In Hiroshima, Japan, seventy-one years ago exactly from the midnight hour that I’m writing this, most people were asleep except for the night owls and diligent lovers. I’d guess that most especially the middle school students would uniformly be deep in the throes of the land of Nod, since on the morrow—August 6, a school day—they’d all be up bright and early to continue their physically taxing work in the August swampy swelter of the riverine confluences that underlay Hiroshima’s existence as a city.
For weeks before the sixth, they had been dismantling some half of the area’s housing stock, in anticipation of rumored American bombing raids that everyone assumed would be incendiary in nature, like the many such attacks that had decimated Tokyo and other strategic industrial centers more central to the war effort than sleepy Hiroshima. Out in the sun and air, minimally clothed, working primarily in and around the city center, they were exhibiting the dutiful patriotism and obedient mutuality that were part and parcel of the meaning of being Japanese.
Alas, very few of them would survive past 8:15 the next morning, at most a couple score eleven-to-fourteen-year-old kids from all the academies and classrooms of the entire area. What dreams they had that night of August 5th would form quite a novel, or play, or book of poetry, or documentary of pending loss.
E.O. Wilson, in his The Social Conquest of Earth, points out that an ability to ‘put oneself in another’s shoes’ is at the root of much that is best about our species—empathy and compassion and altruism and such. My inability to escape from this sense of dreaming along on the last night of life was part of what led me, lo these decades ago, in 1992, to swear an oath that every year as the period of August 6th through 9th came along, I’d say something and otherwise take some sort of action about why this brief interlude is arguably the most crucial commemoration for humankind to acknowledge, if survival means anything to us.
No matter what, in the fullness of time, the certainty is inescapable that something much, much worse than Hiroshima will happen to humankind if we insist on maintaining now-thermonuclear arsenals of megadeath. The most obvious reason that this ultimately inevitable mass collective suicide continues to hang over our heads like a looming time bomb is that we haven’t figured out how to stop it, how to leave the Nuclear Fuel Fool Cycle behind. For me, not knowing how to begin effecting such a monumental shift in the direction of life, I have just elected to write and produce and perform each year whatever I could manage, to bring attention back to this hideous pass in human history.
Over the two dozen years that I’ve engaged in this commemorative exercise, I’ve encouraged people to take note of many things: John Hersey’s New Yorker issue that led to his book that bore the city’s name as its title; Gar Alperowitz’s work—from Atomic Diplomacy to The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb—and the outpouring of scholarship and analysis of his now legion followers, who have unshakably demonstrated that the choice to incinerate two cities had little or even nothing to do with ending the war and ‘saving lives’ and everything to do with firstconveying a sharp jab at the Soviet Union and second examining, clinically and experimentally, the new weapons system that the scientists and engineers and skilled workers and industrial laborers of the Manhattan Engineering District had assembled for use as the Soviets prepared to invade Northern Japan; and plenty else besides have I proffered over the course of nearly a quarter century. I’ve offered this information and guidance with narratives and speaking gigs and Power Point presentations.
But, as I said, what has impelled me most powerfully has not been this intellectual product, though I am above all else a nerd who would, like Dr. Faust, sell my soul for complete knowledge of all that is. What has driven me has been that sense of identification that Professor Wilson and others have discussed as so central to human consciousness.
After I had read, in countless accounts, about the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims, who would melt or bleed or die from crushing blows or expire in the conflagration that attended this first skirmish in the first nuclear war, or who would live and carry the vision of that hellish day with them to the end of their days, cinders of the atomic age, these middle school students, these old people, these Catholic priests, these American prisoners-of-war, these surviving Hibakusha so wormed their way into my psyche that I had to take some tangible step, if only of the sort that a writer is wont to deploy. So I wrote and spoke and produced.
A couple of readily available recent examples of my following up on my promise appear here, and here. I also researched and presented or published materials about the Modern Nuclear Project generally, most recently here. Exactly halfway through this interlude, however, by 2004, after only a little more than ten years of coming up with something to do or say, or doand say, every early August, I had nevertheless come to a conjunction where I might all-too-willingly have shrugged and just published or purveyed whatever I’d already created during my first decade of activity.
“What’s the use?” I thought, of innovation or addition. Lack of audience, paucity of impact, the ongoing emphasis, by our erstwhile rulers and masters, on nuclear options in energy and weaponry, all led me to despair ever helping to bring about any actual change. “When I feel inspired,” I nodded to myself, “I’ll try something new.” Otherwise, I sighed, recycling would serve to prove my fidelity.
In the event, though, a chance attendance at an art exhibit, and an even more random tutoring adventure, reinvigorated my commitment to stick to my original vow. This burst of energy and renewal of my solemn pledge all happened as a result, and in the immediate aftermath, of attending an exhibit at Emory University in Atlanta.
There, I had a chance to meet, to listen to, and to interview one of those ‘lucky’ junior high school students who miraculously survived nearly being cooked alive. She lived through months of radiation sickness and its aftermath. She was neither bitter nor shrill; she was merely ardent and diligent in declaiming the possibility, still, of Homo Sapiens’ thriving and survival.
She was one of those children, one of the score or so of preteen survivors out of a cohort of thousands; her mission in life had become simple: to travel and tell of her experience. At the Candler School of Theology, she addressed a multitude, and she spoke directly to my heart. Miyoko Matsubara’s scars made her despise her life for years; she fought off cancer, unlike her firefighter father, who after an interval of a decade or so succumbed to leukemia. Her words, of a ‘bright morning turned to endless night,’ and Emory’s exhibition of imagery that Hibakusha artists had created, seared themselves into my memory with such ferocity that I came alive to my promise once more.
This happened in October more or less. And I set immediately to work to rectify my tardiness in coming up with fresh material. That year of my enervation, 2004, I thus only created my ‘annual pilgrimage’ in November, several months late. More than ‘better late than never,’ my thinking when I did so was, “I’ve got to do something, no matter how paltry my contribution.” Following my completion of that delayed assignment, in a seemingly unrelated happenstance, I soon enough found myself with a new student.
She was on some sort of a post-doctoral fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control. Since she was from Okinawa, she needed help in improving the flow of her English on the page. She had gotten her doctorate from Hiroshima University. She was, I learned, as gooseflesh crawled up my neck and arms, an acquaintance of a Hibakusha with whom I was more than vaguely familiar, the poet Sadako Kurihara.
Before long, my pupil shared with me Kurihara’s most famous poem. “New Life” evoked what living through hell was like. When I read the English version, out loud, I intuited that parts of it were not exactly satisfactory, as translation, to my new friend and English student; she wrote down some suggestions for me in this regard.
We talked this over on several occasions, and the result was that I rewrote Kurihara’s stanzas according to more graphic and heartfelt specifications. For better or worse, this exercise implanted in me anew an inextricable commitment. The power of these verses makes me refer to them again and again, to wit:
Night–pressing on a broken building’s basement
Filled with sprawling, wretched A-bomb victims–
Darkened the feeble candles which were the only light
To show a room overflowing with bodies
More broken even than their housing.
Sweat and blood and death subsumed my nose,
While moans and keening cries for mercy
Battered my ears with dose after dose after dose
Of the writhing pain that suffused me and all I touched,
Until I thought, “we all must die.”
Suddenly, in this basement turned to living hell,
A young girl’s voice sounded and transformed the suffering.
Wonder filled, she said, “The baby’s coming!” and thus, still,
In spite of everything, a young woman’s labor caused all to forget
Their own pain because a newborn might come forth to save us yet.
What could we do, though, having not even matches
That might decrease the forbidding darkness of our end?
From a woman’s form that had tossed and turned in agony,
Whose wails had punctuated the fetid dirge of our deathsong,
Came simply this: “I am a midwife.”
“Before I die, I can bring her child to life,” she said with a sigh.
The truth of her promise quite quickly came to pass, and
A new child emerged in the inferno’s smoke and smolder,
While the midwife, her wounds still weeping blood,
expired upon my shoulder.
Her promise is the one we live by still.
Even in the fires of hell, as life’s blood seeps away,
We will bring forth new life, even unto death.
With birth to tie ourselves to Earth even as we go,
Life is our vow, life is our will.
Tragic wastage and soulless murder ought to be enough to change our ways. Knowledge of diplomatic venality in the service of imperial plunder and industrial profiteering ought to prove adequate as an inducement to alter our path. Learning more and more and more about the sinister and insidious and nearly eternal toxicity of Uranium and Plutonium, not to mention the ecocidal potential of nuclear explosions or nuclear accidents themselves, ought to divert us from the dance of death that our President has just funded, to the tune of a trillion dollars of American treasure, as a twenty year project of additionally upgrading our already sublime and universal instruments of total genocide.
But awareness has not worked to turn our direction from self-destruction. What we ought is not what transpires; rather what is expedient and lucrative and empowering for those in command comes to pass year after year, decade after decade.
So this year a new thought occurred to me. Maybe we fail to understand why these satanic weapons and the cult of nuclear electricity that accompanies them are so seductive and ineluctable to the powers that be. I’ve written about these reasons, but I’ll do so with additional fervor in the coming period.
For now, for this brief outreach, I’ll just state this. Essentially, the driving need for ‘safe investments’ remains supreme as more and more dollars pile up with no apparent outlet for the current that this currency wants to create. Finding long term harbors for keeping this cash is therefore paramount, portals that require elite control, that magically subsume all the surplus to which plutocrats want to cling while the various underlying systems’ development and deployment necessitate technocratic oversight, increased militarization, and the manifestation of tighter and tighter police-state protocols.
Basically, in other words, under such a rubric, capital and profit mandate choosing every nuclear option available. The ‘leaders of the free world’ have no choice but to embrace such nuclear nuances, which means that their competitors—whether Russian or Chinese or Indian or otherwise—will ultimately also have no choice.
How could recognition of this pattern, finally and hope against hope, make a difference? Here’s one way. If we notice, clearly and without equivocation, that the business of business will always center on thermonuclear weapons and at the same time on the electricity production that relies on the same atomic reactions and thereby creates components for the bombs of power that the incorporated world demands, then an ah-ha moment is plausible, like the ability to see in the growing light of dawn the features of a landscape that had theretofore been unrecognizable
Capitalism’s continued operation cannot break free of fission and fusion and all the other capital intensive tricks that for a time both cure its contradictions and consolidate its imprimatur. This link guarantees in time that nuclear war will happen. That nuclear war equals likely extinction is obvious. Therefore, human survival has as one of its first commandments this: we must end the rule of the bourgeoisie, or we will all burn till all that remains of us is irradiated ash.
Is that enough? Is that adequate inducement? Time will tell, albeit the clock says two or three minutes to midnight. The hour is late. Time is short, at least if we imagine our children, and our children’s children, as beings who will have the opportunity to dream, as did the children of Hiroshima as dawn drew nigh amid early morning dewfall August 6, precisely seven decades and one year ago.
Jim Hickey has written for decades about complex historical, political-economic, and social phenomena; he has a special interest in nuclear matters, imperialism, labor history. Email: email@example.com
Under most circumstances, the Spindoctor is essentially the opposite of an enthusiastic ‘tweeter.’ Yesterday was different from ‘most circumstances,’ however, so I let loose with a veritable flood of Twitter activity. Before I go into the what and why that lies behind this uncharacteristic behavior, I wanted to lead off with the little missives themselves, to wit, here, all from #spindoctorjimbo.
Climate change, glaciers & tropics, is inevitable; the key problem is to adjust our social relations to share better?http://ly/1YHsL2S
Now is Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons Day, an idea whose time better come quick–the question is how, exactly?http://ly/1YHk0G2
“The most radical thing one can do here, perhaps, is to keep the Democratic Party honest,” an assertion even if untrue that is interesting.
“We have no friends and no enemies; we have temporary, tactical allies,” an assessment of the NAACP that shows the necessities of the South.
More than anything, the call is to action; the call is to do, to go into communities and meet people where they are to help bring movement.
Discomfort is not trauma, so we need to be willing, especially when spaces are most comfortable, to bring discomfiture to the process.
What people need is your stories; elders must be willing to mentor, to overcome their own shyness to reach out to young people who hunger.
“We’re not going to play ‘Oppression Olympics;’ we seek intersections of identities with tangible struggles to advance toward real goals.
White Partners can show up for Black Lives–cash in privilege; crush cooptation & give credit; roll up sleeves & work; practice resilience.
No election is hopeless if we organize relentlessly, as work in Kansas recently shows, but the actual effort is the issue: #Dkosconnects.
Data shows clearly: NC politics are a cheat; history shows that Democrats as well as Republicans bear responsibility for this-#Dkosconnects.
#dkosconnects Why not more to engage Latinos? The ‘community’ hasn’t identified the issue as important, though “LatinoKos” does exist.
From DailyKos Asheville, three points: valuing grassroots expertise; finding diversity; seeing changing Internet… #dkosconnects
From the clues provided, astute readers will surmise that a DailyKos event has just unfolded wherever the Spindoctor hangs his hat, which in the event is in the Asheville, North Carolina area, up in the hills where far flung hollers exist that enclose natural wonder and crazy social complexity at one and the same time. That this area of North America has the fastest growing Hispanic population, for example, who often help “pick the ‘backer’” and “mind the ‘maters,’” is just one instance of this wildly intricate social scene.
The meeting itself started with the lovely chants for fellow Kossacks to meet in the flesh. The prospects and problems that the site faces occupied the initial give-and-take. In particular, the tendency of at least somewhat elderly White men to predominate was on everyone’s minds. How to increase participation by women, people of color, youth, and LBGT, and more was not something that we solved on the spot, but we considered the matters at hand, as it were.
Moreover, very much to the reason that we were all gathering, DK founder Markos Moulitsas loves these hills, a result of his warm reception here at the end of his first book tour more or less a decade ago. The region prides itself on art, orneriness, and generosity, not qualities that one would naturally put together in a troika but that nonetheless are part and parcel of WNC.
As well, the voters here are much more than half Democrats, a priority morsel for a project that seeks a world that contains more, and better, Democrats. In the event, the gray day perfectly displayed why the massif here deserved the Cherokee name of Smoking Mountains; that the vast swath that a founder of the ‘pre-modern’ Democrats stole from the region’s original inhabitants includes contemporary Asheville is ironic.
The venue for our frolic was also a little incongruous. Little more than half a dozen years ago, the city’s beloved civic meeting spot became the U.S. Cellular Convention Center, over the protests of many here who hated a corporate sellout for both the name and the implications. In the meantime, those in attendance had a chance to discover that one of U.S. Cellular’s ‘competitors,’ Verizon Wireless, is trying to crush an organizing campaign by the Communications Workers of America, not all that surprising given that the Tarheel State has the lowest proportion of unions in North America.
The voices that Daily Kos brought together yesterday covered a range of matters. They included powerful data analysis of the vicious and predatory approach of North Carolina’s Republican politicians to the suppression of voting rights.
The interlocutors also took account of the way that increasing diversity in a process like DK requires a combination of courage and strategy. The focus was on the brilliant work of Reverend Barber and the NAACP, on the one hand, with roots in the civil rights movement and groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, not to mention the Communist Party, and on the grassroots rise of Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay/Trans activists whose sophisticated and powerful understanding of the current sociopolitical context is fascinating indeed.
Other presenters looked at Asheville as a heart of progressive media, at the State and WNC as exemplary of the local urban-rural divide, and at the coming likelihood of irreversible climate catastrophe. Discussions were very informal and generally full enough of profanity to elicit smiles and relaxation.
A big part of the local contextualization was the importance of face-to-face relationships, at the very same instant that the reflexive bow to ‘social media’ was also omnipresent. It was all extremely interesting.
From a Spindoctor POV, the lack of a strategic component to the exchanges was troubling.
“Whereas history without data is at best merely storytelling, data without history is at best a random shot at change that is likely to be pointless.”
He recalled the National Democratic Party’s rooted connection with ‘right-to-work initiatives,’ with White Supremacy’s prevalence, with imperial imprimatur from Korea to Kabul, and challenged those present to “spend at least as much energy insuring that the likes of us are in control of NDP as we do in vilifying and attacking Republicans.”
He also noted that, since we can stipulate both the general and human-fueled inevitability of a warming planet, an obsessive emphasis on the geographic and meteorological details—no matter how brilliant—is of less utility than insisting that we address the social inequities and divisions that guarantee that the results of climate change will be carnage and mayhem. Presenters acknowledged that, from Southwestern Asia to the Caribbean and beyond, aspects of current conflicts and chaos illuminate the social attributes of a ‘climate crisis.’
Altogether, the day was a huge boon to collegiality and the possibility of connection. Certainly, no one will ever fault DK for not meeting folks much more than halfway in coming to terms with what’s up and what’s next. What will we do about it here in the hills? That of course remains to be seen, though, as always, inquiring minds would like to know.
‘Sharing,’ ‘Corporate Social Responsibility,’ & ‘Free Markets’ Themselves Require Social Democracy
This is a first installment of several about the phenomenon, or fantasy, of Corporate Social Responsibility. It contextualizes the entire series for readers, which will follow in upcoming posts.
Here we all are, a part of the sharing protocols of the world’s economy as it teeters on the verge of freefall crashes that could result from diverse dynamics, copious causes, or multiple directions. In fact, our personal or collective political-economic-survival-modules might hurtle over the edge and into a death dive from the merest nudge, according to some analysts, let alone from a ‘perfect storm’ of manifold interlocking effects.
In this context of, to say the least, tense anticipation and occasional intense dread about the future, voices en masse pose the question that ‘Vladimir Bolshevik’ asked citizens everywhere to ponder way back in 1917, to wit, “What is to be done?” Every Spindoctor installment has in fact insisted on offering suggestions respond to such an inquiry, though a much-too-substantial portion of the narratives that contain or imply this interrogatory in the wider mediated world either give no inclination to think in terms of solutions or provide only the most superficial, even naïve, directives and admonitions about how to manage the present pass.
In that regard, one might consider the marketing muscle, management theory, and public-relations punch that, at their best, have advanced as a response to Lenin something akin to the following summation. “The world is complicated, so fixing anything can’t happen overnight or easily; nevertheless, by facilitating and otherwise supporting and operationalizing Corporate Social Responsibility, both individuals and such collective agents as bureaucracies and political parties and other groups can have a powerful positive affect on the issues and difficulties characteristic of everything on Earth at the moment.”
Today’s exercise in a deeply-delved reportage will contemplate this notion. It will follow the organizational course of all the Spindoctor essays that have emanated from this Contributoriaphase of things, as with so much in this ‘brave new world’ of sustainability and crowd-funded disruption, a quicksilver blink of the proverbial eye.
This initial section, as has been the case since a friendly critic recommended such a shift, more or less begins with a brief capsulization of the hypothesis that, in rejoinder to management’s take above, this installment purports to prove. “As with every fix that capital advances in its own behalf, the trope of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ is at best a plausibly useful way of thinking that, in its current guise, represents most optimistically a woefully insufficient formulation and perhaps more likely a consciously-selected diversionary tactic for those who would do anything at all to delay, if not derail, the absolutely reasonable, and even indisputable, calls and actions for fundamental reforms—possibly revolutionary reforms—of contemporary ways of doing business.”
There now; that didn’t hurt too badly, did it? Such a mouthful of words, one can only hope, is clear enough in what it expresses, neither shelling out way too much nor sprinkling about not nearly enough, to set the stage for what follows, which in some ways questions whether capitalist norms are best, or at least whether they are indispensable, in any scheme of ‘doing business’ at the present stage of human development.
Defining Terms & Refining Approaches
In manifesting what comes next, a moment of definition and classification may be essential. Such an approach, in the warrens of Guardian Media, is in turn different from other Spindoctor pieces here, all of which have concerned either events that were tangible enough to require little definition, or socioeconomic or political-economic trends or developments that were also pretty clearly evident in and of themselves. On the ground, so to speak, plenty of other thinkers are also cogitating this sort of CSR explication, so much so that a very basic search–<“corporate social responsibility” definition OR meaning OR analysis OR explication OR delineation>–yields well over thirteen million links to look at.
From this rich field of source material, one might bring forth a fairly simple statement of CSR parameters. To wit, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility exists when something like a Fortune 500 firm performs so as simultaneously and consciously to maximize community health and well-being as well as profit, and to carry on in this manner without notable exceptions.’
Moving along a slightly different pathway, one way to proceed in matters of this sort, always a joy in English, is to look at the roots of the key term in the string, responsibility, and to ponder its sources. Not surprisingly, these come down to Latin elements, which specifically refer to the making of vows and the provision of dialogic or discursive guarantees.
The evolution of the word itself flows through the verb, “respond,” and the noun, “response,” which are both at least seven hundred years old and the adjective, “responsible,” which became common enough at most a few hundred years later. Essentially, then, the core of Corporate Social Responsibility has flowed from mutual conversation toward duty.
One of the web’s chief online etymological authorities gives an investigator a helpful start. “Responsibility” stemmed from “responsible,” which meant basically “’answerable’ (to another, for something), from obsolete French responsible (13c., Modern French responsable, as if from Latin *responsabilis), from Latin respons-, past participle stem of respondere ‘to respond’ (see respond). Meaning ‘accountable for one’s actions’ is attested from 1640s; that of ‘reliable, trustworthy’ is from 1690s. Retains the sense of ‘obligation’ in the Latin root word.“
Wikipedia’s service, the Wiktionary, also serves up useful material about the noun itself here in question, which in turn dates from the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Of particular note are the more-or-less corporate implications of the word in military terminology, where both the authority to carry out tasks and inherent attributes that relate to property and money are present.
Such linguistic thinking, on the one hand, can be dry, a bit formulaic, and can raise the mere behavior of using one’s vocal cords to pronounce certain sounds to a level of moral and practical consequence. On the other hand, however, such a process of pondering these language points can lead to fruitful ideation, if one remains open and creative about the practice as such.
In this case, for example, one can constructively notice the way that responsibility originates in answering back. The implication of dialog, of a two-way or multisided conversation among engaged agents, is a powerful starting point. At an absolute minimum, no responsibility would be valid or viable that was one-sided only, that emanated exclusively from one party’s views or agendas. This conceptualization has deep and widespread applicability in the arenas, contemporaneous as well as historical, in which such matters have arisen.
The proof of this assertion will soon be obvious. It boils down in some senses to the practical advice that students and other populations that the Spindoctor has studied have retorted to those who insisted that top-down reformulation and recontextualization would ‘help’ those who were struggling with whatever intensification of distress was under the microscope, so to say, in a given instance. As a recent syllabus repeated the notion, “Nothing about us, without us, can be for us.”
Practical & Operational Expressions of CSR
At this juncture, though, in addition to this admonition, we might want to weigh more practically and generally how actors in the here and now conceive of Corporate Social Responsibility, not simply as a meaningful phrase, but as a social, political, and economic progression. Several search strategies can assist this effort, much like these two: <“corporate social responsibility” exemplary OR specific OR particular OR individual cases OR firms OR companies OR corporations assessment OR benchmark OR scorecard OR evaluation OR measurement>; and <“corporate social responsibility” example OR examples OR “case study” OR “case studies” OR instance OR instances>, both of which provided well over ten million resulting connections.
Opinions vary about how to proceed to define CSR more specifically, but an observer might find some agreement—explicit or implicit—that the conception must include, at an absolute minimum, several core components. One would be that wage-earners in the company’s employ have their human rights, which absolutely must include their labor rights, respected without exception. Another would be that the company’s environmental impacts—its waste, its energy usage, its effluent streams, and more—would be fully sustainable. Yet another would be that its lobbying or other such activities would support the capacitation of workers elsewhere and the promulgation of environmental policies elsewhere in similar ways as the truly responsible corporation practiced in its homeland. A final piece of this assessment of CSR’s existence would be that such a firm, in its relationships with suppliers, sub-contractors, and other necessary or opportune joint venturers, would also deploy and insist on such standards.
One might add a good deal more. Issues of empire, of civil rights, of support for democracy, and further factors that a decent world entails—in which decent companies play their roles—might be useful or at least interesting to explore. Certainly, in any case, something like the core description above provides a launching pad for an explication of CSR in the here and now.
In thinking about whether CSR along these lines is extant in any context whatsoever, an investigator would at a minimum discern two overall camps that present polarized perspectives on the sense and consequence of this now-almost-ubiquitous formulation. One point-of-view would contend something like the best-case summation at the start of this report, more or less like this:
As a necessary adaptation in the evolution of the free market, large numbers of companies of different sizes in different industries have adopted various policies in relation to multiple issues—air quality, water quality, climate change, food additives and supplements, genetically modified organisms, workplace safety, labor rights to organize, payments to and standards for subcontractors, arms sales, waste clean up, renewable energy prioritization, and innumerable additional matters—that put a social good or benefit above profit or other ‘bottom-line’ orientation;
A decidedly opposing perception also appears quite frequently in the ‘marketplace of ideas:’ While apologists for capitalism want always to emphasize how ‘markets’ ‘efficiently’ incorporate necessary reforms—improved environmental quality, superior occupational safety standards, human rights improvements, the permitted presence of an active and worker-controlled labor movement, increased application of energy efficiency and appropriate technology, eliminating ethnic and gender chauvinism, reducing police predation, reduced predation against weaker nations, ending militarism and conquest, and so forth and so on and on and on—in reality such views are at most fantasies and more often cover-ups for institutional arrangements in which both business organizations and government agencies with which ‘executives’ share a revolving door always put profit uppermost, generally advance profit as the only business value, frequently engage in profiteering and other predatory behaviors, and occasionally indulge in corrupt practices or outright plunder, and then, finally, lie about, cover up, or ignore such customary behaviors.
A search such as this, <“corporate social responsibility” disagreement OR polarity OR polarization OR contradiction OR contrary OR contrariety OR dissent OR dispute>, elicits a bit more than six hundred fifty thousand citations of possible use in seeing this bifurcation of viewpoint more exactly. One might continue in this vein for many pages. However, perhaps readers and researchers could agree that an either-or differentiation does in fact describe this arena of the present-day, even as some analysts will balance their narratives with aspects of both points of view.
Thus, in essence, a two-part musical movement, as it were, delineates the meaning and subtext of Corporate Social Responsibility. On the one hand, defenders advance it as anything from useful reform to magical panacea. On the other hand, critics decry it as some combination of error and duplicity and malfeasance.
Coming Down to Cases: Getting Real About CSR
Having come to this conjunction, we are now ready to see how reality matches these dialectically juxtaposed perspectives. In the current unit’s iteration of things, this discourse will continue with a three-part rubric about the sorts of conditions that might, theoretically or conceivably, fulfill the much-vaunted promise of the CSR ‘movement.’ An appraisal of how responsibly companies and sectors are performing will accompany this introductory explication’s development.
If Corporate Social Responsibility is valid and viable as a construct or expression of the real world, then one of three things ought to be true: one, at least a single company of significant size and heft must exhibit a ‘socially responsible’ footprint across the board, as it were; two, some industrial or other operational nexus of capital generally and as a whole must demonstrate ‘social responsibility’ throughout its area of expertise and focus and output and so forth; or, three, some theoretical and conceptual thinkers or populizers or policy makers must offer a combination of credible ideas and tangible suggested actions that could realistically, in a current capitalist societal context, result in CSR’s imprimatur coming to pass in such bona fide ways as numbers one and two embody.
In the first place then, one may begin to wade through some of the tens of millions of search results to try to find a CSR pearl or two or three or more. Having done this for many years, a Spindoctor summary would be, quite simply, “It’s hopeless!” In any event, twenty pages deep in any of the various strings that have harvested such a copious crop of erstwhile responsible corporate wannabes, one cannot find a single real contender of “any significant size and heft.”
How paltry, some combination of hilariously or frighteningly so, this assertion of any general CSR foothold really appears becomes clear when one considers the actual articles that result from sifting through such evidence. The chronicler who shouts out that he has a solid example can only offer pipsqueaks, whose efforts are at best limited and self-regulated; any journalist who scrutinizes large industrial, financial, or otherwise commercial operations invariably finds multiple deficiencies in even the most elementary aspects of actual Corporate Social Responsibility.
Business Daily News, for instance, wants to advance twenty cases as providing some measure of proof that such qualities are more than fantasy. All of the listed firms are start-ups or otherwise tiny establishments at the outlying edges of corporate capital.
Moreover, their basis for inclusion as outposts of responsibility in the corporate sphere is uniformly self-diagnosed and rarely ventures beyond the merest whiff of ‘good citizenship.’ In other words, they give some money to charities of their own choosing or follow guidelines that they or others of their ilk have promulgated.
This is the sole visible typology of the outlier endeavors. Even if one bent backwards to find such capitalization of ‘significant size and heft,’ its instantiation simply would not fit the advertised bill of goods.
A much realer perspective is possible, of course. A present-day law review article examines four highly-capitalized, oligopolistic corporations—Coca Cola, Walmart, Apple Computers, and Canon—and paints a much bleaker portrait of the CSR landscape that these organizations depict, mentioning in passing Dukes v. Walmart as an indicator of how far one of the selected coterie has to travel to ‘measure up’ to even the most meager standards of decency and equity.
The authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group. Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group. Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.
Reasoning counterfactually, to be able to proffer the affirmation of Corporate Social Responsibility in a completely convincing fashion, one would need to be able to state the following ‘facts’ as applicable to Coca Cola, or other firm of appropriate “size and heft,” for instance. ‘Everywhere that Coke has a corporate imprint, it pays a living wage and otherwise honors and supports its workers; it produces products that are close to 100% health-promoting and that do not deplete or pollute precious environmental resources; it does not target vulnerable populations with its advertising or use toxic or addictive ingredients.’
Whatever one feels about a particular brand—no one is suggesting that picking on Coke is helpful or fair—such a characterization as the prior paragraph contains is simply impossible to prove, and, in the alternative, it is quite simple to disprove. The company-by-company search for a valid CSR candidate, in other words, looks like a long shot indeed.
A young scholar from Australia has recently examined Starbucks communications policies in a somewhat similar fashion. “However, one can argue that there is a lack of salient self-beneficial economic motives throughout the report and the website in general, which could cause stakeholders to be somewhat skeptical. It can be interpreted that the motives behind the CSR activities are presented as being too philanthropic, which can cause the stakeholders to suspect ulterior hidden motives. This potential issue could be addressed by providing information illustrating how the different initiatives benefit Starbucks by creating value (i.e. profit or shareholder value).“
Put more matter-of-factly, this public-relations thinker is suggesting, if it looks and smells like bullshit, then proprietors had better apply perfume or otherwise adjust the bouquet if they want people actually to believe these types of representations. The web materials are replete with analyses like this, which acknowledge the weakness or self-serving and self-deceiving aspects of CSR operations in such a fashion as to suggest amelioration or fixes that do not actually create responsibility along social lines so much as proffer moves that can make the alleged ‘responsible’ corporate behavior appear more authentic and palatable to onlookers, and perhaps especially to prospective critics, not to mention shareholders or other investors.
One could, arguably with great ease, take the list of whatever corporate ventures are the set of firms of “significant size and heft” that all presently want desperately to merit the label of a CSR outfit and one-at-a-time demonstrate that not even a solitary corporation of this sort fits the CSR bill of fare. In miniature, this subsection and what follows does just that. With more time, or a specific challenge, all comers would, in the view of this report, ultimately fail to meet even minimal requirements of anything capable of sustaining the label, Corporate Social Responsibility.
SHINY NEW EXEMPLARS
Along similar lines, in the limelight of the ‘sharing’ and caring of supposedly up-to-the-minute instantiation of super, ultra-CSR efforts, Uber at once reveals the erstwhile epitome of ‘sharing success’ and, as is visible below, offers a cautionary tale in how exploitative and inequitable such arrangements actually are in day-to-day reality. In one of the few credible, if not ‘rags-to-riches’ at least Ford-to-Ferrari, success tales in the ‘new economy,’ Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp—not ‘trust-funded’ fellows, these, seemingly—managed to turn a modest investment of venture capital millions into untold billions of ‘shareholder value’ that has as a result ‘transformed current relationships in positive and far-reaching fashion.’
Or so the story goes. In an explanation that shows greater ‘critical distance,’ Internet Is Not the Answer author Andrew Keen makes the argument like this.
“Kalanick’s $18 billion venture is certainly a badass company, with customers accusing its drivers of every imaginable crime from kidnapping to sexual harassment. Since its creation, the unregulated Uber has not only been in a constant legal fight with (urban areas) and federal regulators, but has been picketed by its own nonunionized drivers demanding collective bargaining rights and health care benefits. …
With 7.5 million Americans working in part-time jobs in July 2014…(this) ‘revolutionizing’ of the world’s workforce is, in truth, a reflection of the new poorly paid class of peer-to-peer project workers, dubbed the ‘precariat’ by the labor economist Guy Standing. ‘With piecemeal gigs easier to obtain than long-term employment,’ warns the New York Times’ Natasha Singer, this highly insecure labor model, the dark underbelly of DIY capitalism, is becoming an increasingly important part of the new networked economy.”
Nor does this monograph single out Uber as ‘exceptional’ in this regard. The entire Silicon Valley miracle machine comes in for equally skeptical, if not scathing, treatment. “Class War” is its operational heart, its spiritual core. Destruction is its economic foundation, though the attendant mayhem and carnage is always ‘creative’ and ‘efficient’ from the POV of wealthy venture funds that seek a cashout from their routine functioning and success.
“If poor people and unions are the problem for Silicon Valley’s tech elite, then technology, and the Internet in particular, is always the answer. …(T)his delusional ‘thinking’ … has infected San Francisco, transforming one of the world’s most diverse cities…into a laboratory for an outsourced, networked economy that wants to feed people Soylent and employ them to wait in lines.
…(T)here is no role for unions, no place for anything protecting the rights of the laborer, no collective sense of identity, no dignity to work. …It’s a two-tier system of overlords and the unemployed and the underemployed and the occasionally employed. An economy in which menial tasks are handled by an outsourced underclass who will do anything for an hourly rate on labor networks… . commodifying life itself so that everything—from buying a rose to waiting in line—can be bought and sold.”
Another documentary item delineates very well the pros and cons of this ‘disruptive’ development and how it relates to both the whole realm of ‘sharing’ and corporate responsibility. In the end, everything bourgeois that succeeds becomes a vehicle for monopoly, for taking over everything and pulverizing any operation that competes into ruin.
This sort of new-age entrepreneurial “vision is much more than a better taxi service or nifty town cars for the masses… .(It contains) the potential for a smoothly functioning instant-gratification economy, powered by the smartphone as the remote control for life. ‘If we can get you a car in five minutes, we can get you anything in five minutes,… .’ But the desire to enter and dominate the ‘everything economy’ echoes the ambitions of much bigger and more established companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.”
A recent assessment in Naked Capitalism, meanwhile, illustrates political economic underpinnings of the inequality that is inescapable in such a context as in part a result of ‘rent-seeking’ in relation to already extant embodiments of value. This clearly applies to such phenomena as Uber and Lyft and other sharing archetypes, which in turn tout their more equitable and responsible corporate imprints and footprints and so forth. Unfortunately, among the multiple drawbacks of social relations and political economy that incarnate a rentier’s attitude are two especially onerous difficulties.
The first concerns the centrality of the agendas and protocols and property and pocketbooks of those who already own most of the planet. That is the implication of renting, taking what those who hold the title have, and simultaneously breaking it up into tinier and tinier pieces and charging people for any sort of access to those pieces. The ‘sharing’ that takes place is the right to gain access, for a fee in which one’s bargaining power is minimal or less, to some piece of the pie that already exists in our midst.
The second shortcoming flows ineluctably from the monopolists’ sated feeding on everything that they permit to contain value. What the world needs in this regard—affordable housing, adequate food, income-producing options for the majority who have nothing to rent but their sweat and their backs and their brains, environmental restoration, cultural rejuvenation, educational flourishing, and almost infinitely more—decidedly does not have ‘permission to contain value,’ although, arguably, such largesse ought to be part of what a democratic society stands for and offers to citizens.
The essence of living in a world where rent is the basis of capital and hence production, therefore, ends up characterizing exactly the opposite of social responsibility. Because such a fact is, to say the least, highly troubling, those who own all and want to be able to charge for doing anything in relation to what is under their control, see fit to beat their breasts with the promises of CSR, even though they not only never intend to deliver on those vows but also cannot possibly make good on such oaths without fundamentally altering the social relations of production and distribution.
In a more and more fully ‘capitalized’ global marketplace, such parsing of goods, an ‘outsourcing of everything’ in essence, is one response by wealthy stakeholders who want more than anything else to garner the percentage that guarantees that they’ll never have to work for a living or lose the ‘equity’ that they almost always inherited in the first place. But this ‘response’ is no more inherently responsible than the occasional aberration in Victorian times, as when John Stuart Mill argued that his eureka discovery of the ability to maximize utility promised a real expression of social justice and social equity, a nineteenth century articulation of CSR about which we’ll hear more in the fullness of time.
Another CSR leviathan, in any case, Amazon, has recently encountered a few bumps and lumps in its celebration of its dearly-beloved patina of responsibility in the markets that it dominates, in the event establishing almost a monopolist’s stranglehold on a particular realm of ‘rentals,’ which is to say the resale of used goods of all sorts, in the context of management tools that promise efficient and reliable exchanges for almost anything at all. A veritable shitstorm erupted fromNew York Times reportage that, accompanying its leviathan’s reach, it crushed its workers in every conceivable way, milking from them its small percentage but giant volume of profit in such a fashion as to break their bodies and depress their psyches and leave many as so much alienated, depressed wreckage in the process.
That Amazon has intended to posture as a truly responsible corporate entity is incontrovertible. Whereas the average Fortune 500 company, when one searches for its name plus “corporate social responsibility” OR csr, elicits plus or minus half a million hits, the following string brought forth thirteen-and-a-half million results: <amazon “corporate social responsibility” OR csr>.
Jeff Bezos’ clever acquisition and disruptive transformation of the Washington Post is in a general or overall way instructive in this regard as well. It returns readers to revelations that the Australian undergraduate just above made plain. These matters, more often than not—and perhaps almost universally—are about appearances much more so than they concern reality, ongoing practice, or actual performance. Mediation will always represent a critical component of making an appearance seem a manifestation of a preferred representation rather than a verifiable aspect of reality itself.
Thus, when WaPo seeks to expand internationally, to integrate more and more local publications into its operating nexus, and purports to position itself so as to flourish, even predominate, in regard to networking freelance writers as a labor pool and source of value, citizens and scribes both better beware. The promise of ‘sharing’ and ‘efficiency’ are quite likely to be another case of self-serving propaganda propagation, on the one hand, and soul-sucking drudgery for small change in return, on the other hand; at absolute best.
Just as with more venerable archetypes of bourgeois legerdemain, in the previous section, so too here then, the proposition is easy to demonstrate that not a single ‘major player’ in this ambit is capable of evincing more than a public-relations front of Corporate Social Responsibility. Should anyone want to challenge this idea, the only thing that needs to happen is a willingness of the naysayer to go to Nevada and put up enough of a wager to make the effort worthwhile. CSR as a purported attribute of the so-called “unicorn” successes among ‘Siliconic’ disruptors is, charitably, an absurd assertion.
The Spindoctor’s personal experience, on multiple fronts, further evidences the points here. In one instance, a must to ponder, he worked for the Corporate Social Responsibility website,Justmeans, as a blogger. In sixteen weeks there, he created well over half a million words, at the rate of four roughly ten-thousand research-based articles every seven days.
The ‘pay’ was plus-or-minus two hundred dollars a month. The plaudits were thick to start. But his ‘beat,’ energy, included multiple reports on matters nuclear as an inherent abrogation of CSR in any shape or form, including various stories—and at least one or two ‘scoops’—about Depleted Uranium.
Despite the fact that his contractual agreement was that he could write what he wanted, since the ‘pay’ was, stating the point generously, paltry, he soon enough received a ‘cease and desist’ order about anything that mentioned DU. Apparently, the business plan—to cash out with a purchase of the site by AOL—was looking problematic with his articles on view; so much, then, for CSR.
A bit later along the temporal arc, he produced for an already-established division of America Online, the Patch brand. He warned his soon-to-be assignment editor that any lengthy relationship with an AOL ‘brand’ was approximately as likely as a snowball’s longevity in the fieriest depths of hell, which received chortles and vows of eternal support.
Within five weeks, the Spindoctor’s head was in a sack, and checks from AOL no longer issued, especially at twice the standard rate that Jimbo negotiated measly recompense for the work that he did. Apparently, his predilection for looking askance at Walmart’s wondrous marvels and his desire to report about daily criminal incidents as social matters instead of as blameworthy moral lapses alienated the overlords on high in Manhattan—again, so much for even a pretense of a responsible corporate entity that wanted to serve its communities with diverse, accurate, and useful information.
Such personal encounters with the more or less total fraud of CSR do not give him ‘an ax to grind.’ He loved producing the materials that he did, on which he still owns a copyright, even though the remuneration for his work was either laughable or grotesque, depending on whether one’s bent at the moment of observation is comic or tragic. However, these very real and deeply felt cases of peonage and exploitation and dismissal do give him a perch from which to view other cases, all too similar, that reveal the reality beneath the veneer of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Without noticeable exception, therefore, the expressions of CSR that deal with individual cases as such are inseparable from the public relations and propaganda and outright buncombe that present these happenings to the public and thereby hope to increase shareholder equity and profits as a result of such characterizations. These SOP methods work hand in glove with the propagation of Corporate Social Responsibility as a pretend entity that means little more than “We want you to like, or at least accept, us enough to buy lots of our stuff or services, so we hope to convince you that we’ve got soul and ethics and really care about consumers and workers and communities and competitors and critics and such as much as, or even more than, we care about maximizing our profits.”
In terms of large outfits, therefore, enterprises of “size and heft,” so to speak, CSR is at best a façade and quite likely simply a falsehood. Whether the company in question is an old-line or new-school operation makes no difference. Profit still rules the roost, or other ‘bottom-line’ considerations necessitate that Corporate Social Responsibility is no more than an advertising slogan, of no greater substance than a cleverly-crafted PR campaign.
Certainly near the heart of this assessment lie a series of observations and appraisals of what we might term ‘monopoly finance capital.’ Through loans, control of equity, and generally holding the reins of political oversight, banks, venture capitalists, and clever ‘investors’ of various stripes—who in aggregate control if not out and out own almost every dollar in the stream of commerce—act as arbiters, gatekeepers, and boards of directors of everything that the ‘Western’ sphere proffers to the world and most everything that emanates from elsewhere as well.
The tentacles of big-money’s ‘Octopus,’ as Frank Norris titled the matter, run the show, own the tent, pocket the gate, and call the tune: top to bottom. No enterprise escapes this net.
Anyone who believes he can enter a brief that invalidates this point of view is welcome to speak up. I’m a wagering man. Let’s go to Nevada and talk about the details of a big bet: nothing even resembling a large corporation fulfills the requirements or delineates the rubric of a socially responsible entity.
In the second place then, one could expand the scope of this mainly clinical examination, as it were, to include entire industrial or other arenas. While an even lengthier effort at documentation than that which this report provides might go into as much detail here as has appeared in relation to individual firms just above, or even more digging might transpire, this is not necessary at this juncture.
An example, or a few, will do. Churches; Internet; steel; insurance; banking; retail: the possible organizational categories are numerous, but far from innumerable. The very idea that a sector of ‘production and society’ such as churches, in general, were exemplary of CSR would bring a smile to the lips of those who think subjunctively, to put the matter in grammatical terms. More mundanely, holding such a belief is, at a minimum, counterfactual.
One might merely assert, based on long experience monitoring such matters, that of all the sectors of society’s socioeconomic sphere that intersect with corporations, exactly one has a minimally plausible basis to survive a summary judgment motion, so to speak, against it in this CSR suit. That would be the non-profit or philanthropic region of modern bourgeois life.
After all, the conceptualization that great wealth ‘naturally’ wants to give back is as easy to ‘prove’ as the names of great foundations: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Kellogg, MacArthur; for those who prefer their generous plutocrats’ exhibiting more currency, Gates or Soros are some of the recent comers. The idea, in other words, almost demonstrates itself.
Unfortunately, a thorough investigation of this topic would discern more complexity and contradiction than the standard story would contain. One might readily, after significant time and effort, come to the conclusion that this sector also does not live up to its ‘bill of goods.’
A BASIC ASSESSMENT THAT PROVES IMPLAUSIBILITY
However, a more elegant substantiation of this evaluation is possible. In any event, as noted, one would be hard-pressed to find a more presentable candidate for an industry-wide or operational area’s quintessence of CSR than philanthropy, at least on the surface, could proffer.
The brief against the vaunted non-profit, foundation, or non-governmental organization space as somehow more pure or sacrosanct than money or its corporate forms generally appear is easy enough to develop. In particular, one should note that the very form of these efforts to ‘do good’ retains its ties with the monumental aggregations of capital that almost universally elicit less favorable reviews in regard to goodness.
Additionally, two particular points powerfully undermine, even fatally undercut, any hope to pretend that these embodiments of enterprise escape taints that destroy responsibility in the form that we’ve been discussing. The first concerns in-depth research that refutes such stances. One might examine the results of a Google outreach like this: < philanthropy OR charity philanthropic OR foundations OR “nongovernmental organizations” OR ngo OR “non profits” “social justice” OR “human welfare” OR csr OR “corporate social responsibility” OR benefit OR advance bullshit OR hypocritical OR hypocrisy OR false OR nonsense OR propaganda> and discover among more than two and a half million citations a significant portion that make the case that shows up in these pages.
In the event, in addition, multiple well-known analyses develop just such an argument as the Spindoctor is making. Most recently, perhaps—as in within the past month or so—a Danish historian has promulgated a line of reasoning that contends that far from relieving large economic entities from the burdens of their overlordship, so to say, philanthropy and charity and non-profit efforts have in fact not only increased inequality but also have demonstrated their perfect congruence with systematic schisms and disparities and, in essence, continued overlordship of just their monopolistic, bourgeois sorts.
Mikkel Thorup labels this new tendency philanthrocapitalism, which his work examines as one of several “expressions of philanthropy as ideology: … corporate philanthropy, in which businesses engage in social work, and philanthropic associations reengineer themselves to mimic corporations; billionaire philanthropy, in which conspicuous consumption is now being supplemented with conspicuous philanthropy; and celebrity philanthropy, in which one of the hallmarks of being a celebrity today consists in the commitment to turn that fame towards a good purpose.”
