Thursday, April 30, 2009

Haymarket Lit for May Day (2)

More writing about, inspired by or related to Haymarket. May Day is for marching! So that's it for me till I get back to red reading next week.

Haymarket, a novel by one of our progressive gay pioneers, Martin Duberman

Missing from Haymarket Square, a children's book by Harriette Gillem Robinet

The American: A Middle Western Legend by Howard Fast, about the Illinois governor who finally, too late for five of them, pardoned the Haymarket defendants

William Dean Howells and the Haymarket Era by Sender Garlin. Howells showed great courage in campaigning for the Haymarket defendants, and his resultant disillusionment with U.S. society is said to be evident in his 1888 novel Annie Kilburn.

Toys of Desperation: A Haymarket Mural in Verse by Harold A. Zlotnik, an epic poem at the 100th anniversary of the Chicago events

Haymarket Eight, a play by Derek Goldman and Jessica Thebus first produced by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company in 1999

Haymarket, a play by Zayd Dohrn

Inquisitions and Other Unamerican Activities, a play by Greg Guma

Day of Reckoning, a play by Melody Cooper

Haymarket Scrapbook, edited by Franklin Rosemont and David Roediger

And finally, Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make, universally described as a prose poem

Haymarket Lit for May Day (1)

From poet Kenneth Rexroth, this 1942 poem. Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery houses the graves of the Haymarket Martyrs as well as those of Lucy Parsons, who lived on for nearly 60 years after her husband Albert was hanged and never flagged in her revolutionary activism, Emma Goldman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.


"Light upon Waldheim"
--Voltairine de Cleyre on the Haymarket martyrs

How heavy the heart is now, and every heart
Save only the word drunk, power drunk
Hard capsule of the doomed. How distraught
Those things of pride, the wills nourished in the fat
Years, fed in the kindly twilight of the books
In gold and brown, the voices that had little
To live for, crying for something to die for.
The philosophers of history,
Of dim wit and foolish memory,
The giggling concubines of catastrophe —
Who forget so much — Boethius’ calm death,
More’s sweet speech, Rosa’s broken body —
Or you, tough, stubby recalcitrant
Of Fate.

Now in Waldheim where the rain
Has fallen careless and unthinking
For all an evil century’s youth,
Where now the banks of dark roses lie,
What memory lasts, Emma, of you,
Or of the intrepid comrades of your grave,
Of Piotr, of “mutual aid,”
Against the iron clad flame throwing
Course of time?
Your stakes were on the turn
Of a card whose face you knew you would not see.

You knew that nothing could ever be
More desperate than truth; and when every voice
Was cowed, you spoke against the coalitions
For the duration of the emergency —
In the permanent emergency
You spoke for the irrefutable
Coalition of the blood of men.

'How is writing going to change the world?'

Sandra Cisneros says "hate" is putting it mildly regarding her feelings about the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Plus other interesting thoughts on her struggles as a young Chicana writer during the time she was working on The House on Mango Street, the beloved book that has just been released in a 25th-anniversary (wow! it's been 25 years!?) edition.

The NAFTA flu

Yes, that's what folks are calling it as it becomes clearer and clearer that U.S. agribusiness--that is, U.S. imperialism, personified in this case by the Smithfield pork conglomerate and its NAFTA-enabled operations in Mexico--is at the root of the so-called swine flu. Meanwhile, Fox News and others of its reactionary ilk are trying to whip up a renewed, intensified campaign against Central American immigrant workers in this country. Reason # 537 to step into the streets on May Day, tomorrow, in solidarity.

This is America

I don't think this movie has yet had national release and distribution but it is making the college film circuit and you can order a copy to show to your class, community group, church, etc. As we head into May Day and march for the rights of all workers, with or without papers, as we affirm that no human being is illegal and there are no borders in the workers' struggle, director Jesse Salmeron's This Is America about how ICE raids are tearing families apart across this country could not be more timely.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Summer writing workshops

Since I had a full month working on my second novel at the Saltonstall Foundation Arts Colony last summer and since I promised my girl I'd stick close to home this year and since we have no money even for transportation to anywhere more than an hour or two out of NYC, I didn't apply for any Summer 2009 residencies and for only one conference and that one only if they give me a free ride. It sounds like I'm not the only one holding back, as Poets & Writers reports that applications are way down, so much so that some conferences have been canceled for this year. Here are two writing workshops, though, that are very appealing and that might be affordable.
  • Novelist Tayari Jones is teaching "Tales from the Kidscape," a class about "writing believable stories about young people," June 14-19 at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass. FAWC is not cheap but there are a number of scholarships available so it's worth checking out. Especially since it means a chance to work with this gifted and charismatic author.
  • Then there's the Mount Chocorua Writing Workshop, July 12-17 in New Hampshire. The poetry workshop is led by Sapphire, an artist I admire tremendously. And for fiction there's Ellen Meeropol, who's written among other things Celebrate, a very fine and very moving program about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg that I saw at City Center in 2003 on the 50th anniversary of their execution. She's married to the Rosenbergs' son Robert Meeropol, and is a founding board member of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which supports the kids of persecuted progressive activists such as, for instance, Mumia Abu Jamal's. Days at Mount Chocorua will be spent workshopping, and in the evenings there are programs. Like this one, which of course looks great to me: "Progressive Politics & Creative Writing: Can they work together to create a literature of social justice?"

The pianist's politics

Meet Krystian Zimerman. OK, if you follow the current classical music scene you probably already know him as a great pianist. The rest of us are just hearing about him--and cheering him on for his brave, forthright action Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Zimerman was introduced, walked onstage, sat down at the piano--and then, instead of immediately beginning to play, he turned to the audience and said, according to this Los Angeles Times report, that he will no longer perform in the United States because this is a country whose military wants to control the whole world. He specifically demanded that the U.S. "get your hands off my country" and denounced the U.S. torture camp at its illegally held stronghold in Guantanamo, Cuba. Then he played, apparently for the last time in this country.

The "get your hands off my country" referred to the Pentagon's installation of a so-called missile defense shield in Poland. I don't know more about Zimerman's politics, but I do know that U.S. meddling in Poland since World War II has been massive and deep. The U.S. funded and backed "Solidarity," the fake union movement that was actually a counterrevolutionary front for the restoration of capitalism and opening up of Poland to U.S. imperialism, of which this latest Pentagon incursion is a direct result.

