Monday, May 30, 2016

Proletarian Fiction

 New Book Announcement:
"FACTORY DAYS  - Class war takes many forms, and this is one of them" by C.G. Gibbs, 2016

This story is set in the early to mid-1980s in the first wave of U.S. factory closings, amidst recessions and rumblings of financial fraud.  It is a story about class consciousness through the prism of one ordinary white working-class union man, Malachomus O’Corrigan.  Malachy toils away in one of Chicago’s working class suburbs, in an electronics factory about to close. A British/Australian multi-national had purchased the U.S. factory to make equipment for Wall Street.  Their main goal is downsizing the plant, laying off workers and removing the union due to technical changes in the industry.  After a series of personal tribulations, Malachy snaps and decides to take revenge. Copy-cats imitate his actions across the U.S., which worries the police and the FBI to no end.

In the process, Malachy meets members of several leftist/socialist organizations.  He attends a rally in Austin, Minnesota for the P-9 Hormel strikers and gets into a number of confrontations.  The book is set in Franklin Park and Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis and Ely, Minnesota.   

The basic theme of the story is class-struggle, on an individual level and involving unions and socialists.  The issue of retaliatory terror against top businessmen is central.  The story takes place during the initial volleys of the renewed class war by capitalists on the American working class, which re-opened with startling fury in the late 1970s-early 1980s. The famous Austin, Minnesota meat-packers strike is a central event in the book.  Austin was one of many defensive strikes during this period across the country, like the 'war zone' in Decatur, Illinois, the Pittston coal strike and the walkout against the Chicago Tribune.   

The protagonist is a somewhat easy-going person slammed by overwhelming problems.  He has two relationships with women – one ending and one beginning.  The relationship between his best factory friend endures in spite of real dangers from the police and the state.  The book is a naturalistic narrative, broken up by first-person ‘stream of consciousness.’  Hair metal music serves as its ‘soundtrack.’  The story could be read as a ‘police procedural,’ but it turns that genre on its head.  The story is humbly told in the tradition of Upton Sinclair, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Native Son,” Theodore Dreiser and the proletarian writers of the early to mid-20th century - a tradition that has almost died or is dead.  This books seeks to revive that tradition.  The historical background is the flight of black slaves north, now copied by the flight of a white wage slave many years later. 

At the present time there is almost no fiction covering layoffs, strikes or unions in the United States – a stunning omission.  One can count the number of novelists who deal with this area on less than one hand.  One of the difficulties is that the subject matter is outside the experience of most middle-class writers, who don’t see factory life or working-class politics as significant.  This book, given the decimation of the U.S. working class over the past 40 years by financial and industrial capital and the subsequent rise of a mass opposition to Wall Street, is timely and on-target. 
C.G. Gibbs

Right now, copies are available at Mayday Books and Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis, Chapman Street Books and Second Floor Bookstore in Ely, Minnesota.   Also available on-line at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and electronic versions.  (Type:  'Factory Days Gibbs') You can also e-mail the author, '' to arrange getting the book by mail.  $15.95 softback.  $4.99 Kindle.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Down from Socialism?

“Up From Liberalism,” Jacobin Magazine, Issue 20, Winter 2016

Continuing with the theme of the Democratic Party (“DP”) and its identity issues in this election - brought about by the campaign of Bernie Sanders - Jacobin weighs in somewhat.   The academic socialist or Marxist journal that promises for $50 the ‘thorough Bolshevization of American Culture guaranteed’ dissects and quantifies the decay of the Democratic Party from a somewhat ‘social democratic’ Rooseveltian organization to a neo-liberal centrist organization. They date this process since 1975 or so, but start their history in the 1930s.   

This analysis has been done before, perhaps even beaten to death before, but Jacobin manages to add some great statistics.  For instance, they have figures on the many government social programs that evidentily people are unaware they use. The figures show that most ordinary people who ‘don’t get government money’ actually do.  Check your tax form next time you say anything about ‘government aid' and then try to explain the mortgage deduction, 529 plans, IRA non-taxability, the child tax credit, the earned income credit, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, etc. etc. etc.

