A permutation of the research project I’d designed for myself in hopes of getting a year-long grant to study at the University of Havana, A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory by Steve Cushion focuses on the factions within the trade union movements and their relationship to the Batista regime. Its publication came at a perfect time, as I learned of its existence shortly after the new criteria for the IB History Period and Theme focuses were released.
Cushion’s primary research documents were the union, official and underground newspapers, student and radical journals and letters of participants that could lead to arrest, assault and increasingly in murder by beating. Given the need to keep documentation of participation in these subterannean movements against the current government, there are gaps in ability to give full accounts in all regions of Cuba from this alone. In order to make up for this dearth of material he also includes the recorded speeches and published positions of the union leadership as well as government documents stemming from police documentation of the lives of those ran for office and were kept out by corruption, but no matter as they later found de facto rather than official leadership positions in factions of other ideologically oriented groups. It is the groups within these unions would come to create make connections with MR-26 and facilitate the martial overthrow of the Batista Regime through concerted community support.
Cuba’s political and economic turmoil stemmed from advances in processes of transportation, production and financial pressures wrought by secular, cyclical capitalist crisis. During this period of an employer offensive against wages, workers rights and and the work done there was a general rebellion against the conditions proffered as the new status quo. The Batista regime became an adjudicator of industrial struggles and so consistently sided with the “non-Cuban” international investors that the came to be correctly seen as the enforcer for the needs of American capital. That such a belief was held by workers, students, radicals, farmers and revolutionaries alike should be seen as no surprise given that Cuba was the primary producer of sugar on the global market by weight by far and by 1958 U.S. capital owned 42% of the production capacity of the sugar industry. As large as that sounds this says nothing else of their other investments in railroads, docks, public transportation busses manufactured from Detroit, banks, clothes, medicine, etc.
Cushion’s analysis of regional leadership pockets of the M-R- 26 showed how they were at times at odds with the political aspirations of their erstwhile supporters. A number of the subterranean leaders of organizing activity in the coastal shipping regions were Trotskyists and Communists. The fighting force of MR-26 was a distinctively nationalistic based organization. Cushion documents the change in their published positions from making populist style appeals for land redistribution and other programs to generalities that merely state that devastating effects that advances in capitalist production and transportation of raw materials had on the population must be addressed and that the current government had no legitimacy and should be ousted.
While other nationalist groups published broadsides against the government that similarly documented abuses, they differed in that they also combined jeremiad’s with political platforms to raise awareness of what members in the organization were seeking to accomplish by overthrowing the government. It’s in this, and not in the military fighting, that working class socialists played a large role – helping to get enough people to resist the brutality of a government that would force strikers to work at gunpoint and would beat to death students and organizers for their activity.
It’s because of all their work, documented here by industry, region and organizations with operational strength, that the great strike which paralyzed the entire island of Cuba came into fruition. It’s as a result of their alliance building, political development, organizational structures that the barbudos were so easily able to come in a conquer a much larger, better equipped army. It’s because of them that the romantic ideal of the revolutionaries have been so fawned upon in revolutionary circles – for if they’d have to spend multiple months fighting over key city control points than they’d seem dirtier on a moral level rather than just a jungle living level.
Here are the two courses tracks that I could be taking:
CSE 6040 – Computing for Data Analytics
ISYE 6501 – Introduction to Analytics Modeling
MGT 8803 – Introduction to Business for Analytics
CSE 6242 – Data and Visual Analytics
MGT 6203 – Data Analytics in Business
ISYE 7406 – Data Mining and Statistical Learning
ISYE 6413 – Design of Experiments
ISYE 6669 – Deterministic Optimization
ISYE 6644 – Simulation
ISYE 6650 – Probabilistic Models
** or **
CSE 6040 – Computing for Data Analytics
ISYE 6501 – Introduction to Analytics Modeling
MGT 8803 – Introduction to Business for Analytics
CSE 6242 – Data and Visual Analytics
MGT 6203 – Data Analytics in Business
CS 7641 or CSE/ISYE 6740 – Machine Learning/Computational Data Analytics
ISYE 6413 – Design of Experiments
ISYE 6669 – Deterministic Optimization
CS 6400 – Database Systems Concepts and Design
CS 7450 – Information Visualization
Niina: Okay, so there is this weird place in Brooklyn called Dead Horse Bay, which is down in South Brooklyn kind of near the Verrazano Bridge. The reason for its name was that it used to be surrounded by glue factories, where the carriage horses would go get processed.
