land rests atop one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world: Acuifero Guarani, by name.

According to Jody, “Acuifero Guarani covers roughly 460,000 square miles under parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. It is estimated to contain about 8,900 cubic miles of water.”

If you can’t quite imagine 8,900 miles of water, picture a pool nearly three times the size of California. That should give you a decent idea.

A fair amount when you consider that 98% of this planet’s water is salt water.

Of the other 2%, almost 87% of it is trapped within glaciers, hence inaccessible. Jody’s “trusty calculator” informs him that only 0.25% of the water on this cosmic ball is fresh (underground, or in rivers and lakes). Just a drop in the figurative bucket…

Now, we knew this sort of stuff was going on with the elites, who look at us all as easy marks, broken money bags, the fat cows or broken pigs of their global stockades.

What’s happened is this trickle-down lust-love-longing for these people who get plastered in the headlines as being grand and philanthropists, deserving of every cent and every billion made on the back of people, earth, cultures.

Their trans-capital and monopolies  and viral presence like Google, Facebook, Walmart, and on and on sucks the revolution out of revolutionary, since we are now shackled to their ways of doing things. The goal of the capitalists is to harmonize their theft with our survival, whatever it takes to put five to a studio apartment (of course, sneaking the other four into the room in the dead of night), whatever it takes to just float through a gridlocked urban and suburban world. So, from Bush and Paraguay, to this Gawker Killer Thiel, we have enough evidence of their feudal ways, their slippery snake eyes methods of shitting on we underlings:

Here is Robert Hunziker:

Peter Thiel, the PayPal billionaire and renowned super-super-super libertarian and unapologetic Trumpster love-fester achieved New Zealand citizenship in only 12 days and bought not only his citizenship but a $13.8 M estate in Wanaka, a lakeside community.

According to a phone interview with the former PM of New Zealand John Key, “If you’re the sort of person that says I’m going to have an alternative plan when Armageddon strikes, then you would pick the farthest location and the safest environment – and that equals New Zealand if you Google it… It’s known as the last bus stop on the planet before you hit Antarctica. I’ve had a lot of people say to me that they would like to own a property in New Zealand if the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.

USA-TRUMP/

Hell in a hand-basket, from the former prime minister of New Zealand — 1935 Book, quote:

If the average white New Zealander takes the Maori seriously as a human being, he is usually rather too ready to blame him for characteristics which more careful study will show not to be inherent at all but actually the result of the coming of the Europeans themselves, the extensive destruction of Maori life and the virtual dispossession of the Maori people. Little attempt is commonly made to understand the causes which produced, for a time at any rate (for they are passing) those Maori characteristics which have become almost proverbial amongst us. To put it frankly, we blame the Maori for becoming what we have made him. It is interesting to realise that similar circumstances of the contact of peoples have occurred before, and in view of the people referred to there is one instance which it seems particularly fitting that we should bear in mind. The instance comes down to us from the days when another great Empire, an ancient one, was civilizing native peoples. There is on record a letter from a wealthy Roman landowner to his agent in Britain telling him to ship no more British slaves “as they are so lazy and cannot be trusted to work.” Similar causes produce similar effects; we should be less ready with hasty judgment and hasty blame. There is a widespread belief, and it is one certainly cherished by the average white New Zealander, that no native people have ever been so fairly treated by Europeans as have the Maori people. As a matter of fact, if it is fully and frankly told, the story of the contact of Europeans with native peoples is much the same everywhere. What we have are so many varieties of what a leading anthropologist has recently termed “the tragic mess which invariably results from the impact of white upon aboriginal culture.” It is true that the Maori people have survived, but this, on careful analysis, proves to be very largely due to their own qualities and their own efforts rather than to any specially favourable mode of treatment. If we are honest there is little ground for pakeha self-congratulation.

Ahh, the evidence of climate change (global warming–hot planet) was there in 1896 researched, formulated and discoursed by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (and then later, amateur G. S. Callendar ramified the greenhouse effect of burning fossil fuels, and then later, C. D. Keeling measured the rising CO2 levels tying that to the greenhouse hot house effect), but for which has been swept into confusion by those marketers and mad men. Imagine, average planetary temps going up from  2.5–11°F by 2100. Imagine that!

The more civilizations evolve, the more energy dependent they become, so it’s possible that trillions of civilizations in the great continuum of space evolved, rose, fell and disappeared.

