Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sawant, elections, and the road to workers power

My hiatus from political blogging will probably continue for some time. 

But this excellent exposition by my old party, the SWP, cannot go unmarked.  It encapsulates an analysis of the current situation very well.

Does election of Seattle socialist, unionists in Ohio strengthen labor?
(front page, commentary)

BY JOHN STUDER 
A number of newspapers and online publications of various middle-class radicals and socialists on the U.S. left have extolled the recent electoral wins by Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative candidate for Seattle City Council, and two dozen City Councilors in Lorain County, Ohio, who ran on a ticket under the auspices of the local union federation. For some, the election of left Democrat Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York is included.

The question is, do any of these electoral victories represent an advance for the working class and its allies? Do they strengthen workers capacity to fight the bosses? Do they further the self-confidence, class consciousness and organization of labor? Do they move toward independent working-class political action?

In the absence of working-class struggles strong enough to transform our labor unions and lay the basis for a social movement that can challenge the bosses political power, the answer is no. Without this, and lacking a revolutionary program, these elections only nurture workers’ illusions in democratic forms of capitalist rule and provide them with left cover.

Kshama Sawant, an economics professor, ran for the nonpartisan Seattle City Council position No. 2, winning with 50.67 percent in a two-candidate race, with no Republican running. With a “practical” focus on getting elected, she campaigned around three central demands: “$15-an-hour minimum wage, a rent control ordinance to make housing affordable, and a tax on millionaires to fund transit, education and other public services.”

Sawant’s campaign flyers bore the headline “Make Seattle affordable for all” and featured an endorsement calling her a “rarity — a progressive candidate who is principled, articulate, competent, smart, and fearless.” She presented herself as an “activist,” highlighting her involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement. She said she was speaking for the 99 percent against the 1 percent, running “so that working people finally have real representation.”

Constrained to the narrow boundaries that typify capitalist election contests for local offices, her literature avoided important political issues that affect all workers, such as high unemployment and a woman’s right to choose abortion. It made no mention of key international issues, Syria, the place of the Cuban Revolution, the common interests of working people worldwide against the bosses or the global crisis of capitalism that is driving their attacks against us.

“Sawant pushed the discussion in all races to the left — just as the Tea Party has pushed rightward elsewhere,” noted the Freedom Socialist Party.

The observation is accurate. In a similar fashion, de Blasio’s campaign helped carve out space for a growing socialist wing of the Democratic Party.

But a shift in bourgeois electoral politics to the left does nothing to advance political action on the part of the working class — which takes place in the streets, not at the ballot box. Electoral politics is not the arena for the working class — it’s the arena for the bosses and the labor officialdom. Getting workers to orient in that direction is the employing classes’ strongest weapon.

A major aspect of liberal and bourgeois-socialist politics is geared toward promoting the notion that the capitalist government can play a benevolent role with the right people in office pushing the right policies — a perspective that fosters attitudes of dependency.

Some middle-class socialist groups have in recent years pulled back from running for office themselves, burned out from previous exertions that didn’t produce the quick gains they were looking for. In 2013, the Freedom Socialist Party did not run in Seattle, their base. The Party for Socialism and Liberation did not run for mayor in New York.

Today, a number of the same socialist groups are united in pointing to elections as a key arena where workers and “activists” should focus attention. “On election night Sawant’s supporters, including this writer, gathered to watch returns,” the FSP’s Linda Averill wrote. There were “socialists of all stripes: independents, the FSP, SA, and International Socialist Organization (ISO). In the electoral arena, such collaboration is historic in recent times.”

This attempt to reap gains through a “practical” electoral focus is an attempt to look to something other than real politics — the actions of the working class and the hard road of struggle ahead. These groups, with their attraction to Occupy, no longer look to the working class as the engine of revolutionary change. They lack confidence that through experiences in class combat working people will forge a leadership of their own, gain political clarity and transform themselves into the kind of men and women capable of fighting to end the dictatorship of capital and replace it, from the ground up, with the political power of the toiling majority.

The electoral farce, in contrast, drags workers deeper into the trap of seeing their involvement in politics as a matter of choosing among a list of candidates who they hope will make things better for them.

Much of the left acts on the conviction that the heterogeneous and diffuse Occupy protests, which began and peaked in 2011, represented the growth of a new social movement for progressive change. The idea led to disillusionment in face of Occupy’s inevitable evaporation and cooption by the left of the Democratic Party. But today such hopes have been rekindled in growing excitement about new possibilities in electoral politics.

“It has been said that what happened in Seattle was that Occupy went to the polls,” Jason Netek wrote in the ISO’s Socialist Worker.

“Working people and the poor and all those fighting oppression need to start running pro-worker, anti-corporate independent candidates as part of forming a new, genuine party of the left, which will represent the interests of the 99%,” Socialist Alternative wrote.

In some cases this perspective has been marked by critical attraction to the de Blasio campaign. “He talked explicitly about the vast inequality between rich and poor in the city,” Socialist Alternative said. “In a distorted way, he has articulated the anger of the working class against Bloomberg and the rich elite.”

Ohio labor ticket
“Union-dense Lorain County, Ohio, is now home to an independent labor slate of two dozen newly elected city councilors recruited and run by the central labor council,” Bruce Bostick, a long-time leader of the Communist Party USA, wrote in the Dec. 4 Labor Notes.

The ticket was launched in response to an effort to break city unions by Democratic Mayor Chase Ritenauer and a number of incumbent Democrat city councilors. Its purpose was to mount left pressure on the Democratic Party. “Running independent wasn’t our first choice, but hopefully this can help bring the Democratic leaders to their senses,” Bostick quotes Machinist Art Thomas as saying. The meeting of the Lorain Central Labor Council after the election voted to buy a table at the upcoming Democratic Party dinner and to donate to the campaign of Matt Lundy, the party’s candidate for county commissioner.

What made possible the elections of Sawant and the Lorain labor ticket was a shift in workers’ thinking today under the impact of the bosses’ drive to foist the crisis of capitalism on our backs. What workers need is a clear class explanation of the roots of the crisis in the dictatorship of capital and a discussion on how to build a movement to overthrow it.

To advance this discussion, The Socialist Workers Party selectively runs candidates in U.S. elections today, with a focus on the highest offices to better engage in a discussion on the biggest political questions facing workers and their allies.

The party uses its election campaigns as a subordinate component of broader propaganda work, taking the Militant newspaper door to door in working-class neighborhoods in cities and rural areas. It uses them with a cold eye to the fact that the central political prop of the capitalist rulers is the idea that their ballot box gives us a choice in how we are ruled.

In a time of rising class struggle, one expression of independent labor action that could arise would be a labor party based in the street battles and combat organizations of the working class. Its purpose would be to mobilize the broadest involvement of workers and their allies in the struggles of the day, seeking to forge solidarity among combatants and advance the fight for workers’ power.

It would not be an electoral party whose goal was to hold posts in the capitalist government. History is full of such examples that in the end served to buttress capitalist rule.

The mighty revolutions of our epoch — in Russia in 1917 and Cuba in 1959 — weren’t won through elections, but by the actions of millions in the streets.

http://www.themilitant.com/2013/7747/774704.html

Friday, October 11, 2013

Event Honors Life Of SWP Leader Mayhew

.... "Howard Mayhew was an example of such a party member," Britton said, explaining that his prestige was earned in union battles, the fight for civil liberties, antiracist, and other struggles, and as a candidate for public office for the party. "This prestige came from serious involvement, activity, and leadership."

