Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 14, 2009

The Winter of Liberal Discontent

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,swans — louisproyect @ 2:22 pm

(Swans – December 14, 2009)  When Obama took office last January, liberal voices in the United States greeted him as the second coming of FDR even if it was acknowledged that it might take a push from below to bring a new New Deal into fruition. The thought that Obama had more in common with Herbert Hoover never entered their minds, needless to say. In less than one year since inauguration day, the bloom seems to have faded from the rose.

On December 2nd, Politico.com reported that “Jane Hamsher leads left away from White House,” a reference to the fact that the liberal Firedoglake blogger has organized her supporters to challenge centrist Democrats willing to compromise with the Republicans over health care. As a 50-year-old survivor of three bouts with breast cancer, the issue is intensely personal as well as political. She told Politico that “I don’t know how you live through that” without money, having spent some $60,000 out-of-pocket despite being fully insured.

If you’ve seen Michael Moore’s Capitalism: a Love Story, you’ll surely remember how the documentary treated Obama’s election. Despite acknowledging that he had been the beneficiary of massive contributions from Goldman Sachs, the movie’s primary villain, he was seen as the possible coming of FDR.

Despite being a slavish backer of whichever candidate the Democrats dredged up in the last two elections, including mass murderer General Wesley Clark, Moore has shown signs that the honeymoon is over. He composed an open letter to the president on the eve of his speech calling for 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan:

When we elected you we didn’t expect miracles. We didn’t even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn’t even function as a nation and never, ever has.

Stop, stop, stop! For the sake of the lives of young Americans and Afghan civilians, stop. For the sake of your presidency, hope, and the future of our nation, stop. For God’s sake, stop.

Considering the fact that Obama ignored the filmmaker’s advice, one wonders if he will now regard him as continuing “the madness,” “the killing,” and “the insane idea” that the U.S. can do any good in Afghanistan.

Read full article: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/lproy58.html

November 17, 2009

Why you should contribute to Swans

Filed under: swans — louisproyect @ 7:18 pm

Contribute to Swans here: http://www.swans.com/about/donate.html

Although I am not 100 percent sure about the numbers, I believe that I have written 47 articles for Swans since 2003. But I am completely sure that the best things I have ever written have been for Swans, including articles on:

Given my generally cranky disposition and my wariness of the publishing business, either print or online, it is a sign of the generosity and good will of its editors that they have put up with me and vice versa, except for a spat that lasted a year or so. Nobody’s perfect, as Joe E. Brown told Jack Lemmon at the end of “Some Like it Hot”.

At first blush, Swans might be categorized with MRZine, Counterpunch and Znet (the latter two have had fund drives recently.) But, unlike them, it is not an “aggregator”, or compendium of articles that tend to be crossposted in multiple locations. Editor Gilles d’Aymery expects an article written for Swans to appear there exclusively. I think this is a good idea since it helps to create a relationship between author and editor that will never exist at the other websites. I should add that I have had very mixed experiences with MRZine, Counterpunch and ZNet but do think that they certainly have their place.

In addition to social and political analysis, Swans is one of the finest repositories of cultural analysis on the left wing of the Internet. I like to think that my own articles have been a modest contribution to that effort, but I have to tip my hat to people like Charles Marowitz who has written two dozen books on the theater and the arts. His latest article “Private World, Public Words” is an examination of the relationship between art and politics that I concur with heartily, as should be obvious from the conclusion to my piece on “The Mythology of Imperialism”.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t call your attention to the political writing of Michael Barker, whose work I first came across a couple of years ago before he began writing for Swans. Michael developed a reputation at that time for being a dragon-slayer of the foundation-based “left”, Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution in particular. His most recent article is an appreciation of Howard Zinn’s writings, particularly as it shows “how modern-day elites maintain their domination in spite of a massive array of organizations that ostensibly exist to represent the public’s interests.”

