Thursday, March 30, 2017

'Open Casket' Emmett Till - Should This Painting Be Destroyed?

By David Walsh 24 March 2017

The campaign to censor and suppress Open Casket, white artist Dana Schutz’s painting of murdered black youth Emmett Till, on racialist grounds is thoroughly reactionary. Artists must speak out against this anti-democratic effort, which has the most sinister implications. The arguments being used are worthy of the Nazi officials who banned Jewish artists from playing or conducting classical music on the grounds of their “un-German” spirit.

Schutz’s painting, based on a photograph of the 14-year-old Till, who was savagely murdered in Mississippi in August 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman, is included in the current 2017 Whitney Biennial (at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City).

The protests began March 17, the first day the Biennial was open to the public, when one African American artist stood in front of Schutz’s work, blocking it from view for several hours. Other individuals have taken similar action.

This was followed by an open letter to the Whitney’s curators and staff, written by British-born artist Hannah Black and signed by two dozen other black artists. The letter, widely reported on in the media, demanded not only that the painting be removed from the Biennial, but that it “be destroyed and not entered into any market or museum.” Tellingly, the open letter was initially signed by both black and white artists and museum professionals, but, according to one media account, “after consideration, the white cosigners were removed.”

This deplorable communication contends that Open Casket “should not be acceptable to anyone who cares or pretends to care about Black people because it is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun, though the practice has been normalized for a long time.”

There are no grounds whatsoever for the malicious and slanderous claim that Schutz is making use of “Black suffering” for “profit and fun.” (In fact, the artist has indicated that the painting will not be sold.) On the contrary, Schutz is clearly responding to and seeking to direct the attention of the public toward an appalling crime. Her effort is an entirely legitimate and admirable protest against racist violence, with obvious political connotations in the present circumstances of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry whipped up by the Trump administration.

Schutz has the right to paint about whatever subject she chooses. The murder of Till outraged millions and helped ignite the civil rights movement, which also involved the participation of large numbers of white youth. Taking only white artists into account here, the heinous crime inspired Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and, more recently, Emmy Lou Harris to write songs, and others, like Joan Baez, to sing them. Rod Serling based an episode of the television program, the U.S. Steel Hour, on the case. Critics suggest that the murder helped inspire Harper Lee to write To Kill a Mockingbird. In 1956, novelist William Faulkner condemned the killing in an essay, “On Fear.” Should all those works by “non-Black artists” now be expunged from the culture as illegitimate and, if possible, “destroyed”?

The open letter continues: “Although Schutz’s intention may be to present white shame, this shame is not correctly represented as a painting of a dead Black boy by a white artist—those non-Black artists who sincerely wish to highlight the shameful nature of white violence should first of all stop treating Black pain as raw material. The subject matter is not Schutz’s; white free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.”

Hannah Black and her co-signatories see the world entirely through the prism of race. This blinds them to the decisive social realities. They echo those extreme Zionists and similar tendencies who use a history of racial or religious oppression to justify their own reactionary communalism.

Schutz has no reason to feel “shame” for the murder of Till, who was a victim of Jim Crow racism, racism kept alive and incited by the American ruling elite for the purpose of dividing the working class and the poor. Behind the apartheid-like system in the South, and Till’s killing, stood the oppressive and brutal reality of American capitalism, the same system that oppresses the working population of every color and national background.

The “subject matter,” Till’s horrific death, does not belong to African American artists or anyone else. It is the common “property” and responsibility of those who oppose, in Lenin’s phrase, “all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse.”

The claim that “free speech” and “creative freedom,” which, according to Black, have unfairly privileged white artists and “constrained” others, are not “natural rights,” is ominous and threatening. It suggests that Black and her racially obsessed colleagues have every intention of seeing to it that those rights are suppressed.

The program of ethnic or racial particularism in art and culture, which insists that the various peoples and nationalities are incapable of communicating with and understanding one another, is thoroughly repugnant. It is part of the “anti-Enlightenment” tradition, which rejects rationalism, democracy, egalitarianism and universality. As Richard Wolin observes in The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism, “According to the Enlightenment worldview, the essence of human dignity lay in the ability of men and women to transcend particular attachments, which were perceived as intrinsically limiting. To accede to the promised land of Reason meant consciously abandoning all partial allegiances and elevating oneself to the standpoint of the ‘universal.’”

Historically, such national-particularist views have been advanced by the political right—above all, by the conservative French and German ideologists who helped inspire Hitler and Nazism. Today, the practitioners of identity politics follow in these extremely tainted footsteps—and their views are fraudulently presented as “leftist.”

Leaving aside the quality of Schutz’s painting, a central question is this: Can an artist cognize a reality that is not immediately, subjectively, his or her own?

All progressive art and philosophy of the last several centuries answers in the affirmative. Art answers it in abundant practice. Men have written (or painted or composed) about women, women about men, Jews about non-Jews and non-Jews about Jews, whites about blacks and blacks about whites, Westerners about Asians and Asians about Westerners.

The experience of other human beings is accessible to us, not absolutely, of course, but relatively. Human thinking, including artistic creative thinking, is capable of reflecting reality accurately and richly enough to form the basis of work that conveys essential truths. Otherwise, all artistic activity would cease; it would have no meaning and no possible audience. “What serves as a bridge from soul to soul is not the unique,” Trotsky pointed out, “but the common.”

Nor would we have world culture if artistic life were ethnically rooted, we would have a series of isolated, discrete narratives only comprehensible to the members of this or that “tribe” and impenetrable to the rest of humanity. Of course, class society and social inequality distort the situation, and have given to some a more advantageous position, but that is not the fault of art or the artists.

Without the permission of Hannah Black and her smug, postmodernist friends, people in various parts of the globe have been translating Shakespeare’s plays and performing them for many years. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has sold millions of copies over the past 170 years and been translated into dozens of languages, including Esperanto.

Richard Wright’s Native Son has also been translated into many languages. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which, for all its historically inevitable limitations, exposed the horrors of slavery, sold 300,000 copies in the US in its first year and one and a half million copies in Britain; it has been translated into 60 languages. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has been translated into over 50 languages and at least 700 editions have been published worldwide. Examples could be provided from every part of the globe. Indian, Chinese and Japanese cinema have spoken to men and women everywhere.

In the form of images, art contains objective, relatively universal truth. Dana Schutz is as intrinsically capable of grasping the truth of Emmett Till’s murder, and perhaps more so, than Black and her co-signatories, who appear to be immune to genuine empathy or compassion. They seem to have sympathy only for themselves. They want the franchise, a monopoly on images of black people “in torment and distress.” The letter describes the issues as involving a “high-stakes conversation,” which hints at the money and prestige involved.

The issue of the kinship of this selfish, exclusivist-communalist chauvinism to the outlook of the Nazis is not raised lightly. This is where the irrationalist politics of blood and nation inevitably leads. And, in any event, Black and her allies bring the historical parallel to mind with their astounding and disgraceful demand that Schutz’s Open Casket be “destroyed.” They don’t indicate whether they have a bonfire in a public square in mind, but why not? Once you say A, you will eventually say B.

Let us recall how the German fascists reasoned.

Nazi cultural official Hans Severus Ziegler curated a “Degenerate Music” exhibition in 1938, directed against “Jewish” and “Bolshevik” influences, and argued in the accompanying brochure that “Cultural politics calls upon us to care for the soul of the people, to foster its creative powers and all the values of character and conviction that we gather under the general term, ‘the folk.’ The politician and the cultural politician have the same goal: the creation of a strong nation and the securing of its material and spiritual well-being, the safety of its external existence and the nurturing of its inner existence.” The Jews, Ziegler claimed, had been hard at work attempting “to infiltrate all German thought and feeling, and to palm off on the Germans all kinds of novel ideas stemming from the Jewish race.”

“No other law,” asserted Ziegler, “exists for a people but that its development be realized organically,” i.e., without “outside” interference. He urged every individual “who feels a creative urge within him [to] take counsel from [his] racial conscience.”

In the same spirit, the Nazis prohibited Jews from playing or conducting the music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and other “Aryan” composers.

Changing what must be changed, how different is this from the outlook of our contemporary identity politics fanatics, who, like white supremacists, would call a halt to race mixing and who see racial (and gender) questions as the “foundational consideration for art”?

Monday, March 27, 2017

US judge grants asylum to Singapore teen blogger

Amos Yee

A Singaporean teenage blogger who was jailed twice for his online posts insulting his government was granted asylum to remain in the United States, an immigration judge in Chicago ruled.

Amos Yee was jailed in 2015 for four weeks for hurting the religious feelings of Christians and posting an obscene image as part of his attacks on the island's late leader Lee Kuan Yew - whose son Lee Hsien Loong is now the prime minister.

He was jailed again in 2016 for six weeks for insulting Muslims and Christians in a series of videos posted online, but critics claim the real reason was to silence him.

Judge Samuel Cole issued a 13-page decision on Friday, more than two weeks after Yee's closed-door hearing on the asylum application.

"Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future persecution in Singapore," Cole wrote.

Cole said testimony during Yee's hearing showed that while the Singapore government's stated reason for punishing him involved religion, "its real purpose was to stifle Yee's political speech".

He said Yee's prison sentence was "unusually long and harsh" especially for his age.

Department of Homeland Security attorneys had opposed the asylum bid, saying Yee's case didn't qualify as persecution based on political beliefs.

