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It’s not military-oriented, but it is part of the holiday’s history – and much of the celebration of the holiday is around the subject of freedom.  This was an expression of that freedom.  I really miss Frank’s communications with me whenever I did a radio show about left history.

This is on display at Bolerium Books.  This is the caption on their Facebook Page:

Memorial Day, 1969… A call to tear down the fences around People’s Park in Berkeley. This issue of Outcry! unfolds into a Frank Cieciorka poster celebrating the creation of the park from a trash-strewn lot. Text on other side encourages the residents of Berkeley to pour into the streets on the holiday and remove the barricades that had been put up around the park by police.

UC Berkeley Radical Student Union. Outcry! from occupied Berkeley. (Number 2). [1969]. 4p., tabloid format on newsprint, folds out completely to make 23×32 inch poster captioned “Let a thousand parks bloom.” (#134008) $25.00

Frank Cieciorka

Why the War in Vietnam?

Click on the title above, and it will take you to a PDF of an old anti-Vietnam War leaflet.

Spent Sunday night at my mother’s and she had found it in her storage. Simple black and white thing – no graphics. My parents believe it may have been the first anti-Vietnam war leaflet in San Francisco. It was their creation.

They first pulled it out when I was in high school. Having read some of the SWP stuff I was bringing home – triggering bad memories of their own run-ins with the SWP and similar groups back in the 60s and early 70s, they took it out to show me how political literature ought to be written.

But first a little history. Note that the group members all put their names, addresses, and phone numbers on the back. Naivete. They learned quickly that it was a bad idea. Note that there are four Kirks on the list. Evelyn, my aunt, died a few years back.

At least one other person on the list, Gayle Figueroa, was a family friend who died just a couple of years after this leaflet was printed.  Joseph (now goes by Jose) is still alive and kicking.

My parents don’t remember much about the others on the list, except that they were all in their late 20s or older – some of them from radical families and others Civil Rights Movement veterans (with plenty of overlap between the two). Ace Delosada was a bit older, and was active in the CIO before it merged with the AFL – I know this from an old library archived newspaper article I found online.

There was plenty of political activity in Berkeley at the time, largely the Free Speech Movement on campus, as follow-up to the CORE activities against job discrimination in grocery stores and the anti-HUAC demonstration which radicalized so many of them at City Hall. There was not much outside of labor happening in San Francisco. The North Beach scene was never really political in anything other than a cultural way, and the Haight Ashbury was just starting to percolate. I did not know until I saw this leaflet again (and didn’t notice it 30 years ago) that my parents had moved us from Mill Valley to Castro Street. By the time I was two, we lived on Cole Street in the Haight (and left for Moss Beach and the Blue Lady well before the Summer of Love when I was three). So this leaflet was printed in 1965 or perhaps early 1966.

And it generated an enormous response.

These were older activists – some of them seasoned. Grounded. And they understood the Socratic approach to rhetoric. I think it is one of the best written leaflets I’ve seen. It doesn’t tell you how to think. It’s primarily a series of questions. Designed to simply make you think. It avoids words like “imperialism.” And it avoids slogans like “Say No to the War in Vietnam!” It invites the reader to find his/her own voice. It respects the reader.

And the activists who understand this concept are far and few. Part of the reason I was drawn into the Christian left movements, even before I seriously considered religion itself, was the approach of humility and respect sometimes lacking in the secular movements, particularly in the hard old and new left milieus.

Still, the leaflet resulted in threatening phone calls, and other harassment. But the group grew rather quickly.

The group that formed would evolve into the San Francisco contingent of what would become known as The Peace and Freedom Party. My parents didn’t stay involved. They thought that Eldritch Cleaver was a bad choice to run for President in 1968, but supported him anyway. By 1972, they were supporting McGovern even though they liked the P&F candidate – Dr. Benjamin Spock. When I want to cast a protest vote because the Democrat is too conservative or otherwise undesirable, I opt for the P&F Party candidate more often than the Green, and I wish they would merge. We don’t need our fringe groups splintered at the ballot.

Anyway, just thought I would share.

On this date was born the greatest American political candidate who never won an election.

