July 22, 2014
July 21, 2014
16 July 2014 Last updated at 08:43 ET
Ukraine conflict: ‘White power’ warrior from Sweden
Mikael Skillt is a Swedish sniper, with seven years’ experience in the Swedish Army and the Swedish National Guard. He is currently fighting with the Azov Battalion, a pro-Ukrainian volunteer armed group in eastern Ukraine. He is known to be dangerous to the rebels: reportedly there is a bounty of nearly $7,000 (£4,090; 5,150 euros) on his head.
In a telephone conversation from an undisclosed location, Mr Skillt told me more about his duties: “I have at least three purposes in the Azov Battalion: I am a commander of a small reconnaissance unit, I am also a sniper, and sometimes I work as a special coordinator for clearing houses and going into civilian areas.”
As to his political views, Mr Skillt prefers to call himself a nationalist, but in fact his views are typical of a neo-Nazi.
“It’s all about how you see it,” he says. “I would be an idiot if I said I did not want to see survival of white people. After World War Two, the victors wrote their history. They decided that it’s always a bad thing to say I am white and I am proud.”
‘One stray liberal’
Mr Skillt believes races should not mix. He says the Jews are not white and should not mix with white people. His next project is to go fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because he believes Mr Assad is standing up to “international Zionism”.
Not all of Mr Skillt’s views are widely shared in the Azov Battalion, which is about 300-strong in total.
He says his comrades do not discuss politics much, though some of them may be “national socialists” and may wear swastikas. On the other hand, “there is even one liberal, though I don’t know how he got there”, he adds, with a smile in his voice.
Mr Skillt says there is only a handful of foreign fighters in the Azov Battalion and they do not get paid. “They see it as a good thing, to come and fight,” he explains. However, Mr Skillt is expecting more foreigners to join soon: he says there is now a recruiter who is looking for “serious fighters” from outside Ukraine.
The key figures in the Azov Battalion are its commander, Andriy Biletsky, and his deputy, Ihor Mosiychuk.
Andriy Biletsky is also the leader of a Ukrainian organisation called the Social National Assembly. Its aims are stated in one of their online publications:
- “to prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital”
- “to punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man”
This, according to experts, is a typical neo-Nazi narrative.
The Azov Battalion was formed and armed by Ukraine’s interior ministry. A ministerial adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, got angry when I asked him if the battalion had any neo-Nazi links through the Social National Assembly.
“The Social National Assembly is not a neo-Nazi organisation,” he said.
“It is a party of Ukrainian patriots who are giving their lives while the rich Europeans are only talking about supporting Ukraine. When, may I ask, will English people come here and help us fight terrorists sent by Russia’s President [Vladimir] Putin, instead of lecturing us on our moral values or people’s political affiliations?”
Mr Gerashchenko was adamant, however, that there were no foreign citizens fighting in the Azov Battalion.
He insisted he had never heard of Mikael Skillt, the Swedish sniper.
Ukraine is a democratic state, which held a democratic election in May, where the far right and nationalist parties got hardly any votes. These views are not popular with the electorate.
But Anton Shekhovtsov, a prominent expert on far-right and neo-Nazi movements in Europe, believes the Ukrainian government should be clear about whom it is arming to fight for Ukraine’s democratic cause.
“It is a pressing concern, especially with regards to the anti-terrorist operation,” he said. “In my view, the war against pro-Russia separatists is the war for democratic values. Neo-Nazis are as dangerous as pro-Russia extremists in eastern Ukraine.”
July 20, 2014
Robert Parry is part of a cadre of investigative journalists who have put themselves at the disposal of the Kremlin on the matters of Syria and/or Ukraine. Like Walter Duranty who justified Stalin’s policies to NY Times readers in the 1930s, we see Parry, Seymour Hersh and Robert Fisk using journalistic tricks of the trade to make Putin seem like an innocent victim of a worldwide conspiracy involving the CIA, NATO, George Soros-type NGO’s, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, NY Times op-ed writers, and other miscreants bent on… Bent on what exactly? In the 1930s Stalin was defending state-owned property for the same reason that Jimmy Hoffa fought against Bobby Kennedy’s investigation of racketeering in the Teamster’s Union. The union was Hoffa’s source of wealth and power. As such it was in his in own class interests to keep the union strong.
But what exactly does that have to do with Putin? Russia is the third largest recipient of Foreign Direct Investment in the world after the USA and China so such an alleged conspiracy would in effect be breaking down an open door. Just three days ago RT.com reported: “Current Rosneft and Exxon projects unaffected by sanctions – Rosneft CEO”. The article points out:
Rosneft has strong links with both the US and UK oil industry.
Rosneft has even made moves into the Western hemisphere, and owns about 30 percent of an ExxonMobil oil field in the Canadian province of Alberta.
Rosneft accounts for 40 percent of Russian oil output, and also has strong partnerships with Norway’s Statoil and Italy’s Eni.
Rosneft is an oil company. Gazprom, a gas exporter as its name would imply, has the same kind of mutually beneficial relationships with their Western counterparts as the Christian Science Monitor reported on May 2nd:
Although the European Union has imposed its own tough sanctions on 48 Russian individuals, Gazprom is arguably where daylight exists between the Obama administration and the EU on the issue of penalizing Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.
The numbers make it clear why. Russia is the EU’s third-biggest trading partner, after the U.S. and China; in 2012, bilateral EU-Russian trade amounted to almost $370 billion. The same year, U.S. trade with Russia amounted to just $26 billion.
