Thursday, September 30, 2010

Woman & the Transformation of Humanity

Women and the Continuing Transformation of Humanity

We live in an environment

which continually informs us

that there is something

wrong with humanity.

They tell us that there are genuinely

evil people out there

who commit

horrendous crimes.

We see the lists

of these crimes

every day

in the newspapers.

Capitalist governments

argue that we need armies

and police forces

to protect us against these evil people.

They tell us that this is just

“human nature”

and that things

have always been this way.

They tell us that the one

progressive force in society is the family.

If all else fails, we can rely

on the family for support and this is the way it has always been.

What those who have power never tell us is,

What is the real

story of human history?

This poem will attempt to begin to answer that question.

We are the descendants of animals.

Animals who cared for their young,

but, at times,

killed and ate their young.

We are the descendants

of male animals who fought,

and, at times killed one another

in order to have access to females.

This is because males are, at times,

a small minority where groups of animals live.

However, rape never happens

in the animal world.

Humanity changed these relationships.

First there were hoards or clans

where all members of the clan

protected one another.

Sex was not allowed within the clan

and all relations came through the mother.

Uncles were the men

who helped to raise the children of the mother.

Although women were always the physically weaker sex,

collectively women were the ones who pioneered the changes

that allowed humanity to do skilled work in a social environment

and advance from the animal world.

The concept of natural death was unknown.

All deaths were attributed to humans or animals from the outside.

Therefore everyone from other clans

were seen as enemies.

This included the fathers of all children.

Eventually fathers would have to

prove themselves to the mother-in-law

in order to marry the daughter.

As time went by this state of affairs became impractical.

People gave worthless gifts

to those from the other clans who accepted those gifts.

Fathers now became outsiders.

During these years men were the hunters

and women did most of the rest of the work.

Women were the first doctors, construction workers,

farmers, ship builders, and scientists.

During these years, women needed to carry heavy loads

of water, construction materials, food, as well as an infant.

This was not seen as drudgery,

but as a deeply appreciated contribution to society.

During these years biological fatherhood was unknown.

People were not interested in who biological fathers were.

Children played sexual games

and adults thought this was natural.

Men lived in the home of the mother’s clan

and if the wife or mother wanted a divorce,

she simply placed the fathers things

outside of her home.

The words mine and yours were not known.

All things were shared by all.

When someone received a gift,

everyone expected to share in the use of that gift.

Food was divided equally amongst all.

The idea of fighting each other

for morsels of food

was seen as something only animals did.

During these years, in many areas of the world,

humanity experienced a relatively care-free existence.

Everyone contributed to the welfare of all,

and individuals didn’t worry about paying bills.

This wasn’t always an easy process.

At times men murdered their children

to avoid conflicts with other clans.

This was better than war.

Then the world changed.

Men began to trade cattle for wives.

The wife and child now belonged to the father.

There was no more reason to murder children.

Uncles lost their right to raise their sister’s children.

Fathers, for the first time in human history,

became the ones who were responsible

for their children.

However, women lost their independence

and became tied to their husbands.

The ancient Greeks had the myth of Orestes where Orestes

murdered his mother and the social relations of the world were transformed.

However, humanity, at this time,

still did not know

that there was such

a thing as biological fatherhood.

Even as late as the Egyptian Empire,

heredity came through the mother.

The queen ruled with her brother,

but had children with her husband, not her brother.

In other words, fatherhood, the family

and even private property are relatively

new inventions in the 150,000 years

of human history.

When Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere,

they came with the ideas of private property and the family.

The Native American could not understand why

European men abused women.

They could not understand what private property was,

or why the European was

so adamant about taking

the land they had lived on for centuries.

Today people who have power continue to

insist that we need to defend the idea of

private property, the family, and the state.

They refuse to even consider the reality of our history.

As the crisis in the world becomes more and more deplorable,

humanity will discover that during most of our history

women were treated with the utmost respect

and private property wasn’t even known to exist.

When humanity makes this discovery,

We will transform the world into a place

Where there is liberty. justice,

and human dignity for all.

