Beauty is Pain: Reflections on a Former Lover’s Suicide

Not so long ago I learned though a former lover, Krystal Layton, committed suicide. While fifteen years has passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted far apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by the news. Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.

Shade Going Through the Field of Time

*

The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.

We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”

We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.

I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the  stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.

Silk, from personal notebook #3 2001

In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.

Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.

We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant early 20s)  – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.

At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.

Portrait 2012

Several weeks before her and I got started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t her body move in the way her brain wanted to and thus couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected – she’d just seen that man that had literally stolen her virginity.

I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.

Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took too cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. A flood of what she was struggling with eternally came out and she ended it all with – and you’re the first person that I shared this all with. I felt pride that she trusted me so much, and also at a loss of how to take the fact that she just shared she was in a near constant state of fear.

Over the course of our relationship the bad dreams would lose their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to.  Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive in your mind you must make sacrifices. She had a point, though I didn’t like that formulation in this instance. The lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt about going out both me my heart go out and my head go huh?! I’d never been in such a situation before and started to resent our relationship increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling the rape trauma. Fifteen years down the road I feel ashamed at how I behaved in this and other ways, and could only explain it as a product of youth. I know how much she wanted to be rid of the cloud over her head and being optimistic, stayed. She was, after all trying to change herself so that she was less reactive .

“I’d Love To Break Your Heart”

She illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. She was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, and to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and aggressive, you get what you wanted and then after a while you don’t want it anymore. I was 19. Like I said, I didn’t know how to appropriately react to all this. Especially as the two things that seemed to me that could “fix” all this – either me acting as an agent of justice myself or informing the blue-linnen’d authorities as to what happened – was off the table. She said the same thing that the women that have shared their rape accounts with me have said – the humiliating work that’ll go into making justice happen repels them from action. The drugs, though they shut up some the darker angels of her nature, didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues.

“Discarded Broken Dreams”

Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses. Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.

My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how.

Self-Portrait 2008

I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. We socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently for years thereafter. After I got engaged, she even wrote me a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.

“Faithful Only She”

Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me. Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been sexually assaulted then she would likely still be alive.

“Creatures”

And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident that with effort could become less prevalent that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit, but as a base for action.

Those of you that read this that her prints of her work, I’d ask that you send me  high-rendition scans of them. Presuming I get permission from her parents, I’d like to curate a collection of her work and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. And you know, if you can, donate a little something to themanyways. I know this won’t stop such horrors as what she experienced from happening again, but hopefully it can help to initiate some cultural change.

#Metoo

Self-Portrait 2011

 

Racial Controversy in Advertising and How To Avoid The Need For Apologies

 

I was waiting for another “advertisement campaign gone wrong” news story to happen to contrast the way in which the messages in traditional magazine style graphic ads differ with what can be done with content marketing and sure enough Dove does me the favor of running an ad that many are calling racist and is now facing a boycott of their product.

In this article I’m not going to judge the intentions of the people involved in this Facebook-based advertising campaign, but I will defend their intentions by stating I believe the screen grabs below that spread like wildfire across Twitter misconstrue the nature of the ad – which isn’t nearly as direct in implications as this.

Instead, I’m going to show why it is that people claim it is racist; touch upon some of the ways in which a marketing messaging can be engaging and controversial but not offensive; and finally present a brief content marketing proposal that Dove could have instead done which would provide more value for their current and would be customers.

Racism in American Skin Care Marketing

   

Controversial marketing can be very effective, but if not done properly it can also lead to undesired press. Because of this it is important to always keep in mind the perspectives of the people being depicted or implicated in advertising.

One need not agree completely with all the views of prominent African American cultural commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates as to the power of whiteness to recognize that in the United States whiteness has been lauded as an definitive quality for culturally dominant standards of beauty and truth; legitimate political power and authority; etc. Additionally, one need not agree completely with Malcolm X to recognize that the media has a huge impact in how communities perceive themselves.

In this sense we can come to understand that the brouhaha is less about the manifest content – a skin cream that whitens – but the latent content, or social context, in which it is promoted.

To put it another way the issue at stake, pardon the pun, is not black and white but is specifically about what many people see as a culture that continuing to reinforce a social and economic order that denigrates and exploits black people. Because of this, these these types of advertisements are seen as ideologically supporting such a structure and why Proctor & Gamble’s ad is so celebrated for being the opposite.

Cultural Sensitivity in Polarized Times and What Stays With Consumers

   

Skin whitening creams aren’t the only type of product and services whose communications run the risk of being labelled racist and alienating customers.

Surf pulled a number of ads like the one above, which is especially ironic given criticism over roles and awards given to black actors in Hollywood films. In the wake of controversy over the defending hate groups prior to demonstrations in Charlotesville and their subsequent Twitter post shown above, the ACLU has changed their position on defending all groups right to free speech and apologized for their posting. State Farm’s Twitter account briefly became

What these and the Dove ads miss is cultural sensitivity that would allow them to see how how black people and their allies could feel that such marketing messaging contributes to a culture that denigrates blackness.

While not speaking on race but sexual preference, Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A’s reflection on the comments he’d made regarding gay marriage summaries provides a good insight in what companies should consider when approaching their messaging:

“Consumers want to do business with brands that they can interface with, that they can relate with. And it’s probably very wise from our standpoint to make sure that we present our brand in a compelling way that the consumer can relate to.”

If a consumer feels that a company is attacking them in their advertisement, intentional or not, it puts th consumer relationships at risk.

Great Content Marketing That Deals With Controversial Content

The problem with addressing or depicting controversy in advertisements is not necessarily that it gets attention, but what further message is then transmitted from it. Though many people purchase products such as bleaching creams or Surf detergent in order to get their skin or clothes whiter, the underlying message of “Darkness is undesirable” leads to wasted ad buys and time spent on handling criticisms. It’s for this reason that content marketing is particularly effective.

This is one of the reasons why Zillow and NerdWallet’s Content Marketing is doing such an amazing job. Not only are they both producing functional tools for people to used, but they are also coming out with reports like: Rising Rents, Stagnant Wages, And the Burden of Unstable Housing and Seeking Medical Debt Relief? Crowdfunding Rarely Pays Off the Bills.