I also can't help wonder about Krystian Zimerman's own background. Before the Nazi genocide, Poland was the world center of Jewish life, with a big, vibrant Jewish population. Then the Jews were erased and ever after, to this day, there is nary a Jew in Poland. Except for those who hid or were hidden, who were rescued by goodhearted Poles, who changed their names and passed for Christian and raised their kids as Christians. This pianist is of the postwar generation. As first names go, you don't get more Christian than his, yet his last name has a decidedly Jewish tilt to it. Interesting, although ultimately, I guess, it's neither here nor there. Actions speak louder than proper nouns.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New books by my faves

A couple of my favorite authors have new novels out or on the verge of publication, and I'm chomping at the bit to get to them.
  • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead, published today. I've read all three of his previous novels. Liked the last one, Apex Hides the Hurt. Really liked the previous one, John Henry Days. And was absolutely blown away by his first, The Intuitionist. He sure doesn't need me to praise him, as he gets lots of props all over the place and is one of the most highly regarded young authors, but I'll make the record anyway by saying that I think Mr. Whitehead is extravagantly talented, one of those writers whose work I automatically put on my to-read list.
  • The Little Stranger by the wondrous Sara Waters, which has an end of May publication date. I loved her first novel, Tipping the Velvet. I crazy adored her second, Affinity. Her third, Fingersmith, sent me swooning to my sickbed, feverish and unable to function until I finished reading it, that's how much it took me over. I'm sorry to say that I didn't connect as much with her fourth, The Night Watch, but would willingly concede that the fault was somehow mine as a reader. This new one looks to be some sort of ghost story, which I'd think is right up her alley, an alley into which I'll gladly step. I'd follow Sara Waters anywhere. Swoon.
As I would--follow and swoon over--Nina Revoyr. All three of her novels to date have been terrific, each of them approaching from different angles stories about race, nationality and sexuality, racism and oppression, and, central to each, the city of Los Angeles. The Necessary Hunger. Southland. The Age of Dreaming. All three I loved, and I eagerly await her fourth.

It's the third I'm watching for from Ruth Ozeki. Her debut novel My Year of Meats is one of my all-time faves. I liked her second, All Over Creation. Both books had to do with the food industry, agribusiness, and how capitalism is poisoning everything we ingest (that's my interpretation, anyway)--a topic that's more timely than ever, so I hope she's got another novel exploring these issues heading our way.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I've been getting announcements about his new book Dread, and now progressive epidemiologist Philip Alcabes has some things to say about the current swine flu outbreak. In a post headed "Public Health, Not 'Preparedness'," Alcabes notes the difference between sane, sound public health measures and fake, reactionary "preparedness" scares such as those promulgated under the Bush administration.
Preparedness sprang from Bush-era rhetoric, aimed at putting the public into a permanent state of half-panic, by which we could be manipulated into supporting endless war (the "war on terror") and giving up privacy and civil rights.
Read the rest here. I can't resist adding, however, that this country really has no public health system to speak of, and never really will until a revolutionary change in the social system comes about. With health care in the hands of private profiteers and our tax dollars in their greatest part going to the Pentagon war machine, not medical care or any other human need, the apparatus to address any actual public-health crisis, whether this one turns out to be it or not, is lacking. How could it be done differently? We have only to look at our neighbor country of Cuba to see what a humane, sound and extremely effective public-health system would look like.

Well, that's my analysis, not Alcabes'. I'm sorry I can't make it to hear him tonight at Housing Works Bookstore: "Race, Implication and Infection: A conversation about how race fears shape the way people see and distort public health," with Harriet Washington. (UPDATE: I somehow got the date of this event wrong; it's next month, May 25. I'll post a reminder when the date approaches.)

Point of personal privilege note: in my as yet unpublished first novel, the protagonist's first love dies in the 1918 flu epidemic. The protagonist in her grief is tormented by the sounds of children playing hopscotch on the Passaic, NJ, sidewalks as they sing/chant this little ditty
I had a little bird
Her name was Enza
I opened the window
And In Flew Enza
which indeed children in this country actually did during the 1918 pandemic. Such are the coping mechanisms that arise in times of horror--I won't say it rises to the level of art, this macabre little rhyme set to little girls' hops and skips, but it does evince somebody's creative mind.

May Day 1886/May Day 2009

An influx of immigrants. Huge communities of workers speaking many different languages, living and working in the worst conditions. An economic crisis, mass layoffs, cuts in worker pay and benefits, the poorest and most vulnerable hit first and hardest. Constant media scares about terrorism. Unions apparently solid and strong, then suddenly weak or broken.

Sounds familiar, right? Actually, I'm referring to a different time and a specific place.

1886. Chicago. That's when and where May Day was born, in a series of strikes and demonstrations culminating on May 1 that swept the city and shut it down in a multinational uprising the likes of which this country, and really the world, had never before seen, as the working class united to demand the eight-hour day. And then, starting on May 4, came the furious reaction of the ruling class. First, police were sent to attack a peaceful rally in Haymarket Square into which a provocateur tossed a bomb, which was the cops' signal to start shooting. Then, an unprecedented terror campaign was unleashed against Chicago's immigrant communities, unions, and working-class organizers, featuring sweeps of neighborhoods, mass jailings, union and meeting halls shut down, printing presses busted up and newspapers banned. And eight of the most visible leaders of the working masses charged with conspiracy to murder police--charged with murder based solely on their speeches in which they called on workers to rise up and fight for their rights. Five would die, one by his own hand and four at the gallows.

Albert Parsons. August Spies. Adolph Fisher. George Engel. It's safe to say that somewhere under 1 percent of the people in this country know their names. Yet the Haymarket Martyrs and the cause for which they died have everything to do with the situation facing 100 percent of the working class and oppressed in this country on May Day 2009.

May Day 2009 will be the fourth consecutive time mass demonstrations demanding workers' and immigrants' rights take to the streets in major cities across the U.S. The first was the amazing outpouring dubbed "A Day Without An Immigrant" on May Day 2006. It was fueled by a restive immigrant community ready to fight back against rising anti-immigrant attacks. A great many of these immigrants came from countries, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, with grand traditions of labor struggles and themselves had rich experience in union organizing.

Lead banner of the 2006 May Day march in NYC. That's my lover Teresa Gutierrez, a national leader in the immigrant-rights movement, between the Revs. Sharpton and Jackson.

In fact, and here we come full circle, many if not most of the Latin American immigrant workers who made the first mass May Day come to life in 2006 know very well the names of Parsons, Spies, Fisher and Engel. In workers' homes throughout Latin America you can find portraits of the Haymarket Martyrs hanging on the walls. The spirit of struggle, of solidarity and unity, embodied in what the workers of Chicago were trying to do in 1886 is alive again in today's May Day marches and rallies.Here in New York, we'll be gathering at Union Square and marching down to the Federal Building. In other cities check with your local May Day coalitions. Wherever you are, take the day off--it's May Day, the international workers' holiday, so proclaimed by the Second International in 1889 explicitly in honor of the Haymarket struggle. Claim it!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quickie links

The first Broadway revival of an August Wilson play since his 2005 death has a white director. Wilson himself insisted that only a Black director could helm his plays, and now many Black directors and other theater artists are outraged at Lincoln Center Theater's selection of Bartlett Sher for this new production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone. What I find interesting in the New York Times story is how every white person who's involved in this claims like um total sympathy for and understanding of how the Black directors feel, and like um total sadness that African Americans don't get more jobs, and like um totally would be for African Americans directing Shakespeare and whoever. Yet there Sher stays in the director's seat. Hypocrisy.