It was unclear whether they would appeal the decision or if Yee would have to remain imprisoned if they did. Attorneys have 30 days to appeal.

Singapore, an island republic of 5.6 million which has long been been criticised for strict controls on dissent, takes pride in its racial and social cohesion, which it regards as essential for stability in a volatile region.

Fruit may have been the making of mankind

by Sarah Knapton 27 March 2017

A high-fruit diet is known to keep people healthy, but it may also have helped us develop into humans, a new study suggests.

Scientists have discovered a link between the amount of fruit eaten by primates and the size of their brains.

Previously it was thought that the larger brains of monkeys, apes and humans developed to cope with the complex social maneuverings required to successfully live in a group, a theory known as social brain hypothesis.

For example primates need substantial brainpower to understand who their friends and enemies are, and keep track of ever-changing hierarchies and power struggles.

But researchers at New York University believe primates and humans actually ate their way to a bigger, more complex brain.

“Are humans and other primates big-brained because of social pressures and the need to think about and track our social relationships, as some have argued?" said Dr James Higham, an assistant professor in NYU's Department of Anthropology.

"This has come to be the prevailing view, but our findings do not support it. In fact, our research points to other factors, namely diet."

The team compiled the biggest ever database of more than 140 different species to explore the relationship between brain size, different kinds of social behaviour and feeding habits,

Previous studies investigating brain size evolution in primates found a correlation between the average number of group members and the size of their brain relative to body size. But the researchers found that the relationship vanished when more complex social behaviour - such as monogamy - was added into the mix.

They find no link between brain size and any measure of sociality, but they did find there was a strong link to diet. Fruit-eating primates have around 25 per cent more brain tissue than plant-eating species.

The researchers suggest that the bigger brains probably evolved to recall fruit locations, and work out new ways to extract flesh from tough skins. Fruits also contain for more energy than plants, giving brains a boost.

"Fruit is patchier in space and time in the environment, and the consumption of it often involves extraction from difficult-to-reach-places or protective skins," said doctoral student Alex DeCasien, the lead author.

"Together, these factors may lead to the need for relatively greater cognitive complexity and flexibility in fruit eating species.

"Complex foraging strategies, social structures, and cognitive abilities, are likely to have co-evolved throughout primate evolution.”

"However, if the question is: 'Which factor, diet or sociality, is more important when it comes to determining the brain size of primate species?’ then our new examination suggests that factor is diet."

British experts said the new study had turned evolutionary biology on its head.

Dr Chris Venditti, of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading said: “There is a long-standing notion that social complexity is linked to cognitive complexity.

“DeCasien et al may have delivered a blow to social brain hypothesis that has it reeling, and if future work irons out some of the remaining methodological creases, it may be down and out. Then we will be left with the extraordinary position of trying to explain primate cognition without sociality.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Sanaa Yemen Protests US-Backed Saudi War - 26 March 2017

"I participated in the protests against the aggression by the Saudi-led coalition, maybe our voice will be heard by the world over to stop the war," one of the demonstrators told AP.

Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the country's capital Sanaa on Sunday to protest against the Saudi-led coalition's ongoing military intervention. The mass demonstration marks the second anniversary of the start of the Saudi coalition's campaign, which began in March 2015.

Riyadh intervened in support of the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who had been ousted from Yemen's capital by Houthi rebels. The military campaign, which has included numerous airstrikes, has drawn widespread criticism, as well as accusations of war crimes.

The Saudi-led coalition's war against Houthi rebels in Yemen has cost more than 10,000 lives since March 2015 and brought the country to the brink of famine. According to the UN, the fighting has displaced more than three million people, and more than two thirds of Yemen's population of around 18.8 million people need aid. Some 7.3 million people are estimated to be close to starvation and 462,000 children suffer from serious malnutrition. Without $2.1 billion in international aid, the UN warns that Yemen will suffer a famine in 2017.

See Also: Yemen Protest -

London: 100,000 Protest Against UK Independence from the EU (26 March 2017)

An estimated 100,000 people marched in London on Saturday during a Unite for Europe demonstration against 'hard Brexit'. Several past and current Westminster politicians, including Liberal

Democrat leader Tim Farron and former Labour spin-doctor Alastair Campbell, took part in the protest.

However, the BBC barely touched the event.

"Am assuming the Brextremist Lie Machine bullying of the BBC means this excellent rally not being covered. #FarageNews," Campbell tweeted on the day.

An article on the channel's website was also criticized for focusing on the minute's silence for the victims of last Wednesday's terrorist attack in Westminster rather than the actual topic of the march.

"Appalling editorial. This has NOTHING to do with the attacks. We marched against Brexit," said one Facebook user.

The original headline of the article read "London attack: Victims remembered at anti-Brexit march." It was later changed to "Thousands take to streets in anti-Brexit London march."

See Also: EU: enemy of workers and immigrants - Brexit: defeat for the bankers and bosses of Europe!

New discovery sheds light on the deep roots of the Agricultural Revolution

27 March 2017

Re:Composite Sickles and Cereal Harvesting Methods at 23,000-Years-Old Ohalo II, Israel -

It has long been understood that the transition from economies based on hunting and gathering, in which humans are dependent on the inherent productivity of nature to provide food and organic raw materials, to ones based on agriculture, the systematic cultivation of domesticated plants and rearing of domesticated animals, was one of the most critical steps in human cultural evolution. Generally termed the Agricultural Revolution, this development laid the basis for an expandable food supply, surplus production, growing populations, an increasingly complex division of labor, and, eventually class society and civilization.

Although archaeologists and other researchers have devoted much effort to understanding the origins of agriculture, key questions remain unanswered. Early evidence of agriculture—domesticated (i.e., genetically modified) plants and animals and the technology for their cultivation, husbandry, storage and processing—generally dates to the period following the end of the Pleistocene epoch, roughly 12,000 years ago.

When compared to the time frame for the existence of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens), about 200,000 years, the development of agriculture and all that followed occurred in a relative blink of an eye. This raises the question of why humans, with effectively the same mental and physical capabilities as at present, took so long to make this development.

A recently reported discovery of 23,000-year-old stone tools used to harvest cereal grains suggests that the kinds of subsistence adaptations that ultimately lead to full-fledged agriculture were being developed thousands of years earlier than had previously been documented.

The discovery, reported in the journal PLOS ONE, by authors Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Ehud Weiss, and Dani Nadel, was made at the Ohalo II archaeological site located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The find consists of five flint blades that bear a gloss on their edges characteristic of use in cutting grasses. This gloss, also called “sickle sheen,” is found on tools from later sites definitely associated with agriculture, where cereal grains (which are grasses) such as wheat were cultivated and harvested. Sickle sheen is the result of silica crystals in plants, particularly cereals, rubbing off on a tool’s working edge.

Other wear patterns indicate that the tools were used in two modes—hand-held and hafted into a handle. In later times, compound sickles were made by embedding a series of flint blades into the edge of a long wooden or bone tool, resembling the form of later metal sickles, resulting in a more efficient harvesting implement.

Comparison via microscopic examination with the results from experimentally replicated tools indicates that these blades were used to harvest plants in which the seeds had not yet fully ripened, indicating that the users knew that fully ripened seeds would be fragile and thus fall to the ground, making effective harvesting impossible. These were wild plants. Domesticated plants are bred to prevent the seeds from falling.

The significance of the discovery at the Ohalo II site is twofold. First, the age of the site demonstrates that cereal harvesting, at some level of intensity, was occurring at least 8,000 years earlier than the previous known evidence of such activity on a consistent basis, in a culture called the Natufian, and 12,000 years before evidence of Early Neolithic sedentary farming communities in places such as modern day Iraq.

Second, other evidence from the Ohalo II site indicates that, aside from an apparently limited amount of wild cereal harvesting, the economy of this community was based on hunting, fishing, and gathering of a range of wild plant foods. Cereal harvesting would, therefore, appear to have been but one component of the group’s overall subsistence economy. Other reports of early sites with blades bearing sickle sheen have previously been made, but these artifacts are few and widely scattered, and the use damage on the tools generally slight, indicated limited use. The data from Ohalo II is the strongest evidence yet found of this activity at such an early date.

In addition to the sickle sheen on blades, the Ohalo II site also yielded grinding tools used to process cereal grains, including traces of wheat, barley, and oats, all of which were later domesticated.

Collectively, the finds at Ohalo II plus the trace indications from other sites, pose the key question—how and why, over the subsequent 8,000 years, did a radical shift occur in which this one component of the overall subsistence strategy gained such significance in the economies of this region? This is the same question that is posed in all the other centers of early agriculture—Southeast Asia (rice) and Mesoamerica (maize).

As the authors of the PLOS ONE article point out, evidence of the use of cereal grains as food substantially predates that from Ohalo II. Indications of their consumption have been found at a Middle Paleolithic site in Israel and at an Upper Paleolithic site in Europe. Therefore, humans had known about this food source for a very long time and their agricultural use did not represent a sudden discovery.

The development of agriculture was not the overnight adoption of radically new food sources, but rather a shift from the use of a range of resources to the increasing emphasis on a few plant and/or animal species already “on the menu,” on which humans focused greater amounts of time, energy, and technological innovation. This focus would have initially included various kinds of “tending” to encourage the proliferation of the favored species (such as the setting of fires to clear brush and promote the growth of grasses), and the development of new technologies to enhance the efficiency of harvesting, processing, and storage. This also involved selective breeding, intentional or unintentional, that, over time, resulted in genetic changes making the target species more productive and easily manipulated (e.g., seeds not falling when ripe so they can be harvested).