Hiding Controversy in Plain Sight

   

Chances are as you read what my good examples of controversial choices for marketing content was you may have thought the following contentions:

  • These don’t deal with race.
  • These aren’t controversial.
  • I’m comparing apples and oranges.

Regarding the first point you are absolutely right. I will, however, provide an example of what good content marketing that deals with race looks like below so I hope you’ll overlook this. As for them not being controversial let me explain how they are.

Your friends, if they’re good friends, will certainly give sympathy for expressing anxiety and frustration over your income and how your daily struggles wouldn’t feel so burdensome if you just earned just a few percentage points in your salary and some level of support. Your employer, who holds the power in making such a determination, is less likely to be as welcoming to such expressions and less likely to offer support – though this is changing.

The future of health care in America is so highly contested by a variety of actors that have stakes in saving and losing money that protests and coordinated movements to sway legislators have erupted all over the country. Regardless of one’s view of what is to be done, information is power and this goes to show that private philanthropy is not doing nearly enough to prevent people from death or life-changing debt.

As for the third contention, that’s a partial truth as they are different in format but as they are at their root marketing messages such a distinction is spurious and only gives heft to the claim of many advertising professionals today that content marketing is king. Unlike the visual-only ads, these content marketing projects do not veil the conditions of American political economy but make unveiling it their purpose. The value-proposition of Zillow and NerdWallet’s content marketing is educational rather than mere single grahpic attention grab whose only message is: “This lotion will whiten your skin”.

What Could Dove Have Done to Raise Brand Awareness Instead of Publishing An Ad the Replicates Racist Tropes?

Like many other people,  I Feaking Love Science. Like many publishers, I also love survey based projects. Not wanting to go into too much details, it was with this in mind that I thought of some alternatives that Dove could have developed instead of the racially insensitive ads.

Were Dove to take a content marketing approach instead of the traditional single graphic ad for their campaign they would have had their marketing team produce content that educates about skin and race via an aesthetically engaging depiction and explanation of the science of skin color.

Were Dove to take a content marketing approach they could have presented the findings of a survey asking about perceptions of whiteness that combined analysis of their results with that of previous studies in an engaging manner. There a lot of them on race in relation to aspects of American society and such a study that examines original research (Legal, psychological, etc.) along with the number produced, their findings and analysis of other qualities over time would contribute to the national conversation instead of being seen as just more evidence for one position or another.

Controversial Content, But Without The Baggage

One of the reasons content marketing is such an amazing field is that the value it creates is not as ephemeral, being more than a mere image, but also as it can be continuously updated, and parts of it can be repurposed. Like solely visual advertisements it seeks to gain a consumer’s attention, but because of the format it is able to do so without the baggage and and in a more organic manner.

If you want to assure that your company’s time is not wasted by apologizing for an insensitive advertisement and are interested in learning more how controversial content can help your marketing, reach out to me, Ariel Sheen, and ask about how I can help build up on-site material or how I can build you a content marketing campaign.

Not only do I have a track record of successful content marketing campaigns, but my extensive studies in America’s history and culture means you won’t end up with lots of press about how you inadvertently promoted racially insensitivity.

The Struggle for Catalonian Independence and Art

82 years after the Asturias Revolt, and 78 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War Republican unrest is now mobilized enough again that politicians in Catalonia believe that independence from Madrid is a possibility. Spain has always had a special place in my heart and thus I’ve been closely following the events in Catalonia regarding their movement for independence. As a populist movement not only does it’s development lend itself to new forms of art, which I will briefly talk about below, but it also allowed President Maduro of Venezuela to troll Prime Minister Rajoy with the phrase, “Who’s the Dictator Now?” after Rajoy was critical Maduro’s response to U.S. backed attempts to destabilize the country and to bolster indigenous people’s attempts to create their own national governments, like in Kurdish Iraq. Massive Social Mobilization Across Catalonia These photos show the millions of participants in the protests that were part of the huelga general (general strike) called for by all the Catalan trade unions. According to the Catalan government the general strike was the largest economic paralyzation in the history of Catalonia. Reports I’ve read state how one of the many chants that  reverberated in dozens of cities across Catalonia, was “The streets will always be ours!” The reason for this stems from the fact that people were upset with Spanish state repression and police violence against the #CatalanReferendum, in which 90% of the voters voted for independence from Spain. Their claim that the streets belong to them reflects the fact that police from outside the region had to be brought in to control it.

Workers Against the State While the police were celebrated by small crowds in other regions for the oppression they would bring to their neighbors, Catalonian farmers blocked the ports to prevent more police officers from coming in, to prevent police vehicles from coming in and to otherwise hamper the movement of those that were already brought off shore to “reign in” the movement. The Huelga General, or General Strike, called by the Catalan unions is supposed to be the largest in history and has paralyzed commerce throughout the region.

The State Against Workers and Democracy 

“The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” – Leon Trotsky

Not all social services workers were willing to fight for the status quo, here we see firefighters that are attempting to keep the police from preventing people from going to polling stations. Other powerful photos of what’s going on there depict ballot boxes connected by chains to large concrete blocks to prevent police from confiscating them. Reports from all outlets depict greater  90% of those that voted wanted independence.

Is History Repeating Itself?

Let’s clean them out! – 2017 Comrade Lenin is Cleaning the World of Scum – 1917

100 Years on from the Russian Revolution and it is still inspiring people around the world trying to get free from oppression and exploitation. While reading some Spanish language news media, I came across the above poster on the right and was tinkled pink (or is tinkled red more appropriate here?) as it is a variation of the famous Lenin poster that I placed on the right. While the forces driving Catalonian independence are nationalist and not anti-capitalist – the region’s history as a Libertarian Communist/Radical Republican stronghold during the Civil War are well documented.

Or is History Adapting to the Conditions of the Present?