Jacobin #20 Deals Some Cards
Regarding the U.S., articles carefully describe the history of the Democratic Leadership Counsel, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in defining a new politics for the DP.  Obviously Hillary Clinton is the continuation of these politics. Echoing Thomas Frank’s new book ‘Listen Liberal’, one article focuses on the role of the professional strata and the technology sector in this new iteration of the DP – the development of the ‘Atari Democrats’ in the early 1990s that signified a break with any real orientation to labor and an embrace of the tech sector instead.  Carter had called out the military on the miners in the 1988 UMW strike, but Clinton 1 made it official.

The articles detail how ‘3rd Way,’ ‘New Democratic,” neo-liberal policies were carefully nurtured and promoted over a pro-working class verbalism in these organizations, both nationally and internationally.  In the process the authors many times confuse true social-democratic organizations that came out of the 2nd International with the US DP, which never had anything to do with socialism even under Roosevelt.  This fuzzy amalgamation has a political purpose I think – giving more credibility to the DP, if that is possible.

Overseas, an article looks at Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the British Labour Party over the forces called ‘New Labour’ in England, representing a youth and labor insurgency that stunned the pro-capital elements in the Labour Party.  Detailed statistics in other articles show the decline of voting and membership in the mass social-democratic / labor parties across the board in the European capitalist countries, as those parties for the most part turned to capital and the market to solve problems in the 1980s.  The exceptions were Greece and Spain, home to new mass parties opposing austerity. 

What is the problem here?  The problem is what I perceive as an attraction to social democracy by this ostensible group of independent Marxists at Jacobin.  In the first article, “The Dynamics of Retreat,” the interviewee Robert Brenner insists that Roosevelt showed: “There is no need for a labor or social-democratic party to win important reforms.”  Which might be an interesting historical point until you understand that, A. American capital had reserves other countries didn’t; B, the Communists, Trotskyists and other socialist radicals had organized the class and were attempting to build a labor party in the process.  Perhaps he could have said:  “No real reforms are possible without the role of communists and socialists!”  But he didn’t, which means he’s giving an opening to the people who do not want a mass labor / populist / black party in the U.S.  These are the social-democrats, whose stories pack the pages of this edition of Jacobin.

The lack of a mass organization for the American working class – one oriented to socialism – explains the apparent strength of the DP.  Brenner recognizes that later in the article – calling that lack a ‘major negative consequence.’  Even foreign ‘co-thinkers’ are hampered by this outlook.  It is interesting that the Canadian New Democratic Party, which is part of the social-democratic current in world politics, does not promote an independent labor party in the U.S. next door, but instead kow-tows to the Democratic Socialists of America (“DSA”), who have been deep-throat DP’ers since the 1960s.  This, incidentally, is the same deep-entry path the U.S. Communist Party ("CP") has followed since the popular front of the 1930s.

Of most interest in this series of Jacobin articles is a description of the various forces inside the DP who attempted to change or influence its course.  The article by Paul Heideman is key.  In a detailed history, he describes the roles of Max Schactman, a former Trotskyist who was one of the first to claim the USSR was ‘state capitalist’ - and Michael Harrington, the founder of DSA, the 2nd International’s wing in the U.S.  Over many years, they attempted to sway George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO and the pooh-bahs in the Democratic National Committee to move to the left – and failed.  At the time this was called the ‘socialism of the possible’ or some such abomination.  Anyone outside the tent was some kind of ‘ultra-left’.  They ultimately became cheerleaders for every war (Vietnam!) and many reactionary policies that the DP followed.  For instance de-regulator Jimmy Carter was somehow the ‘working-class’ candidate when he ran, according to Harrington.  Harrington was apparently unaware of Jimmy’s true loyalties. 

The key sentence comes at the end of the article, which after describing the sad reformist long march of Schactman and Harrington through the DP, says:  “The failure of re-alignment, then, contains lessons for socialists who fall on both sides of the old ‘reform or revolution’ argument.  Its history should not be taken as a verdict against reformism. Indeed, the story of realignment serves to clarify what, exactly, will be required for a successful American reformism.”  

