Friday, June 29, 2018

Lapland Lives


"Sami Blood," film by Amanda Kernell, 2016

This film confirms that nearly every indigenous people in the world is or was the victim of extreme oppression by colonialism or white supremacism. Even in the Nordic countries, which had fascist or extreme conservative governments until the socialist labor movements defeated them.  The Sami are indigenous reindeer herders who inhabit northern Norway, Sweden and Finland.  “Lapland” as they used to say.  This film, set in the 1930s in northern Sweden, shows their children being removed from their parents, forbidden the use of the Sami tongue, inculcated in Christianity and abused by Swedes.  Sound familiar?  It is the same thing that happened to native Americans, Australian aborigines, Brazilian forest people and African tribal children.
Not Intimidated...

Elle-Marja is a 14 year old headstrong Sami girl who sees where her life is heading and makes a break for urban Swedish society.  Among other things, a group of ‘racial’ scientists come to the school, maker her stand naked in public and measure her skull.  After having her ear notched like a reindeer by some cruel Swedish boys, she runs away from her sister Njenna and her school, heading to the town of Uppsala, Sweden.  Key to her transformation is losing the traditional embroidered dress she is made to wear at home and school.  In disguise, she borrows, then steals a more modern Swedish dress for a dance, then a frock on a train.  She changes her name to Christina to fit in – choosing such a name is not an accident.

In Uppsala everything is strange to Elle-Marja's rural ways.  She tries to move in with a young rich boy she met at a party, even offering to be the family’s servant.  When his parents say no, she enrolls in a dance school she cannot afford, doing gymnastics she has never done.  To get money for the school, she returns home and tries to slaughter the reindeer that were given to her.  Her mother gives her a silver buckled belt owned by her father, then turns her back on her.  She never sees her sister, mother or village again.

These scenes are all set in flashbacks she remembers as an old white-haired lady returning north for the funeral of her dead sister.  Estranged from her relatives and the Sami of the village, at the end she regrets cutting ties with her family, especially her younger sister, and leaving the rural life she could have led.

A quiet, visual film, political without meaning to be so.
Other reviews on Nordic topics:  "Viking Economics," "Lenin in Helsinki,"  "Redbreast," "Age of the Vikings" and "The Vikings."

Red Frog

June 29, 2018

Monday, June 25, 2018

The 2nd Red Century?


“The 1st Red Century,” Jacobin, No. 27, Fall 2017

I’m really done reading about the Russian Revolution, but I figured I’d wade through Jacobin’s issue on that subject, with some pithy comments.

This issue is like a children’s pop-up book, with small tear-out sections and a big poster-sized insert.  I figured there might be a pop-up of the Winter Palace or a button that would play The International, but no deal.  Sure looks like it cost a lot though.  Making reading fun!

The whole thing reads like a statement of left-social-democratic intent, with some nostalgia for Soviet films, the hammer and sickle iconography, ‘where are they now’ details on former ‘socialist’ countries and stuff about statues of good ‘ol dead Lenin. Their somewhat open intent here is to fight the ‘ultra-left,’ though it is not clear who they are talking about.
A Movie Retrospective

In order:  Chibber

The poster is written by Vivek Chibber.  Chibber is a professor of sociology at NYU. He mentions that the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and after that, the Bolsheviks, were not a monolithic party but had space for disagreements and discussion.   Even while underground.  Unlike the military idea of ‘Leninism’ now embraced by various small left organizations.  Or in present so-called ‘socialist’ states. Not news.

Chibber thinks that the middle-class people he is explicitly talking to, who fill the ranks of non-profits, campus organizations, book clubs and study groups, should turn to the working class.  Odd because this is the oldest point in socialist politics and something ‘hard’ left organizations have understood for years.  See for instance the Worker-Student Alliance circa the late 1960s and the practice of ‘colonization.’  Hey, he could have asked any geezer Marxist about this.  As he humorously points out, instead these groups yap about ‘language, individual identity, body language, consumption habits and the like.”  Well, yeah.  They are sometimes the same people who are unable to chair a book club or a Jacobin discussion group.

Chibber advocates “non-reformist’ reforms or ‘revolutionary reforms.’  Evidently he has never heard of the Transitional Program, which was developed in the 1920s.

At the end, Chibber advocates market socialism, an end to central planning, (‘Marx was wrong…’) a pluralistic, multiparty order (including bourgeois parties) with a significant role for the market.  China is a market-socialist economy, so I wonder what he thinks of them. Oh, wait, I know.  The Nordic social-democracies are his immediate goal and yes, we’d all rather live in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada or damn, New Zealand, Australia, France and even Germany than the U.S.  But can the imperialist beast become a social-democratic cuddle-town?  Or is world capital structured in such a way that someone has to keep order…?  I think you know the answer.

Evidently he has not read enough about the decay of the USSR and other countries to know their version of ‘central planning’ was undermined by each factory or sector’s ultimately following their own plans. To boot, the defense industry distorted the whole economy, at almost 85% in the USSR.  A bad plan. They also mandated the economies of their central European allies.  And yes, the Party did not pay attention to ‘market’ intelligence at all.  But even so, the USSR lasted 70 years…so it had ‘an empirical foundation.’

Derluguian

Next up is the tiny tear-away section, written by a former loyal CPer from the USSR who as a Soviet academic had run-ins with various bureaucrats, and is now an academic in the U.S.  Georgi Derluguian shows how the ‘expert’ bureaucrats actually had very little clue about some issues, and certainly Marxism was farthest from their minds.  Funny stuff, but…why?

Kilpatrick / Usmani

Yes, the ‘hammer and sickle’ is an outdated symbol for most.  But you must remember, the East Germans had a ‘hammer and protractor’ which seems a bit more up-to-date.  Perhaps now we need a battery-run electric drill crossed with a computer mouse as our symbol.  The Drill and the Mouse!   And yes, the Russian Revolution happened in conditions that will rarely be repeated – certainly not in the U.S. or Europe.  A weak bourgeoisie, a massive peasantry, a cruel war killing millions of citizens, a corrupt royal family.  Nope.  Even leftist hardliners know that.  Though in a few countries this is still relevant…

Sunkara

Next up is the Jacobin heavy editor, Bhaskar Sunkara.  He writes a mostly accurate description of the Russian revolution, which was actually not ‘two’ revolutions, but one that lasted from February to October 1917.  He correctly sees the problems of running factories through the party alone, or through unions.  He knows that the other Russian left organizations ran from power and abandoned the Soviets.  And unlike Chibber, he indicates that state planning actually revived the economy.  Though only good for poorer countries as an initial phase, as a later graphic tries to attest.  We may want to ask the Chinese about this also…

A sad section on Michael Gorbachev, the man who helped bring down the USSR because he had nothing to replace it with.  Capital loves a vacuum.