For all of the rhetoric about the inevitable clash between Russia and the West, there is no evidence that it has anything to do with economics. I defy anybody to find an article prior to the crisis in the Ukraine that refers to Russia as inimical to capitalist interests. All you need to do is look at one of those advertising supplements in the NY Times that appears every year or so to confirm this. You know the kind I am talking about, the one that has articles to the effect of Russia being an open door for investors.
It is only when some unfortunate group of peoples finds itself on the wrong side of Russian foreign policy that the rhetoric about a new Cold War bubbles up once again. For Parry and company, there are never any legitimate grievances in a place like Syria or Ukraine. What you get is an “outside agitator” theory in which the natives become restless after a phone call from a Virginia Nuland or a Saudi prince. Russia is entitled to support any military action to put down these fifth columns until law and order is restored. In many ways, the excuses made for the iron fist are the same as Israel’s in Gaza. It is no surprise that both Bashar al-Assad and more recently Abdel Fattah el-Sisi align themselves with Russia over Islamic “extremism” and vice versa.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has made a startling intervention in Egypt’s political turmoil by backing its defence minister for the presidency, before an election has even been declared.
Whether the minister, the newly promoted Field Marshal Abdulfattah el-Sisi, will stand for president in elections scheduled for later this year is the biggest talking point in Egyptian politics, with elements of a personality cult already forming around him.
His aides have consistently denied reports that he has already made a decision, but Mr Putin chose to ignore that while welcoming him on a visit to Moscow.
“I know that you have made a decision to run for president,” Mr Putin said. “That’s a very responsible decision: to undertake such a mission for the fate of the Egyptian people. On my own part, and on behalf of the Russian people, I wish you success.”
Turning now to Parry’s article, “Airline Horror Spurs New Rush to Judgment”, you are struck by his use of the trump card—the unnamed Spooks who really know what is going on. In other words, we are up against the same tried and true method of Seymour Hersh.
Regarding the shoot-down of the Malaysian jetliner on Thursday, I’m told that some CIA analysts cite U.S. satellite reconnaissance photos suggesting that the anti-aircraft missile that brought down Flight 17 was fired by Ukrainian troops from a government battery, not by ethnic Russian rebels who have been resisting the regime in Kiev since elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown on Feb. 22.
Oh really? Well, I am told that some CIA analysts view Vladimir Putin as the recipient of Joseph Stalin’s brain in experimental surgery conducted by a Martian who landed on earth in 1990 determined to save the universe from George Soros and Samantha Power. Who told me that? Sorry, I must keep my sources confidential. Okay, just this one time I will divulge my source. It is Herman Goldstein, my neighbor who read it in an investor’s newsletter out of Corpus Christi, Texas. Mums the word.
According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site. But the source added that the information was still incomplete and the analysts did not rule out the possibility of rebel responsibility.
No, this is Parry and not Onion.com. I love the bit about beer bottles scattered around the site. You’d think that he would have mentioned vodka in order to make it sound more plausible. The last time I read anything this ridiculous was when Mint Press reported on rebels playing around with sarin gas containers causing an accident that cost the lives of hundreds in East Ghouta. Those Ukrainian troops and Syrian rebels, just like Bluto and Otter getting into trouble in “Animal House”.
Much of Parry’s finely honed investigative reporting talents, burnished at Newsweek no less, are turned to casting doubt on the possibility that the separatists had a ground to air missile capable of reaching 33,000 feet.
I wonder if Parry needs some brushing up on Google since a brief search would reveal that such missiles not only exist but have been used previously. Last Monday a missile brought down a Ukrainian military transport, the AN-26, from a height of 21,000 feet—far beyond the reach of a MANPAD. Well, who knows? I suppose if Parry had learned of this, he would have blamed drunken Ukrainians as well.
To drive his point home, Parry refers to the sarin gas incident that supposedly was a false flag operation intended to justify an American “regime change” invasion of Syria that would have put the FSA in power. Yes, I know. It sounds ridiculous at this point with so many articles referring to the White House’s preference for Bashar al-Assad over any and every rebel but let’s follow Parry’s tortured logic since it is clear that so many of our “anti-imperialists” will take him at his word.
Despite the war hysteria then gripping Official Washington, President Obama rejected war at the last moment and – with the help of Russian President Putin – was able to negotiate a resolution of the crisis in which Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons while still denying a hand in the sarin gas attack.
Actually, there was no “war hysteria” in Washington, or more specifically in the White House. An astute analysis of Obama’s designs appeared in the NY Times on October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest. It stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”
Well, no matter. The NY Times is the boss’s newspaper and we should never believe whatever it prints. We are far better off with someone like Robert Parry who spent a decade writing for Newsweek. Wheeling out his heavy artillery, he refers his readers to an unimpeachable source:
In watching Obama’s address, I was struck by how casually he lied. He knew better than almost anyone that some of his senior intelligence analysts were among those doubting the Syrian government’s guilt. Yet, he suggested that anyone who wasn’t onboard the propaganda train was crazy.
Since then, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed other evidence indicating that the sarin attack may indeed have been a rebel provocation meant to push Obama over the “red line” that he had drawn about not tolerating chemical weapons use.
Well, Seymour Hersh revealed no “evidence” at all. Evidence would be like something presented to a jury in a murder trial, like a bloody knife or tampered brakes on a car. All Hersh did was assure his readers that Bashar al-Assad was pure as the driven snow because someone who worked for the CIA told him so.
For those who want to read genuine investigative reporting instead of this “unnamed sources” crapola from Parry or Hersh, I refer you to Elliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses, who as far as I know, never worked for Newsweek.
Two munitions were linked to the Aug. 21 sarin attack: a Soviet M14 140 mm artillery rocket with a sarin warhead and a previously unknown munition that appeared at multiple locations. Since the sarin attack, eight separate examples of the previously unknown type of munition have been filmed and photographed in the Jobar, Zamalka, and Ein Tarma suburbs of Damascus, an example of which is shown below.