Most of the ideas in this poem come from Evelyn Reed’s book: “Woman’s Evolution – from matriarchal clan to patriarchal family.” Published by Pathfinder press

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

A film directed by: Oliver Stone

A review

Recently I saw Oliver Stone’s new film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps which is a sequel to his 1987 film Wall Street. The film was mediocre, at best. However, the real story behind the film is a lot more interesting than the movie.

In Stone’s original Wall Street he at least included a story of union airline workers who were loosing their jobs because of Wall Street’s policies. That movie imagined the impossible dream that corporate officers would actually rescue workers. Ralph Nader also wrote about this dream in his book, Only the Rich Can Save US.

Oliver Stone got the idea for the original Wall Street from Ivan Boesky who made the statement in 1986 that “Greed is healthy.” Stone’s character Gordon Gekko made the famous statement in this film that “Greed is good.” Ivan Boesky spent two years in prison for insider trading. His sentence would have been longer if Boesky had not cooperated with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Boesky gave the SEC the information that needed to indict Drexel Burnham Lambert executive Michael Milken on 98 counts of racketeering charges.

In Stone’s new Wall Street film Gordon Gekko is released from prison, writes a book, and gives lectures where he ridicules the practices of Wall Street. In a speech that Gekko gives early in the movie he says that while he once said that “Greed is good,” now he argues that “Greed is legal.” He argued that because of Wall Street excess, young people have no future and that the people in charge of Wall Street are “Crazy.” This last comment might make someone conclude that the economic crisis we face might be resolved if Wall Street power brokers visited the psychiatrist’s office.

A central problem with both of Stone’s films are that he gives the impression that as bad as the system is, the problems of capitalism can be resolved by individuals working within the stock market. An example of this approach is that one of the main characters in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is obsessed with raising money for fusion power. He feels that this obsession will benefit humanity because it would be an alternative energy source.

The facts are that capitalists only invest money in order to generate profits. Any investments in fusion power are only made because there is an expectation that enormous profits would, one day, be generated by this energy source. The idea of making substantial investments merely to benefit humanity, without any thought of profits, is inconceivable to investment companies.

The Real Story

The real story behind this movie, for me, is much more interesting as well as relevant to the world we live in. We can begin this story with the banker Anthony Joseph Drexel who lived from 1826 through 1893. Drexel was the mentor and partner to J. Pierpont Morgan. Their bank is now JP Morgan-Chase which is one of the largest in the world. Drexel also ran an investment company which became Drexel Brunham Lambert. For these reasons Drexel became known as “The man who made Wall Street.”

Anthony Drexel also used three million dollars of his own money to create Drexel University, a school which specializes in engineering. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in Drexel’s day was a manufacturing center and Anthony Drexel created the school so there would be skilled engineers to run the factories he profited from.

In the tribute to Anthony Drexel from Drexel University there is no mention of the conditions workers faced in order to generate the millions of dollars Anthony Drexel used during his life. Mother Jones spoke of these conditions during a textile workers strike in 1903 where 100,000 workers went on strike. About sixteen thousand of those workers were children, many were twelve years old or younger. They demanded a reduction of the workweek from sixty-five hours to fifty-five hours, even if this meant a cut in pay.

Mother Jones led a march of 400 of these child workers to the summer home of Theodore Roosevelt in Long Island about 120 miles from Philadelphia. Mother Jones observed that many of these children had hands or fingers missing from working in the mills. This is what Mother Jones had to say on this march about the conditions child laborers faced:

“In Georgia where children work day and night in the cotton mills they have just passed a bill to protect song-birds. What about the little children from whom all the song is gone?”[1]

Although Anthony Drexel passed away before this strike, the conditions these workers experienced were the same conditions Drexel profited from.

Now we can skip forward to the 1980’s. This was the time when Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky were gouging out enormous profits from high yield, high risk investments known as “Junk Bonds.” These investments looked so good that Milken at one time Milken raised one billion dollars of capitol in a single day. Then he was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and would eventually spend twenty-two months in a federal penitentiary. Drexel, Burnham, Lambert went bankrupt and its $350 billion in assets vanished.

To the logical mind, these practices might be seen as reprehensible. However, this is not the case in the capitalist system. In fact a new investment strategy called “derivatives” and later “Credit Default Swaps” were not only legal but laws were adopted so that these so-called investments could not be regulated by the government. In other words, while Boesky and Milken went to jail for violating government regulations, hundreds of trillions of dollars of derivatives were sold without any government regulation. In fact the inventors of these derivatives were given Nobel Prizes. Believe it or not, this is a true story.