Finn

Daniel Finn writes about the role of the USSR in various national liberation struggles after World War II, starting with Spain prior to the war.  Except for Spain, the Soviet role was useful in overturning South African apartheid, backing up Vietnam and North Korea in not being overrun by the U.S., helping Cuba survive and aiding national liberation movements all over Africa and in the Middle East, even in Central America.  Sorry but the truth will out.  The U.S. was on the wrong side of every one of these issues. But then this was when the USSR wasn’t advocating popular fronts that defanged revolutionary movements elsewhere.  They had twisted ‘internationalism’ to mean anything that the Soviet bureaucracy wanted.  Cuba, China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia were not their doing.  A mixed record, but better than post-1949 China, which practiced virtual isolation.

No more.  Now we have ‘humanitarian’ regime change sponsored by the sole world power, the U.S.  Pick your bloodbath.  Pick your failed state.  Pick your refugees.

Erickson

Megan Erickson writes about revolutionary educational practices in the early USSR, which were years ahead of anything being done now, sort of like what Finland does now.  Though that is unfair.  In the U.S. present education from top to bottom is back-peddling into a dystopia run by corporate needs…sponsored by Apple, Microsoft, Democrats and Republicans. Oh, and big Pharma, Big Ag and the defense industry.  So it is too easy to make fun of…

Ackerman

This Jacobin includes an odd article by Seth Ackerman on how Henry Wallace ran on a 3rd Party ticket in 1948, in a campaign basically run by the Communist Party.  A campaign that included the worst of CP propaganda skills, essentially dooming Wallace.  But it does include a great quote from Engels making fun of ‘Americans’ – “The tenacity of the Yankees…is a result of their theoretical backwardness and the Anglo-Saxon contempt for all theory.  They are punished for this by a superstitious belief in every philosophical and economic absurdity, by religious sectarianism and by idiotic economic experiments.”  Not sure what this has to do with Henry Wallace, but it is still funny.  But hey, can we kick Henry Wallace some more?  And didn’t the social-democrats support Truman?

A good commentary on how present ‘anti-communist’ campaigns in Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania are combined with pro-fascist campaigns in those same countries – which makes you wonder who is behind them?  Wait, we know. Actually timely!

A list of mostly former Soviet ‘Communist’ bureaucrats who became multi-millionaires and billionaires because of their seizure of Soviet common property.  More evidence that nomenklatura apparatchiks became the core of a new capitalist class.

And lastly, former Maoists in the Communist Party (ML) (former October League), now capitalist entrepreneurs, who enthusiastically embraced Pol Pot.  Jokes on them!  Clever propaganda by left social-democrats.  Easy targets, that…

DSA

The tendency that Jacobin supports, the Democratic Socialists of America, is growing exponentionally.  That is due to the Sander’s campaign and the election of Trump.  Many are joining because of its size, as it is now the biggest organization on the 'left.'  It might play the same role that SDS did in the 1960s, which is to say it is attracting people from various tendencies.  However, the plan by “Our Revolution” and some elements of DSA to ‘take over’ or ‘move to the left’ the Democratic Party is faltering heavily.  The recent resignation of Keith Ellison from Congress bodes ill for that old, tired strategy.  He has just lost a lot of clout.  He was the Sanders-supporter and honorary ‘co-chair’ of the Party.  He has chosen to run for Minnesota state attorney general and bring lawsuits, instead of the political strategy of Our Revolution – to chip away at the Party internally.  The Democratic Party establishment has stymied somewhat leftish candidates at every turn, as a recent “This American Life” with Ira Glass recently exposed in a Congressional district in New York involving Sandersite Jeff Beals.  Or attempt to lie about their positions to siphon off votes in primaries, as the Intercept has reported.  Bye, Keith.  Perhaps now he doesn’t have to be the token Muslim to run interference for Israel.

And I bought it at May Day Books, which carries many left newspapers and magazines – even left-liberal ones!

See below for other reviews of Jacobin.  And many commentaries on the Russian Revolution and associated issues…

C:  The victory of a female Latino DSA member in a Democratic Party primary in New York against a mainstream Democrat, especially over the issue of abolishing ICE, has put wind in DSA's sails.  She had no bourgeois support. This after a number of defeats for the 'progressive' wing of the Democratic Party.  However, this is something the central party will no doubt combat, in a position of non-support and isolation if she wins the general...  which she probably will.  Anyway, a good indication that people have had it with neo-liberalism.

Red Frog

June 25, 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

Summer Desert Read

“Hayduke Lives!” by Edward Abbey, 1990

This fiction book is the sequel to the “Monkey Wrench Gang,” Abbey’s classic manifesto of sabotage in the interests of Mother Earth.  Specifically, the area in the U.S. southwest around the Grand Canyon in Utah and south into Arizona.   Abbey was a park ranger on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for years and had plenty of solitude in which to write.  In the book he uses his deep knowledge of the locale to describe the plants, animals and rock formations of that area.  Sitting in his ranger shelter or on a rock ledge he could imagine the comedic conflict between the U.S. government, local developers, mining companies and corrupt politicians on one side and a gaggle of courageous Earth Firsters! on the other.  No corporate media or Big Green organizations need apply.
No Bombs Needed

His quartet of hard-core troublemakers – Seldom Seen Smith, Doc Sarvis, Bonnie Abzzug and George Hayduke himself – get back on the sabotage trail against the hulking 7-story, 22 million pound earth mover called Super-GEM, a GOLIATH - part of a mining effort near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  This surreal moloch monster is being used to construct a massive ore mine for nuclear materials.  Of course it takes until the end of the book for the ultimate conflict to occur, which gives plenty of time for making fun of the capitalist U.S. and its love of false ‘development’ – although Abbey never calls it that.  A vague ‘industrialism’ seems to be his target, but the dangerous and warlike nuclear industry seems to be the immediate issue.  A stupid Mormon politician and businessman, Bishop Love, eats radioactive ore just to prove it is safe, and this moronic (The Angel Moroni!) Bishop Love provides the human ‘target.'