Ariel: Oh, wow.
Niina: Yeah, it is kinda grim. Especially after the automobile took over New York City, the carriage horse thing was no longer lucrative, so they made it a dump. Even better, right? And, so, it went from a glue factory to a dump. But then they were like, oh crap, we shouldn’t have a dump this close to the city. So they capped it and sealed it, and then the cap at some point later burst. So, now when you go to Dead Horse Bay, you find horse bone shards and fifties-era garbage, like weird bottles and shoes and things. And so it’s a very weird experience to go there. Like, you can actually take the bus and disembark and go through some hedges and then you’re on the beach filled with garbage. It smells weird, like chemicals. At low tide you find horseshoe crab corpses and it feels very much like, not a part of New York City. While, definitely very much being a part of New York City.
Ariel: Still goth and somewhat obsessed with death after all these years! [laughter] I love it!
Niina: Yeah, I know. I almost like to talk about it, because once I find a place that talks to me, I kind of think of it as mine. You know?
Niina: But of course, thousands of people go there all the time. It’s not a beautiful beach, but if you’re into the decay of cities, it’s a really cool place to visit. And so, and then there’s of course, like the idea of beating a dead horse and how much that kind of sounds like it’s about the body. As you know there’s a lot about the body in the collection, so that title seemed fitting. Plus my editor pointed out that I use a lot of single-syllable, elemental words, and the title is just like that. You know, the thing down to its essence, basically.
Ariel: So, Carl Phillips has said that poetry is more of a transformation of experience, rather than a transcription of it. What do you think about that?
Niina: I think all good literature is a transformation of experience. Poetry can perhaps be more obviously that because people expect poetry to take certain cognitive leaps. It’s not as specifically straightforward as an art form. As the sort of the weird cousin of prose, it doesn’t always make sense. So, in that way it allows you to be very transformative. You can hop from one thing to another, subject matter-wise, a lot faster and with greater ease that you could in prose. With prose you’re almost forced to explain your thought process and connections more. I think readers of poetry allow themselves to make connections more intuitively. In poetry, readers don’t necessarily expect you to do that, so that’s the great part.
At the same time, though, I’ve gotten a lot of comments about being very clear and straightforward in my own poetics, in terms of like what I write. People are always coming up to me and saying “Oh I’m not usually a poetry person, but…” and then they go on to say that they enjoyed it, or got something out of it, or bought my book. I think that is really cool too. But although I try to keep my language clear and essential, I still expect my readers to get weird with me.
Ariel: Speaking of clarity, I wanted to ask you how important accessibility of meaning is to poetry? Put another way, should one have to work hard to solve a poem?
Niina: Of course it’s wonderful if a poem talks to a lot of people. And when I edit, I really want things to be clear. But a poem takes its own life once it’s out in the world. It gathers its own momentum and it doesn’t always do what you meant for it to do. I think if your poem’s meaning is accessible to people, that’s amazing. But if you’re trying to intentionally obscure or hide your meaning, or make yourself seem smarter by being needlessly complicated, I think that’s where poetry really gets a bad rep. I can’t stand overly academic writing, period. That goes for poetry and prose and everything in between. I just think that you should know what you’re saying. Have enough control over your language to guide the reader, but leave some room for them to be surprised.
Ariel: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t stand obtuse poetry. When I took poetry workshops with Susan Mitchell at FAU she had us read a lot of language poets, because that’s what she was into and I just couldn’t stand it. And then there’s what’s published in, say, the New Yorker, which for me is sometimes hit, mostly miss.
Niina: Yeah, language poetry is not necessarily for me either. I need to have something tangible in the world. I need to be grounded in reality, at least part of the way. Even when some of your content is impossible or implausible or surreal, there needs to be something that keeps you oriented or grounded within the framework of the poem. In that book, for me, the tangible thing was often a sense of place.
Ariel: Oh, yeah, I agree and I think Dead Horse does exactly that. I even said in my review there was only one part that I found myself, like unsure of, and the rest I was like, yeah I get this. This is, this is comprehensible and that was great.