If you develop an industrial civilization like ours, the route is going to be the same. You’re going to have a hard time not triggering climate change. For a civilization to destroy itself through nuclear war, it has to have certain emotional characteristics. You can imagine certain civilizations saying, ‘I’m not building those [nuclear weapons]. Those are crazy.’ But climate change, you can’t get away from. If you build a civilization, you’re using huge amounts of energy. The energy feeds back on the planet, and you’re going to push yourself into a kind of Anthropocene. It’s probably universal.

—  Adam Frank, astrophysicist

Interlude, Interglacial Periods, Working for the Homeless — Flailing at Windmills

 

Comparison between summer ice coverage from 18,000 years BP and modern day.

Yeah, these big ideas I broach with homeless veterans and their attendant family members, and while the Gates-Kochs-Zuckerbergs-Bloombergs-Adelsons-et al have zero concern about us, the proles, the  detritus of their Capital, I believe working to change one life at a time — even if it’s a life riddled with evictions, felonies, relapses, epigenetic familial hell, PTSD, trauma, spiritlessness, physical decay — has meaning since in that process I have incredible interchanges with people who sort of want the same thing — paradigm shifts and de-industrialization and ecosocialism a la Marx 3.0.

I try to find peace in writing, even these polemics at DV or LA Progressive; and in my own world of fiction-poetry-creative nonfiction, the windmills abound because of a rarefied culture of the M-F-A (masters in fine arts) elite — those gatekeepers of the small literary kind, or even the National Book Award kind. This country is not big on real outliers in anything tied to the arts, and I am one of those round pegs looking to splinter the quintessential square hole.

Short story collection? Who the hell would read that? Well, try out a project of mine to get the stories —  thematically (sort of) threaded (sort of) to the “Vietnam experience” — as a hard copy from a small press, Cirque. You can read one of the stories, “Bloody Sheets,” here, starting on page 115.

The collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, is a gathering of fiction, much of which has been published in literary journals. I have succumbed to a Go Fund Me “deal” to help balance-offset the costs of printing a book on paper with ink.

I have no idea if a Go Fund Me will even take off. The first and only donation is from filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. Amazing, a struggling documentarian throwing in FIRST.

But we are in a new normal of shitting on writers, expecting us to have our day and then our night jobs and then write-write-write for free.

That is the question, really, who wants to spend their time reading short stories, outside the very narrow readership of Masters of Fine Arts aficionados who in many regards can be pedantic and puffery artists?

Vietnam, no less, in a time of Tim Burns rotting the foundation of the war we committed, or the Obama administration’s scrubbing of the war in his effort to commemorate it (Obama gives killer Kissinger awards).

Vietnam. One of my short journalist pieces for an old weekly I worked for in Spokane.

How many died in Vietnam and Indochina? 3.8 million? Oh, that Nobel Cause (War) myth I run into daily at a homeless veterans shelter, that is was winnable and worthy. Killing farmers, man, in their rice paddies! Whew, only a Zionist could write that script.

Read my short story collection for a different way to frame creativity and that time period, that narrative framing, that time in history that has defined and redefined the ugly wars of today. I am going to give this a shot in a time of blatant skepticism and group-think/act/do.

Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam. Be part of the creative impetus. The energy. The publication of a short story collection. With that “ask” of the reader who then gives will receive another book of mine, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber.

In my view [Dan Kovalik], this Noble Cause myth may be the most powerful and enduring propaganda trick ever perpetrated. And, it works so well because the audience for the trick — the U.S. people — are such willing and eager participants in the charade.

To explain the power of the Noble Cause myth, Marciano quotes from Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize lecture.  I set forth a larger quote from the lecture than appears in the book because it is so profound:

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

John Steppling, my fellow writer who studies intersections of culture-mimesis-art-politics (My review of his book,  Aesthetic Resistence and Dis-interest. That Which Will Not Allow Itself to be Said, here at DV) discusses the MFA phenomenon, a true watering down and controlled form of check and balances fiction:

So, the fact that The Rockefeller Foundation underwrote (and still underwrites) a good many MFA programs (and not just in literature, but in theatre and fine arts) is both relevant, and not. Or maybe a better way to address this is see The Rockefeller Foundation as symptom. I received a Rockefeller fellowship, which I hadn’t applied for. But, the very fact that creative writing programs boomed after WW2, and permeated the academic landscape is without question linked to the patronage of institutions like The Rockefeller Foundation (and the MacArthur Foundation, and…). And to deny that the tacit influence of these institutions is idiotic.

