Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 30, 2012

Columbia University President: opposition to WWI is treason

Filed under: Columbia University,war — louisproyect @ 10:03 pm

I have begun reading Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s “The Untold History of the United States” upon which the Showtime series is based. I can’t recommend it highly enough and will be posting a longer piece on Counterpunch the first chance I get. In the meantime I want to share this June 7, 1917 article with you that is excerpted on page 6 of the book, in a chapter dealing with Wilson and WWI. Simply jaw-dropping stuff.


Nicholas Murray Butler

New York Times June 17, 1917
Tells Alumni Columbia Rejects All Who Resist Government

President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University, in an address at a luncheon of alumni held in the university gymnasium at the close of the commencement exercises yesterday, denounced members of the university who resist the Government in time of war.

“Virtue and valor are so general among American youth,” he said, “as to be in danger of becoming commonplace, while vice and cowardice shriek out their horrid heads in ways that, at least for the moment, attract and often enchain public attention. For every instance of failure to rise to the high plane of patriotic duty and loyal service there_ have been here a hundred, yes, a thousand, instances of a splendid and a contrary sort.”

“So long as national policies were in debate we gave, as is our wont, complete liberty of assembly, of speech and of publication to all members of the university who, in lawful ways, might wish to influence and guide public policy. Wrongheadedness and folly we might deplore but were bound to tolerate. So soon, however, as the nation spoke by the Congress and by the President declaring that it would volunteer as one man for the protection and defense of civil liberty and self-government, conditions sharply changed. What had been tolerated before became intolerable now. What had been wrongheadedness was now sedition. What had been folly was now treason.

“I speak by authority for the whole university—for my colleagues of the Trustees and for my colleagues of the Faculties—when I say, with all possible emphasis; that there is and will be no place in Columbia University, either on the rolls of its Faculties or on the rolls of its students, for any person who opposes or who counsels opposition to the effective enforcement of the laws of the United States, or who acts, speaks, or writes treason. The separation of any such person from Columbia University will be as speedy as the discovery of his offense. This is the university’s last and only word of warning to any among us, if such there be, who are not with whole heart and mind and strength committed to fight with us to make the world safe for democracy.”

Ambassador James W. Gerard of the class of 1890 also made an address at the luncheon in which be brought the alumni to their feet with applause as he said: “Nothing this country has in life, property or honor will, be worth while if the German Empire wins this war.”

Kate Masur on Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

Filed under: Civil War — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm


A Filmmaker’s Imagination, and a Historian’s
November 30, 2012, 1:58 pm
By Kate Masur

As viewers flock to see Lincoln, and reviewers rave about Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, historians are raising different kinds of issues: How accurate is the film’s portrayal of emancipation? What does it leave out? The Chronicle Review asked several scholars to weigh in.

“You gave us the history from which we made our historical fiction,” Steven Spielberg recently told the historians in a crowd gathered to commemorate the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Then the filmmaker drew a distinction. Historians “gather evidence” and produce “diligently reconstructed narratives.” By contrast, he said, “one of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places,” to “enlist the imagination to bring what’s lost back to us.” The “resurrection” of the past by filmmakers, he continued, “is of course just an illusion. It’s a fantasy and it’s a dream.”

Moviegoers and historians alike should pay attention. Spielberg’s Lincoln is a work of art, a film about morality, democracy, and human agency that tells us something about its creators and—since Lincoln will be watched and loved by millions—about ourselves. Like any other movie, novel, or painting, the film ought to be discussed and critiqued. Indeed, it should be subjected to a particularly searching analysis precisely because of its prominence and power.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in the wake of an op-ed I wrote about the film for The New York Times, in which I pointed out the passivity and generic nature of the black characters in the film. I argued that the filmmakers’ “imagination” (to quote Spielberg) was one in which white men gave the gift of freedom to African-Americans.

A rich debate has developed among historians and in the greater blogosphere about this film. Some writers have agreed with my points wholeheartedly, arguing that the film underemphasized the role African-Americans played in influencing the abolition debate in Washington. Others have said that black characters are unimportant to the film’s larger goals. Some critics have claimed that I would only have been satisfied with an entirely different film—perhaps one focused on slaves’ struggle to get free, or on Lincoln’s relationship with Frederick Douglass.

To be sure, I’d like to see more Hollywood films that feature prominent and complex black characters. My point, though, was that the filmmakers’ artistic choices revealed assumptions about black passivity and white agency that are inaccurate, damaging, and difficult to dislodge.

This is not a quibble about facts. Nor am I advocating a politically correct or anachronistic interpretation of history. To the contrary, it is now received wisdom among professional historians that African-Americans—both enslaved and free—were active participants in debates about slavery and race and that slaves’ refusal to stay put or side with their owners had enormous consequences. As Eric Foner wrote in a recent letter to The New York Times: “Slavery died on the ground, not just in the White House and the House of Representatives.”

On the issue of facts, Harold Holzer, an eminent Lincoln scholar, found plenty of scenes that have no basis in the known history. Yet in an article for The Daily Beast, he concluded that, “In pursuit of broad collective memory, perhaps it’s not important to sweat the small stuff.”

I agree. It’s acceptable (even inevitable) that artists depart from the empirical evidence in order to capture something human and profound. But it is also reasonable to point out how a work of art can reveal and reinforce deeply held beliefs and unacknowledged assumptions.