He ran for President 5 times, once taking six percent of the vote nationally (almost exactly 100 years ago that happened).  He was sentenced to 10 years of prison for speaking against World War I.  As he said in that speech:

“Your Honor,years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

He ran for office while in prison.  Again, he never held office, but he and the movement behind him brought to national political discourse the framework for reforms which would eventually be implemented, and for which many of us now take for granted.

A little bit of his history.  I don’t know why they’re using the Entertainer as a theme song.

I read The Dialectic of Sex in high school.  I liked it, and then reread it a few years later and thought it was kind of silly – especially the chart at the end where she prophecied the end of oppression would lead to the end of death.  But it was formative for me and well-written – I think the first feminist book I read.

I don’t know what happened to my copy actually.  I may have to buy it again and give it a third read.

Here is a nice obituary which also describes a very tragic ending.  It’s where I got the photo.

I’m asked the question often, and I’m never quite sure how to answer it.  If you’re a socialist, you probably won’t be happy with my brand of socialism, whatever it is.  If you’re politically conservative, I’m probably socialist enough to warrant a rant or two.  To the extent that I’m a socialist, it’s more about a political ethos than any particular model, program, or ideological line. If you’re promoting socialism, I’m probably going to try to tear it down.  If you’re attacking socialism, I’m probably going to defend it tooth and nail, especially when you really don’t know what you’re talking about, and most often you don’t.  I would say that I still aspire to an ethos of egalitarianism and I see the bulk of our political problems as arising from not just the huge disparities in income and wealth, but more importantly the disparities in power and influence which arise from the former.  I believe that democracy has the potential to mitigate the disparities, but collective choices are not always rational and can potentially aggravate them as well.  Still, for any mitigation to take root, it has to be through democratic processes, and it has to be incremental and well thought.  We have collective moments when we make such progress, and those small movements of progress have to survive the torrent of backlash from the more fearful and reactionary elements of the democracy.  The health care reform may represent one such moment of incremental process.  And we have to keep the discussion alive no matter what happens.  I do believe in progress – I think it’s clearly evidenced.  But I believe it’s excruciatingly slow.  The shortcuts attempted have historically been disastrous, leading to consequences much worse than the evils they were intended to resolve.

I don’t believe in a perfect society.  I believe we can address inequities of our time, and devise institutional reforms which bring us a little bit closer.  But then human beings will always find ways to exploit each other.  We are very creative that way.  It will be up to those generations to address the new inequities.  I believe we are called upon to address those in our time, and try to avoid repetition of the same mistakes.

The Western European model has achieved the highest standards of living the world has ever seen.  It’s far from perfect.  It has serious structural problems in whatever it is we are calling the “new international economy.”  It will have to be reformed.  It may require significant reconstruction to survive, which in the short run may look like regression (and which in the absence of political will may end up permanently regressive).  The downside of democracy is that the collective has the right to make the wrong choices.  I will continue to rant and whine about Citizens United, but ultimately each individual makes a choice in the voting booth – makes a choice to believe the advertising.  Makes a choice whether to conform or break with “the dominant paradigm,” whatever that may be.  My socialism is one which is focused on the autonomy of the individual, somewhat along the lines of Mills’ utilitarianism, and democracy for me isn’t merely the strategy or vehicle.  If we collectively make the wrong choice, democracy has prevailed if socialism hasn’t, and democracy is more important than socialism.  For me, while we can debate whether the Sandinistas were corrupt totalitarians or visionary socialists, but they’re choice to acquiesce to a democratic choice against their rule was the most positively radical move a Marxist regime ever made.  They lost, but they also won, unlike the other regimes which collapsed or are waiting to collapse.

In short, I view socialism as something to aspire to, but cannot and should not ever be attained in perfection.

Finishing Arguing the World, the book emerging from the same project as the film, I came across some quotes which loosely resonate with my own thoughts on the question.

“We live in a time of diminished expectations – idealistic visions, utopian hopes, desires for social renovations are all out of fashion – indeed, are regarded as dangerous illusions that set off memories of totalitarian disasters.  The current catchword is sobriety, which sometimes looks like a cover for depression.  But Utopianism is a necessity of the moral imagination.  It is a testimony to the resourcefulness that humanity now and then displays, together with other, far less attractive characteristics.  It is a claim for the value of desire.  So to friend and foe, at a moment when the embers of Utopianism seems very low, I’d say:  “You want to call us Utopians?  That’s fine with me.”