The critical question is, in reality, not so much how but why did this occur. After many tens of thousands of years of existence based on a hunting and gathering economy, why did humans independently in a number of different areas around the world and using a variety of plant and animal species, shift, over the course of only a few thousand years, to an agriculturally based economy?

The apparent correlation between the development of agriculture and the end of the Pleistocene (the Ice Age), roughly 12,000 years ago, suggests that one key factor may have been climate change. The presence of massive continental ice sheets tended to stabilize climate, a phenomenon known as Pleistocene Equability. Under such conditions, wild food resources on which humans relied would have tended to be relatively reliable and predictable, both seasonally and year to year, promoting stability in human adaptations.

The end of the Pleistocene was marked by rapid global warming and abrupt climatic fluctuations, including a sharp, temporary reversion to colder conditions known as the Younger Dryas (approximately 12,900 to 11,700 years ago). This increased variability and greater seasonality persisted into the new geologic period, the Holocene, in which we are still living. Under such conditions, the reliability of naturally occurring food resources would have been markedly reduced. As one apparent consequence, many large mammal species which had existed for millions of years, like mammoths and giant ground sloths, some of which were hunted by humans, suddenly became extinct.

In areas where such climatic instability was pronounced, humans too would have been under stress. Instead of relying solely on “nature’s bounty,” one coping strategy would have been to focus on food species whose abundance and reliability could be rendered more stable by human intervention (i.e., the expenditure of labor and the development of new or enhanced technology). Mammals such as sheep, goats, and pigs, birds such as chickens, and cereal grains, such as wheat, maize, and rice, as well as a variety of other species became the focus of human attention.

As humans became more reliant on these targeted species, they made increasing investments of labor in improving technology and infrastructure to promote the success of this new economic system. Increased sedentism (larger and more permanent villages), larger population sizes, increased territoriality and social divisions based on economic class were among the consequences. This process, once begun, was self-re-enforcing. The larger populations that could be supported by agriculture as opposed to hunting and gathering meant that there was no going back without severe consequences.

The newly reported discovery from the Ohalo II enriches our understanding of the development of agriculture, and supports the view that it does not represent a “eureka moment,” a flash of discovery, but rather was the culmination of a long process of material adaptations and the dialectical interaction of a variety of natural and cultural factors, which ultimately led to a qualitative change in the ways in which humans interacted with the environment and each other, resulting in a whole range of revolutionary consequences. It also demonstrates the wealth of information that can be obtained through the use of sophisticated techniques such as microscopic use-wear analysis.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Did the historical Jesus exist? A growing number of scholars don’t think so

Valerie Tarico, AlterNet 30 Aug 2014 at 10:01 ET

Most antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.” In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity.

At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth. Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.

But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.” In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.

The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All . For centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.

Fitzgerald is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people interesting, accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.

More academic arguments in support of the Jesus Myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest debunkers of fringe Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who tries to argue that the Romans invented Jesus) are from serious Mythicists like Fitzgerald, Carrier and Price.

The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:

No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. In the words of Bart Ehrman (who himself thinks the Jesus stories were built on a historical kernel): “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)

The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!

Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded. “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.”

Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts. We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began. For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by famous figures. The same is true of the New Testament epistles except for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly thought to be genuine. But even the gospel stories don’t actually say, “I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew someone who . . . .

The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other. If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at

The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories offer one example of how much the stories disagree.

Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons. They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, nonviolent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.” John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”

For David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he finds inescapable:

Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.

In a soon-to-be-released follow up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:” Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.

( )

'Public' Charter Schools Make Big Profits With Government Money and Little Oversight

An aptly named yearlong study titled “Charter School Black Hole” has revealed an astonishing level of incompetence, mismanagement and outright criminality within the American charter school industry.

The Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group, sponsored the first in-depth 20-year look at the federally allocated finances of the charter school industry. The study shows that since 1995, $3.7 billion has essentially disappeared into the hands of charter schools with almost no accountability. The authors of the study were astonished at “how little is known” about the chain of responsibility from the federal government on down.

“Basic questions about how taxes intended to teach kids are really being spent by charters each year remain unanswered even aside from serious questions raised about academic results,” they note.

Most shockingly, the group found that millions of dollars have flowed into charter school coffers for “ghost schools”, operations that either never opened or briefly opened and then shut.

For example, in just two years—under the watch of the Obama administration’s Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan—the State of Michigan provided a staggering $3.7 million to 25 such fraudulent enterprises which never opened, while Ohio spent another $4 million on seven. California spent $4.7 million on schools which opened and quickly closed; Wisconsin $2.5 million, Indiana $2.2 million, etc.

These findings represent a damning indictment of both Democratic and Republican administrations which have promoted and protected the profits of the “education business industry” at the direct expense of public school funding. These trends, however, have dramatically worsened under the Obama administration and his Race to the Top (RTTT). And frankly, while the CMD report is valuable, it appears to be only the tip of the iceberg, as the group was repeatedly blocked by both federal and state officials in its access to information.

Nonetheless, the exposé demonstrates the role of the Department of Education in the shielding of these criminal and semi-criminal businesses. In the case of the “ghost schools” funded in Michigan, these egregious operations were reported to the Obama administration, but after Michigan officials said it “wouldn’t happen again” the Department of Education assured them “there will not be any additional follow-up.”

How has this money been spent? Who has benefited from its allocation? Up until recently the answers to these questions remained entirely hidden.

Charter schools began to take over sections of allegedly “failed” public schools during the mid-1990s. Following on the heels of the school voucher and “schools of choice” initiatives, that began to gather steam in the wake of the infamous diatribe against public education, “A Nation at Risk” (1983), the war against public schools, institutions long viewed by many in the ruling elite as being tantamount to socialism, began in earnest during the Reagan years.

With the relaxation of restrictions regarding who could open a charter “public” school, the watchword was now “flexibility” over rules. According to the CMD study, “that flexibility has allowed an epidemic of fraud, waste and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in public schools.” Thus, with dollar signs dancing in their heads, a rogues’ gallery of corporate honchos, charlatans, conmen, preachers and others having no connection, let alone knowledge, of the complex process and practice of educating children, have insinuated themselves into public education, with disastrous results.

When the CMD began asking for lists of charter schools receiving federal money it was initially stonewalled. Obama administration representatives in the Department of Education claimed they could not immediately provide a list of charters that received federal funds, additionally claiming that they did not keep lists of charter school “authorizers.” An authorizer is any individual or organization, public or private, under whose auspices a charter school is founded.

Since charter schools do not charge tuition they are considered to be “public” schools. However, many are operated as for-profit enterprises, run by so-called “Education Management Organizations” that have sprung up like mushrooms on a rotting log. Funding for charters begins at the federal level with Charter Schools Program-State Education Agencies (CSP-SEA) grants. The $3.7 billion that vanished into the metaphorical black hole was allocated from this program.

The CMD study shows that phenomenon of “ghost schools” is not a local or regional problem. They dot the charter-school landscape in virtually every state where charters exist. Many of these operations received tens of thousands of dollars in seed money that originated from CSP-SEA grants from the federal government.

But as the saying goes in any good detective story … “follow the money,” and that is what the CMD investigators did. They write: “What has happened is that the federal government has passed off the primary responsibility of determining which charters are eligible to receive funds to the states. And states have pawned off that responsibility to authorizers, some of which are public entities like school districts while others are purely private. Basically, when CSP funds are awarded by the federal agency, money goes to the states, which then passes it to charter school sub-grantees approved by authorizers.”

It should be noted that charter schools run by for-profit outfits like National Heritage Academies in Michigan, for example, can constitute themselves as “districts” replete with their own “school boards,” usually individuals that rubber stamp company policy.

So, like some strange reverse money laundering operation, the criminal obtains money legally to use as he or she sees fit, and usually with no questions asked. Or, as the CMD document explains: “This system insulates each element from accountability for what actually happens in charters.”

It should be stressed that this grant money is, after all, a portion of the larger expenditure for public education. When the Obama administration launched its Race to the Top education initiative, it allowed charter schools to play by a different set of rules, giving them a decided advantage over traditional public schools.

The “insulation” to which the CMD study refers is assured by collusion between lobbyists and state legislators, usually behind closed doors. The CMD investigation describes the intense lobbying for continued “flexibility” for charter school spending practices by organizations such as NAESA, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, working through the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

ALEC is essentially an extra-parliamentary collaboration between corporate lobbyists and elected officials, in which so-called “model” bills are discussed and drafted. With regard to charter schools, the end result of these behind-the-scenes machinations is that charters are not restricted by the rules governing the conduct and fiscal transparency of traditional public schools.

The CMD study focuses on 15 states, including five with the highest student enrollment in charter schools; California, Texas, Florida, Arizona and Michigan. As the WSWS has noted, “The theft of public monies goes hand in hand with a reduction in per-pupil spending, including salaries and benefits for teachers and support staff, in addition to supplies and equipment used for instruction. During 2012-13, average charter classroom spending was $4,893 per pupil, compared with $6,985 for traditional schools.”

Michigan provided the least amount of statistics for the CMD investigators, so they had to rely on the Detroit Free Press and other sources, including the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). What was revealed was systematic fraud and mismanagement. According to the CMD investigation, between the years 2010 and 2015, $35 million in federal grant money was spent on charters in Michigan.