The ideology of the book is deep ecology anarchism, even while the protagonists drive cars, drink corporate beer, eat meat and live in ranch houses.  What they really object to is the destruction of a fragile desert nature by industrial methods – dams, roads, mines and developments like hotels and golf courses.  Once destroyed, never recovered…

The book reflects a somewhat innocent political situation prior to the present application of ‘terrorism’ statutes against water protectors or earth protectors or animal protectors in the U.S.   Now the full weight of the capitalist military and police comes down on the heads of people trying to protect the planet or animals, not a ludicrous bunch of inept establishment clowns as portrayed here.  Bloodthirsty and/or foolish federal, state and private agents all attempt to protect the massive Super-GEM earthmover in the interests of the Syn-Fuel corporation.  A familiar story…still ongoing.

Abbey’s obsession with a Ericka, a Swedish Earth Firster’s ‘upthrust breasts’ and his continual ridicule of lesbians hints at a somewhat archaic approach to sexual issues.  Basically some horny and lonely park ranger’s wonderings...  River guide Seldom Seen is a practicing polygamist Mormon, a church which comes in for a mountain of ridicule.  Yet Seldom never misses a chance to couple with others, so the men become ridiculous lechers too.

Earth First!, Abbey's favored organization, is now a shadow of its former self.  For those you cannot defeat, ridicule serves as a second tactic.  It seems to be the secret of this book.  Triumphant fictional victories over Moloch are a form of ‘eco’ fantasy that only exist in more mundane ways in the real world.  However, given the many oil pipelines being driven through various places, like west Canada (Trans Mountain), northern Minnesota (Enbridge 3) and through Texas (Trans Pecos), this is no laughing matter.  Abbey would agree, as his humorous book dedication attests.  The issue now extends far beyond the destruction of the immediate environment and goes into the warming of the whole planet.  Earth First! relied on secretive sabotage or small civil disobedience protests, when what is needed is a mass movement and a real eco-socialist mass opposition party to put muscle into the fight.  Certainly the dismal Democrats are not a real opposition.  We saw a taste of a mass opposition in the "NoDAPL" fight at Standing Rock.  I.E. bring in the heavy battalions, not just the skirmishers.

Prior books by Edward Abbey reviewed below:  “Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Good News.”  Also similar issues: “Tar Sands,” “Sulfuric Acid & the Boundary Waters,” “The Party’s Over,” “The Race For What’s Left,” “Capitalism Vs. The Climate.”

And I got it at May Day Books! (Which also has “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”)

Red Frog

June 22, 2018

Happy Solstice!  Enjoy the fading light…

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Religious Frenzy


“Go Tell It On The Mountain,” by James Baldwin, 1952

For an atheist, no matter the author, this is a hard book to read, ‘classic’ or not.  This is about a group of black fundamentalist Christians, centered around one family from the U.S. South who move to New York.  They strongly believe in heaven and hell, Satan and God, being ‘saved,’ prayer, physical abuse and bad marriages.  They hate sex, masturbation, homosexuality, children born out of wedlock, the non-religious, the blues, movies, drinking and other ‘sins’ too numerous to name.  As one character remarks later, their ideas make religious people miserable, but in a different way.

If You Want to Climb That Mountain...

The fiction book is written in a feverish tone, where simple naturalism is invaded by multiple psychological fantasias of fear and loathing.  The young boy in the book, his foster father and his real mother track their internal frenzies of evil and salvation – in page after page after page.  This gets hard to read because their emotions become disconnected from anything but biblical verbiage, like bad dreams doled out by a Christian drunk.

The book ends during a Saturday night revival service attended by only a few faithful at a store-front church in Harlem.  The revival lasts until dawn. The young boy John, who is 14, hates his abusive foster-father, the holy-roller pastor of the church.  The pastor, Gabriel, dislikes this foster son, as John is not his actual genetic child.  Gabriel’s own son Roy has just denounced him earlier in the evening, so it’s not going well for Gabriel.  His sister Florence also dislikes him over the years for his censorious ways.  But he is God’s mouthpiece, so…they have all congregated in the church, along with a few other hard-core Pentecostals.  And there, John gets ‘saved’ - even though he might be gay.  He almost is forced into it, as the son of a preacher-man.  The ‘salvation’ is tentative at best.

But sometimes the people who rage against sin are the biggest sinners.  That post-frenzy dawn, Florence produces a letter from Gabriel’s dead first wife Deborah that she’d been holding onto for 30 years. It describes events earlier in the novel.  The letter indicates that Gabriel had a ‘love’ child with another woman while dutifully married to Deborah, and while working as a pastor.  Subsequently shunned by Gabriel, this irreligious woman went off to Chicago to have the baby and died in childbirth.  But the child survived.  After that, Gabriel had nothing to do with his son, even when the boy lived with his mother’s relatives in the same southern town as Gabriel did.  He kept it a secret but his wife figured it out quickly.

Standing behind this pressure cooker of religion is the oppression of black people.  In the background, white thugs kill uppity Negroes at will in the southern town, while racist store-owners and cops in New York accuse any black person of a crime. The ‘demons’ of poverty, crime, drink, drugs and sex lure those who fall off the ‘straight and narrow.’ Marx called religion ‘the opium of the people’ and indeed it functions that way for many today, no matter their ethnicity.  But not all, as the continuing split in the black community between the bible-thumpers and the more secular is made evident in the book.  This has not changed.

The black church is a refuge, but also a jail.  It has a liberal wing and also a very conservative wing. This book reflects the latter.  It was Baldwin’s first novel, and it reflects his heavy immersion in fundamentalist Christianity as a young man, and his beginning rejection of it.