While I found myself resonating with the Escombrem Los! image and the illustration above to the left as it combines a famous photo by Robert Capa called Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936  with a depiction of the current suppression – this is one of the examples where historically powerfully iconography is repackaged in a way that’s not really appropriate. The anti-monarchic sentiment may be the same and there is similar dissatisfaction with the government on it’s spending choices – it’s not an international revolutionary movement.

The Future is Unwritten, But Has Certain Limits Brexit, massive youth unemployment and brain drain to Germany, growing nationalist movements – the hopes for a united European Union is starting to unravel. Just like the Catalonian independence movement is not likely to become a clarion even for those disaffected with the neoliberal world order nor is it that Catalonia will again be a testing ground for new weapons. And yet these historical images are still being used by those on the ground now as a reference for understanding the present.

While this is to be expected, it’s worth recalling Karl Marx’s famous quote on the subject: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”

A More Appropriate Art of Protest

While there are certainly groups within the Catalan nationalist movement that wish to make the referendum for nationhood similarly a vote for socialism, this is a vocal but small group.

Because of this, I believe, a more appropriate aesthetic is less that which pulls from a revolutionary tradition and more one that sees it as solely a transfer of powers. It’s a lot less sexy, but a lot more accurate. It’s also a lot more dangerous, as continuing the state in this regard will not necessarily ameliorate the anxieties expressed in such social mobilization and opens up the way for new ones.

The Return of Fascistic Unity

Embed from Getty Images

Regardless of one’s position on Catalan independence, it’s worth noting the strong similarities with those against it and those that wish to make the United State a white ethno-state. It’s said that a picture says a thousands words, so notice the swastika tattoos on this anti-independence Catalan demonstrator at a National Unity rally in the centre of Barcelona during Catalonia National Day on September 1.

The struggles in the street over symbols, history and power will continue so long as profound dissatisfaction with the distribution of political and economic power continues. However, reliance upon old verities such as nationhood or race that once made people feel secure will not provide a genuine out for such problems. I hope that the electoral aspirations of the Catalonians are achieved, but also feel that should independence happen the hopes that they have will soon be lost given what will be their diminished power in the current world order.

Review of The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual

My mom gets me #bookstagram #black and #Latin #history #books #christmas

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I’ve been meaning to review The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse for quite some time. With it’s depth and breath of evidence and a forceful analysis it’s no surprise that following it’s publication it was a cultural touchstone amongst the cultural and political elites of the early 1970s. Truth is, whenever I’ve sat in front of an open Word document with the intent to respond to it’s arguments and evidence, I start to feel a bit overwhelmed. This despite the fact that I’ve had some pretty extended conversations on this book.

Thankfully, one of the Facebook groups whose posts I follow, the Society for United States Intellectual History, recently curated a Roundtable on the Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. Rather than provide you with my thoughts on the matter, I decided I’d share these instead:

Along with two other insightful PDFs:

Review of The Para-State: An Ethnography of Colombia’s Death Squads

The Para-State: An Ethnography of Colombia’s Death Squads by Alvo Civico is an engaging and at times haunting account of the armed conflict between various groups that has shaped Colombia’s political economy over the past forty years. The books anthropologically oriented methodology combines first person interviews with cocaine kingpins, leaders of para-military forces as well as the regulars, victims of paramilitary violence, as well as supporters of the paramilitary along with a historical account that contextualizes the events described in the interviewees stories. Through these accounts, Colombia’s rural interior comes to be seen as a space where actors project their desires for wealth and personally engage or organize horrific behavior in order to obtain it.

While it appears late in Para-State’s chapters, despo-capitalism is the term that Civio uses to describes the socio-economic dynamics of Colombia. It is a “threshold where the repressive forces of the despot combine with the liberating forces of capitalism” (140). His theoretical model for understanding the dynamics of despo-capitalism is decidedly Marxian with deference to Deleuze and a dash of Zizek. He states repeatedly, in fact, that the role of the AUC is what is described as a War Machine in the book A Thousand Plateaus. To bolster this positions, he includes a brief comparative political account based on interviews with an Italian prosecutor that illustrates the similarity of development of the Sicilian Mafia to the Colombian para-militaries.

Paisas Son Un Gente Muy Amable y Acogedoras

 If you consume enough of the marketing content that encourages travel and investment in Colombia or various polls, you’ll soon notice that one of the recurring themes is of how wonderful and welcoming the people are here. While as of writing this I’ve only spent time in Antioquia, this combined with the many others I met from this region while living in South Florida makes me feel that this is a general truism. The irony, of course, is the happiness that they feel despite there being a longest standing civil war throughout any Latin American country.

The reason for the Civil War is long, and stems in part to the violence between Liberal and Conservative Parties before that. Each operated with tenuous. After a number of periods of sectarian killings, including La Violencia, the political elite united around the Frente Nacional (1959), which is incredibly similar to Venezuela’s Pact of Punto Fijo (1958). This specifically lead to the establishment of the FARC and would later open up the conditions for the death squads the books describes. Unable to get enough civilian support in regions rich with fecund land and extractable primary goods, the para-militaries became a means for the elite to establish control.

Limpiezas were right wing paramilitary that went throughout the rural and urban areas and liquidated those that they considered FARC sympathizers (real and imagined) as well as desechables, gamines, and those in combos. There were a large number of such groups, such as the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba (ACCU), that came to be united in name but not always in orientation under the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Regional groups were funded by either the upper classes with financial interests in a region or workers being under their total control or cocaine producers and distributors.

Death By BananasDespite what the above meme suggests, getting murdered because you don’t want to pick bananas for the wages offered is not something relegated to the not so distant past. In the period when the bi-lateral trade agreement between Colombia and the United States was being debated by the Legislative branches of government, the American trade unions pointed to the wave of over 450 assassinations of civil rights leaders, trade unionists and community leaders that was then going on. Chiquita Banana, may still face trial for its support of the AUC after the State Department deemed it a terrorist group.

The informant network created by the AUC deemed all such people as “collaborators to the FARC’s cause,” even if there was no such material support evidence. The mere belief that workers had a right to collectively bargain was considered cause for getting kidnapped, shot, dismembered by chainsaw and the remains left somewhere in the forest for animals to consume.