Now, it’s also true that what John Crowe Ransom and Stegner and Burrows preached is correct. Or it’s correct up to a point. It is revealing that Melville was derided, because Melville wrote a lot of ideas, and additionally observed the ways those ideas and that knowledge existed in the world. But it is equally true that you do not observe those harpoons so closely, or closely in a particular way, that all you get is a harpoon description. And a so described harpoon that never participates in riots or social unrest, and whose production is unexamined and the harpoon company that distributes it is left blank…the better to describe the fluted morning dew that bifurcates my tabby cat’s shadow on the harpoon handle, and etc etc etc is only a individual’s sensory observation. The harpoon must be known, not just observed.

The real point here is that what Iowa started, and many other University programs followed, was to narrow down the definition of “fiction”. Dante would not be considered fiction today. While there is a point in demanding a concrete description, and not a generality, the exclusive focus on the concrete meant that ideas were being eliminated in fiction. The world is not abstract… but that includes History and politics and tensions of daily life. Those offices in New York, or those bad marriages, are not separate from the Chinese Revolution, or U.S. Imperialism, or the blockade of Cuba or the present two million men and women in prison in the United States. ‘Greatness’, whatever that means, and I have no problem with that word, or the ideas behind it, is in discovering both what that connection is, and ..and this is important I believe…how our own personal emotional and psychic formation, and development are related to both Mao and our failed marriages (or, even the successful ones).

The emphasis on observation, on brute description, however eclipsed ideas as a subject for fiction. You may not sit down to write ideas, per se, but you certainly have an idea of what a harpoon is. You have to know certain things, and, in fact, the best writing is that which tells you what you don’t know, not describes nicely what you already do know. And there is a tendency in young writers to generalize. So on the one hand it’s natural to emphasize the concrete, but the result, perhaps intentional, or partly so (given the Rockefeller project) was the elimination of ideas in prose, and the narrowing of the definition of what constituted “fiction”

True Heroes Don’t Die: Their Hearts Get Eaten again and again

Today’s hero in popular culture is a corrupted version of Milton’s Satan, a collaborator with the rigged game of a tyrannical God. His errors are the violations of God’s law, but God does not really mind since he knows that humans could never follow these arbitrary rules. Satan is God’s deniability.1

Shelley (and Mark Twain)2 recognized this and therefore sought a heroic character who does not pretend to compete with God and refuses to deny his alliance with humanity.

This mistake denies him a simple death and condemns him to the punishment of repetition.3 The inability to prevent the recurrence of history and all the pain this brings.

In Portugal, the parliamentary budget debates of the past years – at least as reported in the national media – gave more attention to the German finance minister (as representative of the richest EU state and the banks domiciled there, who are leading creditors to subordinate member-states like Greece and Portugal) than to the vocal complaints of Portuguese citizens.4 This is even more bizarre when considering the preliminary conclusions about the catastrophic fires in our country in 2017.5 For decades now we have been told that the failures, the mistakes, of European democracies (especially in Southern Europe) have been caused by the absence of heroic leadership (whether by individuals or parties). Such heroism would mean that elected representatives and governments would make the hard choices against the will of their electorates needed to remedy the “errors of fiscal irresponsibility” that are the cause of our misery. Of course, discretion or good taste impede calls for “heroic autocrats” these days.6 The “heroism” is supposed to be more anonymous and perhaps less accountable. This raises the questions of what are those “errors” and what “heroism” really means in this context.

1. The Portuguese national poet Luís Camões wrote a sonnet in which he says that he would have been ruined by “love alone” – his errors were incidental.7

Camões, however, was a pre-Revolutionary poet and we might assume that he was lamenting failed love, more than history. The point is that while all love fails—it is the pre-condition of humanity and therefore it is reborn.