Finally, I would like to quote the conclusion of an article written by Swans co-editor Jan Baughman three years ago on the tenth anniversary of the publication:

Which brings me back to the reality of Swans. Swans is not an activist site in the sense of adopting a single issue: rallying the masses to Bring the Troops Home Now, or Stop Global Warming, or Impeach Bush. We endeavor to put these issues in a broader perspective. Milo Clark, one of the original and steadfast Swans, helped define our perspective: the importance of understanding patterns that connect; the knowledge that the only way not to play a game is not to play; and the recognition that attempting to solve problems using the tools, techniques, and thoughts which create them is silly. Without embracing these principles and acting upon them, we cannot hope for change.

This, then, is how I view Swans: as a relentless voice that is not heard in the corporate media; a weaver of tales, a connector of patterns, presenting the big picture, analyzing the story behind the stories, while celebrating poetry, and books, and culture — the very things that make us human and give us an appreciation of life in both its light and dark times. We cannot but carry on steadfast, keeping the words and ideas flowing every two weeks; with deadlines, setbacks, inspiration, hope for the future, and the deep appreciation of connections made by this so-called Information Superhighway that allows people to choose the road less traveled, where we would otherwise never meet. That, as Robert Frost said, can make all the difference.

So here’s to the next ten years of Swans. Accompany us on the journey.

So let’s help keep Swans afloat, just like the graceful bird it is named after. Go to http://www.swans.com/about/donate.html to make a contribution. Over the years I have been contacted by comrades about chipping in to keep Marxmail going. Although I have never turned a donation down, we are lucky to have the facilities of the U. of Utah at our disposal for the time being. So all I would ask at this point is for those of you who have felt the urge to send $20, 50 or 100 to Marxmail, please send it to Swans instead. The connection and other infrastructure costs to keep an online publication afloat are considerable and every dollar will be appreciated by the Swans flock, you can be sure.

October 23, 2006

Thoughts On The US Midterm Elections

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,swans,third parties — louisproyect @ 5:16 pm

(Swans – October 23, 2006) The same liberal pundits who characterized the 2004 presidential election as a kind of Armageddon showdown against evil are now revved up in the same fashion for next month’s elections. Voting for a Democrat is tantamount to saving one’s soul, or more accurately, the soul of the nation. Since there is no Ralph Nader factor this go round, there is not the same kind of hysteria directed against the Greens or any other left-wing electoral challenge. Given this all too familiar scenario, it might be useful to restate what is wrong with voting for the lesser evil and why one should support third-party initiatives, no matter their flaws and weaknesses.

In the current issue of The Nation Magazine, always a bellwether of lesser-evil sentiment, William Greider confesses that he is worried about being robbed of certain victory:

Okay, I admit it. As the election approaches, I am feeling a creepy sense of paranoia. My right brain reads the newspapers, studies the polls and thinks we are looking at a blow-out next month — Dems conquer at last. My left brain hoots in derision. Get real, sucker.

One wonders if Greider has been reading the newspapers carefully. If so, you’d think he’d be a bit more restrained in his enthusiasm for the party of donkeys given this profile of candidate Jack Davis running against incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds from upstate New York:

Mr. Davis is prone to overstatement. He has warned about “Red China,” for example, and suggested he would take a bat to anyone who sent his sons sexually explicit e-mail messages like those a congressman sent to young male pages.

He defies liberal orthodoxies. He has said he wants to “seal” the nation’s borders and has held memberships in conservative groups like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

If the Democratic Party stood for any sort of progressive principles, it would have given Davis the boot. But in the eyes of Greider and company, one supposes that it suffices that he is not a Republican. If Richard Nixon rose from the grave and ran against Davis, however, there would be no question as to who was the “lesser evil.” With his support for affirmative action and environmentalism, he looks much better than the Democrats who succeeded him. Even if TV faux conservative Stephen Colbert had tongue in cheek when he advised his New York Magazine interviewer that he was a big fan of Nixon, these words are still worth considering:

Here’s something Colbertophiles might not know or might not want to know: He loves Richard Nixon. He has a 1972 Nixon campaign poster on the wall of his office. He points at it and says, “He was so liberal! Look at what he was running on. He started the EPA. He opened China. He gave 18-year-olds the vote. His issues were education, drugs, women, minorities, youth involvement, ending the draft, and improving the environment. John Kerry couldn’t have run on this! What would I give for a Nixon?”