In regions with fecund soil that inhabitants had adopted a subsistence model of reproduction, market relations were either forced on them by paracos or they were dispossessed. In regions where wage-labor for agricultural production was pre-existent but drives for higher wages occurred, paracos enforced at gunpoint the continuation of work. In a word, the feudalistic model for enforcing labor participation for capitalist production was the norm.

The information network of the AUC would later identify and assassinate over 450 unionists, community rights leaders, and other “sympathizers” or collaborators to the FARC’s cause. If this seems high, well, the number of civilians the AUC killed is drastically higher. When a valley needed to be cleared of occupiers so that a foreign national company could grow bananas, for instance, or a gold lode was discovered that initial seismic wave readings indicated could be worth billions – paracos would declare that town a pueblo guerillero for resisting such displacement. After they’d encircle it with hundreds of heavily armed people, they’d raid a number of people specifically identified as trouble and then publicly execute them and put their bodies on display in an area with high pedestrian and automobile traffic.

The Direction of Colombia’s Economic Development is the Heart of its Civil Conflict


These capital and labor intensive industries along with cocaine production and trafficking are at the heart of the Colombian political economy. The latter more so as cocaine itself is a totem that organizes the distribution of bodies, practices, objects, symbols and words. The class divide determine by one’s placement in the such a system of capital circulation is both implicit by social norms but also by the legal system which designates people according to a legal class (estrata). Those that are lower class are not given much, if any, assistance by the state – hence the antagonism to it, as those on the lower end see the benefits given to those at the top – and thus can best earn through trafficking or muscle. An additional element driving the conflict has to do with US investment in the region.

Cocaine and the Development of Medellin

The Para-State’s account of cocaine’s role in the geographical and demographic development of Medellin describes evolving dangers from sundry violent actors working in unison and against each other. With vast amounts of capital coming into the country through sales via Miami and other points, the traffickers soon became the largest land holders in the country. Not all wanting to live in highly guarded fincas outside of the city center, they invested in different neighborhoods in Medellin.

As a result of the the aforementioned dispossessions and high level of unemployment, combos formed in these area. The effects that these two converging factors in one region is described on page 158 by Civico as follows:

“Medellin has long been crossed by these invisible but powerful boundaries, and transgression could trigger a death sentence from a rival armed group. These lives have shifted constantly, and residents have learned which streets to travel on, which ones to avoid, and which boundaries to cross. Walking on the wrong side of a street can get you killed. In several of the city’s barrios, survival has been a matter of such cartographic knowledge.

Having spent a few weeks now in Medellin, it’s worth noting that even now, 20-30 years after the period described the dynamic remain the same – with the higher areas along the mountains being more “dangerous” while the center is safer. That this is a dynamic caused by wealth inequality from the hegemonic economic capitalist enterprises is clearly shown to be the case.

De-armament, Reintegration and Politicization of the Struggle

Even before the recent FARC demobilization, those once in the AUC were in the process of demobilizing. As Civico describes it, however, this is not an easy process. The job prospects for those once involved pay significantly lower, making them ripe for recruitment by narcos, their history of violence makes them apt to end up in jail or dead over minor disputes and others that aware of their crimes – be they family members of those they killed or rival groups – sometimes take justice in their own hands. One of the interviewees that Civico writes about, in fact, is taken by a group that he was on bad terms with and is never seen again.

The politicization of the armed struggle is certainly a step in the right direction for a united Colombia, however as this book shows there is a lot of bloody history that will continue to make such a transition difficult. While it’s not clear if this will work, Civico is clear that if the massive modernization projects which dislocates thousands continue, if the assassination of leftists continues, if the state continues to fail in its ability to speak for all but the elite, that this project will fail.

Vocabulary

Desechables – Literally means “disposable people”. This meant people that were drug addicts, petty thieves, homosexuals, domestic abusers and could sometime include people that had long hair.

Intreccio –the inter-twinement of the state and the parastate. First used to describe the relationship between the Italian Mafia and state

Traquetos – the people engaged in cocaine trafficking who make a show of their wealth with thick gold chains around their necks, expansive cars and stunning young women

Pajeria – literally means “squad”. People who enacted organized political violence

Vacuna – protection money

Farras – parties to get drunk

Urbano – a paramilitary working in an urban area

Bonification – a bonus according to the number of people you killed

Paracos – paramilitaries

Bara – The dynamic wherein a commander likes your performance and gives you frequent opportunities and recommends you

Limpieza – social cleansing accomplished through spectacular violence

Raspachin – coca gatherer

Pueblo guerillero – a town associated with guerillas

Gamine – street kids

Vallenato – romantic Colombian music from the coastal region with lyrical content similar to African griots

Pillos – a Medellin specific term for gang-members and junkies

Culebras – literally poisonous snakes. A term for one’s enemies.

Combos – street corner gangs

Review of Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow

Gerald Horne’s book Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow is an incredible account primarily on the relationships between the two countries mentioned in the title along with Cuba’s former colonial master, Spain. Horne’s account is not, however, a mere institutional history but one that illustrates that key role which enslaved and emancipated African Americans had in structuring attitudes and actions of the colonial Cuban government, the slaveholding Republic to its North and the center of Empire across the ocean to the East.

A large concern of the United States was that of a “black military republic” in Cuba that was sponsored by Britain. Secretary of State Daniel Webster was deeply concerned that London would “offer independence to the creoles, on condition that they unite with the colored government” in this Negro Republic “under British protection… and that “A Venezuelan general residing in Jamaica was to “take the command of an invading army,” which was to be “seconded” by an insurrection of the slaves and free men of color,” and thus with “600,000 black in Cuba and 800,000 in her West India Islands London will then strike a death blow at the existence of slavery in the United States (73).

The Long History of Interaction Amongst Cubans and American Negroes

Due to its prime ports and location, networks of trade and information were created between a large number of the States in Havana. Louisian, Mississipi and Texas were the primary buyers, however while slave markets closed in the United States due to abolition, they flourished in Cuba. Shipping now primarily to Texas, which was still a territory, Cuba experienced a boom in trade.