Irving Howe, Two Cheers for Utopia

“You ask me if I’m a neo-conservative.  What I find amusing is that the people who decry a one-dimensional view of society, a one-dimensional view of politics, apply a one-dimensional label to things.

I think I’ve been consistent all the way through  It’s not that my politics haven’t changed.  Politics is basically a response to particular situations.  I think my fundamental values have remained, and my fundamental view of understanding society has remained.

I believe there are different realms in the society and there are different principles which underlie these realms.  That’s why I’ve called myself a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.  I’m a socialist in economics because I believe that every society has an obligation to give people that degree of decency to allow them to feel that they are citizens in this society.  In the realm of economics, the first lien on resources should be that of the community in a redistributive way.

I’m a conservative in culture because I believe in continuity, and I believe in judgment.  I don’t believe that all opinions in culture are the same as everybody else’s opinion.  I don’t believe that all art is the same.  Some things are better than others, and you have to justify why it’s better than others, and you have to understand the grounds of justification (And the reader has to understand that Bell, like the other New York Intellectuals all come from roots of cultural criticism – think Partisan Review, NY Review of Books, etc. – EVK).

I’m  a liberal in politics, but liberalism has no fixed dogmas.  It has no fixed points that you can say, “This is the liberal position.”  It changes because it’s an attitude.  It’s a skepticism.  It’s a pluralism.  It’s agnostic.”

-Daniel Bell

“All of us at Dissent– and Irving (Howe) has been one of the most persistent in this – hold on to socialism by continually redefining it, rethinking it.  We have sponsored a long series of articles on market socialism which would once have been thought to be a contradiction in terms.  Socialism was supposed to lead to a withering away of the state and the abolition of the market.  We now talk of a socialism that makes its peace with decentralization rather than straight, top-down economic planning.

Why cling to socialism?  I think the answer has to do with a sense of an historical tradition.  The central vision of a society of equal men and women, who participate, who join together in shaping their own destiny, that is a socialist vision.  It has been carried on by a succession of socialist parties and movements, and I think Irving’s view has been one that doesn’t want to be the end of that line.  One doesn’t want to give up on the project.”

-Michael Walzer

“We continue our criticism of the injustices and inadequacies of a society which allows thousands of people to be homeless in the streets, an affluent society in America where there is still a vast amount of poverty, social dislocation, social pathology.

The crucial lesson of the last fifty years, one crucial lesson is the absolute indissolubility, the absolute organic connection between democratic practice and socialist hope.  The great tragedy of the last half-century has been the enormous waste of idealism and energy which the Communist movement represented and its malappropriation of the socialist vocabulary, the socialist idea.  It will take a good deal of time before the consequences of this are undone.

But socialism means a greater social ethic, a concern for the needs of human beings, economically and culturally – a gradual transformation from the ethic of accumulation and me-ism to social sharing.  All of this may sound vague at the moment, I guess it has to be.

To me, socialism is no longer a dogma or ideology, but it is a vision, a hope, an expectation for the world which there will be greater equality and a common ownership of major industries.  Not nationalization, not government ownership, but shared ownership by the people who work in those industries.”

-Irving Howe

Just some thoughts arising from my vacation.  Ironic that I’m inspired to write about socialism while sitting here in Indiana.  Maybe not so ironic.  Eugene Debs was born a hundred or so miles south of my current location.

Bridges was of course the most influential Longshoreman’s Union organizer of the 20th century – certainly on the west coast.  He was also a socialist fellow traveler, and a Woody Guthrie type folk intellectual.  Ian Ruskin is the actor.   Hopefully someone at HSU will invite the project for a local performance of From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks.

You can view all five videos of a performance through this link.  Below is a sampling, although it’s really not the best sampling imo. Watch the videos.  There are CDs and DVDs available too, through the website.

Nothing that comes to mind in western cineman – not sympathetic nor negative in depiction.