Most black socialists and radicals do not trust the church, as it many times either collaborates with a wing of the ruling class or holds back struggle within the black community.  It refuses to recognize the class structure among black people themselves. It doesn’t look at the world scientifically, but instead looks at it from a moralistic point of view.  They feel that "bearing witness" is insufficient.  MLK represented the best of the black Christian church.  Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and others from King’s circle of preachers have tried to follow in his footsteps.  His present attempted successor is Reverend William Barber, leader of Moral Mondays and the Poor Peoples Campaign II.  But not all black preachers are of this liberal type, even today.  There is still a large, crazed wing that is similar to other Christian fundamentalists in this country.  They are reflected in this book. 

The current black Atheist movement, which got inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance, will appreciate this book the most.

Other reviews re James Baldwin:   "I Am Not Your Negro" and "Finks."

And I bought it at May Day Books excellent fiction section!

Red Frog

June 16, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Unbearable Arms

“Loaded – A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, 2018

In this short history, Dunbar-Ortiz deals with the meaning of the term ‘militia’ in the well-known 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights.  That amendment reads:  A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Note the two qualifiers before the comma, which the NRA omits in their propaganda, leaving only the last phrase.  Not a lawyerly way to handle that quote, or even ‘true to the Founders,’ but then the NRA has become an alt-right organization.  Jefferson, in an early draft of the Virginia Constitution used clearer language:  “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”  That phrase did NOT find its way into the Bill of Rights.  Of course, slaves could not own weapons.  They were not ‘People’ at the time.

Over-Loaded
Dunbar-Ortiz was at one time a left feminist activist in Louisiana in the 1970s.  After being threatened by right-wingers, her group collected and trained with various guns for 2 years to protect themselves. She was not a ‘I’m scared of guns’ feminist.  Her rural background had also familiarized her with weapons.  Now she has written an historical study of what the term ‘militia’ meant in the early U.S. and how that links to the present.  This gives us the real meaning of the 2nd Amendment – one not really discussed until now. 

In the process she does not analyze the meaning of the term ‘free State.’  It seems that term indicates that guns are to be used in DEFENSE of the state only, (State is capitalized) and not for revolutionary purposes.  There is no legal ‘right of revolution’ in the laws of the U.S., only in some non-legal texts that accompany the laws.  The right to bear arms is also mentioned in non-legal texts.  So as we shall see, the 2nd amendment is not as ‘progressive’ as it seems.  Some anti-gun liberals will wonder what ‘progressive’ means in this context, given their trust in the police, the FBI and the military.

According to Dunbar-Ortiz, militia does NOT mean the state-based National Guard, which was already authorized in other sections of the Constitution, to wit:  Article I, Section 8, Clause 12 and Article II, Section 2.  State national guards didn’t need to be authorized twice.  In other words, the second amendment does not refer to state national guards either.  What does it refer to?

According to Dunbar-Ortiz’ historical research, in every colony of the U.S. before and after the revolutionary war, it was mandated by local laws that men have guns in order to ‘defend’ and also attack indigenous native Americans.  This ultimately involved scalp hunting and ‘ranging’ in native lands for settlement.  This only tapered off when the U.S. military took over the job in the middle 1800s, but in the west it continued into the 1890s until most tribes were on reservations.  In the South, as slavery became more established and black slaves were swapped out for white ‘indentured servants,’ guns were needed in each white community for slave patrolling and control.  Prior to this, militias were also used against white debt or criminal ‘servants’ who were trying to escape, but the final thrust was against black slaves.  This requirement to bear arms in a slave patrol was also codified in colonial state laws.  The slave patrols were led by the prominent men of the community and slavers themselves, but all white men were required to participate. 

These two historical elements are the real meaning of the word ‘militia’ in the second amendment, which was ratified in 1791. Dunbar-Ortiz insists that this white colonialist meaning continues today into the 21st century. Dunbar-Ortiz adds that the formation of the U.S. military and its doctrine of intervention across the world developed in the wars against north American native peoples, fought from 1607 to the 1890s.  The ‘gun culture’ is really a war culture, and it does not stop at the U.S. border.  The U.S. seemingly has a 'manifest destiny' to rule the world, a position shared by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Andrew Jackson - Indian Fighter/Indian Removal Act
She indicates many ‘heroes’ of American history were part of land-grabbing and a colonial ‘destiny’ aimed at the original inhabitants of north America.  George Washington was a leader of the Virginia militia and led land-grabs into native Ohio, becoming a wealth land speculator.  Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, the Texas Rangers, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Theodore Roosevelt – all played a role in these same practices.  The Klan, private rifle clubs and white citizen’s groups continued the practices of armed intimidation.  Now Alt-Right private white militias, patriot groups and ‘sovereign’ citizens have been added to this tradition of militias.  You might even consider today’s NRA an anti-black, anti-Latino, anti-socialist armed group at this point in history.    Dunbar-Ortiz notes that the NRA was hijacked from a gun education group into being a right-wing lobby for the gun industry and a weaponized 2nd Amendment in 1977.  She clearly shows the links between the largest weapons dealer in the world, the biggest incarceration state, the most violent police, the country with the most civilian violence, alt-right militias and U.S. imperial military policy.  It is all on a continuum.  But “peace” is preached by our masters of war.

Dunbar-Ortiz also addresses U.S. culture, which obviously glorifies violence and guns.  This is a weaker section, looking at several movies and songs that embrace Confederate or former Confederate’s, like Eastwood’s film “Josey Wales” or the film “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”  Ford was actually hired by the governor of Missouri to shoot James, and so was actually no coward.  She attacks “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in her broadside against sympathy for the South.

There are some problems in the book.  She takes on the ‘myth of the hunter,’ though she never mentions the dead animals produced by this practice, or its relation to animal cruelty or meat-eating or factory feedlots and cruelty to humans.  James Fennimore Cooper first romanticized the role of the white buckskin-clad hunter and woods walker, who knew native lore but was still white.  Essentially she sees ‘hunting’ as serving to continue the romance with firearms, but doesn’t go beyond that.  Her politics are not class politics but mostly identity politics, giving the impression that many white people are arming up to shoot immigrants or black people.  Nor does she deal in detail with the role of arms held by black people in defending against racist violence in a consistent way. Or the historical role of labor defense, lets say in the mountains of West Virginia versus violent Pinkertons or trade union defense guards in Minneapolis vis a vis anti-labor fascist militias like the Silver Shirts.  She skips over the issue of whether the misapplication of the ‘2nd amendment’ can be used against the right or our tender government.  She discusses mass shootings but not suicide, which is the number one health problem associated with guns.  The most danger for gun owners is to the owner himself, if he is depressed, a drinker or an angerholic.  The second danger is to his family.  And it is mostly men of course.   There is no discussion of whether a gun might be good to prevent a crime or provide some sense of security.  The racist hysteria of the NRA makes this topic fraught.