While all this was going on, in the halls of the Congress the Southern legislature hooted and hollered for annexation. Reading the speeches, yellow news article clippings, letters, diaries all depict a primal lust to aim, shoot and pull Cuba under the yoke of American capital and American style property management and enforcement. After all, American investment had dramatically increased as many of the Americans reinvested capital that was previously in the south to Cuba.

Cubans Considered by White Racists to be Lesser Humans

The Cubans, and for that matter also the Spaniards, were considered by the Americans to be less than white. In the racialist literature of the day, subscribed to by any politician of importance, the occupation of the Spanish by the Moors made them “not fully white”. Quoting Horne:

“U.S. nationals tended to think that Spaniard were “not quite white,” given the lengthy occupation of the Iberian peninsula by Arabs and Africans and, inter alia, this disqualified them from holding the prize that was Cuba.”(25).

The Spaniards subsequent intermarriage with the Negresses brought from the Ivory Coast increased the rationale for their being inferior.

A large number of expeditions – filibusters – went in in order to claim property and spoils. Former soldiers accustomed to the horrors of the Civil War re-enacted their old jobs. Like Hell on Wheels, but if when Bohannon first rolls up he just re-enslaves the black crew with the help of the white present – who he says now gets paid double. Richard Gott, perhaps no surprise, writes a wonderfully journalistic description of something akin to this in his history of Cuba. U.S. privateers were able to do this primarily as it occurred during a period of intensive rebellion in Cuba. Slaves, Freeman, and Mulattos united against the Spanish colonial administration. Over 160,000 people were killed in the ten years uprising. The atrocious and widespread slaughter literally split the country in two as domestic rebels acted as an insurgent and constituent force alongside the shores America. As can be imagined, what shape the constituent force to take was of prime significance to American politicians, which represented the interests that investors had made into Cuban railroads, sugar mills, land and labor.

Unlike what was said in the halls of power, the writings of Cuban newspapers were often written in part to target American Negroes and contained a message that didn’t sanctify property rights but one of community control. The content of these messages was often presented in a manner that would encourage readers towards a pan-African identity. By carrying tales of lynching and profiles of people such as Frederick Douglass as well as more daring stories such as that of “The Mutinous Sixth” – a deployment of African American Soldiers that were preparing to invade Cuba in Georgia that suffered casualties by American racists for refusing to submit to Jim Crow segregation. In 1886, the year slavery was effectively banned, the first cigar factory was built in Tampa, accompanied by the arrival of about a million workers from Cuba and other lands touched by Spain.” (159). Yet while slavery maybe have been made illegal in the United States, this did not prevent those that had profited from it from finding places where they were able to return to their high ROI practices. This put the US in the perilous position of, basically, fighting to impose a racial order on an island that was considered “colored”.

White Nationalists Afraid of a United Soviets of America

Horne’s book doesn’t go into the much detail as to the Soviet influence on either Castro’s or the Communists in Cuba – itself split along Trotskyist, longstanding anarchist, and nationalist lines. However he does point out how vastly inflated as a cause for fear this was by the members of the United States’ Havana Bureau. Whether this was because it gave informants cause to receive bribes from the U.S. government’s “liason and administration offices,” people that among others Cuban patriots would later call “vendepatriots,” is uncertain. What is clear from the record is that “Cubanidad” and distaste for Jim Crow style white supremacy was an organizing ideology against White Supremacy. Citizens of Cuba and the U.S. paid each other homage to the struggles going on there in a coordinated series of marches, demonstrations and exchanges between committed cadres of organizers.

Domestic sympathies towards the Cuban Communist party by America Negroes drove home the fear that Soviets would spread across the southern tip of the country and radical property struggles would again take place. This fear flamed by the KKK and others wasn’t entirely without cause, as the people involved in this cultural and intellectual exchange would soon have an outsized role within the civil rights movement in the United States.

Cubanidad as an Ideological Enemy to White Nationalism

Horne tells the story of Havana’s holding lucrative “black vs. white” boxing matches, a practice then forbidden in the United States. Havana allowed Paul Robeson to sing to “mixed race”, “mixed couple” crowds that were drunk on Bacardi family products. These, however, are shown to be showcase moments by the new economic and political leadership.

The reaction to the Jim Crowism that the US brought to the region was swift. It was so repugnant to the people that a domestic response force soon composed itself to eject such a social order. Most of the J26 movement – which I write about more on here – were also composed of Black Cuban nationalists. After black political organizations were banned, “the Communists came to play an increasingly conspicuous role on both sides of the strais, with those on the island going to far as broaching “the idea of an autonomous state in Oriente” (239). Domestic unrest lead to U.S. and Cuban elites embracing military rule via Batista, however his darkness made some in America suspect and uneasy. While first embraced by American blacks, subsequent secret police actions against poor, “colored”, Cubans that had mobilized against American investment and the enforcement of Jim Crow rules when Black American businessmen were visiting for conventions made him soon lose his lustre. Private party delegations between the countries increased to study each other’s answer to the “racial question” and increasingly the Cuban people – both the poor the suffered the most as well as the elite which more often dealt with resentment over American influence – came to view the US as prohibiting the social structures most appropriate to a post-colonial export economy. When Castro finally did come to power, one of the reasons he was so welcome by African-American was precisely because his policies were against such racialized oppression.

Review of The Spook Who Sat by the Door

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I first heard of The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee in the source note of an academic journal article by George Ciccariello-Maher called Brechtian Hip Hop. The note provided a plot overview and stated that this text, about a black spy trained by the U.S. comes to recruit a number of gang members in Chicago to begin and spread a domestic insurgency, was formerly mandatory reading for CIA operatives in the 1970s. Given the zeitgeist, a few years after The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder had published The Kerner Report, which delineated concerns over rioting and Communism, such a work being produced seems apropos. On first learning of such a narrative, which is a variant of Happy’s story in my book Unraveling, I was somewhat bummed – yet also pleased to be able to learn from such a narrative. A few clicks later it was being delivered to me. A few more and I learned that the book was also made into a movie, which after reading the book and having watched it is, for the most part, felicitous to the original.

