October 22, 2012

PotW: Words (For Amadou Diallo)


by Veronica Golos

Forty-one bullets--
nineteen in the soft plaster
of his body.
Their ritual marks
link the cracked wall,
the bloody palm-print;
the heavy meat
of his heart,

Blood flooded his lungs
their sea.
of cillia, air and water
rose to his eyes.
His flesh -
the blue bitter night.

All manner of speaking fails.
The sound of guns is near.

I would run through this city shouting
beware, beware, but I'd be telling a truth
we already know.

Tell me: Did he speak in his own tongue at the end?
Implore the stunned stars,
utter the unutterable name -
fire his whole life into a single,
final, vowel?

March, 2003

                          of war 

[Posted in observance of October 22, the national day of protest against police murders.]

Read more!

October 19, 2012

The Commune of 1880! (Their Nightmares Are Our Dreams)

I have been mucking about in the archives lately and, inspired by my bud Brad, sharing snapshots of this and that old flier or pamphlet of Facebook. Still, there are some things that can't be done justice by a photo of a cover.

Take for instance this booklet, entitled The Commune In 1880. Downfall Of The Republic. Written by "A Spectator" and published in NYC in 1877, it is a terrified response to the Great Railroad Strike earlier that year, with red flags flying on the Bowery, the Pittsburgh railroad hub in flames, and the city of St. Louis in the hands of the Workingman's Party for a week. And behind it, the specter haunting the author (or whoever paid the author to crank it out) is that of the Paris Commune of six years previous, hailed by Marx and Engels as the first example of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is a capitalist dystopia. It starts with a description of the secret organizing done by workers and the general strike the unions call. All is peaceful until the employers issue a statement refusing all demands and announcing the militia will be called on strikers. That night quiet movements are heard in the narrator's neighborhood.

Do you hear a low murmur like a calm day at Rockaway? Yes! What is it? Wait! What is this they are bringing around the corner? Why look—look! A cannon? A cannon? Yes, a cannon. Then the arsenal and the armories are gutted. Look there! Look there! They fix it like a swivel on that car-truck. What is this? Good God, can it be a barricade? Then will it do deadly work in this narrow street. What flag is that they hoist above their entrenchment? I cannot see, it is so dark, but it appears to be all of one color. Ah, now a lantern shines upon it. Why, it is blood-red; it is the flag of the Commune!
Dawn reveals every residential street in the city held by the strikers. Efforts to mobilize the militia against them are hampered by the many desertions to the workers' cause. The women of the working communities shame those remaining, asking how they can side with the wealthy while their own children go hungry. Still the main forces of the organized proletariat are held in reserve, Finally, in the afternoon, they march downtown to City Hall Park, Wall Street and other areas still held by capital's forces. It makes for inspirinig reading:
Had the militia at this time had any orders, a great deal of damage would have been prevented and many lives saved. But no; there was no organization and thus they were kept on guard with no other orders but those from their residential commandants. The strikers, on the other hand, moved with regular step and seemed to have learned their duty by heart, for they never hesitated an instant. They were strong, muscular men, principally mechanics and laborers--carpenters to whom the musket seemed almost as familiar as the plane or chisel; rockmen and blasters to whom the smell of powder was by no means a rarity. The most powerful-looking were of course the blacksmiths and horse-shoers, who, at first unable to procure arms, had armed themselves with long sledge-hammers--terrible weapons at close quarters, particularly in the hands of those accustomed to swing them with as much ease as a professional ball-player can a base-ball club.
Kinda brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it?

After extended combat, despite heroic action by the narrator and other "patriots" they are driven back and defeated, "in fact, municipal, State and national governments had been swept away in the tremendous torrent of communism."

Of course, things must turn out badly (though not as badly as one might think), but I will leave the tale on this high note, and encourage anyone who wishes to read the whole thing, all 59 pulse-pounding pages, to help me find someplace that can scan it for me without breaking the spine, and I will post it here at FotM in its entirety.

Read more!

October 17, 2012



by John Beecher

old man John the melter
wouldn't tap steel till it was right
and he let the superintendents rave
he didn't give a damn about tonnage
but he did give a damn about steel
so they put him on the street
but he did have plenty of money
and he drove up and down in his "Wily Knecht"
a floatin pallus he called it
with a Pittsburg stogie in his whiskers
and played poker in the Elks club
and the steel got sorrier and sorrier
and rails got to breaking under trains
and the railroads quit buying
and the mill shut down
and then the superintendents asked old man John
to come and tell them what was wrong with the steel
and he told them
too many superintendents

from Report to the Stockholders & Other Poems, 1962

[John Beecher was a very good poet of working class life and struggle, notable for having kept the oppression of Black folk front and center in much of his writing--he grew up white, in Alabama. This one deals with another topic, the skills workers have and the power it gives them, which has driven so much of the last decades of capitalist deskilling and cybernation in the workplace. You can hear Beecher read it himself by clicking the little arrow by 102 here, and find five more of his best here.]