Today is the grand opening ceremony for Fort Lauderdale's Stonewall Library and Archives, "a collection of gay-themed materials that was the subject of political controversy [that is, an anti-gay mobilization] two years ago," according to a report at the Gay Books Blog.

Film director Ken Loach, among whose many wonderful movies the most recent one I've seen is The Wind That Shakes the Barley, a stunningly powerful story of the early-20th-century Irish republican struggle, is in my opinion exactly right:
I think in these dark times it's very important that we have parties of the left that stand on the principled opposition to capitalism, that explain why what is happening to our economies, what is happening internationally, comes from the capitalist system. It isn't something independent, it isn't an act of god, it comes from the economic system. The oppression of the Palestinians arises from economics because the U.S. needs a strategic base in the Middle East, i.e., Israel. Therefore the oppression of the Palestinians and everything flows from that.
More here.

Tayari Jones calls them the Amazing Eight. She's posted pix of and congratulations to eight authors of upcoming first books. This is a nice boost of hope for the rest of us, and I'm looking forward to the details.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life stories

Fiction is my preferred reading most of the time. After that, some history, some scientific (laid out understandably for a lay mind like mine) books, some social/cultural works. This leaves what is arguably the most popular genre in this country, memoir. I do on occasion read biography or autobiography. Because I started reading an autobiography (or memoir--the line blurs) this morning, I also started thinking about other lives I've read. Of course there's no way to remember them all, especially since many were no doubt library books so a look at my shelves can't remind me of them. But just for fun, well it's fun for me anyhow, here's a look at some of the more memorable life stories I've read.

Today's his birthday so I've got to be honest and admit I've never read a biography of Lenin. I have, however, read about some other radical or revolutionary lives, including that of his closest comrade: The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed, and The Prophet in Exile, the great three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher, and My Life by Trotsky himself. Then there's Karl Marx and Frederick Engels by David Riazanov. The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman by Alexandra Kollontai. The Rebel Girl by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. W.E.B. Du Bois 1868-1919: Biography of a Race by David Levering Lewis. John Brown by W.E.B. Du Bois, and John Brown, Abolitionist by David Reynolds. Rosa Luxemburg, Her Life and Work by Paul Frolich. Comrade Chiang Ching by Roxane Witke. My Life by Fidel Castro. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. J. Robert Oppenheimer was no revolutionary, although for a period during the 1930s he may have been a bit of a fellow traveler, but because of how he was pretty much destroyed during the 1950s red scare despite his loathsome service to U.S. imperialism in the creation of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer is a fascinating figure and American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin is a fascinating book.

For some reason I don't seem to read many biographies of or memoirs by writers. I should remedy that. These are waiting on our bookshelves: Virginia Woolf, an Inner Life by Julia Briggs. Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life by Ian Gibson. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One that I did read over 20 years ago, and that I liked a lot, is Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson by Judy Oppenheimer.

Here comes my dirty little secret.

The life stories I do read, probably more than any others, are those of, oh god, celebrities. OK, now you know the worst. In my defense, I am picky. I only read about those actors, singers, musicians whose work I admire. And I only read books whose literary quality is at least halfway decent. But read them I do. In fact, I find them a fun break from the mostly much more serious reading in which I mostly engage. Here are some highlights of my famous-lives reading list as far as I can recall. Between Each Line of Pain and Glory by Gladys Knight. Natalie Wood by Gavin Lambert. Judy Garland: the Secret Life of an American Legend by David Shipman. Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme by Mary Wilson. Rock Hudson: His Story by Rock Hudson and Sara Davidson. Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing" by Lee Server. I Feel Good by James Brown. Chronicles, Volume 1 by Bob Dylan (which by the way I hated, in fact I no longer admire him after reading it).

The book I started this morning is The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood and Paris by Betsy Blair. Blair, who just died on March 13, about five years after her memoir was published, was an Oscar-nominated actor and committed leftist who was blacklisted during the McCarthy period and eventually left this country for good to live in Europe. She was also, for about 20 years during the height of his career and hers, married to Gene Kelly--who, it turns out, introduced her to Marxism. A friend loaned me the book and I dug right into it on the way to work this morning.

Lenin's birthday (rhymes with Earth Day)

Today is the 139th anniversary of the birth of V.I. Lenin, leader of the great Russian Revolution that toppled feudalism and began the work of building a society based on equality and meeting people's needs rather than inequality and exploitation for private profit.

Because of what he did, Lenin is vilified by the capitalist class, probably more vilified than any other Marxist figure in history including Karl Marx himself. To reduce Lenin's contributions to the worldwide class struggle to a brief blog entry is beyond ludicrous, but let's just note four:
  • He defined and explained imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism which had not yet hit its full flowering during Marx's lifetime, and thus drew workers and peasants from every country on the globe into the embrace of revolutionary socialism.
  • He expanded on Marx's theory by defining and explaining the national question--the special oppression of national minorities in every class society--and made the struggle against racism and for the right to the self-determination of oppressed nations a central feature of revolutionary socialism. Ever after, Marx and Engels' slogan "Workers of All Countries Unite!" would be transformed to "Workers and Oppressed of All Countries Unite!"
  • He was not only a theoretician and writer but an organizer, orator and practical revolutionary, under whose leadership the Bolshevik Party became the vehicle for the liberation of the Russian (and Georgian, and Chechen, and Jewish, and all the many other minority nationality) masses. I'm generally pretty leery of Wikipedia when it comes to matters of the class struggle, but its definition of Bolshevism isn't half bad: "an organization of professional revolutionaries under a strict internal hierarchy governed by the principle of democratic centralism and quasi-military discipline, who considered themselves as a vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat."
  • He built on Marx and Engels' study of the state, its historic role in class society, its tasks in the period of building socialism, and its future withering away, and led the opening efforts to create the world's first revolutionary socialist state in the USSR.
Today is also Earth Day. As far as I can see, this is mostly an occasion for capitalist enterprises to pose as friends of the environment, and to hoodwink concerned individuals into thinking that doing little individual acts like switching the kind of light bulbs they use will save the planet. In fact the planet--the planet as we know it, with human life and the current range of biodiversity--can only be saved by getting rid of capitalism altogether. As long as the tiny percentage of humanity that owns everything runs the world in the interest of amassing profit, and not in the interest of the needs of all living beings on the planet, global warming and the concomitant poisoning of the land, water and air will necessarily continue.

Which brings us back to Lenin. As has been hilariously noted elsewhere, the coincidence of the first Earth Day falling on his 100th birthday deeply disturbed some in 1970. From Wikipedia: "Time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was a 'Communist trick,' and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution saying, 'Subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.'"

