1968

1968

(More from my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

1968: The Year that Rocked the World

by Mark Kurlansky (Vintage 2005)

Book Review

1968 was a year for citizen uprisings around the world. Kurlansky comprehensively reviews 19 of them.* Student activists and workers on both sides of the Iron Curtain learned from and copied one another and supported each other’s liberation struggles.

The most eye-opening section discusses the importance of violence in attracting media attention. No one understand the importance of the media in movement building better than Mohandas Gandhi, who went to great lengths to obtain Indian, British, and American coverage of every protest he organized. He also spoke and wrote about the value of British violence in enticing the media to cover the Quit India movement.

According to Kurlansky, Martin Luther King also understood the role of police violence in drawing national media attention – which would be essential in pressuring Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to enforce federal civil rights laws. Kurlansky talks about a police chief in Albany, Georgia who thwarted King’s organizing efforts by studying his nonviolent tactics and countering them with nonviolent law enforcement. Because there was no police violence in Albany, it received no national media attention. .

After Albany, King and other civil rights leaders deliberately targeted towns with hothead police chiefs and angry, volatile mayors. In a 1965 incident, a King protester named Annie Lee Cooper punched the sheriff. and then dared him to hit her. The photo of Sheriff Clark clubbing a defenseless woman made the front page of every mainstream newspaper.

The 1968 Democratic Convention

At August 1968 Democratic Convention, yet again it was police violence by Mayor Daley’s goons that drew national media attention to what was essentially a harmless prank by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Phil Ochs and other Yippies (Youth International Party). Featured events at the Yippies’ Festival of Light included snaking dancing, poetry, mantras, the Yippie Olympics, a Miss Yippie Contest and Pin the Rubber on the Pope.

The police riot magically transformed the Yippies non-violent prank into front page news. Ironically, however, they had to share the limelight with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Violent Soviet repression of Dubcek’s freedom movement also made the front page..

Prague Spring

It’s quite common for the ruling elite and corporate media to attribute the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which ultimately bankrupted their economy. Obama’s mentor Zbigniew Brzezinski still talks about ingeniously “luring” them into an unwinnable war by training and arming the Mujahideen freedom fighters.

Kurlansky believes the 1968 Soviet’s invasion of Czechoslovakia marks the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire. The student/intellectual protest movement that brought Alexander Dubcek to power in January 1968 became less public but didn’t disappear in the government crackdown that followed the August invasion .It also served to strengthen reform movements in other Soviet Bloc countries – especially Romania and Poland – where government leaders were under pressure to condemn the invasion. In Kurlansky’s view the appearance of Soviet tanks on Czech streets killed the dream of eastern block reformers that socialism could be made more democratic.

His description of the background and personality of Alexander Dubceck, the father of “Prague Spring” is especially illuminating. Dubcek was no wild-eyed radical seeking to overthrow communism. In every respect he was the ultimate communist bureaucrat:  blindly loyal, dutiful, and deeply pro-Soviet. Dubcek and his subordinates, who considered the Soviets their friends and protectors, never dreamed they would invade.

In this respect, Czechoslovakia was unique among eastern bloc countries in voting in a communist government at the end of World War II (rather than having it forced on them).

Parallels Between Dubcek and Nixon

Dubcek, who was far more moderate than the students and intellectuals in the street, was actually somewhat dismayed at his sudden rise to power in January 1968. The student protest and Slovak nationalist movement had erupted simultaneously in late 1967, and Dubcek’s predecessor had been unable to quell the civil unrest.

Unlike many Communist Party officials, Dubcek who was deeply principled, viewed violent suppression of the protests as unthinkable. Aside from his refusal to invoke military force against the students, his situation parallels that of Richard Nixon’s in some ways. Nixon was also forced to enact a number of progressive initiatives  (e.g. the Clean Air Act, and legislation creating of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Social Security Supplemental Income for the disabled) in response to a large and militant protest movement.

Dubcek had no real platform until April 1968, when he issued an Action Program with three planks: 1) commitment to Czechoslovakia’s socialist political/economic system, 2) ending secret police repression of personal and political beliefs, and 3) ending the monopoly of power by the Communist Party.