Derivatives are a complicated bet on the market that few people understand. When working people go to a casino and loose money, we don’t expect that we will be reimbursed for our losses. However, when investment companies loose money on derivatives and other investments, they demand that the government bail them out, in a hurry.

This brings us to the Drexel University Medical School’s graduating class of 2008. Who did Drexel’s administration invite to be the keynote speaker at this gathering? The same Michael Milken who spent 22 months in the federal penitentiary and helped to drive Anthony Drexel’s bank into the ground. Hello! Some medical students from this graduating class protested the fact that Milken would be giving the keynote address. However, as we know, money talks.

You see, when Michael Milken walked out of prison he had about one-billion dollars in his portfolio. Since that time Milken has increased his assets to over two-billion dollars. His new scheme is an old one, but very lucrative. Now Milken is involved in charitable trust funds. People who have vast amounts of money can invest in charitable trust funds and avoid paying vast amounts of money in taxes. All they have to do is give a small percentage of their money to a charity and they can even pay themselves a salary for managing their money. One of Milken’s favorite charities is medical research.

Cuba had a completely different approach to dealing with their economic crisis. They had a political revolution. Corporations did not like the revolutionary Cuban government so they refused to cooperate with it. Cuba then used its political power to nationalize about $800 million in assets owned by US corporations.

Today Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world. For me, this appears to be a logical way of dealing with Wall Street and the economic crisis they have created.

[1] Mother Jones Speaks, Edited by Philip S. Foner, P. 102

Friday, September 24, 2010

Malcolm X

Malcolm X, Black Liberation, & the Road to Workers Power

By Jack Barnes
Published by Pathfinder Press
A review

Malcolm X has long been considered a selfless defender of the rights of African Americans. Unlike Martin Luther King, who dedicated himself to peaceful protest, Malcolm believed that the rights of
Black people need to be defended by “any means necessary.”

Jack Barnes, who is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, wrote a book largely about the contributions of Malcolm X in support of the struggle for human dignity. The title is Malcolm X, Black Liberation & the Road to Workers Power. Most people who are familiar with some of the speeches of Malcolm are unaware that Malcolm gave three speeches during the last year of his life at Militant Labor Forums. 

The Militant newspaper reflects the views of the SWP. Barnes, in fact, interviewed Malcolm for the former publication The Young Socialist. One of Barnes’ arguments in this book is that Malcolm was not just a leader of African Americans, but worked to create a movement that would be an example for workers and farmers throughout the world. Malcolm explained that there would be a clash “between those who want freedom, justice, and equality, and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.”

This book contains discussions between Leon Trotsky and CLR James about the struggle for Black Rights in this country. These discussions give a historical background for an appreciation of the politics of Malcolm X.

Non-violence and self defence

Many people who support capitalist politics in this country were, and continue to be, critical of Malcolm because he would not renounce the use of violence. For Malcolm this was a basic question of self-defense. This is how Malcolm explained it. “Because when a man knows that when he starts playing with you, he’s got to kill you, that man is not going to play with you.” Malcolm also liked to quote the revolutionary Patrick Henry who argued in the 1700’s, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
In Germany during the 1930’s Adolph Hitler and the Nazis came to power and made that nation one of the most repressive in the world. Yet there was virtually no armed resistance to the Nazi takeover. This is what can happen when working people limit themselves to a strategy of non-violence.

Another aspect of Malcolm’s legacy was his insistence that the struggle was international. Malcolm informed people about information others chose to ignore, but is thoroughly documented today. That is that Washington was primarily responsible for overthrowing the government of Patrice Lamumba and murdering many of the people of the Congo in the process.

Malcolm wasn’t just opposed to the war against Vietnam. He identified with all of those who fought against the US in Asia as well as Africa. He contrasted those who struggled to achieve liberation to those who followed the orders of the military commanders in the United States. Malcolm argued, speaking of the US military: “He’s brave when he’s got tanks. He’s brave when he’s got planes, bombs. . . Take that little man from Africa and Asia, turn him loose with a blade, and when the sun goes down its even Steven.”