Dan Freeman is the “spook” of the book –  a play on the words meaning black person and spy. We learn through conversations midway through the book that he was in a Chicago street gang, the Cobras, as a young man and that while in college he was an advocate for a variant of Black Nationalism. He sits by the door as following an opportunistic senator’s push to integrate the C.I.A., he is the only one that is able to pass the rigorous testing regimen and is put into a position of great visibility so that visiting Congressmen and Senators can see the token black person hired for a non-sanitation or food preparation related job.

During the several years Freeman works for the C.I.A., he is described as having a dual life. One where he is a “good negro” that does all work beyond expectations at his job in Washington D.C. and the other a “hipster negro” that only exists once he slips in tail in New York. This is themes of masks and the social construction of identity is one of the main themes of the book. Freeman is always “putting people on” in order to meet the expectations that white people have so as to obtain social or political acceptance.

Dan leaves Washington D.C. in order to take a job as a social worker. Counterbalancing his behavior in this role as an “Uncle Tom,” one wholly deferential to the existent structure of white supremacist, liberal power, he also begins to organizing the Cobra’s into a militant, revolutionary organization. The comments that come out of Greenlee’s liberal characters at the dinner parties and community outreach foundation meetings Freeman attends and the divide between what he thinks and says are quite amusing. Freeman states how he feels more comfortable than the whites as they are actually less racist than the black middle class – which he sees as constantly struggling to be “more white” in their values, attitudes and behaviors than white people.

This disdain for the black bourgeoisie/middle class is another recurring theme of the book. Freeman’s psychological criticisms are akin to those voiced by Harold Cruse, as well as a number of other non-integrationist traditions. According to Freeman’s worldview, the “social worker” is less a means of helping empower communities and more a means of helping vent frustration over the conditions of the political economy away from rioting and toward more passive, less private-property damaging outlets.

In Freeman’s initial planning stages for domestic insurgency he is reluctant to try to recruit any members of the the black middle class to his cause. Following the beginning of the widespread civil disorders, they are described as one of the most outspoken groups delegitimizing the violence due to the fact that they are losing their “token” jobs over it.

Dan Freeman’s struggle to convert his childhood friend Dawson to his cause, who he sees as a potential asset due to his color and high rank in the police department, shows the irreconcilability of their two positions. While Dan sees freedom as the ejection of white political power and economic control from black communities, Dawson accommodates to it and has no trouble playing the jailor.

The novel as a whole, thankfully, never gets caught up in long, didactic passages as a number of ideologically motivated texts are often want to do. The Cobras transition from street hoodlums to disciplined cadre members leading five man teams to attack and harass the armed guard lacks any sort of crypto-catechism in conversational form, a la Ayn Rand, and the interpersonal struggles of Dan Freeman keeps him from being a one-dimensional character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Call me a Millennial!: A Critique of The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss

For almost a week several outlets in my news feed had headlines highlighting “Steve Bannon’s book” for understanding the current American moment. Described as a seminal text in Bannon’s political philosophy and the foundation for his 2010 documentary, I was curious. I dug a little further and found out that one of the authors, Neil Howe, had been the person who coined the term Millennial. I’ve long heard and used the term Millennial and viewed it as a description of the generation of people born in the early eighties to the mid- nineties. Reading The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny made me realize how wrong I was about this and has brought me to the view that the widespread adoption of the term is highly problematic. So problematic, in fact, that I’m going to make a conscious effort not to use the word and attempt to raise awareness as to why it should not be be used.

When Glenn Beck Takes Something Seriously, That’s A Good Indication You Shouldn’t

Perhaps the quickest way to show how intellectually bankrupt the term is is to look at the level of excitement  Glenn Beck has when talking about The Fourth Turning. After viewing this clip, to me it seems that Beck does not just view their work as history, but as Revealed Truth!

Beck has multiple episodes devoted to detailing Howe and Strauss’ work that details as to the significance of the saecula – the average span of a human life – the archetypal cycles within them and the psycho-social impact of their interactions. I’ve not seen these videos, but I imagine it is a further delineation of the philosophy of history which opens the book.

The Historians Wear No Clothes

H&S begin with an intellectual history that highlights numerous people that have declaimed history to be generational and circular. Citing and updating Classical Greek ideas and terms, we soon learn that the four archetypes of American History – which all have their another iteration in other national borders – are Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist.

These archetypes emerge from periods of crisis, such as war or revolution, that changes the spirit of the people due to their experience. While the collective action problem inherent in the upheavals of massive social transformation is certain to impact people’s consciousness, the historic component of the dynamic which H&S describe is piecemeal, Metaphysical and Idealistic.

History Matters 

H&S, like many others, locate the origin of “linear history” in The Enlightenment, and associate it with modernity and the State. They continue to say that despite the works of a number of eminent thinkers having created the most “cogent body of generations writing ever,” (tellingly all non-Jacobins) that this mode of thought fell out of favor while the more directional form of historical consciousness became hegemonic (63).

They import this into their account of American history, which is quite unusual, but more so due to the the method that the bring to bear on their account.

Quite simply, in Howe and Strauss’ account of America, there are very few actual people accounted for. Though masses are named and given qualities, for the most part there is little attempt to connect the qualities of the Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist into the historic conditions of the saeculum they are describing. For the most part all that we’re treated to is analysis based on movies or well-known personages that “somehow define the ages”. What’s missing is any sort of genuine political economy.

No Race, No Class, No Immigration in Howe and Strauss’ America

In H&S’s account of American history, slavery’s inheritance on the personality of the body politic writ large is marginal. Other racial and ethnic tensions have also not played a significant role in the development of the American Identity. Instead, from Slavery through Reconstruction through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Era, the same four archetypes are in conflict over the direction of the political order – and yet racial conflict is largely glossed over.

Based on this “prophetic account of history” you would also never suspect  that over 59 million people have immigrated to the United States since 1965 alone from places very different from those that first settled. Since Howe and Strauss’ opening intellectual salvo is to connect the First Turning to the end of the Glorious Revolution, it’s worth noting that many millions of other immigrants have arrived from non-Anglo countries, an unmentioned fact in H&S account.

