Saturday, January 21, 2017

Black Bloc

The "Black Bloc" so-called anarchists broke windows in Wasington yesterday to express outrage at the Republican presidential inauguration.

There is no better way to keep workers away from marches than by creating this kind of intimidation. None of my coworkers would join me in 2010 at our local Occupy Wall Street for fear of being put in the line of fire by these infantile petty bourgeois liberals.

What a boon for cop budgets to not have to pay for provocateurs!

From 2010:


When the march was well underway, a small group of anarchists, calling themselves the “Black Bloc,” started smashing windows of stores and police vehicles. This gave the authorities the pretext for carrying out widespread physical attacks and arrests.

The Militant - July 12, 2010 -- Ottawa launches assaults on rights as G-20 event begins

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A working-class approach to crime

‘Solidarity is strengthened by social struggle’

The Militant received the following letter from reader August Nimtz in Twin Cities, Minnesota, commenting on the article “Does ‘Broken Windows’ Policy Cause Police Brutality?” in the Feb. 23 issue.

The Militant is right on in its article on police brutality and what it will take to eliminate it as well as the daily “crime and gang violence” working people have to live with. “Ties of solidarity among working people are strengthened in times of growing social struggles” — the beginning of a real answer to the latter. At the height of the Black rights movement 50 years ago, the Feb. 1, 1965, Militant reported on a study on how crime in the Black neighborhood dropped during the most intense moments of the mass mobilizations in one of the movement’s sites. Militant readers, anti-police brutality fighters in particular, would also benefit in knowing more about how the Cuban Revolution was able to dismantle the police force and replace it with one that serves the interests of working people.

Below we reprint the article Nimtz refers to, with the original headline.

How to Cut the Crime Rate: Mobilize People for Rights

A Johns Hopkins and Howard University study of crime patterns in Cambridge, Md., showed a clear link between “direct action” civil rights activity and a reduction in crimes among Negroes. The study showed that in the months of May through September in 1962 and 1963, during which there was considerable civil-rights activity in Cambridge, the Negro crime rated dropped to 25 per cent of the 1961 rate.
There was no corresponding difference in the crime rate of Cambridge whites.

According to the Jan. 15 Baltimore Sun, the university researchers drew the following conclusions:

“1. Aggressions built up by the system of segregation, instead of being dammed up or unleashed against other Negroes, were channeled into the nonviolent protest movement …”

“2. All levels of the Negro community were affected by the movement. Even Negroes who took no active part in the protests were deterred from crime by a spirit of unity and common concern for the movement.”

The civil-rights movement in Cambridge, led by the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee under the direction of Gloria Richardson, was one of the most militant in the country. For several months in the summer of 1963 the National Guard was called into Cambridge to maintain martial law.

Despite this the CNAC won a number of demands in Cambridge, embodied in a July 23, 1963 five point program. These included integration of the Dorchester County schools, appointment of a bi-racial city committee, integration of all public places of accommodation, and the proposal for the building of low-rent public housing.

The university investigation of the effects of the Cambridge movement put its finger on a key point when it concluded: “The most important single fact is that [the Cambridge movement] was conducted almost entirely by lower class Negroes.”

A working-class approach to crime, cops, and capitalist ‘anticrime’ campaigns
(As I See It column)


WASHINGTON—One issue Democratic and Republican candidates use to try to drum up votes is “the fight against crime.” Whether crime rates are up or down, capitalist politicians try to convince us that they are the best ones to address the problem, and that the solution is more cops and more jailings. That these appeals get a hearing from working people shouldn’t be underestimated by those who want to end the economic and social system that breeds the conditions for crime.

Here in Washington, D.C., homicides declined steadily from a high of 262 in 2002 to 169 in 2006. Last year they spiked upward to 181. The increase led politicians on the city council to upstage each other in grilling police chief Cathy Lanier as to what the department was doing wrong.

“The Police’s Excellent Year” trumpeted a New York Times editorial at the end of 2007. “The nation’s largest city is among the safest,” it stated, noting that homicides in New York in 2007 dropped below 500, the lowest number ever recorded. By contrast, more than 4,000 murders occurred in the city in 1990-1991.

Nationwide, both violent crimes and property theft and damages fell substantially from 1993 to 2005, according to the federal National Crime Victimization Survey. They are at the lowest level since the data began to be recorded in 1973.

Workers obviously support the decline in murder rates. They hate the petty muggers and gangs who prey on them.

The Socialist Workers Party candidates explain that the role of the police is to protect the wealthy ruling class and its property. This rings true to many workers who have been on strike and had their picket lines attacked by the cops. Or to those who have been stopped, harassed, abused, or jailed while going to work, shopping, or out for an evening of entertainment.

The capitalist rulers’ “anticrime” campaign means workers, especially those who are Black and Latino, getting shot by killer cops. It means more working people thrown in jail and given longer sentences —today more than 2 million are locked up nationwide. It means the chipping away of constitutional rights such as the presumption of innocence and due process. 

Police can’t be reformed

Class-conscious workers don’t advocate “improving” the police through “sensitivity training” or by hiring more Black cops or “community” cops. The police are a repressive institution of the capitalist state and can’t be reformed into something different. Cops are not workers—they voluntarily accept their role as enforcers of capitalist rule, and in doing so become declassed and stripped of human solidarity.

But what do socialists say about crime?

In 1844-45 a young Frederick Engels, cofounder with Karl Marx of the modern communist movement, wrote down his observations about the impact of the manufacturing system on workers in England, the leading capitalist country at the time. In The Condition of the Working Class in England he cited examples of the violence of everyday life in capitalist society, where “every one stands for himself, and fights for himself against all comers.”

“This war of each against all,” he wrote, “need cause us no surprise, for it is only the logical sequel of the principle involved in free competition.”

Engels explained that the dog-eat-dog values and alienation bred by capitalism are the source of crime. To finally rid the world of crime, working people must organize to rid the world of the criminal system that produces it, capitalism.

The biggest thieves and murderers, of course, are the super-rich propertied classes who expropriate the wealth created by the labor of workers and farmers around the world. Their system also breeds small-time criminals, those who have lost any sense of solidarity and prey on people on a smaller scale.

In countries where capitalism has been overturned, revolutionary leaderships have had to confront the problem of crime. In Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War, 1956-58, Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara described how the leadership of Cuba’s Rebel Army, led by Fidel Castro, brought criminal elements to justice, executing those who tortured, raped, and murdered peasants.

They took harsh measures to prevent petty thieves and cattle-rustlers from becoming mixed up with the Rebel Army. No abuse of the peasants or theft of their animals or crops was tolerated. These measures had deep popular support.

After the 1959 victory of the revolution, workers and farmers mobilized in their millions to transform society, carrying out a literacy campaign, land reform, and the nationalization of capitalist industry, banking, and agriculture. The capitalists’ army, police, and extralegal thugs were dismantled and replaced by a new state based on workers power.

Cuba marked by solidarity

Cuban working people organized themselves into trade unions, neighborhood committees, and popular militias. They defended themselves against counterrevolutionary attacks, stopped petty criminals, and combated corruption. Cuba’s revolutionary police have been part of these struggles, such as the heroic role they played in the defeat of the 1961 U.S.-backed mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Revolution has been marked by the prevalence of solidarity and combating the predatory, antisocial values of capitalism.