Monday, April 20, 2009

A book is always a great gift

I arrived at work this morning to an ominous memo from the administration about job and program cuts. Rather than obsess about the scary ramifications, let's focus on Comrade Hugo Chavez's fab gift to President Obama over the weekend: Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano.

As soon as I saw the news yesterday, I rushed to our bookshelves and pulled our well-worn copy and told Teresa, and she and I shared a big old grin.

Now the news is that Galeano's book, which reviews the 500 years of colonialist crimes in the Western Hemisphere from the time of Columbus, has shot up to the top of the Amazon rankings. Excellent.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Day of silence for Carl Walker-Hoover

This beautiful child hanged himself earlier this month in Springfield, Mass. Carl Walker-Hoover was driven to suicide by the relentless anti-gay bullying of his schoolmates.

Today he would have turned 12 years old. In his honor, and in support of the struggle to save the lives of all the LGBT youths who face such pain every day in this country, activists have designated this as a Day of Silence in Carl Walker-Hoover's honor. They suggest:

Be silent
Wear red
Wear rainbow
Wear any color
Tweet the Silence
Silence your tweets
Blog the silence
Silence your blog

Whatever you do, be respectful, especially of others who are observing the Day of Silence, but bring attention to the issues of anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harrasment in schools.

In memory of this young life lost, Read Red now goes quiet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gobsmacked by working-class talent

I just joined the Susan Boyle fan page over at Facebook. Maybe I'm a sentimental sap, maybe I'm too easily sucked in by the latest pop culture phenom, but she moves me. So much. And she makes me think again about all the art that never sees the light of day, all the talent that never has a chance to be expressed, all the workers whose brilliance is never discovered in this rotten capitalist system that does nothing but exploit and cares for nothing but profit.

One of my blog posts that's gotten the most hits, and the one I know of that's been publicly derided, is the one about Flannery O'Connor's racism. O'Connor is widely regarded as one of the greatest if not the greatest U.S. short story writers of the 20th century. Most commentators argue that O'Connor's artistry is so superb that she is indispensable. Her writing is so brilliant that nothing else matters; we simply cannot do without it. I've been thinking about this a lot. The question I keep coming back to is: are there really so few great writers out there? Is an O'Connor--or, say, an Updike or a Roth or, hell, insert any of a dozen or more of the usual suspects' names here--really so exceptional that we must overlook all that is odious about them?

And the answer that keeps coming is no. No, artistic talent is not so impossibly rare. I am convinced that there are millions upon millions of people among the world's workers and oppressed who have it in them to be great writers, poets, painters. I am convinced that creativity is a human attribute that is much more common than we are given to believe. I am convinced of this every day as I look around me on the subway, on the streets, in the stores, delis, hospitals, schools, everywhere there are people who must spend their waking lives trying to survive, people who even if they have a spare moment to think, dream, imagine, craft, compose, have no avenue to take those dreams and ideas forward. Who can't afford to get an MFA. Who don't know an agent or publishers. Whose art that might have been the world will never see.

This to me is unutterably sad. All the potential art of which capitalism deprives us. Call me a sap again, call me a foolish believer in a better possible future, but for me one of the great appeals of the socialist idea is its potential for bringing forth a beautiful blossoming of creative talent that is crushed under capitalism.Which brings me back to Susan Boyle. Here she is, middle-aged, plain, and somehow, who knows how, she summons the courage to get on that stage and be ridiculed by Simon Cowell and snickered at by the audience and ignore them and sing. She stands, for me, for the world of wonders hidden in our class. This is why she moves me so. Sing, Susan. Sing!

P.S. The song Susan Boyle sang is a veritable working-class anthem about surviving in this hellish society from Les Miserables, which adds to the impact.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Salt of This Sea

I knew Suheir Hammad as a great poet and spoken word artist. In fact, I first saw her that same night I first saw Staceyann Chin, when both were in Def Poetry Jam on Broadway a few years ago. I've attended a couple of her poetry readings since then. She's an important artist, I think. I did not know that she's also an actor. She plays the lead role in the Palestinian film Salt of This Sea, directed by Annemarie Jacir and scheduled to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, which begins next week. Here's the trailer.

And here's a nuanced review by Maymanah Farhat, up today at Electronic Intifada.

The tulips!

The tulips! The tulips! Trace rootward my trance state
Induced by pinkest rubymost peachy lemonade shades

Read the rest of my goofy poem here, in the Mississippi Review's "Happiness" issue of some years ago.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Demjanjuk dodges again

Tonight and tomorrow the news will be filled with heart-rending videotape and photos of a pitifully ill, broken-down old man being forcibly taken from his Cleveland home on a stretcher, in what was to have been the first stage of his removal from this country and extradition to Germany, which journey has now once again been postponed by another last-minute court order. How did John Demjanjuk get to be so old? By living the good life here for over six decades, having faked his identity and fled Europe after his years of dedicated service to the Nazi extermination campaign against the Jews during World War II. Should he ever finally be deported, should he and his family and their white-supremacist and neo-Nazi supporters (a long list of fascist organizations has funded and backed him) ever lose their long legal fight to save him from having to pay for his despicable crimes, he will go on trial in Germany.

There he is charged with 29,000 counts of murder. Twenty-nine thousand.

Me with my nose always in a book, I'm practically a prototypical Jew. A meek, mild-mannered sort. Yet I feel not one ounce of pity for this old man, whose active participation in mass murder is exceedingly well documented despite the continual mishandling of the cases against him.

True, even at 29,000 murders Demujanjuk's crimes are by no means the worst, in that particular genocidal holocaust or in any one of the several others in history, including the genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Middle Passage in which some 20 million Africans died. And true, if he manages to hold off extradition and die, peaceful and content in his own bed, he will be by no means the first to manage this feat. It's not the biggest thing to be concerned about, 64 years later. It does matter, though, I think. He should face justice, or some tiny semblance thereof. He should not die in peace.

Lambda on the Amazon "glitch"

There's been so much outrage everywhere about's apparent blocking out of LGBT books that I've seen no need to weigh in. But this is worth a link. It's a statement, dated yesterday, from the Lambda Literary Foundation and the president of its board of directors, Christopher Rice, who notes, "I have seen my first novel stripped of its sales ranking by this apparent computer glitch so I join other writers who are baffled to the point of anger."

As noted also everywhere today, by now Amazon has issued not an apology but an explanation of sorts. This whole business doesn't seem to me to be completely over. We shall see. I like Rice's pledge that "we at Lambda look forward to leading a sustained and impassioned dialogue on this issue" should it not be quickly and completely resolved.

