OF FASCISM AND CALIFORNIA (CAREY MCWILLIAMS, 1939)

Along the highway in Merced Country, California. (December 17, 2016)

An efficient espionage system is maintained by the Associated Farmers. In 1935, I inspected the “confidential” files of the organization in San Francisco. At that time, they had a card-index file on “dangerous radicals” containing approximately one thousand names, alphabetically arranged with front- and side-view photographs of each individual including notations of arrests, strike activities, affiliations and so forth. Each reference contained a number which referred to a corresponding identification record in the archives of the State Bureau of Criminal Identification. Set of this file have been distributed to over  hundred peace officers in the State and lists have been sent to members of the association. Local offices in the State and lists have been sent to members of the association. Local offices or branches of the Associated Farmer maintain elaborate records of a similar nature, including a “check-up” system whereby workers with a reputation for independence may be readily identified and rousted out of the locality. The State Bureau of Criminal Identification had its private investigators sleuthing for the Tagus Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley and it employed, at one time or another, the various stool pigeons upon whose testimony the Sacramento criminal-syndicalism prosecution was based.


In addition to its espionage activities, the Associated Farmers maintain a carefully organized propaganda department. Regular bulletins, heavily larded with “anti-Communist” information, are sent to the member; special articles are reprinted and distributed throughout the State; and a steady flow of statements and releases are supplied to the press. In recent years, the association has begun to dabble in a more ambitious type of propaganda. One of its spokesmen, Mr. John Phillips, a State Senator, recently visited Europe. Upon his return, Mr. Phillips published a series of articles in the California Cultivator (February 1 and 15, 1936), on his travels. One article was devoted to Mr. Philips’ impressions of the Nazis (he was in Nuremberg when the party was in session). Mr. Philips particularly noticed the new type of German citizenship—the Reichsburger—under which “you simply say that anybody who agrees with you is a citizen of the first class, and anybody who does not agree with you is a non-voting citizen.” His admiration for Hitler is boundless: “I would like to tell you how the personality of Hitler impressed me and how I feel that he has a greater personal appeal, a greater personal influence on his people than many of the nations realize.” “Hitler,” he said in a speech on January 18, 1938, “has done more for democracy than any man before him.” Some years ago,  Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, Issued a statement repudiating a circular which the Associated Farmers had distributed in which they had attempted to out, by reference to a faked marriage license, that she was  Jewess. Throughout California in 1936 and 1937, the Associate Farmers sponsored and organized meetings for the Reverend Martin Luther Thomas, of Los Angeles, who heads a “Christian American Crusade,” and who is a notorious anti-Semite and Red-baiter. As a result of Mr. Thomas’ harangues, the authorities in Riverside County employed a special detective, at a salary of $1,800 a year, to spy on the public schools. Mr. Phillips, who is frequently teamed with the Rev. Mr. Thomas at anti-Communist meeting sponsored by the Associated Farmers, was, for a time, holding a county office in Riverside County, designated as “labor coordinator.” More recently the Associated Farmers have sponsored Samuel J. Hume, of the California Crusaders, who has spoken throughout the State inveighing against labor organization.


Shortly after its formation, the Associated Farmers launched a campaign, in the rural counties for the enactment of the anti-picketing and so-called “emergency-disaster” ordinances. Anti-Picketing ordinances have, as a consequence, been enacted in practically every rural county. The alleged justification for the “emergency-disaster” ordinances, which provide for a mobilization of all the community in case of a “major disaster,” was the earthquake which occurred in Southern California in March, 1933. Today practically every county in the State, and most of the cities and towns, have such ordinances in effect. There is nothing in the wording of most of these ordinances to prevent their use in case of a “strike,” which in the eyes of the farmers during harvest is certainly a “major disaster.” The ordinances provides, in elaborate detail, for the formation of a kind of “crisis,” or extra-legal governmental machinery, which is to come into existence, with broad powers, upon the declaration by the appropriate executive officer in the community that a state of emergency exists. The purpose back of the campaign for the enactment of these ordinances has been clearly indicated. For example, on December 18, 1936, the county counsel in Los Angeles was instructed to draft legislation which “would permit counties to spend funds for erecting concentration camps for us during major disasters.” Thus the governmental apparatus for a kind of constitutional Fascism actually exists in California today.


….