- The munitions are used by Syrian government forces and are known as “Volcanoes.”
- The term “Volcano” is also used for a smaller improvised rocket used by pro-government forces.
- The type of Volcano used in the Aug. 21 attack comes in three known types: A chemical and explosive type are both launched from a two-barrel launcher, while a large explosive type is launched from a single-barrel launcher.
- The explosive type has been used since November 2012, while the first known instance of the chemical type being used was June 2013.
I suspect it is exactly this kind of analysis—based on evidence—rather than the specious use of unnamed sources that will ultimately reveal who is responsible for the downing of the Malaysian jet.
July 18, 2014
Premier issue of the American Socialist, January 1954
Yesterday I got some great news from David Walters of the Marxism Internet Archives:
as promised, the entire run of The American Socialist has finally be digitized into high quality PDFs. I integrated the HTML you had done previously into the table of contents. Let everyone who needs to know, know. I’ll announce on Facebook and the MIA’s What’s New page tonight or tomorrow.
Some background is in order.
A year or two after Marxmail was launched back in 1998, I noticed that someone named Sol Dollinger had subscribed. That name rang a bell. I wrote Sol asking if he was related to Genora Dollinger, who as Genora Johnson led the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937. She was indeed, he replied. He was married to her until her death at the age of 82, just 3 years before Sol subbed to Marxmail.
I knew of the Dollingers through my education in the SWP, the group they split from in November 1953 as part of the “Cochranites”. Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman had become convinced that another kind of left was needed, one that dispensed with the “Leninism” that made broad unity on the American left impossible. Upon leaving (or being expelled—take your pick), they launched a group called the Socialist Union and a magazine called the American Socialist that lasted until 1959 when it became obvious that conditions were not favorable for starting a new group.
The SWP leaders characterized the Cochranites, most of whom were autoworkers like Sol Dollinger, as a relatively privileged layer that had succumbed to the pressures of the Cold War.
In the 1971 convention of the SWP, the majority faced a challenge by the For a Proletarian Orientation tendency that proposed sending comrades into industry. Ironically, their proposal was far less extreme than the one eventually adopted by the majority when it launched its “turn to industry” 7 years later.
The Boston branch of the SWP was a stronghold of FAPO, in large part a function of Larry Trainor’s influence over many younger members recruited there. Larry, a hard-core “Cannonite”, was not comfortable with “petty bourgeois” youth and longed for a return to the party’s trade union orientation.
I had come up to Boston to work with Peter Camejo against the FAPO tendency. He asked me to prepare some remarks on the Cochranites to use against FAPO. We wanted to show that being in industry was no guarantee that you wouldn’t become corrupted by petty bourgeois influences—just look at what happened to the privileged auto workers around Bert Cochran.
Not too long ago, I learned from David Walters that the documents from the 1971 convention had become available, including my remarks on the Cochranites that I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. I got a particular chuckle out of this paragraph (Bartell was Mike Bartell, whose real name was Milt Zaslow and who would be a stalwart of the Los Angeles left until his death in 2008):
Bartell and Cochran had one thing in common. They were opposed to continuing as a Trotskyist party. They were liquidationists and no longer believed the revolution needed a party. Both wings of the Cochranites were hostile to doing political party building work such as holding forums, running election campaigns, selling the Militant. The basic question of the 1953 split with Cochran was over whether we need or do not need a Leninist party.
A decade after I wrote this, Peter Camejo had informed me that we had to “drop the Leninism stuff”. But as opposed to my polemics about the Cochranites no longer believing in a revolutionary party, Peter had come to the conclusion that self-declared vanguards were an obstacle to the creation of a genuine revolutionary party.
I am not even sure whether Peter ever saw himself as a disciple of the Cochranites. In his memoir, he recounts going to a Socialist Union meeting in New York when he was 13 years old or so and newly converted to the socialist cause. I had the impression that he regarded them as a quaint formation and nothing much else.
It is true that Bert and Harry were definitely not interested in selling the Militant. But they were not retreating from politics and into a private life—the SWP version of things. They did yeoman work in creating a pole of attraction for socialists in the 1950s looking for a way to challenge the Cold War political climate and lay the groundwork for new advances. In many ways, they were on the same wavelength as people in Britain who became key figures in the creation of a New Left.
In an article titled “New Horizons for European Socialism”, Bert Cochran referred to developments in Britain:
WHAT has come out of the year’s churning? In terms of organization and social influence, very little. In terms of intellectual quickening, something of importance. As explained by our British correspondent in the October American Socialist, an immediate outgrowth of the mass exodus out of the Communist Party was the so-called forum movement, and the periodical, the New Reasoner, an offspring of the Reasoner, which was the opposition journal inside the CP.
The socialist forums held a two-day conference in April of this year at Sheffield attended largely by recent CP members to try to figure out what had brought on the catastrophe and how to go about reconstructing a philosophy for the movement. As was only natural after a sudden release from an intellectual prison-house, the gathering brought forth a remarkable babel of music in which every possible instrument of the orchestra was represented. Some thought Marxism remained unimpaired. Others believed Marxism had proved ‘a defective tool.’ One delegate wondered whether there weren’t after all absolute humanitarian values. Another held out for proletarian values. Some wanted to go ahead and build a new Marxist party. Others thought the forums should not try to become a new center of political power but stimulate a new climate of socialist opinion.