In Spielberg’s treatment, Elizabeth Keckley and William Slade appear to be faithful White House servants who did little more than look after the comforts of their employers. They are archetypes rather than individuals. In reality, Keckley was a skilled dressmaker who had many different clients among Washington’s society women; she led an organization of African-American women that raised money to help needy runaway slaves; and she persuaded Mary Todd Lincoln to donate money to her cause. Slade, for his part, was president of an African-American civil-rights organization whose activities were known to members of Congress and, almost certainly, to Lincoln himself.

If evidence abounds of Slade’s and Keckley’s leadership and advocacy, then why didn’t the film allude to it? Perhaps because the filmmakers did not—or could not—imagine black servants who had lives outside their work and were activists in their own right.

To those who insist that it would have required a PBS miniseries or a wholly different feature film to portray black characters with more complexity and to suggest that African-Americans played a role in their own liberation, I offer the following dreams and fantasies of my own.

Thaddeus Stevens could have talked about politics at home with his supposed  lover, Lydia Smith, who was African-American. They might have discussed the tension between Stevens’s idealism and the president’s pragmatism; Smith could have given Stevens advice about how to handle himself during the House debate over the 13th amendment.

Robert Lincoln, strolling around Washington and mulling his conflict with his parents, could have come across a meeting of black activists who, under leadership of the editor Robert Hamilton of New York, had assembled in the capital to lobby Congress for emancipation and equal rights. Some of these men could have been among the group of African-Americans who filed into the House chamber to witness the amendment’s passage.

Keckley, in an effort to get the First Lady out of the house, could have taken Mary Lincoln to a meeting of her relief organization at 15th Street Presbyterian Church, the city’s most prestigious black church, where Slade was also a member.

A Northern black activist or two could have visited the White House to lobby for the amendment or to discuss which Democratic representatives could be persuaded to back the amendment. For that matter, Lincoln could have been shown discussing his dilemma with Slade.

Instead of showing Lincoln interacting with (passive) photographic images of slaves, the film could have shown him meeting actual fugitive slaves who had come into the city. An escaped slave might have described her decision to leave home, her calculus of the risks versus the potential rewards, and her understanding of the war itself. The interaction might have been shown to touch Lincoln emotionally. (As it stands, Spielberg imagines that Lincoln decided to prioritize the amendment over peace talks, not because anyone or any thing persuaded him, but because he meditated on a Euclidean equation.)

None of my fantastical scenes are any less accurate or more improbable than scenes that already exist in the movie. Any of them would have helped suggest that the black characters—though marginal to the film as a whole—had political views of their own. And any of them would have helped make the broader point that African-Americans participated in the abolition of slavery in a variety of ways.

Some critics argue that the film gives us powerful scenes of black men as soldiers and that these sufficiently demonstrate that African-Americans participated in the struggle for abolition. It’s worth acknowledging that there are black Union soldiers in Lincoln, though frankly, it would have been egregious if Spielberg’s vision of the military conflict in the winter of 1865 had not included them. In an appealing example of artistic license, an early scene shows two black soldiers talking with Lincoln and then, with two white soldiers, reciting the Gettysburg Address. I like how this scene lays out some of the stakes and possibilities of that historical moment. And the black soldiers’ speaking parts are probably longer and certainly more interesting than any other lines delivered by black characters in the film.

Another scene in which stoic black soldiers on horseback stare down the Confederate commissioners suggests more, I think, about the commissioners’ horror at black enlistment in the Union army than it does about the soldiers’ own agency. But I appreciate how the scene references the dramatic changes in Southern life that the Civil War would bring.

Even so, the scenes that feature soldiers—including the first one showing intense hand-to-hand combat and the later one in which the audience views, with Lincoln, scores of soldiers lying dead where they fell—mainly function to frame the film’s central concern: political deliberations in Washington. Violence, suffering, and death on the battlefield remind us of the stakes of Lincoln’s decisions and help us understand why he was (according to the film) tempted by the possibility of forging peace without emancipation.

As the political scientist Corey Robin wrote, this film de-centers Lincoln, giving us a cacophony of voices on the subject of abolition, but almost every one of those voices belongs to a white person. It is because the movie’s dramatic tension focuses on civilian life in general and on politics in particular that its creators’ failure to imagine the activities of black civilians is so disappointing.

In the end, Spielberg’s proposition that historians live in a world of facts while artists trade in dreams and fantasies is useful but incomplete. Historians use their imaginations all the time. In fact, some of the best history writing and teaching happens when we insist on exploring how our imagined version of a story stacks up against the evidence of complexity and contingency that we find in the sources. Conversely, of course, it’s hardly the case that Spielberg and Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay, don’t care about knowable facts. Why else would they go to great lengths to get their hands on Lincoln’s watch or to record the ring of the bells at Lincoln’s church in Washington?

Perhaps the relationship between evidence and imagination is the crux of the matter. Many readers objected strongly to the assertion that the film could have alluded to African-Americans’ abolitionist activities without diminishing the larger story. There is ample evidence that doing so would have been historically accurate and manageable in a few minutes of screen time. Yet such activities were not part of Lincoln’s world as these readers (or the filmmakers) imagined it.