Full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy41.html

September 25, 2006

The Classroom And The Class Struggle

Filed under: Education,swans — louisproyect @ 4:56 pm

(Swans – September 25, 2006) At first blush, the “campus wars” would seem to pit rightwing ideologues like David Horowitz against nearly everybody to the left of Howard Dean. While this is supported by the meat cleaver approach of “The Professors,” Horowitz’s McCarthyite dossier on the 101 most “dangerous” professors in the USA, there are significant differences among the ultraright’s targets. For example, UCLA Marxist education theorist Peter McLaren and Penn State postmodernist liberal Michael Bérubé are worlds apart politically, despite coming under attack from Horowitz and those under his influence.

The latest evidence of this is an exchange on the MRZine between former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) leader Bill Ayers and the organizers of an event honoring civil rights veteran Bob Moses for his contributions to progressive education. Despite counting Ayers as one of the most respected progressive educators in the country himself, they are regrettably forced to inform him that he is not welcome:

It is because of our commitment to educate the public and to undertake what is primarily a symbolic project that we cannot risk a simplistic and dubious association between progressive education and the violent aspects of your past. We believe, of course, in your right to express your views, then and now.

Ayer’s reply to the organizers gave no quarter to their liberal cowardice:

Your hope to position progressive education “not as radical or threatening but as nurturing and familiar” is in some ways a fool’s errand. Of course, no one argues that the progressive movement should threaten students or teachers or citizens — progressive education does indeed hold the hope of realizing a humane and decent education for all within a revitalized politics and a more authentically democratic society. But progressive education, if it means anything at all, must embody a profound threat to the status quo. It is a direct challenge, for example, to all the policy initiatives that deskill and hammer teachers into interchangeable cogs in a bureaucracy, all the pressure to reduce teaching to a set of manageable and easily monitored tasks, all the imposition of labels and all the simple-minded metrics employed to describe student learning and rank youngsters in a hierarchy of winners and losers. It’s a threat to all that, and more.

Ayers and like-minded educators stress the importance of class criteria in developing an effective pedagogical approach. In an epoch of neoliberalism, all public institutions are under attack. For revolutionary-minded educators, class plays a central role since establishment-minded administrators view the student as a micro-economic actor who has to be prepared for the future — one that puts an emphasis on survival skills in a Hobbesian universe. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” It is this lie that people like Bill Ayers are anxious to refute.

For educators who still cling to old-fashioned notions of class, there is always a need to distinguish themselves from postmodernists who actually enjoy much more power on the campuses than socialists. Postmodernism has also influenced academic feminism, “queer studies,” postcolonialism, and other ostensibly radical trends on campus. As a group, they argue that class is superseded by various “identities,” including race, gender, etc. Any attempt to subsume women, blacks, gays, etc. under the universal category of the working class is resisted because it supposedly sacrifices the particularistic needs of an oppressed group on behalf of some abstract notion of a White Male in overalls.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/lproy40.html

July 5, 2005

Max Frankel And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Filed under: cuba,swans — louisproyect @ 2:24 pm

Swans Commentary » swans.com July 4, 2005

Who Needs Cold War Falsification?
Max Frankel And The Cuban Missile Crisis

by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Frankel, Max: High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Random House, New York, 2004, ISBN 0-345-46505-9, 206 pages, $23.95

(Swans – July 4, 2005) In October of 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union appeared ready to fight World War Three over nuclear missiles in Cuba. Max Frankel, who was the Washington correspondent for the New York Times in 1962, provides some new insights about the role of the press in the crisis in an otherwise conventional interpretation. From his perspective, the Kennedy White House adroitness kept the world from being incinerated. The confrontation is a chess game that Kennedy wins through the sacrificing of a pawn: nuclear missiles in Turkey. Practically gloating, Frankel reveals that the missiles in Turkey were considered nearly obsolete in 1962. The bumbling Soviet leader had sacrificed a queen to gain a pawn.