Wikipedia has this to say about the New Reasoner:
The New Reasoner was preceded by a journal entitled The Reasoner, first published in July 1956 by John Saville and E.P. Thompson. The editors proposed the use of the journal as a forum for the discussion of “questions of fundamental principle, aim, and strategy,” critiquing Stalinism as well as the dogmatic politics of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
In 1957, following their resignation from the CPGB over its support of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary, Thompson and Saville began the publication of a new journal, named the New Reasoner, with the purpose of contributing to “the re-discovery of our traditions, the affirmation of socialist values, and the undogmatic perception of social reality.” The opening editorial was a reaffirmation of their commitment to the British Marxist and Communist tradition, despite their departure from the Party. They allied themselves with European workers who were fighting for “de-stalinisation” and called for the rebirth of principles within the movement.
In 1960 the New Reasoner merged with the Universities and Left Review journal to become New Left Review.
Among the authors who contributed to American Socialist you will find Isaac Deutscher, WEB DuBois, Paul Sweezy, William Appleman Williams, Paul Mattick, and Leo Huberman. The magazine was not only a resource for activists trying to build a new socialist left in the USA; it was also an invaluable reservoir of analysis of major trends in American society in the 1950s from automation to the Civil Rights movement. For college students looking for a valuable source of primary information on the period, there’s no better place to go than the American Socialist.
In terms of its disappearance after 7 years, I have heard some “Leninists” refer to the entire project as vindicating the James P. Cannon approach to politics, or what I have referred to as Zinovievism on many occasions. I don’t regard the dissolution of the magazine and the group around Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman as anything more than a sensible reaction to objective conditions.
But over the past 10 years or so, the conditions for a relaunch of the American Socialist have ripened. The SWP is smoldering wreckage now and groups following the “Leninist” model are crisis-ridden. When I speak of a relaunch, I do not mean trying what was done with a new SDS a few years ago. Instead, I speak of new efforts across the board to transcend the dogmatism and the sectarianism that have hobbled the Marxist left for so many decades. Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman did believe in a Leninist party but one that would come into existence in the same way as the original, through the consolidation of an organization that arises through the mass movement. This is how Bert put it in 1954. It rings as true today as it did back then:
Our purpose is to bring our ideas into the mass movement, and to gradually raise the consciousness of the ranks to the historic tasks. But the last thing in the world we should attempt is to inculcate the ranks with the necessity of adopting our specific tradition, and impressing upon them the truth of all the evaluations and proposals broached by Trotsky from 1923 on. The thought that in the coming period of our activity we have to go out of our way to mention the name and work of Leon Trotsky, and the name and the existence of the Fourth International, shows how far all of us have become infused with narrow group thinking, and organizational fetishism, how far we have traveled from the outlook of Frederick Engels, who warned the Socialists in America not to publish the Communist Manifesto, as it was based on old-world experiences, and that the American labor movement, developing under different conditions, would not understand it, and would not know what Marx and Engels were talking about. Why isn’t it possible for us to take this simple thought of Engels and apply it to ourselves and our work? If Engels didn’t think this was putting a question mark over his revolutionary integrity, why should we?
We said before that only by integrating ourselves within the existing movements could our cadres survive and fulfill their mission. We will now add to that proposition this corollary: Only by dropping all sectarian notions of imposing our specific tradition upon the mass movements which developed in different circumstances and under different influences, can our approach register successes and guarantee the future of our precious cadres. What is involved, it is dear, is not any modification of programmatic essence, but a sharp reversal of organizational concepts and perspectives on the nature of the development of the mass revolutionary parties of tomorrow.
We approach all these strata, however, in the spirit of Marx’s Communist Manifesto which proclaimed that the revolutionists had no interests separate and apart from the working class, that we are not a special sect, cult, or church, which seeks to draw people out of the broad currents into its backwater, but rather as American Marxists, we seek to join with others in advancing the existing struggles to a higher stage and on a broader front. We are convinced that out of these struggles and experiences, even before big mass forces take to the field, Left currents will arise with which we shall be able to cooperate and fuse; that the American Marxist tendency, as a stronger formation than at present, will thus be able to discharge its role as a left wing in the big movement—as part and parcel of the struggle to create the mass revolutionary party in the United States. That is our perspective.
CounterPunch WEEKEND EDITION JULY 18-20, 2014
Since I doubt that any CounterPuncher would be inclined to watch Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” except on a dare, I almost decided not to include a spoiler alert. Gibson’s reputation precedes him, so much so that I avoided watching the film for the longest time. On a particularly arid cable TV and Netflix evening a month or so ago, I decided to give it a shot partly out of boredom and partly out of morbid curiosity.
I will give the devil his due. Gibson threw caution to the wind and made a movie that defied conventional Hollywood studio expectations. This is a tale set some time in the distant past in the Mayan empire of Central America that pits a classless hunting and gathering society against Mayan class society, with Gibson standing up for the primitive communists—as Frederick Engels dubbed such peoples.
Ironically, the film echoes “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with the hunting and gatherers living in a state of peace and harmony soon to be threatened by a technologically more advanced society but one with more retrograde values. Also, like the original “Planet of the Apes” that starred Charlton Heston, “Apocalypto” relies on a deus ex machinasurprise ending that is intended as a commentary on civilization and progress.
The plot of “Apocalypto” is quite simple. Within fifteen minutes after the beginning of the film, a Mayan raiding party attacks a small village living in Yanomami-like simplicity deep within the rain forest, killing women and children wantonly. The men are then put in chains and led off to a Mayan city, where they are doomed to be sacrificed to the gods in the grizzliest fashion. A high priest cuts open the captives’ chests one by one and plucks out the still-beating heart to the adulation of the Mayan masses.