Niina: When you’re reading something and you understand the location or the premise or you understand something fundamental about it, it allows you to get at the subtleties of it and that that allows the complicated stuff to sneak up on you. Then you’re not flailing to understand the mechanics of it.
Ariel: Yeah, once you get the, have the general focus, you can start looking at the little pieces and maybe like, play around with them.
Niina: Oh yeah. So, I found myself listening to Born To Die and thinking a lot about it and not quite being able to grasp why I liked it so much. Some of the lyrics are kind of basic and it’s not that’s it’s musically that complicated. The album wasn’t even that well produced in some parts. But something about the persona that she adopted – the absolute certainty with which she talks about her devotion to the darkness of love, made it rattle around in my brain. And so, I slowly wrote the poems while listening to particular songs, like on repeat, until I got some lines down. There is something about her that I can’t get over, but that project helped me a lot with my obsession around that album. It helped me put the album away a little bit.
Ariel: I know how you feel. She’s easily one of my most listened to artists in the past five years. When I saw her play live a few months ago I didn’t even care about the lackluster stage show just because I was so caught up in the lyrics music. Anyway. Shift of topic. I know you attend a lot of poetry readings and even host your own, Popsickle. I’m curious how has the Internet informed and contributed to the well-being of poetry in your mind?
Niina: Quite a lot. It makes sense to poets. I think poetry benefits from the immediacy of Internet because it reduces the turnaround time on publishing in journals, or in any form of print really, and I feel that poetry works best when it’s reactive to the zeitgeist. When there’s a faster cycle between writing and publishing it, it’s good for the medium. It’s also easier to reach more people than a print subscription to a journal would. Not that print is not valuable, of course it is, but it’s just like more, it’s got a wider reach and more tentacles, you know.
Ariel: Cool. What books in print are you reading right now?
Niina: Right now I’m reading Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, and Green Girl by Kate Zambreno.
Niina: Actually that sounds extremely interesting. I’m working on a little bit of prose which takes place in Florida. So I was just reading about Everglades draining, which is another smart idea Florida had.
Ariel: Yeah, Florida’s land developers haven’t always been bright, but they’ve always known how to sell the idea of a potential that on closer observation is detrimental to everything that made it in the first place. I took a Florida History class at FAU and the professor had said about how it’s this underserved niche in the field.
Niina: I think Florida’s a really interesting state because of it’s heterogeneity in population and it’s proximity to different areas of the Americas and of the world. And because, it’s the place sketchy people go to disappear for many reasons.
Niina: There’s also its various environmental issues. There’s just so much to say about it, and it should be taken seriously, but like, Florida’s sort of the crazy bitch of America, right? Everyone’s like, “Oh Florida, there it goes again!”
Ariel: “Florida man does something unusual and awful again.”
Niina: Exactly. I wanted to start a Twitter account for like heroic Florida Man stories that were like “Good job Florida man!”, or something. That stuff happens too it just doesn’t get as much circulation.
Ariel: Yeah. We’re not all dying from eating too many roaches.
Ariel: Haha! And of course that happens in my hometown of Jupiter, way to go Florida Man!
Niina: I know! That made me laugh so much when I read it.
Ariel: Yeah, all my friends were sharing that too. Almost as a counterweight to that kind of notion I’ve been reading a lot of works by Florida authors lately. I just finished a collection of short stories by Jennine Capó Crucet about like Cuban life in Hialeah. Then there’s Paul Kwiatkowski, who wrote Every Day Was Overcast. Weird coincidence, but after I interviewed him a couple of months ago, I’ve since found out that I have three mutual friends with him.
Niina: That’s awesome. Karen Russell and Kent Russell both write about Florida too. And Sarah Gerard is publishing a collection of essays about Florida next year with Harper Perennial.
Ariel: Karen Russell wrote Swamplandia!, right? My eleventh grade students are reading that in their English class right now.
Niina: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love her. Her short story collection is really good.
Ariel: Yeah I want to read Swamplandia! too, but, like, I need to stop buying books for a little bit and finish reading all of what I have, so I don’t.
So now that we’re talking about all these books, I wonder how did your MFA influence your creative process?
Niina: If I could go back in time I would do a lot more research about MFA programs. The program I attended maybe wasn’t the one for me, because it was super narrative, and about as literal as poetry can be. But, the main way it influenced me was getting me to New York and, so you know, hooking me up with an initial community of people who were my first readers and all that stuff. And I still stay in touch with like a couple of the people and they’re critical in my process. So, that part, that part mostly, community I guess.