  1. What does ERROR mean? ERROR can be best understood today as the inadequacy of the human individually, and as a species, to respond perfectly to the environment. Sometimes error or creativity is just what is needed by a stagnant culture. This is the central thesis of Morse Peckham’s Man’s Rage for Chaos.8 In this book, Peckham began to ask the question “whether there is a biological explanation for the arts?” Any answer to this question must begin with the fact that humans are born into a world in which they are dependent on others (in particular, adults) for food and protection for a rather long time compared to other animals. Furthermore, virtually everything humans do to survive must be taught and learned. And as anyone can observe it is virtually impossible to learn anything perfectly – so humans spend most of their time making “mistakes”. We have learned at least since the 19th century to distinguish between mistakes that are errors, mistakes that are crimes, and mistakes that are “creative”. Therefore it probably makes more sense NOT to ask “do we learn from mistakes?” but what do we mean when we say we have “learned” anything?
  2. Consider the meaning of “hero” and “heroism”. Heroism is a role.9 In Western culture the basic models for heroes are derived from interpreting classical Greek and Roman mythology. In fact Os Lusíadas, for which Camões is most famous, is also an explicit comparison with ancient Greek heroism. The hero, as we all know, is by definition an exception. Something she or he does has to be beyond what the majority do – otherwise it would be indistinguishable from the behaviour of that majority. If the majority follows conventional rules of behaviour, then heroism is and heroes are unconventional – that is to say first of all mistakes, failure for whatever reason to behave in accordance with conventions.

However the heroes of classical antiquity – at least as conventionally presented – were part of what might be called the divine universe. Their acts were mistakes – violations of the conventions among the deities, errors made by gods and demi-gods. Man was at best a conduit, not an agent. To the extent that heroism was relevant to humans it was by virtue of human submission to the gods. One of the best examples of this is the myth of Sisyphus.10

  1. Until the late 18th century this divine drama – at least in Europe had been transferred from the celestial to the terrestrial monarchical system. One can see this in the arts of the period. The transfer of divine law from the ancient gods, to the Church and then to monarchies, did not go unchallenged, as the English Civil War demonstrated. Milton defended his staunch republicanism by turning Satan into the hero of his Paradise Lost.

However by 1789, the convention of divine law – whether vested in the Church or in the monarch – was threatened by what turned out to be a major cultural crisis, but exploded in the French Revolution. Critics of the Revolution, both contemporary and since then have blamed the mass violence and wars triggered by the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy on a massive error: the belief that human equality and democracy could substitute for what was now called “natural law”. Opposed to this was a wide spread optimism that having swept away the obstacles of kings and priests, it would be possible to create a religion of humanity. In fact, in the first years of the Revolution there was a movement to reorganise religion in France by creating a cult with appropriate rites and festivals as a substitute for the Catholic Church. What is important here is that significant participants in the Revolution recognised that the abolition of the monarchy and the secularisation of the Catholic clergy were negative acts and that a culture, especially one undergoing change needs positive acts. So while opponents of the Revolution preferred to focus on violence and destruction, the most dedicated – in this sense, “heroic” – participants knew that a revolution had to be creative to survive. They had to be unconventional in the creation of new conventions.

Two major English poets were especially known for their support of the French Revolution. Both wrote works, which interpreted the heroic role and thus created new ideas of heroes and heroism. However, they came to disagree profoundly both on the consequences of the Revolution (in their day) and the meaning of heroes and heroism.

For purposes of simplification, there was a negative and a positive form of heroism. These were exemplified in the works of Byron (negative) and Shelley (positive).

Shelley introduced his positive hero by contrasting Prometheus with Satan, who was the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In his introduction to the play Prometheus Unbound he wrote:

The only imaginary being, resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgment, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandizement, which, in the hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure. In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction with a religious feeling it engenders something worse. But Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.11

The hero imagined by Byron — today we still have the term “Byronic hero” – was very different. Although recognising that the conventional rules of behaviour were no longer adequate, the Byronic hero sees this as an individual error. In the end this error is incorrigible and can only bring death. The development of this conception of heroism can be seen in the four cantos of Childe Harold. In this narrative poem Byron effectively describes his transformation to an enthusiast of the Revolution to one who laments its failure and the defeat of Napoleon and finally resigns to death in the belief that the Revolution was futile, pointless, that nothing can be changed.12

Shelley completely opposes the view Byron espouses in the Canto IV.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite; To forgive wrongs darker than death or night; To defy Power, which seems omnipotent; To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
 From its own wreck the thing it contemplates; Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent; This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
 Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free; This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.13

  1. A century ago another revolution shook and shocked the West – the October Revolution. It too was a signal of the crisis and an attempt to transcend it. Again the roles of heroism had to be reinterpreted. The reaction to the October Revolution was at least, if not more, violent (because of technological developments) than that triggered by the French Revolution.