Gibson makes sure to make the Mayans look as scary as possible, with tattoos and piercings in such abundance that you might think you are in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
July 17, 2014
From pages 228-229:
The transition to a more focused scientific racism required not a leap but a casual step. The institutionalization of medicine—the organization of science faculties and medical colleges in the colonies—happened as slave owners, planters, land speculators, and Atlantic merchants began sponsoring scientific research. The families who paid for the establishment of medical schools and science faculties also oversaw those developments. The founding of medical colleges on American campuses brought science, particularly the human sciences, under the political and financial dominion of slave traders, slave owners, and their surrogates. The class influences upon science were apparent during the Whistelo trial. The court invited experts whose educational credentials, professional titles and appointments, and institutional affiliations mapped the half-century rise of academic science in North America. That deference was, in fact, a fair reflection of how fully science had been tamed. As slaveholders and slave traders paid for medical colleges and science faculties, they also imposed subtle and severe controls on science.
As Atlantic slavery underwrote the production of knowledge, it distorted the knowable. “When a governing board sat down to consider the affairs of the colonial college,” the historian Richard Hofstadter observed, “there was usually assembled at the table a group of men who were accustomed to seeing each other frequently at the counting houses, in each other’s homes, and in the vestries of churches.” As noted earlier, John Morgan, a founder of the medical school at Philadelphia, traveled to the West Indies to make connections and raise money. The cofounder of the medical college, William Shippen Jr., had extensive land interests in Pennsylvania, and was tied through marriage to regional dynasties including the Livingstons of New York and New Jersey. On April 3, 1762, Shippen had wed Alice Lee of the prominent Virginia plantation family.”
The New York surgeon John Bard, president of the local medical society, secured his family’s economic position by investing in land and slaves. His son Samuel’s education at King’s College (Columbia) and Edinburgh was a departure from his career path. Surgeons traditionally received their training as apprentices, while physicians studied the arts and sciences at universities. The two professions were also divided by specialty: surgeons performing external and mechanical treatments, such as bleedings and amputations, and physicians focusing on internal medicine. Dr. Bard fully supported his son’s professionalization, offering suggestions for scientific and medical reading, and lovingly supervising Samuel’s study habits, dress and manners, social activities, and courses. He gave Samuel detailed advice on courting a wife. He sent money for his expenses, encouraged him to seize every educational opportunity while abroad, and, self-conscious about their colonial status, reminded him of the importance of “appearing like a Gentleman.”
While Samuel Bard was studying in Scotland, his father invested in Hyde Park, a 3,600-acre plantation along more than three miles of the Hudson River in Dutchess County, New York, with a resident overseer “to support his the said John Bard’s slaves in good and sufficient Cloathing and Bedding.” When Samuel Bard returned to New York City to establish its first medical college, he turned to merchants for support. His son William eventually married Catherine Cruger, the daughter of the St. Croix slave trader Nicholas Cruger, and his daughter Eliza married John McVickar, professor of political economy at Columbia and heir of a West Indies and China trader whose ships carried the products of slavery and opium. William Bard became a founder of the New York Life Insurance and Trust Company. In 1860 William and Catherine’s son John Bard founded St. Stephen’s College (Bard) as a preparatory school for General Theological Seminary in New York City. Bard donated a chapel and land for the campus. Columbia eventually honored John McVickar and Samuel Bard with the memorial McVickar Professorship of Political Economy and the Bard Professorship of the Practice of Medicine.
July 15, 2014
The Long, Low Black Schooner (pages 114-118 from above)
On September 2, 1839, three days after the Amistad Africans arrived at the New Haven jail and thousands of people had already filed through to see them, the Bowery Theatre of New York began its performance of The Black Schooner, or, The Pirate Slaver Armistead; or The Long, Low Black Schooner, as it was more commonly called. An advertisement announced “an entire new and deeply interesting Nautical Melo-Drama, in 2 acts, written expressly for this Theatre, by a popular author,” almost certainly Jonas B. Phillips, the Bowery Theatre’s “house playwright” during the 183os.36 Based on “the late extraordinary Piracy! Mutiny! & Murder!” aboard the Amistad and the sensa-tional newspaper reports of “black pirates” that had appeared in the press before their capture, the play demonstrated how quickly the news of the rebellion spread, and with what cultural resonance. The title of the play came from the title of the New York Sun article about the Amistad rebellion published on August 31, 1839, which in turn had drawn on the recent descriptions of a pirate ship captained by a man named Mitchell, who had been marauding in the Gulf of Mexico.37
In 1839 the Bowery Theatre was notorious for its rowdy, raucous working-class audiences: youthful Bowery b’hoys and g’hals (slang for young working-class men and women of Lower Manhattan) and dandies, as well as sailors, soldiers, journeymen, laborers, apprentices, street urchins, and gang members. Prostitutes plied their trade in the theater’s third tier. The audience cheered, hissed, drank, fought, cracked peanuts, threw eggs, and squirted tobacco juice everywhere. During an especially popular performance, the overflow crowd might sit on the stage amid the actors and props, or they might simply invade it and become part of the performance. The owner and manager of the theatre, Thomas Hamblin, employed a pack of constables to prevent riots, which on several occasions exploded anyway. That the Bowery Theatre was associated with a big, violent anti-abolitionist riot in 1834 makes its staging of The Long, Low Black Schooner all the more remarkable.38
Paired with Giafar al Barmeki, or, The Fire Worshippers, an orientalist fantasy set in Baghdad, the play attracted “multitudes” to the nation’s largest theater. If performed every other day for two weeks (it may have run longer) at only two-thirds capacity of the theater’s thirty-five hundred seats (it may have been greater), the play would have been seen by roughly fifteen thousand people, about one in twenty of the city’s population. Another way of estimating the number in attendance is to divide the production’s gross earnings of $5,250 by prevailing ticket prices (most were twenty-five cents, some were fifty and seventy-five cents), which also suggests roughly fifteen thousand viewers. The play therefore played a major role not only in interpreting the Amistad rebellion, but in spreading the news of it soon after it happened. It was not uncommon for playwrights to work with timely and controversial events in order to draw larger audiences to their theaters.39