There have been movies about Che Guevara, including a very bad right wing hit movie entitled “Che” in which Omar Sharif played Castro and was contractually forced to utter lines like “the revolutionary and the peasant are like the flower and the bee – neither can propogate without the other.”

There was a movie about Rosa Luxembourg.  One about John Reed.  Lenin has been depicted, including a very nuanced depiction in the old BBC series The Life of Reilly (the real life character upon which James Bond is loosely based).  There was a sympathetic depiction of Trostky in Frida.  But nothing, positive or negative, about Marx – not even by CP/fellow travellor movie makers cranking out agit prop films like Salt of the Earth or Burn!.

There have been plenty of depiction of Hitler.  I can only think of one depiction of Stalin in Children of the Revolution.  Oh, actually there was a depiction in The Life of Reilly – not so nuanced, but then he wasn’t very nuanced in real life.

Wikipedia has an entry re Marx in film, but it’s mostly documentary, though there’s apparently something which may be in the works –  Haitian director Raoul Peck has apparently been working on a bio-film since 2007.

But whatever your views on the person, he is a fascinating character – much drama in his life – and for better or worse has had a profound impact on the whole planet and its course of history.  Why the absence of treatment?

The drawing is of the young Karl Marx, snatched from Google Photos.

A monologue play about the life of the iconic radical singer.  No chance to watch it soon unless you happen to be at Carnegie Hall on February 12.  However, I am informed that Mr. Aluko will be bringing the act to California at a later date. No idea when or where.

Addendum:  A friend emailed some youtube links.  The first is from Showboat, a classic.

And here’s an account of the HUAC, Jackie Robinson, Paul Robeson incident.

Somebody reviewing one of Michael Moore’s movies once commented that while Moore’s ability to drive entire audiences to a standing ovation is a notable feat, a film maker who is a true artist ought to prefer that his/her film has audiences arguing in the aisles as the credits roll.  I thought it was a good point, but I was hard-pressed to come up with a documentary film which could accomplish just that.  And then, recently the recommendations robot at Netflix directed me to a documentary film entitled Arguing the World.  In terms of stimulating thought and argument about the larger political issues, I can think of no more effective documentary film.

The film focuses on four dynamic figures of a group which became known as the New York Intellectuals, characterized primarily by Jewish ethnicity, radicalism in youth tempered by anti-Stalinism, cultural critique in middle age, and anywhere but anywhere in old age.  The four are Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and Daniel Bell.  They were all raised in poverty in Jewish ghettos in New York City.  They met at City College of New York during the 1930s.  City College became known as the “Jewish Harvard,” because of the prominence of working class children of Jewish immigrants who would ditch poverty as adult career intellectuals. As legend has it, the professors themselves were mediocre, but the students would read and learn through arguing with each other.  The dining hall contained various horseshoe shaped alcoves, and each one was claimed by some sort of clique (jocks, Catholics, etc.).  As it happens Alcove One was perennially occupied by anti-Stalinist socialists, either Trotskyist or Second International variety (the SWP and SP actually merged for awhile, weird as that sounds to modern students of sectarian politics), while Alcove Two was occupied by the Communist Party activists and their fellow travelers.  Often there were arguments and even altercations between the two, but more often each group kept to itself.  The Alcove One denizens infused literature readings into their politics, lacing their Marxist analysis with smatterings of Dostoevsky, Proust, T.S. Lewis, the Bronte sisters, etc., and moved beyond even the Frankfurt School of Marxism in the blending of cultural criticism with politics.  The subculture was also characterized by intense arguments, sometimes stimulated by alcohol consumption (a darker aspect of the old left which is known to the families but not often discussed even in the narrative histories).

These four began as Trotskyists, which leads me to my favorite quote in the film (I’m not quite remembering who said it):  “We didn’t know he [Trotsky] was right. We only knew he was interesting. And in the Village then, to be interesting was to be right. Certainly to be uninteresting was to be wrong. And I’m not sure I don’t still hold to that.” I have to admit that I probably hold to that as well, as I frequently find my self disagreeing even when I agree.  And Trotsky was a more interesting figure than Stalin, or even Lenin, and certainly more interesting than Norman Thomas (you get to see a rare clip of a Thomas speech in the film), though maybe not quite as interesting as Debs or Shachtman.