It is nice that someone finally proclaims they are a reformist.  However, you can also be a reformist OUTSIDE the DP.  After all, what about that history of social-democracy and mass European-style pro-labor parties?  The choice to be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the DP is not really about reform, though certainly no actual revolutionary who wants socialism will find himself inside the DP with a long-term entry strategy. Which is exactly the program of DSA, the CP, Schactman and other social-democratic ‘warriors.’  

Just to put the icing on the cake, a nice full page ad from DSA graces these pages of Jacobin #20.  Do we sense a political opportunity?  After all the kinda-leftist commentariat – Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Thomas Frank, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Richard Trumka, Matt Taibbi,, Alternet, now Bernie Sanders – the whole crew of well-known names – are in the end on-board with the social-democratic approach and the DP.  This is the siren song being sung right now. 

All of the above have conflicted relationships with the DP, of course, but none advocate any organizational break with it – ever.  They could be encouraging all the ridiculous number of single-issue organizations and community groups to unite in a single activist united front.  Or advocating an independent populist, labor or black party, as has been done in the past.  Perhaps even getting on-board for a block of all the actual Marxist leftists in the U.S. in a working unity committee, or for a broader workers’ anti-capitalist front that would incorporate organizations outside the socialist left.  Perhaps on a smaller level encouraging the 3 Trotskyist groups in the U.S. – Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action and Socialist Appeal - to form a formal working partnership together too.  But you will never hear one of these people, after describing how miserable everything is, saying its time to break organizationally with the people committing the atrocities. 

This group of prominent semi-lefties’ reticence to advocate a different organizational approach puts them to the right of the labor radicals of the 1930s.  Hell, it even puts them to the right of the middle-class led Green Party.  It also puts them squarely in the camp of DSA, the CP and the DP.   

This is the pull that any ‘intellectual’ journal must contend with.  Jacobin perhaps wants to straddle this fence by being organizationally vague.  They have ‘Jacobin clubs’ in 60 places that discuss issues – using their articles to organize independent socialists.  Perhaps they think their journal will be the ‘organizing center’ for a new party, as Lenin once upon a time theorized.  “Because the Internet Needs a Vanguard!’ says their website.   I’m going to visit the local one and see what is inside the box.    

So I ask – whither Jacobin?  Social-democracy or socialism?

Reviews about books on the DP:  Listen Liberal” and “The Democrats, A Critical History,” below. Use search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books!  Jacobin is for sale at May Day, along with many other left newspapers and magazines.  It is the best selection in the Twin Cities. 

Red Frog
May 23, 2016

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Mark of Frostbite

‘Kolyma Tales,’ by Varlam Shalamov, (1994, English edition) with added stories – ‘Graphite.’

During the Stalin period in the USSR, Shalamov was arrested twice and had his sentence extended twice, spending a total of 17 years in the labor camps of Kolyma, a river basin and mountain range in far eastern Siberia above the Okhotsk Sea.  He was accused of being a Trotskyist in 1929, sentenced to 3 years, arrested again in 1937 for the same ‘crime,’ and sentenced to 5 years, which was extended till the ‘end of the war,’ then extended 10 more years in 1943 for saying something complementary about a writer, Ivan Bunin. 

Kolyma Gold Mine & Prisoners
Unlike Solzhenitsyn, his stories are matter-of-fact depictions of what the political prisoners sentenced under Article 58 went through.  Shalamov thought that just describing the nightmarish gulag conditions would have more impact than adding a political angle, as did Solzhenitsyn.  What stands out is that the Kolyma camp political prisoners came from all walks of life – workers, peasants, intellectuals, engineers, party officials and government bureaucrats, scientists, artists, soldiers, officers, suspect ethnicities - anyone.  It reflected a general dragnet of Soviet society.   

This was also pointed out by Zizek in his book ‘Totalitarianism,’ as almost anyone could be arrested and sentenced - giving the terror a completely irrational surface logic.  Even the first organizer of the Kolyma camps, Eduard Berezin, a Latvian Communist, was shot in 1938.  At that time in 1932 the camps were well-run and very few deaths occurred, as an infrastructure for this region of Siberia rich in minerals was constructed – roads, railroads, bridges, ports.  Only later did this change when the great purges began.  Mass graves became common in Kolyma. 