Staceyann Chin's memoir

A memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, by the amazing poet and spoken word artist Staceyann Chin comes out today. Chin, a Jamaican lesbian and longtime "out poet and political activist," as she characterizes herself, is reading tonight at 7:00 here in NYC at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. I can't make it but I'm sure anyone who can won't be disappointed. I saw her five or six years ago when she was in Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, and I was blown away by her talent. Is it too precious to call her a wordsmith? Hope not, because that's what she is, it seems to me, so skilled, so deft, word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, poem by poem. This new book is a memoir, not poetry, but I have no doubt it's just as good. As her blurbers testify:
  • "I love this book--and I am completely hamstrung by the feelings it evokes."--Walter Mosley
  • "Liberating, beautiful and life-affirming."--Russell Simmons
  • "How wonderful that this outrageous, talented, determined woman has given us her story."--Dorothy Allison

Monday, April 13, 2009


I'm aware that I frequently make little promises here, like hey I'll be posting a list of Cuban revolutionary fiction soon or the like, and that I nearly as frequently emit little wisps of longing, like gee I wish I could write a long thoughtful post about how hard it is in this country to get a hold of Cuban revolutionary novels translated into English--and that, for all my little promises and wistful emissions, I seal the deal only spottily. Partly this is just the nature of the beast, the beast being cultural life under capitalism. This stuff (the books, the thoughts worth airing) is hard to ferret out. A big part, though, is that I just don't have the time. I work full-time. I'm trying to write another novel, and to get my first one published. I play a small editorial role at a socialist newspaper. I have to shlep to the laundromat and the grocery store, keep up with the household bills and pay the rent, get to the dentist, the eye doctor, do at least minimal upkeep on this damnably aging body, etc.

So much for excuses. I'll keep trying. For now, here's this.
Many years ago, when I was first studying the history of the Russian Revolution, I read the 1925 novel Cement by Fyodor Gladkov. I remember it was glorious. It was one of the first novels to come out in the period immediately after the 1917 revolution, and to tell a story of revolutionary transformation in the lives of workers in the new Soviet Union. The swift changes in the role of women, women's experience, and the struggles to raise men's consciousness are particular thrusts, which has a lot to do with why I loved this book so much. It's still possible to get your hands on an English-language edition.

Writing class, across the pond

Or should I say acknowledging class. Because that's all it is, really. The difference, not all the time but enough to be noticeable, between reading British fiction and U.S. fiction is that British fiction, or at least more of it, is class conscious. Whereas here, well, not so much. This same phenomenon is much commented on when it comes to movies. Mike Leigh and that lot, don't you know. It's a bit less remarked on, as far as I can tell, with fiction, but it seems to me to be just as much the case. We all know why. The class system is not only more in-your-face obvious in Britain for all the inescapably obvious reasons, but also there, and throughout Europe, the revolutions and imperialist wars of the 20th century had a more direct impact, not the least of the effects including much stronger labor movements than here. Most of all, as far as I can tell, it isn't, or wasn't until the recent counterrevolutionary period, a horrid unmentionable to identify yourself as a member of the working class in Britain. In the U.S., in contrast, everybody and her sister fervently believes she belongs to that great amorphous ubiquity, the "middle class." It's as if there are no workers. As if no one labors for a wage. This national lie is reflected in an awful lot of fiction, the fiction that gets published and reviewed and publicized, anyway.

It's so refreshing, then, to come across a novel that incorporates the class divide as central to its story. And it's no surprise that such a book comes from Britain. It is Peripheral Vision by Patricia Ferguson. I'm about three-quarters of the way through it and couldn't wait to post this note about it because of the way Ferguson so beautifully incorporates class issues as the necessary context, the scenery in a way, that colors the plot. Ferguson herself is, or was, a worker. A nurse-midwife. She initially found it very difficult to get this very fine book published, as related here in the Independent. So there's a similarity that spans the ocean. Working-class writers writing class-conscious stories have a hard time getting published.

By the way, in a quick round of googling before work this morning I didn't find much factual information about Patricia Ferguson other than her work history, so I'm not sure of her nationality. She may not be British at all; she may be Scottish. If so, she joins James Kelman and Ali Smith on the list of contemporary Scottish writers whose work I greatly admire.

Speaking of Kelman, earlier this month the London Times had an interesting piece about him. Two points of particular note: (1) Kelman is up for this year's Man Booker International Prize along with a list of fellow nominees that ranges from the brilliant, progressive and class-conscious (Ngugi, Oates, Doctorow) to the counterrevolutionary (Vargas Llosa) to several writers with whom I'm not familiar, including one, Mahasweta Devi of Bangladesh, whom Kelman calls "a great writer and a great fighter," which makes me keen to read Devi's work. And (2) Kelman is writing a screenplay for what's described as a "musical road movie" about zydeco, a musical form I absolutely love, so I look forward to this film.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How fast can consciousness change?

This fast!

About six months into what no honest commentator can any longer deny is a full-on economic depression, and what any class-conscious observer has to admit is a structural crisis of the capitalist system itself, only the barest majority of adults in the United States believe that capitalism is better than socialism.

Fully 20 percent--that's right, one-fifth of the adult population--say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent aren't sure.

The age breakdown is instructive. As you might expect, it's the older crowd that's more fully wedded to the social system devoted to private profit and based on exploitation, racism and war. The younger you go, the fewer the supporters of the broken old ways.

This is great news, and should surprise no one. In times of rapid change--and in particular in periods when workers are directly engaged in the class struggle, either, as now, as victims of capitalism's crisis, or, as will start happening soon, as participants in resistance--minds can open to unconventional ideas where before they were fully in the grip of ruling-class ideology. As anyone who has ever been on strike (I have three times) can testify, all the old assumptions, all the cant, all the lies that you swallowed unthinkingly your whole life up to now start breaking down very fast when your livelihood, even your life, is on the line.

Anticommunists sometimes accuse revolutionists of desiring economic breakdown and mass suffering precisely because these phenomena do inevitably lead to radicalization among the workers and oppressed. This is not true. When our class is in pain, no one feels it more than us. And of course it's not mere sympathy or empathy--we ourselves are among those suffering, we're losing our jobs, our homes, along with everyone else. But it is true that it does take a crisis like the current one to help open people's eyes. It's the job of working-class organizers to fight to stop the bosses from making workers bear the onus of this crisis of their, the bosses', creation--and at the same time to, yes, take advantage of the newly opened eyes to try to win workers over to the necessity for revolutionary change.

There are some wonderful novels that dramatize such efforts, such moments, as they've happened in the past in various other countries. I'll try soon to round up a list and post it here.