Repression in the United States of America

Malcolm X lived most of his life at a time when discrimination was the Jim Crow law of the land. While these laws did not exist in the northern states, Malcolm argued, “Stop talking about the South. If you’re south of Canada, you’re in the South.”

Frederick Engels and Vladimir Illyich Lenin were two communists who made a similar argument as Malcolm. They both made the statement that the institution of the “state” was created in the capitalist system to be used as a “special repressive force” against the interests of workers.

The escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived during the same years as Frederick Engels. On the Forth of July, 1852 Douglass made a statement which agreed with the sentiment of Engels, Lenin, and Malcolm. “For revolting barbarism, and shameless hypocrisy, America reins without a rival.”

Malcolm argued that during slavery there were two kinds of slaves, the house slave and the field slave. The consciousness of these two slaves were different. Malcolm argued that when the master was sick the house slave might say, “We sick Master?” But the field slave hoped the Master would die when he was ill. When the home of the Master was on fire the field slave might be the first to try to put out the fire, while the field slave hoped the house would burn to the ground. Malcolm, throughout his life, openly identified with the legacy of the field slave.

Waking people up to our humanity

Today we listen to a plethora of commentators who argue that “something needs to be done” about the horrendous problems we face. This attitude underscores the notion that there is a confidence that the government has the capacity to resolve this crisis in a positive way. Malcolm, on the other hand, had the confidence that Black people have the potential to transform the world. This was his argument:

“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake people up first, then you’ll get action.”

“Wake them up to their exploitation?”--Marlene Nadle of the Village Voice

“No, to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage.”--Malcolm X

This is how Jack Barnes explains it:

“Don’t start with Blacks as an oppressed nationality. Start with the vanguard place and weight of workers who are Black in broad proletarian-led struggles in the United States. From the Civil War to today, the record is mind-boggling. It’s the strength and resilience, not the oppression, that boles you over.”

This book is not just about the problems of the United States. Its about how working people have the potential to resolve these problems in a way that will create an atmosphere where there can be human dignity for all. Malcolm X dedicated his life to that struggle and continues to be an example for working people and farmers all over the world.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Latin Music

Latin Music USA

Viewed on PBS TV

A Review

Last evening, quite by accident, I actually saw a televised program that was worth seeing. This was the PBS history of Latin Music titled Latin Music USA. A few years ago I read the book The Latin Tinge – The impact of Latin music in the United States by John Storm Roberts. At that time I was struck by the fact that there were few books about Latin music in the bookstores. Roberts argued that Latin music has been influencing the music of this country for over 100 years. He also argues that the most influential country with respect to Latin music is Cuba. Roberts even argues that the Argentine Tango has its roots in the Habanera style of Cuban music.

A number of years ago I also found a recording, also by accident, by Mario Bauza and was blown away by the sound. The CD is titled Tanga and was recorded in the 1940’s when Bauza was the band-leader for Machito’s Afro-Cuban All-stars. I wasn’t the only one blown away by this sound. When Dizzy Gillespie first listened to this piece, live, he couldn’t get over what he was listening to.

In fact Mario Bauza influenced Chick Webb to give both Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald their first jobs. Bauza also introduced Gillespie to Chano Pozo who was intimately aware of Cuban rhythms . Pozo gave Gillespie the idea for two of his most famous hits Manteca and Salt Peanuts.

The multi-part PBS documentary Latin Music USA goes into all this history and more. Included in this history is a tribute to several dancers who made this music come alive. After over one-hundred years, we might say: It’s about time.

Clearly there are limitations to this documentary. We live in a capitalist system and there was a considerable amount of time given to the capitalists who invested money to derive a profit from the music. Clearly most of these capitalists contributed little or nothing to the actual music. They also kept the lion’s share of the revenue while giving the artists a relatively small pittance.

The other problem with the film is that it fails to even mention the US trade embargo against Cuba and how it has effected Latin Music in this country. For years, music produced in Cuba could not be purchased in this country. To this day, it is difficult for Cuban musicians living on the island to perform in this country. These restrictions are beginning to be relaxed.