On September 20, 1935, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration ordered the liquidation of the Federal Transient Service, which had, at one time, provided relief for 38,815 transients in California: 13.5 per cent of all transients in the country. With the abrupt discontinuance of Federal assistance, the local authorities became wildly hysterical. The methods by which they have ever since attempted to cope with the problem have been, to say the least, curious. The first step in this direction was the creation of the Los Angeles Committee on Indigent Alien Transients, headed by James E. Davis, Chief of Police. In flat disregard of constitutional provisions, this power-drunk functionary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce proceeded to establish some sixteen border patrols staffed by the Los Angeles City Police, the patrols being located in counties hundred of miles removed from Los Angeles. Throughout November and December, 1935, and January, March and April, 1936, some 125 policemen stationed at these various points of entry stopped all cars that looked as though they might contain “unemployables” and turned them back. When a court action was brought in the United States District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union, to test the constitutionality of this procedure, the Chief of Police detailed the head of his celebrated “Intelligence Squad” to “work over” the plaintiff in whose name the action had been commenced. Not only was the plaintiff himself intimidated, but his wife and child were threatened and browbeaten by police officers (one of whom has since been convicted in Los Angeles of attempted murder); and, ultimately, the plaintiff was “induced” to drop the action. The patrol unquestionably checked the influx of refugees, but the effect of the blockade was to “back up” the refugees and temporarily delay their entry into California. Repercussions of the blockade were felt as far East as El Paso.

Excerpts from: Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field (1939)

#NOBAN — C.L.R. JAMES, 1953

C.L.R. James Papers; Box 24 Folder 33; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

The Department of Justice and its policies, not the aliens, are the chief source of the demoralizing regime on Ellis Island. It cannot even organize and give some sense of direction to its own American security officers. Its misunderstanding of the aliens themselves is absolute.

The whole of the world is represented on Ellis Island. Many sailors, but not only sailors; Germans, Italians, Latvians, Swedes, Filipinos, Malays, Chinese, Hindus, Pakistanis, West Indians, Englishmen, Australians, Danes, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Canadians, representatives of every Latin-American country. As I write each word, I see someone whom I knew. To the administration on Ellis Island and I presume, at 70 Columbus Avenue, these are just a body of isolated individuals who are in reality seeking charity, or a home in the United States which is a better place to live in than their backward or poverty stricken countries. Of all the blunders I encountered on Ellis Island this is undoubtedly the most colossal.

These men, taken as a whole, know the contemporary world and know it better than many world-famous foreign correspondents. They discuss among themselves their attitudes to the United States, their attitudes to World War III, to Russia, to totalitarianism, to democracy, to national independence. I have never heard or read in any newspaper such coldly realistic discussion as to the possibilities of war, and weighing of which side offered the greater advantages. They pass to one another political articles in the popular press, and they discuss and fill in from personal knowledge. With a devastating simplicity they sum up regimes. I have heard a man say in five minutes all that needed to be said about one of the most controversial regimes in the world today. He ended, “I know. I have lived and worked there.” Their consistently recurring view of the United States is worth recording. “America is all right if you have money.”


Indo-China, the Malay States, Pakistan, Franco Spain, Yugoslavia, Europe yesterday, today and tomorrow, Asia today, Germany, East and West, I picked up, sometimes at second-hand, sometimes confused, sometimes contradictory but always authentic views. There was a Scandinavian who had traveled all over the world, spoke many languages and knew Europe and Europeans to his fingertips. I spent some days in his company. He spent his time alternately declaring with great emphasis that he didn’t care about anything any more, not a damn thing—it was too much for him—he was tired of it. And then he would immediately launch into such descriptions, reminiscences, analyses and forecasts of the European situation as I had never heard before. He wanted to, but he could not leave it alone.

This is my final impression. The meanest mariners, renegades and castaways of Melville’s day were objectively a new world. But they knew nothing. The symbolic mariners and renegades of Melville's book were isolatoes, federated by one keel, but only because they had been assembled by penetrating genius. These were federated by nothing. But they were looking for federation. I have heard a boy, a young oriental, say that he would fight in the war on either side—it didn’t matter to him. What he wanted was a good peace, no half-peace. This peace, however, he added almost as an afterthought, should include complete independence for his own little country.

This then is the crowning irony of the little cross-section of the whole world that is Ellis Island. That while the United States Department of Justice is grimly pursuing a venomous anti-alien policy, and in the course of so doing disrupting and demoralizing its own employees desperately trying to live up to their principles, the despised aliens, however fiercely nationalistic, are profoundly conscious of themselves as citizens of the world.