In 2014 there were 297 charter schools in Michigan, with an enrollment of 141,204 students. Of these schools, 139 charters were subsidized by federal tax dollars. According to the study, 108 charters have closed in the state either due to poor performance (“academic viability”), low enrollment (“financial viability”) or both. Twenty-five of these are the “ghost schools.” Four out of five charter schools in the state are run as for-profit enterprises, the highest percentage in the nation.

The CMD study highlights a particularly egregious example of criminality involving Bay City Academy, a charter school founded by Steve Ingersoll. Mr. Ingersoll received a $200,000 CSP grant, which he used to obtain a line of credit for the renovation of a church that would supposedly become his charter school. But when a construction union involved in the renovation complained about unsafe asbestos removal, investigators found that Ingersoll had deposited nearly a million dollars into a private account.

Incredulously, the CMD study found that “neither the school board nor Lake Superior State University, the authorizer of the charter school, nor the Michigan Department of Education found anything illegal in the school’s audit.” Ingersoll subsequently pleaded guilty to two felony counts of tax evasion and “conspiracy to defraud the government.”

In another case, a charter called the Benjamin E. Mays Male Academy received $110,000 in grant money from the State of Michigan, even though it is a religious school that charges tuition.

These examples of fraud and the misuse of funds are just the tip of a very large iceberg. In California, for example, where there are more than 1,100 charter schools, $4.7 million was given to charters that subsequently closed. In some cases, charters were revoked for flagrant violations of the most basic standards required by traditional public schools. The CMD investigators note that “the problems identified with these closed charters underscore all-to-common failures of charters and demonstrates how federal money has been wasted on sub-par educational enterprises that fail even the most basic standards.”

In September 2015, the Board of Education of Los Angeles upheld the revocation of a charter in which “substantial evidence demonstrated that the Rowland Heights Charter Academy committed material violations of its charter, violated provisions of law, failed to meet generally accepted accounting principles; engaged in fiscal mismanagement, and failed to remedy such violation (sic).”

In addition, the school was cited by Public Advocates for illegally requiring parents to perform unpaid labor for three hours a month, called “volunteer work” by the operators of the school. According to the CMD study, Rowland Academy had received $375,000 in CSP funds and there is no public accounting available online of how the money was spent.

Another school, called “Urban Village”, had its charter revoked after it was found, among other things, to have failed to conduct criminal background checks of its employees, to ensure that all teachers are properly credentialed, and to follow conflict of interest laws by paying a sitting school board member for after-school services. Rowland Academy was founded with $575,000 in CSP sub-grant funds.

In other states where charter schools have been allowed to proliferate, the story is the same or worse. In Indiana, for example, the Indiana Cyber Charter opened in 2014 with an infusion of CSP cash to the tune of $420,000. But following a series of problems, including financial mismanagement and rock-bottom student achievement, it closed suddenly in 2015, leaving 1,100 students to search for a new school. According to the CMD investigators, Ohio represents an “embarrassment to charter school advocates,” after it was revealed that between 2007 and 2012 $4.6 million was paid out to “ghost charters.” The study also exposes the fraud of the so-called “on-line” schools in Ohio that have performed among the lowest schools in the state academically.

A particular mention must be made of the charter schools in Washington, D.C. The CMD study cites numerous incidences of fraud and mismanagement at charters that in some instances were “operating down the street from the US Department of Education.” In fact, the situation in the nation’s capital shows how deeply the Obama administration is implicated in all manner of corruption and chicanery involving their support for charter schools.

The study states: “D.C. charters have closed for the usual reasons: poor learning conditions, financial mismanagement, health and safety concerns, inadequate enrollment and poor academic performance. … Despite these problems, money that would otherwise go to public schools has continued to be redirected to charters.”

One particular case stands out. In 2014, the D.C. attorney general sued the founder of the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy, Kent Amos, for allegedly creating a shell company that billed the school $13 million for various jobs done by school employees. According to the Washington Post, “Amos profited most in recent years. … He received about $1.15 million in income in 2012 from the management company, according to federal tax records. In 2013, he received $1.38 million, including $103,000 paid to his wife, who was also listed as an employee.”

In May of 2015, Amos agreed to settle the lawsuit for $3 million, but the question remains: “Why wasn’t there a criminal trial?” The CMD study cites a Washington Post article that the schools authorizer, the Public Charter School Board, had found no financial irregularities. As to protection from political sources, it can be noted that Mr. Amos had been praised by Education Secretary Duncan for his “success and leadership” in 2010.

Finally, the CMD study notes that while its investigators were being stonewalled by the Department of Education regarding the requested lists of funded charter schools and their authorizers, the Obama administration was pressing Congress to increase funding for these schools.

The study concludes with a list of over 1,000 CSP charter sub-grantees by state for the years 2010-2015. While a few schools received as low as $25,000, the average award by entity appears to be about a half million dollars. These numbers are particularly astonishing considering the massive cuts to public education throughout the nation during this period.

Public education, and in particular its democratic and egalitarian underpinnings, is being systematically dismantled in favor of a privatized class-based system. The notion of an informed populace so important to the revolutionary founders of the United States nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago is anathema to the present-day capitalist class, utterly consumed with the preservation of its wealth at all costs.

Chris Hedges vs Black Bloc - Street Fighters and Liberal Pacifists

Chris Hedges vs Black Bloc Streetfighters and Liberal Pacifists The Politics of Confrontation

On 6 February 2012, Chris Hedges, a journalist, self-described Christian and prominent weathervane of the softer side of American radicalism, opined that Black Bloc anarchists were “the cancer of the Occupy movement” ( Hedges had earlier extended Occupy a hearty “welcome to the revolution,” and so his critique sparked considerable discussion.

What particularly offended Hedges’s liberal sensibilities was the 28 January 2012 “Move-In Day” march where Occupy Oakland unsuccessfully attempted to take over the long disused Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center with the intent of converting it into a community center. The peaceful protest of 2,000 was diverted in front of the Kaiser Center, with police firing tear gas, smoke and pepper bombs into the crowd, and ended with police kettling marchers in a public park and in front of a YMCA. According to Susie Cagle, a participant:

“There was a dispersal order, but no means of escape. Protesters with shields attempted to push the police line, which responded with several volleys of tear gas into the crowd, still trapped. Instead of enduring the gas, the crowd pulled down chain-link fencing that separated them from the street and safety.

“As marchers, both masked and bare faced, continued north, taking the street, they chanted powerfully, suddenly and without reservation:

“‘When Oakland is under attack, what do we do?’

“‘Stand up, fight back!’” —Truthout, 8 February 2012

Cagle reported that the mass kettling prompted some demonstrators (most of whom were not Black Bloc) to break into City Hall, where they allegedly did some minor property damage. Hedges’s denunciation of these young militants as Occupy’s “cancer” was promptly echoed by the left social democrats of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), who even denounced the desecration of “Old Glory”:

“At the end of the day, a small number of people got into City Hall and ransacked parts of it, including burning an American flag while the cameras rolled. This was utterly irresponsible and ought to be condemned.” —Socialist Worker, 8 February 2012

In the Black Bloc milieu, people are connected by shared experiences, personal relationships and broadly anarchist politics (despite differences on some key issues). Black Bloc “veterans” have played important roles in the Occupy movement in many places, as David Graeber, who describes himself as “an anarchist who has participated in many Black Blocs,” commented:

“I was hardly the only Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. In fact, anarchists like myself were the real core of the group that came up with the idea of occupying Zuccotti Park, the ‘99%’ slogan, the General Assembly process, and, in fact, who collectively decided that we would adopt a strategy of Gandhian non-violence and eschew acts of property damage. Many of us had taken part in Black Blocs. We just didn’t feel that was an appropriate tactic for the situation we were in.” —David Graeber, n+1, 9 February 2012

Proponents of the Black Bloc insist that it “is a tactic, not a group...where activists don masks and black clothing (originally leather jackets in Germany, later, hoodies in America), as a gesture of anonymity, solidarity, and to indicate to others that they are prepared, if the situation calls for it, for militant action” (Ibid.). The tactic originated in:

“the early 1980s in Germany among autonomist protesters defending squatters rights and anti-nuclear activism, [and] hit America hard in the anti-globalization demonstrations of the late ’90s, especially in the ‘Battle of Seattle,’ which resulted in heavy damage of multinational retail property in downtown.” —Cagle, op cit

Graeber, in response to Hedges, asserted:

“Many of the young men and women who formed the famous Black Bloc in Seattle were in fact eco-activists who had been involved in tree-sits and forest defense lock-downs that operated on purely Gandhian principles—only to find that in the US of the 1990s, non-violent protesters could be brutalized, tortured (have pepper spray directly rubbed in their eyes), or even killed, without serious objection from the national media.” —Graeber, op cit

Long before the “Battle of Seattle,” Earth First! was publishing instructions on industrial sabotage in their journal, including tree-spiking, a practice aimed at slowing down the timber corporations. This was, of course, not the first time that frustrated liberals felt driven to “up the ante” tactically in response to the brutality (or mere inflexibility) of the ruling class and its agents.

The Fire Last Time: New Left ‘Action Faction’

Ostensibly “leaderless” movements like Occupy that profess no formal program inevitably contain a spectrum of political tendencies which over time tend to harden into factions of various sorts. The controversies surrounding the Black Bloc bear more than a passing resemblance to those that wracked the New Left in the late 1960s. Much of what is said about the Black Bloc today was then being said about those identified as the “Action Faction” in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), who eventually ended up as the Weather Underground.