That’s what a workers and farmers government will begin to do and what a socialist revolution can accomplish. To end crime, working people need to put an end to the criminal system of exploitation.

That means building a revolutionary movement of working people that can take on the ruling rich, their cops, and courts, and win. That’s what the Socialist Workers campaign is about.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Iraq

….years of Stalinist betrayals in Iraq helped pave the way for the Baathist regime to come to power, destroying the 1958 democratic revolution and dealing crushing blows to the working class. That was the counter-revolution. That’s one of the main obstacles working people in Iraq have faced….

And that’s why Washington has found a host of groups openly backing or going along with the imperialist assault and occupation—from most of the Kurdish parties, to Shiite organizations that are part of the U.S.-run Iraqi Governing Council, to the Iraqi Communist Party.


Imperialist plunder of Iraq has long history


Since the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, control over Iraq has been at the center of the rivalry of imperialist powers to dominate the vast oil reserves of the Middle East. The rulers in London, in particular, looked with greedy eyes on both the oil wealth and the maritime role of the entire Arab-Persian Gulf region, strategically located between the British "jewels in the crown" of India and its north African possessions.

In the years leading up to World War I, German companies constructed rail lines from southwest Turkey to Basra in southern Mesopotamia, as Iraq was then known. The British government, then the dominant imperialist power, feared such a presence by its rival threatened its trade routes to India and the broader region and its growing oil interests. London sought control of the newly discovered oil fields under Ottoman rule, and concluded exclusive oil pacts with local governments. In 1913, for example, the British government secured an agreement with Kuwait, receiving the promise that Kuwait would only sign oil contracts with those appointed by London.

With the opening of the war British forces landed at the Shatt-al-Arab waterway and advanced against Turkish troops at Basra. By the spring of 1918 Britain had extended its rule over all but a narrow strip of Mesopotamia. London gained leverage over its imperialist rivals in the war by promising Arab nationalist movements post-war independence in return for siding with Britain against Germany, which was allied with the Ottoman empire. Three major anticolonial societies had been formed in Iraq--the League of Islamic Awakening, the Muslim National League and the Guardians of Independence.

At the 1919 Versailles "peace" conference, however, where Washington, London, Paris, and Rome imposed settlements on their defeated rival in Berlin, and established the League of Nations to legitimize their domination, Mesopotamia was declared a protectorate of the United Kingdom.

In spite of promises of granting independence, London had, in fact, with the agreement of czarist Russia, signed a secret agreement with Paris on dividing up the Ottoman empire. The Sykes-Picot agreement between the imperialist powers allotted southern Mesopotamia to Britain, and awarded Syria to France. This pact was brought to light after workers and peasants came to power in the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik government published its terms along with other secret treaties.

By July 1920 a popular rebellion in Iraq threatened continued foreign occupation. The British Royal Air Force suppressed the revolt with a massive aerial bombardment of Arab villages, including the use of poison gas. Responding to a proposal to use chemical weapons as an experiment on "recalcitrant" Arabs, Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, said, "I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes."

In the wake of the 1920 rebellion and hoping to disguise its colonial rule over Iraq, the British replaced its military regime in Baghdad with a provisional Arab government subordinate to a British high commissioner. At the 1921 Cairo Conference, London installed Faisal ibn Husayn as Iraq’s first king. 

A protectorate of London

In 1922, London imposed the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, to last for 20 years, instructing the king to "heed British advice" on all matters affecting British interests and on all fiscal policy as long as Iraq remained in debt to London. British officials would be appointed to posts in 18 departments to act as advisors and inspectors. To insure Iraq’s continued debtor status, the treaty required the protectorate to pay half the bill for British resident officials, among other expenses. London agreed to provide various kinds of "assistance" and to propose Iraq for membership in the League of Nations "at the earliest moment."

British interests in the new Arab protectorate mainly centered on the oil-rich former Ottoman province of Mosul. Prior to the fall of the Ottoman empire the British-controlled Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC) held concessionary rights in Mosul. London rebuffed the Iraqi government’s insistence on a 20 percent equity in the company as had been the agreement with Ottoman-ruled Turkey. Fearing that without British backing the League of Nations might return Mosul to Ankara, the monarchy submitted to the terms of the British colonial masters. The final agreement contained none of the Iraqi demands and granted the TPC, now renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company, a concession for 75 years.

Mosul is located in the predominantly Kurdish region in northern Iraq. At the end of World War I, the Kurds were also promised by London and Paris that in exchange for their support against Germany, the Ottoman Sultan would be required to grant autonomy to Kurdistan. But the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty was scrapped after the young Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kamal, known as Atatürk, reestablished control over the Kurdish areas in eastern Turkey. In addition to northern Iraq, Kurdistan includes parts of Turkey, northern Iran, north eastern Syria and a small section of Armenia. The Kurdish fight for independence in Iraq and the broader region remains a pivotal issue today.

A new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty was signed June 30, 1930. It granted London the use of air bases near Basra and at Al Habbaniyah, including the right to move troops across the country. The 25-year treaty became effective with Iraq’s admission to the League of Nations in 1932.

As World War II approached, German imperialists attempted to exploit anti-British sentiment in Iraq. In 1941 the Arab nationalist prime minister of Iraq, Rashid Ali, placed conditions on British troop movements in the country and ousted members of the monarchy, who then escaped to Jordan. London retaliated by landing forces at Basra, and justifying its second occupation of Iraq on the grounds that Baghdad had violated the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. The monarchy was once again installed on the force of British arms.

London’s colonial empire, like that of Paris, was shattered by anticolonial movements throughout Asia and Africa during and after World War II. In Iraq this was spurred by the British suppression of the 1936 Palestinian revolt and subsequent partitioning of Palestine in 1947. The "Free Officers’ Movement" in Iraq aimed at ousting the king and ending foreign domination. In 1952 when depressed economic conditions led to widespread protests against the monarchy, the government responded by declaring martial law, banning all political parties, suspending a number of newspapers, and imposing a curfew. 

British colonial rule shattered

On July 14, 1958, army officers led by Brigadier Abd al Karim Qasim and Colonel Abd as Salaam Arif overthrew the monarchy. They met virtually no opposition, as Iraqis poured into the streets in support of the revolt. King Faisal II was executed along with many others in the royal family.

The July 14 Revolution, as it is known, permitted the formation of trade unions and implemented a land reform aimed at dismantling the feudal structure in the countryside. It also challenged the profit-sharing arrangement of the oil companies. Public Law 80 dispossessed the British-controlled Iraqi Petroleum Company of 99.5 percent of its concessions and restricted it to areas currently under production. The Qasim government announced the formation of the Iraqi National Oil Company to exploit any new production sites.

The new government was supported by Arab nationalists and members of the officer corps--many of whom were adherents of Baathist movements. The government was also backed by the Stalinist Iraqi Communist Party. Baath was an Arab political party, first formed in Syria and Iraq in 1941, that espoused pan-Arab unity. 

Rise of Baathism

The Baathist Party came to power in a short-lived counterrevolutionary coup in 1963 that beheaded the vanguard of the 1958 revolution. A young officer named Saddam Hussein, who had participated in an earlier attempt to overthrow the Qasim government, rose in the Baath party through a bloody factional struggle. The Iraqi Baathist Party, which returned to power in 1968, is a bourgeois party that, as expediency dictates, has resorted to nationalist and anti-imperialist demagogy to rationalize its repressive and expansionist course. In 1979 Hussein became president of Iraq.