C.L.R. James, “A Natural but Necessary Conclusion,” in Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (1953)

BARBARA HARLOW (1948-2017), COMRADE-IN-ARMS


We’ve just lost Barbara Harlow. Born in that infamous year of 1948 in Cleveland, Ohio, Harlow was a professor at UT Austin since 1985. Before that she taught at the American University of Cairo (after her departure, and as a testament to her internationalism, Harlow was on the editorial board of and a frequent contributor to AUC's Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics). Harlow was a model scholar whose political commitment cannot be understated. Her translations and serious engagement with Arabic fiction and nonfiction—in particular the work of Ghassan Kanafani—remains critical. And her comparative prowess was unmatched. She moved between the literatures and histories of the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Latin America perennially and seemingly effortlessly. Her writing and editing at scholarly publications committed to critique and radical politics, like Middle East Report and Race & Class, means she wrote—besides her erudite books—many political interventions and a truly dizzying number of review essays. Indeed, Harlow’s reviewing practice exemplified what one of her most frequent interlocutors, Antonio Gramsci, prescribed:


Individually nobody can follow all the literature published on a group of topics or even on a single topic. . . . Just as those in power have a secretariat or a press office which keeps them informed daily or from time to time about everything published they need to know about, so a similar service will be provided for its public by a periodical. . . . Reviews should not be casual and occasional, but systematic; and they also need to be accompanied by retrospective “surveys” that “sum up” the most essential topics.


Harlow’s review essays were clear, generous, and instructive. Her books, Resistance Literature (1987), Barred: Women, Writing, and Political Detention (1992), and After Lives: Legacies of Revolutionary Writing (1996) must be read and re-read. Written at a time when discussions of Palestinian literature were far rarer than they are now, Harlow placed the writings of Palestinians–not just their novels, but their poetry, memoirs, and political tracts—into a global conversation they were often excluded from.

Harlow’s critical method is instructive. In the preface to her book Barred, from which I excerpt at length below, she wrote:


In terms of discipline, this project derives from the traditions of literary criticism and from current schools of cultural theory. Political detention, however, engages a redefinition of the scholarly practices implied in the terms “discipline,” and it is such a redefinition, whed through the different but linked institutional imperatives of the academy and the prison, that I have attempted to encounter here… This procedure is a calculated and not disinterested one. The major figures in the book, its cast of characters as it were, are the prisoners, male and female, their associates, and the specific organizations, struggles, and movements in which they have participated and for which they have been detained. Their writing, the subject of this book, is not just “raw material,” but is itself an articulation of a critical perspective, one that I have attempted both to deploy and to demonstrate.     


In her obituary for Edward Said in 2003, Harlow noted the solidarity displayed in Said’s own obituaries for his friends Eqbal Ahmad and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod. She quoted Ahmad who said that “we are in a much worse time than the Cold War.” “Dark times they were,” Harlow concluded, “Scoundrel times they are. But the comrades remained—must remain—in arms.”  Harlow’s solidarity with the Palestinian people, her commitment to the incarcerated, to the wretched of the earth from Ireland to South Africa to El Salvador, was deep and unwavering. Now, perhaps more than ever, Harlow must be remembered and her example followed.   


****


Prison education, unlike much university instruction as professed in the Western academy, functions to undermine the very walls and premises that contain it. It raises the question of the extent to which an academic discourse functions to perpetuate disciplinary structures erected to maintain order and punish transgressions; it asks why scholarship so often “bantustanizes” the sociopolitical realities of the areas whose cultural production it appropriates. Programs in various ethnic and area studies and women’s studies, for example, which appeared in United States universities following the campus activism and political agitation in the 1960s, as Rosaura Sanchez points out, “not out of a state interest in a body of knowledge but out of interest in ensuring campus order and security.” The work of political prisoners, men and women, and even children, on a discursive level no less than in the political arena, presents a powerful challenge to such disciplining.