Frustrated with the apparently overwhelming power of the ruling class and despairing of the revolutionary potential of the American working class, Weatherman set off to directly confront the armed thugs of the capitalist state. Of course they were unable to coherently explain how a handful of isolated confrontations with cops and other authority figures was supposed to change the relation of social forces and bring closer the overthrow of capitalism. Their behavior was driven by a combination of liberal guilt and anger at the crimes of American imperialism as well as an intense subjective desire to do something dramatic to express their feelings.

Former Weatherman leader Bill Ayers’s impressionistic memoir, Fugitive Days, captures something of the mentality that animated these militants:

“We wanted to bear witness, to put our bodies on the gears of the death machine, to stop a war and bring justice home. We wanted to intensify the action whenever possible. We would each wear a red headband and carry a small backpack with Vaseline and gloves and goggles to protect us from the anticipated tear gas, a first-aid kit, a hammer to break windows, marbles to scatter in front of any potential police cavalry charge, a bottle of water, and a sling-shot or homemade blackjack….”

Weatherman’s strategy amounted to hoping that setting a militant example would spark a rising wave of revolt in the “belly of the beast.” Predictably, the scheduled street fighting of the October 1969 Chicago “Days of Rage” failed to galvanize significant numbers of alienated radical youth and resulted in a series of legal charges which Weatherman countered by going “underground”—effectively removing themselves from public political life.

While many New Left anti-war activists were drawn into dovish George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign, the Weather Underground, no longer able to engage in street confrontations of the sort the Black Bloc is involved in today, redirected their activity into setting off small bombs in various high-profile symbols of American imperialism, including police stations, the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. After a few years, many key figures resurfaced, served brief jail sentences and emerged as “rehabilitated” left-liberals. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was denounced for being a “pal” of Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, also a prominent Weather Underground leader. Having taken a more circuitous route to the same Democratic dead-end as the McGovernites, Ayers hailed Obama’s election as “an important strike against white supremacy” while hoping “we don’t become adventurous in Iran or Pakistan or Afghanistan.” Such “hopes” are just as ludicrous as the Republicans’ depiction of Obama as some sort of “socialist.”

Despite their fearsome reputation and success at making fools of the FBI and the rest of the U.S. political police for years, Dohrn and Ayers could, in the end, do no more than lead their followers on a long march from angry anti-imperialism back to the Democratic Party because, despite their subjective revolutionary impulses, their political program never transcended militant radical liberalism.

Unlike the Black Panthers, whose willingness to “pick up the gun” was defended by many white liberals, Weatherman was denounced by almost the entire left—from the reformist Stalinist Communist Party to the International Socialists and the “peaceful, legal” suit-and-tie reformists of the Socialist Workers Party. The Workers League (today the Socialist Equality Party/World Socialist Web Site) denounced the Weather Underground as a “protofascist group of declassed hoodlums” (Bulletin, 6 October 1969, quoted in Spartacist Nos.17-18, August-September 1970).

The Maoists of the Progressive Labor Party (PL—Weatherman’s chief opponent in a protracted factional struggle within SDS) were even more hostile. In the run-up to Weatherman’s “Days of Rage” in Chicago, PL denounced the organizers as “a group of police agents and hate-the-people lunatics who walked out of the SDS at the June Convention,” and claimed that “The bankers and big business men who run the country are using this clique…for two purposes. First, to divert people so they won’t fight back anymore. Second, to discredit SDS and radical ideas in general. This group’s ‘Days of Rage’ planned for Chicago, Oct. 8-11 is a police trap” (quoted in Spartacist Nos.17-18, August-September 1970).

‘Violence,’ Cops & Repression

While none of the cadres of the Weather Underground were in any way connected to the police, Hedges’s suggestion that “It is a safe bet that among Black Bloc groups in cities such as Oakland are agents provocateurs spurring them on to more mayhem” (op cit) may well be true. But any leftist group is a potential target for infiltration by cops. It is, of course, easier to enter amorphous formations like the Black Bloc—macho tough-guy tactics provide a favorite entry point for provocateurs, and the anonymity of the costume offers obvious opportunities for such elements. There was quite a bit of internet buzz suggesting that the vandalism of Tully’s Coffee (which had been supportive of the Occupy encampment) during the 2 November 2011 “general strike” may have been the work of police agents posing as Black Bloc.

There is no doubt that the “Homeland Security” apparatus is intent on disrupting and destroying radical opposition to the status quo. On 24 September 2010, FBI agents in the Midwest conducted simultaneous raids on seven homes and an anti-war office and subpoenaed 14 activists. The targets included the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. The nationwide suppression of Occupy camps across the country in mid-November 2011 was coordinated by federal police agencies, including Homeland Security and the FBI.

Hedges’s assertion that “with or without police infiltration the Black Bloc is serving the interests of the 1 percent” (op cit) is an expression of his liberal worldview. As one Occupier at the 2 November 2011 Oakland General Assembly commented:

“It’s a lot more violent to foreclose on somebody and throw them out of a house than throw a rock through a window. And if that’s how people deal with things, then that’s how they get it out and we can’t tell people how to live.” —quoted in Cagle, op cit

Hedges complained that protesters in New York who chanted “Fuck the police” and “Racist, sexist, anti-gay—NYPD go away” undermined the possibility that Occupy might “win the hearts and minds of the wider public and those within the structures of power (including the police) who are possessed of a conscience” (op cit).

Such liberal illusions in the police are shared by various self-proclaimed “revolutionary” organizations (including the ISO, the International Marxist Tendency and the Committee for a Workers’ International) which assert that cops and screws are merely “workers in uniform.” This is completely wrong—cops are not part of the workers’ movement or the left but are rather the armed thugs of the capitalist exploiters.

In “This is What a Revolution Looks Like” (15 November 2011), Hedges asserted that what appeared to be an “unsuccessful attempt by the power elite to quell the unrest and discontent through physical acts of repression” against Occupy heralded the second stage of an unfolding “revolution.” He continued:

“George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us. “Despotic regimes in the end collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers who are ordered to carry out acts of repression, such as the clearing of parks or arresting or even shooting demonstrators, no longer obey orders, the old regime swiftly crumbles.”

While the American ruling class is busy shredding many of the remaining civil liberties by suspending habeas corpus, legalizing indefinite detention without charges and even authorizing the assassination of citizens deemed enemies of the state, the primary tool of the “1%” remains fraud—usually in the form of Democratic Party “progressives.”

Hedges proposes to encourage “defections” from the repressive apparatus “through a rigid adherence to nonviolence, a refusal to respond to police provocation and a verbal respect for the blue-uniformed police, no matter how awful they can be while wading into a crowd and using batons as battering rams against human bodies” (Ibid.). This “turn the other cheek” strategy rejects any sort of self-defense:

“Losing this moral authority, this ability to show through nonviolent protest the corruption and decadence of the corporate state, would be crippling to the movement. It would reduce us to the moral degradation of our oppressors. And that is what our oppressors want.” —Hedges,, 6 February 2012

In motivating his policy of staking everything on appealing to the “morality” of the depraved racists who infest the Oakland police force, Hedges invokes the civil rights movement of the 1960s as a model: “Martin Luther King kept holding marches in Birmingham because he knew Public Safety Commissioner ‘Bull’ Connor was a thug who would overreact” (Ibid.). Malcolm X, whom Hedges claims to admire, denounced King’s “Children’s Crusade” in Birmingham, saying: “Real men don’t put their children on the firing line.” While Malcolm respected King’s commitment to the struggle for equality, he recognized that the liberal civil rights movement was a safety-valve for the capitalist class and observed that “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution” (Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements). After repeated lynchings and assassinations, many of the key figures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) drew similar conclusions and began carrying guns (see Stokely Carmichael and Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael, New York, 2003).

Hedges’s combination of “non-violent” sermonizing from the sidelines and rabid denunciation of those who engage in more militant tactics is rationalized by references to the example of the anti-revolutionary pacifism of Mahatma Gandhi in India. The success of Gandhi’s bourgeois nationalist Congress movement in keeping a lid on a turbulent mass upheaval of millions against 250 years of imperial rule ensured that the social mechanisms of class, caste and gender oppression were preserved after the British departure. The Congress Party also facilitated the imperialist-orchestrated partition of the subcontinent into Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India, which was accompanied by a grisly communalist bloodbath.

While Gandhi is no model for anyone committed to the creation of a more egalitarian social order, Graeber points out that Gandhi, unlike Hedges, refused to denounce those in the anti-colonial movement who pursued a more militant course:

“Since we are talking about Gandhian tactics here, why not consider the case of Gandhi himself?….He first began to frame his own strategy of mass non-violent civil resistance in response to a debate over the act of an Indian nationalist who walked into the office of a British official and shot him five times in the face, killing him instantly. Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer. This was a man who was trying to do the right thing, to act against an historical injustice, but did it in the wrong way because he was‘drunk with a mad idea.’

“….He was regularly challenged to prove his non-violent credentials by assisting the authorities in suppressing such elements. Here Gandhi remained resolute. It is always morally superior, he insisted, to oppose injustice through non-violent means than through violent means. However, to oppose injustice through violent means is still morally superior to not doing anything to oppose injustice at all.