The immediate result was liberalization of foreign travel, increased access to foreign periodicals, and media exposes about Czech and Soviet corruption and Stalin’s notorious purges. Freedom of artistic expression also increased, as Czech students and everywhere wore blue jeans and long hair, listened to rock and jazz, displayed psychedelic posters and even held an international film festival.

Soviets Forced to Keep Dubcek in Power

Brezhnev, one of Stalin’s henchmen in several purges, put extreme pressure on Dubcek to crack down on these “excesses.”  However even as Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia Dubcek, who was profoundly antiwar, explicitly ordered a robust, well-trained and armed Czech military not to fire on them. As in Tienanmen Square in China, the only opposition to the tanks was tens of thousands of unarmed civilians.

Kurlansky writes at length about an unsung hero named General Ludvik Svoboda, who the Soviets attempted to install in a puppet government after imprisoning Dubcek and three members of his cabinet. Though forced to agree to Soviet demands to gradually reinstate censorship and foreign travel restrictions, Ludvik released Dubcek and allowed him to remain in power until April 1969.

*Countries experiencing mass uprisings in 1968:

  • France
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Poland
  • Yugoslavia
  • Romania
  • Italy
  • West Germany
  • East Germany
  • Spain
  • UK
  • Russia
  • Nigeria
  • Palestine
  • Mexico
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Chile
  • Uruguay
  • US

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351

How Nonviolence Protects the State

how nonviolence protects the state

(more from my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

How Nonviolence Protects the State

Peter Gelderloos (2007 South End Press)

Book Review

How Nonviolence Protects the State takes up where Ward Churchill’s 1985 Pacifism as Pathology leaves off – expanding on Churchill’s basic premises (see previous blog) with more recent historical examples. Like Churchill, Gelderloos bemoans the determination of nonviolence proponents to impose their ideological views across the entire progressive movement. He blames this mainly on The Nation magazine and other “alternative” media outlets for falsely framing the debate as a question of “nonviolent” vs. “violent” organizing strategy. No one, he argues, endorses pure violence as a tactic.

Gelderloos divides his book into seven chapters. Each explores specific weaknesses of exclusive nonviolence as a political strategy:

Chapter 1 Nonviolence is ineffective – Here Gelderloos exposes the falsified history of “successful” nonviolent resistance movements – which he maintains are neither exclusively nonviolent or successful. In the case of Gandhi’s Quit India campaign, the Mahatma was elevated to fame by the British press. The latter chose to focus on his acts of civil disobedience, rather than the hundreds of freedom fighters who were planting bombs and assassinating British officials and native civil servants.

Gelderloos describes a parallel process occurring in the case of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent civil rights campaign. The mainstream media never reported on the Birmingham civil rights marches that degenerated into riots, which, in many cases, were the real trigger for both local and federal law changes.

He also contrasts the millions of peaceful demonstrators who were unable to stop the 2003 US invasion of Iraq – with the single 2004 train bombing that led Spain to withdraw their troops from occupied Iraq.

Chapter 2 Nonviolence is racist –  Gelderloos agrees with Churchill that the vast majority of dogmatic nonviolent proponents are privileged middle class whites, for whom the full repression of the capitalist state is never a genuine fear. Black looting (usually for food and basic necessities) is condemned as “violence.” In cntrast, white activists cut a chain fence to trespass on a military base are embraced as “nonviolent” and acceptable. White progressives are also quick to condemn third world autonomy movements, such as the Iraq and Afghan insurgencies against US occupation.

Chapter 3 Nonviolence is statist (i.e. serves the state) – Nonviolent activists share the fundamental view that the state (via police, FBI, CIA and military) should hold the monopoly on violence. In moments of conflict, they always line up with state authority. Among other examples, Gelderloos cites the Poor Peoples March at the 2004 Republican National Convention, where Mayor Bloomberg handed out badges to protestors who committed to nonviolent protest. When the police manhandled and arrested protestors (without badges) who were either black, covered their faces or refused to submit to arbitrary searches, white nonviolent marchers failed to come to their defense and blamed the arrestees for the police decision to target them.