The negative heroism (Byron) became violently opposed to the positive heroism (Shelley). Attempts to understand this conflict have been distorted by what can only be called a sloppy use of the terms and an even sloppier explanation of the forces and political entities involved. For example whereas the history of the period from 1917 until 1945 was seen as a collective struggle for socialism in Russia and wherever it was supported in the world on one hand. The alternative explanation has been that the struggle has been for individual liberty. Thus the hero in the West ostensibly fights against all forms of social control, which inhibit his individualism. The hero in the “East” on the other hand fights for the integrity of the society and the strength of collectivity.

The principal theorists of what might call Byronic heroism in politics were Isaiah Berlin in Britain and Leo Strauss in the US.14 The complement to this Byronic form of politics has been an economic doctrine called the Austrian School15 but also neo-liberalism. There was a negative reaction to the French Revolution, which only saw the violence and the anarchy. And there was the negative reaction to the October revolution in the 20th century. Strauss and Hitler were right in line in hating communism. So was Churchill. Berlin too. They hated the optimism and hope of the October revolution. They had to worry about their own masses, who wanted to be free and to benefit from their own labour.

In fact, after 1945 it was still communism/socialism, which enjoyed the enthusiasm of most of the masses in Europe and rest of world. Contrary to the images created by Hollywood, most people in Europe knew that it was the Soviet Union that had defeated Hitler’s empire and communists who had been the most disciplined resistance to fascism in the occupied territories. 70 years later the record is public about how much money and political pressure the US had to devote to persuade Europeans not to vote for the optimism of the October Revolution.16

  1. In 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the so-called “socialist bloc”, left the West with what might be called a “Byronic victory”. Ostensibly this has been the triumph of the individual over all forms of collectivity/disparagingly called “collectivism”. But what does that really mean? What is the actual end of Byron’s notion of heroism and its derivatives “negative romanticism” and negative liberty?
  2. The apparent victory of negative heroism has actually left us with the death of value. The hero’s acts are violent, fervent and ultimately futile – and what is worse, he knows it and accepts the destruction as the price.

This was an answer by those for whom the revolutions had failed and although revolt may have been inevitable, in the end it was necessary to admit that “god was right”, “monarchy was best” and “humans are incorrigible”.

The consequences of this collapse could already be seen in the ascendancy of Austrian/neo-liberal economic doctrines beginning in the 1970s. This was coupled ironically with an abandonment of any pretence that democracy – in the sense of popular rule for the general welfare – was an acceptable social system. This is ironic because from 1945 until 1974, nearly the entire world was engaged in struggle to obtain the promises of democracy whether that inspired by 1789 or by 1917. Just when more countries became independent than at any time in history, democracy and a social state were abandoned as the primary model of political-social order. The hero in all of this was the entrepreneur or politician or even military officer who was willing to take the hard decisions needed to suppress popular, democratic aspirations for the sake of the supreme human objective of personal profit.

Despite numerous economic crises, not to mention endless wars, there is still a widely propagated belief that the problems will be solved by more heroism, negative heroism that is. The heroes in our society are supposed to act deliberately against their own interests or against the interests of those they ostensibly represent. This is the Byronic heroism which if carefully analysed can be seen as the font of nihilism – not creativity or humanity. The Byronic hero has resigned to defeat, accepts the world as hopelessly corrupt and therefore the gods/ potentates as the least possible evil. It is the heroism of suicide.

In fact, many ordinary people resist this kind of heroism because it is obvious that it is a death wish.

The contrast to this heroism is positive heroism that for purposes of simplicity can be identified with Shelley – in particular, Shelley’s reinterpretation of the Prometheus myth in his dramatic-lyric poem Prometheus Unbound. This enigmatic poem is a deliberate response to Byron’s underlying nihilism. It poses the conflict between individualism and society as a pseudo-problem – one created by subservience to the gods. In other words he says that the game between god and man has been rigged and there is no way out except to stop playing on god’s terms. It is god (the gods) who creates the conditions under which man is opposed to himself and to his fellow creatures. The individual that Byron described and supposed he lived was a product of his desire to be reconciled with authority to be happily submissive. Shelley’s Prometheus refuses to play god’s game. In doing so he becomes emblematic for the refusal to be divided and exploited by the gods.