Area Studies programs and departments of national literatures have extracurricular analogues in the state bureaucracy that closes its internal borders as readily as it allow for a calculated permeability of external boundaries. On 29 October 1986, for example, the United States bureau of Prisons opened a multimillion dollar maximum security prison for women in Lexington, Kentucky. Designed to house sixteen inmates, for over a year the facility contained only two detainees, Alejandrina Torres, a Puerto Rican nationalists, and Susan Rosenberg, a revolutionary political activist from New York City, both confined under extremely brutal conditions criticize publicly by Amnesty International as constituting “cruel and unusual punishment.” Less than a year later, death squads from El Salvador extended their sphere of activity into the united States, when three Central American women were abducted from the streets of Los Angeles, tortured, and then returned to the streets badly beaten, as a “message” to their supporters. The lexington “high security unit” has since been closed by court order, in part in response to pressures such as Amnesty protest. The closure has been appealed by the United States government. Torres, convicted of seditious conspiracy, was transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego. In the meantime, Susan Rosenberg with five codefendants is awaiting trial in Washington, D.C., on charges of conspiracy associated with a series of bombings in the capital in 1983 following the United States invasion of Grenada. The “resistance conspiracy trial” and its attempt to criminalize political activism in the United States will, according to Susie Day, “probably unearth in the Left profound questions about the nature of justice and criminality in our society.” The ultimate intended effect of such “messages,” however, whether from the United States government or form Salvadoran death squads, is to disenfranchise the political for the sake of the national patriotic, and reassert the dominant boundaries.


Most analyses of the modern prison system, even those that are critical, such as Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1979) and Dario Melossi and Massimo Pavarini’s The Prison and the Factory (1981), remain outside the walls of the prison and its officials. Foucault, for example, following his historical narrative of the transformation of the public spectacle of punishment into coercive and secretive model of the “power to punish,” discerns two images of discipline in the modern penal system:


At one extreme, the discipline blockade, the enclosed institution, established on the edges of society, turned inwards towards negative functions: arresting evil, breaking communications, suspending time. At the other extreme, with panopticism, is the discipline mechanism: a functional mechanism that must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion for a society to come.


Massimo and Pavarini, in turn, locate the practices associated with such “images” in the rise of the bourgeois industrial state and thus assimilate the architecture, both political and ideological, of the modern prison to that of the factory. According to the two Italian researchers, the “penitentiary invention” is that of the


“prison as machine” capable of transforming, after close observation of the deviant phenomenon, … the violent, troublesome and impulsive criminal (real subject) into an inmate (ideal subject), into a disciplined subject, into a mechanical subject … [and assisting the] production of proletarians by the enforced training of prisoners in factory discipline.


Even such critiques of the prison system, however, too often can be subjected to the consent of that same prison system and its apparent insistence on a language of authority and objective responsibility that requires a complete compromise from the would-be researcher and attempts to usurp his/her own project. Thus, R. Theodore Davidson, who investigated social formations and networks among Chicano prisoner in San Quentin in the 1960s, introduced his study with an explanation of his own situation within the system: “Prison administrators realized the delicate nature of the information I would probably encounter if I were to accomplish my task, so it was agreed that I would not have to reveal any confidential information to the staff. The only exception would have been if I had learned that someone was going to be physically harmed or that the prisoners were going to destroy the prison in some manner.” This “only exception,” however, is twofold, and the requirements of the prison administration and the unitary language serve only to conceal concern for the stability of the prison itself (“destroy the prison in some manner”) under and ostensibly humanitarian sensitivity for the safety and well-being of the anonymous prisoners (“someone was going to be physically harmed”). The testimonies of prisoner betray another analysis, that of an engaged and partisan counterhegemonic cultural production.  

Excerpt from, Barbara Harlow, Barred: Women, Writing, and Political Detention (Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press, 1992)

CAN POWER BE SERIOUSLY CHALLENGED WITHOUT A RESPONSE?

Protest against the construction of the Narita Airport, Japan (Photo by Bruno Barbey, 1971)
The history of the U.S.—the blood-soaked, urine-steeped essence of its being; the wreckage and demise of its human character under the wheels of a two-hundred-year-old headlong fight with heedless, frightened animal at the control of a machine that has mastered them—allows for no appeal on a strictly ideological level. George Wallace or Adolf Hitler would fare better at the polls of an honest election than Huey Newton and Tom Hayden. But again, what is an honest election after the fact of monopoly capital?  
Repression is indeed a part of revolution, a natural aspect of antithesis, the always-to-be-expressed defense-attack reflex of the beleaguered, toothless tiger. All arguments against this fundamental fact are false and labored to the point of being completely illogical. Can power be seriously challenged without a response? Will the robber baron, the tycoon, the Fuehrer allow us to seize his privilege without resistance? Can we steal it away from the greatest bandit of all time with sleight of hand alone? Incredible! The fascists understand the value of mass psychology, are familiar with its use, and hold all the important elements of its effective control. But they are not aware of our existence and our general strategy regarding the reaching of people.  
George Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1972)

AGAINST THE GREAT DEFEAT OF THE WORLD — JOHN BERGER

Hieronymus Bosch, Millennium Triptych

In the history of painting one can sometimes find strange prophecies. Prophecies that were not intended as such by the painter. It is almost as if the visible by itself can have its own nightmares. For example, in Breughel’s Triumph of Death, painted in the 1560s and now in the Prado Museum, there is already a terrible prophecy of the Nazi extermination camps.