For this analysis to make sense, the USSR must be seen as an interloper in the Western Hemisphere challenging the Monroe Doctrine and the “free world.” Cuba simply becomes a stepping stone to future Soviet ambitions. The idea of deploying missiles in Cuba comes to Khrushchev out of the blue:

Once he acquired dictatorial power in the mid-1950s, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev proved to be an adventurous leader trying to rush his people out of a Stalinist hell toward a brighter future. As he remembered years later, dictating his memoir, the idea of sending his missiles to Cuba just popped into his head one day in April 1962, while he strolled on the banks of the Black Sea with his minister of defense, Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, a comrade since the great World War II battle of Stalingrad. The bulldog-faced marshal was growling again about the American Jupiter missiles aimed at Soviet bases from neighboring Turkey, just across the water. Well then, Khrushchev wondered, why couldn’t they do the same to the Americans — from Cuba? After sitting so long, so smugly behind their ocean moats, Americans should finally share the anxiety of living in the thermonuclear shadows that hung over all Europeans. (1)

For this portrait of Khrushchev as risk-taking global conspirator to work, Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution must become incidental to the showdown. Cuba becomes an outpost of Soviet expansionism rather than a country with legitimate fears over another Bay of Pigs. Worries about United States power are dismissed by Frankel:

All the anti-Castro exertions have never been fully documented. The best records deal with “Operation Mongoose,” a plan hatched by a guerrilla fighter of mixed reputation, Brigadier General Edward Lansdale, a Kennedy favorite for a time. His plan envisioned widespread sabotage and the infiltration of agents and guerrilla fighters to inspire a rebellion that could become the pretext for American military intervention by October 1962. But the CIA and Pentagon dragged their feet; the plan produced a few pinpricks that only stiffened Castro’s defenses and buttressed his requests for more Soviet arms. (2)

Veteran New York Times reporter Tad Szulc’s view of this period is distinctly at odds with Frankel’s. In his biography of Fidel Castro titled Fidel, Szulc states that “things could have not been worse” for Castro in the spring of 1962. Armed rightist bands were active in the Oriente and Escambray mountains. Cuban casualties in the Escambray alone were nearly three times as great as at the Bay of Pigs. Economic losses were calculated around $1 billion in ruined crops, burned houses, and blown up rail lines, roads and bridges. (3) This is a rather sizable pinprick.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy26.html

June 6, 2005

Saul Bellow in Retrospect

Filed under: literature,swans — louisproyect @ 10:57 am

(Swans – June 6, 2005) When Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976, he joined other American prize winners who expressed their time. 1962 Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck captured the spirit of the turbulent 1930s just as African-American Toni Morrison, who received the award in 1993, gave expression to another period of strife and struggle.

Contrary to these voices of rebellion, Bellow epitomized the postwar America retreat into psychoanalysis, material success, and establishment politics. As somebody who had experienced poverty in the 1930s and who had made a brief commitment to radical politics, Bellow was the artistic counterpart to an entire generation of intellectuals who had made room for themselves at the American dinner table. As so many of the others in this movement, Bellow’s Jewish identity gave added weight to his right turn. The ascendancy of the Jewish intellectual in terms of social acceptance and material gain in the USA corresponded to the rise of the state of Israel. Not only had they made it; they resented others who had not picked themselves up by the bootstrap.

Despite his conservative bent, Saul Bellow was a great writer capable of deep humanitarian insights. This article will consider his life and career and focus on one of his most highly regarded works, Seize the Day. This 1956 novella captures the anxieties of people on the precipice of fame and wealth but still capable of falling backwards into poverty and obscurity. Bellow was the bard of an America that still remembered the Great Depression but that was anxious to move forward to power and prosperity. This tension gives it literary value. It also drives home what a loss it was when people such as Saul Bellow finally achieved insider status and lost touch with their humble roots.

Born on June 10, 1915 to immigrant parents in Lachine, a working-class suburb of Montreal, Saul Bellow and his family soon moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father struggled to make ends meet, eventually turning to bootlegging. Ironically, things improved after the 1929 crash, when his father began selling wood chips for bakers’ ovens. (This biographical detail and subsequent ones come from James Atlas’s Bellow, a definitive 685-page work that took a decade to research and write. Atlas is obviously alienated from Bellow’s political views and shortcomings as a human being, but was scrupulous in his treatment of the great writer.)
Bellow discovered an early love of literature. By the time he was nine years old, he had read all the children’s books in the local library and was moving on to the adult section, starting with Gogol’s Dead Souls.