She debates in detail academics who see ‘guns’ as something not integral to U.S. history and practice, people like Pamela Haag, Michael Bellesiles and Jon Weiner.  These academics try to pretend that weapons were not integral to settler society, with Bellesiles using false or incomplete data to make this inaccurate point.   

Ultimately, Dunbar-Ortiz is undermining one of the sacred and archaic pillars of the U.S. legal system, based on a Constitution and Bill of Rights that are now so far out of date as to be a hindrance to further social progress.  The right pushes the idea that ‘guns’ are the real source of power, not concentrated economic control.  This leads vulnerable workers to misunderstand how a capitalist society really functions.  Capital is the ‘fountainhead’ of guns, not the other way around.  Those with the money buy those with the guns.  They call the ‘shots’ so to speak.  Dunbar-Ortiz work portends the replacement of these capitalist and colonialist Constitutional documents by a new revolutionary and socialist set of laws.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 13, 2018

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Thank the Dog, the End of Irish Week

The Irish Literary Trail

Oppressed nations are sometimes very good at the arts.  They can fiddle away or poetize or drink to salve the pain.  Ireland is a standout in the modernist period because of its literary scene, as it had lots to be miserable about.  James Joyce is the leader of the bunch, rated as the best author in the English language by critics.  His greatest work is “Ulysses,” a take on the classic Greek tale, which mostly centers on a walk through Dublin by Leopold Bloom, a cuckholded Jewish fellow on a day of small-time errands.  Joyce left Ireland when he was 22 years old because he was fed up with its religion, politics and small-mindedness, but its history and life still fed his creativity.
The Pen is not always mightier than the Sword.

But then we have Sean O’Casey, the socialist dramatist, whose plays ‘Shadow of a Gunman,” ‘Juno & the Paycock” and “The Plough and the Stars’ depicted working class life in Dublin for the first time.  Samuel Beckett, the not really ‘absurdist’ author of “Waiting for Godot’ and many other great plays, and a close compatriot of Joyce’s.  He even did research for Joyce for “Finnegan’s Wake.”  Brendan Behan, whose ‘Borstal Boy” told you all you needed to know about a youth prison.  Prison stories being a particular favorite of mine, I don’t know why.  Liam O’Flaherty, a founder of the Irish Communist Party, who wrote the famous book ‘The Informer” and later, “Famine,” “Land” and “Insurrection.”  At the end, he converted to Catholicism.

Or earlier authors: Oscar Wilde, son of a female Irish revolutionary involved in the 1848 Young Irelanders movement, who paid for his gayness with 2 years in a British jail and a life-time of acerbic quips, among other things.   Bram Stoker, whose seminal ‘Dracula” still lives, kill him as you might.  Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” whose ‘modest proposal’ is also relevant, being an attack on English capitalist mores.  It might as well have been written now, not in 1729.  George Bernard Shaw, a mild Fabian socialist whose musty plays are still performed, though perhaps not much loved anymore.  William Butler Yeats, an English literature class 1001 poet and minder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin.  Oliver Goldsmith, the author of the ancient classic “The Vicar of Wakefield.”  And the hopelessly Catholic C.S. Lewis and his simple fantasies of good and evil in Narnia.

Pretty good crowd for such a small island, aye?

The first realist novel written about Ireland was by a woman, Maria Edgeworth, who wrote “Castle Rackrent” about tenant / landlord relations in rural Ireland.   Oh, such a dull topic!  Even if it is absolutely central…
The Prick With a Stick? Joyce and citizens.

So you can take the “Ulysses” walking tour if you print out the map on the internet, as they no longer print it at the Joyce Centre or the Irish Writer’s Museum.  Hard times, perhaps...  There is also a Joyce museum at the Martello Tower in Sandycove south of Dublin, where ‘Ulysses’ starts with the waking of young Stephen Dedalus.  Bloom’s Day is celebrated every year on June16.  It takes you through Leopold Bloom’s and Stephen Dedalus’ day in Ulysses – mostly Bloom’s wander down O’Connell Street into the city, internally musing over Dublin’s people, buildings and events of Irish history.  He visits Westland Row railway station, Davey Byrnes pub and Sweny’s pharmacy; window-shops after crossing the O’Connell Bridge to Grafton Street; takes in a famous cemetery, the National Library, other bars – in total 18 stations of Ulysses’ cross - based on the chapters of the original story.  Many with plaques now.  This book is the original source of clever book structures I think.

7 Eccles Street, Leopold’s home with Molly, was not far north from the center of town.  It starts and ends the book. It was merely an empty lot with only a door that had “Molly Was Here” scrawled across it in spray paint when I last visited in the early 1970s.  Now the actual 7 Eccles Street is a prosperous brick medical facility, while the door was rescued and placed in the Joyce Centre’s backyard.  They removed the scrawl.  Good of them.  At Swenys  they still have readings by bystanders every day, and on the day we were there, a chapter from ‘The Dubliners.’

Joyce picked that day, June 16, because it was on that day he went on a walking date with, yes, yes, one Nora Barnacle.  According to the movie, she graced him with a hand-job around Merrion Square somewhere.  And this of course cemented the following tempestuous relationship for this sexually frustrated boy.  “Ulysses’ was banned from the U.S. because it revealed that Bloom masturbated on Sandymount Strand, a bus ride away from downtown Dublin, while looking at a female beach goer.  Is there another sub-text here? Yes, jest?  Joyce buried it in a mountain of wordplay, humour and myth.