Ariel: I read this article in Jezebel that touches on some of the subject we’ve been talking about – the internet, reactivity and poetry communities – and was wondering if there was any overlaps with your experience.
Niina: I attended one of the schools where this particular “inappropriate literary man” taught, and although my personal experiences were different than the ones this article touches upon, I felt that the program’s atmosphere was very male somehow. Maybe it has to do with some old-school notion of the MFA program, but in retrospect it’s especially confusing to me at that school because the program was mostly non-men. That was ten years ago; it does feel like there’s a change in the air now. Voices that might have stayed silent even as recently as then aren’t staying silent anymore, and that’s a good thing.
Make sure to read my review of Dead Horse and then buy it of course! You can follow Niina’s website by going here. Also, as a special Halloween treat, dear reader, feast your eyes on this collaborative poem that Niina and I wrote when babies for duo-poetry performance: I present to you Degothalizer 2000!
The regime we live under today is the same that only illegalized chattel slavery and it’s attendant horrors out of military need, and even then reluctantly. As such we should be very wary of their calls for the need to intervene in other nation’s scenes in order to “preserve freedom”. More often then not this is just a pretext for domestic repression and imperial oppression for some forms of political and financial advantage.
The Long History of White Resistance to Black Freedom
While a sophomore in college I’d read, of my own volition, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and was incredibly impressed with his intransigence will towards combatting cultural white supremacy and political/economic Jim Crowism. There were poetic qualities not only in the language recorded by Alex Haley and also in the courage Malcolm displayed in his decision to readjust his perspective from personal amelioration of systemic injustice through petty crime to Human Rights leader. I decided to read Malcolm X Speaks as it’s highly praised in George Jackson and Huey P. Newton’s autobiographies as an ur-text in their political development.
The speeches, letters and interviews contained in this collection all were made during the last eight months of his life. They follow his break with the Nation of Islam, his adoption of “True Islam” and the founding of his own organization, the Organization of African-American Unity. This group diverged radically from the Nation of Islam, was considered extremely dangerous by the FBI – which is no surprise as following his trip to Mecca and Africa, a continent heady from the number of anti-colonial nationalist revolutions which had recently transpired, Malcolm X transition from Black Nationalist to an Internationalist. In these speeches you can see the hopes that Malcolm had for the OAAU and how the Black Panther Party was in many ways an attempt to incarnate the political perspective described in these collected thoughts.
The historical materialist analysis contained within as well as the program to obtain it have deep overlaps with Marxist-Leninist modes of thought. This is not that surprising since Communists and Socialists have traditionally been the allies of those fighting for black liberation from white oppression, and also explains why he was frequently invited to speak at Socialist Clubs, was published in the Socialist press and why, following his death, the Socialist Workers Party’s Pathfinders press has published several book by and about Malcolm X.
Malcolm’s analysis recognized that there were direct connections between oppression of blacks in Mississippi and Alabama with imperialist military action by the United States in Africa. He makes a compelling case that Black people in America were analogous to native people in a colonial setting and went so far as to encourage the development of domestic insurgency to obtain political equity with whites in a manner akin to the Mau Mau’s should they meet resistance in obtaining it equally. Malcolm is incredibly dismissive of liberals and Democrats, pointing out how the Southern Wing of the Democratic Party, pilloried in public by their northern counterparts, were the privately acquiescent to their racism as it meant their maintenance of political power. Malcolm shows how a number of politicians are two-faced and manage to perpetuate a racist, imperialist agenda all while projecting the image of the White Savior. LBJ and JFK are singled out for excessive vitriol for their pseudo-progressivism.
As one can tell from reading the speeches and letters contained within Malcolm’s political rhetoric also shifted from Civil to Human rights. In this period. The stated purpose for this was so that more people would be willing to back proceedings against the United States in the UN International Court of Justice for Systemic Violation of Human Rights. While it’s debatable how effective this would be given that even today the politicians in the Federal Government are entirely dismissive of this body’s policy prescriptions, images and analogies he uses to explain this perspective are so incredibly powerful that it’s likely were he to have lived he’d have been able to create an organization that the U.S. Government would have to recognize and dialogue with.