When Saul Bellow arrived at Tuley High School in 1931, he discovered a thriving radical movement. He soon struck up a friendship with Albert Glotzer, a Trotskyist who later became one of the exiled Russian’s bodyguards. Although Bellow was never ideological, his sympathies were with the left. As Glotzer put it, “It was inevitable, given our experience of life under Tsarism, that our family and close friends would be politically radical, if not always socialist.”
Bellow was a fellow traveler of the Young People’s Socialist League, which was moving leftwards in the 1930s and offered an alternative to the Communist Party. In addition to Glotzer, Bellow had struck up a friendship with Isaac Rosenfeld, another leftist and son of immigrant Jewish parents, who would eventually become a respected contributor to the Partisan Review, a journal that reflected Trotsky’s influence. Bellow remained friends with Glotzer and Rosenfeld long after his shift to the right.

After Bellow and Rosenfeld became freshmen at the University of Chicago, they became known as Zinoviev and Kamenev on campus. They belonged to the Socialist Club on campus and edited Soapbox, its journal. On the masthead there was a quotation from William Randolph Hearst: “Red radicalism has planted a soapbox in every educational institution in America.”
In 1938, the Depression was still in full-swing and Saul Bellow had to scramble around for employment like other young men and women. That year he landed a job with the Federal Writers’ Project, which was a hotbed for aspiring young authors, especially those with a social conscience. It provided employment for other Chicago radicals like Nelson Algren, who had already published a novel, Somebody in Boots, about vagrant life, and Richard Wright, who spent most of his time at the project working on Native Son. Algren was a supporter of the Communist Party (CP) and Wright a member.

Looking back at this period in a Guardian article dated April 10, 1993 — long after he had embraced conservative ideology — Bellow still demonstrated an obvious affection for his youthful radicalism:

The country took us over. We felt that to be here was a great piece of luck. The children of immigrants in my Chicago high school, however, believed that they were also somehow Russian, and while they studied their Macbeth and Milton’s L’Allegro, they read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as well and went on inevitably to Lenin’s State And Revolution, and the pamphlets of Trotsky. The Tuley high school debating club discussed the Communist Manifesto and on the main stem of the neighbourhood, Division Street, the immigrant intelligentsia lectured from soapboxes, while at “the forum,” a church hall on California Avenue, debates between socialists, communists and anarchists attracted a fair number of people.

This was the beginning of my radical education. For on the recommendation of friends I took up Marx and Engels, and remember, in my father’s bleak office near the freight yards, blasting away at Value Price and Profit while the police raided a brothel across the street — for non-payment of protection, probably — throwing beds, bedding and chairs through the shattered windows. The Young Communist League tried to recruit me in the late 1930s. Too late — I had already read Trotsky’s pamphlet on the German question and was convinced that Stalin’s errors had brought Hitler to power.

In college in 1933 I was a Trotskyist. Trotsky instilled into his young followers the orthodoxy peculiar to the defeated and ousted. We belonged to the Movement, we were faithful to Leninism, and could expound the historical lessons and describe Stalin’s crimes. My closest friends and I were not, however, activists; we were writers. Owing to the Depression we had no career expectations. We got through the week on five or six bucks and if our rented rooms were small, the libraries were lofty, were beautiful. Through “revolutionary politics” we met the demand of the times for action. But what really mattered was the vital personal nourishment we took from Dostoevsky or Herman Melville, from Dreiser and John Dos Passos and Faulkner. By filling out a slip of paper at the Crerar on Randolph Street you could get all the bound volumes of The Dial and fill long afternoons with T. S. Eliot, Rilke and e. e. cummings.

By the end of WWII, the United States had already begun to move past the revolutionary fervor of the 1930s. To an extent, a new-found willingness to accept liberal capitalism on its own terms was accentuated by the Communist Party’s submersion into the New Deal, symbolized by party chairman Earl Browder’s announcement that the CP was ready to dissolve itself into a kind of discussion club called the Communist Political Association that disavowed revolutionary goals.
For writers and intellectuals around the Trotskyist movement, a willingness to accommodate had more to do with personal ambition rather than ideology. Since Saul Bellow was always consumed early on by a desire to write great literature rather than make a revolution, the goal of “tending one’s garden” made perfect sense.