His work “explore(s) how(just such) philanthropy may serve to justify extreme inequality.” Can anyone say, “Bye-Bye CSR?”
He goes on to develop the following contextualization. “One can interpret philanthrocapitalism as the latest expression of the modern era’s anti-revolutionary, pro-capitalist claims that a rebellion against capitalism will only end in misery and that there is actually no opposition between the market and the common good. In the 1990s the dominant versions of this antirevolutionary stance were encapsulated in Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of liberal-democratic capitalism as the last good idea and the hype of a high-tech, net-based ‘crisis free’ economy. Both claims quickly lost persuasive force. The IT-bubble crashed in early 2000 and the movements critical of globalization seriously questioned whether the ‘G8 World Order’ was the only world possible. It seems therefore fair to interpret the enormous attention to and hope in philanthrocapitalism as an attempt to close the legitimization deficit of contemporary ‘creative capitalism’ where some get more and more but many more get so much less; a development not halted but accelerated by the financial crisis and its aftermath of austerity.”
Again, such elucidation destroys even the possibility that, as a rule, philanthropic or foundation or non-profit endeavors manifest Corporate Social Responsibility in their routine operations. And once more, this is just one of multiple, authoritative critiques of this type.
The second fatal flaw in philanthropy’s case results from a general overview of the sphere and how it divides into different camps, more or less in terms of a polarization between ‘markets’ and ‘regulation,’ between ‘free enterprise’ and governance. This distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ outfits, between ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ non-profits, even as these terms are suspect and may in fact be almost meaningless, nonetheless guarantees that within the sector itself, plus or minus half of the operators look upon plus or minus half of the other operators as nefarious or unethical or at least less than optimal, a fact that practically removes all doubt that some participants fail in their ‘social responsibilities’ in one way or another.
In any case, even letting this division between opposing camps lie fallow, to coin a phrase, one more overarching example of errancy is possible to express. Another Danish duo dissects the most decidedly corporate arm of the philanthropic universe in this matter. Their overview deconstructs, in a persuasive way indeed, the notion that CSR authenticity is anything other than propagandistic turns of phrases.
“Over the past two decades, a growing number of large multinational corporations have come to view philanthropy as an important part of their business operations. This has stimulated research on the many different strategies that are pursued by these corporations in their attempts to become more philanthropic while remaining economically responsible. In this situation, some researchers have argued, corporations run the risk of being caught out as hypocrites. Through an analysis of the corporate social responsibility reports of the biggest multinational corporations, this article shows how the risk of hypocrisy is managed communicatively through the use of euphemisms. The article argues that the use of euphemisms makes it possible to communicate both economically and philanthropically without manifest contradictions. Euphemisms, however, are also risky in their own right.”
This brings at least a pair of issues to the fore. In the first place, the clear suggestion is that some substantial amount of corporate flack in its own behalf about its ‘philanthropy’ is bullshit. More pertinent still, perhaps, it implies that the same corporations that we’ve already proven deficient as CSR exemplars have captured, or at least co-opted a substantial part of the philanthropic field.
One might insist on probing other realms, of course. Additional productive endeavors that could have a surface appearance of likely CSR validation include media undertakings and sports-and-entertainment enterprises. In the former case, the huge degree of detestation that characterizes present-day monopoly-media’s public opinion rankings would make such a view doubtful, or impossible. In the latter instance, the widespread whiff of corruption in regard to stadium shenanigans and the ‘professional’ disregard for player health, from concussions or otherwise, would likewise scuttle any credible representation of CSR validity.
Without any longing to flee or otherwise ‘cut things short,’ as it were, one can sense a stopping point here. The area, or perhaps two or three that most likely could materialize a Corporate Social Responsibility presence does not come close.
Again, as in a one-by-one firm search for a CSR paragon, one cannot here discern a paradigm that permits an onlooker to corroborate any field that is worthy of an imprimatur of Corporate Social Responsibility. Does that mean that such an eventuality can never come to pass? One purpose of today’s reportage is to approximate under what conditions such occurrences might actually happen.
For our purposes in this OVERTURE, in any event, we have provided an architecture for denying the plausibility of CSR in any real-world, real-time domain that is contemporary or historical, whatever the future may hold. The Spindoctor challenge in this regard remains uniform: “Would you like to bet?!” Inquiring minds, as ever, would like to know.
In the third place then, one would hunt for a school of thought or for theorists and practitioners in business and government who could credibly develop and defend the thesis that Corporate Social Responsibility was something that could become Standard Operating Procedure in such a way as to relieve the crises and conundrums that have been universal, and that have arguably intensified and grown less tractable, under corporate capitalism through the centuries. Indubitably, all types of institutional and individual interlocutors would argue forcefully that they could make such a case.
For example, the search, < csr OR “corporate social responsibility” possibility OR plausibility OR hope support OR backing OR validation OR validity OR proof scholarship OR analysis OR research >, delivers leads that number over thirteen million, many of which would offer staunch support for a CSR perspective. Outside of a dispensation of eternal life, or something similar, disproving them all would prove an impossibility. Logistics alone would depose such a herculean effort.
However, in analyzing the inadequacy of several common ideas about how to deliver CSR, this essay establishes a boundary of rebuttal that allows it to move on with the remainder of this exposition. A not infrequent criticism of these promoters of the possible existence of Corporate Social Responsibility is that they derive payment from, or otherwise maintain useful and important relationships with, the very beneficiaries of the conclusions that they reach. Such conflict-of-interest at the least biases, and quite likely invalidates, their perspectives as anything other than more PR hype.
Peter Fleming and Marc Jones offer what many would consider a devastating deconstruction of CSR pretensions in their recent monograph, The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique. They point out the blindness, the hypocrisy, the duplicity, and more that sums up Corporate Social Responsibility as fatuous, even evil.
They begin by relating their experience of sharing CSR images from Google, which often show depictions of Earth, held in strong, caring hands. Their classes, often consisting primarily of business majors, when asked to interpret these pictures, pretty uniformly note the hoped-for corporate interpretation of such photoshopped ‘graphical-user-interfaces:’ decency, caution, protection, gentility, and so on and so forth.
At that point, “we share with our students an alternative interpretation, one that makes them smile and sometimes frown. It is clear, to us at least, that there is something obviously (and humorously) ridiculous about the image. First the idea of giant hands around the world is creepy. They clasp the earth like some alien god that is omnipresent, evincing an image of total control. The hands are apparently human, but we never see a face or a body, and one could imagine an abrupt change of mind as the giant nonchalantly squeezes the globe until it bursts like an overripe tomato. The hands also protrude from a dark jacket that strongly resembles a business suit. They hold the globe close (especially when poor India or Africa is visible), conveying a Promethean dominion over the planet. … almost as if a meddling humanity has won (even though we know it never does when it has a face-off with Gaia). Only in its failure does it desire to call the shots and make right the havoc and destruction it has wreaked over the past two hundred years.”
They compare such imagery to the scene in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator when the fascist potentate bats around an inflated Earth with wrathful glee and disdain for social or environmental consequences. Such a grasp of the nub of at least aspects of CSR is widespread enough so as, minimally, to insist that no ‘summary judgment’ motion to validate a CSR filing would ever survive an impartial judge’s ruling.
Most centrally of all, though, in evoking the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility exists in any meaningful form other than self-promotion, proponents of such views must willingly, better yet enthusiastically, convoke collaborative and collective conversation on all the subjects that comprise CSR. In turn, not just some but all community voices and perspectives not only merit, but also command, a seat at the ‘round-table’ of social reasoning and debate.
Unfortunately, to put the matter gently, articulation has been primarily one-way, coming from on high. Those of us who are ‘low on the totem poll,’ so to put the case, await our opportunity to participate. Certainly, since all of us who read this are adults, we all recognize that any attempt to resolve conflict and crisis must be inclusive, or the supposed resolution will lack adequate legitimacy, meaning that ‘friction’ will continue and intensify.
This key juncture—where dialog meets society and not merely its upper class—is, quite likely, the real heart of Corporate Social Responsibility. Either we bring to pass a true social intercourse, or protests and discomfiture will be the least of our worries.
Having demonstrated the fallacy of the most likely assumptions about what could promulgate a CSR agenda, a generalization about other ideation in this vein is possible. To wit, anything that does not fundamentally reformulate, or remove the right to follow, the profit motive can ever be likely to effectuate Corporate Social Responsibility.
In fact, those rare but real instances of smaller corporate emanations that do at least come close to deserving the denomination of socially responsible are universally those that in fact reduce the otherwise voracious appetite for maximizing shareholder cash-out, now, not tomorrow, but right now. Thus, profiteering—which basically means and completely implies acting to gain additional profits—can under no circumstance allow the evolution of any sort of regime that we could agree to label an instance of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Readers may or may not accept such a sweeping statement, but a gentle request is apropos in the event of skepticism. Such a student of life should continue to peruse what follows apace, watching as the historical, empirical, circumstantial, and rational case for the summation above comes to the fore. Then, the sooner the better, we should talk about it!
The AFTERWORD returns to this issue. Perhaps a complete consideration of the various elements of this report’s arguments will convince one who currently has doubts. If not, we can always agree to disagree. And, as noted constantly, further research, debate, and engagement, in any event, are always possible.
Additional, & Summative, Points Prior to Making an Initial Exit
Having illustrated, if nothing else, that a potent brief exists against the idea that even a simple ‘proof of concept’ of CSR is defensible, one might say still a bit more than this prior to moving on toward matters prefatory in nature. The first point to make is that a more robust ‘proof of performance’ in regard to Corporate Social Responsibility must be further still from realization.
Furthermore, though much more appears about historical matters below, a mere mention seems useful that CSR sorts of beliefs, which show up as briefs in favor of reforming capitalism, are nothing new. Robert Owen, in one fashion, and Jeremy Bentham, in a related way, demonstrate this inherently CSRcreed as a nascent exhibition by those among the bourgeoisie who found themselves inclined to notice barbaric treatment and callous exploitation of workers and nature.
In the event, just a few summary observations can send us on our way, awaiting a fuller presentation soon enough. A first overall point is that profit always, in the end, took over operations; only propaganda was ‘pure.’ A second is that the bedrock premise of this kind of ‘critique’ was that the rich had to reform themselves, not that any participation was necessary, or even welcome, by workers themselves, who were after all much too likely to be rabble. Third, many of the specific reforms that Owen in particular advanced became part of a unified platform, which all believers in social justice or social democracy accepted and promoted, of which the most well-understood sample might be the Eight-Hour-Day. One might continue; such amplification awaits, in any case.
Also pertinent to both restatement and a widening of discourse is to amplify the argument, mentioned above, about engagement, dialog, and participation. Most any analysis of Owenite ‘failures,’ its ‘unfortunate’ tendency toward dissolution or corruption, would elevate the lack of participatory democracy as a key basis for systemic breakdown.
One could name names here. Jürgen Habermas comes to mind; Slavoj Zizek; Benjamin Barber; Paulo Freire; plus countless others. The interested student would not suffer for lack of material, a small sampling of which is also upcoming.
In any event, a reader who comes this far has seen quite a bit already. First, the additions and initial deductions here are apt to note. Second, the text has revealed multiple reconfigurations of the prime argumentation, so to speak. Third, various ways of thinking about, and wrestling with, the engagement with, evaluation of, and actions regarding Corporate Social Responsibility have put in appearances so far. The upshot, too, of course, is clear: CSR pretentions may be merely some mix of a shell game and a dog-and-pony-show, or they could be something more sinister and insidious; whatever the case may be, no workable demonstration of substantial CSR is extant; furthermore, and finally, the construction of the social tango about these questions is at best flawed and insufferably one-sided.
Ending Our Beginning
If nothing else, the briefing that takes place here permits a sturdy response to the frequent complaint that characterizes the current pass, in essence that the truly lovely potential of CSRhas gone down in flames or up in smoke because of bad people, bad management, or some combination of the two. On the contrary, any sort of careful evidence-based review would retort, the very heart of the matter or belly of capital’s beast makes even the best laid plans, the most beneficent of intentions, a chance to pave a path to hell.
Therefore, a reader might evince the capacity both to circumscribe and circumnavigate the realm of the denizen of Corporate Social Responsibility. In essence, the context of CSR presumes or substantiates the dominance of capital, an assumption or assertion of hegemony that everyone who is not a denizen of capital’s total imprimatur would do well to question closely and treat skeptically. This should do as a start, in any event.
A query related to defining and explicating CSR ought also to appear obvious. “Why are such ways of thinking and analysis so common now, and over the past period of time?” The next section addresses this query indirectly, by uncovering the deeper historical roots of capital’s ongoing tendency to devolve into disruption and mayhem.”
Here is an idea that I’ve expressed on wood, which my wife and I transform into art. “That yesterday affects today is no more in doubt than is the fact that the mother’s experience of gestation influences the birth and future development of her child: truly the past authors the present in similar fashion as the rains of Spring induce the growth of Summer and Autumn’s bounty, or lack thereof.”
Time’s touch often enough caresses one’s memory, as one might experience on birthdays or other repositories of fond recollection; at other junctures, however, the temporal interface has more in common with a jab in the gut or an ax in the face. Most people in North America would likely see September eleventh as such a problematic point in time for purposes of recalling the past.
Especially when pain or plaintive loss characterizes the way we remember a particular yesterday, we owe ourselves—unless our hope is to maximize the generation of more such memories—a stalwart attempt to understand how what was painful and harmful came to pass. Such thinking would, as just noted, probably apply to most Americans’ feelings about what happened in New York City fourteen years ago. Thus, we ought to inquire why and how jets flew into skyscrapers, and we should willingly dig deeply in seeking answers.
Especially in the United States, however, such sifting of days gone by for insight to the present pass presents a nearly intractable problem. Media repeatedly obfuscate and falsify, or at least trivialize, what happened. Standard-issue or other ‘accepted’ history books provide assessments that are partial or plain wrong. Discourse and debate about how ‘bad things happen to good people’ is, charitably, sadly inadequate.
Were the results of these patterns merely a lack of closure and a missing out on understanding, these eventualities would be bad enough. When such archetypes of prejudice and ignorance make probable, or even certain, upcoming new disasters that stem from inadequate capacity to contextualize the roots of events, the cost is incalculable, possibly including the destruction of human life on our planet.
In relation to matters like 9/11, plenty of writing on this year’s September 11th speak to issues of note in regard to our beliefs about andremembrance of things past. Very few of them, however, at least here at home, have anything to say about what took place twenty-eight years prior to 2001 on that day, thousands of miles to the South in Chile.
The events there—involving premeditated murder of at least ten thousand people—resulted from explicit planning-assistance and other resources that the United States made available to the assassins and butchers who ran Chile on behalf of demonstrably imperial and illegal interests for fifteen years after the terrible occasion of 9/11/1973. If citizens here do not understand these things, then the next ‘terrorist’ attack on North American soil will be much worse.
Therefore, on this day, the Spindoctor is posting a thorough—which means lengthy—investigation and analysis of what transpired in Chile forty-two years ago, reportage that has had a life online already but which is worth proffering again for people again to have the chance to read. At least, it is worthy of further reflection if we hope to avoid upcoming catastrophes markedly more dire than anything that’s take place plus far.
In our regular aggregation of Daily Links, a Thought of the Day appears. Here’s one from this week that may be apt. “What the futuremight deliver is often enough much more in keeping with one’s hopes and needs than the seemingly arcane intricacies and paradoxes of the tumultuous present, all of which of course comes to us from a past that appears inscrutable enough to forestall our investigating it carefully, a truly unfortunate error, since the only way that tomorrow’s light will be likely to shine sweetly in our favor is if we comprehend yesterday well enough both to see the current moment clearly and accurately, and then to set a course for an evolution of today’s reality that this awareness designates as at least plausible, as well as necessary for the fruition of our goals and objectives.”
As always, one might present the nub of today’s script simply. One chronicler has stated the matter under consideration like this: “The division of labor among nations is that some of them specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throat of Indian civilization.”
The winners are frequently easily recognizable, among them the likes of Henry Kissinger and Citibank; Richard Helms and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Guggenheim interests, the Rockefeller interests, and the panoply of well-heeled conquerors who dot the modern prospect. The losers often seem less obviously noteworthy or famous—Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and Rene Schneider simply don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Richard Nixon does.
Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams. Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals. They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment. They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire. Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.
As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy. One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections. One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.
With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document. Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.
Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge. They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away. Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem. We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.
Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination. Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.
“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”
One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox. The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue. At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.
These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger. One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present. Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.
At one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade. The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.
Victor’s face blanches. He must sense what is pending. At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.
Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded. Two men restrain him from rising. A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling. Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists. Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.
Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly. He begins to weep. Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.
At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo. One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.
On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed. Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-contemporary ambit—not in Palestine, not in Ukraine, not in the South China Sea, not in South Asia, not in Africa, not in any other geographic location—have such lethal dynamics come into play with more ferocity than until recently they did in Latin America. Not for nothing has Eduardo Galeano described the entire region as a body of “opened veins.”
Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine. This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.
This Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more. Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism. In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.
The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara. Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.
Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.
The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward. For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere. Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.
Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed. With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact. With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer. So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.
Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict. In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.
The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment. Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimesagainsthumanity.
These pronouncements are quite specific. They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes. Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.
To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought. This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone. In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a “good neighbor policy” that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.
An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows. As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded “sing for us now, poet”—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.
Prefatory Matters—Monroe’s’ Doctrine’ to ‘War’s Racket’ Writ Large in Cuba
The all-too-standard view is that history is disposable, at best. “I don’t care about history. I don’t like history. History sucks.” No matter how toxic or tragic, such perspectives probably resonate with a majority of citizens.
When adults hold such views, this resembles a mature child who despises its parents. In a fashion that an earlier investigation here on Contributoria employed, such an attitude is like a panicked traveler who is seeking directions to ‘Portland’ without knowing where he is. Or, these beliefs mimic the difficulties of one who desperately wants to ‘find the way to Portland’ but doesn’t know where she came from to get wherever in hell she is.
Here we all are, in a world in which one empire-of-the-Americas has inordinate influence over the fates of every living human, and yet we really don’t come close to comprehending how this has all come about. Maybe at least a brief foray into the developments that took us from past to present could serve our interests.
In this regard, vast armies of dedicated scholars might spend many lifetimes deconstructing the conquest of the Americas by Europe. In doing so, the observer would want to account for the significant differences that distinguish Hispanic America from Anglo America.
Unfortunately, accomplishing such a task effectively and briefly is likely impossible, yet a few salient aspects of such interpretative work would at least suggest the parameters that an annalist might establish to examine these obvious differences.
A key element would likely be the relative importance of extractive versus agricultural and then industrial economies, which in turn affected everything in the spheres of production and trade.
The greater capacity for resistance, or at least persistence, of Chile’s Mapuche and the entire region’s indigenous population, is also likely important; one Spanish potentate whom Chilean Indian rebels captured early in the colonial fray, after they slaughtered all the soldiers who had accompanied him in his attempt to assert the continued enslavement of native laborers, may have died as a result of the Mapuche’s pouring molten gold, which he so craved, down his throat.
What one might call this ‘culture of conquistadors’ also probably played a role in establishing a landholding class that practically speaking predominated in much of Chile, and much of Latin America, until the past century or so; of course, the working classes that underlay such a system would differ at least slightly from the ‘regular people’ who formed the masses of folks further North in North America.
One might continue: geography, proximity to Europe and the ease of immigration, the different social developments that characterized England and Spain, and much more would tend to lay the basis for what ended up being quite distinct social and political communities in the Western Hemisphere.
In any event, these sorts of factors would indeed have established foundations for the way that actual relationships evolved as modern times approached and came to pass.
In this vein, from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking Americas, this initiation of the realm of the present, more or less, must emerge from the severing of colonial dominance from Madrid. Over the course of twenty years or so after 1800, every piece of Spanish America broke away from direct European dominance, with a few exceptions like Cuba and British Guyana.
Even cursory glances at the writings of such ‘rebels’ as Simon Bolivar illustrate that this process was not obviously similar to what happened in British colonial North America. In one letter or tract after another, El Liberator wrote of the lack of networks of power, of crushing debts that the means of production would not alleviate, of leaders so venal and greedy that they would likely turn on each other and defeat themselves given time and space to accomplish their natural inclinations. The end result of all these difficulties was an Iberian and ‘Holy Alliance’ counterattack on the erstwhile independent States in the early 1820’s, focused especially on Peru.
“Everything (in Lima) is in disorder; there is no government, no army. President La Mar has always been a godo(a selfish idiot), and most of the army heads have always been godos, and the naval commander at Callao as well. The chief of staff, the commanding officers of engineers, and the commanding officer of artillery are also godos. In these circumstances…(a) large(r) number of troops (than the 3,000 that Bolivar dispatched) is not being sent for the present because it is impossible. I have no ships, no provisions, and no troops here. We have already spent a hundred thousand pesos, and we are just beginning the enterprise. In order to send the next 3,000, God knows what we shall have to do, for we are burdened with debts, and we do not have the slightest credit.”
Bolivar’s vision was of a United States of South America, and his will that it should come to be was powerful. “(I)t shall be done, cost what it may.” Yet the leaders under his command conspired against each other as readily as—or even more readily than—they united to fight Spanish attempts to reassert its rule. They negotiated separate arrangements with England, the United States, and other rising industrial economies.
Chile’s place in these ventures—plus-or-minus 1823—was complex and not at all uniform. On the one hand, years earlier, Bolivar had considered Chile particularly apt to adopt ‘republicanism,’ especially under the aegis of Bernardo O’Higgins. For many years, Santiago had diligently supported federation and seemed a reliable bastion against Spain’s attempts to overthrow the young republics and to defeat their union.
One of Bolivar’s chief subordinates, J. Gabriel Perez, corresponded with Chile’s plenipotentiary to Peru in May, 1823. He laid out the strategic and geopolitical context that was developing, in which the “United States of North America” might join with Spain and Portugal themselves in recognition of the new rulers.
The complications in this situation centered on demands from Continental European powers—Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the so-called Holy Alliance—that Spain reinstate the Bourbon King and return his colonial imprimatur at the same stroke. “England has authorized her minister in Madrid to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance with Spain… .to induce (it) to recognize the sovereignty of the South American states…(a necessity) if we are to interest ourselves in this tremendous struggle or if she is to provide herself with an immense new market for her industry and manufactures.”
England’s work behind the scenes with anti-Bourbon Spaniards and anti-royalist Portuguese would serve to advance the English imperial domination that had been a primary result of Napoleon’s defeat eight years before. Yet the Spanish in the colonies often enough remained completely committed to another Bourbon ascendancy and to the renewal of colonial plunder that was mercantilist and thereby excluded England.
Bolivar obviously hoped that Chile would provision and maintain a troop contingent in Peru of 2,000 men or more “not only (to) counterbalance Spanish power united there, but…also (to) give Peru greater strength than her enemies and provide more reasons to be recognized and more justification for English intervention on her behalf.” The basis for presuming Chile’s agreement to such requests concerned the Andean nation’s desire for more territory—soon enough to come to fruition—and its ongoing courting of both English and United States commercial links in its seafaring enterprises.
Just two years subsequently, despite Bolivar’s insistence that only a union of the newly independent states could salvage their ongoing viability, Bolivar added a postscript in a lengthy missive to Francisco Santander, the Vice President of Colombia. “Chile is in a state of frightful anarchy. Freire has gone to Concepcion, and Pinto to Coquimbo. The province of Santiago is governed by its intendant. Reports have it that the Chilean Congress will send a deputation to recall O’Higgins,” which would favor the faction that backed a confederation and Bolivar against those whose interests were narrower and more in tune with strengthening North American and British connections.
Though inherently truncated and superficial, these depictions ought at a minimum to create a template for viewing how Latin America developed. Its attempts at union having come to nothing—with United States approval for the multiplicities of jurisdiction clear-cut—its dependence on U.S. and, especially, English capital and markets having increased, these divided nation-states unavoidably fell into the orbit of one imperial ambition or another.
This became especially problematic when, unlike Chile, the just-formed political entities themselves eschewed republican commitment-to-commerce-over-blood and sought to impose monarchies of one sort or another. In Brazil, such moves might prove tolerable to those in Washington whose growing strength ‘manifested an imperial destiny’ that would seemingly encompass the hemisphere and might eventually bridle the entire globe.
But when this longing for royalty took place across a border that gringos increasingly crossed with an intention to own whatever they might purchase ‘free-and-clear,’ in other words in Mexico, then such developments might appear almost insufferable. Moreover, Mexican sociopolitical choices invited European involvement in their monarchical fancies, which U.S. officials unequivocally rejected.
Thus, on the American side, the debates about how to respond to this spate of rebellions and the promulgation of James Monroe’s famous ‘Doctrine’ would mark the coming of a more or less contemporary attitudinal and political nexus toward our ‘neighbors’ to the South. In Washington, no matter the fierce debates between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, regardless of quibbling over how to couch trade with territorial expansion, almost universal agreement existed both that significant, or even critical, “American interests” were at stake in how the hemisphere developed to the South of the U.S. borders at the time and that the capacity to extend force, as in the development and extension of especially naval operations and commerce, would constitute a necessary component of this overarching ‘interest.’
The secession of Texas from Latin America, its annexation by the United States, and war with Mexico manifested destiny in ways that continue to resonate in almost every arena of contemporary American life. That Mexico’s caste and class divisions were vastly more critical in causing the inevitable war with the United States to be an unmitigated disaster than were the military prowess or tactical proficiency of U.S. armed forces is important to note, of course. So too is the point of crucial import that the to-the-death fight over slavery that rent the U.S. in many ways began with the entry of Texas as slave territory into the union; in any case, most of New England and substantial parts of the Eastern U.S. stoutly opposed the war against Mexico.
The end result of the conflict, nevertheless, was the establishment of an ‘Uncle Sam’s’ strategic force that was capable of becoming behemoth, whose territorial extent, growing industrial prowess, and combination of capitalism and social free-for-all for men of European ancestry inaugurated the rise of Pax Brittanica in the Western Hemisphere even as it ultimately threatened to replace England’s rule with its own vigorous combination of bigoted self-confidence and practical productive savvy. In this way, the Monroe Doctrine formed a wedge for British industrial products and capital, on the one hand, and for the ready extraction of necessary resources, on the other hand. Even the ‘scandal’ of England’s offer to purchaseTexas could not derail the ‘special relationship’ between U.S. expansionism and English commercial and naval supremacy.
The wild yarn of William Walker complements the tale of Texas, where U.S. agents and opportunistic interlopers combined to bring an on-paper-only Mexican rule crashing down. Walker in 1854 exemplified filibustering that newcomers North of the Rio Grande had field-tested in the early 1830’s, an important outlet for those in the United States who hoped to institutionalize slavery as a key part of Western Hemispheric capitalism.
Walker first led comrades in an invasion of Baja California. When anticipated popularity did not materialize—in other words, no additional mercenaries showed up to fight off the paltry Mexican forces that opposed him—he ‘surrendered’ to U.S. authorities just across the relatively new U.S. California border.
He made his mark as an adventurer in Central America. He and a few dozen armed and trained soldiers-of-fortune allied with local gunslingers to depose and then dispatch the President of Nicaragua in a firing squad. He abrogated the prohibition on slavery and instituted a ‘constitution’ that mimicked the likes of Tennessee and South Carolina.
Viewing Walker’s filibustering as either an aberration or as individualist heroism represents the preferred surface explanation for these events. What actually transpired is much more modern, spookily so.
The issues at hand combined logistics—transportation between Eastern and Western North America primarily—and marketing—determining which products would find a way to consumers and final purchases. Specifically, the owners of the primary delivery operation across Nicaragua deployed Walker to shift the Central American State’s licensing permissions for transiting the Isthmus when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s stock manipulations in New York were eliminating Walker’s employers’ ownership of the company.
Vanderbilt reacted with typical efficiency to this challenge. He oversaw the organization of British and different Central American and dissident Nicaraguan counterattacks against Walker’s ‘Presidency.’ They permitted the dapper Tennessean to exit and warned him not to return. When instead he organized another filibuster and came back, they captured him and shot him to pieces in Honduras.
A half-century later, after a sectional bloodletting imposed a tepid emancipation of African-Americans and revolutionized the productive forces of the U.S. at one and the same time, a continental capitalist gargantuan erupted that had only been nascent during Walker’s day, late in the 1800’s tied together by rails and telegraph lines. In fulfilling this ‘sea-to-shining-sea’ destination, any further expansion, inevitably, had to occur outside Yankee borders.
More and more, like England after Waterloo, the United States needed an “Open Door” for its industrial and agricultural products and ‘freedom of access’ to natural resources in foreign jurisdictions. Miraculously, in less than a century, the tiny thirteen original states had spanned North America, and the Stars & Stripes prepared to take on the task of governing the world.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s note about the ‘frontier’s’ role in all this process, equal parts fantasy and description, resonates still. He spoke of the way that Americans saw themselves, to an extent, and totally of how ‘Uncle Sam’s’ rulers wanted to present themselves.
“Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and take advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crapes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Restaurants, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.”
However, the inevitable offshoot of such a dynamic was the ‘restless’ search for, even necessary acquisition of, markets and resources outside the ‘small-village’ ambit. After all, this sort of development ended with the ‘closing of the frontier.’ In this context, voila! All manner of divided and ‘underdeveloped’ polities lay close at hand, ready for propositioning or even more aggressive incursions.
Thus, war with Spain became an inevitable crusade, righteously defended in the name of liberty but operationalized in terms of industrial plantation agriculture and the decimation of grassroots, legitimate liberation movements in Cuba and the Philippines.
And the seeds that promised revolutionary growth in Cuba thereby percolated in fertile soil. None other than Che Guevara spoke of how this ‘duty’ in relation to Havana and its surrounds had played out as a historical pattern.
“(W)e all know the nature of that duty. (T)hat same duty took to account a sovereign nation, which is Mexico, for its expression of indignation at the violent and bestial economic aggression unleashed against Cuba. This duty of the United States is the same duty that compelled it to assassinate the patriot Sandino and put into power in Nicaragua the justly hated Somoza. The duty of the United States was to give arms and planes, first to Batista and then to those who continue his work. …Thus do the rulers of the most powerful nation in this hemisphere understand their duties. These are our ‘good neighbors,’ those who would defend us, who place a military base on our soil and pay us two thousand pesos a year for it; the sower of atomic bases on all the world’s continents, the barons of oil, tin, copper, and sugar—the heirs of monopoly.”
Through all of this maturation of empire, from the first presence of U.S. Navy forces off Chile in the 1820’s, as part of the regime of various trade necessities—in California and Asia both—to the massive investments far to the North of Santiago that took place as World War was guaranteeing at least temporary demand for Chilean Nitrate and copper, Washington’s relations with the slender Republic that stretched from Peru to Antarctica were relatively benign. Nothing disturbed a surface bustle that dealt with commerce and resources and a tendency to ‘leave well enough alone.’ At the same time, knowledge of such developments is less than sparse.
“Few however have pursued contemporaneous U.S. capital flow into overseas frontiers such as those in Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere. ‘The Americans who invested in Chile were interested in any good proposition,’ notes Wilkins, ‘whether it lay in the arid lands bordering the Andes, in the Russian Caucasus, in Northern Mexico, or in the hills of Montana.’ By 1914, the Guggenheim mining group had spent $169 million in getting the Chilean mines off to a roaring start. …By 1929, U.S. investments in Chilean copper and Venezuelan petroleum had surpassed American efforts in both of those industries in Mexico.”
That such an agenda in fact typified the U.S. imprint in the region generally is obvious on the surface. Its placidity and businesslike amicability were only skin deep, however. “Banana Republics” is not merely a catchy phrase. Dozens of military invasions took place in the half century from the end of the U.S. war with Spain and the rise of Chile’s “New Song” and Salvador Allende’s dream of elected socialist power.
Eduardo Galeano speaks eloquently to such contentions: “After invading Panama, (George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991)…declared, ‘The world is a dangerous place.’ This pearl of wisdom has remained over the years as the most irrefutable justification for the highest war budget on the planet, mysteriously called the ‘defense budget.’ The name constitutes an enigma. The United States hasn’t been invaded by anybody since the English burned Washington in 1812. Except for Pancho Villa’s fleeting excursion during the Mexican Revolution, no enemy has crossed its borders. The United States, in contrast, has always had the unpleasant habit of invading others.”
Thus, a ‘Good Neighbor’ façade held little in the way of promise for social progress or popular power. In 1919, while he was advocating a League of Nations to assume the ‘duties’ that nations risked war in assuming, Woodrow Wilson stated the foundations of such ‘friendly’ viciousness succinctly. “Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?”
One of the most fascinating witnesses to this ongoing processing of commercial hegemony regardless, and military imposition as necessary, twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He served for the better part of a decade as Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps. Then he resigned to write War Is a Racket and seek a different way of approaching the production and control of life’s goods and services.
In fact, Smedley Butler acted very much like a socialist, or even a communist. His fiery populist statements, mostly applicable to Latin America, drew on thirty-odd years of military service. “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.”
In keeping with Butler’s observations, Roosevelt’s and the American elites’ conception of Latin America was as a repository of resources for the conduct of Yankee assumption of the imperial crown that Britain had worn for so long. This was the nature of the U.S.-Chilean conjunction seventy-five years ago, as World War Two launched an ‘American Century,’ much more modest than Germany’s hoped-for ‘thousand year reich.’
In this manifestation of economic servitude, and all the social stew that accompanied such patterns, that exemplified Chile’s development as of the last half century or so, truly astounding cultural and literary expressions were mushrooming West of the Andes. Not that this was utterly atypical of Latin creativity, on the contrary, the region has burgeoned with film and poetry and music and drama and more for a long century or more. But these gardens of story in Chile were especially fertile in producing their blossoms.
One such set of materials form the subject matter of Sebastian Allende’s work, La Influencia Anarquista en la Literatura Chilena(“The Anarchist Influence in Chilean Literature). A central argument in his efforts revolves around the idea that anarchism and socialism, and even communism, have often conflated in Chilean culture. The ultimate goals of human liberation and worker solidarity transcend ideological niceties.
Another publication, more standard and encyclopedic in its orientation, but redolent of the extent and power of Chilean stories, is a sixty year old volume from Francisco Dussuel. Historia de la Literatura Chilena covers four centuries of tales that have emanated from Santiago and environs, though it does not emphasize indigenous mythology or all sectors of society equally.
A vastly larger compendium of explorations of Chile’s output might appear here. But that would divert us from reaching our goal of exploring the work of Victor Jara and the New Song Movement, both of which were en route to social transformation when the CIA and Augusto Pinochet and company cut off Jara’s hands and shot him dead, in many ways effectively decapitating the movement.
We are going to arrive at Jara’s critically important contribution to human life via an examination of his friend and comrade in struggle to achieve a better Chile, the Nobel Laureate and poet, Pablo Neruda. Amazingly though, Neruda’s was not the first instance of the Swedish committee’s notice of Chile.
Gabriela Mistral was an austere school teacher from a humble family in the dry foothills of Northern Chile’s mining regions, who also, miraculously given her far-from-upper-class roots, served as an occasional diplomat—a not infrequent practice that showed the reverence for culture that at times typified Chile and Spanish-speaking states more generally. “She pushed her way out of poverty and obscurity through publishing poetry and a range of teaching materials for use in schools.”
She wrote simple and ethereally beautiful verse. Often not overtly political, she nonetheless advocated for listening to Bolivar’s advice and decried the depredations of empire and fascism in her region and the Spanish Civil War. Before he died, Garcia Lorca wrote a dedication to her that alluded to her love of land and Leo Tolstoy’s brand of peasant social anarchism: “When you lie still – ay, Gabriela, Gabriela – the Andes will cradle you – as if in a mint – and will make you a clay sarcophagus – that you may always have land.”
She corresponded with wealthy literati elsewhere in the Southern Cone, who sought her out and considered the issues of the day in tandem with her, especially as she acted as one of Chile’s diplomatic corps. She fulminated on the rights of women and children and found herself caught in the grip of uprisings of anarchists and communists and the reactionary counterattacks of the rulers of the established order.
Both her fundamentally progressive mindset and her achieving the highest award in literature—the only woman from Hispanic America and the first Latin American to do so—directs the onlooker to consider the man whose poetry remains more memorable, but not necessarily any more important, in understanding Chile and its cultural gifts to all the world. Certainly, Pablo Neruda would have responded with both joy and grief to her ferocious insistence that justice required radical transformation.
“The whole world has gone astray. Selfishness, lust for power, and ignorance being the reasons why. The greater number of us are a burden on the few, the ones who rule with a startling brazenness and inhumanity. Fear, weapons, violence and concentration camps are turning man into a veritable puppet, stripping him ruthlessly of his greatest possession: his freedom to think and act and his creative mind.”
By Way of Introduction—Pablo Neruda’s Revolutionary Spirit
In this context of Chilean magnificence, the poetry and politics and lusty loving nature of Pablo Neruda form a seamless whole. Moreover, his origins, as much so as any Nobel Prize winner ever, illustrate the way that humble roots can percolate a body of work that, so to speak, caffeinates truly radical words, insurrectionary verses that touch on every realm of life.
The hope here is not even to approximate an exhaustive portrait of this poet, both earthy and heartfelt, whose massive output and tremendous love for humanity continue to astonish anyone who notices. On the contrary, a relatively few brushstrokes should serve this narrative’s needs.
The primary purpose of Neruda’s inclusion in this essay is to draw parallels between the lives, literary output, and moral sensibilities of two great creators—one a Nobel Prize winning poet, the other a revered folk singer and dramatist. Chile’s working class, its lusty earthiness, its grand isolation amid astounding natural beauty, the Spanish language, and the dire struggles of wage-earners for dignity and justice joined Neruda and Jara, as if nature had conjoined them at the hip.
Like Gabriela Mistral, Neruda’s poetic name resembles his given name not in the least. His father worked Chile’s rails in the time before trucking, when the only way to traverse almost three-thousand miles was via trains that the British had financed and built. His mother died of tuberculosis before he had reached his second birthday.
He adored his stepmother, ‘Mamadre,’ who adopted the half-sister whom his father conceived with a lover while she was still nursing their son, the future ‘Pablo’s’ half brother. He loved words from the age of ten at least, though his father discouraged him from fantasizing about seeking to support himself with his wrist.
Nevertheless, he began to publish little bits and pieces on the sly, from the age of thirteen on. Perhaps miraculously, in the guise of fate if nothing else, the principal of the girl’s school adjacent to his academy was none other than Ms. Mistral, on the way to a Nobelist’s renown of her own.
She encouraged the fifteen year old, whom she directed to read Russian writers whenever he could. From this guidance came his discovery of the Czech poet, Jan Neruda, whose patronymic he adopted, along with the common ‘Pablo,’ a change of his name that he hoped would keep from altogether alienating his father.
In the event, his talent transferred a soulful passion for life to the page in raging, fiery, delicious, lusty verses that caused his receiving almost instant recognition as a scribe. Following his graduation from University, and the publication of Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair, Chile sent him abroad, indulging its more-than-occasional practice of awarding writers with diplomatic assignments—his first posting was to Burma.
In Argentina for a time in the 1930’s, he opened his eyes to the sociopolitical realm, even as he was composing the most abstract verses of his life. He befriended Garcia Lorca and ended up with an attaché’s position in Spain shortly thereafter.
He powerfully propounded the Republican movement. So much so did he support this anti-monarchical cause that Chile recalled him from his post. However, he returned to Europe in 1938 where, from Paris, he helped to find Spanish refugees places to live in the Western Hemisphere.
His popularity was skyrocketing at this point, as was his income, yet he had already begun to circle the Communist cause that was to define the remainder of his life. He served Chile in Mexico in the early 1940’s, returning to Santiago to run for the Senate in 1944 and win, as a Communista.
His criticism of a dour and reactionary President—albeit a man whom he had supported in the election, and whose party won in an alliance with the Communists—contributed to Gonzales Videla’s outlawing the Communist Party and issuing a warrant for Neruda’s arrest. He lived underground for nearly two years, before his comrades and supporters helped him to escape the Andes for half a decade.
He spoke publicly and fully for the first time, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of this experience. He rode through the Andes for as much as a week, crossing icy rivers late in the Southern Winter. Four rural roustabouts guided him through trackless forests surrounded by glaciers and massive peaks. These horsemen hacked trees to mark their return path.
When they passed makeshift bowers that marked some fallen sojourner, they would each cut new branches to add to the bedding for the dead. Crossing a mirrored, snow-fed waterway, his horse nearly shed him as it swam in water over its head. One of his companeros had followed with a lasso in case the poet fell, in waters that had years before swept the young guardian’s father to his death.
Fleeing prison, perhaps demise, he and his comrades came upon a flower-strewn meadow that bloomed with Spring’s approach. There, they encountered a natural chapel that housed an open, ox-skull altar where each of the travelers placed dried fruit or bits of money, gifts that bypassers might find in the dead beast’s staring eye-sockets. They each danced to honor the deity that lived in the bones, hopping a circle around the gleaming bleached horns, with only the sky and the rocks and the wind and the trees and the snows to winess.
Shortly after, they saw a rocky redoubt where entire trees burned more or less constantly to warm and provide process heat for Argentine workers who made cheese at sixteen thousand feet and sang and shared their lives and their food and their wine with Chileans who welcomed the opportunity to douse themselves in volcanically heated baths and treasured the chance to sleep inside, safe from police or soldiers or freezing to death. When Neruda sought to give money to these creators of processed food, his generous hosts, they refused.
He continued his ruminations about what this experience of life had taught about simplicity and solidarity and plenty more besides.
“(I)f the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity. Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”
Throughout his life, Pablo Neruda—who legally changed his name in 1946—openly celebrated the erotic and carnal fires that he and his adored companions lit with each other, in each other, through each other. Darker visions blended with these volcanic expressions of life’s core, forming a fabric of desire and loss, joy and pain, that appeared in much of his work, expressive attributes that he shared with all kinds of other Chilean and Hispanic wordsmiths.
Returning to Chile in 1952, he had become even more staunchly Marxist and committed to the Communist cause, at the same time that he engaged in stern critique of Stalin after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 condemnation of the dictator. All over the world, people translated and bought his poetry. He continued to carry around his copy of Whitman’s Song of Myself, one of his muses.
He ran as a Communist candidate for President against Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri, the CIA darling in 1970, siding with Allende in the runoff. A passage from his Nobel speech thirteen years later illuminated such a choice. “By extending to these extreme consequences the poet’s duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides. I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats. In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations. And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Neruda’s glorious oeuvre graces very few literature courses below the graduate level in the United States. Such a distancing is consciously political on the part of Yankee institutional ‘objectivity.’
“’No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,’ observed New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman. Numerous critics have praised Neruda as the greatest poet writing in the Spanish language during his lifetime, although many readers in the United States have found it difficult to disassociate Neruda’s poetry from his fervent commitment to communism.”
Agelessly, Neruda’s monumental presentation to the audience in Stockholm serves as a gentle remonstrance to North American ignorance and arrogance. “We have inherited this damaged life of people’s dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisiacal of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance – peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.”
A secondary rationale for including Don Pablo here is that he too died shortly after Pinochet’s minions ripped Chile’s social fabric to shreds and slaughtered and disappeared thousands of civilians who supported Allende. Since one focus of the Pinochetista bloodlust was on communist artists, many people contend that the fascists killed Neruda in some fashion similarly as they dispatched Victor Jara and so many others.
However this is not likely true. At sixty-nine, Neruda was in a Santiago hospital and fighting cancer.
Inevitably, he encountered mediated presentations of the dance of death that Pinochet and the CIA were delivering to his native land, where his political opponent-turned-comrade, the socialist Allende, had been President when he entered his sickbed.
His wife of many years, the love of his life, recalls some of what her beloved underwent in the twelve days that followed September 11th. She had returned to his side when he had summoned at one point. “I dashed up to his room and sat down beside him. I was exhausted with nervous tension. Pablo is very agitated. He said that he has spoken with many friends and that it is incredible that I don’t know what is going on in the country. ‘They’re killing people,’ he tells me. ‘They’re handing over bodies in pieces. The morgue’s full of the dead, the people are outside in their hundreds, claiming the bodies. Didn’t you hear what happened to Victor…Jara? He was one of those they tore to pieces, they destroyed his hands.’ As I had tried to avoid his finding out about all the hair-raising news those days, he thought I was ignorant of everything. ‘The body of Victor Jara in pieces. Didn’t you know that? Oh my God, that’s like killing a nightingale. And they say that he kept on singing and singing, and that drove them wild.’”
Most probably, Pablo Neruda in the end died a few day later of a broken heart. The clinical record of ‘heart attack’ as cause of death would in that case be accurate.
Pinochet personally forbade any public display for his funeral. For days, despite this ban, thousands of people gathered to honor Pablo Neruda and bring flowers and song to his grave.
Core Matters—Poignant Paradox & Pointed Protests
Chile’s outsize cultural impact has already had a turn on this essay’s stage. The work of Mistral and Neruda and others worked as antidote to heartbreak, even in the most woeful evolution of the world’s twists and turns. This literary and artistic heft represents a multidimensional fabric that serves to support both Chilean society most specifically, Latin society with almost the same degree of clarity and completeness, and the wider world more broadly speaking.
A few additional notes can assist in launching this narrative’s central sections. In each case, elements of the life and labor of Victor Jara are also part of the web that this briefing describes.
Frank sexuality and sensuality, as already alluded to, form a part of Chilean consciousness and enculturation. That this happens in an arena where strict Catholicism holds sway is less paradoxical than one might imagine.
Isabel Allende, the assassinated President’s relative, not only composed entire novels through which a strongly feminine earthiness and lustiness expressed itself, but she also spun out briefer yarns that were even more graphic. “Toad’s Mouth” is one of these.
It tells the tale of a vast sheep preserve in Chile’s South, practically inaccessible and owned by a pair of married British investors. With few exceptions, all of the locals are men, strong but lonely, whose sole sexual outlets are either autonomous or bestial: both sheep and skinned seals serve on occasion.
Into this realm comes a powerful dervish of a woman. She serves as confessor and consort to all of these men. The particular customer of any give moment depends on who wins the games that she invents, one of which involves tossing a coin at her vaginal opening as she sits in a circle with legs spread wide.