Britton pointed out how in the early l950s, in the midst of the postwar prosperity and anticommunist witch-hunt, Mayhew quit his job, with nearly ten years' seniority, to participate in the party's leadership school for six months.

In l954, at the age of 46, he was elected by convention delegates to be an alternate member of the SWP's National Committee. He was elected a regular member at the following convention in l957.

Britton reviewed some of his experiences as a new member of the party in Chicago, noting the serious nature of branch discussions and Mayhew's role in driving through a transition of leadership from older to younger generations.

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5935/5935_16.html

Howard Mayhew: Decades Of Work In Fight For Socialism

.... The long years of ebb in workers' militancy, which accompanied the post World War II economic expansion, posed tremendous challenges for the SWP. The party went from more than 1,700 members in the years following the war to a few hundred before significant youth recruitment developed in the early 1960s. During the opening of what would become a long wave of prosperity for U.S. capital in the early 1950s, the pressure to give up on the perspective of revolutionary working-class politics was especially intense.

But the late 1940s and '50s was also a time of revolutionary upsurge internationally, when the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America rose up against the imperialist powers culminating in the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Cuban, revolutions. Washington was handed its first military defeat by the Korean people. These events gave impetus to and became connected with the struggle of Black people in the United States, which began to pick up steam....

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5930/5930_25.html

Book On 1983 Copper Strike Draws Wrong Lessons

....Were we to believe Rosenblum, the lesson of the Arizona copper workers' fight in 1983 is that strikes cannot be won today because of the Republican Party's influence in Washington and the inability of workers to extend solidarity.

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5930/5930_20.html

Another View Of `Men Who Sailed Liberty Ships'

....The trade union bureaucracy, the Communist Party, and nearly every other current in the labor movement collaborated with the U.S. government to paint World War II as a "war for democracy," a fiction that remains common currency today. Immediately after World War II, after failing to keep the hot war going, the ruling classes of the United States and Great Britain jointly opened the cold war by equating the bloody crimes of fascism with communism. It was partly on that basis that the witch-hunt was able to register gains in the labor movement, including the seamen's unions, as early as 1946.

Another truth portrayed in the video is that despite services rendered to U.S. imperialism in World War II, the Communist Party took major blows in the postwar witch- hunt. As the film points out, in 1950 more than 2,000 seamen, many of them members of the Communist Party - but also members of the Socialist Workers Party and other union militants -lost their seamen's papers and right to sail at the hands of the U.S. Coast Guard, acting in the service of the employers and their government....

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5929/5929_10.html

Veteran Communist John Enestvedt Celebrated

.... Enestvedt's "political confidence in the capacities of the working class were reinforced," stated SWP national secretary Jack Barnes in his letter to the meeting, "by the triumph of the Cuban socialist revolution at the opening of the 1960s, and he closely followed its course over the next 35 years.

"A number of us knew him first as a champion of and educator on the Cuban revolution," Barnes noted, "even before we knew him as a revolutionary farm activist."

In a 1982 letter, John emphasized, "The strong internationalism of Cuba, next door to the world's most powerful imperialist power...is a true contest between what socialism really is offering its working people, as against imperialism's program of mass deprivations and periodic wars, leading to a nuclear burnout of all life."

John embraced the Nicaraguan revolution....

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5929/5929_14.html

The Assassination Of Malcolm X

.... Organizations that claim to advance the struggle of the oppressed and exploited are not helpless in the face of government disruption efforts. The leadership of every such organization that claims to fight for the oppressed has the responsibility to conduct itself in a manner that will make the movement, its organizations, and members as impervious as possible to the stock-and-trade of secret police operations: agent-baiting, poison pen letters, and the resolution of political differences by acts of thuggery, murder, and so on.

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5921/5921_28.html

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The great Militant re-read: Socialists Respond To Oklahoma Bombing

.... In the days ahead, the labor movement and all supporters of democratic rights must be on the alert to protest the trampling of hard-won rights that will mark their "investigation" - the presumption of innocence; the right to due process; protection from illegal search, seizure, and wiretaps; freedom of association without infiltration by police informants and agents provocateurs; and many others.

The bombing of the building housing federal offices in Oklahoma City and the killing of scores of men, women, and children - whoever organized and carried it out - has nothing whatsoever to do with the fight against exploitation and oppression. These methods are ones that revolutionists and other class-conscious working people and fighting youth reject.

http://www.themilitant.com/1995/5917/5917_5.html

History Of Socialists' Work In Coalfields

.... Mine workers' history of struggle

"We came to Morgantown in 1977 to become part of a showdown that was shaping up in the nation's coal mines," Mailhot said. In response to the 1974-75 worldwide recession, the rulers dealt blows to the rights and living conditions of working people.

In 1977 the coal bosses association provoked a fight with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), counting on "the desperately weak position" of the union as one Wall Street magazine put it at that time. What resulted, however, was a 110-day strike in which the ranks of the mine workers voted down two concession contracts. The miners also stood up to President James Carter's aid to the coal bosses when he ordered them back to work using the Taft-Hartely Act, declaring a "national emergency." The miners' slogan was "Taft can mine it - Hartley can haul it," reminiscent of the militancy of the 1943 strike slogan, "You can't mine coal with bayonets."

http://www.themilitant.com/1997/6126/6126_22.html

The great Militant re-read: James P. Cannon on boxing

If you follow me on Facebook you'll know that in the last few weeks I've been rectifying my politics back to my old party, the US Socialist Workers Party. 

One of the most fruitful parts of the process has been my decision to reread online back issues of the SWP newspaper The Militant, online since 1995.

I'll be reposrting some articles, naturally.

__

Cannon: Prize Fighting Is `Grisly Business'
http://www.themilitant.com/1997/6126/6126_30.html

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Update

My work- and family-enforced hiatus from Marxist Update continues.
Until some future date when I have more time to pick some good articles to repost, or perhaps something of my own, enjoy the backlist.

And read http://www.themilitant.com
which reflects my approach to the world.


I'll see you down the road.

Jay

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Notes on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls"



Notes on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls"

Millenia of the oppressor's rituals.
    parasitical
    kidnapping the commoners

Devolution.

Ancestral memories: the narrator sees his family role (the Swineherd) in dreams once he moves into the renovated Exham Priory.

A cultish cabal at the heart of a benighted and powerful family.
    fed upon others as past of their continuous
    engagement over millenia on the site
    with the old rituals of the Magna Mater.

    a literal expression of social relations between high
    and low over many different types of
    economic system
        slave: Rome
        Medieval: Britain
        capitalist: United Kingdom

Archeology: Layers of ritual horror, one laid atop the other

The ARRAS in the round bedroom:
    How thin the arras of social reality between
    everyday apprehension of society
    and our historically [and genealogically] determined
    selves.

--

A tradition in Lovecraft's fiction:

Bad families
    Bad ancestors
        Bad patriarchs
            Bad progenitors

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
    Ward possessed by his ancestor Curwen.
   
"The Lurking Fear"
    A family degenerates into lightning-deranged subterranean
    cannibals over generations.