Chapter 4 Nonviolence is patriarchal (i.e. supports male oppression of women and sexual minorities) – The nonviolent movement only permits women to use violence to defend themselves in individual cases of attempted rape. It’s not considerable acceptable in situations of ongoing domestic violence. Nor against the gradual systemic violence – for example the harmful corporate-produced chemicals in their breast milk – that is gradually poisoning their children.

Chapter 5 Nonviolence is tactically and strategically inferior – The nonviolent movement is totally focused on short term tactics and unable to show how any of these tactics will achieve their long term goals. When confronted with their inability to achieve goals, nonviolent advocates give the pat response: “Political change takes a long time and may not come in our lifetime.”

Gelderloo bemoans the millions of dollars wasted on grassroots lobbying, which is almost never effective. Even when Congress meets your demands on paper, they always backtrack. He gives the example of the School of the Americas (SOA) campaign, which sucked up years of organizing and nonviolent protests When enough public pressure built up, the Pentagon simply closed the SOA and reopened it under a new name.

He proposes the provocative question: ” Does it make more sense to blockade a bridge for a few hours by forming a human chain – or putting it out of commission for six months by blowing it up?”

Chapter 6 Nonviolence is deluded – The nonviolent movement is full of extreme contradictions. Nonviolent advocates support state violence all the time, simply by paying taxes. Activists from the privileged class need to understand what the rest of the world has known all along: neutrality isn’t possible. The question is which violence scares us the most and which side we will stand on.

Chapter 7 The alternative: possibilities for revolutionary activism – Gelderloos finishes with his vision of strategies that are most likely to succeed in dismantling corporate rule. He envisions building a loose confederation of local autonomous groups that will form non-corporate structures (free clinics, cooperatives, farmers markets, etc) to meet local needs. While he sees no need to convert everyone to anarchism, he warns of the need to be continually on guard against cooptation by the Institutional Left. And the need to learn self defense. If activists occupy a building to create a free clinic, they need to make sure the police can’t take it away from them.

A PDF of Gelderloos’ book can be downloaded free at zinelibrary

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351

Pacificism as Pathology

pacifism as pathology

(more of my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America

By Ward Churchill (2007 AK Press)

Book Review

Pacifism as Pathology is a collection of essays centered around Ward Churchill’s original 1985 essay “Pacifism as Pathology: Notes on an American Pseudopraxis.” The premise of the essay is that the militant nonviolent stance assumed by the US progressive movement is based on irrational psychological reasons rather than strategic reasons or moral principle.

Viewpoints from a Range of Activists

The 2007 edition contains a preface by Derrick Jensen, who lays out compelling reasons for the necessity of “violence” in bringing about genuine political change in his 2006 book Endgame. Jensen’s argument, as in Endgame, is primarily ecological. Humankind is being systematically killed off by the capitalist class, via their poisoning of the air, water and food chain, as well as their heedless imposition of catastrophic climate change. Jensen poses the very reasonable question: are we willing to retaliate violently to save our own lives and those of our children and grandchildren?

The next essay is Ed Mead’s preface to the 1998 edition of Pacifism as Pathology, immediately following an 18 year prison term as a result of armed actions (bombings of state and federal buildings in Washington State) conducted by the George Jackson Brigade. Based on his experiences, he arrives at the following conclusions: 1)  pacifism as a strategy of achieving social, political and economic change can only lead to dead end liberalism – the most vicious and violent ruling class in history won’t give up privilege without a physical fight; 2) because 99.9% of practitioners of political violence will eventually confront death or imprisonment, it’s imperative that political violence be carried out in a manner calculated to win; and 3) although the George Jackson Brigade applied the tool of revolutionary violence when its use wasn’t appropriate, he feels pride that they erred on the side of making revolution instead of the alternative.

The book also contains an afterwards by Canadian Activist Mike Ryan describing his frustration after 20 years of nonviolent resistance as part of the Canadian peace movement – and his conclusion that violent resistance must be allowed as a tactic for genuine political change to occur.