Social struggles for women’s rights, unions and the various repressions at home and oppressions abroad justified by the “Cold War” are other dynamics that apparently play a negligible role in the development of American Identity.

Why this is so is never clearly stated, instead we are presented with conflicts stemming solely from generational conflict. That they would not entertain other theories about the cycles of conflict is surprising given that a number of other historians and political economists support the basic notion of cycles in history…

Only Weak Thinkers Avoid Attacking Their Convictions

The idea of cyclical waves existing in human history is not solely the domain of those historians such as Ortega Y Gasset. Given that much of the first writings of man are economic in nature, receipts and double entry book-keeping, it should perhaps come as no surprise that it’s in this domain – political economy – that a similar trend has been noticed.

Commodity prices like the ones above, for instance, have been shown via the work of Nikolai Kondratiev and others to follow a secular, recurring cycle of peaks, recessions and crashes. Given that American’s live within a capitalist mode of social relations to produce their means of subsistence, these “economic” indicators have huge anthropological and political effects, hence why it is so surprising that labor and economic exchange is barely mentioned in this account of America’s past. The structural constraints imposed on the working class have actual corporeality, eight hours daily in economic relations limited by varying degrees of political agency – unlike Howe and Strauss’s idealist account. New technologies and new relations of political power cause massive social disorder and economic dislocation, however these don’t play a factor in the creation of “generational identities” such as Millennials, Baby Boomers, etc.

Contending Schools of Thought: Materialism vs. Idealism 

That the authors of The Fourth Turning don’t quote any of these “cyclical” schools that have recognized cycles of life within societies that have political economies informed by capitalist property relations is perhaps unsurprisingly, for reasons that should already becoming clear.

This is because for Howe and Strauss, the current generations of Baby Boomers, The Silent Generation, Generation X, Millennial are trans-historic substantive categories that subsumes all America’s class, racial, sexual, sexual preference, and many other differences. According to their use of the term, those born within certain date border inherently, all have the same experience.

When Are You Getting To The Part about Millennials?

With all of this in mind it becomes easier to understand how problematic Howe and Strauss’s term Millennials and why their “prophecy” should be seen as bullshit and those that cite them as inspiration should be resisted.

For one, it literally emerges from the entire web of bullshit that I described above.

Secondly that prognostication isn’t so good. And by this I don’t mean Howe’s Book Millennial’s Rising: The Next Great Generation, about which one Amazon reviewer wrote the following: “The book was written BEFORE any of the predictions advanced could have happened and MISSED many of the things. I thought it was a real up-date and it was not.”

According to The Fourth Turning, Millennials are on track from which there is no escape to be a generation that sacrifices under the auspices for austerity. The way that we prepare is not as a class of people recognizing and acting upon their material interests, but to revert to tribalism. Return to classic virtues, expect for the collapse of public support mechanisms. Look to your family for support. Etc.

More than just focusing on increasing one’s self-reliance and forgetting about the “others”, “millennials” as a class ought to approach the crisis period by just  “going with it” and “prepare ourselves for it” – a message with some really weird echoes across history. Considering that most of the issues that “millennials” face all stem from historical capitalist relations, this is a big point to miss.

Wait, So Millennials Is A Crypto-Facist Term?! 

Indeed it is.

“The Fourth Turning” is a prophecy that a mythic, inner- conflictless country during a time of some outside conflict, generalized economic depression, massive natural catastrophe, or some other “panic” inducing behavior that prods changes in the normal acceptance of the status quo.

That said – I appreciated their prose. And found their brief remarks against Fukuyama to be insightful. Despite being risible epistemological sophistry, it was compelling! Furthermore, as someone that has training in the theory behind and therapeutic practice of Hellinger Constellations I found their writings on the inter-general interaction to be genuinely insightful and aligned with my own training in that field. Yet in the end the book is a rallying call for American Facism Lite™. The parts of American that it silences in its Prophecy is indeed the very foundation of Americanness. And it’s only through realizing this, that such cycles become less something that individuals must personally buttress themselves against or and instead something that we account for and address as a species-level.

Review of Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History

One section of Master’s Thesis research included legal analysis with politically chilling effects upon anti-lynching and leftist movements in The United States of America from Harper’s Ferry to the late 1960’s. The way in which the law laid force upon the bodies that broke with expected behavior and the means by which police facilitated “corrective” behavior for these violations differs drastically. And dialectically. To suppress suppress either labor, racial and leftist political struggles is to repress the three progressive aspects of society that have been driving emancipatory ideas and practiced encased in institutions. Because of this, of course I read Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History by Rebecca N. Hill.

Hill’s history has a pleasantly journalistic feel to it. The main characters are of course detailed – the defendant – whomever she’s describing in that section – and the plaintiff – the State in the place that they were arrested – are both described and all their relationships therein. Who were those involved with the crime, what brought them to where they were right before they just were arrested, arraigned, transported, processed, jailed, for days, jailed, for months, jailed, for years, then brought to court, etc.etc.

It combines this description of their time and those around them with legal exegesis of the components of the case. This combined with local socio-political factors involved in such cases, such as the manner in which popular movements sought to impress their influence upon the courts, had a number of legal implications on social movements involved with race, class and/or labor struggles. While Sacco and Vanzetti are name dropped in the highly underrated, very funny movie War On Everyone with Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Pena. Anyway…

 

The book is organized around several dramatic cases, starting with John Brown’s trial. From this heavily police involved form of repressive behavior the the narrative goes to where the law played a less involved roll. Lynching throughout the south in the United States was a true horror that kills thousands of African Americans. Police slowed their roll on the road towards justice and would often falsify or forge documentary information, not intervene while militant bigots exercised their force upon them and, well, all around oppressed them.

Racial, Labor and Leftist social justice warriors – a term that ought be associated with esteem – sought to impress their demands that the state more justly apply it’s purported universalism, an inherently conservative position. The other says the state is unjust and wants to replace it along democratic, centralist lines rather than plutocratic ones – the preconditions for the most active ire. Labor wants the state to join its side in demanding more benefits but are not connected to the Leftists either because of lack of class conscious or lack of practical use value in linkage, a serious consideration to make considering the effect that associating with Reds could have on your work life.

