[Note: This is my version of light summer reading (but my nickname’s not “Buzzkill” for nothing). Hey, I’m even breaking this diary into two parts. It’s not healthy to read while you eat but if you do, have a nice sandwich (better make that two), chew slowly, and by the time you’re to the pickle, maybe you’ll be done. I want to present in bite-size easily digestible pizzas my vision of a peaceful deep democratic revolution. I’m not there yet. I enjoy all the rabbit trails that make up the whole too much and mixing metaphors like a … concrete mixer. (Do similes count?–see, I do know the difference.) Below all bad writing is my own and unintentional.]
No pressure, but in late 2012 Kyle Thompson at The Other Spiral wrote:
I think the most important thing at this point in time is for the left to reclaim three areas: 1) Internationalism 2) The vision of the future and 3) Economic legitimacy. Without internationalism each struggle feels isolated and localism will never be anything more than localism. … Similarly the left needs to reclaim the future. If all we can imagine for the future is dystopia we will never be motivated enough to build socialism. This is basically the work of artists, conjuring up an image of what might be …. Finally the left must fight to achieve at least a niche of respectability in economic discourse.
I’ll up the ante and say that together we must constantly work to combine all three into a new praxis, one that learns from the past but also is willing to modify or even Jetson imagery that unnecessarily divides us. But, we’ve caught a break: in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of capitalist imagery has worn thin. Ecology and unemployment are biting capitalism on the buttock, just as our side predicted. When I was a kid, I was counting on one of those glass-topped space sedans to zip me around town one day. I’m beginning to doubt that’s going to happen. The caution yellow Pinto with shag carpetting on the dash that zipped me to my first job has long since finished rusting to nothingness, and only the bondo I liberally applied during those bong-heady times remains at the bottom of some landfill.
The future is with us, and that’s scaring the bondo out of the oligarchy, but our side’s still dazed and confused, and the oligarchy wants to keep its party going until the polar ice cap has gone and every last carbon chain has been broken to fuel the Pintos of the 21st century we will purchase to drive to the jobs we won’t have. I’m no artist and have no credentials for economic discourse. That leaves me with a possible niche of utility if not respectability researching internationalism. But since I’m writing from the Deep South of the U.S., home of a widely-held theory about the U.N. involving the mark of the Beast, I’d better toss in some revolutionary ever-modern art to get things started, and, in Part 2, follow-up with Luxemburg, who gives the political-economic basis for anti-capitalist democratic internationalism. If Rosa’s not respectable and respectful enough for the dismal scientists they can kiss my grits.
When El Lissitzsky created “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” he made a conscious decision to use the forms of the unrepresentational feelings-based suprematist school he had helped found to focus on their artistic opposite: the material world as he perceived it. This professional betrayal was motivated by a higher duty: universal morality. As a Russian Jew who’d lived most of his life under the Czar’s antisemitism, he wanted to use the best tools that he could muster to help beat the reactionary White Army. Nothing could have been more literal in the minds of the populace who viewed the poster and others like it in the Russian Civil War. Yet the use of geometric shapes and a limited palette brings a discordant transcendence so that even now when one looks at the poster it appears relevant– or so would have said two kids I showed it to if they used big words. Subconsciously, it is up to the individual viewer to decide where he or she fits among the objects, while pining for something missing from this divided two-dimensional incomplete but sadly accurate plane.
What tools do we have to muster and for whose cause should we be mustering them? Key questions of the 20th century and always.
I write this on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when humanity did not need national banners to know that Hitler’s eliminationist ethnic nationalism was so inhumane it had to be defeated. (But humane posters are always useful.) Capital “F” Fascism has a way of reemerging on our one planet, and we rarely on this day consider why that is in our justifiable remembrance of the lives that were lost on those bloodied shores of Normandy. I am sure that millions of D-Day-themed posts and comments in blogs and on Facebook pages will be published before this one comes out on Sunday night, June 8, 2014. Rather than add to the digital pile, I am instead going t
o focus on the war to end all wars that came one generation before WWII, the choices that are involved in warring, and the political-economic reasons we keep doing the wrong thing as a single human species.