Most prophecies, when specific, are bound to be bad, for, throughout history, there are always new terrors—even if a few disappear, yet there are no new happinesses—happiness is always the old one. It is the modes of struggle for this happiness which change.

Half a century before Breughel, Hieronymus Bosch painted his Millennium Triptych. The left hand panel of the triptych shows Adam and Eve in Paradise, the large central panel describes The Garden of Earthly Delights and the right hand panel (of which a large part is reproduced on the cover of this number) depicts Hell. And this hell has become a strange prophecy of the mental climate imposed on the world, at the end of our century, by globalisation and the new economic order.

Let me try to explain how. It has little to do with the symbolism employed in the painting. Bosch’s symbols probably came from the secret, proverbial, heretical language of certain fifteenth-century millennial sects, who heretically believed that, if evil could be overcome, it was possible to build heaven on earth! Many essays have been written about the allegories to be found in his work. Yet if Bosch’s vision of hell is prophetic, the prophecy is not so much in the details—haunting and grotesque as they are—but in the whole. Or, to put it another way, in what constitutes the space of hell.

There is no horizon there. There is no continuity between actions, there are no pauses, no paths, no pattern, no past and no future. There is only the clamor of the disparate, fragmentary present. Everywhere there are surprises and sensations, yet nowhere is there any outcome. Nothing flows through: everything interrupts. There is a kind of spatial delirium.

Compare this space to what one sees in the average publicity slot, or in a typical CNN news bulletin, or any mass media commentary. There is a comparable incoherence, a comparable wilderness of separate excitements, a similar frenzy.

Bosch’s prophecy was of the world-picture which is communicated to us today by the media under the impact of globalisation, with its delinquent need to sell incessantly. Both are like a puzzle whose wretched pieces do not fit together.

And this was precisely the term which the Subcommandante Marcos used in a letter about the new world order last year. He was writing from the Chiapas, south-east Mexico. I cannot do justice in a few lines to his full analysis. He sees the planet today as the battlefield of a Fourth World War. (The Third was the so-called Cold Everywhere there are War.) The aim of the belligerents is the conquest surprises and of the entire world through the market. The t’ yet nowhere arsenals are financial; there are nevertheless millions of people being maimed or killed every moment. The aim of those waging the war is to rule the world from new, abstract power centres—megapoles of the market, which will be subject to no control except that of the logic of investment. Meanwhile, nine-tenths of the women and men living on the planet live with the jagged pieces which do not fit.

The jaggedness in Bosch’s panel is so similar that I half expect to find there the seven pieces which Marcos named.

The first piece he named has the shape of a dollar sign and is green. The piece consists of the new concentration of global wealth in fewer and fewer hands and the unprecedented extension of hopeless poverties.

The second piece is triangular and consists of a lie. The new order claims to rationalise and modernise production and human endeavour. In reality, it is a return to the barbarism of the beginnings of the industrial revolution, with the important difference, this time round, that the barbarism is unchecked by any opposing ethical consideration or principle. The new order is fanatical and totalitarian. (Within its own system there are no appeals. Its totalitarianism does not concern politics—which, by its reckoning have been superseded—but global monetary control.) Consider the children. One hundred million in the world live in the street. Two hundred million are engaged in the global labour force.

The third piece is round like a vicious circle. It consists of enforced emigration. The more enterprising of those who have nothing try to emigrate to survive. Yet the new order works night and day according to the principle that anybody who does not produce, who does not consume, and who has no money to put into a bank, is redundant. So the emigrants, the landless, the homeless are treated as the waste matter of the system: to be eliminated.

The fourth piece is rectangular like a mirror. It consists of an ongoing exchange between the commercial banks and the world racketeers, for crime, too, has been globalised.