"The Unnameable"
    A thing kept in the attic beyond rational lifespan

"The Thing on the Doorstep"
    A wizard father inhabits the body of his married
    daughter?

A theme in Lovecraft: the past is a key to understanding the true horror
of our situation as peons in a galactic machine
of primal violence.

"The Rats in the Walls" is a great nay-saying.

In the world of the story, the FATHER, a rich Yankee magnate, ends up
in an asylum.  There is no place for his family's autarky today.

--

77 Ways of Looking at H. P. Lovecraft: Notes










I made these notes in May 2010, while making my way through the first volume of The Annotated Lovecraft.

--

moment of:
    production
    consumption

"irrationalism"

bourgeois
abnormal
irregular
outre
discouragement
severe
unknowable [Mach]
obstinate [style]
uninterested
remote
intensify
accumulate
abolish
disgust
exclude
un-tenderness
ecstasy
blemish


Of individual, class, society:
    tumultuous
    boredom
    ennui
    doldrums
    nearness
    chill

lively
inertia
idleness
anticipated
prepared
well-cooked
magnitude
RUIN
calamity
cunning
clever
un-mellow
periphery
peripheral [to "mainstream"]
immaculate
arrange
class
sort
order
collapse
nay-saying
contemplate
meditative
puzzle

The cherished beliefs
    degenerate
    decline

weaken
erode
unwholesome
exhausting
deficient
quirk
ambition
sensual
discouragement
pessimism
unconditional
despondent
despondency
dire
discontent
discontented
disavowal
vexed
vexing
discourage
dilapidation
frenzy
connoisseur
lucid
definitive
taxing

Friday, June 28, 2013

Leninism versus guerillaism




My rough-and-ready scan of pages 1-99 can be found here.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

When communists sell their newspapers



Fighting miners, hotel workers, Machinists sign up for ‘Militant’


BY LOUIS MARTIN
“ This paper needs to get around more,” coal miner Connie Jewell said as he signed up for a subscription to the Militant at the April 1 United Mine Workers union demonstration of more than 6,000 in Charleston, W.Va.

The action was called to protest moves by Patriot Coal to cut thousands of miners off health and pension plans and tear up union contracts. (See article on front page.)

Jewell was one of 27 participants who bought Militant subscriptions at the action. In addition, 46 single copies were sold, showing the interest by coal miners and their supporters in a socialist newsweekly that tells the truth about and backs the struggles of working people.

Two books on revolutionary working-class politics were also sold on the buses going to the event, including The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free, one of eight books offered at reduced prices with a subscription to the Militant. (See ad below.)

Militant distributors from Seattle had a similar experience when they brought solidarity to the picket lines of members of International Association of Machinists Local 79 on strike against the Belshaw Adamatic Bakery Group in Auburn, Wash., selling seven subscriptions in two visits. The plant manufactures donut equipment. (See article on page 5.)

“It’s important to have a paper like this to see what is happening all over to working people,” said Josephine Ulrich, a shop steward who has worked 25 years at the plant. “I want to show it around. This is what unionization and solidarity is all about.”

On March 30 Militant supporters sold the paper door to door in Seattle and Kent, Wash., reported Edwin Fruit. They talked with working people about the impact of the bosses’ productivity drive, the bank crisis in Cyprus, the cuts in postal service and other political developments of interest to workers.

“I very much liked the fact that the Militant talked about what was happening to us, but I also wanted to support the paper. I also found the international news to be very interesting,” said Brigitte Malenfant when asked why she had decided to renew her subscription.

Malenfant is one of 180 hotel workers who have been on strike since Oct. 28 against the Hôtel des Seigneurs in Saint-Hyacinthe, about 30 miles northeast of Montreal. They are fighting for wage parity with hotel workers in Montreal.

Join the ongoing international effort to increase the circulation of the Militant among working people. You can call the distributors in your region (see directory on page 6) or order a bundle at themilitant@mac.com or (212) 244-4899. 

http://www.themilitant.com/2013/7714/771406.html

A social movement in the Eastern coalfields?

W.Va.: Thousands protest Patriot’s attack on mine union, retirees
UMWA calls next action for April 16 in St. Louis


March in Charleston, W.Va., April 1 to protest slashing of medical benefits and pensions and tearing up of union contracts by Patriot Coal as part of company’s bankruptcy filing. 


BY ALYSON KENNEDY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some 6,000-7,000 coal miners, their families, and other workers poured into the Civic Center here April 1 in the largest mobilization of miners in many years. The action was the latest in a series of demonstrations organized by the United Mine Workers of America since August 2012 to fight Patriot Coal’s attempt to use bankruptcy to gut union contracts, pensions and health care.

“Corporate greed has taken over this country. This is a death sentence for retirees,” said Benny Parker, a member of the UMWA from Mannington, who retired in 2007 from Patriot’s Federal No. 2 Mine.

Many retired miners have black lung and other debilitating work injuries from decades in the mines and depend on what they thought were lifetime benefits set down in UMWA contracts since the 1940s.

More than 50 busloads of miners came from seven states. Hundreds drove up from southern West Virginia. The rally included both working and retired coal miners as well as union delegations, including from the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, Communications Workers of America, Ironworkers and the American Federation of Teachers.

Terry Steele, a retired miner from UMWA Local 1440, came to the rally from Matewan. He used to work at the Zeigler Old Ben Mine owned by Horizon. “In 2002 they filed for bankruptcy, just like Patriot’s doing. They got out of all their responsibilities,” he said.

In 2007 Peabody Energy spun off most of its union mines to form Patriot Coal Corp. A year later Patriot bought Magnum Coal Co., an Arch Coal spinoff. More than 90 percent of “Patriot” retirees today never actually worked for Patriot.

As part of its bankruptcy proceedings, Patriot Coal on March 14 asked a judge to sanction its plan to tear up union contracts and end benefits covering 10,000 retirees and their 13,000 dependents. Patriot’s bankruptcy takes place in the context of a recent contraction in domestic demand for coal, fueled in large part by falling natural gas prices.

There are no union mines left in Mingo County, W.Va., or Pike County, Ky., Steele said.

Both the number of coal miners and the proportion who are members of the UMWA has declined dramatically over recent decades. Only about one-quarter of working miners are members of the UMWA today, down from 43 percent in 1994. Today there are about 82,000 active miners in the U.S., down from some 89,000 in January of last year and from 175,000 30 years ago.

“The younger generation, a lot of us, were raised off the union,” said Jeff Samek, 29, a faceman at the Alpha Natural Resources Carmichaels Mine in Southwest Pennsylvania. “If Patriot does this every company will try it.”

Speakers at the rally included Democratic politicians from West Virginia, including Sen. Joe Manchin, Rep. Nick Rahall, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, in a videotaped message, promised to press for the Coalfield Accountability and Retired Employee Act, which would transfer money from the Abandoned Mine Lands fund, a government fund for restoration of mined land based on taxing coal production, to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan.

The CARE Act is supposed to prop up the union’s pension plan — which faces insolvency as a result of declining unionization and funds lost through speculative investments — as well as cover retirees who lose benefits when coal bosses file for bankruptcy and reduce taxes on employer payments to benefit plans.

“What Patriot did was designed to fail so they could get rid of these liabilities,” Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, told the rally. “We won’t allow them to take the money and run. Anyone who pulls a paycheck, stand with us.”