Churchill’s Infamous Assault Rifle Workshop

Churchill explains, in his 1998 introduction, that Pacificism as Pathology was originally written in 1985 as part of a four year debate over a workshop “Demystification of the Assault Rifle” that he gave at a 1981 Radical Therapy conference. He was invited to give the workshop owing to an admission by many activists that their fear of weapons was chiefly responsible for their rejection of violence as a political strategy. The reaction of some conference participants was to pass a resolution banning similar workshops in the future, as well as the presence of firearms (except those of the police or military) at any Radical Therapy conference. Churchill was invited to write an article on his views for the magazine Issues in Radical Therapy, which was subsequently Xeroxed and distributed widely throughout North America. While Churchill acknowledges the right of all activists to personally reject violent strategies and tactics, he challenges the right of nonviolent proponents to condemn activists willing to embrace property destruction and/or armed self-defense among a diversity of strategies. As he points out, activists willing to engage in violent resistance wouldn’t dream of trying to force their views on nonviolent activists.

Armed Jewish Uprisings Under Nazi Occupation

For me, the most valuable part of the book is the first section about Bruno Bettelheim and Jewish armed uprisings, in the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos and in numerous concentration camps during the second world war. This is an aspect of World War II history I was totally unaware if, as the work of Bettelheim and other scholars documenting armed Jewish resistance are carefully sanitized from the history textbooks served up to US high school and college students.

Bettelheim, who contrasts the Jews who resisted violently with the majority of Jews, who followed the Nazis passively to the camps and even to the gas chambers, makes a strong case for his belief that the persecution of the Jews was aggravated by the pervasive lack of fight back. He blames their failure to resist on strong psychological denial – a pathological need to cling to an illusion of “business as normal” – that ultimately overwhelmed their basic survival needs. The logical position would have been to accept the cold reality that their own lives were doomed and to use their deaths to save the life of other Jews by making the extermination more difficult. He points out that Jews had easy access to guns in 1930s and 1940s Germany, and there was no reason why every Jew that was arrested couldn’t take one or two SS officers with them.

Churchill describes how all the revolts inflicted significant damage on the Nazi machine. The revolt at Auschwitz killed 70 SS officers and destroyed the crematorium. Armed rebellions at Sorbibor and Reblinka were even more effective, and Sorbibor had to be closed following the uprising. There were also lesser insurrections at Kruszyna, Krychaw and Kopernik.

Militant Nonviolence: Racist, Deluded and Irrational

Churchill devotes the rest of the book to correcting historical distortions regarding Gandhi’s and Martin Luther Kings nonviolent resistance movements (which have been totally whitewashed by the ruling elite); a brief historical overview of the ineffectiveness of nonviolence in contrast to campaigns incorporating violent resistance; an analysis of the inherent racism implicit in the dogmatic nonviolence promoted by white upper middle class activists; and an outline of the irrational psychological motivations underlying militant nonviolence.

According to Churchill, the main reason white upper middle class activists reject violent resistance relates to intense ambivalence whether they really want to dismantle capitalism and give up their position of privilege.

Pacifism as Pathology can be downloaded free from Prison Legal News

Ward Churchill is a Native American author and American Indian Movement (AIM) activist. He was a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 to 2007. His best known book is the 1990 Cointelpro Papers.

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351

The Rally

Rebel cover

A Rebel Comes of Age – release date Dec 21, 2013

Another Excerpt from my young adult novel (from Chap 22)

When Clemente finally took the microphone, the stretch of McDonough between Patchen and Malcolm X was wall-to-wall people. The hip-hop activist, an attractive, thirty-something Latino woman with short, curly black hair and enormous gold ear loops, wore a dark blue hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin.