Another thing that is obvious is that this was a massive project of unpaid prison labor.  The ‘logic’ behind the camp system was to mine gold, tin, zinc, even uranium with virtual slave labor – starved, ill-clothed, ill-housed, over-worked, frozen, terrorized, shot.  This was the ‘primitive accumulation’ of the bureaucratic state economy.  It cannot be ignored that these prisoners were not just being ‘punished’ but were actually doing the work of a working class, but for free. Since so many died of the brutal Siberian conditions of 6 months of winter, much of it in 40 below zero conditions, more prisoners were always needed.  More baseless charges, more arrests, more trains to Siberia were the essential source of labor for this sub-arctic Siberian mining region.    

Shalamov describes absurd visits from high Communist Party bureaucrats who came through occasionally to tell everyone not to mistreat the prisoners, then they would drive away and things went on as usual.  He points out the respite that hospital stays could provide, and the eagerness with which people would get sick or injured, including self-injury.  Or the differences between ‘goners’ – weak prisoners – and the rest.  Shalamov himself was a ‘goner’ at one point.  He describes over and over again the privileged position of the actual criminal element in the camp, who lorded it over the politicals by law and in accord with the camp administrations, who used them to discipline and terrorize the workforce.  One 'tale' concerned a scientific-minded inmate who realized that the official food rations would starve large men first, as the rations were uniform for everyone – as were the clothes.  Shalamov describes all the dodges prisoners would use to avoid death in the gold mines - hiding, getting sick, finding a skill like calligraphy that a prison administrator would find useful. 

Some tales concern ill-fated attempts at escape, as hundreds of miles of taiga stretched between the camps and some kind of ‘freedom.’  One such group was composed of former soldiers who had been sentenced to the gulag, along with thousands of other Soviet Army soldiers, for being captured by the Nazis during WWII.  Really, that was Stalinist policy.  “Thanks for fighting!”  Most of the other prisoners were civilians with no military training, easily intimidated by the professional criminal thugs and the camp guards.  As a result, almost no solidarity existed among prisoners – everyone was left to their own fate, except for occasional individual acts of kindness.  Evidently political organization was not strong at all.  This isolation marked every prisoner.  Only one exception was noted – the “Committees of the Poor” in the formal urban prisons like Butyr in Moscow.  These gathered a ‘tax’ from prisoners for those prisoners without money, who were unable to purchase anything at the commissaries and hence dependent on the starvation food.  The prison administration attempted to stamp them out, but the prisoners held firm, disciplining anyone who informed or did not contribute to the tax. 

These are human stories at bottom – humans in horrendous conditions.  Survivors were marked by the disfigurement of frostbite on face, hands, feet.  Many of the stories are told in the first person and we assume this is Shalamov talking, not several fictional creations - but it could be the latter.  Shalamov ultimately is released and perhaps travels back to his wife in Moscow on the loaded trains, a different person.  He later smuggled these stories out to be published in German and French, but in a statement finally published in 1972, he was forced to say that the “Kolyma Tales” were no longer relevant.  Because of this he had been permitted to publish poetry beginning in 1956, so the statement must have been signed soon after he was released around 1952 or 1953.  He died in 1982.

Other reviews that relate to the USSR:  Cohen’s “Soviet Fates & Lost Alternatives,” Zizek’s “Did Someone Say Totalitarianism?“, “The Struggle for Power – Russia in 1923,” “The Red Atlantis – Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism,”, “Enemy at the Gates,” Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”  

Red Frog
May 17, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Democratization of Art

Minneapolis Institute of Art (‘MIA’) – ‘State of the Art – Discovering American Art Now’

Ever wondered what the art world is doing or where it is going?  Tired of reading about high prices at Art Basel or at Sothebys?  Wondering if art will ever be relevant to working-class people again?

