NOTES FROM THE RADICAL MARGIN: “ONCE MORE UNTO THE BOOTH, DEAR FRIENDS, ONCE MORE…”
Sorry to corrupt Shakespeare at the outset. But the sentiment is what matters on the days before this November 6 election. So, here is an excerpt from Harry’s speech:
“In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger.”
I don’t see a bright future for people living in the US within the stranglehold of two-party politics—this I have said over and over. On the other hand, at this moment we need to use all means available to combat the rise of our own brand of Fascism—spearheaded by white supremacy, which may be closeted, or disguised in hunters’ overalls, in Wall Street business suits, in red-carpet evening gowns…
In this battle, at the moment we don’t have a united front led by a political movement or a “third party”, but for the most part we have the vote. For the most part, because millions of our residents without an American passport are also fearful of this “rise of the right”, but they cannot protest with their ballots. Yet they are often victims of Neo-Fascist hatred. Often, but not always. Let me explain.
Many years ago, when I arrived in Pittsburgh from the West Coast, I rented an apartment in Squirrel Hill. Although this was an old time Jewish neighborhood, the area had already become home to a diverse lot of professionals, academics and grad students—with two major universities within walking distance and Mister Rogers, the Presbyterian minister turned TV celebrity, kind of representing that neighborhood. The last place where I lived inside the city of Pittsburgh was less than three blocks from the temple into which that murderer stepped in—to use his guns in a political act of killing people. Another attack in our time of terrifying gun violence in America. Once again, there are mostly timid voices in discussion about real gun control.
So, when the media stresses only the number of victims in a Jewish place of worship as something unique, without putting American Antisemitism in perspective, many of us are troubled.
It is not accidental that the only people who showed up with Trump in his “sympathy” tour of Squirrel Hill were a chosen few from his family, the Mnuchin man and the Israeli Ambassador to the US—Benjamin Netanyahu’s henchman in this country. That such a visit by Trump could take place at all without any real confrontation, considering the multitudes that protested or boycotted him, is to completely de-politicize the events: the massacre itself and Trump’s response to it. It is not enough to proclaim we all knew Trump would restart his hate speeches the moment he left Pittsburgh.
Now, the shooter wasn’t some deranged, faceless Jew-hater from Baldwin. He accused Jews of being enablers in the exodus of Central American refugees who will invade the US across the southern border. Little did he understand that the refugee crisis was created in the first place by the US propping up dictatorial regimes of its liking—in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Across several US presidencies too. (More in Note number two.)
So, if we want to recount the history of anti-Semitism in the US with any honesty at all, we cannot avoid the inextricable connection between that particular anti-thing and other anti-things that have established overt and covert discrimination as well as raw, oppressive power and policy as tools of disenfranchisement. I mean Antisemitism (or Racism) can’t be reduced to a blind bigotry based on ethnicity or religion.
Historically, Antisemitism has gone hand in hand with some combination of Anti-Labor Unions/Movements, Anti-Communism/Socialism, Anti-Civil/Human Rights, even Anti-Intellectual prowess. These days it seems to have returned simply as a hatred of Jews.
Yet, we know that Clara Lemlich (Shavelson) was a labor organizer who became a founding member of the American Communist Party in 1919.
We know that Meyer London and Victor Berger won Congressional seats as members of the Socialist Party.
We know Emma Goldman as “Red Emma”—atheist and author of Anarchism and other Essays, was deported to Russia, also in 1919 even though she was a US citizen. Truly a woman way before her time.
We know about the HUAC hearings that sought out and targeted many Jews. And of course we know about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg whose execution shocked the entire world. I remember those days very well.
But we may not know that under the auspices of the Garment Workers’ Union in NYC, Social Unionism had the following features:
• Health Clinics
• Day Care Centers
• Cooperative Housing
• Adult Education
• Vacation Resorts/Summer Camps
• Labor Solidarity
• Support for Industrial Unionism
Surely, this kind of life can be possible for the American people even more so today, for the 99% if you will. Anyone who doubts that possibility has been brainwashed—radically—no?
Many of my university-mates—the youth of my generation, were children of radical Jews and “Red Diaper” babies who had chosen to study in public colleges and state universities in large numbers. They were very much a part of the “new” left and an integral part of the civil rights, anti-war, women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Their children in turn, at least some of them, participated in the Bernie Sanders campaign and are now working to involve younger generations in the fight against this worldwide “rise of the right.”