No script survives, but a detailed playbill provides a “Synopsis of Scenery, Incidents, &c.” Set on the main deck of the Amistad, the play featured the actual people who were involved in the uprising. The leading character was “Zemba Cinques, an African, Chief of the Mutineers,” based on Cinque and played by Joseph Proctor, a “young American tragedian,” perhaps in burnt-cork blackface, as was common at the Bowery.40 The “Captain of the Schooner, and owner of the Slaves” was Pedro Montes, the actual owner of four of the enslaved who sailed the vessel after the rebellion. The supercargo was Juan Ruez, based on Jose Ruiz, owner of forty-nine slaves on board. Cudjo, “a deformed Dumb Negro,” who resembles the “savage and deformed slave” Caliban in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, was apparently based on the “savage” Konoma, who was ridiculed for his tusk-like teeth and decried as a cannibal. Lazarillo, the “overseer of the slaves,” probably drew on the slave-sailor Celestino. Other characters included Cabrero the mate, sailors, and the wholly invented damsel soon to be in distress, Inez, the daughter of Montes and the wife of Ruez.41
Act 1 begins as the vessel sets sail from Havana, passing Moro Cas-tle and heading out to sea. The history of Zemba Cingues, the hero of the story, is recounted as a prelude to entry into the “hold of the schooner,” where lay the “wretched slaves!” The bondsmen plot and soon take an “Oath of vengeance.” In a rising storm, also noted in the accounts of the rebellion, “The Slaves, led by Zemba Cingues” force open the hatchway, which results in “MUTINY and MURDER!” The rebels seize the vessel and reset its course, heading eastward across the Atlantic to their native Sierra Leone. “Prospects of liberation” are at hand.42 Act 2 shifts to the captain’s cabin, now occupied, after the rebellion, by Zemba Cingues, as Montes and Rues sit, as prisoners, in the dark hold of the vessel (as their counterparts actually did). The world has been turned upside down: those who were below are now above, and vice versa. The reversal poses great danger to Inez, who has apparently fallen into the clutches of Cudjo and now faces “terrible doom.” Someone, probably Zemba Cinques, rescues her, forcing Cudjo to “surrender his intended victim.” Did the audience see a black hero rescue a white woman from the hands of a black villain? This is a theme of no small significance, given prevailing popular fears of racial “amalgamation,” which had ignited anti-abolition riots.
Zemba Cingues then sees a vessel (the U.S. brig Washington) sailing toward them, and holds a council among his fellow mutineers to decide what to do. They choose death over slavery—a sentiment repeatedly ascribed to Cinque in the popular press—and decide to “Blow up the Schooner!” (The Amistad rebels made no such decision, as many of them were off the vessel at Long Island when the sailors of the Washington captured their vessel.) Alas, it is too late as the “Gallant Tars” of the Washington drop into the cabin from its skylight and take control of the Amistad.
The end of the play is left uncertain, much like the fate of the Amis-tad captives, who were sitting in the New Haven jail not far away, awaiting trial on charges of piracy and murder. The playbill states: “Denoument—Fate of Cingues!” What indeed will be his fate? Did the play enact his execution, an ending that many, including Cinque him-self, expected? Or did it dramatize his liberation along with all of his comrades?43 The Long, Low Black Schooner was not an unusual play for its time. Slave revolt and piracy were common themes in early American theater. Rebellious slaves appeared in Obi, or, Three-Finger’d Jack, a play about a Jamaican runaway slave turned bandit, which was a staple after its American premiere in 1801; and in The Slave, an opera by Thomas Morton about a revolt in Surinam, first acted in 1817 and many times thereafter, into the 1840s. The Gladiator dramatized the famous slave revolt led by Spartacus in ancient Greece. It premiered in 1831, starred working-class hero Edwin Forrest, and may have been the most popular play of the decade. Pirates headlined popular nautical melodramas of the 183os, such as Captain Kyd, or, The Wizard of the Sea, performed first in 183o and numerous times thereafter, then published as a novel by J. H. Ingraham in 1839. John Glover Drew adapted Byron’s The Corsair for performance at Brook Farm in the early 184os. The great African American actor Ira Aldridge would soon act the lead in The Bold Buccaneer. Slave rebels and pirates sometimes appeared in the same plays, as they did in The Long, Low Black Schooner: “Three-Finger’d Jack” was something of a pirate on land, and indeed had been called “that daring freebooter.” Pirates also played a significant role in The Gladiator.44
Like other melodramas of the times, The Long, Low Black Schooner featured virtuous common people, usually laborers, battling villain-ous aristocrats—in this case, enslaved Africans striking back against the Spanish slaveholders Montes and Ruez. “Low” characters like Zemba Cingues spoke poetic lines in honorable resistance. They were routinely celebrated for their heroism, encouraging some degree of popular identification with the outlaw who dared to strike for free-dom. As Peter Reed has noted, audiences “could both applaud and fear low revolts, both mourn and celebrate their defeats.”45
The theater shaped the news of the Amistad rebellion as it spread it. A sympathetic, even romantic view softened the violence of the original event. Cinque’s poised and dramatic personal bearing during the legal proceedings earned him comparison to Shakespeare’s Othello.46 He was also likened to “a colored dandy in Broadway.” He clearly had the “outlaw charisma” so common to the “rogue performances” of the era. Having captured the attention of the theater world and the public at large, it was fitting that The Long, Low Black Schooner should be followed, in December 1839, by a production of Jack Sheppard, or, The Life of a Robber!, also written by Jonas B. Phillips. Like Sheppard, whose jailbreaks became “the common discourse of the whole nation” in Britain in the 1720s, and to whom the public flocked, paying admis-sion to see him in his cell, the “black pirates” of the Amistad were winning in their own bid to take the good ship Popular Imagination. A “Nautical Melo-Drama,” based on real people and dramatic current events, was playing out in American society as a whole.47
Nathan Weiss being sworn in as President of Kean College
One of the reasons I have few regrets about Joyce Brabner torpedoing my memoir is that I am still free to dig into my memory bank without her permission. While this blog is mostly about film and Marxist theory, I will occasionally wax nostalgic, as I am about to do.