Spielberg’s remarks at Gettysburg were profound on the subjects of history, loss, art, and memory; it’s clear that he and Kushner have thought deeply about their work and its meaning. But this only brings into relief their blind spots about race. By failing to portray independent and verbally astute black characters—even on the periphery—they ended up making a film that perpetuates the culturally authoritative but historically inaccurate idea that white men alone were the authors of abolition.

We’re all entitled to imagine how we would make a blockbuster film about Abraham Lincoln—what scenes we’d include and what messages we’d drive home. No one, however, commands the resources, wherewithal, and audience of Spielberg and Kushner. Their power to shape our collective understanding of race and democracy is enormous. Their historical dreams and fantasies matter more than ours. That’s why it would have been nice if they had gotten this part of the story right.

Kate Masur, an associate professor of history at Northwestern, is the author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C. (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

Paternalism and ass-kissing in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

Filed under: Civil War,Film — louisproyect @ 4:07 pm
Counterpunch Weekend Edition Nov 30-Dec 02, 2012

Horse-Trading Versus Struggle

Paternalism and Ass-Covering in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”


Which film about the abolition of slavery was intended to burnish the reputation of a contemporary President? If you answered that it was Spielberg’s lavishly praised “Lincoln”, you were right. When asked in a November 15th NPR interview whether he saw parallels with the Obama administration, screenwriter Tony Kushner replied:

I think Obama is a great president and I feel that there is immense potential now for building – rebuilding a real progressive democracy in this country after a great deal of damage has been done to it. And I think that it faces many obstacles, and one of its obstacles is an impatience on the part of very good, very progressive people, with the kind of compromising that you were just mentioning, the kind of horse trading that is necessary.

But you would have also been right if you guessed “Amazing Grace”, the 2007 biopic about William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian who opposed slavery. Its producer Philip Anschutz, the rightwing billionaire who also recently unleashed the toxic defense of charter schools “Won’t Back Down”, clearly intended to promote the agenda of the Christian right and the Bush administration it supported. By turning the abolitionist movement in Britain into a Church-based enterprise, Anschutz sought to legitimize new missionary operations in Africa all too familiar to people with painful memories of the bible and the gun.

The paternalism embodied in both screenplays transcends narrow party affiliations. It is wrapped up in the idea that “good people” on high delivered Black people from their oppression. The chief difference between the two films is Kushner’s decision to eschew hagiography and portray Lincoln as a kind of down-and-dirty dealmaker. This Lincoln had more in common in fact with LBJ than Barack Obama whose pugnaciousness is most often directed at his voting base rather than the billionaires who financed his campaign.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/30/paternalism-and-ass-covering-in-spielbergs-lincoln/

Pete La Roca Sims; Mickey Baker

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

New York Times November 25, 2012

Pete La Roca Sims, Distinctive Jazz Drummer, Dies at 74


Pete La Roca Sims, a powerful and distinctive drummer who created the pulse for some of jazz’s leading figures from the late 1950s through the ’60s, died on Nov. 20 in Manhattan. He was 74.

The cause was lung cancer, said his daughter, Susan Sims.

With an effervescent time feel and an alert style that could turn an accompanying role into a running commentary, Mr. Sims was well suited to the dynamism of the postbop era.

“He was for me very, very easy to play with,” the pianist Steve Kuhn, a regular collaborator in the early 1960s, said last week. “His influences were what they were, but he synthesized them. His conception was unique.”

Working as Pete La Roca, Mr. Sims appeared on a handful of classic albums of the period, notably by the tenor saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson. “Basra,” an album he made for Blue Note in 1965, leading a quartet with Mr. Henderson, Mr. Kuhn and the bassist Steve Swallow, is itself widely regarded as a classic.

Mr. Sims also recorded memorably with the alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, the trumpeter Art Farmer, the pianist Paul Bley and others. His second album as a leader, “Turkish Women at the Bath,” released in 1967, featured John Gilmore of the Sun Ra Arkestra on tenor saxophone and Chick Corea on piano.

Peter Sims was born on April 7, 1938, in Manhattan. He grew up in Harlem, surrounded by jazz: his stepfather was a trumpeter, and his uncle managed a suite of rehearsal studios. Mr. Sims had his first professional experience as a timbale player on the Latin dance-band circuit, where he adopted his stage surname, La Roca (“the Rock”).

He transitioned to the drum kit at 17. Two years later, on the recommendation of the pioneering bebop drummer Max Roach, he played what he would later recall as his first jazz engagement, with Mr. Rollins. Part of that performance would be immortalized on Mr. Rollins’s “Night at the Village Vanguard,” one of the bedrock live albums in jazz, though the drummer on most of the tracks is Elvin Jones.

During the spring and summer of 1960, Mr. Sims worked in an early iteration of the John Coltrane Quartet. He was similarly a short-lived founding member of Stan Getz’s acclaimed early-’60s quartet. (His replacement in the Coltrane band was Mr. Jones; in the Getz ensemble, it was Roy Haynes.)

Though he brushed up against experimentalism, free jazz held little appeal for Mr. Sims, and jazz-rock even less. This, combined with his growing impatience with sideman work, gradually resulted in dwindling opportunities. He drove a taxi for five years while studying law at New York University, and then became a contract lawyer. (When “Turkish Women at the Bath” was reissued without permission under Mr. Corea’s name, as “Bliss!,” he successfully sued.)

