Tuesday, May 21, 2013


It's embarrassing that I hadn't read it till now, over 10 years since its publication, but I did just read Assata, the autobiography of Assata Shakur. And wow.

This is a great book. I say that not just because it's by a hero of the struggle for liberation and revolution. Not just because it's timely to read Assata's own words now especially, since the U.S. government has renewed its attack on her this month, labeling her a terrorist and naming her one of the FBI's most wanted. Not only because this latest escalation is also an attack on Cuba, where sister Assata has lived since she escaped prison and sought refuge in that revolutionary nation. All these are true and all are good reasons to read her story.

But I recommend her autobiography also for the simple reason that it's a great book. Told in the most vivid, no-nonsense language, filled with the verve and fervor that Assata Shakur has brought to her lifetime of struggle, deeply informative and winning. This is a book to strengthen and buoy revolutionaries. It is also a book to educate and raise the consciousness of those who may not yet understand why socialist revolution is necessary. Because Assata Shakur, like most people, was once such a person--and by tracing her life, her experiences, what she witnessed, what she learned, she provides here a deeply affecting series of lessons, depicted as she herself learned them. About racism and how it's integral to capitalism. About education and mis-education. About oppression, how to recognize it and how to fight it.

I'm sorry it took me so long to read this book. I'm moved and humbled by reading it. Nearly as moved and humbled as I was on one of the greatest days of my life, in April 1996, when I met sister Assata in Havana, Cuba. I was there with the U.S.-Cuba Labor Exchange, and one afternoon our delegation was driven to a downtown building for a snacks-and-drinks reception where we, unbelievably thrillingly, got to meet and chat with Assata.

So here I am with the great liberation fighter Assata Shakur. (Original photo is good quality but I don't have a scanner so this is a cell-phone shot of the actual photograph.) In the second picture we're joined by Khadouri, a wonderful Iraqi activist. That same day at that same reception we also met another great revolutionary, Kwame Toure, who was also in exile from the U.S., living in Guinea, but at that time was in Havana receiving medical treatment for the cancer that would eventually kill him. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a picture of myself with him, but meeting and talking with him was also a great honor for me, one of the highlights of my life.

 U.S. terrorist government: hands off Assata!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Today is the 65th anniversary of the Nakba: the catastrophe that was the official creation, backed by the full force of U.S. imperialism, of the state of Israel based on the expulsion of three-quarters-of-a-million Palestinians from their homes and homeland.

Today roughly 7 million refugees, those expelled and their descendants, take to the streets worldwide to demand the right to return.

Today all who support and defend the right to self-determination of all peoples stand with the heroic Palestinian people.

In less than two weeks there will be a focus on the struggle's literary front as the fifth annual Palestine Festival of Literature convenes. As in past years, PalFest features a great array of writers, Palestinians and others, in what looks like a fabulous series of programs "in cities across all of historical Palestine," as the organizers have announced. Most every year Israeli state forces attempt to block or disrupt one or another session, but PalFest cannot be stopped. Here's a list of participants over the years. Read their work! And here's an interesting commentary from a British author about how PalFest educated him and improved his novel.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

But it's May Day!

And I can't let the other side grab my attention. Not today, on our day, the workers' day.

Happy May Day! To my sisters and brothers here in New York, gathered in Union Square. And in Havana, in Revolution Plaza.

And in Gaza.

And around the world. A better one's in birth!

More on the anticommunist saints of the writing world

Stopping in again briefly with a coda to yesterday's post regarding the PEN World Voices Conference. A while back I read this illuminating piece on Vaclav Havel by the leftist writer Michael Parenti. Havel of course was the playwright and leading front person for U.S. imperialism in working to bring about the counter-revolution in Czechoslovakia. After that effort succeeded, Havel served as president of the new Czech Republic. Now dead, he's pretty well achieved sainthood standing as he does for freedom, democracy and art all tied up together in a pretty bow.

The truth, as Parenti points out, is that Havel was the scion of a wealthy family and a fighter above all for his own class interests. He hated the workers' state, hated the struggle to build socialism in Czechoslovakia--because it expropriated his family's wealth, wealth that was created by and had been stolen from workers. He fought hard to overturn that system so he and his lot could get their riches back.

In 1992, writes Parenti, "while president of Czechoslovakia, Havel, the great democrat, demanded that parliament be suspended and he be allowed to rule by edict, the better to ram through free-market 'reforms.' 

"That same year, he signed a law that made the advocacy of communism a felony with a penalty of up to eight years imprisonment." How's that for free speech?

So anyway, Philip Roth's great revelation at last night's PEN gala was that he spent a lot of time in the 1970s boosting Havel. He brought him money! He arranged contracts to have his books published in the United States! He soothed and supported Havel and his cronies who, Roth claims, were forced to actually work for a living. Work! Manual labor! What horrors! What nerve the socialist state had, refusing to pay these fine artistes a salary for fomenting counterrevolution! What antidemocratic anti-art baddies! All of this, Roth's service to U.S. imperialism, he portrayed in his talk, as far as I can tell from reports, as his own personal endeavors, but it's an absolute certainty that Roth carried out his mission in cahoots with the State Department. That's how this stuff works.