On May 27, 2013 I learned of the death of Nathan Weiss from Parkinsons at the age of 90 in my hometown newspaper; he was known to villagers as Nate. He was one of a group of remarkable high school teachers at Fallsburg Central who were mentioned in the acknowledgements of “The Cultural Front” by Yale professor Michael Denning, who was the son of a Latin and French teacher at my old high school:
My parents grew up during the depression and World War II, but I was not a red diaper baby. Like many Americans, I inherited the Popular Front’s laboring of American culture without knowing it; Cold War repression had left a cultural amnesia. It was not until I was working on this book that I learned in a historical study, that a neighbor during my childhood had been a veteran of the Lincoln Brigade. For my education in the Popular Front I am indebted to my high school history teachers, Sam Michelson and Jack Leshner, who, I now realize, continued the arguments between New York’s American Labor Party and Liberal Party into the 1960s; to the librarian at Sullivan County Community College, who assembled the collection of Folkways records I devoured; to Michael Harrington and the DSOC member, who told stories of Shachmanites and Cannonites late into the night at socialist youth conferences; to Stanley Aronowitz, whose stories began for me many years ago in St Cloud and whose influence on this book is much greater than the footnotes indicate: to Paul Joseph for many years of conversation about the left old and new and especially to Edwina Hammond Pomerance and the late Bill Pomerance for embodying the art thought and activism of the Popular Front.
I remember Jack Leshner fondly, who is still alive. He and Nate Weiss were called social studies teachers, which meant that they covered a mixture of history and politics. In the late 50s and early 60s this meant teaching us about the evils of Communism even though from the standpoint of post-New Deal liberalism of the Truman/Stevenson brand rather than Reagan-era neoconservatism.
Weiss was the most popular teacher. He gave lectures that held us captivated, punctuating them with strictures to “take that down, students”. This was usually interpreted as a warning that it would appear on a test at some point.
In 1961, I was a junior in high school all set to skip my senior year and go to Bard College. My mother judged correctly that another year of high school would probably land me in a mental hospital. If you go by George Lucas’s “American Graffiti”, a film that depicted high school existence in those years, you would think that it was the best of times. For me, it was the worst of times since I cared more about Jack Kerouac than Jack Kennedy. When I got to Bard, I met young bohemians who had been just as alienated as me, but who now felt liberated.
In a bid to preserve my sanity, my mother would drive me over to Nate Weiss’s home every few weeks where we would have “intellectual” conversations. I honestly can’t remember much of what we talked about, but I always felt elevated afterwards.
After completing his PhD Nate Weiss took a job at Kean College in New Jersey, where he eventually became president. In assembling some material on Nate for a blog post , I discovered that he wrote a short memoir titled “The Streets of Newark to the Halls of Academia” that was available from Amazon.com. It is the quintessential story of a man from my father’s generation, a child of the Great Depression and a WWII veteran who enjoyed success in the postwar years. The memoir will give you an idea of the sort of person who taught at Fallsburg Central and helped me retain my sanity in an insane time.
Nate grew up in Newark during the depths of the Depression, the son of Eastern European Jews. His father was a truck-driver and a member of the Teamsters Union. Early on Nate became a bookworm just like me (unlike me he went on to become a good athlete, excelling in football). In elementary school he became fascinated with American Indians, as would be the case for me but at a much later age.
He not only took books out of the local library on Indians but also sent letters out to the Department of the Interior requesting literature to the point where he exhausted their supply as they eventually informed him by letter. Apparently it became something of an obsession with him, cutting up a rug in his parents’ basement and turning it into a tepee. He caught hell for this.
Like so many other families, the Depression took its toll on the Weisses:
A few years later in the 1930’s, the country was knee deep in the Great Depression, and thriving cities ground to a halt. On a personal level, my family was not spared as my father was laid off from his trucking job. Throughout the city, the pressure for work was so intense and jobs were so scarce that any work—at any salary—was highly coveted. We literally lived on charity from the city along with the few dollars my father earned ($2 a day) at the Newark Farmer’s Market by unloading trucks.
As children, we were aware of our family’s plight and were deeply affected. An example was our dependency on the kindness of a grocer who allowed us “to live on the book.” It was my job to go down to the grocery store to get a bag of sugar or whatever was needed, and I hated doing this. While the grocer was a fine man, when he took out his book to write down my “purchase,” I was embarrassed and despised the circumstances we were in.
My father was out of work for two years. It was during this economic crisis, on one of my treks to downtown Newark that I observed the travails of other hard working men who were relegated to standing in lines for soup and bread. This was disheartening. Then one afternoon I came home from school to find my mother sitting on a crate and crying. We had fallen behind on our installment payments and the furniture was repossessed. This was devastating to our family, but we struggled on with my father picking up work at the Newark fruit and vegetable markets whenever he could. This was truly a tough time for all of us, and while the depression left its scars, it also bound us together as a family.