Read Red six months on

I've been meaning for a couple weeks now to do a status report, on the occasion of having been blogging here for six months. There seems to be too much strain on my brain at the moment, though, to clear a space to think through what I want to say. Which is something about how this endeavor has evolved. How it's less of a lark and more of a responsibility. Which doesn't mean it isn't still fun. It is, sometimes even great fun. But I take it seriously, too, more than I might have predicted at the start. In part this is because it is, if I dare make such a claim, unique. As far as I know there isn't another blog written by a worker who's also a writer who's also a reader who's not an academic but rather who's an activist, a communist in fact, who's attempting to take a look at the intersection of literature and politics from the vantage point of the working-class struggle. It's not an easy assignment. I'm going to keep trying to get it right. And as soon as I do have the opportunity I'm going to assay once again some commentary about the core questions that motivated me to start this blog up in the first place, questions about who writes, who and what gets published, what role the arts and in particular literature play in capitalist society.

All this left lit blogging may be, to what extent I'll probably never know, to my peril as a writer seeking publication. The more I spout off about the bourgeois arts establishment the less luck I'll no doubt have of getting a fair read from same. I care less and less. True, there are still days when I tear my hair out and curse and stamp my feet as I read the latest profile of some rich young blond with a high-cost MFA and connections up the wazoo whose po-mo novel of middle-class druggy angst just got snatched up for a high-five-figure advance. I admit it. I'm human, I live in this society. But more and more I find myself leaving all that behind, and just getting on with the writing. It may even be that blogging is helping me focus on the work. Here I can blow off steam--although I hope this is more than an exercise in self-indulgence. Here, usually on my lunch break during my working day, I can explore the class complications of a writing and reading life. Then there, at my writing desk at home, I can live that life.

One more note, for now. When I started Read Red I had no idea whether anyone would ever actually read it. Well, what do you know? Somebody, a good deal more than one somebody, does. Many of those who find their way here do so after googling this or that writer or book and finding my post on the subject. Others via links kindly posted on other blogs. Once or twice, or, who knows, maybe more, my left angle has been the subject of attack, generating many hits. On the other side, our side, I hope and assume, I've picked up a bit of a steady readership, which is a lovely surprise. Keep checking in. I'll keep reading red.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

60 years ago today: listen

It was 60 years ago today--April 9, 1939, which was Easter Sunday--that the great opera contralto Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She had been barred from performing at Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution. And so the arts became, as they have so often, the focus of struggle against racism. This struggle captured national attention and when the concert took place, with Ms. Anderson standing in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, more than 75,000 people, a great many of them African American, were there, with millions more listening to the live radio broadcast. You can hear part of it here.

A new biography of Marian Anderson, with special emphasis on the 1939 concert and its meaning in this country's cultural history, was published this month. The book is The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert that Awakened America. The author is Raymond Arsenault, John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History at University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. I'd like to read this.

Meanwhile, there's this report in today's Washington Post (log-in may be required), about the dedicated women who maintain Marian Anderson's Philadelphia home as a museum.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jeffrey Hunter & my Eastertime confession

The main character of the novel I'm working on grows up in an Italian family in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 50s. The story moves back and forth in time, but some key chapters take place during her teen years in the late 40s and early 50s, and as I was working on it recently I started worrying about verisimilitude. Specifically about trying to get the experience of being raised Catholic in that time and place right. This character is something of a wiesenheimmer and I'd been imagining a scene where she and her best friend make fun of the saints and their various gory stories. Then I realized I don't know those stories. So, remembering that I still hadn't used a Barnes & Noble gift card I'd been given as a holiday present, I got online and ordered the book that apparently most good Italian Catholic girls in 1950s Brooklyn would have been given, which my protagonist would have been perhaps devoted to as a younger child and which by the time she hits her mid-teens be making fun of: Lives of the Saints by Rev. Alban Butler. It just arrived. I'm looking forward to browsing through it, and I'm going to think hard about which of the stories my Ginny would be drawn to and then repulsed by later on.

As for the big story, the Jesus story itself, what do I know? I did take home a copy of Gideon's Bible last time I was at a hotel because I'd realized a while back that it's a useful reference to have around. But to the larger point, my knowledge base about the life story of the protagonist of the tale, broadly speaking whatever I learned I learned as a kid. Watching Jesus movies. Which, yeah, is nothing to brag about, but the truth is I had a fascination with this genre, and, well, sort of still do. So let me confess: what I know about the origins of Christianity* is the Hollywood Jews' version of the Roman Catholic version of the New Testament. The King of Kings/Greatest Story Ever Told/Jeffrey Hunter/Max Von Sydow versions. Which I used to love to watch when they came on TV at this time of year. This did drive my mom a little nuts, mein Yiddishe Mammeleh, but she'd sigh and roll her eyes and leave me to the TV, and go back to rolling her matzoh balls which were renowned for their unusual lightness though truth to tell I never had a taste for them. Anyway. I loved these movies, and to be honest I still find it hard to pass one up if I happen upon it on TV, which now drives mi amor Mexicana more than a little nuts because having been raised in the church she's less tolerant of this stuff than my atheist Jewish parents were. We have often discussed why I find them so compelling and the best explanation, besides the obviously glorious glitz and glamor, seems to be that, like a good ghost story, this is at base a tale of the supernatural. The movies that tell it are spooky and eerie, with a cast of thousands and lots of special effects of the sort that an atheist Jew doesn't come across very often anywhere else.

There's another aspect. Watching these movies, with their pageantry and grand drama, helps to give me a little taste, perhaps, of the appeal of religion in general, which otherwise is difficult for me to fathom. These great sweeping shivery stories full of magic and miracles, all the thousands and thousands of these great stories of supernatural beings that humanity has invented over the millennia, have an undeniable and very human appeal. It's good to be reminded of that, I think.

*I'm exaggerating a bit. I've read Karl Kautsky's The Foundations of Christianity, an absolutely fascinating study. I've read Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels, which provides rich insights into the early Christians and how, over the course of several centuries and much debate and strife, they ironed out agreement on a narrative for the story of the founders. I've watched lots of documentaries and pseudo-documentaries on TV, as well as every successor to Old Hollywood's classics. But somehow it's those old Technicolor gospels that stick with me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday miscellany

Still don't think art has anything to do with the political struggle? The FBI disagrees. Check out this story from the April issue of Jazz Times about decades of FBI investigations and hounding of some of the greatest jazz musicians, singers and bandleaders, including Max Roach (in picture at left), Charles Mingus, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.

Art teachers are under the gun at Parsons the New School for Design, where the nefarious administration of Vietnam war criminal Bob Kerrey is giving the axe to what may turn out to be most of its visual arts faculty. They are adjunct instructors, so their teaching lives are insecure, never knowing from semester to semester whether they'll have work and income. They do, however, to Kerrey's and the bosses' dismay, have a union, UAW Local 7902, and a contract, so these workers are organized and fighting back. They're also drawing support from artists around New York, who are uniting behind the Parons teachers against the mass firings.