Mr. Sims bristled at the widely held perception that he had abandoned music to become a lawyer. The truth, he said, was that he would have continued to work as a musician if there had been more opportunities to play the kind of music he wanted to play — and that as soon as it became economically feasible to balance his music and law careers, he resumed performing.

He began playing semi-regularly again in 1979, using his real last name and mentoring younger musicians, notably the saxophonist David Liebman. And he doubled down on his stubborn adherence to swing rhythm. The name of his working band was Swingtime; that was also the title of his final album, released on Blue Note in 1997.

Mr. Sims’s marriage to the former Margo Burroughs ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter, a blues singer and drummer, Mr. Sims is survived by his son, Kenneth Harvey, and his brother, Michael Morgan.

New York Times November 29, 2012

Mickey Baker, Guitarist, Is Dead at 87


Mickey Baker, whose prickly, piercing guitar riffs were featured on dozens if not hundreds of recordings and helped propel the evolution of rhythm and blues into rock ’n’ roll, died on Tuesday at his home in Montastruc-la-Conseillère, near Toulouse in southwestern France. He was 87.

The cause was heart and kidney failure, his wife, Marie, said.

Mr. Baker is probably best known for a single song, “Love Is Strange,” a sexy pop tune that he and Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson recorded in 1956 as Mickey & Sylvia. It sold more than a million copies and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s rhythm-and-blues chart and No. 11 on the pop chart.

The recording was featured in the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing,” and the rapper Pitbull sampled it — including Mr. Baker’s signature keening guitar riff, which is said to have influenced a young Jimi Hendrix — in the song “Back in Time,” featured in the 2012 film “Men in Black 3.”

He also had an important career away from the spotlight. In the 1950s, few studio musicians were more in demand than Mr. Baker, who took part in sessions for Atlantic, King, RCA, Savoy, Decca and other labels, often as many as four a day. And few guitarists were more influential.

His well-known recordings included “Money Honey” and “Such a Night” by the Drifters, Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and Big Maybelle’s “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Known for his aggressively bluesy chords and attention-grabbing solos, he is often cited by connoisseurs as a signature force, along with the likes of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, in the development of rock ’n’ roll and an antecedent of Hendrix, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend and many others.

McHouston Baker was born in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 15, 1925. Little can be confirmed about his childhood other than that it was difficult. Both Ms. Baker and one of his former wives, Barbara Castellano, to whom he was married from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s, said in interviews that he believed his father, whom he never met, was a white piano player who was passing through Louisville and that his mother, Lillian, who was black, was just 12 years old when he was born.

His mother was unable to care for him and was subsequently in and out of jail. Young Mickey spent several years in an orphanage, where, his wife said, he ate regularly for the first time and played musical instruments — “the tuba, whatever was available” — but where, after having lived on the street, he felt constrained. He ran away often, riding the rails to St. Louis, to Chicago and several times to New York City, where he finally landed permanently when he was 15.

“He took a bath in the Hudson River,” Ms. Baker said. “I remember him saying he wanted to start there clean, and the train was dirty.”

New York was where he had always wanted to be, Ms. Castellano said. He worked odd jobs there, not all of them legal, before deciding to pursue music.

His first wish was to play the trumpet, but when he visited a the pawnshop to buy one, he didn’t have enough money; a beat-up guitar was all he could afford. A quick study who was largely self-taught, he did take lessons from the guitarist Rector Bailey. “He said, ‘I stole everything I could from him and made my honey from it,’ ” his wife said. In his early 20s he was playing in a jazz band called the Incomparables. By 1950, however, he had realized he couldn’t make a living playing jazz, and he turned to rhythm and blues and began getting studio work.

“Sometimes Mickey would lead the band or the combo that played on the date; other times he would merely be a sideman,” Bob Rolontz, who produced R&B records for RCA, wrote in the liner notes for Mr. Baker’s 1959 album, “The Wildest Guitar.” “But sideman or leader, the musical ideas Mickey constantly contributed to these recording dates accounted for many hit records.”

Mr. Baker supplemented his studio work with teaching, and he wrote a series of instruction books for jazz guitar, recapitulating his own idiosyncratic method, that are available today. In the early 1960s, he moved to France, first to Paris and later to Toulouse, and he rarely returned to the United States.

He studied composition and theory with the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, among other teachers, and experimented on his own, playing and writing in a variety of forms, including classical music; he wrote a series of fugues and inventions for guitar and a concerto, “The Blues Suite,” for guitar and orchestra.

Mr. Baker was married six times. His survivors include his wife, the former Marie France-Drai, a singer he met in the early 1980s with whom he toured Europe in a variety of bands; a son, McHouston Jr.; and a daughter, Bonita Lee.

November 29, 2012

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: On capitalism, Quebec politics and the student movement

Filed under: anti-capitalism,Canada — louisproyect @ 6:28 pm


By Ethan Cox

November 28, 2012

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: On capitalism, Quebec politics and the student movement

rabble.ca sat down recently with Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the former spokesperson for student group CLASSE, and one of the most recognizable leaders of Quebec’s social movements, for a feature interview.

rabble.ca: You were recently found guilty of contempt of court, for expressing the opinion that picket lines were legitimate in a TV interview. That’s a ruling I know you plan to appeal, so can you tell me why you think the ruling was unjust?