The Baathist regime halted revolutionary mobilizations of workers and peasants, while setting on a path of industrialization. In 1972 Iraq nationalized the oil industry. In response, Richard Nixon, the president of the United States, which had emerged as the main imperialist power after World War II, replacing London, placed Iraq on a list of nations supporting "terrorism."

Baghdad, however, was not on a course to challenge imperialism and the rights and prerogatives of capital. With the overthrow of the shah of Iran in 1979 by Iranian workers and peasants, one of the main pillars of imperialist domination in the region had fallen. Washington publicly encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran to take back the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, which the U.S. government had forced Iraq to cede to the shah’s regime four years earlier. The Iraqi government complied, sending its army to invade Iran in 1980 for what became an eight-year war.

Prior to Hussein’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Washington, Paris, and other imperialist regimes had been cultivating their ties with Baghdad for more than a decade. Trade with Iraq continued and the U.S. government regularly sent top-level delegations there up through the first half of 1990.

Baath party beheaded 1958 revolution


Among the institutions of the Iraqi state targeted by U.S. and British forces is the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein. Air attacks have leveled party offices in several cities, and the party’s apparatus has crumbled before the rapid imperialist advance. Meanwhile, seeking justification for their assault, the imperialist propagandists have trumpeted the Baathists’ repressive record.

This is a shift from the backing that Washington and London gave to Saddam Hussein’s regime throughout the 1980s, up until Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

For working people in Iraq, the Baath Party has consistently governed on behalf of the country’s capitalist rulers. In fact, the first Baath Party government, brought to power by a military coup on Feb. 8, 1963, dealt Iraqi workers and farmers the single biggest defeat in the country’s modern history.

In those events Baathist leaders joined a number of military officers in overthrowing the government of Gen. Abdel Karim Kassem. The new regime executed Kassem and other prominent figures, and imprisoned thousands of members of the Iraqi Communist Party and other opponents in makeshift camps. Three days after the coup, the new government was recognized by Washington, London, and other imperialist powers, as well as by Moscow.

In carrying out these ferocious purges, the Baathist government decapitated the vanguard of the revolution of 1958. The July 14 Revolution, as it is known, had begun with the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy. Iraqi working people poured into the streets in celebration of that victory.

Kassem’s government, supported by nationalist-minded forces that included a wing of the Baath Party, had legalized trade unions and implemented a land reform aimed at dismantling feudal domination of the countryside. It placed heavy curbs on the operations of the British-controlled Iraqi Petroleum Company and established the Iraqi National Oil Company.

Kassem’s procapitalist regime also took a number of reactionary steps. He banned political parties, including the Stalinist Iraqi Communist Party, whose leaders had supported his government and had campaigned for inclusion in his cabinet. He also launched a military assault in the north against the Kurdish struggle for national self-determination. 

Formation of Baath Party

In addition to its bloody purges, the regime installed by the 1963 coup continued the anti-Kurd offensive. Later that year the Baath Party leaders were themselves purged from the government.

The Iraqi party had been formed in 1954 with the name Baath Socialist Party. The Baathist movement--meaning "rebirth" in Arabic--had originated in Syria, where the party was founded in 1947. The party also exists in Jordan.

The formation of the Baathist parties was part of the rise of Arab nationalism and resistance to the colonial oppression of the major European capitalist powers. The most prominent spokesperson for Arab unity of the period was Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president from 1956 to 1970. Nasser’s government nationalized important sectors of the Egyptian economy and in 1956 seized the Suez Canal in the face of British and French government opposition.

The Iraqi party retook power in 1968 in a coup headed by Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. The new government embarked on a course of industrialization, benefiting from the vast revenues provided by oil exports. In 1972 the oil industry was nationalized.

Saddam Hussein rose to become prime minister of the new government in 1970. Within a decade he had emerged victorious from the party’s inner power struggles, assuming the presidency and the leading role in the country’s armed forces.

The president and his supporters have molded the party as a secretive and repressive instrument of their rule. Party cadres function as part of the police and military apparatus, while constructing their own parallel structures of surveillance and repression.

At the same time, Saddam Hussein has built loyalty to his capitalist government on clan and regional lines. His support is based on his home province of Tikrit in the north. Dispensing privileges from its oil revenues, the regime fosters support among a layer of those Iraqis who identify with the Sunni branch of Islam. The Sunni population is more urban than the Shiites in the south, who face even harsher living conditions.

The soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s Special Republican Guard, a 15,000-strong elite force entrusted with the defense of central Baghdad, are recruited primarily from Tikrit and other areas considered loyal to the regime. Several of the guard’s top officers are drawn from Saddam Hussein’s own family.

The armed forces have targeted the Shiites, most of whom eke out a living in the desert or marshes, for ongoing repression. The present regime has also maintained Baghdad’s campaigns against the Kurds. In 1991, following Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War, both the Kurdish people and Shiites in the south rebelled. The imperialist forces stood aside as Saddam Hussein sent his army to crush the uprisings.

With this police-party dictatorship functioning to stifle opposition by workers and farmers, Saddam Hussein pursued a course of industrialization, militarization, and territorial expansion through the 1980s. Much of the industrial and military equipment was supplied by the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.

Saddam Hussein also built ties with the imperialist powers--particularly Paris. 

Regime found favor with imperialism

Baghdad’s expansionist and anti-working-class policies also found favor with U.S. imperialism--most dramatically in the Iran-Iraq war.

The overthrow of the shah by the Iranian workers and peasants in 1979 tore down one of the principal props of imperialist domination in the region. Washington publicly encouraged Baghdad to launch a military offensive to regain the Shatt-al-Arab waterway--relinquished to Iran under U.S. instructions four years earlier.

In September 1980 Baghdad launched its invasion of Iran, touching off a war that lasted eight years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives on each side. While Tehran ceded the Shatt-al-Arab waterway in the 1988 ceasefire, Baghdad returned it in August 1990 to relieve military pressure on its eastern flank as Washington mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops in preparation for the Gulf War.

True to the Baathist tradition, Saddam Hussein used anti-imperialist demagogy to justify its 1990 grab for Kuwaiti land and oil. He cynically attempted to "link" the Palestinian struggle with the invasion, promising to withdraw from Kuwait if Palestinian demands for national self-determination were granted.

It is "the unfortunate fate of the Palestinian issue to be manipulated and used by the Arab leaderships historically for their own ends...whether economic, political, regional, or international," commented Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi in a May 1991 interview with the Militant.

Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait registered a deadly miscalculation. Saddam Hussein had gambled that Washington would take no action. In fact, the imperialists imposed brutal sanctions, staged a massive buildup, and unleashed a bombing campaign and invasion in which 150,000 Iraqis were slaughtered. Over the next 12 years Washington, London, and Paris imposed no-fly zones in the north and south of the country. Along with UN sanctions and "weapons inspections," these "patrols" helped to set the stage for the current assault.

In the face of the rapid U.S. and British military drive, the Baath Party leaders have been unable to mobilize resistance, in spite of widespread opposition to the imperialist violations of national sovereignty. They have tried to coerce working people and youth into taking up arms--resorting to the methods of terror that have marked their rule since they dealt workers and farmers an historic defeat nearly 40 years ago.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Bolshevism and Black liberation in the U.S.