For writers and poets on the prowl for publication, here's a good current list of calls for submissions. It's not for me, however, because for the first time in a long time I have nothing to submit. This is a good thing. All my completed stories have either been published or accepted for publication. All the stories I'm working on have a ways to go before they're ready to submit. Novel #2 an even longer way. I'm still seeking publication for novel #1 but I'm not holding my breath and I'm not letting it block my concentration on new work. Tayari Jones has some helpful advice in this regard.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Goliath howls

Which is the only country to have used nuclear weapons, mass murdering hundreds of thousands of people in Japan in August 1945? Which country has more nuclear and every other sort of weapon than any other in the world? Which country has troops occupying dozens of nations worldwide? And has invaded sovereign nations scores of times in the last 110 years? Specifically, which country has had tens of thousands of troops stationed in Korea for nearly 60 years, ever since its imperialist invasion of and war against that country intended to block the revolution that was sweeping from north to south? Which country bombed Pyongyang so mercilessly that there was not a single building left standing? And which country has enforced a vicious blockade against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for even longer than its equally criminal blockade against revolutionary Cuba?

Right. That would be the USA. The biggest criminal of the imperialist era. Which insists that only it and its allies have the right to develop and use satellite technology for communications or military purposes, and is now painting the DPRK as the criminal for exerting this right as a sovereign nation. Check out Absent Cause's response to the outrageous attacks on this small, courageous nation that has been under U.S. assault for almost 60 years. For my part, I'm proud of my Korean comrades. They have every right to develop their technology--including for self-defense, which perhaps more than any country on earth they manifestly need, with U.S. nuclear-armed troops massed on their border--and the fact that they've managed to do so despite all the obstacles imposed by imperialism is a testament to their collective strength and determination.This is one of those classic instances when anyone whose heart is with the workers and oppressed has a choice to make. You can step back and ask yourself why there is this overwhelming propaganda campaign against a small country--why in particular the U.S. and Japan, which is the historic imperialist oppressor of Korea, are so intent on preventing the DPRK from achieving missile technology--or you can swallow the nonsensical claim that this impoverished nation that has never invaded anyone somehow poses some sort of threat. Which side are you on?Despite having to constantly divert much-needed resources to self-defense, the DPRK manages to also nourish the arts. Here, a drummer performs last month in China.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fiction to fact, reading to writing

I've commented before about how/when I give myself permission to stop reading a book, but lately it's gotten ridiculous. It seems to me that I've started and given up on six or more books in the last week or two. I even went as far in as 150 pages or so with one and yet ultimately had to admit defeat. Nothing's grabbing me. Nothing's demanding my attention. Nothing's keeping me awake at night, or calling out to me upon morning's first stirrings of consciousness.

Today it occurred to me that maybe the problem's with me. Maybe the reason I can't seem to get engaged in a novel is the fault of the reader and not all these writers. Maybe it's time to turn away from fiction. Once I had the thought I realized it was exactly right, that in fact a turn toward fact is long overdue. In general I read much more fiction than non-fiction, a ratio of perhaps 10 to one. Still, there is that one. For all that I find in fiction, I do also hunger for an occasional bout of straight-on learning such as can only be found in a work of history or biography, paleontology or cosmology. Now is such a time. Such a hunger has been manifesting itself, only I was a bit dense about recognizing the meaning of the pangs.

Once I did, I picked up a book that I've been meaning to read since it came out three years ago--Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America by James Green. And of course it became immediately clear that I couldn't be reading a more timely book. As any good labor activist and all students of labor history--but, sadly, hardly anyone else in this country--knows, it is the events of May 1886 in Chicago, and the struggle for the eight-hour day that gave rise to those events, and the martyrdom of the working-class leaders who were framed and executed afterward that the entire worldwide working class marks every May 1. Yes, May Day, the international workers' holiday, a day off for workers in most countries but of course not here, commemorates the Haymarket.

The Haymarket and all that word encompasses--the strikes, the rallies, the police riots and bloody murders of workers; the martyrdom of Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer; the Red Scare--is timely for another reason. Interwoven with all the rest of this history is the issue of immigrant workers. It was the immigrants of that time, 120-some years ago, who led the struggle. Immigrants were among the most radical workers, including the socialists. It was immigrants who were targeted by the ruling-class offensive that sought to beat back labor and defeat the movement for the eight-hour day.

It all comes together now, as another wave of anti-immigrant demagogy emanates from the capitalists--and another wave of militant immigrant workers fights back. May Day is coming up. There will be big rallies and marches in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and many other cities, as there have been since the massive Day Without An Immigrant May Day actions shut down most of the country in 2006. Now, with millions of workers, immigrant and U.S.-born, out of work and struggling to survive, these actions will be more meaningful than ever.

Perfect time to bone up on this history. Now I can settle down with a good book. One other reason I think I needed to shift from fiction to non is that I'm now fully engaged in working on my new novel. Sentences are running through my head. I hear my characters' voices. This is where my mind goes upon awakening, this is what keeps me awake at bedtime. This, not whatever novel I was trying to read. Which is a very good thing and of course I don't mind at all that it means I have to turn away from fiction reading. It's just for the moment, I know. I read tons of novels while I was writing my first. Reading fiction only helps in the writing of fiction. As I re-enter the work right now, though, it seems that, for what I'm sure will be only a brief interval, there isn't room for both my own imagination and someone else's.

At left: Haymarket Martyrs Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, Chicago. At the statue's base are August Spies' last words: "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today."

Friday, April 3, 2009

From the substantive ...

... that is, the fight against the capitalists' drive to further enrich themselves by impoverishing the rest of us ...

to the silly, that is, a corner of pop culture that's recently ensnared me. To whit, Battlestar Gallactica. I realize that I've come to the craze late, as I so often do, in this case right after the series ended for good. I'd meant to check it out for a long time. Kept hearing good things about it. Finally, recently, I started watching. So far I've seen the opening mini-series and the first four episodes after that. I'm generally a pretty harsh critic of this genre, especially on TV where these sorts of series I've found to usually be incredibly badly written, full of the most ridiculous laughable stupidity, and just cheesy as all hell. But Battlestar Gallactica is different. The production values are really good; it doesn't look goofily fake. The story is intriguing, at least so far. And the writing is decent instead of snort-and-roll-my-eyes bad.

Good enough for me. I'm hooked. File this in the category of Even Communists Can Have Fun.

Bail Out the People protest pix

Despite an absolutely drenching downpour, lots of people turned out for today's protest against the government handouts to the banks. I spent my lunch hour there but had to come back to work before the march to AIG began. I did take a few pix with my cell phone so here they are.

The washed-out look is because, well, we were all getting washed out. And the placards are all sheathed in plastic, which explains any blurriness there. The politics, though, were sharp, as was the anger in the air. Many workers from the financial district, happening upon the demonstration during their lunch hours, joined in.

UPDATE: The sun is finally peeking out now, an hour or so after I came back to work, so it's shining on the marchers at AIG.