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: Well there are a few things. A problem with the first ruling is that the judge interpreted my words as direct advice to break the injunctions. The point my lawyer and I made is that it was a political opinion I expressed, that those injunctions were not a good way to solve the conflict. I said it was a deception, that those injunctions were used to override the democratic decision to go on strike. That’s one of the main things we are going to focus on during the appeal. I cannot say that I didn’t say what I said. Or that it was not what I meant. I said what I said and I meant what I said. It was a political opinion, not a direct order to tell anyone to do anything. So that’s the main point. It’s very important that we do this, because if the ruling stands, it creates a precedent for other social movements.  It will be one of the first times a spokesperson for a social movement could be found guilty for expressing a political opinion. That’s a precedent we don’t want to see created.

What do you think of the PQ government floating the idea of legislating a right to strike for students?

GND: It’s clearly a double-edged sword. The first thing that is important to remember is that the Liberal government created this debate. For decades in Quebec the right for students to have a political strike has always existed. Everyone, including the Liberals, accepted it politically and socially. Mr. Charest himself recognized this right. I think it’s a debate that has been created to delegitimize the student movement by the Liberals. The student movement has shown in the last few years that it is able to take democratic positions on many issues, and is able to make democratic decisions to go on strike.

I don’t see why we have to change the law that’s already quite clear. It gives a monopoly over representation of students to the student associations. It says they are recognized. We are not workers, but students. Our strike is a political strike. I don’t see why we should limit this fundamental right to strike.

There’s been quite an outpouring of support for your appeal through the website appelatous.org, you’re now over $100,000 in donations towards your legal defence fund. So what’s next?

 GND: We are expecting the sentence any day now. We will then go and appeal. It’s going to be a long battle, a two-year battle to go in front of the appeal court. That’s why we’ve asked for the people’s donations and solidarity.

We were totally surprised by the amount of solidarity we’ve seen. We now have enough money to pay back CLASSE for the expenses of the case thus far. We also have enough to go forward with the appeal process. There will also be enough money to support other students who are in front of the courts. For me it’s very important to show that solidarity towards the other students. It’s a very beautiful surprise for us. I think even if the mobilization isn’t currently as concrete in the streets, the people are still very vigilant about what’s going on. We have gained this huge amount of money in only two weeks, which I think is indicative of the fact the movement is not dead at all.

What do you think of the PQ government’s budget and performance so far? 

 GND: I think it’s a deception for the left. We were expecting a lot more. Especially in a context where the Liberals have no leader, and everyone knows there is not going to be an election. I think the PQ had a chance to go forward with progressive measures that they had announced during the electoral campaign, measures that were a first step in the right direction. I think it’s a big deception by the PQ, that they claim they aren’t able to turn things around. The education summit that they have announced is the same type of thing. I think that indexation is the only thing that could come out of that.

I am also preoccupied by the fact that there seems to exist an intention within the Parti Quebecois to continue the privatization of universities that the Liberals started. That’s very disturbing for us. It means we have to be vigilant towards this party. We have to be at this summit, put our positions up front, and be ready to be in the streets if this government does not respect our position.

What do you think the outcome of the PQ education summit will be? Do you think there will be a freeze or indexation? What are your concerns with the commodification and privatization of education? Do you find it hard to communicate this specific problem to students because it’s more abstract than a tuition hike? 

GND: The tuition hike was so massive and abrupt that it was a shock for the students. The mobilization was a lot easier because of that. If the PQ do go for indexation it will be difficult for the student movement to mobilize on that issue and on the issue of commodification of education.

The good news is that we began to talk about these things in the last months of the strike. It’s once again proof that the PQ basically share the same ideological foundation as the Liberal party. I hope it wakes up a lot of Quebecers, and left leaning people who are still supporting the PQ. Those who say the PQ are a little bit better than the Liberals. No, this party is part of the same neo-liberal ideology. We have to break this eternal sharing of power between these two parties.

If bad things come out of the summit, how hard will it be to get students to mobilize again? 

GND: It will be difficult. Students are now dealing with the consequences of their strike. It’s already difficult for them. One thing that’s also going to be difficult is that we are seeing the common front of student organizations dissolve over the issue of commodification of education.

So we aren’t going to see that alliance. We are going to see once again a student movement that is going to be divided. I think it’s for good reason, but it will be hard to mobilize. It will be a huge challenge for the progressive student movement.

There’s lots of speculation about you becoming the co-spokesperson for Quebec Solidaire, are you interested? 

GND: For the moment I have chosen to focus on my studies. I still have a B.A. to finish. I have been very involved in the movement over the last five years. So I feel the need to go back to the books, back to theory. I’m beginning a new degree in Philosophy. I want to focus on that for the moment. I’m still young, I have so many things to do and so many things to learn. It’s not a definitive retreat, only a pause.

I of course will be back in Quebec politics. I’m also writing a book, because I think it’s important to leave something behind and express my own opinions and analysis of the movement. I think it’s important to write about it. It’s a part of history, if we let the mainstream media talk about it, I don’t think they’ll be able to convey the spirit of what the Quebec spring was.