Lastly, I want to point out that in here there is some amazing cultural analysis that is very much aligned with the tenor of the Frankfurt school but is done, IMHO, in a much more effective way due to the lack of obtuse language. Highly recommend this book to everyone!
While co-workers or workers in the same field will often talk about the conditions of their employment, most of the time “shop talk” gets shut down as a topic of conversation. Understandably so, as at least from my experience it’s primary functional is a form of catharsis rather than attempt to reach a solution to recurrent, everyday problems. Unions used to prove an avenue and forum for workplace issues, however as you can see from the below chart, many of those who first grew up in the 80s haven’t had such a practical-democratic experience.
This directly relates to the crisis of legitimacy in political institutions that has been becoming more exacerbated as wealth inequality has reached dramatic proportions. If we value the preservation of the conditions which allow for the flourishing of genuinely democratic institutions, this much change and collective decision making must increase.
All that said, since a number of people are now posting on social media their first seven jobs, I wanted to do the same – but in such a way so that people will understand why I support unions/workplace democracy. I think the anecdotes herein will show that though management often views themselves as superior to “regular employees,” they are often not and thus the pay and power dynamic gap which exists is largely unjustified. Speaking of power dynamics at play, please notice how I’ve excluded my work experience in my current field education. What that means is up to you to figure out. That said, on to the first seven jobs!
(1) Regal Movie Theaters
My first “real” job, even though the pay wasn’t great I received a few cash bonuses as I always enthusiastically recited the upsell prompts we were supposed to say and mystery shoppers validated that I did this. That was nice, but working concessions in general was awful. The manager verbally degraded me for weeks after I’d unwittingly hit on his girlfriend at the ticket counter as I wasn’t yet in on the open secret. He’d frequently mess with my schedule. Sometimes, right after clocking in for a shift, he would told me to go home “because they were overstaffed”. I’ve worked in enough service jobs since to know that this is sometimes the case, however I was the only one that this ever happened to and he’d also consistently assign me to hours that were illegal under Florida law as I was 16.
Even at 30 hours a week, while being in 10th grade full time, the pay barely covered the cost of gas and insurance for my car. Employees frequently stole from the tills. One day I came in and learned that several cashiers and an assistant manager had been fired for this The girlfriend, of course, became the new assistant manager. Three months after I left, this manager was arrested for embezzling $40,000 from the operations.
(2) Taco Bell
I was awarded employee of the month three of the four months I worked here. I found out that one of the other drive-thru employees I sometimes worked with had a side job of selling marijuana while on the clock. The store manager had let the night manager know that this was OK as none of the other people who had worked there before Larry (not his real name) had done a job half as good as him nor stayed more than a month. Larry, who was so charismatic I admit I looked up to him a little, even managed to keep his job after he got caught being in collusion with one of the line cooks for occasionally not ringing up orders but making it anyway and pocketing the money after the split.
When I asked what was going to happen – she said that she was going to keep a better eye on him and then admitted that her job was primarily to keep the place running smoothly, and that meant little issues like those above, as long as corporate didn’t found out, was fine with her. She said after a preamble stressing her age and life experience, that she wasn’t paid enough to worry that much about these little things.
Four hours into my third day working, I informed the manager that I was going to clock out and take my break. He said that he was fine with my clocking out, but after I did so I was to work the next thirty-minute break mandated by Florida Law because they had to get the newest shipment out onto the floor. I said I wouldn’t do that. He said that if that was my attitude, then I should leave. I did.
The cents-above-minimum wage pay meant again that morale was low and internal theft was high. One of the managers set the standards of the business operations by openly stealing CDs. He’d put them in the trash in the back office and recover them from the dumpster after closing. After I learned of this I explained to him that Napster made this unnecessary, but his motivation for the theft stemmed from resentment towards the company rather than need for the music.
About three months into my job a new store manager was brought in from another location. I didn’t realize this until a week after he left four months later, but he had initiated sexual relationships with two of the female workers there – 10 and 15 years his junior – by promising them raises and threatening to fire them if they said anything to anyone. He mistakenly mistexed, which lead confused new assistant manager to discover the situation and report it to HR in a fit of rage. The aforementioned manager was not fired, but moved to yet another store. I never investigated of something similar had transpired before or after, but the impression I received was that this company didn’t mind his sexual predation on subordinates as long as he was kept the books clearly updated and the procedures were properly followed.