“Brothers and sisters, look at us,” she proclaimed. “When hip hop fights back, watch out.” At this, the crowd broke into ecstatic applause, accompanied by whistling and cheering. When the uproar died down, she called up all eighteen Freedom House residents and their sixteen Mandela House counterparts and lined them up on either side of her. “This isn’t a building we’re fighting for today. We’re here to support this phenomenal group of young people. They are our soul and conscience. Like Van Jones says, it’s time to change from fighting against something to fighting for something. No matter what we believe, what we all want, nothing advances or happens without organizing. Lots of it.”

Reverend McLeod came to the stage in a dark gray ski jacket rather than his usual suit and overcoat. Ange assumed that this was to distinguish between his activist and ministerial role. He began by complaining how sick he was of Wall Street’s longstanding pattern of theft from the African American community.

“Yah suh,” a woman in the front row came back, as if they were in church.

“First, it was our supermarkets, then our schools and now our homes. Surely the time has come to say enough.”

“Um-hmn,” the woman agreed.

“The time has surely come,” another woman echoed.

“Marches and rallies aren’t enough to check this power. The time has come, brothers and sisters, to put our bodies on the line. As Reverend Martin Luther King did. People of conscience are called on to break unjust laws, just like our brothers and sisters in Occupy Brooklyn who secured a home for brother Carasquillo and his family.”

He paused dramatically for this to sink in. “Where will you be, brothers and sisters, when the sheriff comes to put these young people out in the street? Will you all be comfortably at home watching American Idol or whatever nonsense they are showing now? Or will you be here with them?” His voice soared. “I tell you where I will be, brothers and sisters. I will be here in front of this building. No matter if the sheriff’s officers come at dinner time or midnight or three in the morning, they will have to walk through me.” He paused again. “Who will join me?”

The reaction from the crowd was stunned silence, followed by quiet murmuring. When Ange turned to look around, she saw the ten live-in protestors and six Occupy activists tentatively raise their hands. “Um-hmn-um,” McLeod vocalized reprovingly. “Looks to me like a long, lonely night.”

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A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links:

Cover photo credit: sand_and_sky via photopin cc

An Occupy Wall Street Novel

Rebel cover

My new novel, A Rebel Comes of Age, is scheduled for release (as a $3.99 ebook) on December 21, 2013.

It’s a sequel to my first young adult novel, The Battle for Tomorrow. In the first book, sixteen-year-old Angela Jones is arrested and sent to juvenile hall for participating in a blockade and occupation of the US Capitol. The sequel takes place a year later, when she and four homeless teenagers occupy an empty commercial building owned by Bank of America. Their goal: to transform it into a teen homeless shelter.

Over the next five months, they work through all the typical problems of inner city teenagers – including raging hormones, the temptation of drugs and alcohol, racial tensions, and pregnancy – as they struggle to win community acceptance. When Bank of America obtains a court order evicting them, the adventure turns deadly serious as they realize lives are on the line. When the other residents decide to use automatic weapons to keep the police SWAT team out, Ange experiences a major personal crisis and is forced to re-examine her attitudes towards guns and violence.

The Lost Generation – Life After Work

A Rebel Comes of Age explores the question of life after work. In the five years since the 2008 economic meltdown, 25-40% of 18-30 year olds still find themselves permanently excluded from the workforce. What we are looking at, in essence, is an entire generation sidelined to the fringes of society. Despite all the government and media hype, the capitalist economic system is incapable of creating jobs for them.

We are all conditioned to believe that life without full time work is unlivable. I seriously question the validity of this viewpoint. As a species, human beings occupied the planet quite happily for 250,000 years without selling their labor to a wealthy elite. Two centuries ago, the concept of waged work was virtually unknown, and most of the world’s current seven billion inhabitants are officially classified as “unemployed.”

With more equitable distribution of economic resources, freeing people from the drudgery of work opens up infinite possibilities for more creative and socially productive activities. Some analysts attribute the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to unemployed youth taking up social and political activism as an alternative to work.

A Rebel Comes of Age provides a brief snapshot of a group of homeless, unemployed teenagers who find themselves building a movement, without quite realizing this is what they are doing.

My next post will feature an excerpt from Chapter 1.

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A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links:

  • Kindle edition available after Dec 15

 

Cover photo credit: sand_and_sky via photopin cc