“And Gandhi was talking about people who were blowing up trains, or assassinating government officials. Not damaging windows or spray-painting rude things about the police.” —op cit

As Marxists, we have nothing but contempt for those who seek bourgeois “respectability” by turning on youth attempting to strike blows against the oppressors. While advising against adventurism, revolutionaries nonetheless defend leftist militants (including those whose tactics are seriously mistaken) against the capitalists and their state machinery.

Some of Hedges’s critics have noted that his posture of absolute “non violence” seems to be solely for domestic consumption. He has been less concerned about occasional transgressions of bourgeois law and order committed by rebellious Greeks outraged by the continuing ravages of international finance capital:

“Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.” —, 24 May 2010

But don’t try this at home, advises Hedges, who is nonetheless prepared to invoke the spirit of the French Revolution in excoriating the American bourgeoisie:

“The rogues’ gallery of Wall Street crooks, such as Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs, Howard Milstein at New York Private Bank & Trust, the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers and Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase & Co., no doubt think it’s over. They think it is back to the business of harvesting what is left of America to swell their personal and corporate fortunes. But they no longer have any concept of what is happening around them. They are as mystified and clueless about these uprisings as the courtiers at Versailles or in the Forbidden City who never understood until the very end that their world was collapsing. The billionaire mayor of New York, enriched by a deregulated Wall Street, is unable to grasp why people would spend two months sleeping in an open park and marching on banks.” —, 15 November 2011

Hedges compares the billionaire bankers of Wall Street to the courtiers of Versailles. Yet as soon as a few windows get broken or a flag is burned, his radical wordsmithing is revealed as little more than a cover for a frightened liberal preaching non-violent submission to the dictates of the master class.

Craven Liberalism: the Real ‘Cancer’ in Occupy

Hedges declares that any forceful resistance “is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state” while at the same time claiming that “Occupy encampments in various cities were shut down precisely because they were nonviolent” (, 6 February 2012). In fact, the appropriate tactics in any given situation depend on a host of concrete circumstances. There are many times when the balance of forces precludes the use of physical force by protesters; and there are also situations where such attempts would be politically unwise. But those who refuse to distinguish between the violence of the oppressors and that of their victims (however tactically inadvisable) are incapable of playing any useful role in the struggle against the multiple and manifest injustices of the decaying capitalist social order.

Hedges expresses a generalized opposition to political differentiation within the Occupy movement—particularly if it comes from his left. He is offended that some proponents of the Black Bloc dare characterize Noam Chomsky, America’s leading radical liberal, as a “sellout.” Chomsky has done a great deal of useful analysis and exposed many imperialist crimes, but he is also a card-carrying member of the pro-capitalist Democratic Socialists of America and advised people to vote for Obama in 2008. He can hardly be considered any sort of revolutionary.

Hedges also complained about an article published in Green Anarchy that criticized the Mexican Zapatistas:

“The essay declared that ‘not only are those [the Zapatistas’] aims not anarchist; they are not even revolutionary.’ It also denounced the indigenous movement for ‘nationalist language,’ for asserting the right of people to ‘alter or modify their form of government’ and for having the goals of ‘work, land, housing, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace.’ The movement, the article stated, was not worthy of support because it called for ‘nothing concrete that could not be provided by capitalism.’” —Ibid.

The Zapatistas do not even profess to be revolutionary, but Marxists solidarize with them against repression by the Mexican state, just as we defend Black Bloc participants—many of whom, it should be noted, are radical liberals with plenty of illusions in Chomsky and the Zapatistas.

It is at least a little hypocritical for Hedges, who is so fiercely opposed to the Black Bloc, to object to them criticizing others. But it is common for reformists to advocate the exclusion or suppression of those to their left. As Graeber observed, Hedges’s “cancer” polemic has an unpleasant political logic:

“Even if you did not intend this statement as a call to violence, which I suspect you did not, how can you honestly believe that many will not read it as such?

“In my experience, when I point this sort of thing out, the first reaction I normally get from pacifists is along the lines of ‘what are you talking about? Of course I’m not in favor of attacking anyone! I am non-violent! I am merely calling for non-violently confronting such elements and excluding them from the group!’ The problem is that in practice this is almost never what actually happens. Time after time, what it has actually meant in practice is either a) turning fellow activists over to the police, i.e., turning them over to people with weapons who will physically assault, shackle, and imprison them, or b) actual physical activist-on-activist assault. Such things have happened….

“This situation often produces extraordinary ironies. In Seattle, the only incidents of actual physical assault by protesters on other individuals were not attacks on the police, since these did not occur at all, but attacks by ‘pacifists’ on Black Bloc’ers engaged in acts of property damage. Since the Black Bloc’ers had collectively agreed on a strict policy of non-violence (which they defined as never doing anything to harm another living being), they uniformly refused to strike back. In many recent occupations, self-appointed ‘Peace Police’ have manhandled activists who showed up to marches in black clothing and hoodies, ripped their masks off, shoved and kicked them: always, without the victims themselves having engaged in any act of violence, always, with the victims refusing, on moral grounds, to shove or kick back.

“The kind of rhetoric you are engaging in, if it disseminates widely, will ensure this kind of violence becomes much, much more severe.” —op cit

Hedges’s complaint about “hijacking or destruction of competing movements, which is exactly what the Black Bloc contingents are attempting to do with the Occupy movement” parallels many of those arguments routinely used against left critics of liberalism. One need not endorse the Black Bloc strategy (or lack of one) to recognize that this kind of baiting by prominent “leftists” like Hedges tends to legitimate attacks on more militant protesters and undermine solidarity in the face of ongoing, organized state repression.

Hedges objects to the Black Bloc because it asserts the right to do things he disagrees with. He complains that the St. Paul’s Principles (an agreement worked out for protests outside the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota which called for a “separation of time and place” for more militant protests) “in the end opens the way for hundreds or thousands of peaceful marchers to be discredited by a handful of hooligans.” This makes it clear that he is not so much concerned about militants using pacifists as “human shields,” but more generally opposed to all those who do not promise in advance to slavishly abide by the rules laid down by the enemy, i.e., restrict themselves to impotent (and often invisible) “peaceful, legal” forms of dissent.

Hedges’s antipathy toward youthful militants is shared by the chronically opportunist ISO:

“Unfortunately, a minority of the movement today has a different approach—one that can only be called elitist. By equating clashes with the police with militancy—and asserting their right to carry out such tactics whether or not the rest of the movement agrees—they are seeking to impose their leadership on Occupy.” —Socialist Worker, 8 February 2012

The ISO can certainly not be accused of attempting to “impose their leadership” on anyone—their method is to politically adapt to whatever milieu they are currently chasing. Hedges, the ISO and other “socialist” reformist outfits do not view the Black Bloc and other proponents of “direct action” as subjective revolutionaries who should be won to a better strategy, but rather as angry misfits who can be written off.

The flip side of the ISO’s denunciation of the Black Bloc for substitutionism was its scandalous endorsement of the heavy-handed attempt of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) leadership to disrupt a 6 January 2012 public meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple in solidarity with striking Longview dockers. The thuggish attempt to break up the meeting was motivated by the bureaucrats’ fear that the sell-out contract they planned to foist on their Longview membership might be rejected. (The reaction to the ISO’s outrageous and cowardly toadying to the bureaucrats was so sharp that within a few days the group issued a partial retraction.) The reflexive identification with the labor tops against union militants and their “community” supporters vividly illustrates the ISO’s essentially social-democratic character.

The Necessity of a Revolutionary Working-Class Perspective

There is, of course, a considerable spectrum of opinion among anarchists about how to fight the oppressors. In the Bay Area, the milieu around Occupy has a more overtly pro-union character than many other places because of a history of successful labor political actions initiated over the past several decades by class-struggle longshore militants in ILWU Local 10—beginning with the 1984 anti-apartheid boycott and continuing through the 1999 port shutdown for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the 2008 anti-war May Day strike and the 2010 day of action for Oscar Grant.

Many young militants have illusions that their own passion and commitment, amplified through drawing in fresh layers of angry youth, will provide sufficient leverage to achieve their aims, and they therefore see no particular need to develop a politicized and class-conscious base within the organized working class. Occupy has been amazingly successful in putting the issue of the grotesque inequality generated by capitalism on the political agenda and initiating discussion about the causes and possible solutions to this profound social problem. Its weakness is an organic incapacity to provide any real political leadership, precisely because it is so broad and inclusive. This is reflected in the utopian-liberal (and manifestly false) assertion that “99%” of the population have essentially similar social interests that are counterposed to the “1%” who compose the ruling elite. As we noted previously:

“The estimate that the other ‘99%’ have essentially common interests is a considerable exaggeration—because this would include millions of cops, screws, military officers, managers and others whose material interests bind them closely to the ruling elite. On a global scale the estimate of 99 percent is probably considerably closer to the mark, but in all cases the vast majority of the population has interests which are objectively counterposed to those of the ‘1%’ on top. Within this majority, however, the strategic core is composed of the workers who operate the transport, communications, manufacturing, agricultural production and everything else upon which a modern economy depends.” —“Capitalism Can't Be Fixed!,” 1917 No.34

The task of revolutionaries is to seek to win the most class-conscious elements of this strategic core to a program representing their own historic interest in getting rid of capitalism once and for all. This perspective is the opposite of the “blank slate” approach of the Occupy leadership, which the ISO (as well as various other “socialist” tailists) essentially endorses:

“even some sympathetic liberals—missed the point when they criticized Occupy for its lack of demands. In fact, the movement was both making a general critique of a U.S. society dominated by the 1 percent, while opening up a political space for all those organizing against the injustices of that society.” —op cit

Occupy did open up space for political organizing and discussion in Oakland and across the country. The bold response of Occupy Oakland in calling for a one-day “general strike” to protest attacks by the city administration won the support of an impressive section of the population. Tens of thousands of working people and youth showed that they were prepared to stand up and actively resist the attack of Oakland civic authorities and their cops. While the 2 November 2011 protest was not a “general strike,” it was large enough to scare the ruling elites and certainly helped make Occupy’s subsequent pledges of mass solidarity with the embattled Longview dockers credible.