Read more!

October 11, 2012

Setting The Stage For Famine In North Korea

Reorganizing and purging my library recently, I came across a book I had made a mental note of years ago. Entitled Glorious Forty Years of Creation, Volume II, it is a rather sympathetic, to put it gently, account of Kim Il Sung's role in economic development and planning in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea from 1953 to 1966.

What struck me when first I read it, and the reason I hung on to it, is Chapter 7, "Maize Is the King of Dry-Field Crops." It describes certain policies adopted in the Three Year Plan put in place after the end of the Korean War, which had devastated the country's economy, South and North.

It was decided that the key in agriculture was the adoption of maize to replace millet, sorghum and other traditional grains as the main supplement to expanded rice production. Hence the slogan that heads the chapter,

So far, so good, I guess.

Nevertheless, the officials in the field of agriculture and scientists and technicians paid little attention to increasing the area in which maize was cultivated. To make matters worse, the anti-Party, counter-revolutionary factionalists said that if maize was planted every year, the yield would fall. They argued that crop rotation, which was not suited to our country with its limited area of arable land, should be introduced.

Naturally the great leader Kim IL Sung stepped in to "correct the erroneous view of the factionalists." The first few years' results, we are told, were good and thus "shattered the arguments" of those who insisted on crop rotation.

Okay, I'm no agronomist, no agricultural economist, but this is just tutti-frutti. Crop rotation is essential in maize and other high yielding grains. It's not just that they rapidly deplete the soil of nitrogen and other essential plant nutrients. These can be replaced, if imperfectly, with expensive fertilizer inputs. Rotation also interrupts the life cycles of harmful diseases and parasites that target one or another crop. It also, by extending the growing season, cuts soil erosion.

Even in giant corporate agriculture in the US, corn-soybean-corn (c-s-c) rotation is common although soaring prices can often tempt farmers to plant maize two or three years in a row (c-c, c-c-c) before rotating another crop in. Many farmers also add a third crop like wheat or red clover, as in this picture.

Now you might could argue for cutting some slack for 1953, but Glorious Forty Years of Creation was published in 1989! Advocates of crop rotation are still "anti-Party, counter-revolutionary factionalists."

The year 1989 is ironic. The broke and collapsing USSR, a major bulwark of the DPRK economy, has started charging market prices for petroleum, fertilizer and other agricultural inputs and within a couple of years will shut off the spigot entirely. And the great famine of the 1990s commences, causing many thousands of deaths and a sharp decrease in actual physical size among survivors who grew up during it. The DPRK is still far from self-sufficient in food production.

This is not a scientific study, just an impression, and I'd be interested to read arguments to the contrary, but until then, I'll stick with the idea that folks who have neither farmed, nor even studied farming in a systematic way, can be awfully dangerous when they pick up the cudgels of political and ideological line to determine how to feed a nation.

Read more!

Poem of the Week: Papermill


By Joseph Kalar

Not to be believed, this blunt savage wind
Blowing in chill empty rooms, this tornado
Surging and bellying across the oily floor
Pushing men out in streams before it;

Not to be believed, this dry fall
Of unseen fog drying the oil
And emptying the jiggling greasecups;
Not to be believed, this unseen hand
Weaving a filmy rust of spiderwebs
Over these turbines and grinding gears,
These snarling chippers and pounding jordans;
These fingers placed to lips saying shshsh:
Keep silent, keep silent, keep silent;
Not to be believed hardly, this clammy silence
Where once feet stamped over the oily floor,
Dinnerpails clattered, voices rose and fell
In laughter, curses, and songs. Now the guts
Of this mill have ceased and red changes to black,
Steam is cold water, silence is rust, and quiet
Spells hunger. Look at these men, now,
Standing before the iron gates, mumbling,
"Who could believe it? Who could believe it?"

from Papermill: Poems 1927-1936 (2006)

[I'd never heard of Joseph Kalar before I found this poem posted on Facebook by MN labor organizer Alan Maki. I first thought it was a poem of the collapse of the Rust Belt, but it turns out that the mill closing he describes happened during the early days of the Great Depression--kind of a trial run for the '70s. And the present day...]