In the late 1960s one of those radical friends of mine was asked to propose a “Jewish Studies” course at a public university. This was before area studies became fashionable. The dean had agreed to my friend’s suggestion about a “history of ideas” class, and so my friend proposed studying the ideas of: Spinoza, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Claude Levi-Strauss, Noam Chomsky, Gertrude Stein, Emma Goldman, Susan Sontag, Ayn Rand, Dorothy Parker, Franz Kafka… and others. His proposal was promptly rejected without explanation.
For me, all of this amounts to one of the many reasons/contexts for voting out Neo-Fascist candidates and other Trump allies. These are hard times, friends.
A brief article on Jews and the American labor movement by Bennett Muraskin can be found here:
Voting on Tuesday, regardless of the outcome, will be a stop-gap measure to stem the neo-Fascist tide. While the corrupt and aggressive domestic agenda of the Trump administration is clear and frightening, we often tend to ignore the strengthening of US imperialism under Trump, notwithstanding the hoopla about “nativism” and “American nationalism”.
These are code words for the Neo-Fascists and white supremacists to be sure, but also catchwords in the global rise of the right. The world economy has been “global” for a long time now: corporations don’t give a damn about their national origins, and their investment of capital is independent of national boundaries. Finance capital is even more dominant, and stock markets are completely interdependent, with Wall Street as the big boss.
The current alliance of nation-states that utter this “nativist” slogan across the world is not based on solving problems like hunger, plight of refugees, climate change, weapons of mass destruction, continuing wars and genocide, inequality and injustice in various forms. This alliance is based on xenophobia, authoritarian right-wing regimes, staggering internal inequality and injustice, and unprecedented war against rudimentary democracy and democratic institutions, however flawed. That is to say, they are dedicated to the eradication of all human rights (except theirs) through an absolute use of power—social, cultural, economic and military.
Right now, Trump has threatened to cut off all aid to his dictatorial friends like Hernandez in Honduras (installed with the blessing of Obama and Hillary), Jimmy Morales in Guatemala, and Sanchez in El Salvador who has been befriending china a good bit. But, the people who are fleeing these regimes are destitute just like their counterparts from Syria and Libya in Europe. You do know that criminal gangs in El Salvador learned their craft in the US before their massive deportation by Obama? So, what are we going to do about this American crisis?
At the same time, the Trump+Pence regime is preparing to crush Central/Latin American governments it doesn’t like. The crazy Bolton has announced this policy in words that everyone remembers: “the axis of evil”. For George Bush, that combo was Iraq, Libya and Syria and he was about to crush those regimes and bring peace and good government in those countries. Thus, we arrived at three essentially failed states. For Trump, the axis consists of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Of course. At the same time, Bolton praised to high heaven the recently elected Bolsonaro—Brazil’s new chief, another Neo-Fascist who has already started talking about being vilified by “fake news”. Yes, Trump's English words in the middle of a speech in Portuguese!
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon is also on a trip—bonding with his right-wing “nationalist” friends in Eastern Europe. In this context, one false narrative we must categorically reject is about foreign interference in our election. There are too many domestically constructed mechanisms of disenfranchisement in the Trump era and before. For example, the poorer you are, the harder it is to find a way to vote, even apart from gerrymandered congressional and other districts.
Also, the United States has interfered in everyone’s elections forever, especially in the developing world. In my lifetime, I have seen Sukarno in Indonesia replaced by our man General Suharto. Over 200,000 people were killed after that. Again, Mosaddeq in Iran was ousted and our man the Shah was returned to power. Lumumba in Congo was assassinated in a CIA plot and replaced at the time by Tsombe. And, closest to home, Allende was killed in the course of a military coup in Chile. Power was usurped by General Pinochet, with the sanction of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon regime.
Here’s the catch. All these ousted/assassinated heads of state were democratically elected. The lesson for us then: in this election, if we are fighting to preserve and advance democratic processes and institutions, we cannot neglect the erosion of similar processes and similar institutions anywhere in the world. We also cannot neglect the repressive, even genocidal policies of our “allies”.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, and yet these words of Justice Brandeis remain vital for the 99% on the eve of this election.
“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.”
Be vigilant, and check this recent Pew research study too for international views on Trump.