She gyrates her hips in such a way that only rarely does a man gain a blessed hour or two with her as a result of this contest. Along comes a slender, diminutive Argentine, taciturn and fierce of mien.
He has arrived in search of her. He has an intuition that she is his mate. In the game, he pitches his coin with such accuracy that she accepts him as her partner for a couple of hours or so.
They do not emerge from their embraces till the long afternoon and evening and night have yielded to a new dawn. She packs her things and the newly inaugurated couple ventures forth toward a joined fate.
Strongly feminist and strongly anti-machismo are the lines of Allende’s stories. This quality matches Mistral’s work, as already noted. Many other feminist and lusty women also share these attributes with the author of House of the Spirits.
One other especially notable is Maria Bombal, whose metered paragraphs burst with longing. She gives voice to a woman’s fierce desire, which, if unmet evokes complete chaos. Such emotional and spiritual passion characterize her two brief novels and also intertwine with every line of her astounding short story, “The Tree.”
She ends this abbreviated mythic paean to music and carnal love almost with a manifesto. “They had stolen her intimacy, her secret; she found herself naked in the middle of the street, naked before an old husband who turned his back on her in bed, who had given her no children. …Lies! Her resignation and serenity were lies; she wanted love, yes love, and trips and madness, and love, love.”
A powerful contextualization of intuition and the average person’s capacity to see and to seek is also readily apparent in both Chilean music and literature. While as ever one might find dozens or even hundreds of cases to exemplify this, two writers offer exemplary insights about this aspect of the Chilean Canon.
Robert Ampuero’s detective novels, literary gems, display this all-consuming yearning for knowledge. Only his most recent installment in a multi-volume series is available in English, as The Neruda Case. Undoubtedly, some kind of epistemological motivation is inherent in the detective genre, yet the contours of this longing is especially provocative in this series.
“If Cayetano’s case is driven by the poet’s quest for closure, the novel also reexamines the disjunctions between political philosophies and personal politics during that long tour from country to country. The closing chapter, returning readers to 21st-century Chile, provides an ironic and potentially redemptive coda to the book’s vivid depictions of troubled histories. Closely related to all this, Cayetano’s musings on detective fiction quickly show how the investigative techniques of first-world novels don’t apply to the uncertainties of the Latin American landscape. Unlike in the rational and logical world of Maigret, ‘in Latin America — where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day — everything was possible.’”
Much better known, already dead though he just barely attained his first half century, Roberto Bolano also manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life. Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives, 2666, and Chile by Night.
In a different formulation of what Chile has to teach us, Roberto Bolano—or for that matter Isabel Allende, whose work the youthful Roberto attacked with brutal vitriol —might easily take center stage. For now, a few further lines will do that this additional masterful yarnspinner from the Andes served up as forthrightly as he might announce his name.
“What twisted people we are. How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down. How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what? To hide what? To make people believe what?”
This leaves altogether out of the mix the author’s poetry, which he considered his literary life force even as he turned to fiction in order to make money for the family that he knew that he would soon leave behind as a result of liver disease. In any case, this vocalization of the incongruous and wild aspects of everyday life capture a core piece of literature’s magic, in all of which his roots in Chile —he returned from Mexico just in time for 9/11/73, escaping by happenstance—play a powerful role.
A consistent recognition that class and power-relations underlie the nature of story itself becomes rapidly apparent in Ampuero’s and Bolano’s writing, as it also does in Mistral’s, Neruda’s, and other Chileans. Before we move on to the way that these components of the Chilean contextualize the life and work of Victor Jara, we ought to mention the body of work of Jose Donoso.
“Donoso, whose first published stories were in English, could have become a Latin American Joseph Conrad had he adopted English as his literary language. Instead, he returned home and began to craft his intricate, minute, and brilliant fictions about the Chilean Bourgeoisie.”
“The Walk,” an eerie and discomfiting short story that he wrote in the middle of Allende’s brief stay in power, combines themes of psychological and psychosocial oppression that pervade upper-crust life with characterization that grapples with these difficulties like a stubborn wolverine. The spinster sister takes to ambling about with her dog after the beast urinates on the parlor floor. Her perambulations end up with her being out at all hours of the night, returning disheveled and gay instead of like her brothers, who are almost mad with worry and fear of a breach of decorum.
Then, like thousands of Chileans soon enough, she disappears. Her nephew ponders all of this with amazement, a combination of fear and longing that aptly describe what many Chileans were seeking, despite the risks, during Allende’s abortive reign.
Whatever the merits of Bolano’s savaging of Isabel Allende, her work, more so than any other writer’s—with the exception of Neruda and Jara—embraces the political aspects of human life. This is no accident. “The bloody military coup that resulted in the death of her uncle, the first democratically elected Marxist President in the hemisphere, was the confessed turning point of her life. Forced to face and, ultimately, to flee a systematically imposed reign of terror under the Pinochet regime, Allende emigrated with (her family) to Venezuela.”
Out of this nexus of love and loss, hope and terror, have grown lyrical and popular literary labors. Out of this cauldron have appeared her “overtly political (work that) address(es) through a love story the horrors of the ‘disappeared,’ who were taken off by the …authorities to be secretly tortured and murdered, but whose bodies were never returned.”
One could easily continue, but these additions to the groundwork of previous sections will further anchor what we have to learn about the bard from the barnyard, Victor Jara. For his rise to prominence depended on this supportive hammock that Chilean literature and music and culture has provided to its people, despite all the contradictions and tensions and polarities that were also present.
Victor Jara’s Iconic Presence
Once in a while, a man’s life, or a woman’s existence, so crystallizes an age that its narrative can become a key component of consciousness. Victor Jara embodies core themes of contemporary existence in this way. His dirt-poor rural roots; his soulful transformation of deeply religious teachings into a revolutionary social message; his joyous capacity to sing and perform and communicate with people that led him to attain truly a global audience that included all but fascist social milieus; his rising above the machismo and chauvinism that were a powerful component of his culture, so as to revere women as equal partners; to achieve the insight necessary to identify messages critical to human advance, even survival, and then to show the skill to craft those ideas in accessible ways, in various media, and then to demonstrate the courage essential to voice these views despite threats and assaultive violence; these were all characteristics of this actor and director and folklorist and folksinger and social justice activist.
The youngest of six boys that a tenant farmer and his wife conceived and bore into the world, his was a world from the time that he began to walk of nature and work. His father foresaw that six male children would permit his accumulation of land that would allow for social elevation for his family. As such, he fully intended to deny his youngsters schooling.
This caused a conflict with Victor’s mother, Amanda, who was a wedding singer and a popular folk musician in the region to the South of Santiago where Victor grew up. She knew the power of words and wanted “at least the letters” to be available to her sons.
Whatever manifold complications and difficulties beset the Jara family, the father ultimately began drinking heavily, and fights between the parents ended with the dissolution of their marriage. Existence became economically marginal but never lost fulsome spiritual and cultural joie-de-vivre.
When Amanda Jara took work in Santiago in the early 1940’s, she discovered that she had a natural talent for making spaces and operations functional. Soon enough, she sent for her boys, and the two youngest received disciplined and rigorous training at Catholic elementary schools. Victor showed early acumen and got a scholarship to more advanced education.
What might have been a rags-to-riches story of a more conventional nature unraveled when his mother died when he was only fifteen. Not only did this profoundly afflict the youngster, but it also landed him in a seminary where he appreciated the community and the rigor but was able to discern that he lacked anything like a true calling to be a priest.
Within a fortnight of his exit from this training ground, he found himself under the obligation to serve a stint in the military. Physically, he excelled as a inductee, but his natural shyness and lack of macho made this period extremely difficult.
Upon exiting, however, a series of chance opportunities in the early 1950’s led to his being part of a national choir and having performance options in both theater and dance. His early scholastic training stood him in good stead, and soon enough he had scholarships to the National University, where he excelled both in folklore pursuits and in drama.
In one of his roles as an actor and dancer, he played opposite Joan Turner, his future wife. Shortly after their work together, he received a year’s appointment to England, where he continued to excel, to the extent that more than one theater troupe invited him to remain, six thousand miles or so away from his home.
Even at this point, in his early-to-mid twenties, however, he knew that his calling in life was to serve Chile’s and Latin America’s people, so sooner rather than later he returned to his studies and his homeland. He received offers to direct where he had been studying soon enough.
Upon graduation, his capacity to engage and bring out the best in people led to repeated successes as a director. So much so was he magical in this ability to orchestrate dramatic production that An Appearance of Happiness, one of the first plays that he produced more or less on his own, ended up touring four other Latin American countries.
One of those countries was Cuba, and he immediately recognized that what was happening in education, in agriculture, in health care, and in the organization of social relations generally, were all apropos to what his family and friends and neighbors had long needed on the West coast of Latin America. An affiliation with communism matured into an identification as a Communist.
After the early 1960’s, his theater work became more and more political. His were works that suggested the possibilities for change, the tragedies of reactionary thinking, and the fundamental, core problem of empire—or as he would put it, of “Yankee imperialism.” In the late 1960’s, he produced a version of Viet Rock that ended up being wildly popular, one of several other touring gigs that took him to Western and Eastern Europe and Russia and the United States, as well as traveling on other occasions to various Latin American venues. He even met with and dedicated a song to a Vietnamese delegation in Scandinavia as the war there was turning decisively against the United States.
Parallel to his theatrical labors, he continued to collect and curate folksongs and folk stories of Chile. His voice’s sweet tenor clarity, his glorious good looks, and his natural enthusiasm on stage led to his making contact with such musicians and seminal Chilean performers as Violeta Parra, with whose son Victor formed a lifelong friendship.
Angel Parra purportedly was responsible for Victor’s rise as a folk-singing star. The young Parra had started a club in Santiago—soon replicated elsewhere in Chile—where intimate spaces and freewheeling songfests began to draw regular and enthusiastic crowds.
At one such outpouring of song and energy, Angel supposedly threw a guitar to Victor in the audience and commanded, “Ahora, a cantar!” Before long, recording contracts, international chances to play, and a lifelong adoration of Pete Seeger translated into people’s more commonly recalling him as a songbird rather than an actor and director and producer.
The key point in this regard is that all of this effort was much the same for Victor. The purpose of his life was the engagement with communities, the creation of performance and touching of consciousness in such a way as to impel common folks to develop a regard for their power, an understanding of their lives and problems, and a willingness to try to do things on their own behalf.
Again and again, the still young singer and creator made this clear in his public articulation of his life. He was a servant of the people, and success—with its measures of love and joy, challenge and conflict—was something that he measured in terms other than those of the music business accountant. His was a mission to shift the world rather than to become, in the American paradigm, “rich and famous.”
‘New Songs,’ New Politics—Salvador Allende’s & Unidad Popular’s Social Roots
The huge role that the so-called ‘New-Song movement’ played in the popular embrace of Salvador Allende’s faith in democratic socialism would be difficult to overestimate. While plenty of intellectual Marxists—and even, despite their suspicions of the petty bourgeois, communisty thinkers and strategists—supported this longstanding political activist, his Unidad Popular Party was overwhelmingly a working class and grassroots movement that increasingly also drew adherents from among poor rural populations.
A to-some-extent fortunate confluence coincided with this development as the 1960’s came to a close. The Communists had long supported folk musicians such as Violeta Parra, as well as new groups such as Quilapayun also affiliated with party goals and played at events and festivals that were radical and progressive.
But only when the party pressed a few hundred Long-Play records and instantly sold them all did this energy become a phenomenon that could truly finance a campaign. After helping to elect Allende, in fact, the Communist ‘label,’ DICAP, was selling nearly a quarter million albums a year. Moreover, after the U.P. electoral victory, Allende’s cultural ministry partially nationalized the primary large commercial recording operation in the country, owned by RCA, which led both to expanded volume and sales—the ‘local’ operation had held down its output to promote North American products—to further inroads by radicals of various stripes in the cultural realm.
A hugely successful annual folk festival, cosponsored by the Catholic University, started in 1968, and this too advanced the Nueva Cancion Chilena further still. As chronicler Nancy Morris points out, Jara from its inception became even more popular than he already was, splitting a significant prize at the first gathering for the Best Song.
Nor did this suggest even a tiny diminution of political fervor or poignant social commentary. Plegaria a un Labrador, or Prayer to a Peasant, was the winning number, and it very explicitly advocated rural/urban working class unity, a strategic goal of import on the part of both U.P. and the Communist Party.
Angel Parra and Victor Jara both had played for Allende through his 1964 and 1970 campaigns, the first one a narrow loss that resulted in part because of CIA propaganda and fiscal support for Eduardo Frei. The rise of a broad based movement stemmed from a mixture of this political connection and the deeply felt working class identification of an honestly community-based musical upsurge. The cultural dimension of politics became central to developing winning coalitions and strategies.
Though one might find reason to explore much more broadly and deeply in this matter of the cultural connection in Allende’s rise to power, one further point bears special note. The party’s rousing campaign song, Venceremos!, or We Will Win!, was addictive in its tuneful harmony and roused crowds of many thousands, or tens of thousands repeatedly during the campaign.
One annalist of ‘victory’ put the case thus. “When the socialist politician Salvador Allende dramatically won Chile’s presidential election in 1970, a powerful cultural movement accompanied him to power. Folk singers emerged at the forefront, proving that music could help forge the birth of a new society. As the CIA actively funded opposition media against Allende during his campaign, the New Chilean Song Movement rose to prominence, viscerally persuading voters with its music. Víctor Jara, a central protagonist at the time, became an icon in Chile, Latin America, and beyond for his revolutionary lyrics and life. Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and other musicians contributed by singing before audiences of workers outside factories or campesinos in Chile’s rural countryside.”
Nor did the fervor of this eruption of popular folk culture diminish after Allende’s ascension to the chief executive’s position. On the contrary, it at least held its own through 1973, acting to expand its lyrical and performance outreach in both theater and poetry and dance as well as song. Lack of commercial pressure meant that more people were listening, seeing, and otherwise participating in an actual artistic scene, instead of more money flowing to profit centers because of more sales of commodities that had only a random connection to either artistry or human need.
“Within this climate of affiliation with art, popular musicians moved decisively toward the creation of instrumental music with high levels of sophistication. Three factors came together in the rise of instrumental music within the context of NCC: the existence of instrumental music in Andean culture, which fed strongly into the NCC movement, as we have seen, and appeared in the work of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara; the use of instrumental music as incidental music for theater and dance; and the exploration of the possibilities of the guitar, NCC’s central instrument.”
The evidence of this phenomenon—musical, visual, and documentary—rouse a sense of wonder at the power of el pueblo. Astonishment at the capacity of people to mobilize and connect with self-expression and artistic creations, for their own purposes rather than for commerce, offers an object lesson in what the intersection of culture and politics might be.
In the event, one might legitimately advance a thesis that part of what Pinochet guaranteed his Yankee sponsors was that no more of such a nonsensical practice —people-powered, grassroots, not-for-profit art—would occur under Augusto’s august and violent imprimatur. Whatever the case may be, after assassinating the political elite of the Unidad Popular, a substantial number of the prioritized contract killings were against artists, of which Victor Jara’s is the most infamous.
One of the new juntas first acts was the precise outlawing of Nueva Cancion Chilena itself. Artists fled the country as fast as news of Jara’s severed fingers spread —or perhaps Junta thugs had merely battered and broken Jara’s hands.
In addition to providing yet another proof that ‘free markets’ are at absolute best fraudulent poses, a further upshot of this unfolding, CIA-sponsored mayhem, was a complete marginalization of community culture or grassroots artistic participation. “Under the military dicatorship, the task of Canto Nuevo(N.C.C.’s successor) has been to communicate the reality of a people whose outlets for group expression and social interaction have been intentionally and systematically restricted. As such, Canto Nuevo has been inherently dissident and marginalized since its inception.”
As Operation Condor took shape in the aftermath of Washington’s and Santiago’s collaboration in crimes against humanity, the spread of ‘new-song’ camps might have experienced some degree of a tempering of what had appeared to be likely to show up as a wildfire event in much of the region. Pinochet’s thugs and the torture that they practiced do not permit an answer to this question, for what had blossomed in Chile had succumbed to scorched-earth tactics at the behest of Yankee capital.
A Crushing Coup—Murder’s Signature Centrality to U.S. Imperial Sway
As noted above, rational disagreement about the broad parameters of what actually happened in Chile over the decade 1965-75 is impossible. Murder and mayhem, spycraft and sabotage, lies and deceit, fraud and depredation against a democratically socialist Chile established the ‘order-of-battle’ in such a fashion that the United States never deviated from this criminal construction of plunder and plutocracy.
Joan Jara, Victor’s wife and the author of his biography, Victor Jara: An Unfinished Song, summarized that the final authorization for overthrowing Allende, a directive that was a death warrant for her husband, probably resulted not from Unidad Popular’s problemsbut from the fact that the majority of Chileans were better off despite all-out economic warfare on the part of the U.S. against Chile.
Ms. Jara called U.P.’s gaining of seats and popular votes in Chile’s midterm elections, both of which happened early in 1973, “almost unprecedented” in Chilean history. Moreover, anti-feminist attacks on Allende had backfired, as women were continuing to vote their interests and not reactionary, Church-backed fantasies.
In this context, Victor Jara, though very anxious and ‘out-of-his-element’ as a public speaker, took to the stump to warn of Yankee and plutocrat plans for plunder. “(F)or the first time in his life … he made campaigning political speeches. It wasn’t a moment to hang back and say, ‘No, I can’t. I’m an artist, not a politician.’ It made Victor very nervous because he wasn’t used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed. The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”
But the writing was literally ‘on the wall’ that fascism was the treasonous Chilean elites’ general response to such social improvement. “Djakarta’s coming” warnings sprouted everywhere, spray painted graffiti, dripping blood red threat, “a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.”
Peter Kornbluh’s work through the National Security Archive at George Washington University has led the powerful exposition of the U.S. thuggery in recruiting, financing, and operationalizing mass murder in Chile. This is not how Professor Kornbluh would state the matter. He is a careful scholar.
“That the secrecy surrounding Chile and U.S. relations with Pinochet has been maintained for so long reflects both the controversial nature of this past, as well as its continuing relevance to the ongoing and future debate over American interventions abroad and the moral foundations of U.S. foreign policy. The declassified documents in the following pages are, in essence, a dossier in atrocity and accountability, addressing not only the general and his regime, but also the shameful record of U.S. support for bloodshed and dictatorship.”
In the eleven years since he published The Pinochet File, the director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project has become more forceful in his accusations. Just recently in Foreign Affairs, he gained access to the establishment forum’s pages to make his case quite strongly indeed. He was responding to an earlier article, “What Really Happened in Chile?” that argued that the entire mess was in the nature of a series of unfortunate events, a combination of errors all around and overreaching on the part of Santiago’s armed forces.
“In (Jack Devine’s) view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences. But that is not what really happened in Chile. …(I)n the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. …Devine benignly characterizes (this) as a misguided covert action. In fact, (it) centered on a violent criminal scheme. The plan was to kidnap Chile’s commander in chief, General René Schneider, who firmly opposed the idea of a military coup. ‘The CIA was aware of the plan,’ Devine notes, as if the agency were an innocent bystander, simply gathering intelligence on the operation. The truth is far more sinister. The Schneider operation was a CIA-sponsored plot: CIA officials pressed the agency’s station in Santiago to come up with a way to ‘remove’ Schneider because he was standing in the way of a military coup. CIA representatives met repeatedly with the conspirators, led by a retired Chilean army general, Roberto Viaux, and an active-duty brigadier general, Camilo Valenzuela. On October 19, CIA headquarters sent the station six untraceable submachine guns and ammunition in a diplomatic pouch, to be provided to the plotters. The agency also provided $50,000 to Valenzuela to bankroll the operation and thousands more to Viaux to keep the operation ‘financially lubricated,’ as one CIA cable stated. Given the risks involved, the CIA issued the plotters life insurance policies.”
Nor does Kornbluh focus only on the early days of Allende’s regime and the attempts then to unseat the nearly-elected President. Both in his book and his various other writings on this massive crime against humanity that the United States orchestrated, he details the way that U.S. operatives and their counterparts in the Southern Cone established the necessary protocols for either a ‘surgical removal’ of Allende, or, if he refused to cooperate, his assassination.
In his just-published article, this careful scholar notes, “A May 1973 memorandum to CIA Director James Schlesinger noted that the agency had ‘accelerated efforts against the military target’ in order to ‘better monitor any coup plotting and bring our influence to bear on key military commanders so that they might play a decisive role on the side of the coup forces.’ Moreover, the CIA was not the only part of the U.S. government bringing its influence to bear. The U.S. Department of Defense also maintained contact with the generals. Indeed, a full year before the coup, U.S. military officials met with Pinochet and his aides in the Panama Canal Zone. A declassified intelligence report recorded Pinochet’s belief that Allende ‘must be forced to step down or be eliminated’ and a clear message from U.S. Army officers in response: the ‘U.S. will support [a] coup against Allende with ‘whatever means necessary’ when the time comes.’”
In other words, as Victor Jara sweated over his ‘toastmaster’ duties and his wife worried about implicit threats to their lives, the U.S. was one hundred percent behind the conspiracy to torture and maim and kill and ‘disappear’ those who stood for social progress in Chile. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of pages from the State Department, the CIA, earlier investigations such as the Church Senate Committee Hearings, and more, further amplify the vicious impunity with which the ‘leaders of the free world’ have conducted themselves toward our ‘good neighbor’ to the South.
These records, likely now representing a majority of the once uniformly classified and unavailable documentation of U.S. and Chilean elite-perfidy, are far from all the assessments that indict the Nixon, Kissinger, Pinochet, and the entire array of lower-level personnel and institutional arrangements that characterize the ‘Military-Industrial-Complex,’ the ‘Intelligence-Establishment,’ or any of the other descriptors of United States empire. While we needn’t explore anything like a complete range of such items, a few additional investigations do implore citizens to take note and pay attention.
The stalwart folks at School of America’s Watch convey to the interested researcher that plus-or-minus one-in-seven of Chile’s officer corps in the 1970’s had studied at the so-called School of the Americas. The nickname ‘School of Assassins’ was in large measure a rational descriptor. Augusto Pinochet was not one of them, but the U.S. has named a building at the ‘campus’ in his ‘honor.’
The Spanish language training manuals from SOA detailed for enrolled officers the niceties of infiltrating popular organizations, planting agents provocateurs, planning assassinations, conducting tortures of various sorts, and so on and so forth. This was the training for democracy that the U.S. Department of Defense conducted at its facility in Panama, which eventually relocated to Fort Benning in Georgia, where it remains to this day, a target for an annual mass demonstration just before Thanksgiving. The protest opposes teaching ‘public servants’ the crafts of murder and mayhem, and the gathering commemorates the millions of SOA victims, including those from Chile, such as Victor Jara.
A substantial spate of publications from the period prior to substantial declassification, as well as additional investigators since President Clinton’s orders in 1999 and 2000 to open up the secrecy vaults just a tad, has also proffered data and analysis of the horrors that U.S. authorities planned and financed against untold thousands of Chilean—and later other Latino—victims.
To suggest the import of what is accessible, we will examine a single such article from Atlantic Magazine in 1982. Legendary investigator Seymour Hersh delivered “The Price of Power—Kissinger, Nixon and Chile.” Twenty years prior to Peter Kornbluh’s work, with only informants and clever acuity in documentary research, Hersh assembled a powerful case—based on documentation, testimony, and circumstance—that the U.S. had criminally deposed Salvador Allende.
The able author assembles a litany of facts and analysis to show criminal conspiracy, accessory to murder, and general skullduggery on the part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser. Others too played occasionally crucial but often ancillary or support roles.
One of Hersh’s witnesses was a Navy Yeoman who had just replaced a civilian secretary in an extremely optimum job for finding things out. He assisted the Admiral who acted as liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Security Council.
While this lengthy and deeply reported analysis contains many revelations, this young Mormon enlisted man, in pursuit of a commission and a career in service to his country and his God and freedom, gives readers a dose of the horror and tragedy that have typified American foreign policy for well over the last century.
His superior officer “was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens…who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election… . Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a real blow. All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.’ Admiral Robinson and his superiors were ‘wringing their hands’ over Chile, Radford says, ‘almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children.’ Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office. Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende. One options paper ‘discussed various ways of doing it,’ Radford says. ‘Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves. I was stunned; I was aghast. It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.’ The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election. ‘They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,’ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways. The thrust of the option was clear: ‘I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.’”
Additional context for what this young recruit discovered about his country was that all of this planning to crucify Chile’s democracy was taking place in “one of the CIA’s success stories” from the 1960’s. The agency had manipulated elections, bought media and politicians with equal alacrity, and generally run the country like a casino for the copper companies and purveyors of soft-drinks and telecommunications services.
From an entirely different background and perspective Peter Winn also has an immense trove of data and insight to convey to willing readers. Studying Chile while on sabbatical from Yale when the coup happened, he might nearly have found himself alongside Victor Jara at the notorious stadium and its killing fields. He was trying to collect oral histories—of which he already had several hundred—from the just recently dispossessed workers who had maintained control, before Allende’s murder, of the giant Yarur Textile Mill near Santiago.
In early December, “I was denounced anonymously, detained by the Army, and taken at bayonet point to a regimental barracks, where I was interrogated at midnight by its commander. After three days of interrogation and investigation, he informed me, ‘We have no proof that you have committed a crime, exactly speaking, Professor Winn, but talking with workers, interviewing union leaders, all this is very suspicious. We do not want anyone talking to our workers.”
What the courageous academic conveys in his monograph, Weavers of Revolution: the Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism, is that under Allende the nationalized factory at Yarur, the largest textile operation in Chile was succeeding. Despite the concerted efforts of every powerbroker and gatekeeper with whom the company had to deal as a labor collective, wages were up, productivity was up, efficiency was way up, and the enterprise was viable in terms of income and outgo.
Nor were these former wage-earners and current owner-operators alone. Various other firms that Chile had turned over to employees were also making a go of things. This was the context for the march—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Santiago in support of socialism—in the waning Southern Hemispheric Winter of 1972, exactly one year and one week before the unleashing of well-plotted homicidal mania.
“One month later, a work stoppage by a small group of truck owners in… .the far South…triggered a national walkout and lockout by merchants and manufacturers, professionals and shopkeepers, that rapidly engulfed Chile in a virtual class war, complete with paramilitary attacks and terrorist bombings. At bottom Paro de Octobre…was a ‘general strike’ of the bourgeoisie, intended to demonstrate their power as a class, stop the advance toward socialism, and create the conditions within which Allende could be ousted—by military coup or Congressional impeachment.”
The “Demands of Chile,” the product of a year’s planning that in retrospect one can say definitely involved support from U.S. institutions, were non-negotiable. Either Popular Unity would “reverse its revolutionary course, abandon its socialist goals, and surrender its political project,” or the deluge would ensue.
Salvador Allende died defending his theretofore democratic approach to revolution with a machine gun in his hands. While some of his closest comrades joined him, most of the toilers at the cotton mill demurred at the notion of ‘armed resistance.’ The time for the training and equipping to effect such an eventuality was many months, or even years, prior to Pinochet’s pragmatic execution of mass murder.
Communists had advised against such steps as training and arming the work force to resist the military in the event of a coup “as provocative, and the Socialists and the MIR(Moviemiento de lzquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) proved themselves ‘just theoreticians, not practical revolutionaries,’ who failed to prepare for the military coup that they themselves had predicted.”
A few handfuls of plants and firms did resist the putsch. The junta deployed its completely equipped modern heavy weaponry against these makeshift ‘barricades’ one by one and crushed them all. “Within a week, the illusion of ‘popular power’ had been destroyed, leftist fantasies of a division in the military or a popular rising dispelled, and a military dictatorship consolidated. The fighting was over, but the killing had just begun. During the weeks that followed, some 25,000 Chileans were killed by their own armed forces.”
This would amount to plus-or-minus a million casualties in a nation the size of today’s United States. This meticulous and clearly brilliant and brave young professor explained why these barbaric steps were essential from the perspective of the Chilean ruling class—and, behind the scenes, their gringo sponsors.
Chile’s increasingly organized and militant working class was the only social force that might muster the capacity to oppose the military. Thus, calculated decimation was an important lesson to impart, along with firings and blacklists and permanent unemployment for as much as 20% of the industrial leftists who, unslaughtered, remained behind.
“The scope and intensity of the repression reflected the extent and depth of popular mobilization in Chile by September, 1973. It was an ironic tribute to the success of the revolution from below.”
Did Pinochet at least ‘make the trains run on time,’ as the pundit apologists for Mussolini suggested about Il Duce? This is in some ways the most noisome aspect of the whole affair. The moderate and conservative members of the working class, the vaunted ‘shopkeepers’ and small business owners—many of whom nodded smugly at the butcher’s butchery—as well as the young and the old and anyone socially vulnerable, were all, within a decade of Pinochet’s predatory rampage, more or less utterly destitute, with prospects worse than ever before in verdant Chile’s modern history.
How and why this transpired, though, truly describes the parameters of a tragedy. One assessment develops this reasoning clearly and incisively.
“Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement. As Malcolm Coad pointed out: ‘This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s. The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports, and debt crisis. The state bailed out most of the country’s banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent.’”
And yet still additional sources ought to be on the conscientious observer’s radar screen so to speak. At the very least, such repositories as the following need to be available for examination.
*The Defense Intelligence Agency’s and National Security Agency’s records without any doubt contain masses of still-secret datasets that would help understand processes and protocols in this case.
*Financial, industrial, and media archives that are either miraculously open or possibly liable to legal discovery—particularly among the food processing, copper, and services companies that already show up as part of CIA planning, need to be under scrutiny, and researchers need to develop plans to obtain such records.
*Massive archives in Spanish, not only in Chile, but in other Operation CONDOR States are generally not on the roadmap of English readers; this needs to change, and quickly.
*Cuban and possibly other State-level sources of data also contain material that could completely upend ‘plausible deniability’ in these matters; in addition to discerning what holdings might be accessible in Havana, the records of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela might be caches that a clever researcher might get hold of.
*Court and administrative records from both the United States and abroad, in both civil and criminal filings, are often full of attachments to motions and other pleadings; with the right leverage and plenty of diligence, at least some of such materials might yield occasional treasures.
In considering such monumental tasks as this essay introduces, in even making ourselves aware of the information that exists if we’re willing to ferret it out, the basic question that comes to mind is simple to state: “How much do we want to know about how the world really works?” And we might add, “How badly do we want to find out?”
The Spindoctor not only desperately loves to probe how things operate, but he also can’t help himself: he wants people to start acting like they want to be responsible citizens despite how risky that seems, despite what a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass the whole process can be. He asks that readers who manage to get this far, at the very heart of this narrative, listen to a young woman from Chile, one of the interviewees for this project. She is the great granddaughter of the junta’s first possible victim, Arturo Araya III, who died on July 27, 1973 with a bullet in his lung, while the ambulance that his in-laws had summoned failed to appear for nearly an hour.
Here is the question that Josefa fielded from us. “As someone born after 1990, what role do you think the dictatorship has in your life, and that of your generation? Does it affect you, and if so, how?”
And this is how she answered. “It affects us tremendously, and for many reasons. More than anything I think it’s a thing about a common history, and building a collective identity; we are located in a social context that is marked everywhere by the things that happened during the dictatorship. Everything from the laws that govern our country and shape our lives up to the fact that the dictatorship left the social fabric fractured. For me, the dictatorship is a very deep wound in Chilean collective memory, perhaps the worst in our history, because it made Chileans confront and seek to destroy each other. I think that in order to heal the wound much is still missing: it is a process that is not yet even half accomplished. People of generations that did not live through it (nevertheless) live in the aftermath (that it) left and … continues to manifest. We all carry the weight of what happened during the dictatorship somehow—some in more direct ways and others more indirectly, but we all live on(in this world that comes from then) after all. We know people who had relatives who disappeared as prisoners, or people whose parents or grandparents were involved in the disappearances. (Not just) at a social level, but all areas of the Chilean social life are marked by what happened.”
Resisting State-Sponsored Terror—Inside Chile & Out
Direccion de Intelligentsia Nacional, or DINA, evolved as a result of such institutional expressions of U.S. hegemony as the Central Intelligence Agency, of course. Moreover, however, the already-mentioned Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former School of the Americas, continued to provide training to its special agents.
Many socialists and communists from Latin America see the Allende administration as an experiment. In such a view, perhaps a non-violent mechanism for achieving fundamental social change would be possible.
This underlay the decision not to arm workers, despite all the signs that the U.S. would support a vile killing thrust against a democratically selected group of leaders, and despite all the evidence of history that then vast numbers of innocents would likely face torture and painful death and disappearance at the hands of plotters and psychopaths and efficiency experts in charge of electroshock and clean-up. That the results of this science project in the political arts do not look favorable to friendly approaches to social change is, to say the least, an understatement.
Nor did the aftermath of the first months of slaughter attenuate such a dire perspective, as Professor Winn made clear above. Two very brief additional bits will round out this section.
One was the inability of the ‘theorists’ at MIR to mount a successful underground resistance to Pinochet’s fascism. Within a year of the putsch, more or less, Miguel Enriquez and other leaders of the organization were all dead or effectively no longer present and accounted for in Chile.
The other was the much wider scope that Chile’s terrorism assumed in the years following its mass killing of its own citizens. This basically concerned such joint ventures as mutual assistance among assassins in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, which we now know as Operation CONDOR.
The assassination of a Chilean military man in Argentina who remained loyal to Allende, Carlos Prats, caused a significant outcry at the time. Lawsuits against the perpetrators have made their way through the Federal Courts of the United States. Some evidence suggests that various official agents of the United States played roles in the work of the cooperating Southern Cone intelligence agencies.
The second instance of a broadening of the reach of Chile’s ‘terror police,’ the DINA, involved a massive car bomb on the streets of the District of Columbia. The assassination of an opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, not only severed the former diplomats legs but also killed his assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, and caused crippling injuries to Ms. Moffitt’s husband.
From Cautious Democratic Resurgence to Attempted Truth & Reconciliation
Many generations might need to pass before anything like general or routine comity could be possible. John L. Rector’s The History of Chileconcludes with a sober note that, even after thirty years, recriminations between Communists and the “far right” of the U.D.I. continue—if not unabated, then still powerful.
A retired Naval officer from Chile, Arturo Araya IV, also noted this tendency. “All many people want now is to be victims and to blame Pinochet and the government for their problems.” He also mentions how, in his estimation, “almost all” the former adherents of the dictator skulk about “with guilty expressions on their faces, turning every corner as if they suspect they will soon be arrested.”
He himself initiated a lawsuit against the military for its possible role and likely cover-up of the killing of his father, the Naval attaché whose connections with Cuba may have played a part in his targeting. He and others in the family, who had in general accepted Pinochet’s rule when it happened and on occasion strongly backed it, gathered together after Señor Araya had issued a press release that announced the Court’s acceptance of this litigation.
Moreover, the recent trials and possible convictions of some of the men responsible for Victor Jara’s torture and murder have come to pass. His widow, his children, his supporters still honor his life and celebrate such steps as these developments, which they view as something resembling moves toward justice and validation.
Joan Jara, who lost her husband forty-one years ago, has also initiated a civil suit in the United States, applying the Alien Torts Claim Act and other theories. She is seeking damages for the extrajudicial torture and murder of her husband by Pedro Barrientos, who now lives in Miami, one of the lieutenants in charge of the folksinger at the stadium that now bears Victor Jara’s name.
Whatever transpires in such matters, the original amnesties for military personnel that Pinochet negotiated in 1989 no longer apply uniformly. Just now, President Michelle Bachelet—whose father of course was a victim of the Pinochetistas—has announced while visiting Mexico to show solidarity for disappeared students there the sentencing of eleven former agents of the junta. Manuel Contreras, the leading killer among them all—each of whose convictions were for promoting “forced disappearance”—faces 426 years in prison for his crimes.
Yet other interviewees suggest that “nobody is much interested in all that old stuff.” And, no doubt, ‘life goes on,’ as the saying would have us believe.
Still, though one might develop a much longer discourse about this set of issues, even a cursory glimpse of contemporary Chile does prove that some citizens continue to struggle with the concepts of truth and reconciliation. That such a focus persists may offer the only hope for avoiding a repeat of 9/11/1973.
A distinguished Chilean scholar has expressed this idea most forcefully. Manuel Carreton argues that without “an official commemoration, we have no country.” The award-winning sociologist specifies both the what and the how of such a process. ”A great need exists for a formal collective memory, transmitted through the educational system, quantified by measures of justice and truth, but also of punishment.”
He completes his presentation with concepts with which arguably every American, whether Northern or Southern in origin, needs to be familiar. “The national conscience must become one about this, one that condemns the military coup and the violation of human rights. Making a purely political assessment of our historical past, and not a moral one, will do more to divide us than to unite us and help move Chile forward.”
Concluding Concepts—Imperialism & Humanity Can No Longer Coexist
Near the end of a long journey, this narrative would hope that readers consider six points in conclusion. Prior to stating those items, the narrator asks folks to ponder a chilling bit of nihilism that one of history’s hypercapitalists expressed over a century before the here and now.
In essence, if we are to avoid eviscerating ourselves, we must avoid fulfilling the prophecy of robber baron Jay Gould. “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
With the possible exception of Costa Rica, the United States has joined with ruling elites in every Hispanic or Portuguese speaking country in the hemisphere so as to cause Gould’s ghoulish prediction to transpire. Che Guevara, in speaking of the U.S. attempts to unseat Cuba’s revolution, articulates this notion in terms that are national in their scope and yet obviously entail one sector of workers’ seeking to destroy another proletarian contingent.
“From the beginning, it was generally understood in Latin America that the United States backed the invasion (at the Bay of Pigs), and that it would therefore be successful (of course, it was not),… a fait accompli… . (Total puppets) Haiti and the Dominican Republic … had already broken or suspended relations with Cuba… . Honduras joined the anti-Castro camp, suspending relations in April and proposing the formation of an alliance of Central American and Caribbean nations to have it out with Cuba by force. The proposal—which was also suggested independently by Nicaragua—was quietly dropped” when the rest of the hemisphere either vacillated or actively and strongly opposed any such scheme of using the working class soldiers of the hemisphere to snuff the Cuban rejection of imperial domination. Notably, in Chile, “the government found strong opposition in all circles to open military intervention by any state against the Castro regime.”
In these presentations, Che Guevara was quoting from a lengthy U.S. State Department cable that the Cubans had intercepted. Later in this missive, the gringos demonstrate further their playing the role of Mr. Gould in seeking to set one set of toilers against another.
“In every respect, (despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation), the member states of the OAS are now less hostile toward United States intervention in Cuba than before the invasion, but a majority of them—including … more than half the population of Latin America(in Mexico and Brazil)—are not willing to intervene actively or even to join a quarantine against Cuba. …(Especially), (a)s long as Brazil refuses to act against Castro, it is probably that a number of other nations, including Argentina and Chile, will not wish to risk adverse internal repercussions to please the United States.”
As the rambling cable draws to a close, it expresses why a nation, like Gould, might want to hire ‘half the working class’ to destroy the other half. “The most immediate danger of Castro’s example for Latin America might well be the danger to the stability of those governments that are at present attempting evolutionary social and economic change, rather than for those that have tried to prevent such changes, in part because of the tensions and awakened hopes accompanying such social changes and economic development. …The Alliance for Progress might well furnish the stimulus to carry out more intensive reform programs, but unless these programs are started quickly and soon begin to show positive results,…they will not be enough of a counterweight to increasing pressure from the extreme left. The years ahead will…witness a race between those forces that are attempting to initiate evolutionary reform programs and those that are trying to generate support by the masses for fundamental economic and social revolution.”
A FIRST DEDUCTION
Of course, Che was not Chilean. Nor were clear violations of international law against Cuba attacks on Chile. But these evident admissions impel the thinker to a first inference that flows from this essay: the decimation of Salvador Allende and allies like Victor Jara both intended to hurt and sought to undermine Cuba’s revolution, and by extension the possibility to obtain social democracy in Latin America’s ‘real world.’
In similar fashion as the poet and singer whose profiles appear here, Che was the loathed serpent in capital’s faux edenic garden, where at least the rich lived like emperors and empresses, and more or less everything was on sale for money to purchase. He was Fidel’s comrade and persisted in advancing the idea of a hemispheric armed uproar against gringo wealth and hegemony.
Moreover, real links joined Havana and Santiago. One of Che’s chief financial advisers in restructuring Cuban agriculture and industry was the Chilean, Carlos Romeo. A member of the inner circle of Chile’s national bank under both Frei and Allende, Romeo demonstrated both technical excellence and socialist fervor in his practice of economics.
Pablo Neruda also promoted the Cuban revolution as a model; more importantly, he foresaw that the consciousness of Cuban success would free his countrymen and working people around the world from any slavish devotion to ‘free markets,’ which were never free, to commoditized models which ultimately impoverished workers to exactly the extent that they enriched the owners of everything, to holy righteousness that suppressed the true spirit and lusty wonder of human life.
And Victor Jara himself formed friendships in Cuba. He and Silvio Rodriguez sang together. Cuba received him as a distinguished guest. He also traveled more than once to the Soviet Union.
Moreover, even though Cuba’s more-or-less victorious uprising against capital’s various ‘mobs’ depended on armed and aggressive action, Cuba’s leadership in general suggested that Chile’s citizens commit themselves to a peaceful path to social democracy. Such statements were often enough completely explicit.
In 1971, “(s)tanding shoulder to shoulder with President Salvador Allende, Castro advised workers that Chile was not Cuba and that, in light of that country’s history, a parliamentary path, not a revolutionary one, would represent the ‘Chilean road to socialism.’ The result was the disarming of workers, who were thus unable to undertake an independent revolutionary struggle and were left unprepared for the military and right-wing parties led by the infamous General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew Allende and installed a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of workers.”
Finally, two of the people that this essay’s developers interviewed about this matter also mentioned the importance of Cuba. One of these has requested anonymity. Monica Hayden, the other, had married the son of the naval attaché, Arturo Araya, Junior, whose murder on July 27, 1973, may have been the first strike against those members of the military who eschewed the coup. She pointed out that her former father-in-law had often worked with the Cubans and had that very evening returned from what he described, immediately before an assassin cut him down, as a “critically important” dinner at the Cuban Embassy.
In all kinds of ways, therefore, both the emanation of Chile’s Marxist moment and its evisceration by a U.S. organized terrorist operation resulted from, or at least felt the substantial influence of, Cuba’s inputs. That attacks on Allende also assaulted Castro is clearly evident. And such interconnections form the heart of what we can conclude about empire as seven billion cousins approach the third decade of the second millennium of the present pass.
A SECOND DEDUCTION
Closely related to the initial culminating thought, we ought to acknowledge that anti-communism guarantees anti-solidarity. The applicability of this idea to Latin America stems from events well before Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rampage. Pablo Neruda’s flight from his native land was a clear case of anti-communism. These tendencies became particularly powerful under the aegis of the young CIA during Eisenhower’s two administrations.
Even earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.’s ‘fanaticism’ in invading the nascent Soviet Union in order to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle,” U.S. leaders noted the utility of anti-red thinking in Hispanic America. Republican Secretary of State Frank Kellogg made this point with crystal clarity in 1927.
“The Bolshevik leaders have had very definite ideas in respect to the role which Mexico and Latin America are to play in their general program of world revolution. They have set up as one of their fundamental tasks the destruction of what they term American imperialism as a necessary prerequisite to the successful development of the international revolutionary movement in the New World. …Thus Mexico and Latin America are conceived as a base of activity against the United States.”
This sort of attitude had practical implications. In Chile, as we have seen, the CIA shortly after Cuba’s consolidation of its independence initiated sophisticated and potent actions against Allende’s 1964 campaign, based on the notion that he was communist. Recent scholarship has explored this situation in some detail, explaining precisely how such activity harmed solidarity among workers and other groups that might otherwise have found easier methods for working together.
“In order to prevent Allende’ selection, the U.S. government massively intervened in Chile’s 1964 presidential election (in the form of) the Scare Campaign. The Scare Campaign was a multimedia propaganda blitz that used fear to convince Chileans that they should vote for Eduardo Frei and against Salvador Allende. Working in conjunction with Chileans, the U.S. government developed, designed, ﬁnanced, and implemented the Scare Campaign. The campaign attempted to convince Chileans, especially women, that Allende’s triumph would lead to the destruction of the family and the undermining of women’sroles as mothers. By incorporating ideas about femininity and masculinity into its efforts to oppose Allende, this U.S.-sponsored propaganda campaign engendered anticommunism in Chile.”
Other analysis demonstrates that in the run-up to and aftermath of the murder of Allende and Jara and more, the CIA’s operations targeted staunch Catholics. In the event, many priests and churches were among those that facilitated people’s accepting this barbaric coup as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ given their inclination toward anti-communism that the U.S. had specifically amplified.
The practical upshot is simple, therefore. If the best interests of U.S. citizens is that Chilean citizens despise and turn on each other, then we should encourage anti-communism. Otherwise, we should fight it more or less religiously.
A THIRD DEDUCTION
Out of such ideation emerges an acceptance of the necessity of internationalism, and in the context of this storyline the absolute primacy of multilingual capacity, the ability to sing in many tongues, so to speak. This is, thus far in any event, a mostly pragmatic and common-sense perspective.
The role of cultural outpourings in favor of liberation and justice in one place means that the likelihood of outsiders’ willingness to crush these developments would rise inasmuch as the interlopers lacked the ability to understand the words and stories and songs that were promoting positive transformation. A quick search of the literature finds no expert concurrence that an idea of exactly this sort would contribute to progress.
Related notions, primarily concerning the operation of academia or the ability to follow literary narratives, do find a place in the recent canon. In any event, intuitively and rationally, the events of the 1970’s in Chile argue in favor of insisting that more Americans learn Spanish and more Chileans and other Latin Americans understand and speak English.
No matter what else one believes, anyway, the fact that two disparate bodies of knowledge—both of which contain millions of pages or more of documentation and evidence about the realities and beliefs which surround Santiago in 1973—exist, one Spanish and one English, militates in favor of a radical bilingualism. Nothing else can ever make sense, till the day arrives when the tower-of-Babel itself rises no more.