Corey Bachman, 22, a member of Ironworkers Local 3 in Pittsburgh, said he and other workers have been on strike for eight months at Patriot Machining and Maintenance Services, which is not owned by Patriot Coal. “After we organized a union, they laid everybody off,” he said. “We have filed unfair labor practice charges.”

Steelworkers from Ravenswood came to the rally along with nurses from Bluefield, who recently formed a Nurses Union, and a van of UAW members from the Ford plant in Louisville, Ky.

“It’s going to affect all of us,” said Debbie Casey, a member of CWA Local 2204 from Castlewood, Va. She said the CWA, IBEW and UMWA brought five busloads to the rally.

“I support the UMWA in this,” said Larry Goodwin, 35, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 477 at a refractory plant in Buckhannon. He came with several others from the local. “We faced the same thing in my plant. We lost health care for retirees and current employees.”

“This is not just about the mine workers, UMWA President Cecil Roberts told participants. “This is a movement about the people.”

Following the speeches Roberts led the massive gathering out of the Civic Center, marching down the streets of Charleston to the headquarters of Patriot Coal. Chants of “U-M-W-A” and “We are union” broke out. Roberts and 15 other labor, civic and religious officials who had declared their intention to be arrested sat down in the street until cops took them away.

The next action will be in St. Louis on April 16 at 10 a.m. in front of Peabody Coal’s corporate headquarters.

http://www.themilitant.com/2013/7714/771401.html

Patriot Coal Protest in Charleston, W.Va.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cuban Missile Crisis - 50 years on


When pro-war was the right side

Racist violence in the North: The 'Draft Riots' of 1863

By on April 4, 2013 

As the United States commemorates the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, a document which officially ended slavery in those states and regions that rebelled against the Union during the Civil War, one is also reminded of a not-so-noble 1863 event in New York City.

From the time of Lincoln's election in 1860, pro-slavery Democrats in New York City warned Irish citizens and immigrants to be prepared for the freeing of Southern enslaved Black people who might relocate to the North and compete with them for jobs.

In 1863, the federal draft law became stricter for men between the ages of 20 and 45. All those in that age group were entered into a lottery to serve military duty. However, if they paid $300 to the government they could evade enlistment. White workers compared their value, $300 to buy their draft exemption, to the $1,000 being paid for a Black slave. Free Black men were exempted from the draft because they weren't considered citizens.

Mainstream newspapers and sensationalist journalists attacked the federal government's draft law in order to incite the white working class. They criticized the government's intrusion into state and local affairs on behalf of the "n——r war." Because of the bad wartime economy, whites seemingly felt their political power and privileges would be threatened and reduced, and Blacks would be gaining power.

On July 13, 1863, and lasting five days, white mobs rioted in New York City, attacking Black men, women and children. Rioters targeted anything that might symbolize any political, economic or social progress and power for Black people. This violence became known as "the Civil War Draft Riots."

Black men were stomped, stoned, kicked and beaten to death. Some were burned to death, others lynched from lampposts and their genitals mutilated. Many who fled jumped into the river to escape. Black properties were destroyed. And fearing destruction of their property by rioters, landlords evicted Black tenants.

The rioters' brutal violence included burning down the four-story Colored Orphan Asylum, located on Fifth Avenue at 43rd Street, which housed more than 200 Black children. The children were forced to move into the almshouse (poorhouse) on Blackwell's Island, where the orphanage's founders had hoped to prevent children from having to go. The orphanage later temporarily relocated to 51st Street in Manhattan.

Cornerstone of white supremacy

For a decade prior to the riots, there had been tension brewing between white longshoremen and Black dockworkers. Irish workers in particular refused to work with Black longshoremen, and during the riots they attacked all Black porters, cartmen and laborers they saw. White dockworkers also destroyed dance halls, boarding houses and tenements that served Black people. On the waterfront, brutal beatings and deaths were cheered, with the promise of more "vengeance on every n——r in New York." The aim of white workers was to eradicate the presence of Black males in the city.

The all-white labor union, the Longshoreman's Association, insisted that "the colored people must and shall be driven to other parts of the industry," which gave white workers license to physically remove Blacks, not only from their worksites, but also from neighborhoods and recreation places. Convinced of their racial superiority, white workers violently asserted their power.

Hundreds of Black people were forced out of New York City. Some Black victims escaped by ferry to the borough of Brooklyn. Others fled to New Jersey and elsewhere. The Black orphanage attempted to rebuild at the same site, but was not permitted to. Four years later, it finally relocated to a newly built location on West 143rd Street in Harlem, which later became a predominantly Black neighborhood in the 20th century. In 1867, however, the area was sparsely populated and far from the city's center. Within two years after the riots, fewer than 10,000 Black people resided in the city, the lowest number since 1820.

To date, Blacks and whites remain divided by race, class, social status, aspirations, employment and education opportunities, and income and wealth disparities. Neither New York City nor the country itself has united to overcome or solve problems of racism. The country has failed to fully accept the freedom of its Black population. White supremacy remains the cornerstone of economic exploitation and capitalism. The U.S., a country whose foundation was built on racism, continues to be a country that loves to hate.

Source: "In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863," by Leslie M. Harris

http://www.workers.org/2013/04/04/racist-violence-in-the-north-the-draft-riots-of-1863/


Civil wars in U.S. and France

 

Another exceptional find featured by Jodi Dean on her incomparable blog:

American receptions of the Commune

(from Philip M. Katz, From Appomattox to Montmarte: Americans and the Paris Commune, Harvard UP, 1998).

'The Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, and the Paris Commune each posed the question of republicanism in its starkest form: Shall "the people" be sovereign.' (89)

'But defining what "popular" (much less "republican") government proved elusive, as the bitter politics of Reconstruction showed. Reconstruction was a struggle to define what it meant to be a republic, and to decide who was fit to participate in such a polity.' (90)

Marx had followed the civil war in the US closely--his text on the Paris Commune is The Civil War in France.

(In the wake of the civil war, mistrust of popular government spread among Northerners: rejection of women's suffrage, acquiescence to Southern 'home rule,' ruins of 14th and 15th amendements, urban reforms limiting local autonomy, voting reforms limiting the franchise. The Commune became a way to 'focus and excuse the ideological shift away from popular government,' 92.)

For some, the Commune became an emblem of the failure of Reconstruction. The editor of the Nation, 'railed against the "Socialism in South Carolina" that came from allowing incompetent black men to govern and vote" (97). In his polemic againt reconstruction, the political incapacity in South Carolina was as bad as the Paris Commune. Attacks on the Communards were attacks on the political incapacity of the people. For Northerners, "neither Paris nor the South was ready for self-government" 100.

Related positions emphasized the parallel between Southern secessionists and the Commune, both rejecting centralized government. Some Southerners, not surprisingly, rejected the comparison and emphasized differences between themselves and the Commune, in particular, they (the South) were resisting revolution (the Union's attempt to control them) while the Communists were making a revolution. Other Southerners were happy to embrace the parallel, of "wholesome revolt against an oppressive centralized power" (107) -- the same position held by Northern Republican critics. Newspapers in Atlanta and Charleston expressed sympathy for the Communards. Still others associated the Parisian mob with the newly freed slaves.