Interesting, “national” banners. They pop up, as with the U.S. Civil War, before ethnic armies that are not even nations. Two passed me night before last as I was walking my dogs in the Deep South: the rebel flag flying proudly on the right of the back of an old imported pick-up truck with its windows down driven by a “white” man with the Libertarian “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on the left. The skinny bearded great American working class Confederate man calmly smiled and nodded at me inclusively, assuming I was part of his team, like we were about to go over together and kick the dead Yankee bodies at Bull Run just for grins, or perhaps attend a lynching and pass the bottle (not spin the bottle mind you, 100% virile straight man fun stuff). I was wondering if he heard my loud “Booooo,” particularly when he began to slow down about thirty yards past me. (At least I thought it was loud, but not so loud as to upset the dogs–but pretty darn loud people.) I thought he, likely packing, was turning around to come back and tread on me or worse, but he turned right, fittingly. Maybe he had second thoughts about murder or maybe it was his muffler problem that allows me to write these words. How do we get him out of the white circle and in the natural polychromatic sphere of life, not pictured here? I think he’s hopeless, so mostly I ignore him, but, if and when he waves his hateful flags in my neighborhood or yours, I propose confrontation, red wedge wielded. And somewhere, those flags are always waving. And innocent kids are being raised to be in the white circle.
Forward, MARCH. But how and when? Human solidarity is our journey and our destination. The capitalist interests that prevent humanity from recognizing the economic, social, and cultural rights of all human beings should not be deciding our individual and collective fates. To be sure an international cooperative needs to be established with the means to stop genocide. But that international cooperative also needs to be democratically-controlled by the citizens of the world as such.
Any assemblage of nationalist banners is highly suspect. Sometimes all the banners that are flown are evil. Other times, for a brief period of time, some of the banners can actually recruit humane cooperation. Better for humanity to reorganize itself to take down all of the banners, put them in museums, and democratically flesh out the details of justice in the service of love without wasting innocent flesh. That worldwide revolution to true democracy of, by, and for humanity is our war. If we open our individual minds to our rights as human beings we can begin to begin again, and the revolution can be as peaceful as possible.
100 years ago this month, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered by Serbian nationalists, and I don’t feel so good myself. The world is still gripped by capitalism and its junior partners imperialism and nationalism. It is safe to say that the great democratic international communist Rosa Luxemburg did not feel that the cruel act necessitated world war and the expenditure of the blood of the workers killing each other over the alliances of their respective nation states. Not their fight.
A few years later, after the world had fought that awful imperialist war, the red wedge beat the White Army. After that came a lot of awful things in the Soviet Union Luxemburg sadly predicted. The workers of the Soviet Union, under totalitarianism, were forced to forget their rights. Stalin led a “real” “socialism in one country” debacle of his own inhumanity, and mass injustice and coerced stupidity occurred. He forgot that socialism is the fight for worldwide justice in the service of love in his quest for industrial state capitalist supremacy over market capitalist supremacy.
These days the workers of the world are even less likely to know our fights. Meanwhile, our legally-recognized rights, if any, are more and more circumscribed to non-economic matters. Coping strategies abound.
If we are unemployed, we can still sometimes find temp jobs killing each other.
Fine-tuning misdirection, in the U.S., with its endless drug war, workers like my mom’s kin are also much more likely to kill each other or ourselves through self-prescribed medicines far less ennobling than the killer weed Maureen Dowd sampled in Colorado for journalistic integrity. If we are employed, we are more and more likely to be working two or more minimum wage part-time jobs, if we can find them. The “free” market for consumer goods, virtual or otherwise, also dictates that the workers break the tenth commandment, coveting our neighbor’s ox if not his or her ass. Thus (not to be the Southern Baptist prude I was raised to be), the collective consciousness is expected to be on the level of a Super Bowl halftime show, with revolutionary levels of sex mania.
I would not dare begrudge anyone their jollies, and I know many loins are tender, and who does not want a hunka hunka burning love, but please, when your singin’ group is named after a dead alliterative archduke and you borrow Lissitzsky’s imagery, light your fire for the whole worker and not just the private parts.
I can attest from my own family history that, a dozen years before the Ferdinand assassinations, many workers in the U.S., including the brown cigarmakers of Hillsborough County, Florida, were at least as manic about their economic rights and their grounding in the international socialist movement as they were about their libidos. Yes, I am particularly fixated on when my great-great-uncle Francisco had his own brush with death–enunciating these very rights and that very movement under the direction of the workers themselves:
The Milián Affair
On Saturday, November 1, 1902, West Tampa was rocked by an almost unbelievable story. Francisco Milián, popular mayor of West Tampa and lector at the Bustillo Brothers and Diaz factory, was adducted, beaten, and forced out of town by the Tampa police chief and an unidentified mob under a threat of death if he returned.