Molly Malone was a Dublin fishmonger and perhaps prostitute who is connected to the song and lyrics "Cockles & Mussels, Alive Alive Oh."  She somehow also lent her name to a radical Irish miners group in the U.S. that was not shy about violence. Her statue now stands on Suffolk Street.  Trinity College named its theater after Beckett, which Beckett probably would laugh at, given he never studied theater at Trinity.  The Irish Writers’ Museum is worth a visit, located on Parnell Square across from the Garden of Remembrance (named for the famine.)  The Joyce Centre on Great George’s Street is also worth a visit, if you are too far into his writing.  It is not far from the writer’s museum.

Write on, crazy feeling!
Red Frog
June 9, 2018 (nearly Bloomsday…)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Military Defeat, a Political Victory

1916 Rebellion Walking Tour, Dublin Ireland

The 1916 ‘rising’ against the English is the seminal event in the independence of southern Ireland.  That would be 26 counties out of 32.  Everywhere you go, you see references if you are paying attention.  If you have come for the Guinness or the pub music, well, not so much.  The proclamation of independence, signed by 7 revolutionaries, with Thomas Clarke an old Fenian at the top, is posted all over the country still.  “To Irishmen and Irishwomen…” is starts, a rarity in revolutionary proclamations.  Our female guide consistently pointed out the role of at least 70 women in the insurrection – and they were not making sandwiches.  This was no accident by her, as the effort to repeal an amendment to the Irish Constitution forbidding abortion was in full swing.  (See below reportage.)  This amendment will help working women the most.

The tour started at the International Bar, south of the Liffey River on Wicklow Street.  Our guide, when asked, mentioned the more distant Collins Barracks and the Gilmainham Gaol as additional sites that play a large role in the rising.  We visited them as well on our own. 

Irish Volunteers in GPO

While 10,000 men were prepared to rise against the English, the majority were warned off when weapons did not arrive on Bana Strand  in the west of Ireland south of Heuston.  This was due to their interception by the English and a truck crash by the Irish drivers.  Roger Casement was arrested when he came on the ship bringing arms. (See book review below.)  So only a minority rose on Easter Sunday, most in Dublin but some in other parts of Ireland, especially in Galway.  

100,000 Irish men volunteered to fight in the English Army in World War I, which should quell any notion that all Irish are somehow radicals.   Yet the later British draft of all Irishmen by the British put steam and steel into the eventual successful guerrilla war against Britain that followed the 1916 rising some years later.  The 5 day insurrection in Dublin was a military defeat but a political victory, especially after the martyrdom of the leaders.

The guide described the various positions of the rebels and the English, and walked us down O’Connell Street and then around to City Hall.  The rebellion started on Monday, April 24, 1916, the day after Easter.  Easter was not chosen for religious reasons but because British troops would be observing a holiday and recovering from one.  The rebellion started at Liberty Hall, on the north bank of the Liffey not far from O’Connell Street, the large main thoroughfare.  From Liberty Hall and other locations, about a 1,200 rebels spread out through town from the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) and the Irish Volunteers / Irish Republican Brotherhood organizations.  Some dug in at St. Stephen’s Green in makeshift trenches, south of the main part of the city, which involved the leadership of a woman, Countess Georgine Markievicz.  Eamon de Valera led a group of 17 blocking an eastern bridge on Mount Street, where British reinforcements might arrive by ship.  Others had seized City Hall, the 4 Courts area, some railroad stations, the Magazine at Phoenix Park and others.  Buildings along O’Connell Street were taken, with snipers in the top floors.  The main rebel headquarters was at the General Post Office (GPO) just up O’Connell Street, where James Connolly, a socialist, organized the military actions.  (Review of Connolly’s life, below.)  Dublin Castle, just south of City Hall, was not taken.  Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic at the GPO to a small crowd when it was first occupied.  All these locations stand to this day except Liberty Hall, which has been replaced by an ugly tower 16 stories tall.

For three days, the English were not able to retake the city.  A British general stupidly attacked de Valera’s position on the Mount Street bridge, and hundreds of raw English recruits were shot.  They had been told they were going to France, and expected a cheery welcome.  Instead of sending troops across nearby bridges to enfilade de Valera’s group, he insisted on frontal attack after frontal attack.  After this significant resistance, the English decided on a ‘ring of iron” around the GPO.  They moved slowly, taking out outnumbered rebel positions until they had cannons placed across the Liffey shooting up O’Connell Street towards it.  Their cannonade destroyed many buildings and killed many Irish civilians, some of whom had taken the chance to loot, as the citizens of Dublin were extremely poor.  (Class stratification in Ireland is still very obvious…)

The rebels made sure one of the biggest capitalists in Dublin, who owned among other things a nearby hotel, had the Irish flag flying over his property opposite the GPO.  

The Damaged GPO on O'Connell Street

Ultimately, the superior weight of British guns and troops forced the final rebels in the GPO to unconditionally surrender in the next 2 days.  The rebels decided that they could not countenance any more civilian deaths or destruction.  Connolly was injured and taken through an alley behind the GPO towards a nearby hospital.  From there he was captured and taken to Dublin castle.  Most of the rest of the leaders gave themselves up.  Women were also captured, but except for the Countess they were let go because the British did not suspect they were anything more than hangers-on.  They were not.  Markievicz was eventually given clemency after spending jail-time in Gilmainham and one day she ended up serving in the Irish parliament.

Oddly, James Joyce was with the radicals in the ICA, the labor-based military organization promoted by Connolly.  On that Monday in 1916 young Joyce worked in Davy's Pub as a bottle-washer and with his friends in the ICA, they took over the pub to repel British troops.  He was given two weeks notice by his disliked boss at the time, and Joyce retorted: "I'm giving you 5 minutes notice..." and shot off his rifle in the air.   That is the story...

 COLLINS BARRACKS

Of course it wasn’t called Collins Barracks in 1916.  Michael Collins was a leader of the revolutionary war against the English and it was named for him when it became an Irish military post.  It was the main quartering post for English soldiers in Dublin in 1916.  A huge square surrounded by 3 stories, far enough outside the main part of the city, close enough to the north bank of the Liffey, within easy reach of anything in small downtown Dublin.   It is now two free museums dedicated to fashion and to Irish military history.  The latter shows the Irish role in warfare and military duty all over the world, in many different countries, including in the U.S. Civil War. (see book review on Meagher, below)  Living in broken down rural farms must have made military life attractive.  The Irish diaspora contributed as well.  Behind the Barracks, in a back churchyard, in a mass grave, lie the bodies of the executed martyrs of 1916.