From 2010:

Bolshevik Revolution and U.S. Black struggle 

The following is the ninth in a series of excerpts the Militant is running from Pathfinder Press’s latest book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. We encourage our readers to study and discuss the book. This excerpt is the last part of a chapter titled, “Everything New and Progressive Came from the Revolution of 1917,” a piece by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the communist movement in the United States.” Subheadings are by the Militant.


Everything new and progressive on the Negro question came from Moscow, after the revolution of 1917, and as a result of the revolution—not only for the American communists who responded directly, but for all others concerned with the question.

By themselves, the American communists never thought of anything new or different from the traditional position of American radicalism on the Negro question… . The simplistic formula that the Negro problem was merely economic, a part of the capital-labor problem, never struck fire among the Negroes—who knew better even if they didn’t say so; they had to live with brutal discrimination every day and every hour.

There was nothing subtle or concealed about this discrimination. Everybody knew that the Negro was getting the worst of it at every turn, but hardly anybody cared about it or wanted to do anything to try to moderate or change it. The 90 percent white majority of American society, including its working-class sector, North as well as South, was saturated with prejudice against the Negro; and the socialist movement reflected this prejudice to a considerable extent—even though, in deference to the ideal of human brotherhood, the socialist attitude was muted and took the form of evasion. The old theory of American radicalism turned out in practice to be a formula for inaction on the Negro front, and—incidentally—a convenient shield for the dormant racial prejudices of the white radicals themselves.

The Russian intervention changed all that, and changed it drastically, and for the better. Even before the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were distinguished from all other tendencies in the international socialist and labor movement by their concern with the problems of oppressed nations and national minorities, and affirmative support of their struggles for freedom, independence, and the right of self-determination. The Bolsheviks gave this support to all “people without equal rights” sincerely and earnestly, but there was nothing “philanthropic” about it. They also recognized the great revolutionary potential in the situation of oppressed peoples and nations, and saw them as important allies of the international working class in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism.

After November 1917 this new doctrine—with special emphasis on the Negroes—began to be transmitted to the American communist movement with the authority of the Russian Revolution behind it. The Russians in the Comintern started on the American communists with the harsh, insistent demand that they shake off their own unspoken prejudices, pay attention to the special problems and grievances of the American Negroes, go to work among them, and champion their cause, including among whites.

It took time for the Americans, raised in a different tradition, to assimilate the new Leninist doctrine. But the Russians followed up year after year, piling up the arguments and increasing the pressure on the American communists until they finally learned and changed, and went to work in earnest. And the change in the attitude of the American communists, gradually effected in the twenties, was to exert a profound influence in far wider circles in the later years. 


The Communist Party’s break with the traditional position of American radicalism on the Negro question coincided with profound changes which had been taking place among the Negroes themselves. The large-scale migration from the agricultural regions of the South to the industrial centers of the North was greatly accelerated during the First World War, and continued in the succeeding years.1 This brought some improvement in their conditions of life over what they had known in the Deep South, but not enough to compensate for the disappointment of being herded into ghettos and still subjected to discrimination on every side.

The Negro movement, such as it was at the time, patriotically supported the First World War “to make the world safe for democracy”; and 400,000 Negroes served in the armed forces. They came home looking for a little democratic payoff for themselves, but couldn’t find much anywhere. Their new spirit of self-assertion was answered by a mounting score of lynchings and a string of “race riots” across the country, North as well as South.2

All this taken together—the hopes and the disappointments, the new spirit of self-assertion and the savage reprisals—contributed to the emergence of a new Negro movement in the making. Breaking sharply with the Booker T. Washington tradition of accommodation3 to a position of inferiority in a white man’s world, a new generation of Negroes began to press their demand for equality… .


1. Ninety percent of U.S. Blacks lived in the South in 1910. By 1930, 79 percent of Blacks lived in the South, the big majority of them still in rural areas and small towns. As of 2002, some 55 percent of Blacks lived in the South, with less than 13 percent of them located in rural areas.

2. In 1919, with millions of demobilized soldiers vying for hard-to-come-by jobs, there were racist riots against African Americans in Chicago and some twenty-four other U.S. cities, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Knoxville, Tennessee, from Washington, D.C., to Bogalusa, Louisiana. There was a sharp rise in lynchings throughout the South. Two years later, from May 31 to June 1, 1921, racist mobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma, rioted against African Americans, demolishing the thirty-five-square block Black community, destroying more than 1,200 houses, and killing an estimated one hundred to three hundred people. Heavily outnumbered, Blacks—many of them World War I veterans—organized to defend themselves as best they could.

3. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) opposed any mass struggle for Black rights, counterposing to it the perspective of accommodation with Jim Crow while working for vocational training and self-improvement.


Does The Militant still oppose Israeli settlements?

My late, unlamented blog troll John B. launched one of his parting darts at me last week by declaring that The Militant and the US Socialist Workers Party no longer call for an end of Israeli settlement construction. 
Let's go to the archives, shall we?


December 7, 2015


....The Socialist Workers Party presents a strategy that can put an end to the cycle of violence between the Israeli state and reactionary forces like Hamas. A revolutionary Palestinian leadership would denounce Jew-hatred, recognize the existence of Israel and support the right of Jews anywhere in the world to live there, while fighting for a contiguous Palestinian state, for dismantling Israeli settlements in the West Bank and for combating discrimination and the second-class status of Arab citizens of Israel. Doing so it would win allies inside Israel.

This can open the road to building a mass movement of Jewish, Palestinian, Druze, Christian, Muslim and immigrant workers capable of taking power out of the hands of their common enemy, the Israeli capitalist ruling class, and the ruling rich in the West Bank and Gaza....



November 10, 2014:

Israel expands settlements  in Palestinian West Bank 


Since the end of Tel Aviv’s latest war on Gaza in August, the Israeli government has accelerated the expansion of settlements in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, undermining the Palestinians’ struggle for a sovereign and contiguous state of their own.

Tel Aviv seized the West Bank in 1967 from Jordan and since 1977 has increasingly encouraged the construction of Jewish settlements there.

As part of the 1995 Oslo II Israeli-Palestinian “peace” agreement, the West Bank was gerrymandered into three areas of control: Area “A” under control of the Palestinian Authority, roughly 18 percent of the West Bank, comprising most of the Palestinian population; Area “B,” including mostly rural areas under Palestinian civil control and Israeli police authority encompassing about 22 percent of the land; and Area “C,” the remaining 60 percent the territory, under Israeli control.

In 2003 Tel Aviv began building what it calls a “security fence” — opponents call it the “separation wall” — running roughly parallel to the West Bank’s 1967 border with Israel. The wall snakes around Palestinian villages, cutting them off from the rest of the region.

Today there are some 350,000 Israeli settlers scattered throughout the West Bank up to the border with Jordan.

“The building of settlements like Ariel east of Jerusalem make it very difficult to have unity of Palestinian land,” Roy Yellin, a spokesperson for B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, said in a phone interview Oct. 20. “It makes it difficult to travel from the northern part of the West Bank to the south.”

There are nearly 100 permanent or semipermanent Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank and hundreds of surprise ones set up during the course of a month. Palestinians are prohibited from using some roads that are reserved for the use of Jewish settlers. Thousands of farmers are only able to plant or harvest their fields when Israeli authorities open gates in the wall, sometimes for just a few hours a day.