(5) Hollywood Video
Before Netflix the people of Jupiter, Florida that wanted to get a movie to watch would usually be forced to encounter one of the creepiest and weirdest dudes I’ve ever met to date. He looked like Jeff Albertson from The Simpsons, had a taste for extremely graphic horror films like Face of Death and would make lecherous comments to the young girls that came in alone or in small groups. He would leave me alone in the store sometimes, saying he had to do paperwork in the back. I’d called out to him a few times while we were having an unusual for a Thursday rush but got no response. I went to the back and through the crack in the office area could see that he was pleasuring himself to paused security camera video of a girl that had come in maybe fifteen minutes earlier wearing a bikini top and daisy dukes. I said nothing, finished my shift, and then called in sick the next day. I called the HR department number in the paperwork I’d been given my first day and after told them what happened. After much awkwardness, they said there was nothing they could do about it as there was no real hard evidence or anyone to corroborate my story. I’m sympathetic to this line of reasoning, but it still didn’t sit right with me so the next day I called in again and said I wasn’t coming back and to please just mail my check to me.
Unlike most of the above places, I genuinely liked working here. The tips we made at this time was made prior to the opening of a million other coffee shops in downtown Delray Beach and averaged about $4-5 cash an hour – so a whole extra 1/3 in addition to our base pay.
As part of a Sociology class at FAU, however, I researched the company and learned of a number of issues that reframed my perceptions. For one, just how profitable the company was and roughly how much they were making off of my labor. I did some statistical math based on their own figures and determined that they’d be able to give a wage increase of almost a dollar an hour and still be profitable. At the time they’d just decided to give all of their “partners” who’d been with the company more than a year an extra $1000, but as I was only there for 10 months I was excluded.
I also learned that the Ethos water that we stocked at the time, which had a retail cost of $2.60, had a production/distribution cost of $.07. Given that this marketed as a way of donating money to water-assistance NGOs in Africa and that the percentage turned over equated to $.05 I was rather bothered. I learned that other stores with people also becoming more aware of their exploitation and were unionizing. I tried, without any organizing experience, to do the same and had my hours cut to nothing for two weeks due to a “scheduling mistake”.
(7) HD Repair – Internet Marketing:
In retrospect it seems dumb on my part to trust business owner that asked me to do online reputation management in addition to the content marketing/SEO optimization that I was already doing for him. I had some reservations, but I really wanted to believe Robert Roxberry’s promise that the work I was doing would be that which would launch me into a much larger marketing/content production project that he described the outlines of and that I was able to easily fill in with my imagination. I admit it! I was taken in by the fantasy he presented.
Immediately after I’d finished a month’s of work for him and our contract for marketing services was over, he disconnected my company email, had security disallow me to enter the building to talk to him and threatened to call that cops from me and all because he decided he didn’t want to pay me the second payment on the contract we’d verbally outlined. It came out to me as loss of $3000. I spent some time researching how to take him to small claims court, but then decided to just chalk up the whole thing as a learning experience.
Amusingly enough a few months after I left a class action lawsuit was brought against him by unpaid sub-contractors. Another one was brought by one of the TV manufacturers he contracted for.
Written by an investigative journalist who’s spent decades with the FARC, including some times as their captive, Gary Leech’s book The FARC: The Longest Insurgency presents the largest and oldest Marxist-Leninist insurgency movement in North America. They are, I believe, second only in size in the world to the Naxalite movement in India. FARC-EP, the group’s official name, stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army.
The origins of the group stemmed from the country’s gross economic inequality and lack of access campesinos had to fertile land. Since Independence, the descendants of the Spaniard ruling class used their access to capital and arms to dispossess indigenous peoples and peasants of their land. Purchasing foreign made goods and directing the state to invest more in men to protect private property than democratic institutions, uneven development transpired in a way that put the people at odds with the State. Inspired by the revolutionary movements in Latin American and abroad that followed the Second World War, the group started advocating and fighting on behalf of the agricultural workers.