As they got older and left CCNY, the four, and others, pooled resources and joined as writers a magazine entitled Partisan Review – intending to be a literary magazine with a political philosophy emphasis.  Now the film doesn’t get into the history so much, but Partisan Review actually has roots in the Greenwich Village intellectual milieu, which included John Reed, Max Eastman, and the Masses Crowd, and it may overemphasize a bit the divide between Alcoves One and Two in the broader sense, but perhaps not as it applies to these four individuals.

They were integral to the formation and development of Commentary Magazine, which began as an attempt to integrate Jewish radicalism into American democratic culture with complex cultural criticism, but the magazine ultimately slid into a more straight-jacketed ideological neo-conservatism, and exists now as a shadow of its more intellectually challenging past.  But by the time the four were writing for Commentary, all of them, including Howe, had abandoned their CCNY-era radicalism and embraced a more skeptical and pragmatic liberal outlook, which sent them into different directions.  The film examines the directions they took and attempts to find answers to the question of why like experiences could leave Irving Howe in the socialist fold (even if most self-proclaimed socialists regarded him as neo-conservative) while pushing Irving Kristol into the the Reagan camp.

When McCarthyism came into full swing, these intellectuals found themselves in a tight spot.  They had become anti-communist to the point that they were slamming not only the C.P. itself for its ties and loyalty to the Soviet Union, but also the liberals who downplayed the American communist’s complicity with the mass killings carried out by their more “successful” Soviet counterparts.  None of the intellectuals’ was particularly enamored with McCarthy as a matter of style, but while Kristol protests that he referred to McCarthy as a “vulgar demagogue” while implicitly supporting the carnage McCarthyism was wreaking on innocent people and the culture at large, he and other Commentary writers did not object to the underlying witch hunt process which ruined the lives of people who had been guilty of nothing more than attending socialist meetings while in college.  At this point, Irving Howe broke away from many of his friends; and while slamming communism and even to some extent defending American culture, he attacked McCarthyism on civil liberties grounds- a frame that the others were unable or unwilling to adopt.  Their defensiveness as exhibited in the interviews of the film is remarkable.  On the one hand they protest that they did in fact “question” methods being used, but on the other felt that some sort of process was necessary.

Howe and other anti-Stalin socialists started the independent socialist quarterly Dissent (there is a recurring theme in the film that when Intellectuals don’t know what else to do, they start a magazine).  The idea was to revisit socialism as a goal or a hope in a non-ideological manner, and outside of the auspices of any particular organization or program, while maintaining critical independence of thought and analysis.  Kristol dismissed it as ideologically anachronistic and irrelevant, but by the time he was asked to comment he had already turned to the dark side and it’s unclear whether he was at that point unable to segregate his personal opinions from his political agenda.  But the debate raged and an indication of the prominence of the debate in the NY Jewish subculture came a couple of decades later when Woody Allen, either unaware or uncaring that the reference was somewhat obscure on the national level, dropped a line into his acclaimed movie Annie Hall referencing a peace reached between Commentary and Dissent so that they merged to form the magazine Dysentery.  Of the millions who have watched the Academy Award winning film over the decades since, probably only a fraction of them understand the reference.  But that it made it into the movie is an indication of how strong the debate was in NY Jewish subculture.

The documentary then moves into the 1960s and the contentious relationship between the NY Intellectuals and the New Left.  It doesn’t go into the initial discussions where Howe’s protege Michael Harrington attended the Port Huron conference and left with some frustration.  The episode is described in some detail in Maurice Isserman’s If I had a Hammer, which is a brilliant summary of the history of the American Left.  The film covers mostly the summit talks between Dissent and SDS.  Howe and Glazer describe their interactions with upstart activist Tom Hayden, whom they regarded as a potential totalitarian – romantic utopian politics within a good looking guy completely into himself.  The Intellectuals were paternalistic and condescending.  The New Lefties were charged and emotional.  It didn’t go well.  There are interviews with New Leftists including Hayden and Todd Gitlin, and you can tell that it’s still a sore point.

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July 2020