This episode was the culmination of a series of actions against Milián. The owners of the factory where he served as reader to the workers had earlier charged him with being a radical labor agitator because the selections he read represented Marxist and anti-capitalist viewpoints. Although Milián read what the workers had selected, he was held responsible for inciting the workers. …
Mendez, Armando, 1994. Ciudad De Cigars: West Tampa, pp. 93-94. (Florida Historical Society.) (emphasis added).
Critical about this is not the fact that this was my relative (but did I tell you that this was my relative?), or even that he was reading Marxist and anti-capitalist viewpoints, but that the frickin’ everyday workers in Florida over a century ago were asking to be read these frickin’ viewpoints.
I don’t want to leave you hanging in the middle of the story:
As he left West Tampa City Hall on November 1, Milián was approached by the Tampa police chief and another man, who asked him to accompany them to another location in order to identify someone. They left in a carriage, and made their way to Six Mile Creek. Milián was told that because he was a labor agitator and a dangerous character, he was going to be punished. He was kept under guard until a number of men arrived. Milián was then stripped and beaten. Warned that he must leave Tampa and never return, he protested that he could not leave his family in West Tampa. Despite his protests, Milián was taken to the Port of Tampa and put aboard a steamer bound for Cuba. With a final admonition that he faced death if he returned, the men watched as the steamer took Milián south.
When the steamer docked in Key West, Milián sought friendly workers and told them his tale. Workers in Tampa were notified, and they went to the Hillsborough County sheriff to demand protection for Milián when he returned. A delegation also went to Tampa and West Tampa City officials with a threat of a long general strike if Milián was harmed.
On November 12, the Olivette, the Plant Line steamer, arrived in Port Tampa with Milián on board. Two sheriff’s deputies and 200 supporters were on hand to protect him.
When he arrived in Tampa, another 400 greeted him. From Tampa, Milián was escorted to the International Cigarmakers Union Hall on 6th Avenue for a reception. More than 2,000 people queued up to shake his hand.
This display of support was enough to stay the hand of the owners, and Milián was allowed to return to West Tampa and take up his job as lector and mayor unmolested. …
No charges were ever filed nor any arrests made in this bizarre incident despite the testimony of Milián.
Did you see those two words, “general strike,” in a writing centered on the then leading industry in the state that most recently elected he-who-must-not-be-named as governor?
Could this happen again? Could workers in Florida and the other 49 U.S. “states,” including the Deep South, get back our mojo? Not IMHO if we’re only thinking about the microcosm of our own specific struggles, however valid and critical. Labor mojo is synonymous with solidarity, which is all about viewing each of ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves. But that “bigger something” cannot and does not stop at national boundaries! Never did, and certainly does not now. We need general strikes, and the more general the better, Taft-Hartley Act and its foreign legal equivalents be damned. Let’s, for instance, feel justified to democratically violate en masse unjust labor laws until they are stricken down one way or another–because this is justified. Let’s love each other as workers of the world, and demonstrate this with all the tools we can muster.
Where do laws come from in the U.S.? What truly democratic institutions do we have? Laws are to be in the service of justice, with justice being in the service of love. When we begin to think deeply about our own rights–not those written up in constitutions given to us by the powerful but those that should be written in our hearts because they can be logically derived by our minds and certainly encompassing the meeting of our basic human needs–we begin to recognize how irrational it is to think that these rights should or even can stop at national boundaries.
So, I say, let’s set the goal that by the 100th anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg’s murder by German nationalists who would soon become known as “Nazis” (January 15, 1919) that an overwhelming majority of the workers of the world will once again at least know our full spectrum of deep democratic rights as citizens of the world. We each as workers have to know our rights to peacefully fight for them.
Wearing my buzzkill hat, although I am a mere “ethical” democratic socialist I have to concede to the “scientific” socialists that to fail to know our rights is to invite a perpetuation of capitalist economic crises and worldwide environmental collapse. I do not want that outcome. So (as if you aren’t doing plenty already), let’s roll up our sleeves and describe for ourselves the proactive, non-fatalistic tasks that taken together will bring about an acceptable level of international justice, beginning with teaching ourselves our international rights as human beings.