Given the blood on the socialist banner and name in the 20th century, what does a 21st century anti-capitalist movement have to do to be different? 

GND: I think there have been two major problems with the socialist experience: a lack of democracy, and a lack of focus on the environment.

A lot of the alternatives to capitalism that were tried during the 20th century were very authoritarian, and sometimes even more destructive to the environment than neo-liberal economies. I think those are the two main challenges. We have to find a way to do this transition progressively and democratically, and with a focus on the environment.

There seems to be an incredible openness right now in progressive movements in Quebec to working with people in the rest of the country. Why do you think that is? 

GND: It’s sad to say, but I think it’s because of Stephen Harper. By pushing an aggressive neo-liberal agenda on public services and environmental issues, there is a realization of the importance of what is happening in Ottawa. If all the energy we’ve seen in the last months can be redirected towards the Conservatives, it would lend a big hand to the social movements in the rest of Canada.

This new openness is also one of the consequences of the fact that the political debate in Quebec has become a lot more oriented towards left and right issues than the independence issue over the last number of years. But for this to work we need an understanding by the Canadian left of the national issue in Quebec. Come a referendum, other social movements in Canada will have to respect our right to self-determination. That does not mean they have to be in favor of sovereignty, only respect the fact that Quebecers have the right to make their own decisions on their future. If we agree on that I think we have a beautiful opportunity in front of us to build a truly national movement. Historically this was a problem. I hope it’s behind us.

Do you feel there’s a new sense of urgency to go after capitalism? 

GND: I think the ecological crisis is putting huge pressure on our generation. I feel this sense of urgency, and I think many young people do as well. For the first time in history, we have a future for our children that is worse than what we are currently living, in terms of social justice and environmental issues. So I think this sense of urgency is widespread. Now, the challenge is to share this urgency and educate the population. We have to be honest with ourselves. We need systemic change, but have to remember these changes won’t happen in a day. They will happen progressively. We have to begin to democratize and change the structure of our economy. I think that the majority of the population understands that there is something wrong with how things are being done. That there is not enough equality or social rights. Our objective is to take the initiative and say we are the ones who want to change things. This whole idea of “change” is now the slogan of the right wing. The PQ are a good example of that. We need to take back that slogan.

Do you think that building a stronger progressive media capacity is an important part of that popular education? 

GND: Yes. It means having strategies for the mainstream media. Having spokespeople to talk to the mainstream media and population. It means concretely mobilizing in our campuses, our workplaces and our communities.  It also means creating new platforms and new media infrastructures to begin to deliver an alternative message. We can’t only be in the mainstream or alternative media, we need a complementary strategy.

What were your major influences growing up? 

GND: I was raised in a family of activists. My first political mentors were my parents. My father was in the labor movement for years. He was in charge of the environmental issues in one of the major labor unions of Quebec. I was also influenced a lot by activists in Quebec such as Michel Chartrand, Pierre Vadeboncoeur and Pierre Bourgault who were very charismatic activists working with workers and the people to gain rights. They were activists, but also writers and poets.

One of the things that inspired me most in those activists is that they were trying to reach a compromise between the social and national emancipation of Quebec. For me that’s a very big inspiration. I think we have to go back to that influence. Where national emancipation is not only based on a cultural and linguistic level, but also a social level. To present the national independence of Quebec like a political project. That’s what really inspires me in these activists. They were unbelievable speakers and writers, for me they are very big inspirations.

Thanks to Robin Sas for transcription of this interview.

“Emancipation without affranchisement was a partial emancipation unworthy of the name.”

Filed under: Civil War,slavery — louisproyect @ 5:29 pm

Michael Vorenberg, “Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment”:

Black abolitionists were even less likely than their white allies to throw their weight behind the amendment. By early 1864 they had begun to shift their attention away from slavery and toward the fate of the freed people. An anonymous black correspondent captured the spirit of much black abolitionist thought when, in January 1864, he complained about two recent antislavery speeches: “We have had enough of politics and slavery-of the latter we are nearly tired to death. We read it, we sing it, we pray it, we talk it, we speak it, we lecture it, and the whole United States is in arms against it. You come to tell us it is dead. Well, if that is so, I thank God. Don’t bother its carcass. Let us improve the living who have been under slavery. . . . Don’t come anymore riding that old weather beaten horse, anti-slavery.”66

African Americans well understood that a constitutional amendment that emancipated the slaves might do little to prevent economic and legal inequality. For evidence of the potential shortcomings of emancipation, black activists had only to look at free African Americans in the North, most of whom were the victims of disfranchisement and discrimination.67 An anonymous black writer derided those who agitated for emancipation, arguing that freedom for the slaves would do little to change the degraded condition of African Americans in general: “The slave bears the irons of slavery; the other [the free black] has been relieved from them, but, enclosed in the same dark dungeon with the former, they are both prisoners.”68 Nor had the military service of African Americans improved their legal status. In April 1863 Douglass had promised free blacks that “to fight for the Government in this tremendous war is … to fight for nationality and for a place with all other classes of our fellow-citizens.” But by the spring of 1864, black soldiers still did not receive the same pay as white soldiers, and Congress had yet to pass an act assuring the freedom of enslaved wives and children of black recruits.69 Far from making the antislavery amendment their primary political objective, black Americans sought empowerment in forms more immediate and tangible.70