A FOURTH DEDUCTION
In promoting this deconstruction of Babel, as it were, we would also accede to the utter toxicity of secrecy. Varied pages from history’s annals reveal a few of the cases that evidence such a contention.
One of the ways that the Bolsheviks totally infuriated their erstwhile ‘allies’ against the Kaiser was in bringing to light the many hidden agendas that World War One’s elite combatants had shared. Such revelations undermined the sense of a ‘gentleman’s club’ that aristocrats and plutocrats alike wanted to be able to operate without any requisite naming of names or public scrutiny. Comprehensive histories of intelligence highlight that such presumption always serves as a prominent perquisite of ruling classes, especially in the modern era.
In the current context, multiple non-governmental organizations express their primary objectives in terms of bringing ‘government into the sunshine.’ The entire concept of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ is that democracy necessitates this sort of access to what is happening.
James Madison states the issue most clearly, though he was writing nearly two hundred years ago. “A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”
In relation to Chile’s past half century, multiple threads portray the hideous results that attend fatuous belief in keeping secrets. The problem is that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “everybody knows that the dice were loaded.” Citizens are the only parties whom duplicity keeps in the dark, so that regular people fail to realize that the allegations against their leaders are true, that the ‘people who hate us’ have good cause to do so, and so on and so forth.
In the final analysis, a widely reviewed monograph—generally extolled by those who favor democracy over secret arrangements for terroristic control, and hated by so-called ‘conservatives’—exhibits the chilling results of governing-by-secret-agendas. The volume’s title and subtitle summarize this reasoning incisively: Killing Hope: U.S. Military & CIA Interventions Since World War Two.
Augusto Pinochet himself also indicates the way that secrecy and corruption, hypocrisy and horror, fit as seamlessly as a hand in a custom-made glove. Pinochet—whose murderous ways are now so thoroughly documented that trying to make excuses for the recently deceased homicidal butcher only makes his defenders appear to support killing-in-support of profiteering—enriched himself at every turn of his bloody career.
That this kind of allegation is not allegorical but completely concrete becomes clear when one looks at Pinochet himself. A 2005 “US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation. It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.” Moreover, as noted in the section above on the dictator’s rule, this self-dealing was part of the payoff that he received for absolutely destroying the Chilean economy in service to profit maximization.
Without much effort, an investigator could make hay in whatever sunshine might be possible to cast on these dark fields for hundreds of thousands of pages or more. After all, we live in the age that has begun with the initiation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the revelation of Daniel Ellsberg, to mention just a pair of instances at the beginning of the last fifty years, and that has ended, literally over the past few instants, in whatever new leak or cover-up or attempt to hide an agenda makes its way to the headlines of the moment.
The conclusion that democratic citizens could make about such events and patterns ought to be possible to state in a way that ordinary folks would nod agreement. “Since the primary ‘secrets’ in these cases are those that regular people don’t know, and since the harms of such lying hypocrisy almost always affect ordinary people at the same time that they enrich the cognoscenti, we should do away with such governance altogether.”
At the very least, we ought to be debating such propositions. Instead, the presumption of secrecy’s necessity continues. Meanwhile, the entire human race could die in a war that such mendacity makes, ultimately, inevitable.
Without the least doubt, another view entirely might also make sense. We could accede that rich fascist thugs will always practice dark arts of subterfuge and immolation, and that popular resistance to these killers must also therefore deploy the most murderous techniques and hidden methods in order to depose the Nazis and their minions.
If this kind of view appears less than salubrious, one might ponder what we should expect under the circumstances that prevail. In such a context—in which lies and half-truths in favor of the wealthy rule every policy and statute—citizens, at least arguably, have little choice but to revolt. An absolute ban on secrecy and a complete affirmation of transparency are the only operational decisions that make any sense in the alternative.
In such a case, Victor Jara might have lived as long as his murderers: Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, for instance. Otherwise, simple demands of self-defense turn the artist’s and the humanitarian’s thoughts toward dark and dire deeds indeed.
A FIFTH DEDUCTION
Having attained a vantage which, in most cases, allows our contextualization of reality based on the potential for as complete a compilation of knowledge as is possible, we should praise the power of enculturation and artistic expression and foster persistence in expressing such efforts at storytelling and articulation and depiction. And here, more or less precisely opposite the situation in regard to the third conclusion bubbles up. Instead of finding little or nothing in scholarly and authoritative sources about this point, the flood of data and hypothesis would require a lifetime of endeavor to delve in even a rudimentary way.
For example, one might consider the following search. Storytelling OR narrative OR “literary invention” importance OR critical OR utility, gathers a hundred and thirty-six million citations, more or less.
If we are to make sense of the horrors that seem ubiquitous in recent and historical memory, then stories about these matters arguably could serve humanity better than another tale about superheroes or another film about returning from heaven to console one’s lonely spouse. Victor Jara’s and Pablo Neruda’s continued place of honor in Chilean society speaks well of a nation with plenty of problems still and all kinds of potential for backsliding.
How about the good old U.S.A.? Different views are undoubtedly possible in responding to such an inquiry. Whatever the upshot of such conversations ended up being, however, that the U.S. needs a powerfully grassroots-driven storytelling revival—one that looks fearlessly at such subjects as the ‘original 9/11’—ought to be obvious.
A SIXTH DEDUCTION
Finally, in this fashion of generally examining what seems reasonable to conclude, we might pronounce as critical the belief that atonement and accountability, so long as the actors in a struggle still live, can never arrive too late in a process. This is another conclusion that one might spend centuries perfecting.
However, the intuitive moral and ethical voice that drives this author’s thinking makes this assertion feel like a no-brainer. Does a world of victimization and revenge serve us well? If not, then coming up with processes that forestall this cycle of decimation and mass-collective suicide would seem to make sense.
Anyhow, simply searching for data about these things is instructive. Googling “mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” for example elicits slightly more than 400,000 hits. Merely adding one word to this string, the name of a country—“mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” chile—increases the useable results to almost 2,700,000.
Can one infer a clear interest in such processing of human pain from this? Not only is such a deduction ineluctable, but one might also add that the more specific the desire to make amends, the more likely we are to find a tremendous sense of need, a longing to achieve closure, to find a sense of justice, to reach a place where acknowledgment, if not compensation, is available in some shape, form, or fashion.
In addition to these specific effects of a broader and deeper understanding of Victor Jara and Chile, this essay definitely follows a rubric in which three components lie at the core of this sort of work. Every article that has a Spindoctor cast will contain each of these elements.
First is a deep reporting of what history has to tell us. The past so permeates the present that delving into the records and evidences that yesterday left will always make sense. Therefore, though many readers might object that they ‘just want the facts’ of the here and now—that, in essence, they ‘just want to know the way to Portland’—essays like this one proffer all manner of unexpected and often unexplicated pieces of the long ago, with some thoughts about how their impact continues this very second, and, assuming that people survive, on into the distant future as well.
The second is an attempt always to show the political economic—legal, military, technological, and other related inputs—realm in which any social eventuality unfolds. Thus, the C.I.A. background forms a part of this narrative. The industrial and trade elements of whatever one labels the United States—liberator or empire—also make appearances. The legal aspects of Chile’s and U.S. courts come to the fore at different points as well. One might easily continue.
Third comes a weaving together of the social relations that underlie occurrences—matters of class and caste and color and gender and plenty in addition besides. Certainly, Victor Jara’s sharecropper-parents in juxtaposition to his comrade Salvador’s upper-crust upbringing present definite instances of this sort of examination. The Weavers of Revolution characters in relation to their bosses and the military cadres who oversaw them after 1973 show another kind of this type of effort. And one could mention many other instances.
Coming to these conclusions and activating the general approach that this investigation suggests, obviously enough, will not likely yield instant popularity or overnight success. This kind of work goes against the grain in more ways than a writer would want to list. Nevertheless, adhering to such systematic rules, and in doing so being able to assert some fairly fundamental pointers to complete this work, does lead to the potential to learn how and why things have evolved as they have. This is true whether one examines the Ukraine, Chile, or any other place or aspect of social life and human political and economic development.
Such conclusions as result in all these matters can be risky in all sorts of ways. Whether one focuses on bringing to light what those in charge would just as soon leave in the dark or invests some hopeful alternative with meaning that elites have little or no interest in bringing to fruition, one takes chances that could be dire in doing this work. Still, inasmuch as inquiring minds do want to know, one may legitimately wonder, “what exactly would be a viable different option?”
In a similar vein, everthing in Victor Jara’s statements and actions showed that he understood quite fully what he was risking. But the alternative so sickened him that he kept confronting the potential that he would end up ‘in the belly of the beast,’ so to say.
In 1969, he wrote, “US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people. The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.’”
No magic formula prohibits a resurgence of the homicidal fury in pursuit of power and lucre that characterized the crimes against humanity that took place as Salvador Allende tried to run a democratic government. This potential persistence of monstrous depredation remains true despite the lethal effects this would clearly be likely to have on hemispheric comity or even on human survival. In essence, we can collectively stumble toward mass collective suicide, or we can countenance democratic insistence that people share with each other.
The present situation in Cuba remains the most obvious example of this point. The wealthiest and most powerful empire in history has seen fit for fifty-four years to threaten and bully an island nation that, when it revolted against and displaced venal and vicious U.S. puppets, was one of the poorest places on Earth, with the lowest life expectancy in the hemisphere.
The plots to assassinate Fidel Castro are beyond dispute. Government documents admit as much in various forums. Had he dealt with these attacks in the same liberal manner as typified Salvador Allende’s dealings, he very probably would have ended up as the man whom he admired in Chile did: shot in the back, executed for defending democratic transformation.
Meanwhile, Cuba has advanced to be one of the more resilient economies in the region, and its citizens live nearly as long as—and arguably much more fully than—do U.S. residents. Yet, the ‘blockade’ against Communism remains in effect.
Fidel Castro, imprisoned in 1953 for seeking to overthrow the plutocratic puppet and killer, Fulgencio Batista, delivered a renowned presentation to the court when he faced twenty-six years behind bars—the title was “History Will Absolve Me.” Therein, he laid out an argument that was analogous to the economic program of Salvador Allende. “The nation’s future… cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices. The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a few golden calves (which) cannot perform miracles of any kind. The problems of the Republic can be solved only if we (reject) ‘(s)tatesmen’ like Carlos Saladrigas, whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital,’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’… . Those ministers can chat away in a Fifth Avenue mansion until not even the dust of the bones of those whose problems require immediate solution remains. …A revolutionary government backed by the people and with the respect of the nation, after cleansing the different institutions of all venal and corrupt officials, would proceed immediately to the country’s industrialization, mobilizing all inactive capital, currently estimated at about 1.5 billion pesos, through the National Bank and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, and submitting this mammoth task to experts and men of absolute competence totally removed from all political machines for study, direction, planning, and realization.”
This process of expropriation and transformation actually happened in Cuba. A nation of fewer than twenty million people, mobilized and overwhelmingly supportive of defending a revolutionary process, withstood the massed power and fanatical hatred of the world’s premier imperial machine. The lesson that capital learned was stark: under no conditions would they tolerate “another Cuba.”
In fact, much of the violence against human development in the hemisphere—whether under the guise of ‘neighborliness’ or ‘allying for progress’—stems directly from the loathing and fear that capitalist elites still feel toward Cuban socialism. If recent events in Venezuela, Argentina, Honduras, and Mexico—to name just a few obvious cases—provide any indication, truly barbarous upheaval persists as a preferred means for advancing U.S. corporate and imperial agendas.
Moreover, as the reader will have noticed already, a significant—arguably central—aspect of the U.S. decision to foment mayhem and death in Chile, flowed directly from Allende’s and his collaborators’ seeking deeper ties with Cuba. Victor Jara revered both Che and Fidel. Cuban poetry and performance followed Jara’s template, often enough, of “revolutionary music.” One purpose—and some would argue the primary objective—of the brutal example that Pinochet’s thugs made of Salvador and Victor and thousands of others was to destroy without mercy any hope of emulation of what Cuba had won.
Nevertheless, both in Chile and throughout the region, cultural dynamism reflects the human capacity for resistance and solidarity. Cuba just recently held a conference to increase the reach of local television networks and production, attended by over sixty nations. Rock, rap, and other ‘folk’ music acts from Mexico to Chile and Argentina have railed against imperial preponderance and powerfully asserted human rights and elimination of neo-colonial patterns of dominance. Film festivals that advance social democratic messaging are occurring more than occasionally in the various localities of Latin America. Literary awards proudly assert the ‘magic’ of Latino fiction and poetry, even as such Chilean authors as Isabel Allende, the niece of the butchered President, articulate a vision much more in tune with social justice than with the dictates of profiteering that ITT and PepsiCo and their financial and corporate cohorts promulgate now as much as they did in 1973.
An interlocutor like Ms. Allende, however, for all her hope in regard to a socially decent human prospect, does not shrink from describing the hideous horror that imperial imprimatur has yielded. “The Cuban Revolution was enough; no other socialist project would be tolerated, even if it was the result of a democratic election. On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet. Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror. This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right. In every instance the military acted as mercenaries (for) the privileged groups in power. Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration camps, censorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices. Thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”
Her uncle, from beyond the grave, also encourages thoughtful participants in social affairs to learn, to speak up, and to act on their own behalf. He consciously presented his plans for Chilean socialism, which the Chilean people chose, and which the United States confronted with monstrous murder.
“Now the question is, “Who is going to use whom?” …(T)he answer (obviously) is the proletariat. If it wasn’t so I wouldn’t be here. I am working for Socialism and through Socialism. As for the bourgeois state, at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it.… Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism. We already had success in creating a democratic, national government that is revolutionary and popular. That is how socialism begins, not with decrees.”
Bruce Springsteen, for the fortieth anniversary of the original, Chilean, 9/11 catastrophe—in which the attacking ‘terrorists’ are easy to identify and find, though they often remain at large, abroad, in the United States and elsewhere—went to Santiago to honor his fallen friend, Victor Jara. Before a rapt audience that interrupted his Spanish commemoration with frequent applause, he sang Jara’s anthem, “Manifesto.”
Springsteen, struggling to maintain his composure and to remember the Spanish which he had memorized, spoke simply. “’In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts. We met many families of desaparecidos, who had pictures of their loved ones. It was a moment that stays with me forever. A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration. It’s a gift to be here that I receive with humility.’”
Jara’s words, however, provide the most fitting exit from our assessment of this magnificent human being, who held up the hands from which his killers had just severed his fingers and raised his voice in song. Of course, he knew what that would yield, but he did not falter.
On September 7th, 1973, an interviewer asked him what ‘love’ meant. His response is iconic: “Love of my home, my wife and my children./ Love for the earth that helps me live./ Love for education and of work./ Love of others who work for the common good./ Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity./ Love of peace in order to enjoy one’s life./ Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of others’ freedom, but rather the freedom of all./ Love of freedom to live and exist, for the existence of my children, in my home, in my town, my city, among neighboring people./ Love for freedom in the environment in which we are required to forge our destiny./ Love of freedom without yokes: nor ours nor foreign.”
If a prime purpose of thinking and study and discussion and learning ends up as something like reasonable action that improves human life, then the overwhelming majority of SOP mediation that happens today in this largely intellectual and dialogic sphere is, viewed most optimistically, counterproductive and absurd. This assertion might appear quixotic and clearly makes a disputatious claim. However, this essay will contend that at least provisionally it proves that contention, in relation more exactly to broadcast or otherwise distributed discourse about social conflict that reputedly involves ‘race,’ ‘racial differences,’ ‘racism,’ and so forth.
In essence, because precisely one human race exists, ‘racism’ only addresses a socially developed concept about a false idea, that different races with different biological qualities in fact are a part of the human condition, a popular and yet completely incorrect conceptualization of human social relations that inevitably colors and distorts what happens among diverse social actors, probably in a completely toxic, and ultimately in a totally self-destructive, fashion.
This statement, inherently and indelibly, will likely effect strong feelings. Does a Spindoctor have the temerity to suggest that color is less important—than class or nation or other trait—as a key piece in understanding the social past? The answer, as the following initiation of this short monograph proves, would resound as an emphatic “No way!”
However, what we can make of that social import of coloration is still open to definition and interpretation. Before we continue to expound on such a task of delineation and elucidation, the sections just below offer readers a briefing about the rooted appearance and fuller manifestation of conflicted coloration during the current period of time.
Legacies of Slavery
A first point to make clear is that color did not always mean darkness, or diminution, nor did it ineluctably lead to an impunity to butcher and discriminate against those whose surface hues were dun or brown or charcoal. As a respected expert on Elizabethan culture quoted an even more venerated authority about Othello, “(she) situates the play ‘at a crossroads in the history of ethnological ideas when emergent racial discourses clashed with the still-dominant classical and medieval paradigms.”
Those who follow along will see that point more fully in the coming preface. For now, we can aver that a primary legacy of slavery in the period of capitalism’s infancy was to overthrow most chances that dark skin under a bourgeois rubric could mean power or wealth or high station.
At least as much as any other correlative, the capacity to resist force against oneself or one’s friends or one’s family is a sine qua non of social potency. In the United States, the uncounted thousands of police and vigilante murders—and hundreds of thousands of assaults—each decade fall with such massive disproportion on people of color, and Black folk first among these assaulted populations, that any notion that chance determines this fate must look surreal. The very fact of the disparity is explosively ubiquitous at all compass points, both ideological and cultural, in mediated assessments from everypossibleplace on our planet.
Rather than offering details on the panoply of recent men and women whom uniformed, militarized authorities have shot to death or otherwise slain, whether their surnames sound like Boyd or Brown or Crawford or Garner or Gray or Harris or Hicks or Hill or McKenna or Martin or Rice or Scott or Valencia—themselves part of an only casually tracked social set, over the past quarter century, of plus-or-minus tens of thousands of citizens cut down despite brandishing neither armament nor other credible threat against their killers—today’s analysis merely points out that a major disparity marks this population.
As many as three quarters of them descend from former slaves or ‘conquered’ peoples of the hemisphere, even though no more than a third or so of the overall population have such roots. Moreover, an even higher majority of the killers were Gringos of one stripe or other, and literally none of the ‘executioners’ who were Black ever dispatched a White person.
A fairly thorough search attempt,< “police killings” analysis OR detail OR history OR investigation comprehensive OR complete OR exhaustive OR list >, yielded almost two hundred thousand leads. Gawker and Mother Jonesrepresent merely a pair of accounts from the first page that this pursuit of citations brought to the forefront.
The comments that accompany the latter article are an eruption of stress, tension, anger, and general defensiveness, with plenty of bigotry and blaming and name-calling mixed in. The lack of a context for dialog—which inherently must mean listening and respectful treatment—emerges with frightening clarity.
The mediated explanatory nexus, in any case—either as in these two articles a label, racism, or as in the case of other items among the hundreds of thousands of links a dismissal of color as a significant factor—guarantees that people cannot talk with each other about these matters. The ‘racist’ explanation, arguably, never moves beyond labeling, and overlooking the absolutely incontrovertible color-component either represents willful ignorance or unacknowledged prejudice.
By shifting the grounds of debate, by insisting that ‘police-involved killings’ look at slavery and empire, a different context for discussion might take place. In any case, further instances of color-coordinated violation and disproportion are easy enough to examine and portray.
The carnage of the police state and the ghetto revolve inextricably around the war on drugs, which in many of its particulars echoes broader accounts of militarized assaults on citizens. The Spindoctor has written about these matters, establishing a template that allows subsequent analysis to highlight the way that ruling institutions—particularly military and ‘law-enforcement’—have subsumed roles that in earlier generations fell on masters and overseers and other enforcers of slave or colonial discipline.
The American Civil Liberties Union summarizes this malicious and detrimental incongruity, irreconcilable with anything other than vicious injustice, double-dealing, and purposeful division: “Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise: 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.
This skewed enforcement of drug laws has a devastating impact. One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are currently either on probation, parole, or in prison. One in five black men have been convicted of a felony. In seven states, between 80% and 90% of prisoners serving time for drug offenses are black.
The statistics for the Latino population are equally disturbing. Latinos comprise 12.5% of the population and use and sell drugs less than whites, yet they accounted for 46% of those charged with a federal drug offense in 1999.”
Moving backward in time, the strict control or prohibition of slave drinking was common throughout colonial English and antebellum United States venues. That such restriction was never successful is not the point. Masters believed that prohibiting partaking would help to instill continued inhibition of license or other outrage. A suspected plan by slave seaman and workers to rise up in New York City and commit widespread arson and pillage was, in the estimation of prominent Whites, largely due to ubiquitous availability of unlicensed dram houses.
“Thus, whether or not there was an actual conspiracy to burn New York City in 1741, what is apparent is the central role drink and tavern life played for many slaves. Contrary to the advice given to British seamen, many northern slaves used
liquor as ‘a soother of the mind,’ a means to take their minds off the numbing brutality of their daily existence.
And in contrast to the controlled settings of religious instruction, taverns and dram houses provided places slaves could socialize away from the prying eyes of masters and other whites.
Many whites agreed with the concerns expressed by (one) Philadelphian (master) that ‘the constant Cabals’ of slaves gathering ‘every Night and every Sunday’ could result in uprisings to the ‘great Terror of the King’s Subjects.’ (This trafficker in human chattel) believed that while sober most slaves would not go to the ‘desperate length’ of violent uprisings, but noted ‘how much they are addicted to Spirituous Liquor.’ With ‘little dram Shops [o]n every Corner and Alley,’ liquored-up slaves were described as acting with ‘great and uncommon impudence.’”
Just as, on any given plantation or in any forced-labor setting, an abrogation of abstemiousness and drudgery could lead to a brutal or even lethal thrashing or other retribution, or at least to steep fines or other economic sanctions, so too in contemporary arenas might the inherent human inclination to ‘get high’ reverberate in an African American life as granting to new ‘slave patrols,’ all clad in uniform blue, a license to discriminate, imprison, terrorize, or even murder the man and woman and child who express preternatural desires to alter consciousness or change their minds.
But these direct and all-too-frequently terminal attacks on brown bodies, and again especially in relation to African Americans, are not the deadliest form of destruction against those whose ancestors ended up being a mélange of slaves, slave masters, indigenous Americans, as well as others, all of whom we now lump under the collective descriptor of Black. On the contrary, the costs in morbidity add up to millions of years of impaired lives per annum as stress-and-poverty-related illness takes its toll in Black communities. The disparate mortality equally so taxes African Americans to millions of lost years in any given 365 day period.
Whether one tallies such illnesses as heart problems or cancer, kidney dysfunction or infectious disease, those whose ancestors lived in slavery suffer more. More grotesquely still, but congruently with the data on disease, the life expectancy of Black men lags behind that of White men by more than five years; Black women, meanwhile, experience three and a half years of lost life, on average, compared to White women.
These gross disparities in well-being are absolutely irrefutable. More or less a hundred million years of lost experience and consciousness is such a massive loss as almost to be incalculable. That Social Determinants of Health include color is no more arguable than that poverty kills. The annual toll of the negative impact of having great-great grandparents who toiled as slaves is, to say the least, a staggering waste, even as socioeconomic components almost always lurk behind these on-the-surface-very-visible issues of color.
Another insidious outcome, which often enough occurs in an even more vicious interpretive nexus, concerns Black families. Daniel Patrick Moynihan a half century ago authored a report for the Department of Labor. It couched its conclusions in an overarching concern for, and even solidarity with, the hopes and needs of ‘Negro’ people. Nevertheless, in terms of its managing its statistical data and in relation to its conclusions, the report without doubt placed the primary burden on Black ‘culture’ and ‘behavior’ as explanations for the inequalities and pathologies that were more and more prevalent in American cities ‘among the colored masses.’
A powerful critique of Moynihan began almost immediately, one that culminated in a thorough and often brilliant work. Blaming the Victimpushed back against the early erstwhile ‘Neoliberalism’ of the Department of Labor consultant. As the author, William Ryan, wrote, “My(original) memorandum and articles, along with articles by Benjamin Payton, James Farmer, and others, together with the activities of these and other leaders of the movement, temporarily derailed the Moynihan Report.” Such a phalanx of analysis needed no labels or jargon: scientific assessment disproved the superficially beneficent and insidiously harmful rhetoric and faux reasoning of The Negro Family.
But, as Ryan notes in disgust, despite all the necessary evidence to prove collusion and plan, sometimes “an ideology like Moynihan’s resonates to perfectly with the mood and purpose of the public and its intellectual leaders…that it is as hard to slay as the Hydra.” Before long, back in the sixties, and repeatedly since then too, “(s)ubsequent articles, reviews, and columns in Life, Look, The New York Times, and other influential publications supported and adopted the Moynihan thesis and swamped the opposition.”
The upshot, over time, was a ‘circling of the wagons’ among progressives to hurl invectives against racism as the central way of assaulting this tendency. In the end, then, accusations of racist razzle-dazzle confronted solemnly fatuous pronouncements of Black irresponsibility. A more surreal juxtaposition is difficult to imagine. Such fallacious dualism ought to be below the level to which a clever twelve-year-old would cling.
The alternative, after all, is both evidence-based and sound, capable of scientific instead of ideological assessment. Social replication of oppression and violence and murder, of prejudice and discrimination and injustice, led to horrific social consequences. One could, in establishing this immutable factual foundation, never conclude that the causal component was responsibility: always the issue would be upper crust benefit from consciously selected laws and policies and customs.
Under slavery, the progeny, both of slave lovers—generally unable to consummate marriage—and raped or seduced slave women whose pregnancies often did result from slave-owners, overseers, and their sons, became property that mostly the practice of the times was to sell to more or less far-afield plantations. One would struggle to find a more logically or morally repugnant position than contextualizing such predation as irresponsibility by slave fathers and mothers.
So too, today, and in other situations between then and now: most contemporaneously, African-American children come into the world in communities where one half or more of the fathers end up missing because of a system that feeds off their labor and targets their behavior, indistinguishable from that of Anglo-Americans, in such ways as to incarcerate and disfranchise and impoverish them for life. Again, a less reasonable and civilized nexus for rearing children is tough to dream up, so that to blame Black families and communities in such a context is, at best, noisome and moronic.
The nauseating and idiotic, illogical and immoral elements of the establishment arguments, though, somehow do not end up the endpoint. The climax instead comes down to racism.
In essence, therefore, this debate, which monopoly-media’s multiple tentacles unvaryingly describe as a racial matter, either a display of racism or a sign of race-neutrality, itself is a legacy of slavery. That most outlets, even the so-called ‘liberal’ or—heaven protect us—‘leftist’ ones, use sophisticated and frequently sophist argumentation to bolster Moynihan ought to be an expected outcome. And, meanwhile, everyone who gets to come to the podium is talking about ‘race.’
An only months-old article in New Yorker, which also brings the estimable Orlando Patterson into the fray, is a good example of such a propagation of propaganda. With a few radical or Marxist exceptions, critics of this and other establishment paragons do not frame the issue as the falsity and error and distortion that are omnipresent in such work; nor do the policies and objectives of the falsifiers ever become the prime locus of controversy; rather, everything comes down to pointing fingers at racist beliefs, which stand as the sole sorts of rebuttals to the heartfelt remorse for immaturity and negligence and so on that typify the Moynihans of the world.
Though the Spindoctor would welcome the opportunity rigorously to dispute and deconstruct those who would defend Moynihan’s theses and use of evidence, this is out of the scope of today’s article. Instead, readers here need only understand the possibility that the characterization of the New York thinker’s followers as racist may itself promote outcomes that further inequity and disproportion, in other words that are racist in their results. Instead of this, one may at least want to ponder a more political-economic, historical, and social dynamic for negotiating these complex and difficult thickets of America’s past and present.
One might in essence detail every possible sign of social health or social ill, and one would discern the impact, through intermediating decades since the 1860’s, of the murder and mayhem and impoverishment and outrage of chattel slavery on the contemporary experience of Blacks in the United States. In any portrayal of wealth, status, certification, on the one hand, and neurosis, psychosis, violence, and on and on and on, ad infinitum, on the other hand, the inheritance of four or more centuries of enslavement colors the lives of African Americans in the 21st century.
Orlando Patterson, in his Slavery & Social Death, unfurls for his readers the imposition of the erasures that chattel relations elicit as intentional effects of systematic involuntary servitude. This dialectic, of exploitation and denigration, even though it has always exploded in the owning classes’ faces, is universal, as Patterson and others show in relation to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, in regard to Japan and Korea in Northeast Asia, and in terms of every nation that grew out of Spain’s and Portugal’s conquest of most of South America and the Caribbean.
Yet these diverse loci of human ownership of other, often but not always differently colored, people is seldom—and in the mass media or corporate journalism the descriptor is basically never—a topic that those who propose to explain current events explore. While to delve even minimally in this arena right this second would be unsupportable, must in essence await a contract or something similar for a three-to-five volume series, a less-than-minimal peek at one of these other instances of slavery could be suggestive.
For this purpose, a glance at the plight of Roma peoples can certainly serve. Interestingly enough, the Romanian period of enslavement very closely parallels what transpired in North America. Plus or minus four centuries of slave-relations came to an end around 1860, yet social horror—disproportionate difficulty among Roma communities and horrid discrimination and intolerance against Roma citizens—has continued through the present, not only in Southern Europe but throughout most of the Eurasian landmass.
“The difficult situation of the Romani population in Europe has recently attracted widespread attention. The collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe brought with it the demise of state welfare measures and, simultaneously, the end of official pressures for enforced assimilation–suddenly leaving Romani communities there to fend for themselves in a new, uncertain, and often hostile world.
Responding to this quandary, numerous governments, international organizations, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, and, most important, Romani leaders themselves are trying to devise programs and policies to address the deep and complex problems of discrimination and poverty that so disproportionately affect the Roma.”
The legacy of slavery, therefore, both in the United States and elsewhere, hypothetically comes down to centuries of brutalization, demonization, and exploitation long after protest and struggle have sundered the explicit chains of bondage. The upshot is the reimposition by alternate means of the imprimatur of ownership and conquest. The ultimate outcome is the universal attempt to degrade the oppressed and demeaned, which serves to salve the psyches of rulers themselves and to malign the ‘lowest of the low,’ and ‘the blackest of the black,’ from others whom elites need to control and manipulate to hegemonic ends.
Legacies of Colonial Empire
No set of relations which emanated from the English colonies and the United States came closer to a completely ‘successful’ genocide, of course, than did the calculated mass homicide of indigenous peoples. Since the present-day assault on Native American individuals is less immediately apparent in journalistic or scholarly mediations, readers may rest easy that a more succinct summation is imminent now.
To provide an overview, one cannot turn to a better choice that the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Marshall had in many ways been both a promoter of consolidated elite rule and of color chauvinism in his early career. In 1823, he issued perhaps the most damning and important opinion of a career that in many ways completely defined a ‘balance of powers’ that was anything but.
In this case, Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. Macintosh, speaking for the majority, Marshall candidly laid the foundation for a pointed and comprehensive dismissal of any idea that Native inhabitants of the Americas might share even approximately equivalent rights as residents of European ancestry. From the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the only rule was of European interlopers, maintained by force of arms. He did not blame either party to this continental conflict, but the victors’ ultimate imprimatur was, despite the facts of interbreeding which he assiduously denied, unquestioned, unquestionable, so that ‘public opinion’s’ softening of harsh rule was not at issue.
After all, from the American ruler’s high bench he could allege, “the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages whose occupation was war and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness; to govern them as a distinct people was impossible because they were as brave and as high-spirited as they were fierce, and were ready to repel by arms every attempt on their independence.
What was the inevitable consequence of this state of things? The Europeans were under the necessity either of abandoning the country and relinquishing their pompous claims to it or of enforcing those claims by the sword, and by the adoption of principles adapted to the condition of a people with whom it was impossible to mix and who could not be governed as a distinct society, or of remaining in their neighborhood, and exposing themselves and their families to the perpetual hazard of being massacred.
Frequent and bloody wars, in which the whites were not always the aggressors, unavoidably ensued. European policy, numbers, and skill prevailed. As the white population advanced, that of the Indians necessarily receded. The country in the immediate neighborhood of agriculturists became unfit for them. The game fled into thicker and more unbroken forests, and the Indians followed. The soil to which the Crown originally claimed title, being no longer occupied by its ancient inhabitants, was parceled out according to the will of the sovereign power and taken possession of by persons who claimed immediately from the Crown or mediately through its grantees or deputies.”
Power and victory, swords and sway, Marshall does not once mention race in the opinion, nor need he. The historical underpinning is one of political economic plunder and social evisceration that may or may not ever necessitate compensation of any sort, let alone remuneration, or even a semblance of mutuality. Again, indeed,“(h)owever extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear; if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained; if a country has been acquired and held under it; if the property of the great mass of the community originates in it, it becomes the law of the land and cannot be questioned. So, too, with respect to the concomitant principle that the Indian inhabitants are to be considered merely as occupants, to be protected, indeed, while in peace, in the possession of their lands, but to be deemed incapable of transferring the absolute title to others. However this restriction may be opposed to natural right, and to the usages of civilized nations, yet if it be indispensable to that system under which the country has been settled, and be adapted to the actual condition of the two people, it may perhaps be supported by reason, and certainly cannot be rejected by courts of justice.”
Today, one result of this foundation is that so-called Indians have in many jurisdictions the lowest life expectancy of all ethnic groups in North America. In many cases, their time on Earth compares to that of the citizens of nations with only a fraction of the wealth of the United States.
The most troubled evaluations of self show up in limited studies of cohorts of young Indian men and women as well. Higher rates of depression, double or triple or higher rates of suicide, and other such indicia are commonplace.
The highest levels of illiteracy, of alcoholism, and of other social dysfunction are also frequent “on the res.” These difficulties extend from Alaska to Florida, from California to Maine.
Casinos must in some way represent a perverse dialectical punctuation of this entire process. Here are Indian establishments where retired gringos and well-heeled Anglo fools drop billions of dollars every day. To what end remains uncertain, but the ironic nutrients of such soil must tantalize the storyteller.
Whatever the ultimate assessment of this odd twist might be, the abandonment of Native American communities and the consignment of these ‘Red’ peoples’ bodies to history’s dust-heap remains still the default position of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other institutional repositories of hegemony. Nonetheless, these inhabitants who ‘owned’ the continents of this hemisphere until conquest robbed them of their birthrights, having come the closest to extinction, now have manifested powerful proponents of recompense, an American Indian Movement and other propositions that parallel in many ways the work of Huey Newton, Malcolm X, and others among African Americans.
While no nation practices with such thorough arrogance as does the U.S. its war against duskier-skinned original inhabitants, this pattern of discriminatory rough treatment characterizes almost all of Europe as well, both at home and in the outposts of ‘Commonwealth’ and such. Furthermore, and to the nub of what today’s material concerns, the universal accounting for this oppression of ‘native’ folks is that racism is in play.
As above, a future comparative analysis of these matters might better illuminate what is happening in different local settings than does the light cast from more focused study. No matter what, though, one need not rely on ‘racial’ rationale to account for what has come to pass. Justice Marshall’s opinions resonate powerfully without making such opaque and poorly classified terminology the fallback position.
Legacies of Civil War, Reform, & Reconstruction
Again focusing on the U.S.A., distrust is a widespread result of the way that, after African Americans played instrumental roles in conquering the slaveocracy in the South, the Union reneged on its promises—forty acres and a mule were out of the question when not even a franchise and protection of free labor were possible—and reintegrated former Confederate elites back into their accustomed positions of preeminence. Such treachery made the deepest sort of mistrust unavoidable.
As Melissa Williams makes the case, “(t)he Black political experience during
Reconstruction tells the story of trust given and trust betrayed.” As Professor Williams delineates in her mixture of political philosophy and history that she applies to the here-and-now, this bad faith has persisted till the current moment, a lingering sore that emanates from opportunistic politics and calculated profiteering that also continues to define the present pass.
While a researcher could develop volumes on this issue, a verse from a song in the Dead Prez compilation, Let’s Get Free, can serve for now. This is from the track, “The Animal in Man,” which tells the story of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as an admonitory parable of U.S. society, in which the ‘disgust and betrayal’ might readily refer to the lionization of Lincoln and Civil War in light of what followed.
“After they ran the farmer off the farm
The pigs went around and called a meeting in the barn
Hannibal spoke for several hours
But when talks about his plans for power
That’s when the conversation turned sour
He issued an official ordinance to set
If not a pig from this day forth then you insubordinate
That’s when the horses went buckwild
One of them shouted out
‘You fraudulent pigs, we know your fucking style!’
Hannibal’s face was flushed and pale
All the animals eyes full of disgust and betrayal
He felt the same way (Farmer) Sam felt
They took his tongue out of his mouth
And cut his body up for sale, for real
You better listen while you can
Its a very thin line between animal and man
When Hannibal crossed the line they all took a stand
What would have done?
Shook his hand?
This is the animal in man.”
In such an overall milieu, calls for reparations have become more insistent over the past few decades. They make most Whites want to puke, of course, at least stateside. The reasons for this distaste, even though the Spindoctor supports the concept of community-based remuneration for past injustice, are not ludicrous. The most interesting potential of such actions is that they can elicit intercourse between parties that would basically never otherwise talk with each other.
Readers may discover much more about this topic in a future essay, but for now, a snapshot of what happened in a Duke University forum in March, 2015, might help a thoughtful student of these matters put things into perspective. “Like Coates’ piece (a year ago in TheAtlantic), the conversation at Duke centered less on the who, what and how of reparations and more on why reparations are needed. In their remarks, panelists expressed cynicism that reparations would come to pass in their lifetime or even in the next few generations, but also hope for how even just a serious national conversation about them could transform—or, to use a panelist’s word, ‘redeem’—America.”
Related ‘truth-and-reconciliation’ processes also are an aspect of what some community leaders suggest could play a part in healing and integration. In November, 1979, with the advance knowledge of various police forces, heavily armed fascist assassins targeted and murdered communist and grassroots activists who were helping to organize workers into unions and community groups in Greensboro, North Carolina.
This event permits a deep insight into the forces at play in situations where color and class and empowerment collide with reactionary forces that will go to any length to prevent social progress. Of the hundreds of participants in the rally that turned into a killing field, over ninety per cent were African American. Of those whom the Klan and Nazi hit-men shot to death, four of five were White. All five were members of the Maoist political group that had organized the rally against the Klan, one of dozens of actions in the mid-to-late-1970’s, of which the humble Spindoctor organized one and argued passionately not to encourage “Death to the Klan” chanting or publicity of the sort that were bedrock aspects of the Greensboro slaughter.
In Greensboro, “The KKK and Nazi members shot at anyone who wasn’t hiding while four television news teams and one police officer recorded the action. They then got back into their cars and sped away after which the Greensboro police arrived and began arresting protestors.
In the aftermath five people were killed and 11 wounded in the attack. All five were members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO), and four were rank-and-file union leaders and organizers.” Despite the intentional murder or involuntary manslaughter on display, not one of the shooters ever served a day in prison for this charnel dispatch of white organizers.
In a move that many radicals have criticized but which did in fact help to provide clarity and a platform for vocalizing rage and longing in regard to this brutal mass homicide, Greensboro created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to do something about the rifts that the occurrence created in the city. “The truth and reconciliation process is designed to examine and learn from a divisive event in Greensboro’s past in order to build the foundation for a more unified future. The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission is based upon similar efforts around the world, most notably in South Africa. Building on this wealth of international experience, Greensboro represents the first application of this model in the United States.”
While these and other stabs at reformulating resistance and reimagining integration very often embrace the very social forces that most profited from the original bondage and exploitation, just this sort of contradiction implies a polarity from which dandy dialectical dances might emerge. In any event, by placing the discourse on a plane of equality and reason, they make possible conversation that is utterly independent of racial thinking, put-downs about racism, and so on and so forth.
The resuscitation of the slaveholding classes almost a hundred fifty years ago, simultaneously as the non-owning Whites served again as whipmasters and enforcers against former chattel, echoes in every police department that ‘serves’ an eighty-percent Black community with a four-fifths European American Gestapo. Thus, the need for remediation not only stems from relatively long-ago wounds that have festered and never healed, but also from dynamics of inequity and injustice that explode anew on the contemporary scene.
To rectify the past could be, in a sense, to rejuvenate the present thereby. The devilish details of such possibilities, in and of themselves, establish the boundaries for a discussion that could bring together social forces otherwise seemingly intractably opposed.
Once again, a Spindoctor with a license and a budget could go off while he kept going on here. These attempts both to express a networked engagement and seek a wider hearing for redress are only possible because a more civil society has to some extent actually come into being; at the same time, unfortunately, in the vein of ‘one step forward, and two steps back,’ the threat of backsliding is ever present.
As in every case in this essay—and in many of the other such analyses that the Spindoctor promotes—the standard-operating-procedure has been to consider events in ‘America’ first, since, if nothing else, they are easiest for him to investigate. In fact, however, even in this instance of what seems a ‘uniquely’ Yankee process, one might turn to Russia or British India or many other places on the planet to see similar processes in play as have resulted today in the U.S. from Civil War and reconstruction.
A freshly minted news analysis from Counterpunchtakes note of a tricontinental strategy session on the topic of reparations that took place in New York early in April of this year. Contingents from the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe all met with the intention to establish networks and develop a strategic orientation that would allow activists to demand and attain compensation for serving so long as prey for the howling wolves of imperial finance and industry.
“French reparations activists have filed lawsuits and initiated other actions around reparations from deprivations by France in the Caribbean and in Africa. CARICOM nations have established a Reparations Commission to conduct further research to initiate legal and other actions against governments of Britain, France and other European countries that maintained colonies in the Caribbean basin.
Louis-Georges Tin, an anti-racism and reparations activist in France, said he had travelled to the Summit with a delegation from the European Reparation Commission to establish closer connections with other reparations activists.”
In a wider parsing of these sorts of skirmishes, one can posit that a primary thread of fascism, in every case since Italy, has interwoven with the expression of the insistence that newly freed slaves, serfs, indentured populations, colonial citizens, and so forth receive a boost for having for decades or centuries confronted exploitation and violent violation. The aristocratic thugs who have most suffered the loss of their privileged position at the ‘top of the heap,’ and easily recruited petty bourgeois sorts who crumble in every crisis, combine and demonize these ‘lower races’ as worthy of renewed depredation.
Legacies of a New Imperialism, Orchestrated from Washington by ‘Free Trade’
In no other arena is the ultimate sinister inheritance of the present historical eventuality worse than in the almost innumerable cases of the rising, and now fully risen, American leviathan’s now planet-spanning neocolonial, neoimperialist enterprises—almost always cast as liberation and aid, as if death and destruction and profiteering and plunder were the result of loving and friendly impulses. Furthermore, because of the inevitable realities of the historical synthesis of these ventures, whether one examines the Philippines or Honduras, Nigeria or Bangladesh, ‘colored people’ still bear the ugly brunt of the ugly American and his beautiful machinery and other machinations of capital’s sway.
The repercussions of this dynamic universally enable vast, seemingly interminable killing and chaos. Looking at a map of the world with overlain graphics of contemporaneous war and social upheaval, this is of course obvious. But in a sense similarly as the Wicked Witch ruminated in The Wizard of Oz, the how of these horrific tortures’ unfolding, again and again with the United States of America in the role of lead executioner and chief puppeteer, is a riddle that study and explication must figure out, unless some sort of random sadomasochistic thrill attends the continuation of these chaotic catalysts of violation and violence.
In an earlier incarnation, the Spindoctor wrote about these matters in relation to the connection between present-day assaults on ‘illegal immigrants’ and two-century-old attacks on Native Americans. “These days, along I-20 from Atlanta to Birmingham, State Troopers seek out ‘illegal immigrants,’ trying to catch and eject them from ‘America.’ Eighteen decades ago, along substantially the same route, the leaders of Georgia—who had recently inaugurated the country’s first ‘Gold Rush’ in Dahlonega–and Alabama—who were readying river valley properties for slaves to work–were preparing to throw out local native inhabitants so that the conquering European immigrants could do whatever they liked. Those who like ironic history will love today’s story.”
Incongruities of this sort, at once bizarre and darkly humorous, abound in the imposition of U.S. imperial authority. The Philippines is a good example. Although U.S. rulers positioned their forces as liberators, almost before the Yanks had run the Spanish off, the Moro and other local Filipino freedom fighters had turned against Uncle Sam and his minions.
“This was not the first time that the United States had dramatically expanded its territories. Neither was this the first time that it had done so by war with another nation (Mexico, 1846-48). That this expansion required the violent subjugation of nonwhites (in this case Filipinos, but for much of the same century, Native Americans) was hardly new, either.
Nevertheless, ironies of empire abounded for this self-styled democratic republic. Many of these ironies were scathingly noted by American anti-imperialist Mark Twain in his writings. Critics pointed out the irony of fighting to free Cubans from Spanish colonial rule then fighting the Filipino War (1900-1902) to retain colonial dominion over a captive people.”
Furthermore, this mismatch between rhetoric and reality—in which prostitution and graft and thuggery accompanied high-finance and ‘foreign aid’ and ‘development loans’ that seemed to make people poorer and hungrier while well-fed American soldiers watched over things throughout the region at facilities like Subic Bay–continued through the closing of the huge base near Manila and persist even as only occasional visits of naval flotillas now occur.
Central Africa, with its mosaic of murderous machinations of British and French and Belgian malediction, would hardly seem like a realm where U.S. malfeasance reigned supreme. However, in the aftermath of the colonial collapse, a new mechanism for control emerged, in which Central Intelligence Agency and corporate functionaries replaced old-school bureaucrats and aristocratic sociopaths.
Thus, from the well-tuned machinery of assassination that sucked up and spit out Patrice Lumumba and countless others to the coordinated management of mass mayhem that characterized the events of Hotel Rwanda and more, the integrated circuitry of exploitation and control has held sway in this region and throughout the ‘dark continent.’ That ‘race’ was comparatively unimportant in these ministrations of horror is possible to demonstrate: after all, numerous recent retrospectives on the ten years of Vietnam’s agony show similar patterns and goals and outcomes as what happened in Africa, or for that matter in Chile forty-two years ago, the Whitest country in Latin America.
