Friday, May 28, 2010

Organize, educate, educate, organize

Organize. Organize and educate. That is what you must do. In the face of apathy and ignorance, organize and educate. For generation after generation.
The speaker is a fictional version of Eleanor Marx, youngest daughter of Karl and Jenny. She says this early on in the novel I'm currently reading, The Daughter: A Novel Based on the Life of Eleanor Marx by Judith Chernaik. I've wanted to read this for some time and recently found it in the university library. The book was published in 1979 and this single copy has only been checked out once before. I feel sad for it, I find myself sort of cradling it comfortingly after its long lonely sojourn on the shelves--and that's before I even know if I'm going to like it or not. I hope I will. The only other fictional appearance of Eleanor Marx I've come upon is in Sara Waters' wonderful first novel Tipping the Velvet. I already loved this book to pieces but then when I got to the part toward the end when the main character falls in with a group of socialist women in 1880s London, goes to a political rally and meets Eleanor Marx, oh boy did I swoon or what! Whether this book will have anywhere near that effect remains to be seen.

Earlier this week I read Red Dirt by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a leftist historian. It's a memoir of growing up poor in 1940s and 50s Oklahoma, much concerned with class and race and social issues. The most interesting parts, for me, come early on when she talks about the history of that state, about what deep roots radical movements have there, about the IWW and the socialists, about the Green Corn Rebellion and resistance to imperialist war, and how KKK terror was employed to suppress all this working-class organizing, and before that how the Native nations that had already been driven out of their lands further east were assailed by a treaty-breaking land grab--and in all this, the role of her people, the Okies, who they were and where they came from and their historic role in this country and before they came here in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland. Fascinating stuff from a deeply class-conscious writer.

I've been sticking to my resolve to maintain this blog's focus on literary matters, so I have refrained from posting links, rants or anything else about the current horrors wrecking the world, chief among them at the moment the !@#$#*$&$^&$!@!*&$$* BP oil spill, the company's singleminded devotion to PR and profit, and the government's utter inaction in deference to its Big Oil masters. I trust y'all are up on this latest, most urgent reminder yet that capitalism has got to go before it kills us all, and are hooking up with the local manifestations of national mobilizing efforts to demand an all-out, fully funded cleanup effort along with criminal prosecution of the greedy, murdering oil executives. Privately, in the writing corner of my life, I'd already been at work on a sci-fi-ish story set in the 2020s, and last week I found myself folding the BP disaster into it as having proven to be the pivotal turning point in the destruction of the planet and at the same time, necessarily, in the rising up of revolutionary struggle. This, the second part, may be my wishful thinking. Or it may be not that far from what will come. What must come, of that we can be sure.

I'll be putting fiction writing aside for a bit starting this weekend, because I've got another assignment that I've got to spend some time on. In a couple weeks I'm giving a labor history class at the Marxist School of Theory and Struggle here in NYC. I'll be speaking and leading a discussion on the labor upsurge of the 1930s, and on the National Labor Relations Act and related concessions by the ruling class in that period. The occasion is the upcoming 75th anniversary of the signing of the NLRA (July 5, if I remember right) and, more generally, the current unemployment crisis that is in some ways worse than the Great Depression. There's such a crying need for renewed labor struggle that it behooves us to study the last great manifestation of it in this country. It's been a long time since I've done this sort of presentation. I'm rusty. I think I need to reread the wonderful primer Labor's Untold Story by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, and bone up with some other reading as well, not to mention rereading the NLRA itself. Then write a lecture. And think about questions and discussion points.

So. The reduced frequency of my posts here will probably continue for the next little while.