(Weirdly, a former vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, who became a a member of Congress from Georgia after the war, identified himself as a Communist in 1880. For Stephens, to be a Communist meant to favor home rule, the sovereignty of the local government, 108-110. Stephens, of course, explicitly rejected the idea that communism entailed the abolition of private property.)

http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2013/03/american-receptions-of-the-commune.html

Never conventional: E. P. Thompson

EP Thompson: the unconventional historian

The Making of the English Working Class is 50 this year, yet it is still widely revered as a canonical work of social history
EP Thompson
EP Thompson ... intellectual figurehead. Photograph: John Hodder

Fifty years ago, an obscure historian working in the extra-mural department at the University of Leeds delivered a manuscript, overdue and over-length, to Victor Gollancz – a publishing house then specialising in socialist and internationalist non-fiction. No one could have foreseen the book's reception. EP Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class became a runaway commercial and critical success. The demand for this 800-page doorstop was nothing short of remarkable. In 1968, Pelican Books bought the rights to The Making and published a revised version as the 1,000th book on their list. In less than a decade, it had gone through a further five reprints. Fifty years on, it is still in print, widely revered as a canonical work of social history.
It was not Thompson's first book. A history of William Morris had appeared in 1955, and had been met with the indifference that is the fate of most academic monographs. After The Making came Whigs & Hunters, a book on the Black Acts – the notorious Georgian legislation that criminalised not only the killing of deer, but also any suspicious activity that might hint at the intention to kill deer. This was followed by a series of colourful essays on diverse themes, including time and industrial capitalism, food riots, and wife sales (yes, in the 18th century men really did take their wives to market and "sell" them). Time and again, Thompson proved himself capable of taking on new topics and revisiting old ones in new ways, creating a body of work that was original and hugely influential.
And yet Thompson was never a conventional historian. His many years at Leeds were spent not in the history department, but in adult education. His tenure at the newly created University of Warwick was brief: he resigned just six years after taking up the post, disgusted at the commercial turn it was taking. Ever the man of letters, his resignation was accompanied by a lengthy pamphlet outlining his intellectual objections. The rest of his life was devoted to a range of political causes. Thompson was an active member of the Communist party in the 40s and 50s, and founder of the Communist Party Historians Group in 1946. He was part of the mass exodus from the party in the 1950s following the Soviet invasion of Hungary, but remained closely allied with a range of leftwing movements. By the end of the 1970s, Thompson was playing a key role, as both tireless organiser and intellectual figurehead, in the nascent peace movement, a cause to which he remained devoted until his death in 1993. It was a life of activism no less than of scholarship.
But towering above it all remains The Making, with its preface so memorably declaring the book's intention "to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' hand-loom weaver, the 'Utopian' artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity". The book's mythic status should not distract us from the raw originality of the work. In 1963, weavers and artisans were not the stuff of history books. Pioneering social historians had been studying working people since the early 20th century, but the focus remained squarely on the tangible, the measurable, the "significant" – wages, living conditions, unions, strikes, Chartists. Thompson touched on the trade unions and the real wage, of course, but most of his book was devoted to something that he referred to as "experience". Through a patient and extensive examination of local as well as national archives, Thompson had uncovered details about workshop customs and rituals, failed conspiracies, threatening letters, popular songs, and union club cards. He took what others had regarded as scraps from the archive and interrogated them for what they told us about the beliefs and aims of those who were not on the winning side. Here, then, was a book that rambled over aspects of human experience that had never before had their historian. And the timing of its appearance could scarcely have been more fortunate. The 1960s saw unprecedented upheaval and expansion in the university sector, with the creation of new universities filled with lecturers and students whose families had not traditionally had access to the privileged world of higher education. Little wonder, then, that so many felt a natural affinity with Thompson's outsiders and underdogs.
And there was something more. Running through The Making was a searing anger about economic exploitation and a robust commentary on his capitalist times. Thompson rejected the notion that capitalism was inherently superior to the alternative model of economic organisation it replaced. He refused to accept that artisans had become obsolete, or that their distress was a painful but necessary adjustment to the market economy. It was an argument that resonated widely in the 1960s, when Marxist intellectuals could still believe that a realistic alternative to capitalism existed, could still argue that "true" Marxism hadn't been tried properly.
Appearing in the heyday of Marxist scholarship, The Making's political framework lay at the heart of the book's success. Perhaps its greatest achievement, however, is how it has managed to weather Marxism's subsequent fall from academic grace. By the 1980s, Marxist history no longer held a significant place in academic history departments. It has been on the defensive ever since. Surveying the literary spat between Thompson and the Polish philosopher, Leszek Kołakowski – who, after years of living under Communism, had had the temerity to desert the Marxist banner – Tony Judt observed: "No one who reads it will ever take EP Thompson seriously again." And yet we do still take Thompson seriously. More than any of his books, The Making continues to delight and inspire new readers. Of course, Thompson's scholarship was partial and driven by his politics. But the originality, vigour and iconoclasm of his book make certain that it will endure.
• Emma Griffin's Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution will be published by Yale later this month.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/mar/06/ep-thompson-unconventional-historian

"Organization, solidarity, political will."

Badiou: the Paris Commune (from Polemics)