In any case, for anyone who is interested in the roots of music in this country, the study of Latin Music is a necessity. The PBS documentary gives a considerable amount of information on this subject. The entire documentary and associated reading materials can be seen on the PBS web page under the heading Latin Music USA.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Asbury Park

Greetings From Asbury Park

Shown on WYBE

A review

Having lived in North New Jersey and Philadelphia I’ve become pleasantly acquainted with a place called the Jersey Shore. On weekends during the summer the highways in New Jersey are jammed with people taking their families to one of the beeches “down the shore.”

When I was young, my family took me to Asbury Park where we walked the boardwalk, ate delicious junk food, and went on all the amusement rides. My parents moved from Newark, NJ to Long Branch and I visited Asbury Park when they lived there. During those years I was struck by the fact that in the middle of the summer, the boardwalk along the beach was virtually abandoned.

Last evening I saw the documentary Greetings From Asbury Park shown on the TV station WYBE. This documentary gave the following information.

As I said Asbury Park was once a center for people who chose to visit the Jersey Shore. The city was also a cultural center where Bruce Springsteen cut his first recording.

African Americans were interviewed and they spoke about the history of discrimination in the city. As a result, a rebellion broke out in Asbury Park and this was one of the rebellions which broke out in hundreds of African American neighborhoods throughout the US in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The mayor of Asbury Park at that time was quoted as saying that the rebellion was perfectly understandable given the conditions of the city. For many years Black people were not allowed on the main beech in Asbury Park. Today Asbury Park is 86% Black and Latino.

There have been two redevelopment schemes which have attempted to bring in revenue into the city. The first one evicted several residents from their homes and failed to complete its mission. Several high-rise potential condominiums were left uninhabited and not completed. A new redevelopment scheme has been initiated and more residents have been forced from their homes under the pretext of “eminent domain.”

Apparently, well-healed speculators hired appraising companies to declare that the neighborhoods close to the beech were blighted. The city government went along with all of this, allowed for the eviction of residents, and sold the boardwalk for the fire-sale price of $15 million. The Convention Center was sold for $3 million. New condominium housing along the beech is going for over $1 million.

The documentary centered on an older Greek immigrant woman who is being evicted from her home after having paid taxes on it for 40 years. There are two quotations from this woman that I feel are relevant.

“I came to this country as a refugee and after 56 years I’m a refugee again.”

“We should have gone to City Hall and demonstrated. We should have taken it over and had a revolution.”

Understanding these facts, we might also consider that one of the most affluent locations in the nation is in Deal, New Jersey. Deal is located just north of Asbury Park. No one has been evicted from Deal because of eminent domain.

In my opinion we need to look at what has happened in Asbury Park from a historical perspective. The process of evicting working people from their homes to make room for more affluent residents has become known as “gentrification.” This has happened in the neighborhood of Society Hill in Philadelphia, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and in the area around the capitol in Washington DC.

Karl Marx wrote about how this process was under way in the 19th century. According to Marx, capitalists made deals with governments to develop neighborhoods that were in decay. They then bought up the homes in these neighborhoods, spent money on construction and made a financial killing as a result. Sound familiar?

Internationally we can also see this development. The United States government has admitted violating 371 treaties with Native Americans. As a result they were forced from their ancestral homelands and today Native Americans are the least affluent nationality in the United States.

In Palestine, Palestinians were forced from their homes and to this day they are not allowed to return. In Warsaw, Poland, Jews were forced from their homes by the German Nazis and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto.

However, when the capitalist government in Cuba was overthrown, a completely different process happened. Corporations from the United States did not like the new Cuban government and refused to cooperate with it. The Cuban government then confiscated $800 million of US assets. This confiscation only happened because those corporate interests were in violation of Cuban Law. Today Cuba has more doctors and teachers per-capita than any other nation in the world. Cuban law requires that residents pay no more than 10% of their income for renting their home.

Recently the Cuban government has said that it will sell state property in order to stimulate investment. However, the US government continues to have a trade embargo against Cuba, and the article that announced these new measures stated clearly that there will be little capitalist interest in these new Cuban initiatives.

From what we see in the facts contained in this column, corporations need governments that do exactly as they are told. The idea that governments defend the interests of working people is absurd. When the government evicts people from homes they own, to appease corporate interests, they are not defending the interests of these people. When the Cuban government confiscated $800 million in US corporate assets and used that money on their health care and educational systems, they clearly had different priorities in mind.