In many cases like those above and in relation to Yemen and throughout the ‘Grand Chessboard’ of much of Southwest Asia and the Horn of Africa, the United States has in some views shouldered the “White Man’s Burden.” Kipling’s poem was explicitly about enlarging the scope of U.S. dominance and creating a web of Anglo-American rule over all the lesser, darker folk of the planet, albeit for their own good.
How could such lines as these not be racist?
“Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child…”
The answer to that query, if one is willing to listen, is threefold: the lyrics of Gunga Din; the repeated, ad infinitum, carefully plotted murder of the best and brightest and dearest of these “sullen peoples” because they dared oppose capital; and the occasional early and now almost constant deployment of other “sullen peoples” to control the initial beneficiaries.
In such a context, ‘race’ offers no more clarity than voodoo as elucidation. The key issue of who the conquerors actually recruited locally is also centrally important, about which more directly.
In this new kingdom of bourgeois property triumphant, over time, no place has been off limits to the American Century’s imposition of dominance. Racism is a convenient label that explains none of it, as this preeminent hegemony of the ‘American Way’ has spread out in all directions.
Readers may refer to material just above for a reference to Cuba, Westward across the Atlantic. The Spindoctor has mentioned the island’s history and revolution both here on Contributoria and in earlier writings. Cuba’s resistance to U.S. depredation is a testament to a non-racialist social system. Nevertheless, despite decades of rejuvenated Latino empowerment, in part because of Havana’s successfully standing up to Washington, the threat powerfully persists in Latin America of further slaughter that the Gringos orchestrate.
The network of this dictatorial dominance presumes to encompass everywhere on Earth, including Moscow and Beijing and Tokyo and Berlin and London and Paris. Whether this nearly completed fantasy of a Reich eternal in fact summarizes the human condition may well turn on the capacity to impose a ‘racialist’ mindset on those who protest imperial victory, where the day-to-day operations of ‘business as usual’ lay the groundwork for ghettoes and concentration camps.
Thus, just as in the United States proper, so too in the grinding operations of far-flung provincial and metropolitan dynamos, this systematic mass murder does not lead to the greatest injury and loss and destruction. In the present parlance, ‘Economic Hit Men’ do substantially, or even vastly, greater damage than do the relatively brief interludes of homicide and mass slaughter.
The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other ‘partner’ institutions eviscerate the so-called Third World. Corporate protocols—in arms trade, in relation to ‘medicine,’ in the energy sphere, in technology—further these patterns of dependency and despond. Again, the critic’s response blames the IMF’s or Apple’s or Chevron’s racism, as if any strategic rejoinder to the anaconda of monopoly finance is possible as a result of such a view of victimization and vengeance.
All such sociopolitical developments, with their very specific and well accounted for political economic results, depend on willing cretins from the ‘free polities’ in question, whose service to imperial interests is no more in doubt than are the trade balances that happen when extracted minerals stack up against automatic weapons and sophisticated telecommunications and electronic control methodologies. Franz Fanon is just one brilliant annalist who documents these matters, particularly in relation to North Africa. He speaks hopefully of a revolutionary dialectic that goes beyond ‘development’ that mirrors the West.
“So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her.
Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.
If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us.
But if we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries.
If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations, we must seek the response elsewhere than in Europe.
Moreover, if we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is no good sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection, of their society and their thought with which from time to time they feel immeasurably sickened.
For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”
And he also decries those who sell out the oppressed among their people, the workers and peasants and common folks. “To its brutal policy of oppression(the colonial administration) adds a spectacular and judicious combination of détente, divisive maneuvers, and psychological warfare. Here and there it endeavors to revive tribal conflicts, using agents provocateurs engaged in what is known as countersubversion. Colonialism uses two types of indigenous collaborators to achieve its ends. First of all, there are the usual suspects: chiefs, kaids, and witch doctors. …Colonialism secures the services of these loyal servants by paying them a small fortune.
(Also), the lumpenproletariat will always respond to the call to revolt, but if the insurrection thinks it can afford to ignore it, then this famished underclass will pitch itself into the armed struggle and take part in the conflict, this time on the side of the oppressor. …who never misses an opportunity to have the blacks tear at each other’s throats.”
Eduardo Galeano articulates similar, if decidedly more optimistic, perspectives about encounters around the world, but most especially in Latin America. His recent passing leaves a legacy of clear sighted comprehension of factual nuance and underlying dynamics both, for example in regard to the function of latifundia landowners in maintaining semi-feudal, reactionary patterns of land and productive property ownership, an incisive analysis based on real qualities and relationships instead of skin color.
“Even industrialization— coming late and in dependent form, and comfortably coexisting with the latifundia and the structures of inequality— helps to spread unemployment rather than to relieve it; poverty is extended, wealth concentrated in the area where an ever multiplying army of idle hands is available. New factories are built in the privileged poles of development— Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City— but less and less labor is needed. The system did not foresee this small headache, this surplus of people. And the people keep reproducing. They make love with enthusiasm and without precaution. Ever more people are left beside the road, without work in the countryside, where the latifundios reign with their vast extensions of idle land, without work in the city where the machine is king. The system vomits people. North American missionaries sow pills, diaphragms, intrauterine devices, condoms, and marked calendars, but reap children. Latin American children obstinately continue getting born, claiming their natural right to a place in the sun in these magnificent lands which could give to all what is now denied to almost all.”
Today’s dictatorial thug, plied with prostitutes and armaments, turns into tomorrow’s fall guy, while the latifundia, aristocrats, and local propertied classes remain in control and effectively inoculated against the essential step that the workers of their societies have only occasionally embraced, overthrowing their parasitic and conspiratorial imprimatur once and for all. Though Rodney, in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, rails against prejudice and “vicious White racism,” he is clear in his analysis. In none of the cases that he investigates is the race of the oppressors or the color of the oppressed, or vice versa, the deciding factor.
“(Truly), because of lack of engineers, Africa cannot on its own build more roads, bridges, and hydroelectric stations. But that is not a cause of underdevelopment, except in the sense that causes and effects come together and reinforce each other. The fact of the matter is that the most profound reasons for the economic backwardness of a given African nation are not to be found inside that nation. All that we can find inside are the symptoms of underdevelopment and the secondary factors that make for poverty. Mistaken interpretations of the causes of underdevelopment usually stem either from prejudiced thinking or from the error of believing that one can learn the answers by looking inside the underdeveloped economy. The true explanation lies in seeking out the relationship between Africa and certain developed countries and in recognizing that it is a relationship of exploitation.”
Nobel Literary Laureate Wole Soyinka hammers this notion home. “Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary heir black opportunism and exploitation in the eye.”
Again, coloration, or race, does not cause or play a significant role in this opportunism and exploitation: these malefactors come in all shades. What turns out to be dispositive, again and again and again and again—and again—are the twin factors of geopolitical strategy, along with its scramble for resources and markets, on the one hand, and the capacity to control and dispose of vast armies of labor and muscle, as well as buckets of cash, on the other hand. Skin color just doesn’t explain either the political economic tangles or the socioeconomic conundrums that capital causes in these struggles and then solves to its own advantage until working people of different colors—can anyone present say Cuba?!—have united to oppose bourgeois overlords.
Most recently as regards both Africom, with the U.S. emphasis on an entire continent, and Ukraine, with the focus on flanking any Eurasian union that sets American finance aside, militarized and belligerent policies and tactics have again been appearing in the guise of free markets and freedom: “We only want to help you be free, free to sell us your commodities at reduced rates while we provide loans and credits that guarantee debt peonage more stringent than what Argentina is battling.” A slightly different plotline spins out in Iran and Southeast Asia, merely to mention a couple of other spots that the United States of America intends to dominate as it barricades the Chinese colossus.
Wherever one turns, in any event, literally everywhere on Earth, imperial threads bind up social ties and predatory plutocrats in the service of empire seek to siphon the flow of production and consumption through their elite organizations—banks and conglomerates and corporate behemoths. They care about skin color only when it serves as a motivation or a distraction, either a ‘carrot’ or a ‘stick,’ that helps to lubricate their successful predominance. Those whose station in life requires, if they are to prosper or even live, organizational alliances with other similarly situated citizens would do best to keep this point in mind.
Legacies of Relatively Recent Oppression, Discrimination, Brutality, & Murder
One might liken the present pass to a slow motion chain reaction, in which humans act in similar fashion as concentrated atoms of fissile material. Whether the Uranium originates from Canada or Central Africa makes zero difference, just as the social conflicts of the present, whatever appearances might suggest, do not depend on skin color so much as on deeper historical, geographic, and socioeconomic forces.
Unfortunately, the apparent protracted attainment of a critical mass has probably contributed in lulling people not to worry about the very real potential of crisping in an actual nuclear frying pan, as a result of the volatility of our ongoing social battles. In a sense, we are like pathetic frogs—some green, some yellow, some brown, all the same species and wary of each other as our fluid perches get warmer and warmer—that will not leap from the water that will boil them so long as it heats up slowly enough.
Just as human communities of any coloration long for the same things—decent employment, good schools, comfortable places to live, etc.—so too the differently hued amphibians would have similar needs and, in their froglike ways, hopes. Even as the scientists studying the frogs might separate them by color, or the elites ruling the human roost might divide populations by skin tone, these factors will actually mean nothing in terms of their ultimate fate.
In his Impacts of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell spoke to this issue with a simple and yet lovely parable. “Mankind is in the position of a man climbing a difficult and dangerous precipice, at the summit of which there is a plateau of delicious mountain meadows. With every step that he climbs, his fall, if he does fall, becomes more terrible; with every step his weariness increases and the ascent grows more difficult. At last there is only one more step to be taken, but the climber does not know this, because he cannot see beyond the jutting rocks at his head. His exhaustion is so complete that he wants nothing but rest. If he lets go he will find rest in death. Hope calls: ‘One more effort-perhaps it will be the last effort needed.’ Irony retorts: ‘Silly fellow! Haven’t you been listening to hope all this time, and see where it has landed you.’ Optimism says: ‘While there is life there is hope.’ Pessimism growls: ‘While there is life there is pain.’ Does the exhausted climber make one more effort, or does he let himself sink into the abyss? In a few years those of us who are still alive will know the answer.”
The flashpoints, from which our kind can ‘slip into despair’ and disappear in a heated rush, are legion, though some hotspots named in the section just above rank as likelier possibilities for mass collective suicide than do other places. The conflicts in most of them are possible to view through a lens of ‘race,’ something that half or more of the critiques of U.S. or ‘Western’ policy bring to bear in excoriating the slide toward mayhem and murder. Yet this trope—that ‘racism’ explains why and how we move toward predatory warfare—simply does not hold up.
The Spindoctor has written on Contributoria and elsewhere about the willful ignorance and distorted propaganda that has passed for monopoly mediation about the past few years in Ukraine. While ‘racism’ is simply impossible to apply in this location, even though dynamically and structurally it differs little from possible debacles elsewhere, many analysts do view the confrontations there as potentially lethal in any number of ways, including the possible inducement of multiple Chernobylish meltdowns or the simple escalation of conflict between Russia and the U.S., whose combined thermonuclear arsenals are fully adequate to kill all humans in the world several times over. Helen Caldicott is one of those who warns us.
“The expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders is ‘very, very dangerous,’ Caldicott said. ‘There is no way a war between the United States and Russia could start and not go nuclear. … The United States and Russia have enormous stockpiles of these weapons. Together they have 94 percent of all the 16,300 nuclear weapons in the world.’
We are in a very fallible, very dangerous situation operated by mere mortals,’ she warned. ‘The nuclear weapons, are sitting there, thousands of them. They are ready to be used.’
Caldicott strongly criticized Obama administration policymakers for their actions in forward positioning U.S. and NATO military units in countries of Eastern Europe in response to Russian support of breakaway separatists in the provinces of eastern Ukraine. (A few days ago), the U.S. government announced the deployment of the Ironhorse Brigade, an elite armored cavalry unit of the U.S. Army to the former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, along the historic invasion route from the West to St. Petersburg.
‘Do they really want a nuclear war with Russia?’ she asked. ‘The only war that you can have with Russia is a nuclear war. … You don’t provoke paranoid countries armed with nuclear weapons.’”
The masters-of-the-universe in charge of things in the District of Columbia and Manhattan and elsewhere are certainly not the first ruling class that has believed it could practice rapine and manslaughter without having ever either to pay any recognizable piper or to confront an opponent that will go to the mat. Very similar events happened in 1914, when, without once even wondering about ‘racial’ overtones, all the ‘smart money’ plutocrats publicly insisted, and the ‘leaders’ of unions and socialists also contended, that the carnage of World War One ‘would never happen.’
“The key to preventing war, socialists believed, was to force arbitration through the threat of a general strike. In 1914, their great chance to force arbitration had come, but they had not had time to put their theories into place because events moved with dizzying speed. None of the Brussels delegates ‘suspected that a European war was imminent,’ even though it was just hours away,” and fated to involve all the ‘races-of-man’ in a mad, homicidal melee.
Or perhaps the thought is that ‘containment’ is plausible, not of the forces that empire’s fiendish administrators draw forth in opposition, but of the uproar and outbursts of the nuclear explosions themselves. In such a view, even as imperial fantasies crumble into dust, even as nuclear reactors melt down and spew forth invisible plumes of mass murder, even as people begin to rise in revolution against any further plutocratic plunder, somehow or other the Strangelovian geniuses in command will foreswear the final thrust that delivers the coup d’état to all and sundry all at once. Does that seem like a reasonable scenario for optimism?
One might ponder the multiple contingency plans of the United States in ruminating about an answer to the question. As a socialist organization argued about the early-2000’s ‘build-up’ that took place prior to the present ‘build-up,’ “The new nuclear weapons doctrine was drawn up in a secret Pentagon report delivered to Congress in January, and made public by the Los Angeles Times March 10. Seven countries are on the US hit list, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya, and the US military would be authorized to use nuclear weapons under a wide range of conditions, including whenever conventional weaponry proved inadequate for Washington’s purposes.”
Six of those polities might lead one to invoke a ‘racial’ explanatory nexus. Russia, obviously, unless we bring Hitler and his ‘hatred of Slavs’ back to the forefront, as the seventh, could not serve as a ‘racial’ case. The upshot is that in these matters of calculating life and death, in which the same propositions and theories are in play as in dealings with Mexico or Haiti or inner city conflicts in North America, ‘race’ is at best foolish as a way to account for things, even though people do so, arguing that ‘attacks on Libya/Iran/North Korea/China are racist’ when the same factors induce such actions as induce a skirmish with Russia, or conceivably with New Zealand for that matter. The journalists from the Fourth International break down how the nations—and ‘races—involved have responded to these games of brinkmanship.
“The governments of the states targeted for nuclear annihilation were naturally unwilling to accept US assurances that the Pentagon nuclear plan was merely a continuation of contingency plans drawn up under the Clinton administration. (No US spokesman has sought to explain the contradiction between the claim that the plan contains ‘nothing new’ and the fact that it was devised in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks).
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi stressed that China and the United States had agreed not to target each other with nuclear weapons. ‘Like many other countries, China is deeply shocked with the content of this report,’ he declared. ‘The US side has a responsibility to explain this.’
A leading Russian legislator, Dmitri Rogozin, declared that the US government seemed to have lost touch with reality since September 11. ‘They’ve brought out a big stick—a nuclear stick that is supposed to scare us and put us in our place,’ he told NTV television. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called the reports destabilizing and said that top-level Bush administration officials had an obligation to ‘make things clear and calm the international community, convincing it that the United States does not have such plans.’”
Whatever the case may be, students of human existence far wiser and more knowledgeable than any mere Spindoctor have long warned about these sorts of ‘slippery slopes,’ which can exist as much more than logical fallacies when the necessary prerequisites are, so to say, fully requited. Many of these wiser heads, though they served as ‘race leaders,’ in fact often focus passionately on these matters of geopolitics and imperial imprimatur.
Martin Luther King, who died interestingly enough when his work turned fully against the Vietnam war and in favor of explicit, multihued working class organization in Memphis, warned presciently, in essence, that ‘the bombs that we detonate in Southeast Asia will explode, soon enough, in our own living rooms.’ He had wedded his career to discussions of racial rights, and yet in these conversations, this way of thinking very definitely receded into the background, since the equities in play applied to people of all colors, even if disparate negative impacts continued disproportionately to affect darker-skinned minorities.
Moreover, no less than Nelson Mandela spent much of his energy in his final years fighting to eliminate nuclear war from the human prospect, doing work in which he often made zero mention of race or racism. He presented an impassioned plea at the United Nations on the Autumnal Equinox in 1998 along these lines, begging for the elimination of nuclear annihilation as a political tactic, and tying this entreaty to a general analysis of social justice: “The very right to be human is denied everyday to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty, the unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water and shelter, education, health care and a healthy environment.
The failure to achieve the vision contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finds dramatic expression in the contrast between wealth and poverty which characterises the divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South and within individual countries in all hemispheres.
It is made especially poignant and challenging by the fact that this coexistence of wealth and poverty, the perpetuation of the practice of the resolution of inter and intra-state conflicts by war and the denial of the democratic right of many across the world, all result from the acts of commission and omission particularly by those who occupy positions of leadership in politics, in the economy and in other spheres of human activity.
What I am trying to say is that all these social ills which constitute an offence against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not a pre-ordained result of the forces of nature or the product of a curse of the deities.
They are the consequence of decisions which men and women take or refuse to take, all of whom will not hesitate to pledge their devoted support for the vision conveyed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This Declaration was proclaimed as Universal precisely because the founders of this Organisation and the nations of the world who joined hands to fight the scourge of fascism, including many who still had to achieve their own emancipation, understood this clearly—that our human world was an interdependent whole.” The only race here, as Mandela reminds those who will listen intently, is the human race, which is both our mutual collectivity as a species and our long run toward something akin to human thriving and survival.
Color & Convenience in Selecting Schemes of ‘Divide & Conquer’
Karl Marx famously implored unity among working people. The regular failure of this evident directive notwithstanding, one might reasonably posit that only such an eventuality can result in a historical transformation that makes something other than the decimation or elimination of any human future plausible.
Imbibing argumentation in this manner, one cannot help but wonder if the seemingly random and yet immanent outgrowth of ‘race’ and the legions of other grasping individualistic ‘identities’ are not so much natural as cultivated, not so much inherent as manipulated. After all, if a fundamental unity, at the same time organic and social, binds people and their fates together, as if some optimistic musical production were in fact actual, then the lines from “Solidarity Forever” would prove unstoppable.
“In our hands we hold a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold;
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For our union makes us strong.”
In the Gilbert and Sullivan staging of such a drama, the entrepreneur and the banker and the industrialist and the field-marshal in chorus would shudder and shout, “Heaven forfend!!” They would scurry about, their faces purpled and their hearts aflutter, as they parlayed together to imagine, and then impose, tricks to distance from each other all of their inferiors, in so doing crushing any such prospective union, let alone a real, society-wide class conscious unification.
In this vein, by far the most utilitarian mechanisms for pushing people apart have to include skin-color, language, cultural background, and religious faith. Thus, that an ongoing conflation of all of these factors as racial has been occurring since at least the 1990’s is noteworthy, not to mention profoundly troubling. While essentially innumerable examples of such happenings would be possible in a still-longer investigation, here we might peer at a few cases and know that plentiful additional data is available.
A first sampling examines a recent post in the wide-ranging online periodical, CounterCurrents, which speaks of how divide and conquer schemes in contemporary Gujarat have imposed color separation on Hindu and Muslim students. The predictable outcomes of this policy choice, alienation and tension, are none the less hideous for their plain inevitability.
This story’s articulation details how, following fiscally manipulated and politically enforced ‘concentration’ of Islamic residents, ghettoized Muslim academies are without exception dictating that students wear green uniforms, while Hindu pupils don saffron garb. “What do we do in the face of a situation where the schools are choosing uniforms according to the religion of the children, and how come the percentage of children is overwhelmingly Muslim or Hindu in particular areas? This is due to physical segregation and is contrary to the spirit of communal harmony and the values ingrained in the basics of Indian Constitution, the spirit of Fraternity.
One has to counter the myths, biases and prejudices about the ‘other community’ as these stereotypes form the base of communal violence, which in turn paves the way for segregation and ghettoization which further leads to ‘cultural demarcation’, the way these two schools show. What type of future society(will result), we can envisage with such stereotypes entering into our education system. (At the very least), (t)he physical and emotional divides which are coming up are detrimental to the unity of the nation as a whole.”
The author’s final paragraph harks back to the very year in which Britain’s imperial unraveling consciously surrounded Hindi India with Islamic East and West Pakistan. “The communal violence has brought to (the) fore the religious identity without bring(ing) in the values of tolerance and acceptance for the ‘other’. I remember having watched V.Shantarams’ 1946 classic, Padosi (neighbor), and leaving the theatre with moist eyes, wondering whether Hindus and Muslims can ever live like this again, whether the composite culture which India inherits has any chance of survival in the prevalent divisive political scenario!”
U.S. prisons, meanwhile, the seamier and more violent lock-ups especially, offer up a second set of instances, that in general circumscribe an entire universe in which strictly coded and enforced ‘racial segregation’ has become the default, a clearly illegal outcome in terms of equal protection and other such Constitutional fantasies, but a result that authorities permit ostensibly for the safety and security of both the degraded and dehumanized prisoners themselves, often in a state of semi-permanent lockdown, and for the benefit of the largely White population of prison guards. Recent California legislation to rein in such practices notwithstanding, they remain the cutting edge of current incarceration practice in maximum-security facilities. Not that such practice is illogical, quite the contrary, in settings in which White-supremacy is a dominant ideology among many Anglo workers, nationalist separatism and self-protection holds sway among particularly some Islamic Black cohorts, and clearly racialist, Spanish-speaking gangs have emerged among Hispanic prisoners, such ironclad division appears immutable.
A young scholar from Florida makes a chilling case that such developments are corporate policy, the imprimatur of imperial capital writ large. “The aim of this analysis is to uncover the reasons why crime legislation became progressively more punitive, reaction to African Americans gains in post-Civil Rights more hostile, and the manifold ways in which these phenomena drive the expansion of the prison system and its increasing privatization. In the process of this expansion, a racial caste system which oppresses young African Americans and people of color has become recast and entrenched. Specifically, I offer the notion that in the last three decades, punitive crime legislation focused on African Americans and served to deal with labor needs and racial conflict with harsher penal legislation; in doing so, it depoliticized race, institutionalized racial practices and served the interest of private prison businesses in new and oppressive ways.”
A New York Review of Books parsing of a 2014 monograph, Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust, demonstrates a third, absolutely fascinating dialectic. A clearly brillant author, Gotz Aly, a freelance historian, has composed an array of studies that demonstrate the political-economic, class-based, opportunistic, and anti-communist underpinnings of the Nazi rise in Germany; in this newest work, he assembles a powerful argument about how Jewish success in Germany laid the basis for the ‘racial’ fantasies of Mein Kampf, in so doing uncovering a big part of both why ‘liberal’ Germany succumbed to Nazism and how the Reich maintained rank-and-file loyalty through purges and the second greatest loss of blood and property in the mayhem of World War Two.
Aly in essence therein establishes how insidious and destructive are propaganda and ideology that describe ‘racial theories’ as valid. “Race hatred,” or racism, induces a fascist upsurge when the material basis of economic affairs becomes problematic enough, and struggling against the ‘racial detestation,’ or racism, has little or no impact on the underlying economic and social dynamics actually in play. Jewish identity, Jewish culture, Jewish religion, along with capital’s intensifying crisis, the increasing centrality of anticommunism, and the escalating desperation of small businesses and workers, all conjoin in a battle between ‘racial ideology’ and the battle against it, a loggerheads out of which one version or another of fascism rises up triumphant.
To finish this tiny little piece of this big and difficult, and yet far too small and sketchy, puzzle, one might ponder a question. If people’s coloration and arbitrarily attendant factors divide the human species into races, and accompanying this division elites will always benefit from setting people against each other, how on Earth can attacks on racism ever succeed, given the supposedly—no matter how idiotic or fatuous they actually are—irreducible facts of racial separation and difference?
How much worse a recognition is—about which a substantially expanded set of data is forthcoming—that not one iota of biological knowledge supports what one critical volume called The “Racial” Economy of Science that predominates at just this historical stage. This collection of essays has a brief subtitle that hints at what is at stake in straightening out this elevation of superficiality and fatuous nonsense: Toward a Democratic Future.
Suppressing Class & History As Guarantees of False Consciousness
In the event, then, as will appear in the next, and the next-after-the-next, components of this effort at reportage, the very idea of race is an utterly discredited and socially reactionary theory. Thus, its close cousin racism cannot under any circumstances exist except as an at once malicious and stupid belief. And most importantly, the hue-and-cry to eliminate this item-that-has-zero-real-substance can only boomerang and slay the very hopes and dreams of comity and congruence that those who attack it say that they hope to achieve.
What can replace this discreditable, and often discredited, contextualization are rubrics that use historical, political-economic, artistic and narrative, social-scientific, and scientific foundations to scrutinize the ways that people relate, for both good and ill. Plenty of such case-studies and feature productions do abound among the scholarship and reporting and outpouring of texts and performances around the globe. That precious few of them seek to synthesize these various methodologies lays the basis for the Spindoctor’s oh-so-humble endeavor at just such an amalgamation.
In particular, in this vein, social class analyses must inform studies that rely on color and other qualities that divide the majority of the planet’s populace, plus-or-minus ninety percent of whom are workers, with little or no access to capital that would permit their survival without wages. This interweaving of class and color and so forth is essential, in any case, if anything other than recrimination, destitution, and devastation are the hoped-for products of scholarship and journalism and other annals of the human prospect. In unity lies strength.
As things are transpiring in the realm of the real, despite the absolute and horrifying truth of the injustices that are here in view, people at the grassroots are everywhere on this orb of green and blue recognizing that their differences in hue do not prohibit, as their due, the most intimate and powerful connections among each other. After all, millions of colorful women have mated with millions of paler men, and vice versa: the Spindoctor’s love-and-life partnership, as well as his sister’s and brother-in-law’s and his brother-in-law’s and sister-in-law’s, are merely personal experiences of this undeniable truth.
The personal decidedly shines with political shades. As other pieces of today’s article will develop, this conjunction of black and white and brown and yellow and red, not to mention men and women and people of all faiths and nations and cultures, extends well beyond individual or emotional relationships. It encompasses the best collective chances that humanity has to flower and prosper. Not surprisingly, also as readers will learn, discursive expression that focuses on race and racism subverts or even destroys such potentiation of human progress as are nevertheless coming into bloom in workplaces and communities, in associations and political parties, and in plenty of other ways as well.
This unfolding posting has sought to develop in this subsection of this report an accurate reflection of one aspect of how people are relating to each other in the present pass, including violent or lethal relations between citizens and ‘authorities.’ In particular, of course, interactions and outcomes among people whose skin colors differ are on display.
That such relationships in multiple historical contexts repeatedly constituted monstrous crimes against humanity, blights on the possibility of humankind’s integrity—realities that today’s text will soon copiously detail without once using the term ‘race’ or its derivative, racism, in any explanatory or analytical fashion—is not particularly radical. After all, none other than Thomas Jefferson—stout bourgeois farmer optimist that he was— could intone, “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other.”
The here-and-now listings in the current chapter show that a substantial and yet largely unremarked correlation exists between on the one hand the likelihood of vicious treatment, ill-health, or death, predation and monstrosity to which the Nation’s third President bore substantial witness two centuries back, and the tendency of today’s victims to share ancestry with the slaves whose plight Jefferson long ago detailed. Moreover, equally pernicious molestation has attended the evolution of culture and community of other oppressed people of color, so that today’s manifestations, from Africa to Asia to indigenous communities in the Americas and the multiple, intersecting Diasporas of both these peoples and the offspring of enslavement everywhere on Earth, also reveal inequities and morbidity and hurt that color just about everything in modern existence.
That such linkages are patently obvious does not make their plausibly—many would say indubitably—causal impact clear, unless one points them out. Hence, just such a purpose underlies this somewhat long and yet all-the more inadequate abbreviation of what these issues really are when one ponders them in a fully contextual fashion, one which employs history, political economy, and the evolution of social relations through time.
In any event, the profferal that this briefing conveys must be pertinent, at least as relevant as blaming the entire noisome butchery of inequality on something that generally no one defines, that doesn’t hold water as a scientific concept, that is at once a mere label and a blockade to actual analysis. Such a perspective is at an absolute minimum worth considering, immediately and thoroughly.
On only a few occasions have presentations from ‘established’ communications outlets presented this sort of nuance and some of the data that can assist an observer in attaining something akin to comprehension. As venerable a journalistic venture as the Guardian, in reporting the execrable failure of the U.S. Government to aggregate statistics of officer homicides, does manage to conclude that something like 900 to a 1,000 citizens probably die at the hands of militarized gendarmes every year in the U.S., for example. Herein, we have seen such regular occurrences of vicious inequity as both general portrait and partial inventory.
This could easily continue, until the current total volume of textualization about life—all the manuscripts of every sort everywhere on Earth—had doubled or tripled or more. Rather than seek to recount even a few additional horrors, however, though doing so would be exceedingly easy and arguably useful in some senses, such as reality orientation if nothing else, the Spindoctor choice at this juncture will be to advance this report’s overall argument once again, which materializes now and again in today’s overall work.
An inculcatedbigotry, ignorantchauvinism, an at times ad hoc and at other points highly honedideology of White supremacy, a likely both biological and socially-promulgatedclannishness and ethnocentrism: these are among the explanatory mechanisms that can account for the present pass and its historical underpinnings. This essay does not define these terms, but it could easily do so and does provide portals that direct readers, if they like, toward awareness that flows from a foundation of agreement about what in hell we’re talking about when we argue and advocate about these deadly encounters and deleterious rubrics that define most of the planet, and U.S. society with special force.
The ultimate point of this aggregation of ideas and facts and positions is that no equivalent definition of race is possible that has any meaning other than bullshit. Why a default manifestation of dispute about absolutely crucial mosaics of social conflict would devolve to horse manure might well be no more difficult to apprehend than is the underlying rationale for the bigotry, chauvinism, White supremacist ideology, and clannishness or ethnocentrism delineated just above.
These reasons concern power. They circumscribe class rule. They proffer the underpinnings of hegemony, which are always replete in division, from which conquest will ever flow.
If, therefore, a citizen’s aim is grassroots empowerment, at least an attenuation of ruling class predation, a reduction in plutocratic hegemony, and struggling to find an answer that avoids yet another pathetic holocaust that must inevitably stem from divided-and-conquered underlings, then one at least ought to consider approaching these matters without ever again accepting or even acknowledging that the issues at hand might center on ‘race’ or ‘racism.’ After all, the minority of victims in these thousand extrajudicial executions each year are White, and if nothing else their presence among the casualties does not emanate from their ‘race’ or hue, though it absolutely associates with working for wages and not being wealthy, just as is the case with nearly the sum total of their erstwhile ‘racial’ counterparts.
Perhaps a brilliant epigram from Arundhati Roy, a multihued writer of color, gives form and thrust to what the Spindoctor has been developing here. “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
The most recent Nobelist of color guides those willing to follow to the most crucial reason for abandoning ‘race’ as an organizing principle, for rejecting ‘racism’ as the causal agent of oppression and exploitation and vicious inequity: no matter one’s ‘good intentions,’ insisting on racial categories lets the real factors that cause our woes escape notice; insisting on racial categories gives elites the chance to ‘toss a bone’ to the crushed masses that does nothing to change fundamental problems; insisting on racial categories, in a busy and crowded world, will always cause opportunity costs since one can only do so much, meaning that the real causative elements receive short shrift or no attention at all.
Having such a litany of viciousness, with an apostrophe of hope and power, as what shows up above appear before one’s eyes, one must conclude that murderous oppression has in fact come down to the present day in a way both systematic and incontrovertible, both horrifying and necessary to witness, so that thereby we become capable of recontextualization so as to forge new potency and potential. With very few exceptions, though, almost all widely publicized chronicles and widely read chroniclers of the present incarnations of these patterns now call the cause of such expressions of mass murder racism.
The estimable Nobelist, Ms. Roy, certainly implicates a different set of inducements, at once more imperial and more ‘self-interested.’ Along similar lines, before we ponder further the Spindoctor point-of-view on these slippery concerns, an examination of how humans have considered each other, in both the distant and recent past, ought to help a thoughtful assessment of these matters to transpire.
The absolutely fundamental point, to start, is that the utilization of ‘race’ as a common term or key concept is actually a quite recent phenomenon. An excellent proof of that point emerges from the ever-magnificent—if also flawed and culturally very much of its day—eleventh edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. The entry under the heading “Race” essentially is so paltry as to be nonexistent.
The text consists of a fourteen line dictionary portal in Volume 22. Almost two thirds of this speaks to running or other competitive activities; five of those lines deal with this: “a tribe, breed, a group of individuals descended from a common ancestor.” Published in 1916, this material therefore indicates that common employment of race as a term of art is less than a century old. It also means that only one human race existed, by its own definition.
Whereas contemporary usage seems so obsessive that ‘racial’ appearances are almost constant, its use a hundred or more years back was very much in passing. The thinker about these things might look elsewhere in this venerable Anglo-American reference source to get a sense of what discussion then deployed instead of race.
Ethnicity and related terminology, Slaves & Slavery, and Negro state a few of these headings. They are full of misinformation and bigotry, as well as insight and a grappling with empirical reality. The point for us to consider here is that they did not make a case, in any general or overall fashion at all, for race, the ubiquitous insertion of which so characterizes the current pass.
Myths & Legends of Kith & Kin, & What Humankind Means
Perhaps no easier gateway to these stories exists than the Biblical accounts—and their interpretations—of the ‘sons of Ham.’ An inaugural note about this is that the interpretative nexus that assigns gospel denigration to noir, or “el negro,” comes from the last couple of centuries. Both upper-crust antebellum apologists and Mormons have made this canonical appeal as a justification of oppression.
“Brigham Young is quoted as stating, ‘In as much as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordenances of God, in the Preisthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in Slavery- The seed of Canaan will inevitably carry the curse [of servitude] which was placed upon them, until the same authority which placed it there, shall see proper to have it removed.’
A hundred years later, when segregation was an issue of national debate, some Mormons matched conservative Southern Christians in justifying American segregation with biblical authority. A prominent example is McConkie’s 1958 Mormon Doctrine, published during the aftermath of nationally prominent desegregation attempts in Little Rock, Arkansas. In its entry on ‘Caste Systems,’ the book expressly approved of ethnic segregation and ‘caste systems’ as originating in the gospel.”
Unlike the so-called ‘liberals’ and post-modern theoreticians who have mired public discourse in the indefinable and false concept of ‘racial difference’ and racism, at least Mr. McConkie calls what is going on by an accurate and useful name: Caste Systems. The commentary on this matter provides an eye-opening, arguably ironclad exegesis of this particular story—i.e., that its origins dealt with incest and had plus-or-minus zero to do with skin color.
If one strays widely from canonical mythology, one discovers still further reasons at every turn to doubt that the cultural divisions that people have inherited and selected, in order to identify themselves, revolve around or even have much of a connection to color. An example emerges from two geographically adjacent clans, which view themselves as utterly discrete ethnicities, in Uganda, though one might look at any populated part of the ancient world to find similar occurrences of distinction and division in which hue matters not a whit.
In these tales, two brothers come from high in the mountains to be the first people. One was a farmer, the other a hunter: Cain and Abel, in other words, originated in Africa. The farmer meets a woman, a daughter of gods, who finds him comely. In order to marry into the line, however, he must submit to circumcision, which defines his manhood; the chance for her brother to come to Earth and, chaotic roustabout that he is, introduce death, leads to their children’s demise.
Both adjacent Ugandan clans agree on many of these particulars. Their languages are very similar. They appear almost interchangeable, not only to outsiders, but to each other. Yet they identify as different breeds, different sets, more or less different races.
While such thinking might be adaptive under conditions of struggle and scarcity and frequent geographic dislocation or isolation, in the context of seven billion or so cousins who have for centuries intermingled in every way imaginable, from the spiritual to the carnal, to hold such views is fatuous, likely insane, and, to say the least extremely dangerous to the health of human viability.
A Japanese origin myth describes a mythical mother and father whose prayers for any sort of child, even the smallest, bore fruit as “Little One-Inch.” This diminutive fellow, great of heart, saved a fair damsel at great risk to himself, for which those overseeing the cosmos gave him a fully formed manhood, whereupon the maiden took him home and won the chance to wed.
Though little doubt is possible that the characterization of Japanese society as insular is accurate, this tale tells of an opening for acceding to physical difference. What could more obviously set apart two different human breeds than a sixty-to-seventy times size differential? In such old, old tales lie a conception of humanity at once more generous and more inclusive than much of what now passes for humanism.
In Italy, a feminist and socially democratic community of colors highlights the likelihood that Mediterranean creation stories infiltrated Northward from Africa. In fact, a scholar among the cohort believes that “out of Africa” has emanated a “Dark Mother” of us all.
“Work of other cultural theorists—…Antonio Gramsci on the significance of folklore as transmitter of values, notably the “buon senso” of all peoples, and Noam Chomsky who considers our genetic endowment to be ‘a memory of our earliest existence’—has encouraged me to formulate a working hypothesis: The memory of the prehistoric dark mother, and her values—justice with compassion, equality, and transformation — appear to remain vibrant in subordinated cultures, and in the submerged memories, perhaps, of everyone.
This working hypothesis is explored in my forthcoming Godmothers~ African Origins la dea madre …wherein, as a historian, I place the themes in a narrative, beginning with signs of the dark mother—red ochre paint in caves of south Africa 900,000 B.C.E., the pervasive pubic V in the rock art of central and south Africa 50,000 B.C.E. when africans migrated to all continents, the similarity of prehistoric rock art everywhere, and the common theme of creation stories of peoples of all five continents.”
The Spindoctor could brief his readers about mythos from Korea and Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, throughout the Americas, in the Greek and Roman worlds, and everywhere else on Earth, all of which contains common themes and characters and action and plotlines. As Capitalism on Drugs also affirmed, human yarns inherently share common components. We are all cousins, truly and ineluctably.
Thus, even so apparently ‘dark’ a people as the citizens of Malaysia, or so ‘light’ a folk as the Swedes or the English, as in any nation now, represent an impossible to separate mix of ethnicities, languages, religions, cultural traditions, and so forth. “The laws of genetics” and the dynamics of culture dictate blending over time to such an extent that after plus-or-minus ten generations—only a few centuries—intermingling and extension eliminate possibilities of ‘pure’ strains, with concentrated attributes.
To circumscribe such an intricate mélange on the basis of skin or tongue or faith or any one or even small number of these contingencies means that the description simply does not come close to matching reality: on the other hand, if one extends the depiction much further, then it creates a web or net that gathers up vastly greater numbers than the ‘race’ in question, quite likely in fact most or all of humanity. Socially, intellectually, one can make a choice to speak of race, of ‘breeds’ of human, of ‘strains’ of blood, but why in the world—other than clannishness and a fierce insistence on one’s superiority to overcome feelings of inferiority—would one do that?
An incisive essay on “Foundation Myths” from The Encyclopedia of Nationalism does much more than provide both recent and ancient views of Volk or Nation or Race, which do portray stories that dovetail with or even explicitly exhibit clannish and racial ideation at the foundation, as it were, of some mythic elements of our species. It also specifies the material, and in “political communities,” sociopolitical, features of such thinking, which when visible in the clear light of reason at a minimum serve up choices about continued utilization or adherence.
“Where we choose our point of beginning can say much about who we see ourselves as and who we exclude from such a sense of community. By establishing boundaries over the flux of time and space, meaning becomes possible and political allegiances and roles are defined and validated. Equally, however, other potentialities and identities become marginalized or invalidated.”
A two volume set, Creation Myths of the World, reiterates some of these points and presents innumerable examples of such cultural initiation on the largest stage possible. The volume notes the dialectic of creation and destruction, of advance and decline, that multiple mythic mantras embrace.
“Many cultures see creation as a process involving several stages or historical ages. Often the stages relate to the development of humankind. The Greek creation story told by Hessiod in his Theogeny begins with the creation of the universe by Gaia and Ouranos (Earth and Sky). But this first couple is overpowered by the Titan Kronos.” Not only in Aryan mythic traditions, where successive periods of violation and violence replace one set of deities with another, even as the goddess succumbed to Olympus, but also in the Americas and in East Asia, other tales related similar horrific exigencies that finally had born humanity into the world.
The purpose of this preface—literally, before the face or the surface of reality or presentation—is anything but completeness. It seeks only to show that the complexities and inconsistencies and the fierce debates about the mythos of complexion and ‘blood,’ both in the past and over time, contain massive amounts of information that at once elucidates and damns those who would claim that ‘race’ is the primary, or even a useful or otherwise real, category for analysis and understanding of how people see themselves in relation to ‘others.’
Jefferson pointed out what Greece’s legendary bard wrote in this regard. “That a change in the relations in which a man is placed should change his ideas of moral right or wrong, is neither new, nor peculiar to the color of the blacks. Homer tells us it was so two thousand six hundred years ago.
‘Jove fix’d it certain, that whatever day
Makes a man a slave, takes half his worth away.’”
Closer to our own time, a Russian scholar’s thesis has elected to explore the intersection of mythology, religion, and origin stories of indigenous North Americans, on the one hand, and the work of contemporary Native American fiction writers, on the other hand. In so doing, she has delineated significant and relevant information that she conveys to readers about the ‘Indian’ mythos. For the most part throughout the continent North of the Aztecs, a more or less universal set of principles and promises were present, which were at least in practice often inclusive of the human condition generally.
She quotes “three generalizations” from an authority on the subject:
1. First, at the time of European contact, all but the simplest indigenous cultures in North America had developed coherent religious systems that included cosmologies – creation myths, transmitted orally from one generation to the next, which purported to explain how those societies had come into being.
2. Second, most native peoples worshiped an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator or ‘Master Spirit’ (a being that assumed a variety of forms and both genders). They also venerated or placated a host of lesser supernatural entities, including an evil god who dealt out disaster, suffering, and death.
3. Third and finally, the members of most tribes believed in the immortality of the human soul and an afterlife, the main feature of which was the abundance of every good thing that made earthly life secure and pleasant.
This rubric is certainly congruent with many aspects of Christianity, as the author emphasizes.
She also makes transparent the near-extinction of indigenous communities that happened as a result of consciously adopted English and American policies, which illuminates why considering these mythic elements in relation to material reality is mandatory. The deleterious impacts of this migratory arrival was obviously vastly worse than the worst fantasy of “illegal immigrants” that reactionary U.S. citizens now promote, in which in particular they often target young people and children.
This Russian scholarly paper also examines the focus on young people that characterized U.S. actions, a routinely unsuccessrul attempt to root out any attachment to or knowledge of their own traditions and mythology. Completely in line with Forrest Carter’s devastating portrait from The Education of Little Tree, Native American Mythology in Modern American Literature states, “During the middle decades of the 20th century, whole generations of children were kidnapped, forcibly confined in residential schools, and abused physically, sexually, and emotionally.”
Perhaps an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, about the children whose lives are the only way that we have of furthering humanity’s race, can move us along. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself,” a cavalcade of cousins seeking to shape a context for continued creation.
Early ‘Scientific’ or Other Authoritative Scholarship About These Bloody Affairs
In essence, then, every human group that has enough staying power to constitute a clan manages to visualize itself in relation to all of nature. These creation tales do not demand, nor do they prohibit ‘racial’ thinking. They definitely arise from the material world and are an adaptive response to such issues as the need for loyalty, the inculcation of the young in the ways of survival, and dealing with matters of propagation of the group and the death of its members. Arguably, human communities cannot subsist without such social technology, as it were.
And again, race just didn’t manifest itself as a categorical element of this process. However, beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more or less fully articulated theories of European superiority, as well as an intellectual solidification of the purported ‘missionary impulse’ with which Spain and the rest of Europe justified its depredation, began to appear. Such literary maestros as Lord Tennyson were avid readers of such texts.
No doubt, one can distance oneself from the silly and even bizarre theories that typified many of these ideas about the origins of human difference and the inherent advantage that ‘Whites’ brought to the competitive table, as it were. Nevertheless, in florid and brutal detail, such theories guided those who colonized the world from Europe, and their echoes have kept resonating in America’s Manifest Destiny and so forth.
Here we have Herbert Spencer. “The forces which are working out the great scheme of perfect happiness, taking no account of incidental suffering, exterminate such sections of mankind as stand in their way, with the same sternness that they exterminate beasts of prey and herds of useless ruminants.”
In any case, the Spindoctor has written more than a mere line or two about these matters here on Contributoria in two of his previous installments. Those pages advanced and defended several contentions that apply to what we are seeking to attain in the present essay.
Capitalism on Drugs provided at least a modicum of detail about aspects of myth and human society. And the episode about Victor Jara showed multiple facets of U.S. imperial arrogance and the historical, political-economic, and social underpinnings of such high-and-mighty supremacist exceptionalism.
Other of the Spindoctor’s writings have investigated these issues as well. He has explored the tangles of science and technology and societymore than once. These efforts have demonstrated what is a now well-established fact about ‘scientific’ thinking—that it has little more protection or guaranteed insulation from selfish interest, hypocrisy, or presumption than does the ideation of the merest yokel.
An STS “approach suggests that neither knowledge nor machines emanate from ‘objective’ or neutral labors of unbiased ubermensch, any more than the castles and guilds of feudalism emanated from God’s commands. Instead, everything that is results from complex webs of relations that inherently blend social, political, and economic factors in a dynamic interplay of human conflict and cooperation that yields the present from the past, just as the only route to the future is through the now.”
Though it primarily evinces the best practices and received wisdom of current scholarship, in the already cited entry on “Foundation Myths,” The Encyclopedia of Nationalism also reviews much that is helpful to readers who want to see the evolution of such thinking over time. So as both to validate the folk and to invalidate the foreign, mythic iterations may attach to proto-scientific and otherwise rationalized theories that account for and justify victory and desserts.
“Since nationalism is based on the theory that the world is naturally made of nations with territorial domains, one of the functions of much nineteenth-century historiography was to establish through foundation myths and origin myths charter rights of peoples to territories. Another was to explain favoured political and cultural trends in terms of ancient and accepted practices. …link(ing) imagined cultural, religious, and even biological attributes to territory.”