In his discussion of the Paris Commune in Polemics, Badiou considers the Paris Commune as an evental site, a new being in the world that has made itself (a new being that has made itself in the world).
From Marxism-Leninism-Maoism comes a reading of the Commune that poses the question of the relation of the party to the state. Badiou faults Marx's reading for its continued attachment to the state. Even as Marx (and later Engels) recognizes that the Commune smashes the bourgeois state, they nonetheless criticize it for failing to be statist enough. To me his critique can be rendered as a criticism of state fetishism: I know the Commune is not a state, nevertheless I believe it is a state. And, indeed, Badiou refers to the party as a 'mental schema.' Badiou's goal is to provide a different Commune, one that is not reduced to the fetishistism of the classical reading.
Fetishistic disavowal gives a particular form to the communist party (proletarian party, social democratic party). On the one hand, it understands itself as premised on the destruction of the state. To this extent, it remains outside it. It's position is exterior to the state, aimed toward it only to destroy it. On the other hand, "the party is also the organizer of a centralized, disciplined capacity that is entirely bent on taking state power." It asserts what it denies, giving itself form as that what it would replace. We could perhaps also say that the state persists as as an ego ideal of the party, the point from which it sees itself.
More specifically, then, in the classical (Marxist) reading, as Badiou tells it, the problem of the Commune is the relation between society and the state, that is, "the social nature of state power." On the one hand, the Commune smashes the machinery of the state. On the other, its failures were those of failing to become a state, failures of centralization, organization, decision. These failures, moreover, are linked (albeit ambiguously) to the inconsistency of the Commune's major parties. The Proudhonians and the Blanquists "ended up doing exactly the opposite of their manifest ideology." Marxism, then, emerges as the answer.
For Badiou, the party gives body to the ambiguity of the Marxist account of the commune:
It becomes the political site of a fundamental tension between the non-state, and even anti-state characters of the a politics of emancipation, and the statist character of the victory and duration of that politics. Moreover, this is the case irrespective of whether the victory is insurrectional or electoral: the mental schema is the same.
... The party-state is endowed with capacities designed to resolve problems the Commune left unresolved: a centralization of the police and of military defence; the complete destruction of bourgeois economic decisons; the rallying and submission of the peasants to workers' hegemony; the creation of a powerful international, etc.
So, the Commune is understood as a political form determined by the workers and one that exercises power. Yet, Badiou adds, if this is all it is, then it is political obsolete, determined now by a Stalinism that reduces political power to party.
It is worth noting, and I hope to further this idea later, that reduction may well be the wrong term. It could be, and I think that in many cases it is, what Badiou renders as 'reduction' is an expansion, an opening up and creation of the world, milieu, set of possibilities, vocabulary. The assumption, then, that 'party' is the name of a political reduction is what needs to be rejected in favor of an understanding of what new capacities and possibilities it opens up. 
With Mao, the understanding of politics as articulated to a state and dominated by the party remains the same, with the addition of the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses.
Badiou, though, wants to put aside the classical version of the Paris Commune, the Marxist interepretations that came later, that inscribed the experience within the party-state linkage, a linkage that prescribes a particular failure and a particular explanation for that failure. Putting aside the classical version is crucial because it has installed in the left a conception of politics that locates political incapacity in the left (a failure of the movement) and not in the gap between the state and politics ('political invention'). One symptom (not Badiou's term) of the problem: the every-present theme of betrayal. As soon as 'the left' acquires power, they betray us.
But is betrayal reducible to the linkage of politics to the state? Or is it possible that breaking this link is itself a form of betrayal? Differently put, a certain idealism that assumes a pure politics, a politics without compromise, corruption, disappointment, without power and violence, this is the point from which the accusation of betrayal arises. It's no wonder, then, that Zizek has rightly criticized the pure politics of Badiou. "Betrayal" is a feeling. It's a subjective assessment, in the eye of the beholder. A left that constitutes itself so as to be forever and perpetually betrayed is one incapable of managing or acknowledging or finding a way to arrange the gap internal to the people or between the people and its own self-steering or governance.
Badiou reads the declaration of the Central Committee of the National Guard as a "declaration to break with the left." He notes other situations where the task was to break 'with all subjection to that fundamental emblem, the 'Left'" (Chinese revolutionaries 1965-1968; French Maoists 1966-1976).
And what is this for us? What is the incapacity with which we must break? It is surely not with a relation to the state--the left in the US has retreated from the state since 1968, retreating into issue and identity politics and letting liberals focus on the state. It is also surely not a relation to the party--the left in the US has never had a communist or socialist party within reach of state power. In fact, left politics in the US have had the form of fragmentation, specificity, decenteredness, multiplicity, and occasional alliance: this is that with which we must break.
What is the non-existent aspect of our situation? Organization, solidarity, political will. What we hear from all quarters is the impossibility of a unified left, the undesirability of a unified left, the inevitable failure and compromise and betrayal that we persistently level at ourselves. We revel in the fantasy of inaction and lack of power, refusing to acknowledge how this is already action and power, but action and power on behalf of an other (capital as supported by the liberal democratic state).
Describing the event of the Paris Commune in terms of its content, Badiou emphasizes the appearance of a working-being in the space of a governmental and political capacity.
And, for us? What sort of capacity has not appeared but must appear? A collective capacity, a capacity for solidarity -- Occupy gave us a glimps, Madison gave us a glimpse, Tahrir Square gave us more than a glimpse before it became recaptured in elections.
The Paris Commune destroyed "the order of subjective incapacity." Badiou concludes that a political rupture is a rupture with the left and, for us, a rupture with democracy. For us, here and now, 'left' means not parliamentary left (we have none) but the left of issues, identity, and sectarianism.

http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2013/03/badiou-the-paris-commune-from-polemics.html

To study “Despair”




An Atheist on Tennyson’s Despair
Edward Aveling

Source: Modern Thought, January 1882, pp.7-10;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


All freethinkers owe a debt of gratitude to Alfred Tennyson. His latest poem is an invaluable aid to the cause that they hold dear. To study “Despair” will repay them not only from the literary side. They will derive from its study so much encouragement, so much new strength for their daily battle. The dramatic monologue named “Despair” is headed thus:- “A man and his wife, having lost faith in a God and hope of a life to come, and being utterly miserable in this, resolve to end themselves by drowning. The woman is drowned, but the man is rescued by a minister of the sect he has abandoned.” At first, as we read these words, we are tempted to imagine that Mr. Tennyson wholly misunderstands freethinkers, after the fashion of the many. And, indeed, there is no doubt that he does not fully understand the beauty and the joy of Atheism. The man and woman have lost faith in a God. They have lost, also, the terrible idea of an individual immortality, with all its inevitable confusions, contradictions, irreconcilabilities, unhappinesses. Thus far they represent Atheism, and may be taken as types. But when our poet represents them as utterly miserable in this life, we know, and we half suspect he knows, that here they cease to be types. This circumstance is chosen for dramatic effect, but is, of course, no consequence of the loss of religious belief. For the Atheist is not inclined to be miserable in this his only life. He loves it, joys in it, revels in it. He is not blind to its pains and sorrows. Bearing these cheerfully as he may, he concentrates his attention on the pleasures and sweetnesses of life, and on the task that ranks foremost amongst those pleasures – the task of lessening the aggregate of the world’s misery. The man and woman of “Despair” have in truth no little reason for sadness. Their eldest born has forged his father’s name. Another son is dead. The girl that might have been the solace of their saddened age had never looked upon the sun. In a line of surprising strength we are told she “had passed from the night to the night.” He is ruined, and the wife has a horror of bodily disease upon her. But sorrows even such as these should not – nay, actually do not – drive the Atheist to suicide. Rarely or never do we encounter instances of those who are without God taking their own lives. The suicides are amongst the possessors of a religious belief. In truth, they are often in consequence of such a belief.

Yet further evidence is furnished by the poem in favour of my view that the two central figures are not Atheists to the heart’s core. The man uses the name of God. Four times the cry, “Ah, God!” breaks from his lips. He that has wholly abandoned the older creeds is always very careful to use no phrase that in any sense, however remote, implies them. He studiously avoids to-day the use of the word “religion.” I am not ignorant of the fact that Thomas Paine, a hundred years ago, wrote: – “To do good is my religion;” but at this hour the conscientious Atheist should strive to employ none of those words and phrases that through long usage have acquired a stereotyped meaning, and have become, as Wendell Holmes puts it, “polarised.” Hence, even under strong emotion, when most likelihood exists of a reversion to the old habits of thought and expression of the earlier times of the individual or of the race, even then the man who has struggled out of ordinary beliefs should not use even interjectional phrases that would imply, however indirectly, recognition of deity.

And, again, in the lines that speak of

“a life without sun, without health, without hope, without any delight
In anything here upon earth,”

there is proof that these two unhappy ones have not grasped the fulness of the comfort of Atheism. Had their faith in man been stronger, their eyes had pierced the gloom surrounding their individual lives, and had seen the brightness of the face of man that is to be. “Without health,” alas! man may be. “Without hope “ man has no right to be. Because my little fragment of life is a failure, because my attempted contribution to the world-building is only some small modicum of dust, blown away by the breath of time and not a portion of enduring stone or marble, am I to despair of all? Nay, truly, let me rather behold the effective life-work of my stronger, better brothers, and, taking heart of grace, struggle on again. “Without any delight in anything here upon earth.” Each had still that other dear one left, and there is always for all, unless the mind fail, the delight of old memories. Was she not “always loyal and sweet?” And whilst loyalty and sweetness shine out in the one life most dear to us, who shall say that all delight is fled? “A world without sun.” I answer Mr Tennyson in the words of our Atheist poet, Algernon Swinburne, singing to Nature under the old name Apollo: –

“For thy kingdom is passed not away,
Nor thy power from the place thereof hurled;
Out of heaven they shall cast not the day –
They shall cast not out song from the world.
Is the sun yet cast out of heaven?
Is the song yet cast out of man?”