I’ve asked myself some of these same questions.  This show provides one of the answers, and it’s not limited to Minnesota.  Organized by the Museum of American Art in Bentonville Arkansas, this show is a cross-section of 130 artworks by more than 50 pretty much unknown artists.  Bentonville of course is the headquarters of Wal-Mart, the retail death-star; and anti-union Delta is the show’s major sponsor  – probably part of their PR campaigns to the liberal professional strata who frequent the MIA. 
Four Legs, Good - Two Legs, Better
That said, the curators claim that 2 million people in the U.S. are artists.  This is significant, for it shows that ‘art’ is not just an elite preoccupation anymore.  Since the Renaissance, when a handful of people called themselves artists, to Paris in the times of Impressionism where 2,000 registered artists lived in the city, artists have been a marginal strata.  Today it is a mass activity.  In Minneapolis there is even an ‘art crawl’ in some neighborhoods, and this is probably true all over the U.S.  This show makes the usual tired nods to ‘diversity’ – even in its’ promo cover shot – but it showcases an amateur art world in which no art ‘movement’ exists.   

Each artist is following their own obsession through various mediums  – sculpture with balsa wood, birds dressed in clothing, paintings, ink drawings, digital art based on skin, films of various kinds, found objects; recycled pieces made with corks, painted fabric, lottery tickets; much photography, immersive pieces, fabric constructions, fabric wrapped around combs, ceramics and porcelain, melted plastic, collage, what have you. 
The themes are also over the map.  There is a bit of politics – a picture of an abandoned mall; environmental messages; the enslavement of black people, little recreations of buildings destroyed in Iraq and Syria, references to Animal Farm – but most of it is again, individual obsessions.  This reflects the whole capitalist economy, in which individuated people follow their tiny passions.  Each artist becomes an entrepreneur, selling themselves and their somewhat narrow talent as a commodity.  In addition, art has become part of the ‘peddler’ economy in which money is earned on the side to supplement meager wages.  Today most varieties of isolated artists avoid any interaction with social movements or history.  Sad but true.  

Folk art and ostensible ‘fine art’ are also all mashed together.  This might all be called ‘post-modernism’ but I don’t think it is because it still follows a certain pattern.  What is that pattern?

What is happening is the democratization of art.  That is the pattern.  Karl Marx pointed out in his younger days that socialism and later communism would free people from the tyranny of excessive labor in order to allow workers to grow and develop other skills – cultural, athletic, mechanical.  Socialism he felt would be the full transition from the ‘realm of necessity’ to the ‘realm of freedom.’  In this vision, many or all people would become artists – or musicians, writers, builders, inventors, sewers, software developers, great cooks, gardeners – all the thing people in the U.S. pursue, but currently in a somewhat limited way.   

Whether this also leads artists in the present day to actually forming artistic ‘movements’ that unite with social struggles is probably also inevitable, as individuation ultimately becomes a sterile approach. 
This democratization is happening across the cultural board, not just among artists.  In the U.S., the massive amount of musicians in Minneapolis, the thousands of actors in Los Angeles, the writers crowding New York (or perhaps who used to crowd New York…) - are creating an overflow of creativity, ‘content’ and ‘product.’ The consequence is that there is now massive amounts of everything  - not just cereal but cultural products.  But there is still a bifurcation of this production – a 1% or 10% that can earn a living and a 90% that does occasionally, in their spare time, or that never earns enough to make a real living and scrapes by.  ‘Don’t quit your day job,’ as they say.  Yet this situation presages a completely different kind of ‘art world’ which is totally alienated from the high-bucks commodification that we see of Impressionism or Picasso or Abstract Expressionism by capital’s art market.  A commodification that has now even reached street art, much to the dismay of Banksy.  

Under socialism, the added amount of free time enjoyed would allow this flowering of talent.  But even other capitalism, there is now more free time in some more social-democratic countries or among some strata than in the past.  This allows the ordinary population to become more creative.  This is what we are seeing when we see a number like ‘2 million’ artists in the U.S.  – it is not just a reflection of the poverty of the job market.  In essence what is happening even under capital is the development of socialist cultural values ‘in the egg,’ foreshadowed.  This situation prefigures a world where food, clothing, health care, education and shelter are givens – no longer the main goals of life, but automatic.  Then human beings can become fully human, not just wage slaves or animals grubbing for their daily bread.  

Indeed, artists won't become millionaires or lauded by the rich anymore.  That will be the new paradigm.  Art and creativity will instead become widespread - it will be democratic.  The government or society will instead support the arts in a way that they do not now. 

The show at the MIA runs From Feb 18 to May 22.