The beginning of cocaine production in the Southern/Putumayo region in the 80s gave the organization a new influx of money. Such an influx of money wasn’t without additional problems – as narco-traffickers started buying large tracts of land and dispossessing others until they became the largest class of landowners in the country conflict between the two groups became inevitable. As the Medellin cartel had greater access to capital, they were dominated them though reached a modicum of peace as they needed to redirect their forces to fight the Cali Cartel, which had allied itself with the DEA and the Colombian Government. While reading I was bemused, though not surprised, that the growers in the region under the control of the FARC consistently made more money from their coca crops than did those under the control of the Cartels.
In discussing the issue of human rights as it relates to the FARC, Leech presents a view that is nuanced, yet does not get bogged down in the details. He shows how it conceives of itself, an alternative to the official state that functions as a judiciary and sponsor of economic development in the areas it controls. While he does find some faults with it, compared to the official Colombian state as well as its paramilitary apparatus it is adjudged as the superior adherent to human rights. It’s this and the long history of the organization which ought to justify the categorization of the guerillas as combatants rather than narco-terrorists or, alternately, just terrorists.
Leech addresses a number of the reasons why, despite their clearly not being as responsible for reprehensible acts of terroristic violence against civilian populations as right-wing paramilitaries, they are vilified. For one there is Colombia’s long history of violence against and assassinations of leftists. Such campaigns were not limited only to guerillas but also those journalists who brought greater clarity and context to the stakes of the violence in their writings. Operating under the dialectics of suspicion, those that were considered sympathizers were equated with the actual combatants and seen as fair game for AUC and others. Secondarily, as a covert organization it is difficult to hold press conferences and talk with reporters that are already wary of being seen as sympathetic to the FARC. As a result many reporters fail to investigate the veracity of the press conference spectacles held by the military. Third, the news largely reflects the political interests of the owners. Stories published and broadcast highlight the kidnappings by the FARC for ransom, conceived of as a just response to non-payment of taxes, and typically ignore those narratives about human displacement caused by corporately funded paramilitary operations. Thus the stories of rich people being kidnapped, an act which at it’s height peaked around the 1,200 mark and has since decreased to around the 100s, silences the between 3.2 and 4.9 million people that have been forced to relocate due to violence.
The relationship between the FARC and the Government as well as the United States role in providing assistance to the latter is another area the Leech extensively reports upon. Since the passage of Plan Colombia in 1998, which made the country the second largest recipient of U.S. aide, casualties have mounted and the FARC has lost much of it’s territory. As far as I’m aware the La Gabarra, False-Positives and other scandals that illustrate the depth of cruelty of the Uribe government haven’t made the news, though high profile scandals, such as the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt and U.S. missionaries have despite the former issues being bloodier.
In his conclusion Leech is not hopeful that there will be peace anytime soon between the AUC, the FARC and the Government as the government has consistently pursued neo-liberal policies and made these exempt from negotiations during their peace accords. Since the conditions that lead to the FARC in the first place aren’t dealt with and the Colombian and U.S. government have made liability for engagement in civilian dispossessions and massacres to protect corporate profits, any future peace is likely not to be long-lasting.
Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson are selected letters written by a Black Panther’s Party member who was not involved with the group on the streets of Oakland or elsewhere but one who nevertheless contributed to the group through his articles published through the Party paper. Jackson was convicted of stealing $70 from a gas station and was given a prison sentence of one-year-to-life of which he served eleven years.
The letters cover a five-year period and are addressed to people such as his mother and father as well as radical luminaries such as Angela Davis. In them he describes the psychological effects of being imprisoned by corrections officers that openly voice racist views and encourage violence between the inmates, how he has kept his spirit alive despite almost eight years being in solitary confinement, his views on Amerikan society, education, black culture and the affairs of the third-world. Throughout these letters he displays cutting insights gleaned from reflection on his experience as well as his prodigious reading.
In these letters we Jackson states familiarity with the works of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Franz Fanon, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and others. These thinkers helped Jackson form a critical analysis of politics, economics, history, and psychology such that he believes that the current struggles for community patrols and armed self-defense from police action will one day turn into a more intensified militant struggle by linking the plight of the poor blacks in the USA to the colonized people abroad.
Making these connections between American military involvement in Indochina with police repression domestically is, he recognizes, incredibly dangerous to the status quo political establishment. He goes so far as to presciently state that t’s likely that he will be killed for stating his views through the articles smuggled out of prison and publicized through the Black Panther Party newspaper. Ten months after the publication of these letters, Jackson was killed allegedly trying to escape.