In one other passage, also, the speaker of the monologue shows himself as one who fails to grasp the rich significance of evolution. “Come from the brute, poor souls! – no souls, and to die with the brute.” Come from the brute assuredly, we hope. If “soul” retain its old meaning, and is the immortal something supposed to exist when the body has returned to the mineral kingdom in the form of salts and gases – “No souls!” we cry, with rejoicing. But “to die with the brute?” No – a thousand times, no! Man no more dies with the brute than he lives with the brute. As his life is far nobler, more manifold, more rich than that of the lower forms of animals, so his death is more full of pathos, of instruction, of hope. For even when face to face with that mystery of death, and beholding it through our tears, we comfort our hearts with the knowledge that the life thus ended is still at work. The gentle words, the kindly acts, the high thoughts of that life, are yet busy in the world through the lives they touched directly, and they will be busy this many a day, and all days through the unborn lives to be moulded in their turn by these. For each human thought or phrase or deed is as the proverbial stone dropped into the proverbial water. The ripples spread more widely, and ever more widely, and are doomed, perhaps, to strike upon the shores of continents yet to be. The brute form at best leaves its record in the rocks, or haply in some footprint deciphered by the eager eye of man oeons after it was made. But the human life leaves its record upon human life, and even when it is ended the impress of it is visible on the family or on the society, party, sect – perhaps on the history of the country, it may be of the world.

But as Atheists we must be for ever thankful to Alfred Tennyson in that he has stated some part, at least, of our creed clearly and strongly. The first four lines of stanza iv., and even part of the last two lines, will make plainer to some who misunderstand us what we think and hope:-

“See we were nursed in the dark night-fold of your fatalist creed,
And we turned to the growing dawn, we had hoped for a dawn indeed,
When the light of a Sun that was coming would scatter the ghosts of the Past,
And the cramping creeds that had madden'd the people would vanish at last.
And we broke away from the Christ, our human brother and friend,
For he spoke, or it seem'd that He spoke, of a Hell without help, without end.”

For “had hoped” in the second line read “do hope,” and you have the heart’s desire of the Atheist. Nay, we have passed beyond the stage of hoping for the dawn. The dawn, and something more than dawn, our very eyes have seen. Our hope is for the more and more perfect day. As Mr. Mallock has written, there must occur “the sort of break which takes place when a man awakes from a dream and finds all that he most prized vanished from him.” Man is awaking from a dream centuries long. He is even now finding that all that he most prized is vanishing from him. But that which thus vanishes is that which was most prized in a dream. In the brighter, workful, real day that is past its dawn even now, he will smile tenderly, pitifully, at the strange fancies that were his in the dim, slumberous night fast fading away before the coming of the better time.

From Christ, save as God and as preacher of hell, we do not break away. He is in very truth our human brother and friend. I think we love him with a love that cannot be understood by Christians. He is so very human to us even in what seem to us his blunders and bad teaching. No glory seems added to his remarkable character by naming him divine. Indeed, that would appear to take away at once all credit from him, and to destroy his chief excellence. It is a matter of no interest that omnipotence should have lived a good life. But consider the world of comfort and instruction to be drawn from the knowledge that a man of passions and infirmities like our own lived so pure a life! From his teaching, as from the teaching of all great men, we strive to draw that which is of practical value for our life to-day, and though we find much – very much – of that teaching so other-worldly as to be useless at this hour, yet for that which is of value we are very grateful. We do not break away from Christ. We draw close to him as our human brother, unmarred by any touch of the divine. We call him comforter, and in large sort our guide.

In stanza vii., moreover, and in its last line, we have a fine summing up of man’s resources when the gods have failed him: –

“Till you flung us back on ourselves and the human heart and the Age.”

These are the only rocks whereon man may find secure foothold. Too long has he had preached to him that doctrine of reliance on God that is in greater or less degree fatal to reliance on self. And that this latter is the more necessary is shown by the fact that in emergency it is upon self we have to rely, as no aid comes from without, or from the supernatural powers. Hence it is that to us the utterances of those who may have escaped some great peril that has engulfed others, their fellows, seem so very terrible. In the narratives by survivors from some great disaster of the sea, as that of the Clan Macduff, nothing is more common than to hear that those who are saved ascribe their better fortune to God. But in thus doing, these men and women, by implication, are ascribing the worse fortune of their companions to God. For it is inconceivable that those whose lives are lost are not as anxious for life as those that are saved. Without doubt they supplicated in as great an agony of earnestness as those that escaped. And yet the deity to whom the survivors ascribe their safety so willed it that these should perish!

We are willing to be “flung back on the human heart and the Age.” In man, and in man alone, do we find comfort. When all else fails us, we find in the history of man in the past, and in his growing strength to-day, hope for the future such as no other creed gives. To this age, and the spirit of it, we cling. We are unwilling to be drawn back once more to the thought of dead and gone times. That has had its day, and done its work right well. But we should have a stronger objection to casting aside the thought of this nineteenth century and embracing that of the first than to discarding railway travelling for any of the older methods of locomotion.

In stanza xix. is expressed, although in words hardly possible for our use, one consciousness of the Atheist: –

“Ah yet I have had some glimmer, at times, in my gloomiest woe,
Of a God behind all – after all – the great God for aught that I know.”

It does seem that, on the whole, in the process of evolution, evil is slowly eliminated, and good grows more predominant. There is “a tendency that maketh for righteousness.” The whole of this deeply interesting question has been of late dealt with by Herbert Spencer, and in the Nineteenth Century (October, 1881), James Sully has put, with admirable clearness, the optimistic view of Spencer, that would be, I take it, shared by all Atheists. But it must be clearly understood that, while we believe that we recognise this gradual elimination of the bad, and gradual strengthening of the good, we have no conception of a being who is in any sense the personification of this principle.

Very strongly, also, in words to whose intensity no comment of mine could add, does he place one aspect of our case before those who ask us to worship the God of Christianity. I quote stanzas xvii. and xviii.: –

xvii.

“What! I should call on that Infinite Love that has served us so well?
Infinite wickedness, rather, that made everlasting Hell;
Made us – foreknew us, foredoom'd us, and does what he will with his own;
Better our dead brute mother who never has heard us groan? .

xviii

Hell? if the souls of men were immortal, as men have been told,
The lecher would cleave to his lusts, and the miser would yearn for his gold,
And so there were Hell for ever? But were there a God, as you say,
His love would have power over Hell till it utterly vanish'd away.”