Read more!

October 4, 2012

Poem of the Week: On Living


by Nâzım Hikmet
(translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)

Living is no laughing matter:
           you must live with great seriousness
                     like a squirrel, for example--
      I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
                     I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
           you must take it seriously,
           so much so and to such a degree
      that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
                                                   your back to the wall,
      or else in a laboratory
            in your white coat and safety glasses,
            you can die for people--
      even for people whose faces you've never seen,
      even though you know living
            is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
      that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees--
      and not for your children, either,
      but because although you fear death you don't believe it,
      because living, I mean, weighs heavier.


Let's say you're seriously ill, need surgery--
which is to say we might not get
                          from the white table.
Even though it's impossible not to feel sad
                          about going a little too soon,
we'll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we'll look out the window to see it's raining,
or still wait anxiously
                           for the latest newscast ...
Let's say we're at the front--
        for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
        we might fall on our face, dead.
We'll know this with a curious anger,
        but we'll still worry ourselves to death
        about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let's say we're in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
                            before the iron doors will open.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind--
                            I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
        we must live as if we will never die.


This earth will grow cold,

a star among stars
                and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet--
        I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
        in pitch-black space ...
You must grieve for this right now
--you have to feel this sorrow now--
for the world must be loved this much
                              if you're going to say "I lived"...

February, 1948

[Nizam Hikmet is considered--and not just by me--among the greatest communist poets ever. That reference in the second stanza, framed hypothetically, to being the slammer at 50, with 18 years to serve--Hikmet wrote this in a Turkish prison in the tenth year of a 28 year sentence for inciting revolt in the armed forces. Sailors had been found reading and discussing his poetry.  
The watercolor is a self-portrait drawn in prison.]

Read more!

October 2, 2012

A Crackerjack Election Overview

[With a month to go, even folks who weren't bored by the election to start with are now barely able to suppress a yawn. In part this is due to the spectacular ineptitude of the Romney campaign, which keeps shooting itself in various tender metaphorical body parts, with the result that even media efforts to gin up horse race fever are falling flat. 

To help FotM readers step back and think about what's going on, here is a great overview of the 2012 Presidential election. Part of its usefulness lies in the fact that my friend Mirk wrote it as a primer for folks in Norway, where it is being published in the magazine Rødt!, published by the Red Party there. The step back it provides can be useful for us in a whole 'nother way. ]





 by Judith "Mirk" Mirkinson

Yes, it’s election time again: time to elect the president. Every four years Americans are told this is the pinnacle of our democracy, NO! The pinnacle of world democracy! The pundits will be pontificating, the billions will be flowing and the candidates will be slogging it out, drowning us with style over substance. 
The US presidential elections are now endless affairs and handled almost like the World Cup or a baseball championship. The economy’s down; that means Romney is up. Romney refuses to release his tax returns: now Obama is up. Every little quote is analyzed, every stupid mistake made bigger. Sound bites abound -it doesn’t matter whether what a candidate says is actually true – people just have to listen. And after awhile people begin to believe what they hear, no matter where the real truth lies. 
People have a stake in believing it all and believing that voting every four years for one of the two major parties can make a difference. It’s essential that the electorate think they have a choice and a real voice in what kind of government we will have.

The New York Times, always attempting to bring more gravitas to the charade, laments: “The real issues will not be talked about, no solutions are being offered.” But the show goes on.

It’s not what one has to offer, it’s about how bad the other person is,

As the Republican speaker of the house John Boehner put it recently:
The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney. I’ll tell you this: 95 percent of the people that show up to vote in November are going to show up in that voting booth, and they are going to vote for or against Barack Obama.  
The pols and polls keep saying it’s going to be a close race. It seems rather unbelievable, given the incredible excitement generated by Barack Obama only four years ago. One would think that Obama would continue to be the most ideal choice for the corporate ruling class. In reality, he’s a right to middle of the road Democrat who’s presided over a war and militarized security state. At the same time, he’s young, he’s charismatic and he speaks of the future and an America that cares for all the people. As the first African American president he presents an America that has overcome its history – one that is perfect for the U.S. in this new, more complex world we live in. 
It’s another ” demonstration election” – a concept perfected in America and now exported all over the world. Choosing among a limited range of options creates the illusion of democracy, and the illusion of real choice. No longer can the US support

Read more!