KILMAINHAM GAOL

Across the Liffey and a bit farther west, was the main jail of Dublin – Kilmainham – located on a high hill.  It consists of five parts – a court with a chair for the defendant sitting on a table across from the judge.  A chapel where one of the young men arrested in 1916 married his sweetheart, to be shot the next day.  An older dark part of the jail, where Irish nationalist rebels were kept, including earlier rebels like Robert Emmet and Charles Parnell, along with most of the arrested in the Easter rising.  Then there is a newer, airy jail that reminds one of Alcatraz and is of the ‘panopticon’ variety.  And lastly, the execution yard, where 16 leaders of the Easter Rising were shot.  Crosses mark the spot on the east side.  Of particular note is the cross on the west side of the yard.  Connolly was brought from the medical ward at Dublin Castle.  They unloaded him through a door in the yard next to this spot and dragged him to a chair.  He fell off the chair due to his wound, so he was roped in place and shot sitting.

These criminal executions inflamed world and Irish opinion.  With the institution of an Irish draft by the British for barbaric World War I, the English sealed their fate.  A year and a half struggle between an aroused nation and the British colonialists resulted in the independence of the 26 counties in 1922.  A civil war between the Irish over the abandonment of the last 6 counties ensued, leaving Michael Collins dead and including more shot in Kilmainham jail … this time by Irish government soldiers.

The jail is now a museum.  But its history is not.

Red Frog

June 6, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Irish Week


“The Immortal Irishman – The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero,” by Timothy Egan, 2016

There is a whole pantheon of Irish revolutionaries, given the long occupation of southern Ireland by the British, which only ended less than a 100 years ago.  Connolly, Pearse, de Valera, Parnell, O’Brien, Larkin, Casement, Clarke, Emmet, Collins and O’Connell are some of the most prominent.  Let’s add one. 

Thomas Meagher, who is of particular interest to people in the U.S.  He was part of the “Young Ireland” movement that challenged Daniel O’Connell for leadership of the Irish national struggle.  O’Connell had helped win the right to practice Catholicism in Ireland in the early 1800s from the British colonialists.  Prior to that Irish Catholicism had been against British colonial law.  O’Connell, the “Liberator,” had then been elected as a member of the English parliament and had become partly integrated into English rule in Ireland and elsewhere.  While attempting to repeal the bond between the two countries, O’Connell’s supporters had become corrupt and close to their English overseers.  The men and women of the Young Irelanders advocated a continuing independence struggle, up to and including revolutionary action, and so clashed with O’Connell. 

Buying off the top strata of an oppressed country or group is standard practice among colonial, imperial or capitalist rulers.  It was at work here as well, in the taming of a wing of the independence movement.

Meagher was from an upper-crust Irish family, sent to school in England, but had become an excellent orator at a young age.  He was like others in the Young Ireland movement – poets, writers, journalists and intellectuals.  They represented a wing of the upper class that still wanted to kick out the British completely, and were supported by thousands of peasants and some workers as well.  Thousands had signed up to rise against the British. 

In 1847 (“Black ‘47”) the Irish famine hit and conditions in Ireland became intolerable. The potato crop was the basis of most Irish families’ food, 2/3rd of the population.  The potato blight followed for 5 years and 1 million Irish people starved to death, while another 2 million began to emigrate.  This was out of a total population of 8 million.  In 1925 at the time of national independence, 4 million were left.  Since Irish farmers had no money, evictions became commonplace and ‘lucky’ people ended up in work or poor houses.  The British during this whole period rejected providing free food because it would threaten the sacred free market system which commodifies food.  It can only be bought ‘for a price.’  Remember, the Irish were supposedly ‘citizens’ of the United Kingdom at this time. Instead the English gentry and businessmen continued to export massive quantities of Irish agricultural products like corn, wheat, rye, meat, fish, butter, milk and vegetables from Ireland to England.  By doing this, the English ruling class actually helped starve the Irish people in a holocaust that has not been forgotten. 

Meagher gave speeches in Dublin and all over the country against this tyranny.  In 1848 Meagher designed the present tricolor flag of Ireland.  Ultimately he and others were forced to call for a rising against these conditions.  Yet these were intellectuals - and warfare was not in their skill-set. While many thousands of farmers were ready, they had no adequate weapons or organization of any consequence.  After a somewhat pathetic military attack on some police in Ballingarry, the leaders were arrested for sedition and condemned to die, but then their sentences were commuted.  Most were transported to Tasmania, an island prison colony south of Australia.  Meagher became an exile there, similar to the exile faced by Russian revolutionaries. 

At first Meagher tried to adapt to Tasmania – marrying a young frail woman, trying to start a family, farming and riding.  But after another exile escaped, he too decided to plan an escape with help from supporters in Ireland and the U.S.  He could not waste away on this lonely bit of land.  He could not return to Ireland, so he planned on heading to the U.S.  He escaped on a tiny boat, was marooned on a small island, and barely caught the ship that was to take him to the U.S.  In 1852, he landed in California and made his way to New York, where he was greeted as a hero.  Meagher gave speeches all over the country and even had an audience with the U.S. president. 
 
Meagher In Montana
At this time the U.S. was in the midst of the early crisis over slavery that led up to the U.S. Civil War.  Unlike the image of the ‘radical’ Irishman, most Irish people were not revolutionaries or abolitionist.  While many later joined the Union Army, many in New York later protested the draft for class reasons, but also attacked and killed freedmen.  One of Meagher’s best friends from the Young Irelanders, John Mitchel, became a virulent slaver.  Meagher himself did not call for an end to slavery, and stayed silent as it was legal in the U.S. at the time.   

When the Confederacy seceded and then fired on Fort Sumter, Meagher came out for the Union and began raising troops for the legendary Irish Brigade, the ‘fighting ‘69th.’  Later he supported Lincoln and came out against slavery, for which he was much reviled by the Irish right.  He became the Brigade’s leader, a brigadier general appointed by Lincoln, and heroically led his troops into battle on horseback – no longer only a man of words.  Because the Brigade was made up of long-reviled Irishmen, it was looked down on as a bunch of lazy uncontrollable farm boys by the press and the Army.  But at the battles of First Bull Run, the 7 Days, Chancellorsville and the bloody hell of Fredericksburg, they proved to be one of the best, if not the best unit in the Federal Army. 