& ONE MORE UPDATE: Police arrested four members of the youth group FIST--Fight Imperialism, Stand Together--who were taking part in the demonstration. Here is a petition demanding that the four be immediately released and all charges dropped. It points out who the real criminals are.

April showers shorts

It's a rainy April day here in New York, despite which lots of people, including me, will be rallying on Wall Street and marching on AIG this afternoon to protest the continuing use of our tax dollars to bail out banks while millions of people lose their homes and their jobs--an astonishing 2 million layoffs already in the first three months of 2009.

Next up: May Day.

Speaking of layoffs, outrage at the carnage unleashed by management at the University of New Mexico Press continues to grow. Earlier this week the UNMP announced that three employees were being laid off, with nine more likely to be let go soon, and all of their jobs to be outsourced, which always means somebody else will be exploited more for doing the same work. The UNMP workers, especially angry that all those laid off are women and include the press's only Latina employee, aren't going gracefully, however. They issued a press release excoriating management and vowing to fight the firings.

Meanwhile there's good news from Iowa, a few states up and over. The state supreme court has overturned Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage. Teresa, my lover of 20 years, and I are toying with taking a day trip some time soon to Connecticut, the closest spot available, to get married. Not because we are in any way drawn to that institution born of the patriarchy, but because if we get married we can then sue my employer to demand equal benefits, untaxed as are those that employees' husbands and wives get. By the way--here comes a little plug for my own writing-- a story of mine on this topic was published in Crate literary journal's 2007 issue. Set 800 years in the future, it takes the form of a high school student's term paper about how the right to same-sex marriage was finally established, in the long-ago bad old days before the revolution. Things are barreling along so quickly now that the, er, extreme tactics imagined in this story most likely won't be needed, but I'm still fond of the idea I had for how to win this struggle, which is the focus of the story.

Head back down and left for another bit of good news: a jury has found in favor of Professor Ward Churchill in his lawsuit against the University of Colorado. The jury agreed with Churchill that he was fired for his politics, strongly left of course, not for any supposed academic failing.

Finally, the various big-money book awards are rarely of much interest to me, although I should probably blog at some point about how they're funded and various other aspects of what role they play in the class struggle, literary division. In any case one of them, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, has just announced its 2009 short list, and it does interest me to note that of the eight nominees I've read five, all of which could be classified to varying degrees as political fiction. On the progressive side of the continuum, that is. Checking out the brief descriptions I see that at least two of the other three are also political, on the anti-communist side which no doubt makes them strong contenders. We'll see.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Meanwhile, at the Bank of England ...

In London, protests at the G20 imperialists' summit heated up today. Some pix here from outside the Bank of England where demonstrators converged. Hundreds of thousands are expected for the big action on Saturday.
Go ahead, bourgeois governments, keep bailing out the banks; after all, no one really minds, right?

Call for a pro-left pile-on

It's a little tiring to have to be in high dudgeon all the time, which sometimes seems to be the lot I've assigned myself as a left lit blogger. So lookie here, dear readers: help me out. I'd like to post a corrective of sorts to my repeated plaints about the overwhelming anti-class-struggle slant of the U.S. literary world. A list of books, preferably fiction since that's my main interest but memoirs or biographies would work too, that are oriented toward the other side. Our side. The anti-capitalist, the pro-socialist, the workers' and oppressed peoples' side. I'd like to hear of novels whose protagonists are partisans in this struggle. Many or most may not be contemporary, alas. Such is the state of things. Perhaps I'll already know about them and have read them. But maybe not. Surprise me.

Most of all, I'd love to hear about such novels or memoirs that are current or recent. The pro-struggle antidote to the endless barrage of anti-struggle books.

Help me out here. Anyone who'd like to suggest such a title, please email it to me. Address: my name (see my profile to find it) at


The anti-left literary pile-on

We live in the world headquarters of capitalism. Naturally, then, here where we live the capitalist class has a lock hold on all forms of expression including artistic expression. Intentionally or not, the only exceptions being the result of extreme intentional effort to break away, art under capitalism is imbued with bourgeois ideology. Literature perhaps most of all. I've written about this before, especially in a series of posts in January and February, as have others more eloquent than I. It's on my mind again now as it seems to me that lately a rash of anti-communist and/or anti-struggle books are being heavily promoted. There's Yiyun Li's The Vagrants, the latest in a never-ending parade of books trashing the great Chinese Revolution while of course nothing written in China defending the revolution ever gets translated and published here. There's Zoe Heller's The Believers that skewers an imagined family of committed leftists while you'd be hard pressed to find a current novel with sympathetic protagonists on the side of the working-class struggle. Now, as if fiction isn't an effective or direct enough medium of the anti-struggle message, here comes a memoir, which is a much more popular form, to tell the tale directly.

It is When Skateboards Will Be Free, Said Sayrafiezadeh's book about being raised by parents who belonged to the Socialist Workers Party. The moral of his story: socialists make bad parents. (Bad people, one might be expected to extrapolate.) What a hard life this fellow had, dragged to meetings, protests, forced to swallow crazy ideas like equality and justice along with his PB&J sandwiches. Poor little tyke couldn't even ask for a toy without being subjected to a lecture about how unfair it is that toys are commodities built for profit, not for children's fun, and therefore most children around the world can't afford them--which is the anecdote from which the title is lifted.

Now prepare yourself for the shock of all shocks: everyone loves this book! The author is being toasted from coast to coast!

Me, I have no love for the SWP. The group to which I belong, Workers World Party, actually split from the SWP 50 years ago. However, when the SWP or any group is attacked from the right, as is currently happening via the chorus of hosannas being showered on Mr. Sayrafiezadeh's memoir, I have to go on record as disassociating myself from the lit pack's pile-on.

I feel sorry for the author's parents. From what I can tell, they were admirable people who don't deserve the ridicule to which their son is subjecting them. The success of this book is cheap, easy and unsurprising. Hey, gang, everybody after the Reds!

I'm moved to try something new. Many of my WWP comrades have children who are now grown, ranging in age from 18 to 40. I'm going to see if any of this younger generation has the time or inclination to read this book and if so if she/he would like to write a review here at Read Red. If not--and really, why would they want to--perhaps I can get one of them to guest blog about her/his own experience being raised by communists. A mini-memoir of sorts.

You know, about the horrors of such an upbringing. Party newspapers piled by the door! Posters of Che hanging on the walls! Parents who can't afford to buy them fancy things, not because they come from poverty but because they devote their life to the struggle and so don't make much money, the scoundrels!

If I can recruit a memoirist, it won't be for the big bucks. Unlike the young fellow who'll soon be raking in lovely royalty checks for his anti-left memoir. Anyway, I can't promise this will come to pass. Everyone I can think of to ask is pretty busy taking part in the struggle for socialism. Compared to that, this favor I'll ask is a low-priority task.