From the publication of Dangling Man in 1944 (a semi-autobiographical tale of a young writer awaiting a military call-up at the end of WWII) to the 1953 Adventures of Augie March, Bellow would earn the reputation of a gifted and serious writer who never enjoyed commercial success. His struggle to make it had Oedipal overtones since his father (and brothers) had all become wealthy businessmen by the late 1930s. Saul was always seen as the dreamer whose modest achievements were downplayed as long as he remained economically insecure. He would often have to borrow money from his father or brothers just to make ends meet. Handouts were inevitably accompanied by a lecture.

If Bellow remained unfulfilled in a material sense, by the arrival of the 1950s there was a spiritual void that gnawed at him as well. Despite his strong identification with the Yiddish language and culture, he was basically a secular Jew. Like many people in the 1950s, Bellow gravitated toward psychoanalysis, which had become a secular religion with the analyst filling in for the priest. For Bellow, deliverance assumed the form of Reichian therapy delivered at the hands of Dr. Chester Raphael.

Wilhelm Reich had earned a reputation as a Marxist opponent of Nazism, especially in terms of its sexual repression, but had become something of a crank during his exile in the United States. Reich had developed a bizarre theory of orgone energy, which posited the existence of an invisible substance that was critical to mental health. To overcome neurosis, he recommended sitting in specially licensed orgone boxes. Eventually the FDA cracked down on Reich’s quackery and he died in prison.

For a time Bellow followed a strict Reichian regimen. He sat in an orgone box in his modest Queens apartment gathering up orgone energy while reading books beneath a single light bulb strung from the ceiling. Occasionally he stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth and screamed, another method recommended by Reich to achieve emotional release. There is no indication that this therapy did much for Bellow, who remained profoundly unhappy throughout his life, just as Woody Allen remains neurotic despite decades of psychoanalysis.

(In many ways, Woody Allen is the popular culture analogue to Saul Bellow. Perhaps in recognition of these connections, Bellow appears as one of the talking head experts in Zelig, a modestly amusing meditation on a mediocre character played by Allen who adapts chameleon-like to changing circumstances. Bellow’s take on Zelig: “His sickness was also at the root of his salvation; it was his very disorder that made a hero of him.”)

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy25.html

April 11, 2005

The Wobblies

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,swans — louisproyect @ 10:08 am

Wobblies! A Graphic History of the IWW by Louis Proyect
Book Review

Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman, Verso, ISBN 1-84467-525-4, 305 pages, $25.00.

(Swans – April 11, 2005) Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World is edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman. Buhle is a long-time chronicler of the American radical movement and popular culture. Schulman is an artist on the editorial board of World War 3 Illustrated, which began “seventeen years ago as an anti-war comic book, inspired by the experience of growing up under the shadow of nuclear weapons and by the shock of a second rate actor’s finger on the button.”

Wobblies is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the IWW and a traveling exhibition of IWW memorabilia that Buhle helped curate (http://www.wobblyshow.org/). For today’s radicals, the IWW has a powerful mystique since many of the leading figures were martyrs to the cause, including the hobo and folksinger Joe Hill. Hill’s songs have enormous staying power as demonstrated by Billy Bragg’s cover of “There is Power in a Union”:

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hand of the worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a Union

Wobblies tells the story of Joe Hill and many other legendary figures such as Emma Goldman and Big Bill Haywood through the comic book medium. Buhle’s love for and commitment to this medium is about as long-standing as his ties to the radical movement. In a May 16, 2003 Chronicle of Higher Education article titled “The New Scholarship of Comics,” Buhle writes:

“Mad comics (1952-55) were the most special. The editor and frequent scriptwriter of that early Mad, Harvey Kurtzman, was a hero of my childhood; when I interviewed him, decades later, as to why he had fallen to the depths of scripting a Playboy strip called Little Annie Fanny, he could only say that he had been unable to live up to his own promise. Actually, the moment had passed: Due to the pressure of the Comics Code, EC Comics, Mad’s publisher, turned it into a successful black-and-white magazine that Kurtzman quit after failing to gain a controlling interest. But what a run he’d had!