Despite the above statements about the content of the letters, the majority of them are not short essays by any means. A number of them deal with Jackson trying to proselytize to his father to adopt a more activist, militant stance for how he carries himself in the white world. His intentions are good, Jackson states, but he still defers to white cultural values of how to act proper rather than be assertive. This is considered preferable to the “niggerism” which Jackson decries, which is the replication of white predatory behavior by blacks upon blacks but it still, according to Jackson, perpetuates white supremacist thinking and action. When addressing himself to his mother Jackson is more gentle with in his imprecations
Jackson, like his hero Malcolm X, came to a viewpoint that advocated for black power, but not out of a sense of racial superiority but from a sense of radical revolutionary solidarity with those oppressed in the world. It is perhaps not surprising that he, like so many others that advocated this position in the 60s and were considered leaders of some sort, was murdered but through these at times banal and at times beautiful letters, we get a greater insight into a great soul.
Stein’s book is primarily an institutional history from Nixon, the last New Deal president, to Clinton, the New Democrat. Although she does bring up the policies of Bush the Second and Obama, it is largely just to show how they continued to transform regulations and laws to align with neoliberal policy proscriptions suggested and enacted since Carter. The economic polices chosen by the presidents are contextualized within the rapid changes in the global trade networks in the post-WWII/Cold War world, detailed through the domestic circumstances that lead to such decisions and shows how the effects it had on the country’s working people lead to industrial flight and a declining middle class.
American policy makers feared European nations coming under Soviet influence following the second World War. The numerous Communist parties, which had varied relations to the Soviet Union, were initially quite successful in obtaining support. The State Department quickly realized that in order to prevent this they would need to not only engage in political manipulation in various forms but that they also needed to make sure that they received sufficient loans to rebuild their industries, that the status quo in the Middle East was maintained so that oil deliveries would be regular and tariffs lowered so European industries would have a market for their goods while they rebuilt. The loans were easy, however the nationalist revolutions and OPEC made maintenance of such amiable relations difficult and this often made foreign policy considerations direct economic policy. As a result of OPEC’s the oil-producing nations were able to demand higher prices in the 70s, the “greatest non-violent transfer of human wealth in human history” occurred. 2% of industrialized nations GDP went to these countries. As the U.S. lowered trade restrictions and became a market of last resort, domestic industries soon saw sales going increasingly to the goods produced by the newly capitalized EU and Japanese factories.
The focus on presidential campaigns in the beginning third of the book is somewhat slow reading and seems spurious until later when, implicitly, it’s shown how these events helped limit the political options of organized labor. Though the United States has never had the sort of comprehensive industrial policies in the same way that Germany and Japan did, hence assisting capital formation their due to the decreased competition in the domestic industries, Carter and Reagan furthered the anarchy of the market through deregulation that would lead to numerous boom and bust cycles and lead to the U.S. going from a creditor to a debtor nation that consistently maintained unfavorable trade imbalances.
Trilateralists, whose “professional diagnosis” on how to manage the nation’s economy just so happened to be aligned with the interests of the bourgeoisie, dominated Carter’s administration. Carter’s presidency shows an aversion to macroeconomic policies to deal with inflation, dismantling of social safety nets in favor of voluntariast community assistance and antipathy towards organized labor beings the large-scale political movement away from the traditional Democratic base towards business interests. These combined with a tepid economy due to failed auto and steel trade regulation policies and foreign policy problems, such as the Iran Hostage Crisis, leads to a one-term presidency.
Reagan continues much of what Carter had started. His breakup of the PATCO strike was just one of many public displays of antipathy to American unions. In addition to that his private assertions to business owners couple and underfunding of the NLRB and other worker’s protection organizations meant that a full-on offensive by the business community against the New Deal state could work towards unraveling hard-fought workers protections.
Through Stein’s historiography of Carter and Reagan’s presidencies, the pivotal moments of her Pivotal Decade is on full display. With barriers to foreign investment being dropped left and right capital flees overseas and finance, which once played a marginal role in the economy soon becomes a hegemonic sector. Through these dynamics and the turn towards supply-side economic policies – magical thinking on the part of the bourgeoisie economists, the immiseration, both economically and politically, rapidly accelerates and within two generations leads to the destruction of the affluent society now appealed to by right and left.