At the very time that Congress was poised to debate the emancipation amendment, African Americans tended to look at three other objectives as more likely to secure permanent freedom and equality. The first of these was equality before the law – not merely equal pay and equal treatment in the military, but equal access to civilian institutions such as courts and public conveyances. “We at the North are contending for and shall not be satisfied until we get equal rights for all,” the prominent attorney John S. Rock told a black artillery regiment in May 1864.71 By 1864 black lobbyists already had persuaded Congress to pass laws allowing African Americans the right to carry the U.S. mail and to serve as witnesses in District of Columbia courts. African Americans now took aim at the all-white streetcars in the district. While black newspapers remained relatively silent on the amendment in the early months of 1864, they gave much publicity to the initiative of Major A. T. Augusta, a black army surgeon who tried to ride in a streetcar but was forcibly removed. Augusta’s efforts spurred Charles Sumner to introduce a bill in the Senate to desegregate the street-cars.72 But Frederick Douglass still feared for the future of African Americans, because he saw “looming up in the legislation at Washington in almost every bill where rights are to be guaranteed and privileges secured, that the word white is carefully inserted.”73 Douglass’s apprehension was justified: most of the black initiatives for civil rights legislation met with success only after the war was over.

Along with civil rights, blacks held dear the goal of economic self-sufficiency. From their experience as free but economically oppressed laborers in the North and South, those African Americans free before the war knew that emancipation did not necessarily lead to unimpeded economic opportunity. The abolition amendment might still leave African Americans as something other than free agents in the labor market. As the veteran abolitionist James McCune Smith predicted, “the word slavery will, of course, be wiped from the statute book, but the ‘ancient relation’ can be just as well maintained by cunningly devised laws.”74 Thus African American reformers focused their efforts less on the antislavery amendment than on measures promising more palpable forms of economic security. The editors of the New Orleans Tribune, for example, suggested the formation of labor courts, modeled on the French counseils de prud’hommes, composed of government-appointed officials and representatives of employers and employees.75 In their plea for courts of arbitration, the editors revealed the great extent to which African Americans, while embracing much of free-labor ideology, rejected that strain of it that envisioned labor and capital working out equitable arrangements organically, without government intervention. Eventually, the movement for an institution regulating relations between freed people and former slave holders was fulfilled – but only partly – by congressional legislation creating the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was proposed in early 1864 but not passed until 1865. By concentrating their efforts on that legislation rather than on the antislavery amendment, African Americans revealed their preference for explicit rights for free labor over a constitutional decree against slavery.

A sophisticated system of labor regulation such as the editors of the New Orleans Tribune envisioned certainly had its appeal to African Americans, but even more popular was the method most commonly asserted by blacks as the truest path to economic self-sufficiency: land owning. “When the plantations of the South shall be parcelled out to the hardy sons of toil who have made them, under the system of slavery, what they are,” exhorted one African American writer, “… war shall cease in our fair land; prejudice shall die by the force of a just moral sentiment; the descendants of Africa shall no longer be despised because God has been pleased to make them black, but . . . they will be received on the broad principles of their manhood.”76 The plea for land for the freed people arose everywhere – from the freeborn editors of the New Orleans Tribune, from the former slaves in the South Carolina Sea Islands working under new, northern planters, and from northern legislators like George Julian and Thaddeus Stevens.77 For many blacks as well as whites, land redistribution was a solution to a problem of class more than race. Reformers of all colors carried on the antebellum tradition of promoting land distribution as the key to what Lydia Maria Child termed the “individualizing of the masses.”78 The absence of any explicit promise of land for the freed people within the antislavery amendment gave black Americans another reason to regard the measure as insufficient.

Of all the reasons African Americans had for concentrating their efforts elsewhere than on the antislavery amendment, the most important was the absence of voting rights within the measure. Whereas the notion of an antislavery amendment captured the attention of northern white editors, jurists, and politicians, the question of black suffrage, even more than the issues of civil rights and land and labor reform, dominated the rhetoric of African Americans.79 “Emancipation without affranchisement,” wrote the black editor Robert Hamilton, was “a partial emancipation unworthy of the name.”80 Frederick Douglass all but ignored the proposed amendment during late 1863 and early 1864 because he believed that only suffrage would provide African Americans with the power necessary to make themselves truly free. As Americans began considering the merits of the proposed antislavery amendment, Douglass advised them to strive “not so much for the abolition of slavery . . . but for the complete, absolute, unqualified enfranchisement of the colored people of the South.”81 The amendment was for Douglass an abstraction, a promise of freedom with no teeth, whereas the right to vote translated into real equality.