Perhaps no metaphorical network of this sort has more power in the present moment than does evolution. Not surprisingly, therefore, social-Darwinist ideology has provided the most powerful impetus for a racialist conception of science and knowledge. While this thinking became prevalent if not predominant in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, its critics have, arguably won the field.
Unlike social Darwinists, these rebuttals “contend that the continued racial classification of Homo sapiens represents an outmoded approach to the general problem of differentiation within a species.” For Steven Jay Gould, for instance, “(i)n other words, I reject a racial classification of humans for the same reasons that I prefer not to divide into subspecies the prodigiously variable West Indian land snails that form the subject of my own research.”
Malthus’ provocative work also contained fodder perfectly formulated to excite the reactionary mind. Overpopulation, massive die offs, and the general gloom of human existence as human productive capacity advanced, these and other elements of the historian-political economist’s work lent themselves very easily to chauvinistic views. Of course, those who take such a route overlook the utterly obvious conflicts of interest in his own intellectual path, such as his longstanding dependency of the support and patronage of the East India Company.
The reaction among workers to Malthus, and his coterie of emulators in England and elsewhere, were uniformly hostile. “Other working class papers consistently opposed Martineau(a Malthusian enthusiast). The Working Man’s Friend and Political Magazine, another unstamped weekly, published a letter in 1832 containing a fictitious exchange between John Bull, a poor laborer, and a Whig: ‘I don’t believe you,’ said poor Johnny—‘you only wish to put me in a workhouse.’ ‘Read Malthus and Martineau,’ said the Whig—‘the fewer labourers, the more wealth.’ ‘Aye, the more wealth for the idlers because the less worry,’ said poor John Bull. ‘But I am a working man.’”
Not only did grassroots opposition to such supposedly science-based ideologies emerge, but also the application of such thinkers’ labors to the justification of racial theories frequently profoundly distorted the conceptual and empirical content of those efforts at understanding. More to the point of the reification of racial ideology, both before and after the labors of Malthus and Darwin had transpired, innumerable apologists for European, White hegemony laid out their premises and conjectures to justify predation and predict continued predominance. These chauvinists used science, but only opportunistically and duplicitously; their thinking proceeded apace with or without such backing.
As well, the popularization of these theories flew in the face of what, at least once in a while, Darwin said about these mattes even as, for his part, neither Malthus nor his ideas were easy to contextualize as friendly to social democracy. The author of The Descent of Man never showed a freewheeling acceptance of social equality, but he repeatedly acknowledged that the evidence disallowed racial conclusions. His work thereby destroyed the basis for a category of ‘race’ in any science of human affairs.
“In all parts of Europe, as far east as Greece, in Palestine, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Africa, including Egypt, flint tools have been discovered in abundance; and of their use the existing inhabitants retain no tradition. There is also indirect evidence of their former use by the Chinese and ancient Jews. Hence there can hardly be a doubt that the inhabitants of these countries, which include nearly the whole civilised world, were once in a barbarous condition. To believe that man was aboriginally civilised and then suffered utter degradation in so many regions, is to take a pitiably low view of human nature. It is apparently a truer and more cheerful view that progress has been much more general than retrogression; that man has risen, though by slow and interrupted steps, from a lowly condition to the highest standard as yet attained by him in knowledge, morals and religion.”
Nonetheless, the typical or standard ‘official’ view leaned toward bigotry for the generations that lived during the charnel final decades of chattel bondage, as well as during the final quarter century or so that followed slavery’s crashing and burning and dying as the peculiar institution that had laid the basis for so much ‘magnificent’ capital accumulation. A return to Britannica makes this summary position patently undeniable in one case, and complicated but at least in part accurate in another case.
In the entry for “Negro,” the exceptionally nauseating arguments balance how self-contradictory and lacking in even the most rudimentary standards of evidence these ‘expert’ authors are. In any case, they go on for tens of thousands of words with their pontifications and distortions and half-truths and simple, foolhardy errors.
“Mentally, the negro is inferior to the white. The remark of F. Manetta, made after a long study of the negro in America, may be taken as generally true of the whole race: ‘the negro children were sharp, intelligent, and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change set in. The intellect seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence. We must necessarily suppose that the development of the negro and the white proceed on different lines. While with the latter the volume of the brain grows with the expansion of the brainpan, in the former the growth of the brain is on the contrary arrested by the premature closing of the cranial sutures and the lateral pressure of the frontal bone. …no doubt largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro’s life and thoughts.”
Do what? Never mind fabricated evidence, predisposition to nonsense, complete addiction to non-sequitur, a total unwillingness to accede to refuting data, and projection of insecurity wholly unrelated to the issue at hand, this entire entry stinks of the darkest fantasies and most hideous idiocy. But it is the authoritative view, imposing racial categories even as the foundations of science—not to mention Britannica itself, reject such conceptual frameworks.
To ameliorate this excrescence but also see ongoing difficulties with the tenor of the times, one could turn to the long and generally informative article on “Ethnology and Ethnography.” It completely overturns the later piece that just manufactures its facts and tortures its analysis on Negroid life and biology, yet it also bows and scrapes to White supremacist and otherwise chauvinistic views. In any event, at its base, it discards a racial view as both false and untenable.
“The only fundamental problem which need here be referred to is that of the whole question of the division of mankind into different races at all, which is consequential on the earlier problem(dealt with in the article ANTHROPOLOGY) as to man’s origin and antiquity.
If we assume that man existed on the earth in remote geological time, the question arises, was this Pleistocene man specifically one? What evidence is there that he represented in his different habitats a series of varieties of one species rather than a series of species? The evidence is of three kinds, (1)anatomical, (2)physiological, and (3)cultural and psychical.”
Vast numbers of other works from this time—travelogues, journalism, erstwhile authoritative scholarship, political theory, and more—followed a supremacist line more in keeping with the execrable former assessment, though they did not yet universally justify the effort on the basis of race. That sort of linkage was coming however, as we will soon see, both among those who advanced, and those who decried, these points of view and the results that they both elicited and annotated.
At this point in our passage, primarily, we will simply assert that this congruence of denigration and hegemony was no accident. The workers and their media recognized this at the time, as noted above, so perhaps we ought to notice too. Given time and inclination, of course, Spindoctor argumentation could prove the point beyond any dark shadow of doubt.
Historical & Social & Popular Annals from Slavery’s Foundation to Its End & Beyond
Whatever the diverse theories and analyses that have come from biology or anthropology or otherwise, a useful comparison is possible with how historians, journalists, and other commentators once presented these eventualities. Inevitably, again, only the briefest glimpse is possible in these matters, though in the fullness of time a deeper delving could be possible to achieve.
That paradox and dark contradiction rule in this realm would prove impossible to deny. Many a dissertation, beaucoup popular histories, would be possible to compose at this intersection of consciousness and production about color and social relationships: bigotry meets social equality; righteous selflessness sits down with hypocritical grasping greed; black and white as allusions to insoluble separation dance as Blacks and Whites who push each other away and pull each other closer.
One might begin such a contextualization by examining two writers’ brief lives. Stephen Crane, without once mentioning ‘race’ as a pseudoscientific or social construct—except in relation to a squirrel that skedaddled—without a single note about slavery—except in relation to the soldiers who were slaves of slaughter—and with only one note about a negro character, part of the Union army, created Red Badge of Courage, a lasting testimony to the sacrifice and sacrilege of war’s political import and mass murder.
Crane clearly understood the context of the fight. “The North had a larger population—22 million compared to the South’s 9 million, of which 4 million were slaves who were not eager to support the Southern cause. Some of these slaves fled to the North to claim their freedom and fight for the Union. The North was able to enlist 2 million soldiers, including almost 200,000 African Americans, while the South gathered only 900,000 soldiers.” And such factors were all about the book, though the story was not about them.
He is a child of the working class, at least inasmuch as he had no capital or trust fund to back up his pen. He constantly worried about debt and income. He contracted tuberculosis and died in its throes, aged twenty-eight years. His work never suffered from any sort of committed White supremacist stance. Nor were his political sensibilities much engaged in his work, however.
Jack London, at once a committed socialist and a seemingly irremediable bigot, appears, at first glance, very much ‘on the other hand.’ He too is a working class boy who rises through literary practice and physical drudgery to become one o the world’s most popular writers of the early twentieth century.
He lives in a world surrounded by inculcated prejudice. He at one and the same time tells stories that reinforce chauvinism and composes paeans to color and working class solidarity. He drinks far too much and suffers both bodily and spiritual sickness that leads him to use morphine as a palliative. Only forty in the Autumn of 1916, he dies from uremia and too much opiate, possibly a suicide.
The received wisdom is that ‘racism,’ though culturally transmitted, infected London and deflected him from perfecting his revolutionary work. Recent scholarship, such as Rereading Jack London, a collaborative monograph of Leonard Cassuto and Jeanne Reesman, has developed a more nuanced view. By examining both London’s journalism—his reportage on Black boxer Jack Johnson revels in the African American heavyweight’s intelligence and wit—and his fiction—in which multiple tales celebrate the soul and smarts of Asian and African ‘stock,’ as well as his personal correspondence, Cassuto and Reesman make a compelling case that London was in fact grappling with just the issues of racial nonsense and class conflict that the Spindoctor notes.
Near the end of his life, he resigned from the Socialist Party because he was basically looking for greater revolutionary fervor. He wrote a missive to convey his choice. He truly embodies the transition to an era of racial thinking, which immutably destroys the project of class solidarity that defined London, heart and soul.
“In this letter, in perhaps his final words on the race issue, questions of power and courage are inextricably linked to those of race and class: ‘If races and classes cannot rise up and, by their own strength of brain and brawn, wrest from the world liberty and freedom and independence, they never in time can come to these royal possessions.”
American literature more generally, in at least some instrumental ways, originates in tales of slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for those who have read it once, is a fitting example, a narrative that draws a reader back repeatedly. Not only was this the best-selling volume of the nineteenth century in North America, but it also palpated themes of liberation and struggle that came to pass in the blood and fire of Civil War.
Mark Twain’s works were others that often both reflected the diminution of African American humanity that was inescapable either under slavery or the Jim Crow repression that followed, on the one hand, and depicted the monumental strength and intelligence and decency that Black characters had in their confrontations with hateful and harmful prejudice, the wastage and evisceration of their humanity and potential.
Or one could look at both the work and attitudes of an itinerant bard such as Walt Whitman, the quintessential American individualist. His poems and letters too contained both an overall commitment to ethnic compatibility, even love, and plenty of instances of personal prejudice and violent racialized rejection.
Most central to this nineteenth century contextualization of these brutal eventualities, at least arguably, were the works of escaped slaves and free Black thinkers and writers and activists. In particular, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs deserve pride of place in any such litany of actualization of action against a murderous and very strange way of organizing human affairs.
Douglass’ efforts, his various incarnations of his autobiography and his activism and coalition building, for example, may well have amounted to a greater impulsion to the overthrow of slavery than many other elements of the drive to Civil War put together. His signature, “Life is struggle,” defined his existence and altered the course of history.
Not nearly so well known now, Jacobs horrified Northern Whites in the last antebellum years. Her recounting of the routine rapes and plotted plunders of Southern life so graphically branded the minds of millions of readers and citizens that she too must equal any number of other basic components of the irresistible forces to eliminate at least the formal acceptance of human bondage in the land of the free and the home of the brave. As in the case of Douglass, one could go on, essentially forever, and not run out of ammunition that these two—and others purveyed to abolitionists and others who demanded change.
Nor would we necessarily stop with depictions from the intellectual arena. Slave rebellions and plots, and rumors of such, not to mention the acts and ideas of the likes of those that Douglass and others inspired—such as John Brown—played huge roles in bringing an end to the Confederacy even before it took completely tangible form. Among all of these actors on their own behalf—Whites like Brown absolutely believed that they fought for their own and their progeny’s lives—none made appeals to ending racism. As the Spindoctor pointed out near the beginning, the key issues centered on power and engagement, not on color or ‘race.’
Furthermore, in this vein of ‘self-help,’ slave tales themselves also appeared on the nineteenth century cultural stage. Whites appropriated and sold them. Blacks performed their stories for each other as a form of resistance. These yarns and folktales and poems and skits form a rich loam of American literature that has continued to fertilize narrative and production to this day.
Even Edgar Allen Poe’s genius, steeped in rum and opium and chattel relations, was inextricable in its connection to slavery and resistance, White supremacy and Black persistence. Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race, is a collection that documents this. Erotic, quixotic, dark, and twisted, the connection of White folk and dark folk in some ways permeated his work, especially his poetry.
John Henry more explicitly exemplified multiple elements that characterize folk tales and songs and poetry and literary stories all at once, White and Black, with no mention of race or racism, just a lionization of strength and heart. “There are almost two hundred recorded versions of the ballad of John Henry. It was among the first of the songs that came to be called ‘the Blues’ and was one of the first recorded ‘country’ songs. Folklorists at the Library of Congress call it the most researched folk song in the United States, and perhaps the world.
Particularly among African American men and women, John Henry has remained an icon. …In the schoolrooms of working-class Cleveland and rural West Virginia, teachers recite his exploits to inspire Black boys and girls to think about their own history. For more than a century, most historians and folklorists have assumed that John Henry was just a legend, a story designed to inspire pride, an invention. When I began my research, I too started looking for a legend, but in the end I found a real man.”
Indisputably, no doubt about it, ethnocentric, bigoted, even vicious cultural production was also present, simpleminded and onesided. In many ways, these kinds of storylines may very well have added up to a substantial majority. None of them, however, sold the millions of copies that Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglas sold. None of them, moreover, despite plenty of violent, even fascist, White supremacist chauvinists who linger on—not to mention the imprimatur of vast numbers of faux-scientific justifications—appear above the horizon that past literature and music and so forth must rise from in order for readers and listeners today to name and notice these prejudiced contextualizations.
As a matter of scholarship, or predilection, of course, one can find such items. They exist in archives. But the routine paucity of their presence among us is not primarily a matter of their falsity, though they were false, but of how superficial and paltry and boring they were, compared to what Huck Finn and Jim, what Cassie and George Harris and George Shelby and Simon Legree represented, the conflicts that the latter sets of characters sought to negotiate the networks of wonder and woe, of insight and doubt that they confronted or elicited and that in turn were part and parcel of the complexities and difficulties of actual existence at that time. More to the point of what literature serves in society, these remembered and still-loved volumes serve us too, as we face the ‘complexities and difficulties of actual life.’
In this lengthy and yet all-too-brief presentation, a bystander might theorize the existence of a dialectic. The original narrative threads of Homo Sapiens, far and wide, share much in common, to such an extent that almost certainly contact and biology have played a role in different kin groups’ having manifested remarkably similar tales of their emerging into the world.
Yet, with the coming of a new rubric of both production and dominance, and its accompanying mastery of the empirical and the initiation of the scientific epoch, ruling elite priorities conveniently melded with growing political domination to permit clearly false, and merely scientistic, biological conceptualizations, which established a pseudo-authoritative foundation to explain and justify socioeconomic and political supremacy. From these roots sprang the initial tendrils of racialist worldviews, perspectives that contradicted and yet in twisted-sister retelling somehow also harmonized with the thousands-of-years-old and still unfolding folk ethos of myth and legend and fairy tale.
A similar push and pull existed between these early experts’ holding forth on where and how noticeably different human ranked in comparisons with each other and the outpouring of literature and other cultural output that so often and so tangibly spoke to mutuality and even equality. This interaction of what we might proffer as technos and what is certainly in some senses an ongoing expression of mythos endures to such a degree that no matter what appears on the Internet tomorrow, from whatever the most recent music video presents to whatsoever the table of contents of the upcoming scientific journal contains, it likely will embody this dancing interplay, or a very close facsimile thereof.
In any case, at this conjunction, we can move one step closer to the present passing moment and completion, to see if such a prediction continues to appear plausible. Ralph Waldo Emerson can usher us forward, showing how an Anglo’s vision and wisdom and honesty and poetry viewed the context of color and conflict and commerce.
“(T)he negro has been an article of luxury to the commercial nations. So has it been, down to the day that has just dawned on the world. Language must be raked, the secrets of slaughter-houses and infamous holes that cannot front the day, must be ransacked to tell what negro-slavery has been. These men, our benefactors, as they have been producers of corn and wine, of coffee, of tobacco, of cotton, of sugar, of rum and brandy; gentle and joyous themselves, and producers of luxury and comfort for the civilized world…I am heartsick when I read how they came there and how they are kept there.”
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
Thus far, the material here has laid a foundation to understand either how these issues have come to the fore primarily prior to the twentieth century, or how they are manifesting in our faces, so to say, yesterday and today. In this section, this more recent period—the 1900’s—will have its chance to strut across the page.
Periodization always tenders interesting wrinkles in such narratives as this. Why stop at plus-or-minus 1900? How far should the next section proceed?
The answer to such interrogatories can always be strictly arbitrary, but the Spindoctor has actual social and political and like benchmarks in mind when he looks at a particular arc of time’s arrow. In today’s article, the initial material scrutinized more or less the immediate present. The just completed preface stepped back, in part starting over from the foggy shrouds surrounding humanity’s first days, in part beginning with the origins of modern slavery in more or less the fifteenth century, and then moving forward to the ending of the 1800’s.
At just that juncture, as the colonial European project arrived at the cul de sac that called forth the murderous carnage of World War One, the hyped-up ‘American Century’ arguably began. Thus, the end of the previous section and the initiation of the present one both originate here, at plus or minus 1900.
More or less, the materials here will take readers to the cusp of the cold war and the nuclear arms race. The basis for this choice is strictly empirical, inasmuch as the decades that followed that, more or less the half century or so prior to now, have been the time that, for better or for worse, the imposition of what Spindoctor has here called The Race Trap happened in fact. As such that period demarcates the following section, our so-called Core Matters of this narrative.
More so than has thus far been the case in this effort, the heart of the material in this, and to an extent in the next, section will center on the Southern U.S. The motives for such a choice flow from the topic at hand; so much that is ‘racial’ or that concerns Black and White interrelations stems from the war that defined America, the conflict that ended slavery and revolutionized the South and represented the first giant step toward a globe-trotting U.S. empire.
In the event, the rise of Fascism, the revolutionary struggles of Europe, and the nascent by growing challenges that confronted colonialists from China and its fringes to Latin America and every square inch of the African continent had identifiable roots in Southern soil. That Hitler borrowed from the Klan, that Southern soldiers manned empire’s outposts, that Southern ‘statesmen’ and corporate functionaries oversaw pieces of the grand imperial puzzle, are true and just a part of the grand scheme of interconnection that now marks every relationship that matters on Earth.
Early Modern ‘Literary’ & Initial Mass Mediation of Color-Conflict & ‘Race’
Conceivably, an analyst could spend a lifetime, say seventy years or so with luck, in studying just this time and subject matter and literally deal only with such a small fraction of the wealth of material available that he or she would look back and wonder how in heaven not even a ripple on the surface marked the passage of the years and the decades of sweat and thought. At the same time, someone like the Spindoctor, having parsed these matters less deeply over time, can proffer for readers an overview that ought to orient one.
Of especial pertinence today, of course, is an orientation that permits an observer to gain some insights about an intersection of ‘race’ and region and resistance that, the Spindoctor has argued before, is as critical to human survival as is any dynamic anywhere else on this lovely planet of ours. Multiple skeins account for this regional, which is to say Southern, criticality.
In some senses, this import flows, speaking of critical masses, from such tangible facts as the South’s having become the Hydrogen Bomb breadbasket after it played such critical roles in the coming of the atomic age; in other ways, this key role comes from the way that Southern politicians have for well over a century—with the likes of Wilson, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton truly small potatoes in the mix—orchestrated anticommunism, anti-unionism, anti-progressivism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-solidarity, so as to define and delimit United States society; in somewhat different fashion, the cultural and activist roots of just about every aspect of what is most lively and powerful in America has a Southern parent or grandparent.
Thus, Birth of a Nation in some ways served as a sort of midwife to a certain sort of epic film. In the U.S., such creative works rarely if ever crossed the color line, and D.W. Griffith, border-state Southern family ties firm, certainly would not do so.
Yet, paradoxically, this film that ever since has received the label of ‘racist’ instead of an analysis of its White supremacist ideology and clearly political support for a Jim Crow and gerrymandered South in which corruption and lynching go hand in hand, contained more of a portrait of Black experience than almost anything out of Hollywood over the next fifty years. This portrayal is false and pernicious, but, unlike the vast majority of Hollywood’s rare depictions of Black people on screen, fully half of the caricatured African Americans in the movie were actually Black.
Privately financed at a cost of what would today be a blockbuster budget—the first of its kind—the movie went on to make more money, vis a vis its production budget, than any other mediated creation in history. It established a protocol for Southerners and Hollywood that in some senses has kept on until this moment in time, passing on its way through both Gone With the Wind and, populist blossoms as colorful as Munchkinland, Wizard of Oz.
At the same time that the preeminent cultural behemoth that developed in Southern California literally almost never stepped across the color divide till after the civil rights movement unfolded, music and local performance more than at least occasionally did so. Jim Crow strictures remained in force for the most part, but the very nature of radio and recordings meant that the Blues infiltrated White homes and dances and at the fringes of country a new form that blended Black and White into Rock and Roll began to take shape.
Moreover, dualities and polarities and bountiful paradoxes and contradictions affected the lives that wrote and played the songs of the era. As well, this climate of contrariety flickered from the silent screen at the period’s beginning, and, with the release ofGone With the Wind at the cusp of another world war, also announced itself more powerfully, in Technicolor surround-sound, as the years in questions drew to a close.
In regard to the business of the human voice, one would need a volume apiece to even approach a clear telling, instead of a paragraph for all three, but Billie Holliday and Marion Anderson and Paul Robeson washed over American music like a cleansing powerful tidal wave. Holliday’s willingness to face prison rather than stop her singing of the lynching tree, Anderson’s finessing of the Daughters of the American Revolution to perform at the Lincoln Memorial, and Robeson’s constant contact with Soviet Russia, whose lifelong “loyal friend” he vowed to be, practically swamped classical and popular song, nor were White performers all Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as Will Rogers and Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and others risked being politically risqué, and antithetical to ‘race’ separation, more than once in a while.
Mass media during this period was only just taking shape. While the money to build and create, and the profits from output and creation, tended to flow, respectively, from and to financial centers, communities throughout the South and in rural areas elsewhere, had radio stations and access to movies. Thus, as a result of electronic innovations, a networked society began to happen far from metropolitan centers, a phenomenon that simultaneously reinforced stereotypes and prejudices and served to undermine or erode them.
W.E.B. Du Bois, with his Massachusetts origins and Harvard PhD about the trials and breakthroughs of Black reconstruction—does not instantly spring to mind as either a cultural mediator or one whose joinder with the South would be easy to illustrate. But his Souls of Black Folk combined poetry and reportage and storytelling, while his long tenure at Atlanta University in Georgia’s capitol, one of the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities, connected him to the heartland of the what he termed “the problem of the twentieth century, the color line.”
While at AU, one of the ‘race riots’ of the first half of the 1900’s came to pass, in which gangs of Whites pillaged Black property and decimated African Americans themselves. Du Bois witnessed this horror with a fire and thrust that were both potent and creditable; his own life became a template for achieving the unity about which he waxed eloquent. A chronicler has summarized what was going on.
“It was no coincidence that Atlanta’s white press was taking such an interest in black crime on the eve of an important gubernatorial election. Both Democrat candidates were newspaper editors, and inflaming racial tensions was a tested party method for securing the vote of southern white men. A decade prior, city had served as the birthplace of Booker T. Washington’s infamous Atlanta Compromise that exchanged black aspirations and progress for interracial peace and charity, and Atlanta’s educated and wealthy black community had grown uneasily in the shadow of this pact. White businessmen were becoming resentful of black success, and the Democrats promised a return a familiar social order that became more distant with each special edition.”
The searingly honest and powerfully crafted novels and stories of Richard Wright also emerged toward the end of this half-century. Though he succeeded in fleeing Mississippi and Tennessee, Wright’s voice is unmistakably that of a Southern scribe. Even from Paris, where he wrote The Outsider, he retained touches of the Gothic and the horrifying that were like a toxic tonic of Southern bloodlines.
Black Boy almost bursts with tension, both physical and psychic. A noisy feline shows the intersections of authority and detestation that burst like pustules in every life. He takes literally his father’s directive to get rid of the creature that is bothering the elder. He kills it, which immobilizes pa with horror. “I had made him believe that I had taken his words literally. He could not punish me now without risking his authority. I was happy because I had at last found away to throw my criticism of him into his face.”
When his mother forces him to bury the cat, he freaks out at the thought of night and death and responsibility. “Then, just before I was to go to bed she uttered a paralyzing injunction: she ordered me to go out into the dark, dig a grave, and bury the kitten.
‘NO!’ I screamed, feeling that if I went out doors some evil spirit would whisk me away.
‘Get out there and bury that kitten!’ she ordered.
‘And wasn’t that poor kitten scared when you put that rope around its neck?’ she asked.
‘But it was only a kitten,’ I explained.
‘But it was alive,’ she said. ‘Can you make it live again?’”
Childhood terror; the iconography of lynching; and the uptake of moral accountability in half a page: the man was a genius for whom color was his métier, who instructed all and sundry—Black and White—who would read or listen.
Perhaps the novel at the center of the American canon, Native Son describes in gripping, and yet sickening detail, the horror and alienation, the violation and violence, that occupy the dark heart of American history. Bigger Thomas, surly and unsuited for liberal largesse, suffocates his employer’s daughter when, as he does his job as chauffer and ushers her, drunken, to her room, where she begins to kiss and grope him, the poor young woman’s blind mother shows up. Bigger just hoped for silence to hide his actions, whether sinful or natural or whatever in hell they were.
Of course, he falls into the net of the police. He has killed, willfully and with purpose, his own Black lover, but this is a trifle. He will die in an electric chair for the crime of being Black and over his head and scared.
Before he faced that fate, however, a lawyer, a revolutionary Communist Party lawyer, Max, who desperately longs to be able to give Bigger the chance at life in prison, becomes the young doomed man’s defense attorney. In his presence, listening to him speak and argue on Bigger’s behalf, this Black youth learns what the world is and how it works, which has nothing to do with categories that don’t exist and everything to do with profit and oppression, with corruption and exploitation.
“What atmosphere surrounds this trial? Are the citizens soberly intent upon seeing that the law is executed? That retribution is dealt out in measure with the offense? That the guilty and only the guilty is caught and punished?
No! … The hunt for Bigger Thomas served as an excuse to terrorize the entire Negro population, to arrest hundreds of Communists, to raid labor union headquarters and workers’ organizations. Indeed, the tone of the press, the silence of the church, the attitude of the prosecution and the stimulated temper of the people are of such nature as to indicate that more than revenge is being sought upon a man who has committed a crime.
What is the cause of all this high feeling and excitement? Is it the crime of Bigger Thomas? Were Negroes liked yesterday and hated today because of what he has done? Were labor unions and workers’ halls raided solely because a Negro committed a crime? …
Your Honor, you know that that is not the case! All of the factors in the present hysteria existed before Bigger Thomas was ever heard of. Negroes, workers, and labor unions were hated as much yesterday as they are today.
Crimes of even greater brutality and horror have been committed in this city. Gangsters have killed and have gone free to kill again. But none of that brought forth an indignation to equal this.
Your Honor, that mob did not come here of its own accord! It was incited! Until a week ago those people lived their lives as quiet as always.
Who, then, fanned this latent hate into fury? Whose interest is that thoughtless and misguided mob serving?
The State’s Attorney knows, for he promised the Loop bankers that if he were re-elected demonstrations for relief would be stopped! The Governor of the state knows, for he has pledged the Manufacturers’ Association that he would use troops against workers who went out on strike! The Mayor knows, for he told the merchants of the city that the budget would be cut down, that no new taxes would be imposed to satisfy the clamor of the masses of the needy!
There is guilt in the rage that demands that this man’s life be snuffed out quickly! There is fear in the hate and impatience which impels the action of the mob congregated upon the streets beyond that window! All of them—the mob and the mob-masters; the wire-pullers and the frightened; the leaders and their pet vassals—know and feel that their lives are built upon a historical deed of wrong against many people, people from whose lives they have bled their leisure and their luxury! Their feeling of guilt is as deep as that of the boy who sits here on trial today. Fear and hate and guilt are the keynotes of this drama!”
Years prior to Wright’s rapid ascent to cultural pinnacles, the Harlem Renaissance had displayed its raucus roots that snaked North from Dixie. While Zora Neale Hurston’s Alabama and Florida flowering genius may be the best-known example of this back-and-forth fertilization, as when Ms. Hurston won second place in a 1925 Short Story competition with an entry dripping the Gullah Speech of the Sea Islands, but plenty of other examples are available.
Music, dance, and the interplay of club and street, of theater and salon, characterized the 1920’s there. “Patrons,” rich Whites, ruled the roost. The literary and artistic work was soft and full of fluff.
“Wallace Thurman provided the only detailed contemporary account of the movement, (a) thinly veiled satire…of…mediocre artist lost in a web of frivolity and recalcitrance without purpose… .By the mid-1930’s, exotic and genteel novels about Black life were no longer popular with publishers and were attacked by a new breed of Black writers and critics.”
Nor were Black producers and writers the only promulgators of such incisive and provocative work. Lillian Smith, while facing Klan arsonists in Georgia, wrote essay after essay that flaunted her rejection of color segregation. Her novel of the same name as Billie Holliday’s controversial song put forward a Black woman and a White man as lovers and deeply flawed protagonists against all odds of society and convention and personal and social moral corruption.
Inevitably, the story ends in tragedy and murder. Smith recognizes that her own moralism hurts the literary quality of the narrative, but despite bans and fury from the clans around her, the story has prevailed, with new editions now a regular event every decade or so.
“Whatever else it might be, Strange Fruit is about relationships, crossing lines, breaking rules, being different, rejecting prescribed rules, transcending categories, and those ‘racial abstractions’ that Smith often said existed only to divide and conquer and corrupt their victims.”
Steinbeck and Faulkner and others also sport grounded Southern roots, a function of the migration that readers will see below as economic collapse and the drumbeats of mass slaughter took hold. The Okies were Southern tenant farmers to their core, and their trek to California was a flight from the impossible to the improbable, which they made because they had no choice.
Faulkner famously summarized the critical impact of history in the South. “In the South, the past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in a matter of minutes he honed in on, in relation to the most personal and the broadest reaching aspects of ourselves, what is undoubtedly a core component of modern psychic meltdown.
“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”
Above, contradictory aspects of Walt Whitman’s work and life appeared, vis a vis how he viewed and related to abolitionist movements and slavery and so forth. His attitudes have over time proven very noteworthy to other writers and thinkers, who have included the likes of D.H. Lawrence, whose masterful Studies in Classic American Literature developed a thesis of what caused Whitman both to sigh in sorrow at slavery but his turn his back on individual African Americans.
“If Whitman had truly sympathized, he would have said: ‘that negro slave suffers from slavery. He wants to free himself. His soul wants to free him. He has wounds, but they are the price of freedom. If I can help him I will: I will not take over his wounds and his slavery to myself. But I will help him fight the power that enslaves him when he wants to be free, if he wants my help, since I see in his face that he needs to be free. But even when he is free, his soul has many journeys down the open road, before it is a free soul.’”
Ralph Ellison could serve as a point of demarcation. His at the same time highly acclaimed and fiercely criticizedInvisible Man came out in 1952, a bit beyond most of the rest of the material in this section.
This both adulatory and ferociously dismissive response makes perfect sense. He started the novel while working for ‘the war effort.’ He shaped the narrative as the return stateside of millions of soldiers both elicited a predictable baby boom and a heightening of tensions between Black and White working people throughout the land.
Thus, perhaps, from establishment media “it receive mostly positive reviews. However, Communists attacked it as being affected and pretentious, written to please ‘the White supremacy,’…’a vicious distortion of Negro life.’” Irving Howe, at first favorable about the work, ultimately excoriated Ellison as failing to create a text that dug deeply into Black life and the tortured social relations of ‘America the bestial.’
In sum, then, a few interesting thoughts are possible to articulate. For one thing, a significant chunk of the cultural output of the entire United States—much or most of the music business, the most profitable film in history and another top-ten hit of the silver screen, and literally dozens of canonical and unsung thousands of lesser-light novels and stories and poems revolved around the color line and the social dogfight that defined its daily unfolding.
As well, in ways that had only rarely appeared before these works came to the forefront at this time, the entire process had both a subtext and multiple direct messages that occasionally cast down a bigoted gauntlet and just as frequently, or likely more often—at least on the literary front—challenged social actors to discard chauvinistic and unequal and viciously unjust mores and norms. A truly insurrectionist tension, one day reactionary and the next revolutionary, lived inside the words and images that defined the times.
Finally, for now, the creators themselves not only now were very frequently African American and otherwise ‘of color,’ but they also quite often made connections and established collaborative nexuses that shattered every semblance of a theretofore sacrosanct color line. Wright and Ellison might be at each other’s throats, but they both had White agents and editors and friends; in clubs in the North and West, and even on the fringes of the South itself, White women danced cheek to cheek and crotch to crotch with Black men, and Black women tangoed with White men; Lillian Smith could write and Billie Holliday could sing of ‘Strange Fruit,’ even as the corpses of the lynched dangled their reproval of any easy conscience.
Twentieth Century Historical & Social Scientific Scholarship, Through the ‘Cold War’
After Darwin, as the prefatory sections showed, opportunistic intellectual thugs latched on to the notion of the ‘survival of the fittest as a way to, on the one hand, justify predation and, on the other hand, to blame those who suffered, even mortally, as being somehow not good enough to survive. This variety of hypocrisy and self-dealing continued throughout this period, though the ferocity of capital’s crisis in the 1930’s made hiding behind superficial pretense more difficult.
Thus, the median social scientist during this period probably kept on with his commitment to Social Darwinist and other chauvinist ideologies. Upton Sinclair righteously and rigorously demonstrated such a tendency in his fierce critique of the American University a quarter way through the twentieth century.
In The Goose Step, Sinclair described campuses that were almost exclusively lily-white as a result of vicious color prejudice, but this is not what made these ‘idea factories’ into dens of ‘yes-men’ who would go along with such a stupid and wasteful scheme. No indeed: the ‘trusts’ owned the schools and did not see them as much more than finishing academies for inculcating the ideologies and social mannerisms of big business, which as all and sundry knew was a bastion of whiteness.
“Let us continue East on the Northern Pacific Railroad, which has Mr. Morgan and two of his partners for directors, a recent Harvard overseer and Massachusetts Tech trustee for chairman, a Harvard overseer and Smith College trustee, a Cornell trustee, an Amherst trustee, a Hampton trustee and a Union Theological Seminary trustee for directors, also three First National Bank directors… .
For a generation the grand duke who ran the University of Minnesota was John S. Pillsbury, co-author with his two brothers of a famous work entitled ‘Pillsbury’s Best,’ widely known all over the United` States. I had better abandon this feeble jest and be explicit, stating that Governor Pillsbury belonged to a family of flour manufacturers, the founders of the Milling Trust. Governor Pillsbury himself went in more especially for lumber; he got fraudulent possession of more public lands than any other person in the state, and gave some of the profits to the university, and so is called the ‘father of the university.’ Now he is dead, and the grand duke of his institution is his son-in-law, Fred B. Snyder, president of a mining company and director of the biggest bank and trust company in Minneapolis. As his right-hand man he has Pierce Butler, railroad attorney, a hard-fisted and aggressive agent of the plutocracy, counsel for the Great Northern Railroad. …
I remember Lincoln Steffens, telling twenty years ago of the Shame of the Cities, describing how the politicians in Pittsburgh would travel to Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and other cities, to find out the latest wrinkles in graft, with a view to applying them at home. It occurs to me that the interlocking regents of Minnesota must have sent a commission to study methods at the University of Pennsylvania; for when I asked Minnesota professors to tell me what happened to them, I heard the same story that I had heard in the Wharton School of Finance, told in the very same phrases.”
In An American Dilemma, however, by Gunnar Myrdal, a different and less indirect system of corruption and plunder appears. The Swedish Nobel Prize winning economist writes in 1,500 pages of The Negro Problem for which the ‘Dilemma’ is the subtitle about the horrors that bound Jim Crow even in the 1940’s when jobs and wages and ease are more accessible than they’ve been in a quarter century, since the last worldwide carnage.
Though Myrdal’s labors produce a good liberal document, which locates the problems of ‘the Negro’ in the White person’s heart, and no doubt the Carnegie Foundation was happy with the result that it sponsored, the conclusions and analytical framework for the volume—lacking in real political-economic and social insights and without a historical context—are sorely in need of improvement. Many critics have pointed this out over the years, while acknowledging the value of the Scandinavian’s vast troves of data in the effort.
One of the critics was Ralph Ellison, who took the book apart in a critical and powerful 1944 review. “Since its inception, American social science has been closely bound with American Negro destiny. Even before the Civil War the Southern ruling class had inspired a pseudoscientific literature attempting to prove the Negro inhuman and thus beyond any moral objections to human slavery. Sociology did not become closely concerned with the Negro, however, until after Emancipation gave the slaves the status—on paper at least—of nominal citizens. And if the end of the slave system created for this science the pragmatic problem of adjusting our society to include the new citizens, the compromise between the Northern and Southern ruling classes created the moral problem which Myrdal terms the ‘American Dilemma.’”
Another scholar, but driven by life’s lessons away from easy liberalism, W.E.B. Du Bois more properly belongs in a subset of materials where other respected scholars, and more than a few charlatans, show up. The estimable thinker, who lived to be nearly a hundred, began his intellectual career as a fierce critic of ‘Negro sloth’ and ‘a tendency to thieve.’
However, as he founded the N.A.A.C.P. and became more of a practical activist, his own personal tendency to blame Black victims receded as he recognized more and more the systematic ways that the United States knowingly and profitably crushed black people, grinding them down mentally, spiritually, and physically. As Communists made organizing inroads in the States, he increasingly fraternized and collaborated with reds.
He also battled with the Party, which ferociously critiqued the NAACP on many occasions. His faux comrades among liberals left him hanging when McCarthy’s inquisitors grilled him, at the age of 81. When the U.S. prohibited to permit him to travel to the Bandung Conference that he played a part in formulating as a program, this in some basic way broke his heart.
In 1961, aged 93, on the verge of relocating to Ghana, he finally joined the Communist Party. He was furious at the Supreme Court’s upholding the law, the McCarran Act, which required Party members to register, like Jews in Hitler’s Germany.
As he was dying in Ghana a few years later, the liberal warhorse, and longtime editor of the Atlanta Constitution, Ralph McGill traveled to Africa to interview him. They parried about life, the South, and cooperation between those McGill would consider the right White people. By this he meant Joel Chandler Harris for example.
Du Bois grew angry and told the presumptuous journalist why he had never sought the folklore thief out. “’(I)t was no use. He and they had no question in their minds about the status of the Negro as a separated, lesser citizen. They perhaps were kind men, as you say. They unhesitatingly lived up to a paternalistic role, a sort of noblesse oblige. But that was all. The status slowly had become immutable insofar as the South’s leaders of that time were concerned. Booker T. Washington had helped them rationalize it. I do not think that he meant to do so. But he did. In fact, he put a public stamp of acceptance on it there in your city when he spoke at the Atlanta Exposition.’”
Another angry American, a local combatant in the socioeconomic battlefields that accompanied Southern transformation, lived and practiced medicine in Birmingham. Thomas Duke Park felt sickened by the convict lease system that grew up alongside Andrew Carnegie’s and J.P. Morgan’s steel interest in the region.
During World War One, when demand for iron and hardened steel was at a high point, as many as a hundred and fifty or more out of a thousand imprisoned miners died in the traces. The largest companies were the prison system’s biggest clients, putting the hapless misdemeanants caught up in Birmingham area stings against gambling, ‘race-mixing,’ and other ‘crimes’ such as drunkenness into jail for months at a time, to work twelve hour and longer shifts underground extracting the coal that made combined with local iron ore and limestone to make the region so perfect for metallurgy.
The struggle against the convict lease merely represented one tentacle of a monstrous octopus of imprisonment and oppression that, just as under slavery and during Reconstruction, continued to characterize Southern ports of call during these years—just as this pattern not only persists in the region but has spread far and wide to circumscribe almost the entirety of American police-community relations in the current moment. In every state in the region—from Florida to Arkansas and From Texas to Virginia— police state conditions prevailed repeatedly.
In a 1904 conference that Du Bois helped to organize in Atlanta, the keynote speaker dispassionately and brutally laid out the truth. “The abuses of (our criminal justice system) have often been dwelt upon. It had the worst aspects of slavery without any of its redeeming features. The innocent, the guilty, and the depraved were herded together, children and adults, men and women, given into complete control of practically irresponsible men, whose sole object was to make the most money possible.”
The very names of the State Prisons—Huntsville, Angola, Parchman, Reidsville, and more—have entered the lists of song and story as symbols of devastation and peonage. A 1996 monograph, Worse Than Slavery, offered readers an in depth introduction to Parchman Farm and Jim Crow Justice.
Describing social conditions that approximated life in a Holocaust labor camp, the author outlined what happened when profiteering became the primary motive of imprisonment. “’Self-supporting prison systems must, in the end, become slave camps. Slavery is the partner of the lash. The wielder of the lash is brutalized along with the victim, and bruts will sometimes kill.”
Among the most important developments in all American history, the Tennessee Valley Authority represented an opportunity for the U.S. to turn toward social democracy. However, under the leadership of David Lilienthal, as World War Two washed over the country, this key institution, which employed tens of thousands of White and Black laborers and skilled workers, turned toward the military industrial complex and monopoly capital.
In a strange and little studied case of anticommunism, the “Knoxville Fifteen faced job loss and prison for the ‘crime’ of believing in unions, consorting with socialists, and, in some cases, having once joined the Communist Party. This relatively small sidebar of this period is a useful case study, however, because it illustrates so clearly how little color played in many decisions—even of life and death, even in the heart of Dixie—when basic political-economic and geopolitical interests were in play.”
This is another of those eventualities of the period that completely undermine, and, if examined closely enough, fundamentally destroy even the notion of a socially constructed racism as causing anything. Number one, Southern Whites often enough made leaving a crime; they lynched labor agents along with Blacks on occasion. Number two, the White power brokers who orchestrated and benefited from this migratory influx of labor—and hence competition with Northern Whites—then set about establishing police forces, housing restrictions, and other coded laws and norms that absolutely guaranteed that White and Black workers would have little or no basis to meet or unite.
If racism were the issue number one would happen at all. If racism were the issue, number two wouldn’t be necessary.
At the end of this period, meanwhile, the coming of War itself proved transformative, as the radical or even revolutionary impulses that the South had seemed halfway prepared to unleash again put on harnesses to provide the martial and muscle and productive potency to win World War Two and further solidify the American Century. From Oak Ridge to Fort Benning to Pensacola and on and on, Southern town and countryside promoted the war effort.
As well, in murderous outbursts, Black soldiers at times likely suffered much worse fates that they would have expected had they found themselves at the Battle of the Bulge. One of these cases, narrated in The Slaughter, tells a tale of Camp Van Dorn, in Southwestern Louisiana. The book’s subtitle speaks volumes: “An American Atrocity,” alleging the murder in the middle of 1943 of over a thousand Black soldiers who were protesting conditions at the camp and violent treatment at the hands of local civilians.
To close this session, one might turn to what Louisiana State University has produced in the way of a comprehensive Southern history. Though these issues of color and caste, of bigotry and discrimination, extend around the planet, again ‘As the South goes, so goes the nation,’ gives plentiful reason to raise the level of attention to these erstwhile ‘provincial’ accounts.
This series establishes a foundation from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries, for analyzing a region as an internally related whole and as a funnel through which the connections of the world pour and permit the broadest sort of comprehension. As an intellectual middle-ground, a place of data and rationality from which citizens can talk to each other in level tones, with honest estimations of reality, and honorable intentions, this collection is invaluable. Such materials are never enough, for all that, but they are nonetheless marvelous.
Grassroots Responses, Institutional or Otherwise Organized, to This Mayhem
In any event, the stands and actions that have resulted from people themselves are critical to contemplate separately. Indeed, the great exodus from Dixie in some senses represents such a bottom-up occurrence, though its level of organization was at most marginal. Here, in any case, readers will discover a series of mutually contradictory and ineluctably authentic uprisings toward popular power, some of which could lead to fascism resplendent, others of which at least grapple with establishing a basis for social justice, if not social and economic democracy.
A further insight to develop is that spontaneous outbursts were distinguishable in various ways from organized responses. For one thing, the former were much more prone to prejudice and the manipulation of established biases, though things did not always work out in this fashion. Concomitantly, those actions that resulted from specific campaigns were much more likely to represent strategic or otherwise self-conscious attempts at social improvement.
Beginning with this final sort of situation, an indubitable truth is apparent, even though monopolized mediation and much standard scholarship avoids this evidence as if it were plague-ridden or otherwise anathema. This incontrovertible fact is that the inauguration of the widespread social struggle against color hatred and chauvinist ideology and policy had three primary sources: grassroots Black activists themselves; communists and socialists; and labor union proponents.
One of the most powerful arguments in support of this thesis stems from the way that courts have so often completely screwed working people. In particular, a case from a half century prior to this period, the Dred Scott ruling, established a protocol that some people would contend was still in play: that “no Black man has rights which any White man is bound to respect.”
More in keeping with the period under consideration, Plessy versus Ferguson made ‘racism’ completely unnecessary by permitting—which in terms of practice meant mandating—segregation of facilities, transport, housing, schools, and everything else. “Separate but equal” is Apartheid and counts as either a lie or bullshit, depending on who is supporting it.
The United Mine Workers of America was arguably the first national organization specifically to feature the idea that multicolored organizations had to happen. Under the vigorous and militant leadership of John L. Lewis, UMWA organized all and sundry. Mary Harris (Mother) Jones was an organizer. The union sought to bring together Blacks and Whites again and again, despite murder and mayhem at its attempts, not because of racism, but because of profit.
The Coal Creek Wars is another instance of Blacks and Whites actually uniting to fight the power, despite the fact that race-mixing was illegal at that time in Tennessee, around the turn of the twentieth century. White miners from Chattanooga to Knoxville, and points in between, were lobbying for an end to leasing convicts, as well as safer conditions.