Perhaps some cause for a tinge of regret is to be found in the lines where this present time is stigmatised as “the new dark ages .... of the popular press.” It might almost seem ungrateful for one thus to write who owes to that very press so much of his own fame, and so much of that which he values far more highly – the power of doing good by making music in many homes. But the words occur in a dramatic monologue, and in dramatic writing the author is merged in the character he portrays. Therefore, we may, without much exercise of charity, believe that the diatribes against the press, and that very “honest doubt” which he himself has told us is “the noblest kind of faith,” are of purpose placed in the mouth of one who names himself as madman, and who has very clearly not fought the good fight of enquiry right through to the restful issue that always awaits the victor in that conflict.

It would be ungracious, it would be unjust, to pass from the consideration of this notable poem without paying tribute to its remarkable power. Once grant the central idea of the blackness of despair that Alfred Tennyson seems to think may seize upon the Atheist mind – once grant this, and no words are too strong in praise of the vigour wherewith the sombre tone of the poem is maintained throughout. Especially one notices his power of producing great effects by very simple means. In the very first stanza, observe the second line as instance of that to which I refer:-

“Follow'd us too that night, and dogg'd us, and drew me to land?”

“That night!” The horror of it, and the shudder that runs through the words! And consider the tremendous story told by the use of the two pronouns. You dogged us. You brought to land me alone.

Or, in stanza ix., line 5, the force of the first word is another illustration: –

“There was a strong sea-current would sweep us out to the main.”

Or yet, again, the pathos of the lines: –

“Never a cry so desolate, not since the world began!
Never a kiss so sad – no, not since the coming of man!”

and of the phrase, “She is all alone in the sea.”

I repeat that to Alfred Tennyson we that are Atheists are in some measure indebted. He has possibly misunderstood us, and if he really thinks that our creed can lead only despairwards it is assured that we are not comprehended by him. But I am inclined to consider that he has here put into most musical language the conception of the man who is still a Theist, but who strives to picture the universe without God. The stage of negation is here portrayed; but that is only a transition stage leading to the positive aspect of Atheism. This aspect Tennyson has in no sense understood. Be his thought in this respect what it may, he has placed in the mouth of his semi-suicide, in language very memorable and musical, many of those terrific arguments against supernatural religion, answers to which have never yet been forthcoming. Those who read these arguments in this his latest poem, despite that which I must venture to call the misrepresentation by which Atheists are portrayed as loathing life and light, will begin to understand something of the reasons why so many men and women of pure conduct, high thinking, and keen intellectual life, have rejected all beliefs founded upon the supernatural, and find a peace that very literally passes the understanding of many in that creed that deals only with this earth, and with the great brotherhood of man.

EDWARD B. AVELING, D.Sc.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/aveling/1882/tennyson.htm

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Breakthrough in U.S. communist newspaper sales

 

Int’l drive ends with a bang—  600+ subscribe in final week!
 
BY LOUIS MARTIN 
In a truly impressive effort during the final week of an international campaign, Militant readers sold 619 subscriptions, bringing the total sold in five weeks to 1,924. Supporters of the paper in a number of areas are organizing victory celebrations.

All but four areas went over their local quotas. Militant supporters also sold hundreds of books on revolutionary working-class politics, mainly going door to door in working-class neighborhoods. (See ad on page 3 for books on special.)

“Tonight, Militant supporters have successfully completed the campaign in New York. We can look forward to continuing the discussions with readers,” Deborah Liatos wrote late March 19 to volunteers who sold 303 subscriptions to workers there.

“You have been talking about things I have been wanting to talk about,” Alexandra Jean told Militant supporters in Montreal when asked why she decided to join the door-to-door effort. A few weeks ago she bought a subscription and four books from a team that knocked on her door.

Until recently Jean was attending pre-university college. She explained she had volunteered for the Red Cross and other charities, “but they weren’t making a difference. I feel like going door to door is worth it. This message is true.”

“Where does this crisis come from?” Louis Conde asked Militant supporters standing at his door in Philadelphia March 16. “It’s like nobody’s steering the car. Or at least, we’re not. We’re the ones paying for this disaster.”

Conde has been a custodial worker with the Philadelphia public school district for more than 20 years. He described recent cuts in wages and working conditions of school workers, as well as the closing of schools. “The schools are set up to fail. They never give us what we need for the students,” Conde said. He got a Militant subscription and bought The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning: The Fraud of Education Reform Under Capitalism.
 
Mark Wilson in South London subscribed to the paper after Julie Crawford and Jonathan Silberman came to his house for a follow-up visit he requested a week earlier.

Wilson’s mother, who lives in Jamaica, was cured of cataract blindness by Cuban medical volunteers there. “The Cubans did it for free,” Wilson said. “I don’t know much about the Cuban Revolution, but Jamaicans I know prefer to see Cuban doctors.”

John Naubert reported from Seattle that Louis Vega, 54, a disabled army veteran originally from Puerto Rico, renewed his subscription when Militant supporters stopped by his house.

“I like how the paper tackles issues head on,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the Cuban Five until it was covered in the Militant. They are fighting the covert operations from the U.S.” against the Cuban Revolution. (See box on page 9.) Vega also bought a copy of Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own.

Naubert also reported that Militant supporters going door to door in Kent, Wash., met Lily Wilson, whose husband was one of the recent strikers at United Natural Food Inc. in Auburn, Wash.

“The Militant is by the people, for the people. We have to come together, everyone is out there for themselves. I want to show this paper to my friends,” Wilson said as she got a subscription.


“Militant supporters in Atlanta sold 35 subscriptions and 17 books in the last eight days,” reported Rachele Fruit.

One of these subscriptions was a renewal to Alfonso Baccay, a building cleaner from the Philippines. Baccay also got a copy of Cuba and Angola. “I like that you can learn the truth about other peoples’ struggles,” he said.

Alyson Kennedy reported that one of the renewals in Chicago last week was from Andre Watson, 30, who drives a forklift in a plant. “The Militant is about building a movement,” he said. “It explains how we are progressing and how the government keeps us oppressed. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

“It is not a race thing,” said Watson, who is African-American. “It doesn’t matter if you are poor Latino, Black or white. They want us to fight each other. If we have a movement in different states, cities and even overseas, we will have a better chance. That’s what we need.”

Jacquie Henderson wrote from Houston that Militant supporters were invited by three construction workers to join a fish fry March 16 to meet their friends, eat freshly caught fish and introduce everyone to the paper and books.

When told that Socialist Workers Party members were planning to run a campaign for mayor and city council in Houston, the new readers volunteered to help launch the campaign. “The campaign was really launched there yesterday,” said Henderson.

Frank Forrestal reports from Minneapolis that Militant supporters picked up four subscriptions, including three renewals, last week from workers in the Red River Valley region of northern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.


“I like the Militant, but would like to see more promotion of unions and how to get unions started,” said Bill Hauck, one of 1,300 workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar since Aug. 1, 2011, who now works at a potato factory.

The Militant got five “Prisoners” subscriptions last week, bringing our total to 20 for the drive. These include three renewals from Los Angeles, which Militant supporter Jesus Landeros organized to get.

One new subscription was bought by an unemployed worker supporters in Miami met going door to door, who wanted it for her jailed godnephew. And a prisoner in Florida requested to receive the paper.

The international effort to expand circulation of the Militant continues. Bundles of the paper can be ordered by contacting the Militant at themilitant@mac.com or (212) 244-4899.

http://www.themilitant.com/2013/7712/771203.html