The Jerusalem city government gave final approval Oct. 1 for the construction of 2,500 homes in Givat Hamatos, a Jewish enclave in majority-Palestinian East Jerusalem. Over the past decade Jewish developments have been built in a ring around the city’s Arab neighborhoods.

In September, the Israeli government announced it was nationalizing 1,000 acres of Palestinian land near Bethlehem to allow for the expansion of a bloc of nine nearby settlements. The plan is seen by many as collective punishment for the June kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers in the area by Hamas operatives. The killings preceded Tel Aviv’s most recent assault on Gaza.

Israel’s Civil Administration has also been stepping up demolition of Bedouin homes in Area C. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, in the first eight months of 2014, 346 buildings were razed, leaving 668 Palestinians homeless, more than in any other period in the last five years.

In mid-September Tel Aviv said it was getting ready to evict 12,500 Bedouin who live near East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Jericho and relocate them to Ramata Nu-eimeh, a town near Jericho built by Israeli authorities.

“We’re mainly shepherds,” Jamil Hamadin, the spokesperson for one of the Bedouin families facing eviction, told the Militant Oct. 7. “We came to live here after we were expelled from the Negev Desert by Israel during the 1948 war.”

“Each family has its own sheep, some have 70 or 80, some have 200,” Hamadin said. “We live in an area of 500 square kilometers [124,000 acres], where we have land for pasture. But all our houses are under orders to be demolished and the courts upheld it. They want to squeeze us all into a little area where we will have just half a dunam of land [one tenth of an acre] per family. This is unacceptable.”

“If you take a look at the maps you can see how the settlements have expanded over the last five to 10 years,” Suhad Bishara, a staff member of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said during a recent visit to New York. “The Palestinians in the West Bank have been put in cantons, divided geographically by the Israeli settlements. Palestinians have been cut off from each other and from their farms and workplaces.

“It’s 100 percent legitimate to demand that they take apart all of these settlements and withdraw to the 1967 borders,” she said. “I don’t see any other way. Otherwise a Palestinian state cannot be established.” 



Martin and Malcolm: clashing class outlooks

 “King’s man didn’t want me to talk to [the youth],” Malcolm said. Malcolm was referring in particular to the current Democratic Party mayor of this very city, Andrew Young — a former U.S. congressman from here, and also U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Carter administration. In Selma that day, Young had schemed unsuccessfully with Coretta Scott King to stop Malcolm from being given a microphone.


A 2015 article:

Malcolm X’s February 1965 visit to Selma strengthened fight for Black rights 
Encouraged young Black rights fighters to broaden their scope and see their place in worldwide battle for change, from Africa to Alabama

The new movie “Selma,” reviewed in last week’s issue of the Militant, has sparked interest in the legacy of the victorious fight to overthrow Jim Crow segregation in the 1950s and ’60s. The film tells the story of the campaign in Selma, Alabama, in early 1965 that forced officials there to remove obstacles to the right of Blacks to vote and led to the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act later that year. In Dallas County, where Selma was located, less than 1 percent of the Black population had been registered to vote.

The civil rights fighters in Selma, including thousands of high school students and younger, stood firm in face of brutal violence, including beatings and fire hose blasts by Selma and state police and attacks by racist thugs.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy of reliance on the “good will” of Democratic Party politicians like President Lyndon Johnson and refusal to countenance protesters defending themselves against racist terror was increasingly controversial among many Black rights fighters. King was in the city jail when, at the invitation of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee members, Malcolm X came to Selma for a one-day visit, speaking to the press and a public meeting of young people Feb. 4, 1965.

Last week’s film review noted that “Selma” distorted and omitted aspects of Malcolm’s visit. To fill in the gaps and let Malcolm speak for himself, the Militant is publishing an excerpt from Malcolm X, Black Liberation and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes, the Spanish edition of which is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month in February. In the excerpt from the chapter “Malcolm X: Revolutionary Leader of the Working Class,” Barnes explains what Malcolm X posed in Selma. Copyright © 2009 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

In addition we are reprinting Malcolm’s exchange with the press there and a major excerpt of his speech later that day, both taken from February 1965: The Final Speeches . Copyright © 1992 by Betty Shabazz and Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

A Malcolm-Martin convergence?


In early February 1965, Malcolm spoke to a group of three hundred young people at a local church in Selma, Alabama. Since the beginning of 1965, King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), had been leading voting rights demonstrations in and around Selma, in the course of which protesters had been subjected to cop brutality and some 3,400 had been arrested. After Malcolm had addressed a meeting of several thousand on February 3 at nearby Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, students there insisted that he go with them to Selma the next day, and Malcolm agreed. King was being held in jail in Selma at the time.

When he spoke to the young people in Selma, Malcolm again condemned the Johnson administration for its refusal to deploy federal troops to protect Blacks fighting for their rights. Malcolm said he was “100 percent for the effort being put forth by the Black folks here” and believed “they have an absolute right to use whatever means are necessary to gain the vote.” But he added that he didn’t believe in practicing nonviolence in face of violence by organized racist forces. He concluded: “I pray that you will grow intellectually, so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into, in that world picture” — once again the internationalist starting point, “broadening your scope,” that Malcolm was always working to promote. And then he continued:

“And I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out, and when you look at that man, if you know he’s nothing but a coward, you won’t fear him. If he wasn’t a coward, he wouldn’t gang up on you. … They put on a sheet so you won’t know who they are — that’s a coward. No! The time will come when that sheet will be ripped off. If the federal government doesn’t take it off, we’ll take it off.”

What Malcolm had to say about the struggles in St. Augustine, Selma, and elsewhere reminds me of Che Guevara’s answer, during his visit to New York in December 1964, in reply to a question about how he saw the Black rights struggle in the United States. “It seems that racial violence is rampant in some U.S. states,” Che replied. “In face of that, different responses are possible. You can crouch a little more to see if the blow hurts less. You can protest vigorously and then receive more blows. Or you can answer blow for blow. But that’s easy to say; it’s very difficult to do. And you must prepare in order to do that.”

The young people in Selma met Malcolm’s talk with uproarious applause. But that wasn’t the response of SCLC leaders. Malcolm described their reaction in a speech to a February 15 meeting of the OAAU [Organization of Afro-American Unity] at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, less than a week before he was gunned down in that same hall.

“King’s man didn’t want me to talk to [the youth],” Malcolm said. Malcolm was referring in particular to the current Democratic Party mayor of this very city, Andrew Young — a former U.S. congressman from here, and also U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Carter administration. In Selma that day, Young had schemed unsuccessfully with Coretta Scott King to stop Malcolm from being given a microphone.

“They told me they didn’t mind me coming in and all of that,” Malcolm told the OAAU meeting — but they didn’t want him to talk, because “they knew what I was going to say.” The young people, both from Selma and from Tuskegee, however, “insisted that I be heard. … This is the only way I got a chance to talk to them.”

You don’t have to take Malcolm’s word for it. King, who was in jail when Malcolm was in Selma, said, shortly after the assassination: “I couldn’t block his coming, but my philosophy was so antithetical to the philosophy of Malcolm X — so diametrically opposed, that I would never have invited Malcolm X to come to Selma when we were in the midst of a nonviolent demonstration, and this says nothing about the personal respect I had for him. I disagreed with his philosophy and his methods.”