But this does not detract from the urgency of political struggle against the various strains of anarcho-liberalism that dominate Occupy and which will ultimately dissipate the energy to resist capitalist oppression that it has been able to tap. The 12 December 2011 shutdown of the Port of Oakland revealed the inherent limits of intervention from outside the union. While the action was not violently repressed by the police, and won the sympathy of many rank-and-file ILWU members, the fact that it did not originate in the union and was not led by union militants limited its scope and effectiveness. The next month the ILWU bureaucracy was able to hobble Occupy’s attempts to organize mass support for the besieged Longview local and impose the worst contract in the union’s history.

If the recent upsurge is to produce any lasting results, it will be through the injection of fresh forces in the struggle to forge new, class-struggle leadership for the unions capable of ousting the labor traitors who dominate the workers’ movement today. Only a revolutionary organization with a coherent set of ideas and a strategic orientation to the organized working class will be able to harness the anger and the willingness to take risks and make sacrifices exhibited by many of the youthful rebels (including Black Bloc participants) and transform them into effective proletarian organizers. The creation of a mass revolutionary workers’ party is the precondition to a successful struggle to expropriate the financial parasites, corporations and the rest of the “1%” and open the road to the socialist future.

Reinventing the Wheel—a Pointless Exercise

The New Left of the 1960s arose as a result of the failure of the major organizations of the Old Left (centrally the Stalinist Communist Party and the rightward-moving, formerly Trotskyist, Socialist Workers Party) to provide a plausible mass opposition to capitalism. In 1967, Leon Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, made the following remarks to a group of university students in Binghamton, New York:

“you call yourselves New Left not because you have a new philosophy, but because you want to be distinguished from the previous generation of Marxists…you think…that your elders have done badly and you want to make a new start. This sounds very tidy: new people make a new beginning and call themselves New Left. But in what sense are you ‘new people’? You are young? Young people can be very old if they start with very old ideas….I suggest that you have, first of all, to define what is the new idea you stand for. In what way are you opposed to your elders, and to which of their ideas are you opposed?” —“Marxism and the New Left” in Marxism in our Time, 1971

The initial explosive growth of the Occupy phenomenon was conditioned by the absence of a viable mass revolutionary party. Like many radicals of the 1960s, today’s anarcho-liberals are a reaction to the bankruptcy of tame “lesser evil” reformists whose hostility to the Black Bloc reflects their acceptance of the immutability of the existing social order.

Attacks on corporate symbols and the cops by angry youth are political actions, even if not well thought out and sometimes counterproductive (and perhaps dangerous to those who carry them out as well as other protesters). In the final analysis, the window-breakers of the Black Bloc et al are the flip side of the liberal pacifism promoted by the smug reformists of the ISO and sundry others who falsely claim the mantle of revolutionary Marxism. Without a program and a plan—i.e., a coherent strategy to awaken the revolutionary potential of the working class—they will find themselves arriving at the same liberal dead-end.

The enragés of the New Left, like the Black Bloc today, had no patience for the difficult and protracted commitment necessary to seriously undertake working-class organizing. Instead they opted for the short-term subjective satisfaction of going up against the cops rather than pursuing a long-term strategy that can actually end capitalist tyranny and create a new egalitarian social order based on institutions of workers’ power.

A serious revolutionary Marxist party struggling for leadership of the workers’ movement and championing the rights of the oppressed and downtrodden would attract the best of the angry anarchist milieu and turn them into serious proletarian revolutionaries. A glimpse of what is possible can be seen in the influence, both direct and indirect, of a few class-conscious militants in ILWU Local 10 in helping shape the political character of Occupy in the Bay Area, and via Oakland, the entire West Coast. The basis for this influence is the series of political actions spearheaded by militants in Local 10 who were schooled in the best traditions of Trotskyist trade-union work (see “Anti-War Strike,” 1917 No.31 2009).

As Trotsky observed: “only a great revolutionary mass movement can free the oppressed, a movement that will leave no remnant of the entire structure of class exploitation, national oppression, and racial persecution” (“For Grynszpan,” February 1939). Only a revolutionary party rooted in the unions can lead such a movement through organizing the unorganized, mobilizing against murderous police violence, as well as spearheading the fight against INS dragnets, bank foreclosures, tuition hikes, attacks on pensions and social services and other issues of vital importance to working people.

It is necessary and possible to forge such a leadership, but there are no shortcuts. We must begin from where we are, and not waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. Indeed, it is only by drawing the lessons of the history of the revolutionary experience of the past—both the successes and the failures—that it will be possible to free humanity from the dead hand of the decaying and profoundly unjust capitalist order.

Looking at Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War

A Hemingway Surprise David Bromwich

In the early photographs, Hemingway has a bold expression—stepping forward, saying “This is me”—accompanied by a squint that holds the camera at a certain distance. The attitude stops short of an available emotion. Toward the end of his career he would grow used to hearing himself demoted for an excess of surface and showmanship, as if his identification with the roles of celebrity, sportsman, and revolutionist, the friend of boxers and movie stars, implied a distrust of literature itself. This criticism was a plausible half-truth. At heart, he was a listener, and to a large extent a mimic, with the intellect to judge and sift the voices that he heard. Of all the moderns, Hemingway was the foremost defender of revision as a proof of serious craft. The more you could throw away, he said, the surer you could be that something of substance was there to begin with.

As the wonderful exhibition at the Morgan Library makes clear, with its generous sample of photographs, books, corrected proof pages, and letters to and from the writer, Hemingway was already ambitious for fame in his teenage years in Oak Park, Illinois. His adolescent pieces show a strong pull toward genre fiction of the “boy’s adventure” type. (In his Paris Review interview with George Plimpton, he would rank “the good Kipling” and Captain Marryat alongside Thoreau, Twain, Turgenev, Mozart, Bruegel, and Cézanne among the artists he had “learned the most from.”) A fondness for boyish subject matter and excitement would never leave him; you can see it in the keyed-up manly dialogue and fast melodrama of his play The Fifth Column.

But though Hemingway disliked “the trauma theory of literature,” especially as applied to himself, a particular grown-up experience seems to have formed him as much as any experience after childhood can do that for a writer. He was wounded in an Austrian trench mortar attack on July 8, 1918. His stories about soldiers who are recovering from battle injuries—“In Another Country,” “Now I Lay Me,” and “A Way You’ll Never Be,” all of them extraordinary work—introduced and brought to perfection a style that nothing in English had prepared his readers for.

In the last of these stories, Nick Adams (as usual a stand-in for the author) rides his bicycle past the scene of a battle and “saw what had happened by the position of the dead.” This opening is followed by a one-sentence paragraph: “They lay alone or in clumps in the high grass of the field and along the road, their pockets out, and over them were flies and around each body or group of bodies were the scattered papers.” The next paragraph is a straightforward panorama of the dead, their weapons and debris—most of it done with semicolons, occasionally jostled by a comma splice to break the rhythm—the juddering syntax here keeping time with the hurried motions of the soldiers digging in. Already in these stories of the 1920s, what we are seeing is a discipline peculiar to Hemingway—a method of description that becomes a record of repressed emotion. The force of absent things and feelings is made more powerful by a minimal rendering of present details.

James Joyce, in stories from Dubliners like “An Encounter” or “After the Race,” may have supplied a clue to the method, but Hemingway pushed it further, and the documents at the Morgan all frame a question: How did he do it? His advance was partly owing to a canny choice of mentors: Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. With a pedagogic sense of purpose, Stein above all took an early interest in his work, and responded to a sheaf of novice stories with a note of severe encouragement that mattered greatly to Hemingway: “Begin over again and concentrate.”

Of his patience and the reward for his new beginning, a vivid illustration may be found in the manuscript revisions of the story “Indian Camp.” Nick Adams’s father, who is a doctor, has brought him along to deliver a baby. The Indian woman has been in labor for two days, and his father cuts her open, gets the baby to start breathing, stitches her up, and moves to inform the “proud father” only to discover that he has slit his throat. The man’s helplessness to relieve her screams, and perhaps horror and mortification at the sight of the doctor’s work, have been too much for him. A nervous stretch of dialogue between Nick and his father tries to absorb the shock:

“Is dying hard, Daddy?”

“No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.”

Somewhere in this part, Hemingway had set to work on sentences to describe Nick’s fear: “He was not afraid of anything definite as yet. But he was getting very frightened afraid. Then all suddenly he was afraid of dying.” There is visible art in the substitution of “afraid” for “frightened”—taking the stronger and more grown-up word to repeat the fear—and in the deflection of the cliché “all of a sudden”; but the interesting thing when you look at the published story is that none of this passage was used. The narrator, as a knowing and explaining presence, has dissolved, first into the passage of straight dialogue and finally into a more indirect report of Nick’s very different afterthoughts. As he returns home with his father, the story closes in a dramatic non sequitur matched to a psychological truth: “In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.”