Reviews on prior art shows or books.  Use some of these terms to find them:  The Influence of Picasso,” “The Art of Frida Kahlo,” “Art Crawl in Northeast Minneapolis,” “London: The Death of Art,” “9.5 Thesis on Art’ and “Banksy.”

Red Frog
May 13, 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sacrificing the Living for the Dead

“Son of Saul,” film directed by Laszlo Jeles Nemes, 2015

This Hungarian film, which won the 2015 Oscar for best foreign film, is about events during the Sonderkommando rebellion in the Auschwitz / Birkenau camp.  Sonderkommandos (‘special unit’ in German) were essentially Jewish ‘trustees’ who worked in the death camps.  On October 7, 1944, they learned they were to be eliminated and they revolted with others, burning part of a crematoria and killing and wounding Nazi guards.  The revolt was eventually crushed and most Sonderkommandos killed with shots to the back of their heads.  Rebellions also took place in Treblinka and Sobibor.  (The 650 page academic book “Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis,” details the history of Jewish rebellions during WWII.) 

Crematoria at Birkenau
The lead actor who played Saul Auslander (‘outsider’), Reza Rohrig, was a poet and semi-actor who visited Auschwitz frequently while studying in Poland.  He became an orthodox Jew and that story is at the heart of this one – oddly enough.  Many have dismissed the story as inessential to the film, but I think it is.  The film is shot in Cinema Verite style from the sole viewpoint of Auslander, a quiet, mouse-like man who becomes intent on burying a Jewish boy who he claims is his son.  This boy somehow survived the gas chamber, then was strangled by a Nazi doctor.  Auslander cradles the dead boy in his arms repeatedly, reminiscent of a pieta, and hides him in his bunk. 

Auslander attempts to hold an ‘orthodox’ Jewish funeral, but doesn’t really understand how to do it.  For a burial, you do not need rabbi and any Jew can recite the Kaddish.  Auslander thinks a rabbi is necessary. 10 people are supposedly needed instead.  He is told these things by the rebellious, probably Communist prisoners, but he doesn't listen.  In addition, bodies need to be buried in 24 hours, but away from bad places like Auschwitz.  Yet Auslander at one point is digging a plot in the middle of the camp under some stairs.  This Sondercommando understands none of this.  He spends the film looking for a rabbi, to the detriment of the rebellion and almost his own survival.  And when he finds one, the man is a liar who was just trying to survive.

What is tremendous about the film is the way it shows the camp – a hellish warren of death rooms in which Auslander never quite makes eye–contact with the arriving transports of Hungarian Jews.  We do not directly see the piles of bodies in the crematoria or any of the other horrors, but only at the edges of Auslander’s consciousness, out of focus.  This is not Spielberg’s version of Hollywood panoramas and clear-eyed witnessing, but closer to what it must have been like to attempt to survive in these conditions.  The whole day and a half of the film is chaotic and similar to how Altman handles film – voices and languages float in and out, sounds happen, people appear and disappear, events flow.  It is almost as if there is one tracking shot following Auslander around the camp and its various chambers of horrors. 

Hell Is On Earth
The trustees talk to the arriving Jews entering the dressing rooms like they are entering a normal delousing or sanitation station, to be followed by a meal of hot soup.  They then drag the dead from the gas chambers to the crematoria, scrub the bloody floors, take out the clothing, take the travel bags of the dead to a large warehouse, shovel ashes into the lake.  At some point the Nazis begin to panic, as they cannot kill quickly enough, and so bypass the gas chambers.   In the night, they start shooting naked Jews and dumping them in pits, then pouring gasoline on their bodies – so the fires are burning everywhere.  It looks quite literally like hell on earth – something out of Dante or Hieronymus Bosch. 
This film makes this experience more real than any previous film has done, and yet you cannot cry.  This film was shot on a budget and was never expected to go anywhere.  It is similar in mood to another Hungarian, Imre Kertesz, who won the Nobel in 2002, partly for his “Fateless” story.  That book centered in a somewhat dispassionate way on a boy too, and asserted that there is human normality even in a death camp.