Meagher hoped that these Irish men trained in military tactics could take the skills and use them back in Ireland in a military confrontation with the English occupiers when the war was over.  But after General Burnsides’ incredible incompetence at Fredericksburg, Meagher could no longer stomach Union generals and resigned from the Army.  He took his second wife, a former scion of East Coast money, and moved to Montana.  He had given up trying to launch a military revolt in Ireland as a Fenian, especially after a failed Fenian attack from the U.S. on British Canada in 1866. 

In Montana he had been appointed the acting governor by President Johnson, residing in Virginia City in a crude cabin.  He recruited Irish settlers to leave the big cities and start to farm and ranch in Montana, or become miners.  He fought corruption, attempted to incorporate Montana as a state and opposed the bloody reign of terror of a group of Protestant and Republican businessmen and ranchers.  For this he was assassinated, pushed into the Missouri river off of a steamboat by a hired thug in 1867.  Meagher’s statue now stands in front of the Montana State Capital, along with a memorial in Fort Benton, as reminders of the Irish revolutionary who also became one of the best opponents of slavery in the U.S.

The book is a well-written novelistic history and shows the connection between the national liberation struggle in Ireland and the fight against chattel slavery in the U.S.  It also shows that some people can’t connect different kinds of oppression for the life of them.  In all, lessons for the present.

Other reviews on this topic – use these search terms:  James Connolly, Abortion Referendum, Jimmy’s Hall, The Dream of the Celt.  Also many book and film reviews on the U.S. Civil War.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it in the Library!
Red Frog
June 3, 2018

Friday, June 1, 2018

Tears of Joy

Abortion Referendum in Ireland

Happy is an inadequate description.  Young women across Ireland led the fight to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which outlaws abortion.  It was repealed by 66% of the voters, with only one county, heavily rural Donegal in the north, voting no.  Thousands of posters went up on lampposts all over Ireland saying “Yes” and “No,” while the two sides battled politely and not so politely on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s center.  The Catholic Church probably funded most of the no posters, and it looked like it mobilized the young girls in its confirmation classes to be the ‘female’ face of ‘no.’  The Archbishop of Ireland was ‘disappointed’ by the result – at least that is what he said from behind his ten-foot walled and wooded compound in Drumcondra.

"The Quiet Revolution" - May 27th Irish Sunday Mirror Front Page, with 6 more pages inside. 
This was also clearly a vote supported by the Irish working classes.  A young man working as a clerk in an insurance company in Dublin said he would vote yes.  He mentioned that he had asked his girlfriend how to vote.  A 40+ year-old house cleaner in Galway told us she would vote yes.  A 40+ farm wife in Kilarney said she would vote yes, but wasn’t going to tell her husband how she was going to vote.  An activist from Limerick noted that her ‘honk for yes’ sign brought out honks from male truck drivers, construction workers and postal carriers.  She knew then that men were behind repeal.  They were not unaware that unwanted children might bring years of child support or a sad marriage for themselves too, not just their girlfriends or wives, so forced baby-making was not in their interest either.  

Bars in Dublin had ‘yes’ tables and signs, while trade unions hung enormous ‘yes’ banners over their offices.   In the streets of Dublin it was clear nearly all young women in their 20s and 30s supported repeal.  The pictures of celebration in the square at Dublin Castle featured mostly young women. 

The main body of the conservative Fianna Fail party was against repeal, but Labour, Sinn Fein and a small wing of Fianna Fail supported it.  All the socialist organizations supported repeal.  Sinn Fein immediately announced the need for a similar referendum to be held in northern Ireland, still a British colony but with a 8th Amendment similar to Ireland’s itself.  This referendum might also juggle northern Ireland's attachment to England, given the "UK's" Brexit vote which would detach northern Ireland from the EU.  In the past, Irish women would have had to travel to the U.K. to get an abortion.  This made it harder for working class women and girls, but that will no longer be true.

The Good Girls Finally Win One
Clearly this is a huge defeat for the reactionary positions of the Catholic Church, which opposes abortion, contraception, family planning advice, homosexuality, divorce and won’t allow women to become priests.  This archaic attitude towards sexuality, children and women is a world-wide problem for the Church.  This comes from its roots in a medieval economy and history.  Just as its occasional ‘anti-capitalism’ comes from its nostalgia for a non-commodity society based on serfdom.  It is as if it is still promoting children in the face of the Black Death.  Certainly it is promoting the child labor needed for a primitive rural peasant economy.

Scandals around clerical child abuse and the starvation of orphans had weakened the Irish Church already.  Especially noted was the forced death of Savita Hlappanavar, who was denied an abortion in Galway during a miscarriage and died of sepsis.  Just after the vote, another scandal erupted, as one headline screamed ‘Nuns Forge Birth Papers.’ A Catholic adoption society was caught by the government claiming that some foster parents were actually ‘birth parents.’  Adoption activists pointed out that if other Catholic adoption societies were looked at, the same would be found true.

One commentator noted that Ireland, which at one time was an ethnically homogeneous society, has now being impacted by the world-wide pattern of migration and travel.  As a result Irish people were being exposed to influences and people they had never had contact with before.  As any trip to Ireland will confirm, this is a society much like Italy – seemingly stuck in the past.  That is now changing.
The Poll

The detail lost in the whole fight is that this repeal only allows the law to be ‘redrawn’ - it mandates little else.  This allows the parliamentary right-wing to try to create an abortion law that is restrictive… similar to the efforts of anti-abortion politicians in the U.S. in various states.  “Democracy” as we know has a way of breaking down when it travels up the pipeline of capitalist 'representative' legislating, where a mountain can become a molehill.  So all is not won yet, even after this landslide for abortion rights.

At any rate, a great win for the people of Ireland. Tears were shed.

P.S. - Sinn Fein has proposed an immediate end to a clause in the Irish constitution (41.2) which reads: "The state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
Red Frog
June 1, 2018