Among other instances of a similar paring down are some draft pages of “Big Two-Hearted River” and a specimen of the four thousand words with which The Sun Also Rises had originally begun—two entire chapters that were cut on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s advice. Hemingway had been too intrusive with his opinions of people and his worldly wisdom, and the effect was overbearing, a trespass against the reader’s freedom to trust the author at his own pace. In later years he mainly erred when he showed he loved the sound of his voice—a traceable weakness in Green Hills of Africa, and in some of his letters, with their profusion of nicknames for friends and cronies, wives and lovers. But he knew that Fitzgerald’s was the sound advice of a fellow artist, and he adopted a smaller suggestion from the same source to cut an “inside” boxing anecdote from the story “Fifty Grand.”

In Our Time (1925), the sequence of paragraph-sketches and stories in which “Indian Camp” first appeared, had been the basis of his reputation in Paris and New York, where he was known as an avant-garde writer. The Sun Also Rises (1926), written in six weeks in a rush of self-confidence he would never equal, brought him a larger fame. Edmund Wilson wrote on January 7, 1927, in a letter displayed at the Morgan: “I think your book is a knockout—perhaps the best piece of fiction that any American of this new crop has done.”

Within a few years, still in his early thirties, Hemingway was being sought by a scarcely younger generation for advice as a master of fiction. His reading list for Arnold Samuels, a visitor to Key West in the spring of 1934, shows a mixture of classical touchstones and near-contemporary favorites that is touchingly personal: two stories by Stephen Crane, “The Blue Hotel” and “The Open Boat,” get an honorary place beside Flaubert and Dostoevsky and Henry James. Also on the list are Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage; George Moore, Hail and Farewell; W.H. Hudson, Far Away and Long Ago; and E.E. Cummings, The Enormous Room.

By the mid-1930s, Hemingway was admired by writers of English prose with a fealty most unusual in the arts. A letter from John Steinbeck praises “The Butterfly and the Tank,” a story of the Spanish civil war published in 1938 in Esquire, but Steinbeck must have been looking for an excuse to write his letter. The story is hardly even a story but rather an anecdote, given in Hemingway’s person as something that happened to him: a homosexual, in an access of high spirits, uses a “flit gun” to spray with cologne a waiter at Chicote’s in Madrid (“a place sort of like The Stork, without the music and the debutantes”) and in retaliation is shot dead. The magic, for Steinbeck, must have been that Hemingway was the one who saw it and told it.

This was much the effect of, say, things that happened to and were told by Lord Byron in 1818. There was glamour in the very idea of such an author, and there was something else: an adaptation to the uses of writing as a transcription of the glamour. This degree of charismatic attraction has rarely been seen in literature, and it can occur only when an author and audience are agreed on the worth of anything that happens to one of us.

It is sometimes forgotten how far behind Hemingway left America once he went off to World War I and settled in Paris. He wrote and fought against the Fascists in the Spanish war; covered D-Day in a landing craft for Collier’s; took part in the liberation of Paris; and declared his sympathy for Castro’s revolution against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. He felt himself no more a foreigner in Cuba, Spain, or Paris than he was in Key West or Ketchum, Idaho. Concerning Oak Park he wrote, in a letter to Mary Welsh: “Never have been back except to bury my Father that same fall [of 1928]. Since, many time[s], I haven’t gone because it would be rude to go and not see my mother and I can’t stand to see her.”

The respectable middle class in America, so young in its culture and censorious in its demands, was the power he fled his parents to escape; and in the life that followed, he would alienate himself from any system that ventured to limit his freedom. As he explained to his father in a letter of March 20, 1925, the aim of his work was to recall and intensify a sensation of sheer contact with life:

You see I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across—not to just depict life—or criticize it—but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it. Things aren’t that way…. So when you see anything of mine that you don’t like remember that I’m sincere in doing it and that I’m working toward something. If I write an ugly story that might be hateful to you or to Mother the next one might be one that you would like exceedingly.

The “ugly story” might of course involve a real experience he had been through with his father, as in “Indian Camp,” or things that his father and mother would recognize but pronounce unfit for literature. Hemingway, as much as D.H. Lawrence, wanted to clear away the imputation of ugliness that came from daring to speak of such things at all.

The most interesting letter from another writer shown at the Morgan exhibition was sent by J.D. Salinger (signing himself Jerry) after the Battle of Hurtgenwald. On July 27, 1945, “from a General Hospital in Nuremberg,” where he is hoping to circumvent a “mental” discharge, Salinger writes to thank Hemingway for encouraging words in a recent conversation. Some way under the surface, this letter is also a confession of indebtedness and a plea for friendship. “They asked me about my sex life,” writes Salinger of his interrogation by the army psychiatrists, “…and about my childhood…and then finally they asked me how I liked the army. I’ve always liked the army.” Those two sentences are a Hemingway cadence followed by a Hemingway punch line. Who could “like” the army? “I hope,” Salinger continues, “the next time you come to New York that I’ll be around and that if you have time I can see you. The talks I had with you were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business.” The last phrase is Hemingway’s kind of understatement: the business alluded to may mean everything after the invasion of Europe or everything about his stay in the mental ward.

And this was always part of Hemingway’s teaching. Omit the right details and you will get through to the readers who were meant to understand. The boxing story “Fifty Grand” suppresses the crucial transaction in which the fighter Jack Brennan agrees to throw a fight he doubts he could win anyway. After the fixers have come and gone from the camp, his decision is telegraphed by nothing but these lines:

Upstairs Jack sat on the bed with his head in his hands.

“Ain’t it a life?” Jack says.

Hemingway’s titles are also subdued in their reference and often quietly didactic. The Sun Also Rises juxtaposes the dismissal by Gertrude Stein of “a lost generation” with the line out of Ecclesiastes. Less obvious is the allusion of In Our Time to the saying from the Book of Common Prayer, “Give peace in our time, O Lord.” The mockery was aimed at readers in search of a jolt from war stories, and also at President Wilson with his pledge of “a war to end all wars.” There is apparent peace, in these stories, but no time of peace: a memory or underplot of violence infects even the scenes of contentment and repose. Again, To Have and Have Not (1937) comes from the Gospel of Matthew: “Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” To support a family in the Depression, the hero of the novel, the bootlegger Harry Morgan, loses first his arm, then the boat that he uses for smuggling and chartered fishing, and at last his life in a chance encounter with gangsters.

To Have and Have Not was Hemingway’s closest approach to a “proletarian novel”: the Communists got interested in him then and could never quite dismiss him. He wrote about the rich and powerful with a rebellious hatred that sprang from an anarchist germ he never cared to suppress. But the solidarity Hemingway spoke for was of the most general human sort. The old word “anti-Fascist” catches the character of his political affiliations more aptly than any positive designation could. The oblique references to the public works projects of the New Deal in To Have and Have Not are infused with the scorn of the little man against all governments and all institutions. Hemingway tended to judge political causes by his inference about the characters of fighters on the two sides. He traced politics to morality and morality to the morale of the person. It is a simple way of measuring such things, you might say—just one more drastic method of paring away and paring down. But how sharp his perceptions were, and what integrity they gave to his judgments, after all. As time goes by, he is not getting smaller.


I just happened to listen to this story this morning. David Bromwich writes:

"A letter from John Steinbeck praises “The Butterfly and the Tank,” a story of the Spanish civil war published in 1938 in Esquire, but Steinbeck must have been looking for an excuse to write his letter. The story is hardly even a story but rather an anecdote, given in Hemingway’s person as something that happened to him: a homosexual, in an access of high spirits, uses a “flit gun” to spray with cologne a waiter at Chicote’s in Madrid (“a place sort of like The Stork, without the music and the debutantes”) and in retaliation is shot dead. The magic, for Steinbeck, must have been that Hemingway was the one who saw it and told it."

That's not the story as Hemingway wrote it. A bar full of Left wing revolutionaries is the setting. The narrator sits with a German comrade and some people from England. A cabinet maker who has come back from the front fighting the Fascists went to a wedding and got drunk and used a spray device to spread perfume. Some men from the airfield shoot the man dead. His wife comes and cries over the body, "Pedro what have they done to you." The tough guys who killed him seem like the Stalinists who strangled the Spanish Left in the Civil War leading to the victory of the Fascists. But, for the New Yorker writer this is about a 'homosexual' and the Stork Club? Are we talking about the same story?

The story is short and to the point. The other Leftists sitting with the narrator don't want him to write about the murder because 'it will hurt the Left wing cause." The couple the narrator sits with are foreigners who 'are in the radio.' Like radical tourists. There is a lot in this story, and it shows the failure of the Left in the 1930's. To dismiss the story as simply an anecdote that is interesting because Hemingway was there is like celebrity worship. People who idolize the famous think that is what everything is about.

Clear writing reflects clear thinking. Hemingway was such a good writer that he described in a few short pages what happened in the Spanish Civil War, and why the Left lost. Stalinist bullies and the people who worship power defeated the liberation the Left brought some measure of --- all of this is lost on David Bromwich whose writing style is a jumble of awkward phrases. Drop the smug attitude and simply read the story, David. A vital truth is right there in the simple words and honest description.