However, this is also the first film to focus on the Sondercommando revolt, yet the revolt is somewhat peripheral to the main narrative.  Auslander fails to deliver some gunpowder smuggled to him by the imprisoned trustee women because he lost it while looking for the rabbi.  It was to be used to blow up the crematoria. The people organizing the revolt – probably Communist prisoners - say to him: “You are sacrificing the living for the dead.”  His response:  “We’re already dead.”  He essentially is trying to do one thing – properly bury a boy who it turns out probably isn’t really his son.  In retrospect it is an act of madness, depression and humanism, but not of collective action.  So the story in this film does not highlight the rebellion – really the only way out of this situation – but this single-minded, somewhat cracked religious narrative.

Why does this matter?  We have seen films on the Warsaw ghetto revolt, the Jewish partisans in the Polish forests, but nothing regarding the camps.  This is the first to my knowledge.  Failing to focus on the rebellion is a huge mistake of political blindness.  That is because the overarching political issue regarding the ‘final solution’ from the viewpoint of the Jews was why were there not more revolts, more escapes, more guerrilla war, more understanding.   It really comes down to the upper-class and religious leadership of the Jewish community – the rich, the Zionists, the collaborators with the Nazis, some of whom bought their way to freedom; the rabbis who counseled cooperation and pacifism; the marginalization of the communists among the Jewish population in so many countries.  These people fatally lulled parts of the Jewish population – and to this day have escaped any penalty.  Some of them went on to found the State of Israel.  Back in the day, the left called this group ‘the Judenrat.’

Soviet Army Liberates Auschwitz
The Soviet Army arrived in Auschwitz on January 27th, 1945, liberating the survivors.
No individual knows how they would have handled this dreadful situation, but certainly political organization and understanding would have been beneficial.  The ambiguous status of the Sonderkommando, who survived by collaborating under threat of death, shows the lengths people will go to survive.  They even knew that their terms would be up at some point, as they were replacing others - so they were only buying a bit of time.  This is a visually and emotionally powerful film with flawed politics, but nevertheless is required viewing. It is perhaps the greatest fiction film on the Holocaust in the camps. 

Other review related to this:  "The Holocaust Industry."  

Red Frog
May 9, 2016

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deep South May Day

May Day in the Southern U.S.

About a 100 people gathered at the corner of Broad and College in Athens, Georgia for a May Day march and event.  It was on the site of the annual "Human Rights Festival" in downtown Athens.  This had only happened once before.  This crowd was certainly larger than I expected, so perhaps there is a new spirit afloat in this passive country.  A large group of Latino activists, some black activists fighting for a living wage, a group of students (mostly young women), hippie greyheads and townies all united.  "Obreros Unidos!" was the chant.

The Famous Fist
After some speeches by a Latino activist in Spanish and an older black activist from the music stage, the demonstrators marched to the office of the president at UGA to demand a living wage, then back over to City Hall. However it was Sunday and no one was home - though it probably wouldn't matter if they were.  Inequality and working-class rights are not something that is tackled by either.

Athens/Clarke County is one of the most unequal counties in the U.S. - hosting a layer of mostly high-paid academic professionals and administrators, as it is the site of the University of Georgia's largest campus.  And then a 30% poverty rate of mostly black workers.  Your ethnicity almost determines your class standing.  But there are many underpaid working class whites in Clarke County too.  Added to this is about 40,000 students, many of whom are attracted by the state-paid HOPE scholarship - which allows almost free tuition with a B average.  If Georgia can do it, there is no reason why every other state can't. 

Unions are virtually non-existent here, even among teachers or other public employees like maintenance workers at UGA.  Fear and intimidation, as well as the law, almost prohibit unionization in various industries, according to one public teacher activist.  A Caterpillar plant has just relocated near Athens, of course without the UAW.

Being a unionist, activist or socialist in this town is pretty hard.  As is being black or Latino!  The 'mellow' mood and right-wing and religious surroundings mitigate against radicalism - except reactionary radicalism.  The vast numbers of students have not made Athens a more radical Berkeley, a Madison or an Ann Arbor.  The students are mostly interested in shopping, drinking, eating and music.  And their careers, of course.

This gathering shows that May Day is not dead yet in the U.S., even in the South.
Happy May Day!

Red Frog
May 1, 2016