When he reached his teens, Nate became a football player and then after joining the army, a boxer. He was a barrel-chested 38-year-old when I was his student and not someone to be trifled with. I have a vivid memory of him breaking up a fight in the high school cafeteria between a shy but beefy “nerd” and the 6’4” center on the basketball team. The center sat at the jock’s table in the cafeteria and enjoyed baiting a kid with Downs Syndrome who bussed tables. After the nerd asked the jock to cut it out, words escalated to the point where they began duking it out. Nate separated the two with ease. I only wish that I had gotten his take on the fight since it epitomized for me at the age of 15 what it meant to stick up for the weak and the defenseless. In 1960 bullying was just as bad as it is today and anybody who took a stand against it was to be admired.
My guess is that Nate was just as disgusted as the nerd with the jocks but was not ready to intervene. But years earlier, as a trained boxer he was ready to assume a fighting stance on two occasions, once during basic training on his own behalf and once while stationed in the Philippines.
During this assignment in Georgia, I experienced another run in with anti-Semitism. This event was triggered as I was leading our unit on a two-mile fitness jog. One of the disgruntled GIs muttered “god dam Jew bastard.” I overheard him and when the session ended, I confronted him and told him that I would meet him behind the gym after roll call. He never showed up; and after that, I never encountered anti-Semitism again in the squadron.
In the Philippines:
While I was recuperating, I heard an altercation taking place in close proximity to my tent. Even though I was weak, I got up to investigate, only to discover an old Filipino man being bullied by a hulking mechanic from our unit. I shouted that unless he let the little guy alone, I would “kick the shit” out of him. He mumbled something in defiance of me and retreated into the shadows. Eventually, my health was restored, and the only effect of this malady was that I would be unable to donate blood in the future.
After getting a BA on the GI Bill, Nate took a job at Fallsburg Central paying $2,500 per year. This will give you an idea of why he became everybody’s favorite teacher:
I was given a teaching schedule that included five classes of American History (8th grade), World History (10th grade), American History (11th grade), and Problems of American Democracy (12th grade). Teaching for me was an immense pleasure. I particularly enjoyed the use of theatrics as illustrations. For example, while teaching ancient history, I would take the window pole and jump on the desk and portray an Athenian hoplite (a heavily armed Greek foot soldier) at the Battle of Marathon. I doubt my students ever forgot the significance of this battle.
I was somewhat disappointed to learn that Nate butted heads with Louis Blumberg, the high school principal who worked closely with my mom on extricating me from high school hell and advising her that I was cut out for Bard College. Long after Blumberg retired, we would stay in touch by phone or by mail. He was a very smart and well-intentioned man but apparently being an administrator can lead to ethical challenges as Nate recounts. It should be understood that Fallsburg Central had a “tracking” system. The A group students went to private schools like Columbia University or Bard, while the B group went to NY state universities. If you were in the C group, you were destined for a job with the highway department or as a prison guard unless you were lucky enough to have a dad who would put you to work on his farm. Nate cared about all the groups. The Frank Kaplan alluded to below was a shop teacher and a really decent human being, who obviously had an interest in seeing shop students, mostly from the C group, succeeding:
At the end of a three-year probationary period, I received tenure. Shortly thereafter, I began to have difficulties with the principal of the Woodridge School, one of the two high schools in the Fallsburgh system. The principal, Louis Blumberg, and I clashed over a number of issues related to curriculum. One of them concerned the plight of the non-college-bound students. It was my contention that the Fallsburgh system focused all of its attention and resources on college bound students and as a consequence neglected the needs of the non-college-bound kids. This conflict led me to challenge the administration at the annual budget meeting, a factor which made me persona non grata to the administration and the board of education. As usual, my sympathy for the underdog and my propensity to fight for their rights guided my behavior. Eventually, at the behest of the principal, I was summoned to meet with the Board of Education, along with Frank Kaplan, a colleague who supported me. We learned through the grapevine that certain members of the board wanted to break our tenure and were ready to charge us with insubordination. Given this advance information, Frank and I contacted a lawyer who specialized in education law. He counseled us to focus on policy differences rather than personalities. The night of our appearance before the Board finally arrived. We were led into a room in which the members of the Board, flanked by the principal and a recorder, were seated. The principal alleged insubordination while we alleged policy differences. Our allegations were obviously heard and found credible, for the Board dismissed the charges of insubordination. The principal, however, never forgave us. Eventually, between the many disagreements and a vocal teaching staff, Mr. Blumberg resigned. I was then made curriculum coordinator and department chair.
There’s almost no information on how Nate Weiss conducted himself at Kean College. I imagine that he had to deal with the same conflicts of interest that any college president had to. The job almost necessarily involves attacks on the student body and faculty in the name of fiscal restraint. Since he became president emeritus long before the big assault on higher education began, he was fortunate enough to sleep soundly. May he rest in peace.
July 14, 2014
I have a way of preventing crap like this from appearing as a comment. I only post it now to make a point.
How does it advance the Palestinian cause by baiting me as a “war mongering piece of shit”? Was I expected to approve a message that was so venomous? And from a bogus name and email address? When I flame some blogger, I always make sure to include my name and email address. What’s the pleasure in using a fake name and email address? Afraid that I will track him down in his parent’s basement in Lambeth and piss on his PlayStation? What a pussy.
I got a chuckle out of firstname.lastname@example.org. This cretin must have been so worked up he couldn’t get it together to spell google correctly. I approved an earlier message from him on the LTV post but only after pruning it of another gratuitous attack. The problem with jerks like him is that they lack the IQ to debate Syria or Ukraine. They are only capable of crude one-liners like the kind you would see on the wall near a latrine in a Mississippi truck stop.