While John Brown clearly engaged in the behavior he was charged with, the obverse is true of the Haymarket Martyrs. Their case spawned a holiday celebrated nearly everywhere in the world except the USA – May Day. If you’re not familiar with the case, you should look it up. What I found interesting as though Hill does not spend much time on the material evidence, of which there is none, and instead writes about the majority-immigrant leftist responses. Of course every people has a culture, but that of Chicago – the Second City, was unlike many others due to the habitus brought over from the German revolutionaries. Gymnastic, parading, militant Anarchist culture practiced by Germans and a number of other stocks from across the shore shocked the sensibilities of the local bourgeoisie.

After an incident that was, essentially, the pretext for the public execution of the Opposition Leadership Anarchist newspapers fought not just to save members but leaders. Newspapers which shared workers stories about their conditions, pay, bosses and other things now started to include writing from those inside. Rather than becoming devotional, religious character associated with sublimity their writings subverted the abolitionist martyrs sharing stories and expressions of romantic, sexual love. Anarchist newspapers published the love letters of the Chicago anarchists and their wives and girlfriends, another practice that was taken up by most socialist defense campaigns.

Hill’s history ends with the equally tragic tale of the Black Panther’s Party. With an emphasis on the Party’s organized defense apparatus raised to support George Jackson, Hill shows a man imprisoned due to political caprice rather than justice. Like The Haymarket Martyrs and Sacco and Vanzetti, his writings behind bars and public adoration of Assata were used as gristle to further help people find sympathy in their story. Having recently read their published letters and accounts – I get it!

All these and more arrests and trials forms responses with historically dependent forms of action. Organizations along class and/or racial/ethnic alliances were highly limited by place, history and the interests and powers of the state and local elite. In some cases the popular struggles were able to save the subject of their organization. Other’s no.

Hill’s history shows radicals creating interconnected networks of protest and resistance activity as well as volunteering time and donating money for massive fundraising undertakings that spanned the globe. Success in obtaining government guaranteed rights often depended on how loud and disruptive supporters could be to the normal functioning of government.

Mixed in is to this journalistic, documentary history are comments pulling together some of the themes evident in today’s world:

“Once admired as the heritage of manly individual freedom, Puritanism in the 1920s became associated with the Ku Klux Klan, along with fundamentalism, racism, capitalism, and prohibition.”

The heritage of many organizations racism persist in various ways. And yet to point this out is to become a public persona non grata. Example K:

Example on the opposite side? Trump the tee-totaller and Sacrosanct “States Rights” Sessions just did a 180 on over over a decade of federal drug enforcement policy.

These broader points build and intersperse Rebecca Hill’s account. Along with the legal proceedings, are a few interesting asides as well – such as The Red and the Black being George Jackson’s favorite novel.

Her conclusion does not lay out a platform upon which a group might be able to exercise their collective social power in order to achieve this, nor should she have to. The conditions by which that they would need to be changed would always depend upon the locals activities. What she does, however, is provide a powerful ethical imperative:

“The capacity to imagine a different world might begin with the ability to refuse to accept the characterizations of people who were willing to recklessly go against the rules of the society in which they live as wicked, misguided, wrong, foolish, or criminal. It is much harder to see the face of the “handsome sailor” on an imperfect human than it is to accept the underlying message of the modern-day nation-state that the only real heroes are the cops and soldiers who protect “us” from the rest of the world”

Review of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

 

Based on a number of recommendations and awareness of his political bent, for quite some time I’ve been intending to read the science fiction writings of China Midvale. I’d yet, however, to get around to doing so when I saw that Verso Press was holding a contest to promote his new book  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. I submitted an entry and sure enough was one of the lucky winners of a free signed copy of this work of non-fiction.

Excepting events in America, the buildup to and aftermath of the Russian Revolution is probably my most read about world historical event. I’ve read books solely on the subject written by those that were present, such as John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World or Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution as well as essays by Emma Goldman and Victor Serge and, of course, Lenin’s Essential Works. I’ve read a few left and right wing histories published after the 1990s as well. I share this to establish if not a specialization of knowledge on the issue, than at least an above average familiarity with the events one would expect on such a subject. Anyway, to the book…

As a whole October is a very different creature from most of the texts that I mentioned above. This, however, is not necessarily bad. Trotsky’s writing on this period is simply magisterial and Reed’s journalistic descriptions of the sundry meetings unrest are at times nail-biting. These men had clear agendas that were intimately tied to the events that they were describing. Mieville, it seems to me, is writing this as a means of popularizing knowledge about the events in Russia and trying to do so at a distance. Because of this, as well as what I believe is a desire to avoid getting caught up in the debates of that time through extended focus on particular persons/issues it lacks some of the same passion. And yet no matter what side of the political spectrum one is on, I feel that this could be appealing to even those that aren’t Reds. I expected some sort of propagandistic asides peppered throughout the book prior to reading it, but none were there.

I could see myself assigning this book for a history class as not only does he do such an even handed job, but also as there is a glossary of terms in the back that would assist those not versed with the terms of the revolution. After a very brief historical context, Mieville begins the Story of the Russian Revolution in February, following the first revolution. It closes eight months later, in October.

Instead of highlighting an identified-with hero (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin,etc.), Mieville focuses on the sufferings of the soldiers being ground up by the Kaiser’s troops, the unrest of the peasants, the plight of the industrial workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the incompetence of the Kerensky government, the rifts between the socialist parties and within the armed services. In this Mieville does a great job and consistently uses the words of those he’s writing about. As a means for creating tension, however, this is not a great technique. Since the only real character development is that of the people of the city that once paid little heed to the Bolsheviks to then viewing them as representative of their political will – I found this somewhat disappointing as well. Not that the anecdotes aren’t fascinating or the style of writing isn’t good, however my familiarity with it all made me hope for something that this wasn’t. As such I’d say that this was more for those that were unfamiliar with the topic.