Some miners wanted unions, which most owners thought should be illegal too. In any event, in came the convicts, almost exclusively Black. The miners, armed as well as the guards or better, proceeded to let the ‘criminals’ go and on several occasions to burn the stockades. In at least half a dozen cases, the Black prisoners chose to join the miners rather than to run off and be ‘free.’ If we put our thinking caps on, just so, we ought to be able to notice that this sort of crushes the ‘racism-was-the-problem’ argument once again.
In close temporal alignment with the UMWA were all manner of socialists. Eugene Debs was a stout opponent of segregation. Other social democrats were at least occasionally likely to be White Supremacist and basically to accept the arguments of ‘separate-but-equal,’ but the Socialist Party itself always provided at least strong rhetorical backing for a color-blind society.
Soon enough, though, communists—initially almost all Bolsheviks—began to rally round the notion first of all that absolute social equality was an immutable law of working class empowerment and second that Blacks deserved a Negro Nation as reparations for slavery, a place where Whites would be welcome but ownership would concentrate overall more or less exclusively among the residents and arrivals who were African American.
The Communist Party proved adept at developing grassroots campaigns. Its members included hellacious and tenacious organizers. And the Commies ‘walked the walk,’ as well as ‘talked the talk.’ Thus, in fighting to keep the Scottsboro boys alive, in fighting to build the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, in fighting to build the Congress of Industrial Organizations—which was the steelworker, auto worker, chemical worker, rubber worker, and so forth side of what is now AFL-CIO—communists were instrumental in building for working class power from the ground up.
Writers depended on Communist help. Actors and artists flocked to red banners, as the film, Cradle Will Rock details in one instance. Culture, labor, social equality, no wonder that the U.S. government elected to make communism a crime. Again, the issue was not race.
A possible exception to the rule above—grassroots black activists themselves, reds, and labor organizers as the only institutional support for equality—would be the Highlander Center. As the Spindoctor once wrote, “Seventy-eight years ago, Don West, Myles Horton, and James Dombrowski had just embarked on the odyssey of the Highlander Folk School(HFS), which has played a key behind-the-scenes role in supporting civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice in the South since 1932.
Of course, students now almost never hear about HFS, even though it still operates in a Smoky Mountain, New Market, Tennessee home.
Least heralded of HFS’s founding trio, Don West’s North Georgia youth included lessons in Radical Republican anti-bigotry at his grandfather’s knee.
He attended Berry College in Rome, a wild collegiate saga involving Ford family money and all manner of radical Reds.
When West fulminated a mass rally against the campus screening of “Birth of a Nation,” which included false and bigoted depiction of African American rapine as justification for the KKK, Berry expelled him.
He went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he led a protest ‘against campus paternalism,’ which also culminated in his expulsion, though his fellow students succeeded in gaining his reinstatement. Upon graduating, he enrolled at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School in 1929. James J. Lorence writes about this period of matriculation. ‘As a student West visited Danish folk schools inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, who advocated curricula based on tradition and cultural heritage.’ Because this visionary Dane ‘believed in the wisdom of the ordinary people above the educated and elite, and thought that it was the ordinary people who were capable of enlightenment,’ the schools that he facilitated, like HFS, have fostered social transformation toward justice, equity, inclusion, and democracy.”
Highlander only may be an exception because all of these young fellows, and some others besided, could conceivably have been Pinkos. In any event, they never barred or otherwise discriminated against Communists or Blacks, both of which inclusive institutional behaviors violated different Tennessee and other Southern statutes.
Among more than any mere smattering of powerful advocacy groups, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would almost always rank as first among equals until Martin Luther King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Above, readers will have noted Du Bois’ founding role in the group, as well as seeing some of the problems and contradictions that it faced.
Booker T. Washington’s hopes at Tuskegee, where syphilis infection of working class Blacks was U.S. policy, the Urban League’s hopes to become something akin to a Black Chamber of Commerce, and other attempts to work with the American marketplace typified African American organizing efforts on many occasions. Without exception, they failed. ‘Racism’ was the culprit, in the end, though a Spindoctor would pray to heaven that readers who’ve actually managed to imbibe all that’s here would doubt that proposition already.
In essence, on can state an essentially irrefutable hypothesis. Not all ‘progressive’ propositions were exclusively red, at the same time that no honest labor for social justice happened during this period, and especially in former Confederate jurisdictions, without some involvement and support from Bolsheviks or their close allies.
One response among those Blacks who hated socialism, and even more robustly despised Marxists and Leninists and Stalinists, oh my! was a turn toward return to Africa and other Black Nation movements. A century before, such thinking and activities had led to the disastrous attempt to return freed American slaves to Liberia, where many died and many more turned into ugly, ugly profiteers.
Elijah Muhammad was, arguably, merely the most prominent Black Nationalist— Marcus Garvey supporters might disagree, but they don’t currently sport a vibrant organization that entertains both ReDemoPubliCratiCan politicians and leaders of the American Nazi Party—of the past century. Muhammad has played a crucial role in later development of African American, Black power. He not only trained and mentored Louis Farrakhan, but he also was responsible for recruiting Malcolm Little, whose X even today marks an amazing American story of fighting for justice and facing an extrajudicial death sentence for his troubles.
Throughout this period, in fact, the White nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan also worked actively to assure that no movement to advance civil rights would succeed. Because of the reach of the organization—which ranged from veterans groups to lawyers and professors and teachers to all sorts of businessmen and at least a few workers’ networks—and its fiscal muscle—bankers and merchants, at least who weren’t actively Jewish, loved KKK—it caught up all kinds of White Southerners in its webs. Hugo Black was just one famous ‘liberal’ who was a longstanding adherent in his native Alabama.
The Klan’s involvement in lynching, its good-old-boy networks in charge of running rural jurisdictions, its lumping together of Catholics and Jews and Commies, oh my! as equally deserving of bigotry, hatred, and violence as were Blacks, certainly does not make of it a politically correct organization. But from White Citizens Councils to Tea Parties, its input has continued to be measureable, especially in Dixie.
Having mentioned John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath above, nothing could be more appropriate than to examine, at least briefly, the horrifying conditions, and organizational resistance to those subhuman circumstances, that Southern Sharecroppers mounted. The Southern Tenant Farmers Union relied on brave and stalwart labor organizers, communists, and a smattering of radicals without portfolio to accomplish some gains for landless farmers in the South.
White and Black together, in violation of the law, STFU faced beatings, murder, jail, and general harassment not because of race, since many of the members were white, but as a result of their being willing to organize for justice in spite of color. The organization’s history is an absolutely key component of deconstructing the madness of blaming ‘racism’ for the problems of poor workers of any color. Fighting ‘racism’ will never win much at all for the folks at the bottom, so why in hell focus on such a pointless categorical fantasy?
In reaching this point, we have conducted an absolutely whirlwind tour of a dialectic of reaction and resistance that was part of the cultural experience worldwide, but which we have seen via what we might imagine as flashcards of Southern conflicts and connections that both subsumed and countermanded the ruling insistence that ‘Black is Black and White is White.’ Do writers now, and did writers then—like Du Bois, for example, among many others—speak of race and racism as accurately descriptive of this flowing fifty years of wild upheaval, encompassing two world wars, the introduction of the first weapons capable of killing everybody in the world at once, and the second coming of the KKK?
Of course they do. But a different view is possible. We can hold in abeyance how we will decide, but we should at least listen and ponder—based on sound reasoning and copious documentation—possibilities that a Spindoctor believes are true, to wit that only by absconding with ourselves, away from ‘race-based’ conversations, can we advance socially toward sustainability and survival.
Once again, a Spindoctor’s congratulations are in order to those who have come this far. Inevitably, both some repetition and occasional inadequate development will be apparent. What follows essentially explicates, for the time period roughly 1950 to the present, five subsections that are important to the overall presentation.
Before we embark on this most central set of facts and ideas, a brief summary of the overall direction of this report couldn’t hurt. The essential point is relatively simple to state: for reasons unlikely to be entirely random, those in charge of matters in the social world have substituted a causal explanation for most conflict on Earth that is at best meaningless, an explanatory nexus that guarantees to those who use it that the sorts of problems that it purports to explain will deepen and worsen—welcoming all and sundry to the world where a ‘race’ that doesn’t exist brings about horrible ‘racism’ that in turn brings about all that is wrong with our relations with each other.
The Emergent Categorical Imprimatur of Race for Both Analysis & Redress
Without contradiction, the honed and often enough almost exclusive focus on race and racism, to the exclusion of class or general social assessments, now characterizes more or less all institutionally initiated, financed, or otherwise supported attempts to ameliorate the conditions that have shown up in these pages as a noisome inventory of shame and violation. This has basically been so since plus-or-minus 1960.
To some extent, a conference that to all but those who live in this world was quite obscure, could serve as the launching pad for the ascendancy of Race. The Bandung Conference, supported by the U.S. and various high-level multilateral organizations, and also important to the so-called ‘non-aligned movement,’ took place in Indoneasia in April, 1955.
It enshrined respect for all races in its pronouncements, which of course means that it enshrined the notion of a rich plethora of human races in its protocols. From this point on, race was a key component of all upper crust dialog.
Nationally, foundation-led initiatives in the lee of this meeting began to tie grants and institutional support from NGO’s to applicants that focused on racial issues of different sorts. Further data in this arena will appear soon.
Exceptions to, or at Least Critiques of, This Rule Among Marxists & Radicals & Reds
Those who have perused previous elements of this narrative will have noted that communists universally rallied to the defense of all workers, at times as the only organized force that willingly took such risks, whatever the wage-earner’s color or culture. In keeping with such indisputable facts, one can also demonstrate that the theoreticians, as well as the practitioners, of social democracy—which is to say Marxists of different stripes—have generally rejected this uber-emphasis of the exigencies of racial categories, race, and racism.
As with other portions of this attenuated centerpiece of today’s essay, more details—flesh on the bones, so to speak—will be coming soon. Readers may rest assured on that point.
Social anarchists too have rallied to the flag of human rights and a diminution of the obvious drive toward a police state that so marks the modern moment. Such a Canadian blithe spirit has recently had the temerity to interview the powerful and brilliant creator of the aggressive insistence on our oneness against fascist police forces, Rob Hustle. The estimable artist affirms our oneness, whatever our variations in hue.
Affirmations of Race & Nation & Reaction in Black & White
Inevitably, given this evolutionary rubric, those who would like to dispatch the differently colored, and presumably weaker, stupider, and less genetically sublime specimens to kingdom come are precisely the social forces that affirm, even insist on race. Thus, Nazis and other fascists, inveterate nationalists and their accompanists, are the defenders-of-the-faith in this regard. If nothing else, we might reflect on ‘the company we keep’ if the temptation exists to explain our troubles in terms of race and racism. As with other portions of this version of Core Components more is on its way very soon.
Dialectical Developments in Popular Culture
Nevertheless, whether in rap music or in spoken work, whether in independent film or community performance spaces, production both wildly successful and radically critical of the triumph of prejudice and supremacism have become prominent, if not outright predominant. One might find the energy of This Is What Happens When You Call the Cops either threatening or enlivening, the politics either aggressive or apropos, but the message does not appeal to race but to democracy, nor does it elevate color consciousness over human rights.
Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s current novel, God Help the Child, perfectly illustrates this impossible union of opposition, this polarity of what is and fantasies of commodified ideals. The main character is a beautiful baby, who grows up to be a beautiful woman. Her only problem, which she will imbibe with her mother’s condemnation, straight from the breast as it were, is that she’s a little on the dark side.
A New York Review of Books release from this very instant contains a briefing about this ‘failing,’ which in fact of course is a failing of those who believe in racial typology in the first place. The essay’s title is instructive: “Growing Up Too Black.” The article quotes from the book.
“It didn’t take me more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me. Midnight black…Some of your probably thinks it’s a bad thing to group ourselves according to skin color—the lighter, the better—in social clubs, neighborhoods, churches, sororities, even colored schools. Bu how else can we hold on to a little dignity?…I hate to say it, but from the very beginning in the maternity ward the baby, Lula Ann, embarrassed me.”
At its best, instructional practice now integrates a more holistic and less judgmental approach to identity. This means that our myths of creation, not to mention our surface attributes of coloration and facial organization, do not separate us from each other any more than would the differential placement of our freckles and birthmarks.
“This lesson introduces students to the relationship between humans and planet Earth by focusing on creation stories from a range of cultures. The resources section provides a selection of creation stories from a range of cultures, such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iroquois creation myth, the Mayan Popol Vuh, and a popular Japanese myth from Genji Shibukawa. Activities and reproducible pages will guide students in analyzing and comparing these stories as they look at how creation stories provide insight into humans’ relationships with the environment. ” And, of course, we are part of that environment that we’re all relating to.
The Developing Solidification of Biology’s Utter Rejection of Race
Scholars from around the world are now, if not universally then generally, if not completely, then mostly, in agreement with Stephen Jay Gould, quoted many pages ago. In other words, they have foresworn continue reliance on ‘race’ as worthy of any scientific imprimatur whatsoever.
One such brief establishes a bright line that must inherently separate assessments of genetic properties of organisms, from different places or the same place, etc., and investigations of culture and narrative and such. This is just one of hundreds of recent entries from the technical literature of genetic scholarship along these lines.
A widely reviewed new monograph by a scholar of skin makes this point with judicious scholarly restraint. A more aggressive, or journalistic, take on the issue would simply say that ‘people in the past paid little attention, so far as credible data suggests, to each other’s coloration, at least in terms of contending social superiority or inferiority.’
“We have no evidence that when people of different skin colors first met in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, their relationships or business transactions were affected by skin color. … (Later, however)European explorers tended to be more exploitative than egalitarian in their attitudes and less than charitable in their descriptions of the peoples they met during their travels.”
Proving that technical expertise in physical anthropology does not in any sense dispose a thinker to the capacity to analyze political economy, Jablonski goes on to contend that opportunistic denigration by the traders—who then dabbled and would soon own the slave trade—was the cause of slavery, rather than an opportunistic effect of its plunder and predation. Such a miscue is forgiveable, but the not one iota the less erroneous.
Nevertheless, she closes brilliantly, insisting that any coloration or race that relies on skin tone is worthy only of complete rejection. “The association of color with character and the ranking of people according to color stands out as humanity’s most momentous logical fallacy. While widely recognized as malignant, color-based race hierarchies are still treated as facts of nature by some and are duly upheld and promulgated. A large portion of this book explores the origin and ramifications of this powerful social deception and the many ways in which it has played out in human history.”
The Spindoctor has written before on these matters. One such previous posting, “We’re All Cousins After All,” provides a fairly thorough chronicle of much of the scientific and expert thinking on these issues. Updates, for those with an interest, are also forthcoming that will significantly expand and update this earlier incarnation.
In such an arena, then, one might stare in stupefaction at the persistence of ‘racial’ thinking. But such disbelief overlooks the guiding forums that—through the grants and directives and legislated steps—dictate the bounds of these sorts of conversations. It also overlooks the primary directive by which all rulers operate: Divide & Conquer.
As always, this portion of this narrative has been impossible to predict, since the assemblage of data and argument are the only basis for suggesting reasonable actions in reply to a specific nexus of social conflict and crisis. While literally scores—at a minimum—of such plausible or rational inferences would be reasonable to construct, at least half-a-dozen must make a scene here.
Or so the Spindoctor will allege. What shows up below tends toward the dialogic, aimed as much at engagement and consciousness-raising as at specific policies or occurrences. Could we ask for or imagine more? Surely such would be the case, but “let’s talk about it” would be an essential starting point, come what may.
AN INITIAL DEDUCTION
For residents who hope that their children and grandchildren might just conceivably have an opportunity to create a human existence, an absolutely mandatory development is a community-based process of talking about and determining action in regard to the thorny thickets of social upheaval that we now contextualize as race or racial, as emanating from racism.
While a typical retort to such an idea is something akin to, “Yeah, right!” any cynicism so profound as to disallow at a minimum a consideration of this kind of approach will likely assassinate action at any level. All social transformation that does not ‘grow directly from the barrel of a gun,’ to borrow from Chinese insurrectionists, can only start with a dialog of one sort or another.
A SECOND DEDUCTION
The utilization of social technologies that have often enough assisted in such processes—citizens’ juries, citizens’ panels, truth and reconciliation commissions—are readily accessible, in that at both the most elevated international level and in various national instances, institutions and communities have attempted, through these means, to resolve intractable problems, which in one way or another have become incapable of addressing through other methods.
France, Scandinavia, and the United Nations represent just a sample of the venues that have attempted to deal with social issues with such formulations as those above, or through similar mechanisms. Such intellectual technology or social machinery counts as part and parcel of the range of potential social engagement that the present pass requires.
A THIRD DEDUCTION
Not only should reparations for atrocities not be out-of-the-question, but their exploration ought to be a top priority and their employment a distinct possibility, no matter either their likely unpopularity, or even that some social sectors express downright outrage about such suggestions.
To an extent, when one confronts a Scylla and Charybdis situation, the default preference of many people is to wait, or to do nothing. However, in the current sociopolitical context, that likely equates with a decision to wait for an onrushing freight train to smack into humanity’s VW bug, because a swamp awaits if we back up and a precipice looms if we go forward. Anything is probably superior to the certain doom of treading water.
A FOURTH DEDUCTION
In relation to number three, above, a key approach has to be to insist that all sorts of remunerative potential should be ‘on the table,’ so to say, so that free-of-strings community development funding that participant communities might themselves control would be a part of the discourse and a distinct potential outcome of any action.
Politics always entails sweeteners of one sort or other. Thus, what this is suggesting is that more sources of support might be plausible to enlist if the orientation of the overall process were accepting of inducing buy-in among various parties, or in the parlance of the present paradigm, stakeholders, by dangling carrots—one can imagine funded local research initiatives, the construction of Internet cafes, opportunities for grassroots theater or other production and performance, and so on and so forth—in front of those who ought to take part in the conversational nexus, so to say.
A FIFTH DEDUCTION
Along an at least somewhat similar path as number four, a huge influx of both State-level and National-level and various sorts of nongovernmental organization funding must take place, on the order of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars a year—in other words between one dollar for every ten thousand and one dollar for every thousand military dollars that the United States spends—to encourage essays, research papers, monographs, films, and other intellectual production and mediated output about these issues.
The marketplace is much worse than structurally deficient in regard to such matters. Not only are the profit margins for hip-hop about racial ideology likely smaller than those that deal with booty and contraband, but also those who are in charge of the world feel a much more profound threat from the former product than they do from either of the latter.
In such a context, likely the only and definitely the most efficient way to ensure that necessary output takes place is through socially promoted inducement. To fight against this is like saying that ecocide and mass collective suicide are preferable to even pondering going against vaunted ‘free market’ principles.
A FINAL DEDUCTION
From the United Nations and elsewhere at the international level, initiatives that address these matters need to pour forth, not to replace but to augment or otherwise seed local action that could very well initially be more difficult to ‘sell’ to so-called ‘gatekeepers.’
That the United States—the birthplace of both Frederick Douglas and the Ku Klux Klan; the progenitor of both the total replacement of the aristocracy and the complete canonization of the bourgeois, all of which came into the world via portals of bondage and chattel slavery—must end up as one epicenter of such activity is obvious. On the other hand, almost no other political jurisdiction on earth confronts worse distractions, diversions, and vicious trickery to forestall any real chances of discursive commitment.
Confronting such blockage, a finesse ‘from on high’ could just conceivably make a difference. In any event, bringing international organizing pressure to bear cannot possibly make the present pass worse than it is, with police murder that rivals low intensity conflict in the center of North America, the belly of the beast so to speak.
Rather than positing that such developments as these are so unlikely, given all the hurdles to overcome in their attainment, that observers might as well ignore them, those who want at least to imagine a future that makes Homo Sapiens’ lives plausible in other than horrific circumstances might instead recognize—which should not be difficult to do, so long as one can ‘get real’—that absent something like this retinue of reform and engagement, the human prospect will, probably sooner rather than later, end in a vicious crush or a fiery rush of decimation and conflagration. Any number of sober voices of optimism could shepherd us forward as we move toward the end of this journey.
Clearly, these suggestions are irrational, in that no basis for their immediate accomplishment is readily apparent. George Bernard Shaw has at least a little bit of juice for us to imbibe, however. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Closer to the current day, we might listen again to Nelson Mandela, whose existential struggle was in large measure an attempt altogether to remove ‘racial-thinking’ and color prejudice from everyday life and routine practice. “We are fighting for a society where people will cease thinking in terms of colour. …(though we realize both that) (w)ithout democracy there cannot be peace. …(and that) (r)econciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”
So saying, we have wended our way again to almost the very end. More than merely occasionally, the Spindoctor has faced some scores of people, generally but not always both youthful and putatively seeking knowledge. They have generally not wanted to delve as deeply as their instructor would have liked; they have normally expressed at least mild skepticism that the manner of these things working out would ever, ever change.
In such situations, the first response from a Spindoctor perspective has been a simple query. It has more than eight times out of ten gone out to a roomful of young Koreans and Korean Americans, or Chinese and Chinese Americans. The remaining listeners have basically split down the middle between Americans of European and African origin, though the presence of Hispanic or Native American or other linguistic or ethnic groups would not have changed the reality that the inquiry had intended to reveal, to wit, “What are you in relation to everyone else in this room?”
Without exception, this interrogatory has caused a lessening of tension, a sense of uncertainty, a willingness to consider. “Well, I don’t know, what am I to you, or you, or you, teacher man?”
The answer, which in dozens of instances of posing this question not a single person has figured out, is easy. We are cousins, with only the occasional sibling or parent or child a counterpoint to this otherwise universal and undeniable fact. Within the past few thousand years, we’ve all shared common grandparents.
In a different context, on art that he and his sweet love have jointly made, this essay’s creator stated the matter thus: “The circle of our closest relations includes basically all of the creatures in Earth’s biosphere, since even as seemingly unlikely a candidate as slime mold shares plus-or-minus half Homo Sapiens’ key protein-coding or enzyme-processing genetic capacities: that each human cousin is a more-or-less close relative of a single human species, or race, basically goes without saying, or should anyway, except that the rubric of ‘racial differences’ and its inextricably intertwined concept of ‘racism’ fatuously or insidiously—in any case, bizarrely—holds sway at the highest levels of our vaunted cognoscenti.”
Of all the successful, established political leaders of the United States, none have recently appealed to idealism as readily or as powerfully as did John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Ironically, his father—a bootlegger and stock manipulator whose hundreds of millions in fortune came from felony and predation— bought the election for young Jack in Cook County, Illinois.
As President, Kennedy seemed to move in multiple directions: the initiation of involvement in Vietnam and acceding to the Bay of Pigs attempt to murder the young socialist experiment in Cuba on the one hand, and true openings to civil rights leaders and peace proponents on the other hand. This is neither the time nor the place to try to set that convoluted context in smooth and satisfactory order.
However, we might note that at American University, in June 1963, JFK delivered a commencement address that has since passed with little notice, till recently. It has of late garnered attention anew because the world’s power brokers appear fixed on intractability about empire and the rights of monopoly finance to rule every roost, attitudes that might bring about nuclear holocaust as cousins of different colors, different religions, different cultures, and different backgrounds, essentially shrug and accept the march to war, all the while insisting that they don’t want ‘racism’ to triumph, yet looking on passively at all the preparations for mass evisceration of different nationalities and traditions and ‘races.’
“I have, therefore, chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.”
Quite reasonably, our former President, who was almost painstakingly humble when he delivered this address five months before a gangland hit cut him down as if he were a mob boss, could have been referring to ‘race,’ or, more rationally, color and class and ethnicity, when he mentioned ‘the most important topic’ for us to consider. For at least equivalent to any other contributory factor in the complex mix of causes for warfare and violence is the admixture of just these issues of skin and speech and facial characteristics and neighborhoods, which the condemnation of ‘racism’ in the end does less than nothing to ameliorate.
In any case, Kennedy continued so as further to evoke the context that this report has created. “What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.“
One might yet cavil: this has little or nothing to connect it to questions of race and racism. In the event, John Kennedy thought otherwise, on a windy late Spring day on a Washington campus, where his audience delivered its most thundering affirmation when he spoke about these connections between social justice and peace. Perhaps we would be willing to tune our ears to this.
“(W)herever we are, we must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together. In too many of our cities today, the peace is not secure because freedom is incomplete.
It is the responsibility of the executive branch at all levels of government–local, State, and National–to provide and protect that freedom for all of our citizens by all means within their authority. It is the responsibility of the legislative branch at all levels, wherever that authority is not now adequate, to make it adequate. And it is the responsibility of all citizens in all sections of this country to respect the rights of all others and to respect the law of the land.
All this is not unrelated to world peace. ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord,’ the Scriptures tell us, ‘he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ And is not peace, in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights—the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation; the right to breathe air as nature provided it; the right of future generations to a healthy existence?
While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”
As ever the case will be, the Spindoctor could go on; and on. The point that has appeared here, with evidence and argument to bear it out, is that any racial conceptualization must in the end do us in. If we want to live, we have no choice but to discard these false and yet seductive, as well as currently orthodox, views. On another panel of the driftwood art that the Spindoctor and his spouse manufacture, the message takes this form.
“Every human cousin here started as an infant, every God-fearing Christian, every Allah-loving Muslim, every Torah-toting Jew, every reincarnated Hindi, every nonattached Buddhist, every patriot, every terrorist, every nationalist, every clan supremacist, and so on and so forth: what would need to happen to have the far-flung members of our fractious clan treat each other with mutual respect and compassionate regard? Inquiring minds should want to know.”
Such an inquisitive perspective might lead to the recognition that no other pathway to comity exists than the empowerment of those who are lowest, which, whatever else comes to pass, can only occur in a context of social justice and social equality. Those who would fight ‘racism’ allege such good hearts and sweet intentions that one might pray, at least, that a commitment to socially equal prospects would ever remain central to their agendas. If these stances are other than pretense, their jobs must include grappling with the paradox, no matter how perverse it may seem, that an obsession with ending racism not only can never bring to pass social democracy but also must inexorably assassinate its potential for existence.
Communism & Reaction, Fascism & War, Finance & Community in ‘Little Russia’
repost from Social Policy, Fall 2014 issue
One of the little pieces of art that my wife and I create has this inscription on it: “The Needle of Consciousness Will Penetrate Next to Nothing If Our Thirst for Knowledge Does Not Outweigh Our Fear of Honesty.” In particular, when we investigate the intertwining of geography, history, culture, and economics in some definite conflicted place, we must ask—and be willing to discover without fleeing—“At what point can we pinpoint the inception of patterns similar to those currently present?”
Do organizers pose such questions? I know that I have. Perhaps, often enough though, faith that people themselves know this background and the press of the present combine to make a shrug an easy enough answer.
The current moment’s crushing weight is irremediable. But, at least on this side of the Atlantic—and throughout that portion of Europe that the United States ‘freed’ through the Marshall Plan and other means—most folks are unaware of anything akin to nuanced Ukrainian reality. They see pictures of death raining from on high. They hear repeated imprecations that what Reagan hypocritically called ‘Evil Empire’ has again ascended to the political pinnacle. They have little other than horror or distorted nonsense to guide them, in other words.
The intention of these pages is to provide some context in this context, as it were. I tell my students, “Context is king.” And the only way to grasp such underpinnings is through examining the past.
Certainly, the former group presents wisps of comprehensible explication: vaguely defined lure of empire; desperate drive for hydrocarbon stocks; desire to tame and dismember Russia; fierce determination to forestall the looming threat of BRICS, the Eurasian Union, and so forth. And obviously these are compelling components of a plausible explanation.
But they do not elicit a full-bodied account. If such rationale truly rule, if Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, or the union of China and Russia and all in between were really core issues here, then—unless they are complete idiots, buffoons of legendary stupidity—our present world’s rulers would not act so as to necessitate a stronger BRICS, a Eurasian Union powerful enough to destroy their empire.
So what is going on? This essay contends that analysts must wrestle with historical timelines to create a fabric out of today’s seemingly disconnected threads. From facts and reasoning that concern these issues, a hypothesis appears—four parts, stemming from just before1900 until World War Two’s evisceration and slaughter yielded a ‘Cold War.’
First, Ukraine’s longstanding radicalism, even Bolshevism, peaked during this timespan; simultaneously, anti-communism emerged as the official ‘Western’ response to these socialist inclinations, a visceral hatred capable of fostering mass murder.
Second, ‘international communism’ so terrified big-business that ‘free-market’ advocates embraced fascist means as a predominant way to shape policy, if not always openly to contextualize public relations.
Third, Earth’s self-anointed rulers recognized that cycles of collapse and destruction fundamentally grounded political economy, with one depression, war, and bloodletting following another—implosions and attendant opportunistic explosions that also contributed to Nazism and its ‘fellow-travelers.’
Fourth, financiers—cold-blooded and cool-headed impulsion to own, control, and dispose of everything in existence their primary drive—also came to the fore during these decades of working class uprising, fascist response, and militarization of underlying economic relations, all of which now serves as nexus for Armageddon on Europe’s fertile Southeast plains.
This four-piece dynamic explains how Ukraine came to be what it is today; it rests on historical reality. Ukrainians themselves—in Crimea, Donetsk, Odessa, especially, will nod in recognition at what shows up here. We need to acknowledge these nods.
This analysis in turn rests on evidence from the past ten thousand years, till the end of the eighteen hundreds, in which other important factors have also played a role. These other components persist, too, though we leave their discussion for another time and place.
As well, this contextualization interweaves with seven decades of a so-called ‘American Century.’ Zbigniew Brzezinsky ‘champions’ this “New-Rome” vision. His monograph, The Grand Chessboard, summarizes in very businesslike language imperial plutocrats’ perspectives.
“Russian recovery is essential … . But any recovery of its imperial potential would be inimical… . Moreover, this issue (could cause) differences between America and some European states, especially as the EU and NATO expand. Should Russia be considered a candidate for eventual membership …? And what then about Ukraine? The costs of the exclusion of Russia could be high — creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in the Russian mindset — but the results of dilution of either the EU or NATO could also be quite destabilizing.”
Today’s narrative focuses primarily on parts one and two of the analytical quatrain above. Foundations will appear for the third and the fourth components, but these will only qualify as the most basic abstracts. Social Policy readers may anticipate, should fortune favor such, a Part Two to the present initial installment.
As things stand, today’s plus-or-minus five thousand words barely initiate the empirical exploration of this fifty-year evolution of the present pass. The explication here does constitute a testable set of assertions, though, that starts to add things up so the final tally tallies, so to speak.
Honestly, our lives may well depend on such bottom-line comprehension.
To the soil and spirit of Eastern Ukraine and Southeast Russia, no better English-language introduction exists than Mikhail Sholokhov‘s And Quiet Flows the Don. Love, treachery, landlust, loyalty, social-conservatism, and revolution course through the novel in frank and graphic succession.
A key role in the story, though the character appears near the end, is a Chernigov-Province Ukrainian, a Communist machine gunner who successfully converts Grisha-the-Cossack to Communism, while they are in a hospital recovering from wounds that almost blinded them. Grisha, the tale’s spiritual center, regains his sight and for the first time in his life opens his eyes.
“Most terrible of all, Grigory began to think Garanzha was right, and that he was impotent to oppose him. He realized with horror that the intelligent and bitter Ukrainian was gradually but surely destroying all his former ideas about the tsar, the country, and his own military duty as a Cossack. Within a month of the Ukrainian’s arrival the whole system on which Grigor’s life had been based was a smoking ruin. It had already grown rotten, eaten up with the canker of the monstrous absurdity of the war, and it needed only a jolt. That jolt was given, and Grigory’s artless straightforward mind awoke.”
A primary character throughout the novel, moreover, Ilya Bunchuk, a Cossack from the Don region immediately adjacent to Ukraine, was another clever, forthright Marxist-Leninist. Machine-gun expertise, because such knowledge defended the revolution, was also his forte. His physical prowess, choice of arms, and dedicated revolutionary consciousness, in fact, closely paralleled those of an actual comrade from Odessa, who rose to become Minister of Defense and member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee, General Rodion Malinovsky.
The war’s mayhem, for the Cossacks and Ukrainians, occurred largely on the terrain of ‘Little Russia.’ At one point, survivors of an engagement, having seen half their number literally cut to pieces by Austrian machine-gunners in Galicia, returned to find Golovachev, the Division Chief-of-Staff, showing off snapshots of the action that he had taken and developed. A lieutenant struck him in the face and then collapsed in sobs. “Then Cossacks ran up and tore Golovachev to pieces, made game of his corpse, and finally threw it into the mud of a roadside ditch. So ended this brilliantly inglorious offensive.”
But these communistic proclivities did not spring forth full-blown from the Russian Revolution or from Russia’s and Ukraine’s horrific experience of WWI. The radicalism that permeated Ukrainian culture also contributed to the area’s being a center of the 1905 uprising against the Czar, where the insurrection on the Battleship Potemkin took place in Sevastopol. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth in fact, what we now know as Ukraine—which was then ‘Little Russia’—was home to diverse radicals and militants.
One whom many Ukrainians consider a ‘national poet,’ Ivan Franko, embraced Marxism, socialism, and internationalism on occasion, while also feeling the populist pull toward nationalistic pride and rejection of Russian preeminence. In displaying the complexities of Ukraine, he demonstrated the fierce core of a ‘to-the-ramparts’ orientation. Many other commentators also note the late-nineteenth century prevalence of socialist, communist, and other anti-establishment movements and analyses among Ukrainians, with the common emergence of revolutionary leaders here such as Leon Trotsky.
But these fiery threads of contrariness go back further still in regional history. Partly, this relates to the role of Jewish culture in the region, on the one hand serving as exploitative agency for the czar’s tax-collections, on the other hand yielding the wage-earners and artists and thinkers who rejected their forebears’ legacy to become the region’s first proletarians and gadfly intellectuals.
Not that these veins of insurrection were the only elements of Ukrainian life, on the contrary, deeply reactionary forces, loyal to czar or Archduke or church, also existed. Many Jewish people feared and loathed their neighbors. Memories of discrimination and murder, of double-dealing and betrayal, were also part and parcel of the lives that unfolded here. Yet, central conduits of these bubbling cauldrons of contrariety were radical; citizens more often than not spit at the czar, studied Marx, plotted revolution.
Part of this red strain also results from the mines that are today part of the very locus of contemporary carnage in the area, and in the 1870’s gave birth to wildcat strikes and syndicalist actions that spread through all Ukraine. Nikita Khrushchev came into the world in East Ukraine, outside Donetsk; his father worked the mines, and young Nikita followed him at age sixteen as war engulfed the entire region.
The bloody mess of World War sparked the seething spirit of rebellion among workers and soldiers, Cossacks, Jews, Russians, Ukrainians, and the mélange of nationalities that inhabit these lands. Extensive, well-rooted stalks of revolt blossomed in showers of blood, from abbatoirs of human flesh.
Khrushchev joined the Red Army rather than continue mining coal, returning a seasoned Party activist who helped build socialism in Ukraine throughout the 1920’s. In addition, many of his associates and opponents also started out nearby. One of his longstanding comrades, as noted above, could have been the prototype for Sholokov’s character, Ilya, the machine gunner. The burly, earthy, much-beloved Malinovsky, from an Odessa-area peasant family, frequently paralleled Bunchuk‘s profile.
As the Bolsheviks wrested control of Russia from capital’s predominance and signed a peace treaty with Germany—fueling a sense of betrayal among the rulers of Europe that was volcanic in its intensity —Ukraine on its own also accepted German terms, but only after its political leaders pocketed plus-or-minus fifty million francs of bribes from France to desist parlaying with Berlin.
The agreement with Germany basically turned over Europe’s ‘grainbasket’ to the Triple-Alliance and threatened to boost the planned German offensive in Spring 1918. That Ukraine so blithely instituted this arrangement, from which attacks on Jewish residents increased and criminalization of dissent also flowed, showed in this instance the power of local nationalists and counterrevolutionaries.
As Germany’s defeat approached, however, in no small part because of Bolshevik organizing efforts, Ukrainians revolted and before the final defeat of ‘White-Army reactionaries,’ Kiev also entered the communist camp. The industrialized East, in particular, led the way in these developments, overturning the ‘patriots’ who had parlayed with German militarists.
Before the Armistice with Germany, meanwhile, England and the United States intervened in Russia to ‘free’ allies trapped among reds and to wreak havoc on the Bolsheviks. With increasing intensity during the Winter of 1918-19, all of the enemy combatants and allies of the just-finished capitalist slaughter turned savagely on the Soviets.
The White Armies persisted partially because of ‘Western’ support. Otherwise, the revolution would likely have triumphed by the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. Meanwhile, Americans invaded Siberia; Austrians, British, and minor contingents from elsewhere led armed incursions into Mother Russia and the Caucasus; France joined Greece and Turkey in trying to consolidate Ukraine, which might permit recovery of some of the fifty million pilfered francs.
Such interventions elicited powerful outcries. These attacks targeted workers who wanted to find different ways to do business, after years of mass murder in the service of profit. In London, in Berlin, in New York, pamphleteers and demonstrators shouted out for wage-earners at home to stand in solidarity with revolutionaries abroad. Lenin, Trotsky and others made direct appeals to fellow toilers far afield.
Jacob Abrams, who near Kiev had played some significant part in 1905 unrest, fled to Brooklyn to escape Russian-Ukrainian secret police and encountered political authorities every bit as thoroughgoing as anything on Europe’s Eastern fringes. In New York, he joined anarchists, socialists, communists who remonstrated against assaults on the barely-born Soviet Union.
All these workers and writers and thinkers abhorred the war when it came. They even more stringently objected to the intervention against the Bolsheviks, in which the United States, as noted, had joined with Germany and Turkey, its recent enemies, as well as with its various allies.
To make their objections concrete, Abrams and his comrades printed flyers that called out Woodrow Wilson—“The President was afraid to announce to the American people the intervention in Russia. …too much of coward to …say, ‘We Capitalistic nations cannot afford to have a proletarian republic in Russia.’ …This is not new. The tyrants of the world fight each other till they see a common enemy—working class enlightenment—as soon as they see a common enemy they combine together to crush it”—and defended the rights of Russians to act as they saw fit. “Workers in the ammunition factories, you are producing bullets, bayonets, cannon to murder not only the Germans but also your dearest, best, who are in Russia and are fighting for freedom.”
Thus, Jacob Abrams and his fellows faced the wrath of the U.S. Palmer-Raid police state; he and all of his cohorts confronted twenty or more years in prison, a sentence that represented a sick travesty of “free speech,” according to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ minority opinion. Eventually, Abrams and his co-defendants accepted deportation back to ‘Little Russia,’ from whence the peripatetic Ukrainian perambulated to Mexico to play chess with Leon Trotsky before the latter’s assassination. He and his comrades irritated the Soviets as they had the Americans, so that their complicated cases, which again intersected with Ukraine in various ways, have no easily identifiable ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’.
In a sense though, Ukraine spread a anarcho-social-democratic, revolutionary web that covered the planet, a phenomenon that occurred because such militancy indisputably permeated Ukrainian culture and society. That some rank-and-file hourly employees in the West felt similarly is equally verifiable. An additional palpable empirical reality was the United States’ outraged response to this, as if its imprimatur ought also to have spanned the globe.
The U.S. and its allies and enemies from the recent carnage evinced a fury and horror at Bolshevism that went much further than rhetoric and intervention, though, as the following section demonstrates. In the recent war, nationalist fervor had been adequate. “Over there!” complemented “Willy the Happy Hun,” and all but a handful of non-Bolshevik-infected socialists joined up and went to war as patriots, just as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler did in Italy and Austria.
But after the Soviet ‘cowardice’ in surrendering, H.G. Wells and George Kennan were just two of hundreds of annalists who documented the vituperation that greeted Boshevism among the upper classes, the landed and moneyed sets. At the level of Winston Churchill or Henry Ford, down through the coteries of capital to many a floor manager or shopkeeper, the portrayal of Commies as execrable scum was rife.
In sum, then, the multilayered, often contradictory radicalism of the Ukraine, together with the visceral hatred of these socialistic or anarchistic tendencies on the part of ruling interests further West, expresses a pattern. This dynamic persisted, as the next sections amply demonstrate, and it today underlies a continuing fury on the part of the privileged and powerful at Eastern Ukraine and Russia.
This connection with the present, in terms of analogous interventions, is obvious. Not by accident are the Ukrainian sectors now under attack realms where streets bear the names of Lenin and Stalin. Not by chance is this the part of Ukraine where those who are community leaders still imagine a social democratic society.
Moreover, the general historical connection between Ukraine and Russia is also indubitable. Communism and the Soviet way were every inch Ukrainian, ‘Little Russian’ attributes.
Just as many residents in 1900 rejected “Ukrainian nationalism,” so too now such ideation is far from overwhelmingly prevalent. Indeed, the 16th edition of Britannica had only this to say about Ukraine:“The name formerly given to a district of European Russia, now comprising the governments of Kharkov, Kiev, Podolia, and Podova. The portion East of the Dnieper became Russian in 1686, and the portion West of that in 1793.”
Kiev, Kharkov, Little Russia, and more merited many pages of narrative, however, noteworthy as dispositive circumstantial evidence of the interpenetration of ‘Great Russia’ and ‘Little Russia.’ The rubric of nationalism, in other words, was at least in part a construction of those who wanted soldiers to march and shoot as instructed.
As upcoming paragraphs reveal, Communists struggled both to accept and transcend the many ‘nationalisms’ that they inherited. And many people in these places understood, revered, fought for, and have remained committed internationalists, in a word ‘Reds’ such as those whom capitalist cronies throughout the world have detested from the very start.
When Winston Churchill spoke of wanting to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its crib,” he was thus, at least by extension, referring to Ukraine. This resort to high-handed violence, mass murder as a social policy, might seem bizarre given the decimation that had for four years eviscerated the populations of Europe. But its anomalous nature does not undermine its actuality.
This detestation led to all manner of tactics against the young Soviet regime. Agents from the war period merely adjusted their caps slightly and continued spying and provoking and so forth. Economic warfare occasionally manifested in trade and such, but especially Germany desperately needed any relationships that was not immediately worth less as a result of reparations; this dependency on Bolshevik New Economic Policy commodities and currency fostered Soviet growth and survival.
Both this inherent need for connection and the infiltration of spies that it permitted affected Ukraine, at once beneficence and affliction. Soviet food supplies in any event depended on this fertile region of large and productive farms. And the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, moved forward, which mortified and further infuriated the upper reaches of capital’s ruling classes no end.
So the intrepid murderers who placed themselves at the apex of ‘freedom-and-plutocracy’ needed some other way to eviscerate the Reds. Not by accident did the rise of various Nazi strains follow immediately on the victory of Bolshevism. All manner of ‘scholarly’ writing conflates communism and fascism in some shape, form, or fashion. For our purposes, this should suffice about such attempts: they are at best pathetic and wrong, all too often intellectually dishonest or worse, apologies for Nazism. But the fascist ‘triumph’ did indeed come to pass.
This fascist ascendancy flowed from many sources, for example that national patriotism had lost its ‘divide-and-conquer’ allure, after various mechanisms had annihilated tens of millions of workers ‘for God and country.’ Some new motivation, more potent, at once authoritative and authoritarian, was necessary.
This new embrace of madness and mayhem devolved into the rise of a new form of capitalism, which utilized the wheat stocks, or fasces, that pervaded Roman symbology and represented ‘strength in unity.’ Hence the world birthed fascism, which came to the fore as an explicit assault on the rise of working class movements that sought power over capital.
Churchill was just one of dozens of Western business and political leaders ‘charmed’ by Il Duce. FDR praised the “fine Italian gentleman.” The corporate press often and the business press almost unanimously promoted the Italian model. Churchill gave the clearest rationale for such attitudes, which seem—to put the matter mildly—bizarre in hindsight; “(Italy under Mussolini) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”
Mussolini’s initial foray into fascist State power served as something akin to an experiment. In the end, it did not meet the many-pronged necessities that big business was seeking: economic stagnation continued; the capacity actually to war against communism was missing; fascism in Italy remained insular rather than expansionist. Further North and East, however, a perfect storm was brewing.
Capital’s early fascination with Hitler did not begin and end with German manufacturers and merchants. Quite the contrary, from the early 1920’s, this artist and poet and believer in Germany’s volksreich attracted influential patrons from further afield than Central Europe.
The Rapallo Treaty between Germany and Russia, meanwhile, showed the risk of permitting even a ‘liberal’ German polity free rein in the aftermath of Versailles. Trade and even collaboration with communists rooted and grew.
This then is the context for the origins of Mein Kampf and the conflation of Jewishness and banking by social reactionaries. As opportunities dissipated, as jobs disappeared, as those who had lived gaily and sweetly found themselves hungry and fearful, the attraction of ‘strong policies’ that squashed unions, eliminated immigrants, emphasized warlike investment became irresistible for many. But this social setting for fascism did not pay the tab.
Who Financed Hitler is one of many sources that prove that the potent attraction that industrial and even finance capital felt for Adolf Hitler elicited his ascendancy. Again, this took place not only among German titans but throughout the haute bourgeoisie in the ‘free world’ as a whole.
A fascinating case study in this regard concerns Henry Ford’s admiration and support for the Austrian corporal and his National Socialist machine. Readers may find a thorough introduction to this tale here. Hitler kept a portrait of Ford behind his desk, the only such depiction in his office. Mein Kampf itself owed allegiance to Ford’s monograph on “international jewry,” which the industrialist had bequeathed to the Nazi leader without strings. Ford Motor Company laid the basis for the expansion of military production that, as Ford and Hitler both agreed, would have the primary purpose of annihilating the Soviet Union.
Under such circumstances, that a centenarian survivor of the French resistance might, in relation to the upsurge of fascism in the world, recently points an accusatory finger at the wealthy is unsurprising. That Indignez Vouz’s condemnation is not better known evidences both the propaganda or evasion that characterizes ‘established’ explication about these matters, and the confusion or ignorance that is almost universal concerning these issues.
“’When I try to understand what caused fascism, what caused the invasion by it and by Vichy, I tell myself that the wealthy, with their selfishness, have been terribly afraid of the Bolshevik revolution. They have been guided by their fears.’ In relation to Nazism, ‘the sense of history is the irresistible path of disaster to disaster.’”