And in a column for the Harlem-based weekly Amsterdam News, written a few weeks after Malcolm’s assassination, King wrote that when his wife Coretta had spoken with Malcolm in Selma, Malcolm had “expressed an interest in working more closely with the non-violent movement, but he was not yet able to renounce violence and overcome the bitterness which life had invested in him. … Like the murder of [Patrice] Lumumba, the murder of Malcolm X deprives the world of a potentially great leader. I could not agree with either of these men. …”

So, no, there was not a “Malcolm-Martin” convergence during that last year. To the contrary, the divergence widened, as there was a clarification of Martin Luther King’s conviction that capitalism and its injustices could be reformed. Meanwhile, Malcolm never stopped advancing in his commitment to the need for the oppressed and working people of all skin colors, continents, and countries to join together in revolutionary struggle against the capitalist world order responsible for racism, rightist violence, the oppression of women, economic exploitation, and war.

Malcolm X: Why I came to Selma

Remarks to the Press 

QUESTION: Why are you here today?

MALCOLM X: Well, I spoke at Tuskegee last night and many of the students invited me to come up here today. Yes. I was at Tuskegee last night to speak on the Black revolution and to stress the relationship between the Black revolution that’s taking place in Africa with the Black revolution that’s taking place here in America. And many of the students, after the lecture, invited me to come here this morning. And since I’ve been invited to attend a congress of African organizations in London over the weekend and to represent the plight of the Black man in this country to those people over there, I thought I would pass through Selma and get a good, closer look at the condition of our people in this country, so that I’ll be in a better position to describe it when I get over there.

QUESTION: Are you going to be down in the building this morning?

MALCOLM X: Which building?

QUESTION: The County Building.

MALCOLM X: I’d rather not say right now what I’m going to do. But I’m going to do, while I’m here, whatever will produce some positive and constructive results.

I might point out that I am 100 percent for any effort put forth by Black people in this country to have access to the ballot. And I frankly believe that since the ballot is our right, that we are within our right to use whatever means is necessary to secure those rights. And I think that the people in this part of the world would do well to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King and give him what he’s asking for, and give it to him fast, before some other factions come along and try to do it another way. What he’s asking for is right. That’s the ballot. And if he can’t get it the way he’s trying to get it, then it’s going to be gotten, one way or the other.

QUESTION: Are you in agreement with Dr. King’s nonviolent—

MALCOLM X: I don’t believe in any kind of nonviolence. I believe that it’s right to be nonviolent with people who are nonviolent. But when you’re dealing with an enemy who doesn’t know what nonviolence is, as far as I’m concerned you’re wasting your time.

QUESTION: Are you saying that nonviolence ought to be abandoned here in Selma now?

MALCOLM X: Whatever means will get results in Selma is the means that should be used. Dr. King and his followers are very intelligently trying to impress the people of this area that they should give the Black man the right to vote. Now, if the people in this area are not intelligent enough themselves to recognize what they consider an intelligent approach, then I think the intelligence of the Black people in this area will compel them to devise another method that will get results.

The house Negro and the field Negro

Excerpts from Malcolm X’s Feb. 4, 1965, speech in Selma. 

If the federal government does not find it within its power and ability to investigate a criminal organization such as the Klan, then you and I are within our rights to wire Secretary-General U Thant of the United Nations and charge the federal government in this country, behind Lyndon B. Johnson, with being derelict in its duty to protect the human rights of twenty-two million Black people in this country. And in their failure to protect our human rights, they are violating the United Nations Charter, and they are not qualified to continue to sit in that international body and talk about what human rights should be done in other countries on this earth. [Applause] … [Gap in tape]

I have to say this, then I’ll sit down. Back during slavery, when Black people like me talked to the slaves, they didn’t kill ’em, they sent some old house Negro along behind him to undo what he said. You have to read the history of slavery to understand this.

There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for his master. When the field Negroes got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put ’em back on the plantation.

The house Negro could afford to do that because he lived better than the field Negro. He ate better, he dressed better, and he lived in a better house. He lived right up next to his master — in the attic or the basement. He ate the same food his master ate and wore his same clothes. And he could talk just like his master — good diction. And he loved his master more than his master loved himself. That’s why he didn’t want his master hurt.

If the master got sick, he’d say, “What’s the matter, boss, we sick?” [Laughter] When the master’s house caught afire, he’d try and put the fire out. He didn’t want his master’s house burned. He never wanted his master’s property threatened. And he was more defensive of it than the master was. That was the house Negro.

But then you had some field Negroes, who lived in huts, had nothing to lose. They wore the worst kind of clothes. They ate the worst food. And they caught hell. They felt the sting of the lash. They hated their master. Oh yes, they did.

If the master got sick, they’d pray that the master died. [Laughter and applause] If the master’s house caught afire, they’d pray for a strong wind to come along. [Laughter] This was the difference between the two.

And today you still have house Negroes and field Negroes. [Applause]

I’m a field Negro. If I can’t live in the house as a human being, I’m praying for a wind to come along. If the master won’t treat me right and he’s sick, I’ll tell the doctor to go in the other direction. [Laughter] But if all of us are going to live as human beings, as brothers, then I’m for a society of human beings that can practice brotherhood. [Applause]

But before I sit down, I want to thank you for listening to me. I hope I haven’t put anybody on the spot. I’m not intending to try and stir you up and make you do something that you wouldn’t have done anyway. [Laughter and applause]

I pray that God will bless you in everything that you do. I pray that you will grow intellectually, so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into, in that world picture. And I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out, and when you look at that man, if you know he’s nothing but a coward, you won’t fear him. If he wasn’t a coward, he wouldn’t gang up on you. He wouldn’t need to sneak around here. [Applause] This is how they function. They function in mobs — that’s a coward. They put on a sheet so you won’t know who they are — that’s a coward.

No! The time will come when that sheet will be ripped off. If the federal government doesn’t take it off, we’ll take it off.  



Photo source:

Thoughts on Susan Sontag

I wrote this years ago, back in 2012, so please be patient.

The Sargasso Manuscript: Some Observations on Susan Sontag's As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980
by Jay Rothermel

Susan Sontag.  As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980.  Edited by David Rieff.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.


David Rieff has played the last of Susan Sontag's jokes upon the reader: to remain austerely cool, distant, and unsympathetic toward us even in "journals and notebooks."  The barbed wire of fragments and ellipses scattered on each page temps the reader to consider giving up by around page 49.  No index, no chronology, no glossary of notable players.  (Not even a photo section.)

There is no royal (scholarly apparatus) road into the second volume of Sontag's diaries.  The reader must either dart from page to page, looking for his own signposts (perhaps big names like Poe, Rimbaud, Shapiro, Weil, Warhol), or surrender.  I press on, considering these fugitive notes as they are, tangled and semi-coherent in their deliberately un-contextualized state, doldrums before and after working days.

A few of the -- to me -- more interesting of Sontag's subjects and entries:

1964: Camp notes; Lukacs; Mersey beat; breast feeding; movies.

The greater world of capitalist elections (Johnson and Goldwater), Malcolm X and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, even Vietnam does not press hard enough to leave its marks here.