The fifth piece is more or less a pentagon. It consists of physical repression. The nation states under the new order have lost their economic independence, their political initiative and their sovereignty. (The new rhetoric of most politicians is an attempt to disguise their political, as distinct from civic or repressive, powerlessness.) The new task of the nation states is to manage what is allotted to them, to protect the interests of the market’s mega-enterprises and, above all, to control and police the redundant.

The sixth piece is the shape of a scribble and consists of breakages. On the one hand, the new order does away with frontiers and distances by the instantaneous telecommunication of exchanges and deals, by obligatory free trade zones (NAFTA) and by the imposition everywhere of the single unquestionable law of the market; and, on the other hand, it provokes fragmentation and the proliferation of frontiers by its undermining of the nation state—for example, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, etc. ’A world of broken mirrors’, wrote Marcos, ’reflecting the useless unity of the neo-liberal puzzle.’

The seventh piece of the puzzle has the shape of a pocket, and consists of all the various pockets of resistance against the new order which are developing across the globe. The Zapatistas in south-east Mexico are one such pocket. Others, in different circumstances, have not necessarily chosen armed resistance. The many pockets do not have a common political programme as such. How could they, existing as they do in the broken puzzle? Yet their heterogeneity may be a promise. What they have in common is their defence of the redundant, the next-to-be-eliminated, and their belief that the Fourth World War is a crime against humanity.

The seven pieces will never fit together to make any sense. This lack of sense, this absurdity, is endemic to the new order. As Bosch foresaw in his vision of hell, there is no horizon. The world is burning. Every figure is trying to survive by concentrating on his own immediate need and survival. Claustrophobia, at its most extreme, is not caused by overcrowding, but by the lack of any continuity existing between one action and the next which is close enough to be touching it. It is this which is hell. The culture in which we live is perhaps the most claustrophobic that has ever existed; in the culture of globalisation, as in Bosch’s liell, there is no glimpse of an elsewhere or an otherwise. The given is a prison. And faced with such reductionism, human intelligence is reduced to greed.

Marcos ended his letter by saying: ’It is necessary to build a new world, a world capable of containing many worlds, capable of containing all worlds.’

What the painting by Bosch does is to remind us—if prophecies can be called reminders—that the first step towards building an alternative world has to be a refusal of the world-picture implanted in our minds and all the false promises used everywhere to justify and idealise the delinquent and insatiable need to sell. Another space is vitally necessary.

First, an horizon has to be discovered. And for there this we have to refind hope—against all the odds of what the new order pretends and perpetrates.

Hope, however, is an act of faith and has to be sustained by other concrete actions. For example, the action of approach, of measuring distances and walking towards. This will lead to collaborations which deny discontinuity. The act of resistance means not only refusing to accept the absurdity of the world-picture offered us, but denouncing it. And when hell is denounced from within, it ceases to be hell.

In pockets of resistance as they exist today, the other two panels of Bosch’s triptych, showing Adam and Eve and the Garden of Earthly Delights, can be studied by torchlight in the dark ... we need them.

I would like to end by quoting the Argentinian poet, Juan Gelman:

death itself has come with its documentation /
we’re going to take up again
the struggle / again we’re going to begin
again we’re going to begin all of us

against the great defeat of the world /
little compaƱeros who never end / or
who burn like fire in the memory
again / and again / and again.

— John Berger, "Against the Great Defeat of the World," Race & Class 40 2/3 (1998/99)



"WHAT IS OUR RESPONSE TO BE?"