While this decade-long fertilization of the fascist curse was occurring in the West, moreover, a parallel seeding of the ground took place on the fringes of Russia. Even inside the Soviet state, agents operated to lay the basis for upheaval in the present and collaboration with Nazis in the future.
The Georgian uprising and other cases of sallies against the Russians occurred throughout this period. The Polish State, weeks after its creation, with tens of thousands of its citizens languishing from Typhus and a million and a half of its children eating from the bread bowl of the American relief fund, decided to invade the Soviet Union and seize Moscow, though in the event, the Poles decided to seize Ukraine first.
George Kennan is just the most cogent, easily available chronicler to detail this sort of madness, which actually sounds strikingly like some of the developments of recent history. The Russians begged for negotiations. The Poles assaulted and won Kiev, where ragged pieces of a pro-Western administration remained.
The ‘victorious’ advances of anti-communist forces fell to pieces, however, and elicited the Red Army’s counterattack to the gates of Warsaw. Embedded French advisers, dispensing American money and British arms and ordnance, eventually drive the Bolsheviks back. Weary of carnage, all sides agree to a truce.
“So much for the Russian-Polish War. It was really only a delayed phase of the Russian intervention and civil war: delayed because the Poles did not want to be associated in any way with the White Russian opponents of the Bosheveki, and preferred to tackle the Soviet Communists themselves.”
The Arcos imbroglio is merely another instance of this sort of hostile relationship. The All-Russian-Cooperative Society was a British firm. However, just as the ‘free world’ spied on and agitated in and near the Soviet Union, so too did Russian agents seek access to useful intelligence and contacts in London or New York, in many cases with Ukrainian agents. And after all manner of dramatic testimony of illicit activity and unwelcome trading came to light, the English MI-5 authorized a general raid of and destruction of the outfit.
The events even extended to the U.S. “Jacob Moness was arrested in New York after information recovered by the Metropolitan Police in the ARCOS raid of 1927 implicated him in a worldwide Soviet espionage organization. The American authorities discovered a large number of documents at Moness’s New York apartment. These provided considerable proof of Soviet espionage networks in the US and revealed that the Russians’ principal interest in the US lay in their armed forces and defence industries.”
Thus, in a way that inextricably intersected with the products and personnel and prospects of Ukraine, a treacherous dynamic was in place between Europe and the U.S., on the one hand, and Soviet compatriots, on the other. This was transpiring, more to the overall point, in the context of absolute acceptance—and frequent monetary and constant political support—for Nazi initiatives and parties in German and Italy and throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
A contemporary socialist chronicle sums up some of this overall dynamic. “What was the real situation in the 1930s? The appeasement policy was not the result of some failure to stand up to the dictator Hitler, but involved a very definite set of calculations. British accommodation to the Nazi regime was based on the hope that Hitler would carry out the program outlined in his book Mein Kampf and launch a war against the Soviet Union, from which British imperialism would be able to benefit. Britain had pursued the overthrow of the Soviet regime from the day after the revolution of October 1917. There was no more passionate supporter of this goal than Churchill, who advocated military intervention by the imperialist powers to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle.”
The overall point of noting these attempts aggressively to assault and brutalize Russia is that Nazism as well existed to strike blows against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, including Ukraine, where Nikita Khrushchev was a rising leader in the Soviet leadership. These developments represented an explicit strategy, having nothing to do with any real hope for such ‘values’ as democracy. They did opportunistically enlist nationalist critics and opponents of Russia, but this is a different issue from the central choice to ally with fascism.
Of course, none of these points rebut the fact that Joseph Stalin was one of history’s monstrous criminals. His most strident accuser ended up being Nikita Khrushchev, because this ardent comrade and proponent of a people’s socialism was aware of the damage that ‘Uncle Joe’ had done to this cause.
More to the point of this narrative, Stalin’s viciousness resulted in the starvation of literally millions of Ukrainians when he forced the concentration of agricultural production in the region. This mass murder is of course inexcusable. Still, substantial numbers of Ukrainians support social democracy and recognize that this tremendous brutality occurred in a context of significant attacks on the Soviets and forced isolation of the Russians from trade and other sources of growth and exchange. Agents of the West, moreover, used the horror at what happened to build their intelligence arms and abilities in Ukraine, which in turn supported Hitler’s work when the time came for the Germans to invade.
In fact, the fascist gangs that presently plunder East Ukraine and sit in the halls of power in Kiev in many cases emanate directly from Stepan Bandera and his ilk. Such ‘liberal’ outposts as New York Review of Books have the temerity to play down Bandera’s fascism and label him a hero: nor is NYRB alone in such amelioration of Nazis.
The biographical facts are accessible in many places. Bandera came of age in the aftermath of the Soviet’s coming to power. He and his family, near the Polish border, were strongly nationalistic and accepted German help and funds. They participated in various actions during the Soviet years and orchestrated multiple slaughters of Poles and Jews and Communists until the Nazis themselves turned against Bandera and had him interned for the rest of the war. He died as a result of cyanide poisoning at the hand of the KGB in 1959.
The key facts here—those which more than any of the others ‘define’ this fellow—were the alliance with Nazis early on; the insistence on an ethnically ‘pure’ nation in an area with literally dozens of nationalities; the promulgation of mass murder. No matter what extenuating circumstances exist, one can no more ground a polity’s present on such a past, without fascism, than one can hail to Hitler as a hero and escape the Nazi brush.
Anyhow, as in the case of Bandera, more generally too, laying the groundwork for WWII, German interests in some cases merely networked with former or current English or French operations. Intelligence networks on the borders of and perhaps inside of the U.S.S.R. thus played a sinister role in preparing for what was one obvious ultimate purpose of Nazism, the utter evisceration of the Soviet Union and elimination of a Communist regime there.
The recruitment of local residents on the road to invading Russia was obviously a part of this process. Trade contacts, communication with public officials—such as police, administrative officials, public health functionaries, and more—and other means facilitated Western, and ultimately Nazi, access to knowledge of and power inside of Ukraine and other areas at the borders of Soviet control. These connections soon enough came into play.
The horrors of the war period in Ukraine stagger the imagination. The worst massacres, the most casual brutality, the most hideous violence and nonchalant bigotry took place in and around Ukraine. And for two years, Ukraine was a Nazi locus, till the Red Army—with tens of thousands of eager Ukrainian recruits—rooted them out.
One way of thinking about such things is to state that on June 29-30, 1941, German and Ukrainian operatives undertook the monumental task of slaughtering 33,000 Jews and Communists at Babi Yar, near Kiev. The hourly rate boggles the mind: a thousand corpses per hour; twenty thousand hasty burials per day; such statistics induce nausea.
The summary murder of as many as 50,000 more in Odessa a month later—this time with Romanian and local troops and police—imposes a similar psychic space. That both of these events—most people killed and the third-largest massacre of the entire Holocaust—occurred in Ukraine exemplifies both the complicated mayhem that the region is capable of manifesting and the presence in these places of agents with whom Nazis had for some time been in contact.
Another way to look at these developments is through the lens of literature. Here is Mikhail Sholokhov.
“His entire face was a cry; bloody tears were raining from his eyes that had been forced out of their sockets. …(O)ne leg, torn away at the thigh, was dragged along by a shred of skin and a strip of scorched trouser; the other leg was gone completely. He crawled slowly along on his hands, a thin, almost childish scream coming from his lips… . No one attempted to go to him.
‘Both legs gone!’
‘Look at the blood!’
’And he’s still conscious.’
Uryupin touched Grigory on the shoulder… . (and) drew Grigory along by the sleeve… . Under Zharkov’s belly the pink and blue intestines were steaming. The tangled mass lay on the sand, stirring and swelling. Beside it the dying man’s hand scrabbled at the ground.”
The point of any such capsulization, whether empirical or narrative, however, includes the following idea. These facts and atrocities resulted from consciously adopted directives. They were not accidents; nor miscalculations; nor mistakes.
The carnage’s aftermath, too, came down to a policy by the U.S. almost the obverse of its post-WWI invasion, taking the form of recruiting and finding homes around the world for thousands, or tens of thousands of German, Ukrainian, Romanian, and other fascist adherents. To an extent, such choices were religious, paralleling the Catholic Church’s well-documented embrace of Nazi forms and dreams. To an extent, these moves were tactical, ‘lesser-of-two-evil’ comradeship with the followers of Hitler and the promulgators of holocaust.
To wrap up this section, therefore, one might note that out of an initial revulsion for a locus of revolutionary critique grew a response that we now define as fascist, a deployment of tools-to-rule that persists to today and will keep on appearing tomorrow. A deeper penetration of the annals of this process will—without a single doubt—further prove that the United States explicitly and completely allied itself with fascism as the primary means of undercutting socialists, communists, and other anti-capitalists, both in Ukraine and more generally.
The connection with the present should be palpable. The social basis for fascist thinking is as simple to manifest as the massive uptick in downward mobility among the erstwhile ‘middle-classes,’ which is to say the shop-owners and insurance agencies and other small operators who collapse sooner or later as crisis follows crisis and the rich get richer. Unemployed and otherwise disaffected workers also join in. The ideological basis often comes down to an appeal to honor the nation, and, more particularly the state.
In the world of the here and now, and for the better part of a century, any fiercely nationalistic furor has skated along this route, a road to hell paved with good intentions perhaps. To insist on the nation, as a category superior to humanity, always now invites the Nazi wolf into the fold. These forces in Ukraine today not only have such obvious and discernible social and ideological roots, however, but they also both symbolically and actually have ties to the Banderas and Von Brauns and the predators whom the U.S. extricated following Germany’s collapse in 1945.
TSUNAMIS FROM CAPITALISM’S COLLAPSES
As noted at the outset, the brevity of the next two components of this argument result from exigencies of time and space. Much more remains to develop above. Even more so is that true below.
The ‘received wisdom’ in 1914 was that war was impossible. Integration would prohibit it. Except it did not do so. Among the topics and evidence important to consider here are the following.
Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes’ prescient warning about particularly Britain’s and France’s attempts to extract reparations from Germany.
The Merchants of Death ideation, both as an independent scholarly explication and as the result of the Senator Gerald Nye extensive committee hearings about the banking boons that resulted from financing Europe’s war.
The Manhattan Project, as a prototypical embodiment of conjoining State and War and production.
The Marshall Plan, which both unleashed the productive capacity that had burgeoned from the corpses that war created and acted to forestall Soviet involvement with Western Europe’s imperial states.
The governmental reorganization —DOD, CIA, NSA, AEC, & more all began between 1945 and 1950—that put into ongoing practice what the Manhattan Engineering District had foretold.
This short overview, then, establishes a three-part intersection that prevailed throughout this time and space: economic crisis, technological and organizational development, and the political commitment to warfare-Keynsianism. A continuation of these forces still marks the here and now.
The connection with the present day is therefore as simple to show as the ouster of Victor Yanukovich after he refused an IMF ‘loan’ and instead accepted a Russian plan. No sooner had Petro Poroschenko taken charge than he set in motion the political networking and quid pro quos to accede to the Western loan that Yanukovich had rejected.
Such apparently rational and natural choices as Yanukovich’s flow from the way that repeated prosperous bubblings collapse into destitution. Nevertheless, under the present relations of power and property, any similar decision is fundamentally impermissible. It violates the basic nature of the standard operation procedures, agendas, and needs of the powers-that-be. Soon enough, planes explode in midair and threats of utter annihilation replace the saber rattling of yore. And the past becomes a foggy plain, full of the stench of rotted corpses and the fear of instant death, that no one wants to venture to view.
The financiers who sit at society’s peak—at least on occasion—make sure that inhibitions against any deeper examination are powerfully present—in the news, in the halls of government, in the political and financial contextualization of such matters. After all, these bankers and traders and arbitrage experts hold levers of power that permit such obfuscation and deflection to proceed apace.
THE CIA-BANKING NEXUS AND ITS TARGETING CRIMEA
A grand compromise drove this supremacy of banking and finance. This entente allowed unions and other working-class empowerment. Social security became the norm. Its shadow, however was a ‘national socialism’ with which it must eventually clash, even as the hope among both some financiers and many industrialists was that unleashing Germany against Stalin’s Russia would eliminate the threat of organized communism while at the same time making fascism weak enough or tractable enough to manage.
The connection with the present day contains readily identifiable elements. The non-governmental organizations that sowed the fields that we are now readying to reap in Ukraine emanated from the likes of Pierre Omidyar and George Soros on ‘the left’ and from more obviously reactionary sorts as the Hoover Foundation and the Council for Foreign Relations on ‘the right ,’ not to mention various opportunistic outsiders, from Ukrainian-Israeli billionaires to the legal-eagle sons of Vice Presidents.
‘Left’ and ‘right’ are directions to turn. They do not represent any necessary polarity of opposition. Not so communist and capitalist, which, particularly as the moneybags’ stranglehold on policy becomes unstoppable, manifest a Manichean necessity of conflict to the bitter end.
A CONCLUDING INVITATION TO CONTINUING CONVERSATION
Another piece of art that my wife and I produced has this to say. “The Complex Convolutions of Contemporary Social Crises Mandate Inclusive, Forthright, & Complete Conversations, Freewheeling Debates That Foster Popular Empowerment & Enlightenment, Which in Turn Yield Potent Democratic Action; Unfortunately for Human Prospects, All Inclusive Discursive Movements Elicit Often Fierce & Official Resistance: Hypocritical ‘Gatekeepers,’ Polite Hosts, & Timid Citizens Mainly Either Proscribe or Avoid Any Discussion That Threatens to Touch on Sensitive Issues Critical to Human Survival—Humanity’s Epitaph Might Soon Enough Read, ‘They Could Have Solved Their Problems, But Didn’t Care to Talk About Them.’”
This essay invites ongoing conversation. Unlike Goldilocks, it does not pretend to have everything ‘just right.’
It develops a set of arguments that flow from intuition and observation and match aspects of evidence and knowledge about a place and time, some of which just showed up on my radar screen and some of which I’ve dug out with the help of my wife and other colleagues. This place and time, Ukraine more or less immediately prior to the present pass, must interest us, at least if our common thriving, even survival, has any appeal at all.
“Stamp of Ukraine Stepan Bandera 100 years” by The stamp was designed by Vasil Vasilenko . It most likely uses this photo. – own scan by Vizu. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stamp_of_Ukraine_Stepan_Bandera_100_years.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Stamp_of_Ukraine_Stepan_Bandera_100_years.jpg
This humble correspondent has just had the opportunity to make a Power-Point presentation to a hundred or so ‘progressive’ senior citizens. The topic, Understanding the Origins of the Internet, and the questions that it engendered, led to a recognition that folks generally might benefit from some orientation in thinking about the problems and prospects of creating a democratic media from the ground up.
“How can we ferret out what is true and accurate?”
“How can we overrule such powerful institutions as the Supreme Court?”
“If both parties offer nothing but doom and gloom for us, what are we supposed to do?”
These were a few of the questions posed by audience members.
The words of Thomas Jefferson resonate two hundred years later in response to these inquiries.
”I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
Even old James Madison, whose Federalist Paper Number Ten envisioned the two-party system as a way of keeping majority-rule at bay, proffers inspiring thoughts in this regard. ”A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
The deduction to which these ideas logically lead is that we have no choice but to educate ourselves nor any choice but to follow up our learning with action that is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ Paulo Freire sums up, generally, the tasks at hand. “Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men transform the world.”
He goes on:
“To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world, in its turn, reappears to the namers as a different problem that requires of them a new naming. Men are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.”
The ‘words and work and action-reflection’ that common citizens need is not happening. One reason for this is that even the most ‘progressive’ mediated communication is failing to engage people in such a way as to impart actual knowledge, which is only possible to obtain through historical, political-economic, and social assessments that begin at the beginning, deal with paradox-and-complexity, and follow the money.
The natural result of such real, ‘popular education’ can only be radical, meaningful critiques that in turn facilitate something like a ‘revolt of the commons.’ This essay begins a process of examining the failings of so-called ‘liberal media.’ A year-and-a-half ago, a purported champion of people’s reporting joined forces with one of the largest and most reactionary media powerhouses. A correct comprehension of this merger has yet to emerge, even after more than eighteen months. As this humble correspondent’s grandmother was wont to say, “It’s never too late: where there’s life there’s hope.”
In this first of a multi-part series—today’s intro, a final component many weeks hence, plus at least four or five segments in between that examine the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ of the Huff-Po/AOL conjunction–giving credit where credit is due is a good way to start. Arianna Huffington‘s How to Overthrow the Government performs a valuable service for anybody who both believes in popular empowerment and has an inkling that the rule-of-the-rich has gone too far. The book offers at least a modicum of clear and apt guidance to those who would foment or fuel an uprising from below.
The likes of this humble correspondent would vociferously suggest that ‘the book doesn’t go nearly far enough.’ Less charitable, and equally historically and socio-economically aware, critics have argued that, analytically and conceptually, the volume is at best irritatingly cautious and generally vapid. Nevertheless, the work offers some useful advice to those who want to return socially democratic political action to the grassroots. At least it conceives of public engagement as a necessary predecessor of political change.
That said, last year’s merger of Huffington Post and America Online is an entirely different kettle of fish. Many honestly and erstwhile ‘progressive’ and ‘leftist’ commentators celebrated this joining, or at least, gave it a ‘wait-and-see’ nod.
The only certain thing is that the writers and participants who built Huffington Post won’t see a slender cent from among the thirty billion pennies, or billion and a half pennies in stock, that changed hands in that bargain. Several already wealthy people, whose political and ‘strategic’ leadership had, for better or worse, guided the site, have, on the other hand made out like proverbial bandits.
The idea that this $315 million wedding, much to the benefit of Ms. Huffington’s coffers, might also represent ‘progress’ or be in the best interest of the ‘left’ arguably has much more to say about the deficiencies that attend the language of political description in the United States than it does with any rationally defensible consideration about promoting the needs of common people. The notion that this is in the popular interest also speaks volumes about the lack of class leadership among working people, who prove willing all too often to rely on the likes of a rich globe-trotting fashion moll with the opportunistic instincts of a coyote.
‘Liberals’ also cozy up to hyper-imperialists such as Hilary Clinton, or so some would say; ‘progressives‘ commonly make common cause with Barack-the-Magnificent, whose wars will soon eclipse those of his predecessor; the ‘left’ is a hodgepodge collection of folks who a lot of times are trying to avoid the label that is at least honestly descriptive, that of socialist, or social-democrat.
This humble correspondent considers himself ‘progressive,’ and he’ll only squirm and grit his teeth at the nearly meaningless moniker of ‘leftist.’ However, he is avowedly and unabashedly socialistic in his approach and his analytical proclivities. He has no problem noticing an obvious fact: without some sort of struggle for social and economic democracy, the worlds working people face further devastation and possible annihilation.
And in this vein, the marriage of the modern defense and imperial establishment, in the form of America Online, with a fetishized, paltry, petty-bourgeois liberalism, in the form of Huffington Post, accomplishes a perfect union from the perspective of ‘free-market’, ‘free-enterprise’ fraud-mongers. As such, the following prediction makes sense: it will continue to turn out as it already has—at best a lukewarm hodgepodge. Thus, for working people, for those who care about more than political labels and actually worry about substance, it will be at best a disastrous misallocation of allegiance and resources.
One way or another, the lack of class leadership, and the explicit embrace of both imperial ideation and bourgeois marketing and markets, will mean at best ‘friendly’ misleadership for the average people of the planet, who are suffering one body-blow after another to any hope that a ‘middle-class’ life will be even a credible fantasy. One would have to acknowledge, at least as a possibility, that the time for a media of the people, by the people, and for the people is long overdue.
Such an admission ought then to portend a serious effort in such a direction. Whether folks are, even now, ready to admit the obvious–‘But mommy, the king has nothing on!!’–and whether, even now, such an acknowledgment will yield the radical, populist upsurge that recognition ought to call forth, remains to be seen.
For this humble correspondent, the remainder of the present introduction merely contextualizes, all too quickly, the historical and conceptual undergirding of the media marriage that transpired at the start of 2011. A four-piece unit on AOL’s background follows over the next few weeks, more or less. Then, a three-chapter unit appears about Arianna Huffington and her love-child at Huff-Po. A long single take on the merger itself will appear at that juncture, to complete the substantive units of this series. Finally, a conclusion will then show up that, in the light of the insights and ideation of the intervening reporting and analysis, returns to some of the issues raised in today’s introductory paragraphs
BACKGROUND SYNOPSIS: the News-Media-Context From Which this ‘New-Media’-Deal Devolved
People who fancy themselves media-literate, or even who believe that following the news is important, have a duty to understand how in the world the media that we take for granted has transmogrified to become the apparent digital phantasmagoria that it is today. This is neither the time nor the place to go into copious detail. On the other hand, readers may rest assured that more detail will be forthcoming.
For now, this humble correspondent proposes that people consider one simple fact: media springs from the rich dirt of politics like magic mushrooms pop up from cow dung. Ever since the creation of the secret, and sacred, codes that underlay the first written forms, publication has been a battlefield; the priestly and royal control–extended imperiously–always met a challenge from below, in the form of vernacular articulations of one sort or another.
Need one consider such arcane interpretations of such facts as Derrida’s “The Mystical Foundations of Authority?” Or perhaps a more straightforward recollection, that law–the legitimation of force in favor of some stated ‘State,’ heretofore unheard of without social class divisions–is nothing without the capacity to record and annotate it, would serve as a ‘wake-up call’ about media’s social reality. No matter what, from the ‘dawn of history,’ or text, as it were, the connection between writing and rule is unbreakable.
In any event, much more recently, since Gutenberg, for instance, every communication medium’s technological development and social deployment has entailed this combative dialectic. The Bible may have been Johann’s first big project, but not too long afterward, the press itself helped Martin Luther affix his challenge to various posting places.
‘Martyrs-of-the-book’ died at fiery stakes, fueled in part by the materials that they created. The English crown disallowed all but ‘licensed’ printers in similar fashion as the F.C.C. only permits safely-establishment and oligopolistic voices to have their portion of the broadcast spectrum today. And even though the eviscerated First Amendment still exists, as a text, the quip is more apt than ever: “freedom of the press only applies if you own one.”
In essence, this all describes a pattern that has, quite plausibly, come to stand for a central trait of capitalist evolution. Put most simply, “ruling classes today ‘manage’ people through a combination of ‘public-relations,’ propaganda, distraction, and repression.”
A more nuanced statement of this point is possible. It might look something like this: “Key struggles over meaning, knowledge, and power all intersect with and emanate from controlling, first, the technologies and labor that compile recorded speech, and, second, the media for presenting those now extremely varied recordings; advantages in this contest, almost universally in the form of successful–or replicable–networks and paradigms that reach expanding ‘publics,’ serve to influence, and often to determine, social, political, and economic outcomes.”
For all of its frequent flaws of glaring bourgeois bias, Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communicationsoffers pupils of these matters a relatively elegant empirical bedrock for supporting the above conclusion. From the concomitant downfall of strict censorship and the censorious Stuarts; to the simultaneous libertine upsurge of colonial textuality—newsy, pugilistic, and both globally and locally aware; to the persistent rebellion that pamphleteering and ‘correspondence societies’ helped to launch and sustain; to the dialectically intertwined manifestation of knowledge, distribution, and publication forms that have seesawed their way through American history, this characterization of mediation seems, at least, reasonable.
The nearly universal initiation, co-optation, or capture of news-and-publishing outlets by the rising bourgeoisie took many forms. However, this humble correspondent would insist that folks apprehend the undeniable veracity of the proposition that we have not come to today’s seemingly unstoppable effusion of hyper-monopoly in any other fashion than step-by-step, following original inclinations to their logical and predictable ends.
This is corroborated whether one adopts a biographical approach–from Horace Greely’s faux-Horatio-Alger-garnering of capitalist backing, to Hearst’s gold-mining, and gold-digging, parentage, and beyond, to the Luces, the Paleys and so forth and so on–to ascertaining information networks, or whether one prefers to examine the way that business and regulatory structures favor particular organization forms over others, or whether one chooses different, more intellectual and ideational formulations. The history of media in America is, practically speaking–‘Citizen-Kane’ gossipy details notwithstanding, indistinguishable from the history of capitalism in America.
Advertising and marketing and propaganda together confirm this. Power-politics and the specifics of character assassination and the sway of secrecy demonstrate this. The opportunistic inclusion or exclusion of access to ‘legitimate’ or ‘unacceptable’ publics combine with criminal and civil media law again and again to prove this.
Forthcoming investigation will delve more deeply into the political-economic and historical background that underpins the current media conundrums that afflict citizens. The point of both this explication and what is to come is simple: in the realm of AOL’s conjunction with Huff-Po, such a conceptual, historical, and political-economic framework is critical to any understanding that is richer and deeper than either a ‘follow-the-yellow-brick-road’ optimism or a ‘lions-and-tigers-and-bears’ sense of panic.
SOME FINAL WORDS: The Only Media-Coup That Can Promote Democracy
The Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” could easily serve as an anthem for the present pass. It’s threatening lilt and gutsy force match the sensibilities of the current moment as well as anything outside the realm of rap.
“Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack, if you’ve got nothing new to say.
If you’ll please stomp back up the track, this train’s got to run today. …
I don’t know but I been told,
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold.
On the other hand, I done heard it said,
It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.
Who can deny, who can deny, it’s not just a change in style.
One step’s done, and another’s begun.
And I wonder how many miles. …
You can’t overlook the lack, Jack, of any other highway to ride.
It’s got no signs or dividing lines, and very few rules to guide
Now I don’t know but I’ve been told,
If the horse don’t pull, you got to carry that load.
Now, I don’t know whose back’s that strong.
Maybe find out before too long.
One way or another, one way or another, one way or another
This darkness got to give.
One way or another, one way or another, one way or another,
This darkness got to give”
One way of responding to such energy is to flee in terror. Another approach, however, is to recognize that, in times of “one way or another,” “Which Side Are You On?” and so forth, coalition is a necessary response to the inevitability of schism and polarization.
But before anything akin to coalition can even become a faint possibility, people need to wake up. They need to turn off the TV’s that poison them with fear and loathing and fill their minds with misinformation or nonsense and their hearts with envy or despondency. Like the denizens of ‘Dead Prez,’ they need to admit that we’ve been “telling lies to our children” and begin to correct them and atone for them.
One way or another, the only salvation for a popular democracy is a media that actually remains under popular control. And that will never happen at Huffington Post, at Nation of Change, at Op-Ed News, or at most other ‘left-media’ outlets as currently constituted.
This humble correspondent has long promulgated the idea that People’s Information Networks might serve as a conceptual model for actual progress in relation to gaining grassroots power in the information sphere. While future articles will further explore this idea, a few pointers now are apt to mention.
In this vein, this humble correspondent ends with some simple suggestions. Let’s get together and call for a People’s Media Congress. A People Power Congress shouldn’t be far behind. People Power Seminars need to begin as soon as readers finish this sentence.
What are all of these things, exactly? Well, let’s start talking about it. A grassroots, participatory, community-based uprising has to be better than what’s happening now.
As a Congressional candidate and acquaintance of this humble correspondent has stated the matter, “The time has come to take a stand.” Oblivion beckons otherwise.
Readers might want to stay tuned and remember the words of Bette Davis. “Fasten your seat-belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Who would have thought that spindoctorjimbo would ever write about Miley Cyrus? While she served as something like a role model for my daughter—presumptions of privilege and wealth, libertine lifestyle, flashy au courant style—her imprimatur has remained ‘outside the contemplative box’ for the likes of this humble correspondent(THC). Still, Cyrus’ recent work, “Liberty Walk,” and commentary on it, command a reply from the spindoctor’s pen, as it were.
Certainly, this brouhaha contains interesting economic underpinnings and impacts. Equally so, the political meaning of the piece and its interpretation are noteworthy. Finally, the social implications of the situation are especially interesting. Although these three categories are actually inseparable, a brief examination that uses this economic-political-social rubric gives THC a chance to say his piece.
The overarching economic fact of the last forty years, more or less, has been that capital’s leadership has failed to deliver on its promises for most inhabitants of the planet. This is to say that more and more marginalization of working people has occurred, while the so-called middle-class section of the laboring masses has found its toehold on decent living conditions increasingly tenuous.
This economic quagmire has manifested in a variety of fascinating and important ways. A few of these follow here:
Only through the repeated expansion and monetization of credit have economic leaders averted total meltdown, and even this persistent reliance on a ‘bubble system’ appears now to be breaking down.
While every civilian productive sector has confronted glut after glut, each sector—agriculture, energy, textiles, metals, everything—has also created massive productivity gains that could readily serve community purposes instead of existing exclusively for profit.
This contradiction has necessitated, on the one hand, an ever-growing reliance on militarized spending, including the massive expansion of the ‘Prison-Industrial-Complex’ via the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ the ‘War-on-Sex,’ etc., and, on the other hand, a burgeoning focus on fetishized commodification, ranging from plastic surgery and Viagra to tanning beds and hyper-inbred pets, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
Objectively, Ms. Cyrus’ slickly produced and fetchingly packaged music extravaganza fits into this second category of the ‘functioning’ economy of capitalism now.
This précis of the contemporary moment, though condensed and capable of plenty of amplification, allows an observer to ponder an aspect of Miley’s most recent effort to ‘build her brand.’
Meanwhile, the central political fact of the present period—again, the last four decades or so—has been a dismantling of ‘liberalism’ as constituted in ‘safety nets’ and ‘New Deals’ and a concomitant surge in repressive, even fascistic, laws and approaches to politics. Inevitably, in inchoate ways here in Central North America and in more organized fashion in parts of the world less ‘liberated’ by the constraints of being the imperial center and the misled ‘bastion’ of ‘freedom and patriotism,’ resistance to this amped-up oppression has risen among the working folks for whom capitalism isn’t working very well anymore anyhow.
This subjugation to plutocracy has, as in the economic sphere above, shown-up in myriad ways of note and import. A few of these follow here:
Even as ‘information’ has proliferated and become one of the current, purported ‘freedoms,’ actual access to data and knowledge has suffered severe diminution, at the same time that various whistleblowers—and ‘Wiki-Blowers’ have sought to counteract this trend toward both secrecy and fee-based exclusion from facts.
Even as international political norms have become ubiquitous in all areas of politics, so that on the surface all and sundry are subject to the rule of law, in actuality, imperial crimes occur with increasing impunity—ranging from the mundane frauds of everyday life—three hundred dollar seat-belt tickets to make people ‘safer’—to the most murderous plunder—mass carnage in Fallujah that served both to open new territory for capital’s untrammeled sway and to cover up capital’s complicity in creating what it saw fit to destroy there.
Even as the celebration of ‘the blessings of liberty’ have advanced on every front, political participation and the forms of democracy have become ever more tenuous, especially in the ‘belly-of-the-imperial-beast’ here in the United States; what with mass disfranchisement, purposeful political paralysis, and decreasing legitimacy of dissent, even the façade of majority rule is at risk.
Even as any promise in the Bill of Rights takes center stage in all established mediation of power and justice, progressively more draconian suppression of real rights—from the negative capacity to avoid ‘unreasonable’ searches and seizures to the positive autonomy to speak and organize for a better world—continues to manifest itself; the Patriot Act is only an ongoing explication of this long standing and now seemingly intractable trend.
Even as capital has, in these varied ways, arrogated ever-greater legitimacy to its hegemony, protest to this arrogant disregard for human rights and social potential has increased, especially in recent years, as the economy has spiraled downward.
Non-assaultive political and economic responses of bourgeoisie rulers to such outbursts of discontent has operated in tandem: the packaging of radical-chic and the lionizing of ‘liberty’s guardians’—especially those in places like Cuba and China and Egypt—has always proceeded in both the marketplace and in every arena of power politics.
Objectively, Miley Cyrus’s work operates both as real dissension and as an easily-packaged deflection and cooptation of discord; to an extent, her own coming of age has made resistance to the machinations of domination unavoidable, simultaneously as her ‘brand’ had to seek to commoditize and neutralize this nevertheless honest disagreement with the powers-that-be.
Politics, like economics, proffers onlookers with a lens for examining “Liberty Walk” and those who would deconstruct it.
Just as what Marcuse called ‘one-dimensionality’ has taken over economics and politics, so too compression and limitation have come to characterize the social realm. This process is all-the-more astounding in its delicious contradictions and luscious paradoxes.
Thus maximum ‘diversity,’ ‘identity,’ and pluralistic mores coexist with straitjacketed uniformity and lack of individual capacitation.
Entirely new, ‘revolutionary’ developments of community have led to diminished social contact and collectivity.
Maximization of conformity has accompanied the most profound ‘desublimation’ of inhibition in every area of existence.
At once, surreality passes for reality and alienation passes for compassion and empathy.
Aggressive attacks on ‘depression’ and unhappiness yield the highest degree of cynicism and fatalism ever.
Wherever one looks, the processes of emiseration call forth countervailing tendencies, toward human fulfillment and the realization of the potential that exists in the combination of social labor and technique. Yet, still, those in charge seek ways to subvert and divert these outpourings of social desire for justice and democracy.
Once again, Miley Cyrus straddles both of these tendencies. Hers are liberating tropes at the very same instant that they represent marketing fetishes and misleading triviality.
One cannot watch “Liberty Walk” without seeing the deepest challenge to capital’s sway. Nevertheless, by itself, the effort therein is completely inadequate, since lacking a combination of dialogic capacity-building and conscious action-against-oppression, the song and its performance represent primarily another Walmart ledger entry, a further rationale for an i-Pod existence that lacks any creative or liberating outlet in the realm of the real.
Further Reflections on the Planned Judicial Murder of Troy Anthony Davis
Now and again, off and on, everything in this essay consists of ideas and facts that I have been conveying and reporting for years. The text here basically accomplishes two things. It presents the information that I received about Troy Anthony Davis when I was a reporter in Savannah on another assignment, in 2003. It summarizes the meaning of that data, in relation to the likely murder of Troy Davis tomorrow. It suggests what a rational, powerful response to Mr. Davis’ lawful and stupid and evil execution would be. As I noted to start, none of this is new. The lack of a media that has the resources to communicate such material adequately is another item that I have long sought to proffer, something in fact that I’ve been reporting for thirty-odd years as I’ve talked repeatedly about the need for Peoples Information Networks and Popular Action Networks with which they conjoin, especially in relation to the Southern U.S.
Several times in the Winter and Spring of 2003, I found myself in Savannah to cover the unjust and ludicrously biased disbarment of a powerful and prominent local Black attorney, Joyce Marie Griggs. As the saying goes, that “is another story.” However, as a result of that process–with its components of color prejudice, bigotry, and the elimination of threats to the powers-that-be–I learned what the true definition of a mistake is, in the context of one of several conversations about Troy Anthony Davis. “A man who says, ‘we made a mistake,’ almost always is asking you to overlook that he has just violated you in the most profound way, robbed you of your humanity, and that he hopes to escape any consequences for such brutality.”
The speaker, a promoter of a Black Holocaust Museum in Savannah, was comparing the lynch-mob justice that had caught Troy Davis in its web, with the vast crimes of slavery and Jim Crow, responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans and African Americans. He affirmed what three other Savannah residents, as well as Attorney Griggs, testified to as common knowledge ‘in the ‘hood’ in the city.
First, Troy Davis did not kill Officer MacPhail.
Second, the police knew this and had employed strong-arm tactics to gather the necessary ‘evidence’ to convict an innocent man.
Third, the police, and many in the community, knew who had killed Officer MacPhail, one of the ‘witnesses’ against Davis.
Fourth, this man–occasionally an informant for the police–had terrorized and threatened and eliminated people who had suggested that they would rat him out.
Fifth, the Savannah police were notoriously brutal and corrupt, in the nature of an organized gang of thieves and dictators who operated rackets in the city for the upper classes.
As I have said, I have spoken and written about these matters before. I have implored various individuals and agencies for help in investigating these allegations. Even a hint of truth to most of them ought to exonerate Troy Davis, perhaps even extricate him from prison. Nothing ever has come of these requests on my part; now and again, though, I have continued to write about this matter.
What these reported facts imply is clear. The likely execution of Troy Davis tomorrow will be the most horrific sort of soulless, brutal, and evil act, a murder based on false witness and opportunism and hypocrisy and corruption. Millions of Georgians, either through collusion or silence, will become accessories to a venal and vicious homicide.
Someday, within a couple of years at the most, Georgia will admit that it “made a ‘mistake,'” though unfortunately Mr. Davis will likely be dead. If it manages the second time to nab the Black man–a career criminal, according to many witnesses–who did in fact gun down Officer MacPhail, then in a sense, this most bigoted of States will be getting ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ in ridding itself of two African Americans.
That those who carry out this murder will argue that they were ‘mistaken’ cries out for a response. What should people do about this murderous duplicity and criminal impunity on the part of constituted authorities?
Organizers of a ‘liberal’ bent have been beating the bushes to save Mr. Davis’ life. They have, through a heroic effort, gathered 600,000 signatures calling for clemency, which the State Board of Pardons and Parole, predictably, ignored. They have conducted vigils and marches and speaking tours.
Unfortunately, their tactical response otherwise has been tame. ‘Write letters,’ they have advised. ‘Make phone calls’ to complicit leaders, they have counseled. ‘Quietly and peacefully protest,’ they have asked. The time for such tactics has passed, in my estimation. Here are some minimal ways that people should react, should Davis die by a ‘mistaken’ needle tomorrow.
Everyone, in and out of Georgia, should do the utmost to boycott Georgia businesses, unless they have explicitly contributed to and participated in the effort to commute Davis’ sentence.
No one except those who like to pal around with murderers should ever again go to college in Georgia, again unless an institution clearly fought for sparing Davis’ life.
No convention should ever again occur in Georgia, until reparations and justice have been provided, except of course that those organizations that support judicial murder of the innocent ought to come only to Georgia.
Everyone who can speak, write, and otherwise communicate should set aside time each year to continue condemning Georgia as in league with all that is satanic and wrong in the human condition.
Anyone who works for the state of Georgia, or does business for the State of Georgia, should quit their employment, or quit providing services to the State of Georgia, unless they want to support judicial murder of the likely innocent.
Again, this is a minimalist response, one which I have on other occasions embedded in both text and conversation.
However, the likely murder of Troy Anthony Davis demands a more stringent response. This is also something that I have said in the past.
Self-defense is the very essence of much that passes for “human rights.” As a matter of self-defense, citizens must begin to organize to take action that goes well beyond any ‘hat-in-hand’ request for assistance. We must in fact, begin to organize to be able to show up, en masse and in force, to participate in bringing democracy–majority rule–to fruition, in some ways for the first time in U.S. history.
Joe Hill is another victim of judicial murder. Only recently, have scholars demonstrated ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt,’ the way that corrupt criminals in power ‘made a mistake’ and shot Joe Hill to death by firing squad in Utah. He might well have advised us to consider thinking along the following lines. ‘If 100 people showed up to blockade a prison and demand the release of those held within, the ‘forces-of-disorder’ in charge of the world would arrest them and put them behind bars; if a thousand people showed up at such a blockade, the authorities would arrest or shoot them down; they might even mow down ten thousand; but would they so easily be able to subvert the popular will if 100,000 or a million citizens showed up at the prison gates and demanded, with Moses, “Let my people go!”?
In any event, until we have the capacity and the will to manifest such a potent expression of majority rule, then we will never be able to say, as Georgia’s most magnificent preacher did before he too was cut down, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”
A fascination with, aversion toward, and utter confusion about the United States are all paradoxically possible at the same point in time. To an extent, these seemingly incompatible feelings accompany the imperial position of hegemony that the U.S.A. currently occupies. In this context, what happens in the U.S., particularly when lives are at stake and oppression appears irresistible, deserves the world’s compassionate attention. Legal matters, especially when capital punishment is at issue, are typical of this sort of important development that mandates a closer look.
Though I’m not an attorney, as a wordsmith I know that a fascination with language and meaning is a lawyer’s stock in trade. A while back, contemplating the term ‘accessory,’ in its criminal legal sense, seemed particularly apt in regard to the State of Georgia, where until recently I resided in the Southern U.S. A wide-ranging and authoritative definition of ‘accessory’ shows up in Black’s Law Dictionary and multiple other sources: “one who is not the chief actor in the offense, nor present at its performance, but in some way concerned therein, either before or after the act committed; one who aids, abets, commands, or counsels another in the commission of a crime. Accessory after the fact–person who, knowing a felony to have been committed by another, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the felon, in order to enable him to escape from punishment, or the like. Accessory before the fact–one who orders, counsels, encourages, or otherwise aids and abets another to commit a felony and who is not present at the commission of the offense. Accessory during the fact–one who stands by without interfering or giving such help as may be in his power to prevent the commission of a criminal offense.”
Inasmuch as any Georgia resident, who is not actively protesting the pending execution of Troy Anthony Davis, either is or ought to be aware of this coming killing, such a one is quite likely about to become every sort of accessory to this still young man’s judicial murder, which, if Davis is innocent, is at the very least a negligent homicide. Let me be completely clear: this means that not only would Governor Nathan Deal and most of the State’s legislature be culpable for what is as likely as not a major felony, it would mean that the several million Peach State occupants who are doing nothing would also be chargeable, in that their silence and inattention, or, in far too many cases of misguided vengefulness, their active support and direction, provided aid and comfort to the actual executioners.
Undoubtedly, someone viciously killed Mark Allen MacPhail on August 19, 1989. Just as obviously, a Savannah, Georgia jury convicted Troy Davis of that brutal murder in August, 1991. Lacking physical evidence that Mr. Davis was the killer, however, or any circumstantial evidence other than his presence at the scene, where off-duty officer MacPhail was attempting to break up a parking lot melee, Chatham County prosecutors relied on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses to make the charges against Troy Anthony Davis stick.
Today, seven of those nine observers take back their testimony, admitting that they cannot state with any certainty who pulled the trigger and slayed an honest cop doing good work. Several recanting witnesses speak of blatant police misconduct, including threats of imprisonment if they did not implicate Troy Davis.
Mark Allen MacPhail’s death is a fact; that someone gutlessly murdered him is a fact; Troy Anthony Davis’ conviction for that soulless crime is a fact. But we should make no mistake: given copious other facts that are now at hand, including and in addition to the recantation of over three quarters of the eyewitnesses who formed the sole basis for the State’s pinning this act on Mr. Davis in the first place, his actual guilt is at best one possibility among many others to account for the cretinous and hateful destruction of Officer MacPhail’s life.
Thus, at the very least, a significant possibility exists, a possibility that any reasonable person would acknowledge adds up to a “reasonable doubt” that was unavailable to jurors in Savannah in August, 1991, that Mr. Davis, an innocent man, has served over twenty years in prison, almost all 240 of those months on death row, for something that he did not do. Moreover, of course, all Georgians who do not insist that he receive clemency are in one way or another playing a role in a murder of Troy Anthony Davis that will be, if he is guiltless, at least as sinister and cruel and stupid as the killing for which he may unjustly soon lose his life.
In a word, passively or actively, millions of Georgians are about to become accessories before, during, and after the fact to a homicide that even those who count themselves staunch advocates of capital punishment can only claim is possibly, or at most probably, a justifiable taking of human life. Obviously, these millions of ‘accessories’ will never face justice for their acts. Procedural layers of contemporary law protect them as seamlessly as a kevlar vest would fend off a BB gun.
Perhaps those who bother to read this missive will take comfort in their legal blamelessness, even as Troy Anthony Davis suffocates on a ‘cocktail’ of lethal poisons administered by agents of the Georgia citizenry. Nevertheless, to execute a blameless bystander for a horrifying homicide merely compounds the crime; not only does no one responsible face justice, but also all of those who impassively watch the new killing become morally bankrupt, whatever escape clauses permit them to evade proper criminal blame.
I for one refuse to stand with the murderers, and I pray for an upwelling and outpouring of support to the same effect. I’m not a particularly religious person, but if Troy Anthony Davis dies at the hands of Georgia’s criminal authorities on September 21 or the days that follow, then the vast majority of my former home-State’s citizenry deserve a common epithet delivered to the guilty: “May God have mercy on their souls.”
The equinox this year, in the event of Troy’s wanton execution, will portend an endless night of gruesome injustice. What must result from that, sooner or later, is a fulfillment, whatever particular ‘war of attrition’ comes as
comeuppance for the arrogance of vicious murder by which Georgia operates, of Abraham Lincoln’s inquiry in his Second Inaugural.
“‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh. If we shall suppose that American slavery(or Troy Davis’ murder by acts of omission and commission by Georgia’s people) is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives … this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash(or the hypodermic) shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”
Why should someone who is not a U.S. citizen care about this? One might just as easily pose the question of a resident of Maine, or California, who looks askance on the bigotry and brutality so characteristic of oxymoronic “Southern justice.” The answer depends on the individual in question. Does he or she complain about imperious American actions? Or does he or she long for a world with more of a balanced distribution of power? For the resident of other states: do they ever deplore that a cretin like George Bush stole the Presidency? Do they ever wish for fairer criminal justic policies, a rejection of fascistic laws such as the U.S.A. Patriot Act, or a general diminution of the power of the ‘prison-industrial-complex?’
For non U.S. citizens or non Georgia residents who never ponder issues such as these, or who feel in fact that everything is more or less hunky-dory on the planet earth, the answer to the initial question about why some should care is simple. “They needn’t care a bit about Mr. Davis’ murder by the State and the accessory status of Georgia’s citizenry.”
But for anyone else, anyone who knows, with Hamlet, that “something is rotten” indeed in the State-of-Everything-on-Earth, the answer to the first interrogatory above is simple, but not quite so easy. To them, a concerned observer might suggest, “people who want significant reform need viewpoints that proffer something to fight the powers-that-be. Being able to note, with complete accuracy, that most Georgians are culpable for an innocent man’s murder, because they are too vicious, lazy, bigoted, or ignorant to be other than criminal accessories to such a crime, sounds to me like ammunition in the battle about what kind of future we hope to fashion for our progeny.”
When I investigated this story in 2004, I uncovered evidence that the Savannah Police know precisely what they’re doing. Executing an innocent man, while the killer is on their payroll is part of Departmental protocol somehow. In any event, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, with an update that is more concerned with my work on the case, and actions available to those who oppose murdering innocent men, due out early next week.