1965: Looking for a novel's plot; Jasper Johns; the erotic; style; new sensibility (Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Cage, McLuhan); dexamyl; Bataille; photography; Valery; Blanchot; Renoir; Polanski; Bert I. Gordon; LSD; boring art; The Umbrellas of CherbourgBlood FeastMonster from the Green Hell; German romanticism; Richard Goodwin.

1966:  "My intellectual formation: . . . Franco-Jewish Cageian?" (166); Joyce; Burroughs; Jasper Johns; Large Glass; Grotowski; "Remember The Tingler!" (194); "The Horla" (201); "6085 copies of Against Interpretation have been sold / 1915 copies of the first printing are left" (202).

1967: Psychological vampirism (228); "the grand switch from 'Kant' to 'Mrs. D.H. Lawrence'" (232): " . . . it's in writing that I (most) experience my autonomy. . . " (237).

1968: Trip to Hanoi; "Viets' humanity is not at issue; ours is" (252); Melville; Gorki; Tolstoy; Agatha Christie.

Regarding the 1968 journal and notebook material composed during the solidarity mission to North Vietnam, our editor, Sontag's son David Rieff, says: " . . . I have chosen to reproduce only a few representative samples [of notebook from Sontag's trip to North Vietnam] . . . while quoting in its entirety the one more investigative, skeptical, and analytical entry that I have been able to find."  Rieff is commendably comfortable with the sexual and psychological notations that Sontag (whom he refers to throughout as S.S.) jots in her diary, but not the political.

1969: "The double experience of 1968 -- The French May, the Czechoslovak August" (259).

1970: "meta-self-criticism" (290); "Mannerist art: dwarfs, dreams, giants, Siamese twins, mirrors, magic machines" (296); "Not true, but helpful"; "A convention of mutants (Marvel Comics)" (309); "Fantasia -- perfect example of fascist aesthetics" (310).

1971: "Durkheim on altruistic suicide" (316).

1972: Jodorowsky; H.P. Lovecraft; China Is NearL'Eclisse;  " . . . relationship between fascism and 'the fantastic'" (341).

1973: "A steady progression since Psycho in habituating audiences to endure sadistic assaults without flinching. . . .  My position leads to censorship, if it leans to any public action at all.  But I can't face up to that.  I can't be for censorship" (emphasis in original, 351-2); Trip to China and Vietnam; The Magic Mountain.

1974: "A spy in the house of life" (374).

1975: "Jack London's story 'To Build a Fire' -- read aloud to Lenin on his deathbed"; "My role: the intellectual as adversary. . . ." (379); "In the early 1960s . . . when the focus of political activity was (rightly) against the government + the war -- the role of political adversary was right, indeed inevitable, if one had a conscience" (379); "I want to write a Moby-Dick of thought.  Melville is right: one needs a great subject" (384); "Writing as hygienic"; "I am an adversary writer, a polemical writer.  I write to support what is attacked, to attack what is acclaimed" (397).

1976: Huysmans; J.G. Ballard; "Read Gass essays when writing disease essay" (410).

1977: Brodsky; illness as metaphor; "Problem of writing a novel now: No story seems that important to tell" (416); "Model: Lichtenberg's Waste Books"; "I read too much -- as an escape from writing" (418); "Disneyland + Nuremberg rallies are 2 diff[erent] types of kitsch" (423).

A crudely undifferentiated lumping-together of things Sontag finds ridiculous, distasteful, and offensive: "Disneyland and Nuremberg rallies" may charitably be called a coffee-house paradox, particularly inapposite.

"One can never be alone enough to write" (426); "Russian constructivism of the 20s: good . . . and yet.  Industrial narcissism" (437); "Both Marx + Freud were wrong.  The one who was right was Malthus" (441).

"My political positions: all adversary.  I am against (1) violence, in particular, colonialist wars and imperialist 'interventions.'  Above all, against torture.  (2) Sexual and racial discrimination.  (3) The destruction of nature and the landscape (mental, architectural) of the past.  (4) Whatever impedes or censors the movement of people, art, ideas. . . .  (If I'm for anything, it is -- simply -- the decentralization of power.  Plurality.)  In short, the classical libertarian/conservative/radical position" (446-447)

Best films (not in order)

1.  Bresson, Pickpocket 
2.  Kubrick, 2001 
3.  Vidor, The Big Parade 
4.  Visconti, Ossessione 
5.  Kurasawa, High and Low 
6.  [Hans-Jürgen] Syberberg, Hitler
[ . . . ] 
20.  Anger, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome 
[ . . . ] (449-450)

1978: "Sex a sublimation of the desire to work" (453); "I am against turning illness into a 'spiritual condition'" (454); "Crisis of Leninist ideology in the 1970s . . . .  Judge a regime by what it does to its opponents" (460).

Why opponents?  Why not judge a regime based upon advances in production of material necessities to overcome want?  Or rises in health, longevity, literacy, consciousness of international class solidarity?  The easy answer is that these are not "adversarial" criteria, while judging a regime "by what it does to its opponents" is perfectly adversarial.  But aimed at what regime, representing what class in society?

"Texas Chainsaw Massacre a new threshold; most important film of the 1970s" (470).

1979: "Events of the 70s: 1) the discrediting of utopian communism as a plausible anchor belief for intellectuals + artists; 2) Euro-ization of the Western European countries; 3) the collapse of American imperialist ideology + growing cultural/political isolationism of the U.S." (481)

On point 1: There was no utopia proposed or offered to intellectuals and artists as an "anchor belief" by workers and their oppressed allies, their leading cadre organizations, or Marxists in general.  If intellectuals and artists like Sontag inferred or interpreted statements and events that way, it is their petty-bourgeois-radical shortcoming at work, not ours.

On point 3: No U.S. isolationism was possible, or would be under the normal workings of imperialist capitalism.  Perhaps Sontag here means chauvinism, a byproduct of war economy and cold war?

Sontag's increasing use of medical and epidemiological terms to describe her political judgments becomes more pronounced at this time (488): political -> biological (illness, cancer).  Many pseudo-Marxists and pseudo-leftists suffered the same symptoms of shipwreck after China's invasion of Vietnam at the behest of U.S. imperialism: their fantasy bubble about the exceptional "authenticity" of the Chinese brand of Stalinism burst unceremoniously.  Unmentioned is the fact that 1979 was also a year of popular breakthroughs: Nicaragua, Grenada, Iran.

"A failure of nerve.  About writing.  (And about my life -- but never mind)" (490); "New 'revolutionary' regimes replacing the old dictatorships . . . new blends of cruelty and hypocrisy" (491); " . . . melancholy.  It is, after all, my subject" (495).

1980: "Lacanianism: It gives you a heavy language to walk around in"  (500); "One must oppose communism: it asks us to lie -- the sacrifice of the intellect (and the freedom to create) in the name of justice.  (And, finally, order.)  Communism means the creation of a much more oppressive bureaucracy than capitalism.  There is no such thing as communism.  Only national socialism. -- That's what won. . . .  The fascist language was defeated -- the communist language survived, + became the rhetoric (and flag of conscience) of most new nationalisms, ex-colonized peoples" (514).

Sontag is dismissive of movements and achievements of the anti-colonial revolutions, clearly indicating to the immense majority of humanity that, in effect, that they should never have started their anti-imperialist enterprise.  There is a near-hysterical pitch to these lines.  The essayist deepening her relationship with anti-Soviet émigré Joseph Brodsky (a defender of the Shah of Iran [516]), obsessing about aphorisms, finally parrots in full free association the classic rationalizations of anti-communist literature.  She is afraid to be left behind in the stampede to become first among equals as a procurer of left cover for Wall Street.