Shelley’s freedom is exactly Berlin’s positive liberty – the ability to create one’s own systems and structures or what is generally called in political science self-determination. Negative liberty, which Berlin from his sinecure at Oxford espoused as the only defensible form, is merely freedom with in a system one cannot change, as freedom to buy and sell in the free market or capitalism.

In Act IV, Shelley does not describe a utopia – a nowhere in which there is nothing to do and all questions are answered, all problems are solved. That is the usual opposition to the vision of Shelley and the positive Romantics or the committed revolutionaries of 1789 and 1917. Instead Shelley shifts from a drama in which Prometheus has had to deal with his oppressor and tormenter as punishment for bringing man fire (knowledge), to Prometheus as the emblem of all human potential when knowledge is attainable by all and can be used to live in the world. The meaning of the heart that grows back each time it is consumed is precisely the opposite of Byron’s song of futility in Childe Harold. It is the heart – the love of man – that is renewed in the struggle to live and use the knowledge attainable. Prometheus has not sacrificed himself. It is not a Christian parable because Shelley’s Prometheus is not a surrogate – he is everyman, unmediated in life itself and without god or any other tyrant to dominate him. Prometheus is not everyman as an individual. One ought perhaps to say Prometheus is only comprehensible as Man or Humanity. The liberal individual of the Enlightenment was the imitation of god, god the autocrat, the tyrant. Shelley believed that this individual was an insidious fiction – and for humanity a very destructive fiction.

From 1789 until 1918 the key social event for humanists was the French Revolution. From 1918 until 1989 the key social event was the October Revolution. The October Revolution magnified the French Revolution to a global scale. 1989 can be seen as the final collapse of the French Revolution as the central ideal of what is paraded as “Western humanism”.

Of course that does not mean that the ideals of the French Revolution and October Revolution were extinguished, only that the potential of Western states to promote humanism in whatever form collapsed.

One of the reasons for this collapse can be seen in the prevalence of what has been called “negative Romanticism” and its negative (nihilistic) hero. Nietzsche anticipated this, essentially arguing that the Byronic hero – the possessive individual (in the sense of defined by property, rather than humanity) – was a destructive ideal. In that sense Nietzsche did not promote fascism, as is often supposed – although his sister did – but prophesied its destructive power.

The October Revolution globalised the French Revolution and it was met by globalised fascism leading to the Second World War, which was an even more violent reaction than the wars against Napoleon. Although the Soviet Union, led by its own Napoleonic figure in the form of Stalin, was able to defeat the centre of European fascism, it was only at the cost of a kind of “Congress” solution in 1945 with the NATO under US dominance emerging as the power to isolate the Soviet Union and prevent the expansion of the ideals of the October Revolution.17

WWII destroyed European control over its empires and ironically magnified the influence of the Soviet Union beyond its own ambitions for change in the world system. Thus from 1945 until 1975, revolutions continued to threaten the new “Congress” dispensation.18

By 1989, however, the Soviet Union was exhausted and so were all the countries that had struggled to become independent based on the ideals of 1789 or 1917.

1989 marked what must unfortunately be seen both politically and economically, but also socially and ecologically, as the consequences of the “negative liberty”, negative heroism, and above all the nihilistic response to the French Revolution – a return to divine despotism and clerical domination.

“Heroism” is by definition an act that violates convention, an error – at least in the eyes of those who feel compelled to follow conventional rules of behaviour. That heroism is an exception. So how can human society be organised “heroically” when that would mean constantly violating any conventions – any rules that might be agreed for the benefit of human life?

The hero as we have learned to appreciate him has always been a part of the deity – his violations were always within the confines of what the gods decreed – and priests interpreted.

For Shelley there were no gods. Prometheus joined the human condition, the human species. He took fire to share with humanity. He did not bring divine perfection—the gods were never perfect either. Shelley’s Prometheus was chained to the Earth like humans are as a species. In his view the renewing heart, is not a brief illusion.

However the potential of positive heroism has not been exhausted. It has merely lost its historical agents. Prometheus has had his heart consumed and now must bear its slow but sure replacement.