The loudest calls for black suffrage came from free black communities in the South, most notably from the African Americans of New Orleans. In February 1864 white voters in Louisiana elected a slate of Unionist candidates pledged to statewide emancipation. The constitutional convention scheduled to meet in April would definitely outlaw slavery, but many of the state’s African Americans demanded as well an extension of voting rights to people of color. Northerners watched and debated among themselves as New Orleans residents took up the issue of voting rights. Leading the movement for an expanded franchise were two prominent free men of color from the Crescent City, Jean-Baptiste Roudanez and Arnold Bertonneau, who toured the North in the spring of 1864 to stir up support for their cause. They came to Washington and presented Lincoln with a petition demanding black suffrage signed by over one thousand African Americans.82 Lincoln was impressed. The day after the meeting, he wrote to the newly elected Louisiana governor Michael Hahn suggesting that intelligent African Americans and black veterans be allowed to vote.83

The struggle for equal suffrage, which yielded little in the way of actual legislation until the last months of the war, revealed the extent to which African Americans initially – and perhaps correctly – mistrusted the anti-slavery amendment. They were not interested in “authoring” the amendment, for the amendment lacked the explicit political rights that they thought necessary to end slavery. White politicians might contend that slavery was abolished once the Constitution said so, but African Americans tended to follow Frederick Douglass’s decree that “slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot.”84

November 28, 2012

Separated at birth–vocally

Filed under: separated at birth? — louisproyect @ 12:20 am

Walter Brennan in “To Have and Have Not”:

Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln”:


November 27, 2012

Frederick Douglass on Lincoln

Filed under: Civil War,slavery — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

From the September 16th 1864 “The Liberator”:

The secessionist newspapers in Great Britain are publishing with exultation a letter recently addressed by Mr. Douglass to an English correspondent, who had assisted to send out a box of clothing for the use of distressed freedmen in the District of Columbia. The following is an extract from that document:

 The more you can say of the swindle by which our Government claims the respect of mankind for abolishing slavery—at the same time that it is practically re-establishing that hateful system in Louisiana, under General Banks—the better. I have not readily consented to the claims set up in the name of anti-slavery for our Government, but I have tried to believe all for the best. My patience and faith are not very strong now. The treatment of our poor black soldiers—the refusal to pay them anything like equal compensation, though it was promised them when they enlisted; the refusal to insist upon the exchange of colored prisoners, and to retaliate upon rebel prisoners when colored prisoners have been slaughtered in cold blood, although the President has repeatedly promised thus to protect the lives of his colored soldiers—have worn my patience quite threadbare. The President has virtually laid down this as the rule of his statesmen: Do evil by choice, right from necessity. You will see that he does not sign the bill adopted by Congress, restricting the organization of State Governments only to those States where there is a loyal majority. His plan is to organize such Governments wherever there is one-tenth of the people loyal!—an entire contradiction of the constitutional idea of Republican Government. I see no purpose on the part of Lincoln and his friends to extend the elective franchise to the colored people of the South, but the contrary. This is extremely dishonorable. No rebuke of it can be too stinging from your side of the water. The negro is deemed good enough to fight for the Government, but not good enough to vote or enjoy the right to vote in the Government. We invest with the elective franchise those who with bloody blades and bloody hands have sought the life of the nation, but sternly refuse to invest those who have done what they could to save the nation’s life. This discrimination becomes more dishonorable when the circumstances are duly considered. Our Government asks the negro to espouse its cause; it asks him toturn against his master, and thus fire his master’s hate against him. Well, when it has attained peace, what does it propose? Why this, to hand the negro back to the political power of his master, without a single element of strength to shield himself from the vindictive spirit sure to be roused against the whole colored race.”


He did not have much use for the Democrats either. From an 1864 speech to an abolitionist convention in Syracuse:

“From this party we must look only for fierce, malignant, and unmitigated hostility. Our continued oppression and degradation is the law of its life, and its sure passport to power. In the ranks of the Democratic party, all the worst elements of American society fraternize; and we need not expect a single voice from that quarter for justice, mercy, or even decency.”

November 26, 2012

A conversation with Yevgeniy Fiks, a Post-Soviet Conceptual Artist

Filed under: art,ussr — louisproyect @ 8:29 pm

November 25, 2012

An open letter to a NYT Magazine hack

Filed under: journalism — louisproyect @ 4:18 pm

Andrew Goldman

Dear Mr. Andrew Goldman,

First of all, let me congratulate you on being reinstated as a NY Times Magazine contributor after being suspended for tweeting a remark about Tippi Hendren sleeping her way into a job acting in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Birds”. Since we know what stiff competition it is in becoming a hack for the Gray Lady, I can only wonder who you slept with to crawl your way to the top of journalism. But whoever you decide to fuck with, my guess is that it was your hatchet job on Oliver Stone’s Showtime series on American history in the 20th century that greased your way back in to the paper’s good graces. It is not only well-written but deeply schooled in the art of deviation and misdirection so enshrined there.

While most NY Times readers will not have a clue how your hands were helping to tip the scales of justice to one side against Stone, I do.

You deploy two experts on American history to rebut Stone, one from the “right”, the other from the “left”. While Ronald Radosh’s credentials as a rightist are well-established through his advocacy for Francisco Franco, it is rather mischievous to invoke Sean Wilentz as some kind of leftist given his hatchet job on Howard Zinn, another historian who dared to present a “revisionist” take on American history.

As I pointed out in https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/howard-zinns-detractors/, Sean Wilentz took the opportunity of Zinn’s passing in 2010 to piss on his grave in the L.A. Times, saying “What he did was take all of the guys in white hats and put them in black hats, and vice versa.” You knew what you were doing when you passed Wilentz off as a “leftist” and I knew what you were doing as well.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

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