"Surrealism: antipathy to everyday life + sentimental ideas about love + solitude" (522).

The last line of the book: "Great subject the West falling out of love with Communism.  End of a 200-year-passion" (523).

There are heaps of the same gaseous political nonsense in As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh.  This bandying-about of amorphous terms like "the West" recalls the shorthand of every 20th-century liberal, neo-conservative, and social democratic defender of U.S. imperialism, from Kojève to Bloom to Fukuyama to Habermas.


Do Sontag's journals and notebooks convey the anxieties and self-doubts of an arriviste?  No, the pomposity of double-thinking is absent; only supreme intellectual self-assurance and more than a little sporting blood can account for the delight she takes in placing names like Antonioni and Bert I. Gordon on the same sheet of paper.

As noted at the beginning of this review, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 is a book laboring under severe disadvantages for the reader.  Lack of a chronology means we are unable to make sense of a whole catalogue of insights in their proper context.  All notations take on the air of lifeless abstraction.   Footnotes and a proper glossary explaining in more detail Sontag's friends and broader cultural activities would have inched the book closer to usefulness.  Alfred Chester and Richard Goodwin, I suspect, will only remain known because of the stature of their friends and employers; the fact that such disparate men could have a friend in common, and that that friend is S.S., is astounding.  Happy would be the reader not driven to Wikipedia every few pages.

The book would benefit greatly from a photo section and a professional index, neither of which editor Rieff sees fit to provide.


In his Preface, David Rieff writes: "My mother never recanted her opposition to the [Vietnam] war.  But she did come to regret, and, unlike so many of her peers. . . , to publicly recant, her faith in the emancipatory possibilities of Communism, not just in its Soviet, Chinese, or Cuban incarnation, but as a system."

The previous quotes from Sontag's journals and notebooks, where she proudly defines her role as that of "adversary," certainly confirm Rieff's statement.  But "adversary" of what?  Aye, there's the rub.  Adversarialism is as adversarialism does.  For Sontag it meant, once, putting herself on the line for the Vietnamese revolution.  But Rieff has, as he admits, removed all but a few of the journal entries from Sontag's trip to North Vietnam.  He also mentions nothing about any journals from a later visit to China.  Their content is unknown, as is their length and scope.  Does this apparent "reduction" of the author's work bring into question the good faith of the editorial enterprise?  How can it not?

* * *

Sontag was one of a generation of U.S. radical writers closely associated with solidarity for the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions and their leaderships.  As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh has few political entries, however, until the late 1970s, when Sontag began, like so many in her cohort, the long retreat into the camp of U.S. imperialism.  Accommodation was surprisingly easy: the same (or better) publishers, contracts, foundation grants, visiting scholar programs, and TV appearances beckoned.  All one had to do was join the "god that failed" brigade, equate communism with fascism, and become adversary of the proletariat instead of the bourgeoisie.  One could still complain about Republican wars.  All the better to complain as loudly as possible, while dining out with moral nullities like Joseph Brodsky, making the system look free and fair as it bombed the workers and farmers of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Lebanon, and Grenada.

At the time, U.S. Socialist Workers Party leader Jack Barnes summed up the situation this way:

". . . [T]here is no question whatsoever that we face a Mariel in the American radical movement," stated Jack Barnes before the March, 1982, SWP plenum under a section entitled "A Mariel in the radical movement." . . . Barnes continued: "That is without doubt what is happening on the U.S. left as the blows against the working class come down, as the polarization deepens, and as the imperialist war pressure mounts.  The difference between conditions and consciousness borne of being a worker and that produced by being immersed in a petty-bourgeois milieu is widening.  And the ranks of the North American marielitos -- with Susan Sontag and her ilk leading the scramble for the boats -- are growing."

Barnes referred to Sontag by name after comments she made at the February 6, 1982 "Workers and Artists for Solidarity" event at Cooper Union in New York City.  From an eyewitness report of the time:

. . . Trying to put a left cover on the drive for capitalist restoration in Poland under the banners of Pilsudski and the Catholic church isn't easy, particularly since Reagan and Haig have already cornered the market on "solidarity with Solidarnosc."  At Town Hall there was some talk about Reagan's "hypocrisy" from union reformists like Ed Sadlowski and Pete Camarata, and some bitter complaints by fired PATCO air controllers.  They'd already had a taste of the "democracy" enjoyed by "free world" unions.

But Susan Sontag let the cat out of the bag with a bitter diatribe against communism which left part of the audience gasping.  "Communism is fascism," she proclaimed, "the most successful variant of fascism -- fascism with a human face."  Sontag may have earned herself a few free dinners at the Reagan White House, but the rest of the panel of lib-rad notables are merely paying the price in public embarrassment for their own hypocrisy.

Sontag's regression was not simply an individual retreat, but part of a sociological event of note in all imperialist countries.  In the U.S. she joined the likes of Eldridge Cleaver, Jerry Rubin, and David Horowitz; in France, Bernard-Henri Levy.

The context for this retreat was imperialist war, at home and abroad.  Starting shortly after the 1975 world capitalist recession, the U.S. capitalist class began a drive to alter fundamentally the relationship between labor and capital that was established at the end of the post-World War Two strike wave.  It is an offensive that workers and oppressed peoples in the U.S. and around the world still face today.  The offensive is completely bipartisan, carried out over decades by Thatcher, Reagan, Mitterrand, Kohl, Major, Clinton, Blair, Schröder, both Bush administrations, and today Barack Obama.

In her stance after 1978, Sontag bears a comparison to the petty-bourgeois radical intellectuals of the 1930s, men like Dwight Macdonald and Sidney Hook.  Once stalwarts who put their tongues and pens to work for the cause of revolutionary socialism, they succumbed to Wall Street's late-1930s war drive.  Sontag's cohort simply repeated their route into unconditional anti-Sovietism and anti-communism in a semi-farcical carbon copy.

* * *

After several decades as a public participant and observer in the world struggle against U.S. imperialism, Sontag's career settled down into that of a respectable bourgeois novelist and fellow traveler of humanitarian intervention against -- always the "adversary" -- obstacles targeted by Wall Street.  (Her son and editor David Rieff plays a similarly useful and profitable game.  He is well known for once publishing an anti-Cuba article in The New Republic entitled "El Gulag."  Being subtle is not a requirement in this crowd.)

Much was made in 1993 (and since) of Sontag's role in the ideological brigade for the Washington/NATO dismemberment of Yugoslavia.  Her ego-drunken performance (directing a production of Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo) is still held up as a model worthy of emulation by our privatized NGO intellectuals.  After September 11, 2001, she used the pages of The New Yorker to issue a condemnation of not the Wall Street's permanent war against the world's workers and the concomitant blowback, but merely against George W. Bush:

A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense.  But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality.

With appalling phrases like "ineptitude of American intelligence" and "smart defense" we have indeed come a long way from Trip to Hanoi.

Who among us is looking forward to her journals and notebooks of this period, 1981-2004?

Jay Rothermel lives in Cleveland, Ohio.  His blog is Marxist Update.  He is on Facebook.
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