Ghassan Kanafani

Recent—or post-World War One—history in this country during a few periods here and there shows literary academics enjoying greater political prominence than the low influence I've just described. Certainly during the period of dissent occasioned by the Vietnam War in the '60s some literary academics achieved national importance as part of a national resistance to imperialist war. And MLA was forced to accept a relationship between worldly affairs and academic ones, but even then we worked by analogy; that is, since there was an announced revulsion from university complicity in such things as counter-insurgency, "scientific" and political warfare, literary academics tended to make an analogy between themselves and their colleagues in the social and hard sciences. The scientists' guilt was also theirs as teachers of literature. Certainly there were no publicly-known instances of literary people employed to practice counter-insurgency, and if there was a literary adviser to the electronic battlefield his name (or position) still isn't known: so there was contentment with arguments inculpating (or purifying) us by analogy, and there was much silliness since a general guilt could come and go with equal ease. One thing that did not get debated by academic literary people was the responsibility of an intellectual in a time of crisis, particularly his role in making or defining the crisis (I'm thinking of such concrete matters as the connection between the CIA and Encounter, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, etc.). We have made the distinction between the profession of literature and intellectual life much too rigid. It's hard to tell now what the lasting results of the Vietnam period are. Some literature was produced: the work of Kampf, Roszak, Ohmann, and a handful of others. But certainly also there was no contribution to a theoretical literature that treated the relationship between literary criticism and worldly politics, at least no contribution that has made a great impact. We seem now to have gone back to a time of quiescence. I very much doubt that anyone now will think of writing a book like Jonah Raskin's
Mythology of Imperialism which, if you do not allow yourself to be sidetracked by its needlessly obtrusive rhetoric, is a very intelligent work. Not that imperialism has disappeared; it's gone away for the academic intellectual who has returned to writing within a fairly circumscribed political range. The contributions to theory in literary study have left out the role of institutions in literature. Even the semioticians have been extremely remiss about this. As for the rest of the avant-garde, literature for it has been a matter of texts, more texts, and still more texts. Most literary critics, particularly those of the avant-garde, think of themselves as technical critics, as technicians, if you like. It doesn't by any means go without  saying that being a technical, advanced critic means that you think of yourself as an intellectual in the widest social sense of that word. Far from it. Indeed I think the extent to which—as I said earlier—the critical avant-garde is politically quietistic is a precise dialectical mid-point between, on the one hand, their political marginality and, on the other, their unwillingness to be general intellectuals.

If we have not had a Gramsci or a Lukacs to analyze class consciousness or the intellectuals as a class, we have had (and still do have) Marxist groups within MLA and within the profession. (I am confining myself to organized groups.) I have a great deal of sympathy for what they are trying to do, but I think it is a fundamental misjudgment of reality to base one's political work on an unsituated effort to show that Marxism is principally a reading technique. To say that Marxism cognitively and analytically can produce excellent readings of important nineteenth century novels is not in question: how can one deny it? What I am saying is that the doing of Marxist literary analysis alone cannot constitute the basis of a political program in the great world. And to turn a literary or intellectual project immediately into a political one is to try to do something quite undialectical. But to accept the form of action prescribed in advance by one's professional status—which in the system of things is institutionalized marginality—is to restrict oneself politically and in advance.

...

I think it would be extremely presumptuous to try to spell out what critics, committed or otherwise, should be doing, so I won't try. But I can talk a little about these matters, in particular the notion of worldliness, as they appear to me, for me. In the first place, I think we must recognize the marginality of our roles and, more important, that for the first time we are facing some dramatic, explicit impositions on us that make us more marginal as a class. The university, in particular its liberal arts division, is shrinking. Worse yet, our graduate students cannot find jobs, they find themselves standing uselessly before a closed door. We find ourselves torn therefore: what we do as professional scholars/teachers/ critics narrows in its focus and its technicality, it is influential amongst students who in turn may not have jobs; what is our response to be?

In the second place the world itself is shrinking. This is a cheerful McLuhanesque truism only if you think of the world as a problem of communications between its parts. But if you reflect that we face economic shortages of the most catastrophic sort, and that the great line separating the world today is between rich and poor, or North and South, or developed and developing nations, all competing for such basics as food and resource materials, the shrinking world appears rather a menacing place. In the U. S. we belong to a scandalously wasteful society, which consumes double and even triple its numerical share of resources. In addition, we are the strong man of the world economy (incidentally the idea of a world economy—as Immanuel Wallerstein has studied it—is an extremely important one), and our sense of things (what we call the economic order) is supported by fantastic economic strength, a network of unimaginably powerful institutions (see Barnet and Muller's Global Reach, or Pierre's Jalee's work, or Harry Magdoff's The Age of Imperialism), and a complex system of forces for imposing ourselves on the world, thereby guaranteeing our economic well-being. If you read what Geoffrey Barraclough has been writing recently you will see exactly what I mean.

In the third place, we are—or pretend we are—universalists in our cultural values. In fact, however, we are ethnocentric to a fault. Everything we say or do as teachers of literature applies principally to the Atlantic cultures, which are understandably privileged for us. Our whole sense of literary and cultural history is based on what the Egyptian sociologist Anwar Abdel Malek has called the hegemonism of possessing minorities. Consider, for example, that between 1815 and 1918 European territorial dominion increased from about 40% to 85% of the world's total surface. Anthropocentrism is "naturally" associated with Europeocentrism. Today territorial control has been transmuted into economic and social control.