Right now I think I will be coming back to our shared rights as citizens of the world in more and more detail in future ACM diaries until I feel that I have exhausted the topic, group administrators willing. I expect that this series will be done this calendar year. I hope it will not get too boring. And there are plenty of great writers in this group if I am not your cup of tea, so read their diaries if not mine. As I look deeper at these issues, I will hopefully be able to pass on some coherent thoughts on the subject for you to criticize. I am not predicting utopia, and I do not expect you to always agree with me.
I’m on the quest to find the holy grail of a reasonably good and systematic view of how to actually bring about loving “system change” lovingly, including the likely benefits of every worker (including every ally of workers, however one technically defines “worker”), with all of our varying abilities and circumstances, having a recognized constructive and consciously-revolutionary role to play, however small it seems. Others are focusing on what the anti-capitalist alternative should look like and the specific battles in which we should be engaged in the ugly austerity-filled interim. I worship your work. It is vital. I am your comrade, and, if it weren’t un-socialistic to say so, your loyal servant. I want to see your vision come true and will do anything I can do to help. I think that I can best help by being focused on the art of winning as peacefully as possible, with justice ever being in the service of love.
Observed the editors of Monthly Review on its 65th Anniversary last month, after quoting the socialist William Morris’s Signs of Change (1888):
To advocate for revolution … not as a fear but as a hope, obviously does not mean a rejection altogether of the process of legal reform, but rather the abandonment of the usual limited, non-starting, counterproductive reforms, offered up by the system, which are meant to close off the future and to defend the existing order, making real change impossible: what in socialist theory is known as reformism. All actions initiated by popular forces today should rather be aimed at “a change in the basis of society.” Revolution, as Rosa Luxemburg observed, is distinguished from reform not so much in representing a different method of change, or in occurring over a different duration, but rather in its constituting a distinguishing moment of the struggle.
My working theory is that lots of small acts, including consciousness raising, may end up with workers in everyday places around the world, such as West Tampa, once again agitating in multiple ways to make our collective rights a reality! Let’s begin again and party like its 1914, with an unmistakably internationally-focused praxis that rejects capitalist warring! We have learned so much in the ensuing century, much of it unpleasant, which we must never forget–including the fact that while capitalism and its love of money is the root of all evil, divide-and-conquer nationalism has been its strategic mercenary.
We may be able to collectively lead ourselves to a better world if we learn not to be overly dependent on “leaders.” Leaders will come and go, but we should each learn how our efforts can best fit together locally, nationally, and internationally. We, including both leftists and left liberals, need to respect each other because we all have key contributions to make. We all need to know how “it all” fits together strategically in order to feel the comforting breeze of emerging solidarity. Hell, we may even find something realistic yet strategically important for religious leaders of good will like Pope Francis to do! Heaven can wait. I have one very important idea that I am going to spring on Francis hopefully by year’s end, as I’m sure he reads my posts–just kidding! (Whoa! Slow down Francisco, aka Galtisalie, too many exclamation points!)
In the meantime, the next time I post for ACM (possibly in July) in Part 2 of this two-part diary on the need for anti-capitalist democratic internationalism, I want to describe the political-economic need for looking at these rights not only from an anti-capitalist perspective but also from an international, as opposed to a national, perspective. For that I will heavily rely on the above-mentioned Rosa, with an assist from Karl (the influence not the colleague). I like to think that I am channeling some of those radical cigarmakers who gave their dimes and quarters to my namesake, Tio Francisco. Like MrJayTee said last Sunday in his wonderful diary, I am no scholar. A penny for your thoughts.
[One final note: You may say to yourself, “I wish Francisco would stop being so self-referential and personal in his diaries. What a weirdo.” As some of you know, I came out of a fundamentalist Christian background where personal “testifying” was part of the subculture. I made the decision last year to begin personally “testifying” about democratic socialism, not out of some sick social pressure like I grew up with but because it is truly what I believe in as an independent-thinking species-being. In fact, when I started gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com (which is just a little volunteer website, and which does not collect a dime or a quarter by the way), my first act at the website was publishing a lengthy autobiographical political pamphlet that, beginning at page 20, includes 27 or so pages on the very topic “Support and Recruitment for Granma’s Next Voyage: Why I Write Personally and Plainly About Democratic Socialism.” Here is the page at gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com that gives the link to the pamphlet. I don’t expect you to read it. Hardly anyone has! But at least you know where to go to read my self-justification for self-revelation! (Darn exclamation point key stuck again!!!!)]