“The influence of Mad comics on later comics artists has been testified to by Robert R. Crumb (of Zap Comix and more), Bill Griffith (of Zippy the Pinhead), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker artist Art Spiegelman, among others. Mad ridiculed, but also interpreted and demystified, the invasion of the childish mind by movies, television, tabloid newspapers — and also comics, both strips and books. I was a little young to enjoy all the original Mads, but several 35-cent Ballantine paperbacks put the best of the early material on the drugstore shelf, albeit with panels squeezed down to size, lines blurred, and in black-and-white rather than the color originals. No matter. Those were my alternative to schoolbooks and classic novels, because they put the details of popular life under the microscope.”

The comic book medium lends itself to the story of the IWW since it is essentially one of the underdog battling powerful evil forces. Whether it is Spiderman or Big Bill Haywood taking on fiendish captains of industry, the artist has a lot to work with.

The artists who worked on Wobblies are a who’s who of the contemporary underground comic book scene. Josh MacPhee, who provided the artwork for the Big Bill Haywood story, is a well-known graffiti artist based in Chicago. In an interview with drawingresistance.org, MacPhee stated:

“There are very few laws I feel shouldn’t be broken. For artists in particular, I think we need to attack all laws that continue to enclose our ‘commons’ and privatize everything and anything, be it space, economy, intellectual property, plants or human DNA. It is becoming increasingly difficult to do any sort of art in what we used to call public space.”

In other words, MacPhee has the same attitude toward private property that the Wobblies did. If they chained themselves to a lamppost while making incendiary speeches in pursuit of free speech rights, artists like MacPhee mount the same challenge with a spray can.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy24.html

February 15, 2005

Arthur Miller

Filed under: literature,swans — louisproyect @ 5:43 pm

Arthur Miller
One of our Greatest Political Artists

by Louis Proyect

(Swans – February 14, 2005) Arthur Miller, one of our greatest political artists, died at the age of 89 on February 11, 2005. Although none of his other plays received the critical acclaim of “Death of a Salesman,” his reputation could rest on this one work alone. Whatever his sixteen other plays, including “The Crucible” or “The Price,” might have lacked in craftsmanship they more than made up for in terms of political and social insight. For Miller the ultimate goal of a work of art was to provide some kind of lesson for humanity. If some critics in this age of postmodernist irony deemed that old-fashioned, Miller was content — as we on the left should be — to adopt the stance embodied in Dante’s: “Segui il tuo corso e lascia dir le genti.” This dictum, which Marx cited in the opening pages of Capital, means “Go your own way and let people talk.”

Although his father was a wealthy garment manufacturer, the Depression would reduce the family to poverty. Like fellow New Yorker and Jew Howard Zinn, Miller eventually went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a hotbed of labor radicalism. Like Zinn, Miller never joined the Communist Party but was content to speak out against injustice on his own. Zinn’s medium was history and Miller’s was the theater. Both knew who the enemy was and refused to be cowed into political submission, standing up to witch hunters in the 1950s and ’60s. Now with efforts afoot to launch a new McCarthyism against dissidents in the academy, such as Ward Churchill or Mohammad S. Alam, the heroic example of earlier resisters should serve the movement well.

In 1949, just as the Cold War and McCarthyism were taking shape, Miller took Broadway by storm with “Death of a Salesman,” a play that attacked the capitalist system without naming it as such. His Willy Loman is the tragic figure of the modern age. Unlike the Kings of Greek and Shakespearean tragedy, this Loman — a low man both figuratively and literally — has very little to fall from his place at the beginning of the play and the rock-bottom that awaits him. His tragic flaw is not so much hubris (or pride) but in a naïve belief that anybody can make it in American society. As a salesman he is the critical link in the circulation of commodities. With nothing going for him except a smile and a willingness to put up with rejection, the salesman can climb his way to the top. Loman falls eventually because he is growing old and losing a step. In a climactic scene, when he discovers that his boss has no use for him any more, Willy cries out “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away…a man is not a piece of fruit.”

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy23.html

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