In the fourth place, what goes on in the developing, or Southern, or Third or Fourth worlds scarcely occupies attention, or if it does we are unable to make it mesh with what we do as scholars/critics/teachers. I do not believe that we should become Regis Debrays or that the barricades are where we belong. The problem for us is much more dialectical than that, presuming of course that we don't a) turn our backs on the whole world and b) declare war on it. Perhaps the lamentable Daniel Moynihan does speak for the literary academics: I doubt it, but surely he doesn't speak for all of them. Nevertheless, I think we must somehow take in the realities of the U.S.'s position in the world.

— Edward Said, “Interview,” Diacritics (Fall 1976)

THE ARCHIVE OF ARAB HISTORY

The British Library

English and French today are world-languages. Arabic is either a local demotic or a liturgical language, but one of the great seminal moments in the history of modern Arabic politics was when Abdel Nasser used his speeches as the occasion to attack colonialism in the native Egyptian dialect. Not only was he avoiding the straight-jacketing effect of the classical (which Orientalism had legislated into a kind of other-worldly uselessness, so much so that even many Arabs believed the myth) but he was also turning on Britain and France on his own terms, on his own linguistic terrain, so to speak. This is much more impressive a thing than it sounds, particularly when you remember, for example, that the constitutions of at least two Arab countries were originally written not in Arabic but in a European language, and when you consider too that the historical archives of several of the Arab states exist only in London and in English. Add too the fact that there exists in Europe a vast cache of Arabic texts, removed out of the Arab world by the colonial powers during the nineteenth century. Here Foucault's theory of the archive and discourse acquires a very material dimension; the archive of much of modern Arab history resides unmetaphorically, has been deposited in, has been physically imprisoned by, Europe. 

— Edward Said, “Interview,” Diacritics (Fall 1976)

TOO MANY DEATH THROES



Let us take a moment to consider The Communist Manifesto, a wonderful book, which is like a work of music before it is a work of historical prophesy. It is a magnificent rhythmic invocation of the rhythms of a class struggle and of the possibilities for sharpening and deepening it. It offers a vision of a kind of continuous splitting of the Red Sea. However complex class structure is, the class struggle continuously divides it until in the end one is left with the confrontation of class against class. The interests which are built into those contradictions in the structure will eventually manifest themselves in the huge division of the world between these two classes, and then the epochal struggle will begin, and out of that struggle, socialism may arise. But as an actual prediction of what happened in Europe in the midpart of the nineteenth century, it was incorrect. Not only was it incorrect, it was incorrect in a disastrous manner. If it had been allowed to stand (as the predictions and prophecies of later Marxists have been allowed to stand), the political and historical cost would have been enormous. As Engels later said, they mistook the birth pangs of capitalism for its death throes. It has been the unfortunate inheritance of much of Marxism to continue living in the wake of that misunderstanding. Occasionally, some Marxist will, in the name of scientificity, predict yet another death throe that does not occur. One was predicted in the wake of World War I, and it has had disastrous effects on the understanding of how socialism could emerge and survive in Europe. There have been too many last stages, too many death throes. And the prediction of impending death was really a profound error of historical judgment. It really defeats Marxism to take Marx as a prophet, and his writing as the equivalent of Capitalism’s Almanac where you can look up what will happen tomorrow. If you invest the last vestige of your faith in Marx, and he makes a wrong prophecy, that can only destroy Marxism for you; you have made a commitment that Marx did not invite. He was a very great thinker who, like all great thinkers, made mistakes. He had to go back over The Communist Manifesto, not to refute it but to analyse the actual turn of events that he had come so very close to predicting. After all, Marx was not wrong to say that in the 1840s there was going to be a major historical rupture in the developing capitalist societies. He was not wrong about that any more than Lenin and others were wrong about predicting that there would be a series of revolutions in Europe around 1917–1921. There were. They were not wrong in that sense. What they were wrong about was the range of what could actually occur. But that is not just a historical judgment; it is also a judgment on the analytic tools which were being used. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte offers Marx’s rethinking of those actual events. It explains how that punctuating revolution that Marx predicted for 1848 ended up with a man on horseback with a three-cornered hat, how it happened that the gigantic revolutions for liberty at the center of Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century ended up, paradoxically, advancing and developing the capitalist mode of production.
Excerpt from: Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016)