  1. Plausible deniability is a concept attributed to the US national security policy to characterise the imperative of covert action. The principle is simply that any covert action should only be performed if, should it be exposed, it is possible to deny official responsibility for the action. Then CIA director William Colby explained the doctrine as understood by the Agency in hearings before the so-called “Church Committee”, (US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities) on 16 September 1975.
  2. Mark Twain (1909/1962) Letters from the Earth. Twain’s satirical treatment of the Creation is presented in the form of correspondence between Satan and his heavenly brethren, the archangels.
  3. Another version of this article was delivered at the VI Conference of CITCEM, University of Porto, expected publication in 2018. The conference theme was derived from the Camões Sonnet No. 193.
  4. At the time, the German finance minister was Wolfgang Schäuble (from 2009-2017) Schäuble has been a CDU member of the German federal parliament since 1972, the longest serving active member of the party that has dominated German politics since 1949.
  5. 2017 there were massive forest fires throughout central Portugal. In one notorious case, Pedrógrau Grande, many people were burned alive in their cars as they tried to escape via the few roads in that rural area. Preliminary investigations showed that aside from the natural conditions conducive to fires, the failure to invest in training and equipment for local forest management and fire departments and the chronic neglect of the rural areas by national government aggravated the damage immensely.
  6. Portugal’s autocrat (1928-1968), António de Oliveira Salazar was initially invested with wide powers as finance minister on the pretext that courageous fiscal authority was needed to save Portugal.
  7. Camoes, Luís. Erros meus, má fortuna, amor ardente Sonnet CXCIII (My errors, cruel fortune and ardent love, trans. Richard Zenith, 2006.)

    Erros meus, má fortuna, amor ardente/
    em minha perdição se conjuraram;/
    os erros e a fortuna sobejaram,/
    que para mim bastava o amor somente.Tudo passei; mas tenho tão presente/
    a grande dor das cousas que passaram,/
    que as magoadas iras me ensinaram/
    a não querer já nunca ser contente.Errei todo o discurso de meus anos;/
    dei causa [a] que a Fortuna castigasse/
    as minhas mal fundadas esperanças./

    De amor não vi senão breves enganos./
    Oh! quem tanto pudesse que fartasse/
    este meu duro génio de vinganças!/

  8. Peckham, Morse. Man’s Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts, (1965).
  9. Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, (1841), James Fraser, London. All societies set up heroes who embody their values. Heroes are essentially a religious way of looking at life. Jesus is a hero, too. Prometheus is a type of Jesus.
  10. Camus, Albert (1955) – The Myth of Sisyphus (first published in French in 1942).
  11. Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1927). Complete Poetical Works. Published by Oxford University Press. London, p. 201.
  12. Byron, George Gordon (1936). Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and other Romantic Poems, Published by Doubleday. New York, p. 173. For example, Stanza CV (Canto IV):

    And from the planks, far shatter’d o’er rocks,/
    Built me a little bark of hope, once more/
    To battle with the ocean and the shocks/
    Of the loud breakers, ad the ceaseless roar/
    Which rushes on the solitary shore/
    Where all lies founder’d that was ever dear/
    But could I gather from the wave-worn store/
    Enough for my rude boat, where should I steer?/
    There woos no home, nor hope, or life, save what is here/.

  13. Shelley, p. 264.
  14. Berlin, Isaiah (1958) Two Concepts of Liberty. Leo Strauss was a German-American political philosopher and proponent of “natural law” doctrine, who while a professor at the University of Chicago has been credited as the intellectual mentor for what is called in the US “neo-conservatism”. Although Berlin is often considered a “liberal” whereas Strauss is considered a conservative/ reactionary, a principal historical motivation in both is their venomous reaction to the Russian Revolution.
  15. The Austrian School of economic dogma. Its most notorious contemporary propagandist was Milton Friedman. However Friedman was simply a populist acolyte of the economic theorists who were spawned in the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and after WWII found their home in the United States, many of whom gave birth to what was known as the “Chicago School” since it was spawned at the University of Chicago (along with a host of unsavoury German-speakers from north of the Salzach river).
  16. Agee, Philip/Wolf, Louis (1978) – Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe. Lyle Stuart and Dorset Press. New York,  This is just one of several books/collections which drew attention to the covert operations of the US government to manipulate elections throughout Western Europe after World War II, principally to prevent popular European communist parties from winning elections.
  17. See NSC-68, promulgated in 1947, this policy document defined the US national security strategy and objectives. It remained classified until the late 1970s.
  18. Of the three key US diplomats of the so-called Cold War era, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and Henry Kissinger, it is telling that Kissinger’s academic focus was on the political order created by the reactionary Congress of Vienna, designed to suppress democratic and revolutionary movements after the defeat of Napoleon.