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KEY THREADS THAT WEAVE OUR CURRENT DYNAMIC’S SKEIN

On the hundred thirty-seventh anniversary of the Johnstown flood, in which the perquisites of plutocrats outweighed by a substantial margin the mere survival of workers ‘downstream’ from upper class revelry and SOP, a pair of items from World Socialist Website that provide a dandy overview, on the one hand, of the depredation and plausible annihilation that awaits humanity if the epoch of capitalist hegemony continues, and that examine the cultural resistance to mass collective suicide that is visible in spite of the rich’s control of the means of production and distribution of whatever ‘the marketplace of ideas’ seems to serve up as a random ‘product;’ a fiery set of assessments that fit quite well with Tom Johnson’s biography’s recollections of Johnstown itself, excerpts of which appear in today’s Quote-of-the-Day; powerful indictments that also mesh nicely with a posting  from The Undefeated about the ideological battles that took place between Jackie Robinson and Malcolm X; a pair of views of culture and its potential that also intertwine powerfully with a TruthDig analysis  that examines the unity in approach to class war among members of the upper crust themselves, all of which amounts to a hodgepodge reality orientation about what is happening, how to think about it, why it is happening, and why it all matters to scrappy scribes or stalwart citizens: “What have been the overall consequences already for American society and culture of decades of continuous warfare? …I hope some of the facts and figures I’ve presented so far are suggestive.  But when one is discussing the character and quality of everyday life, its profound deterioration over time, and in the context of a discussion of art, such facts and figures remain a little cold.  It is precisely at this moment, ironically, that one wishes one could point to a film or novel, a drama or series of paintings, that somehow captured this historical transformation in concrete imagery, that provided a key to understanding the essential truth about the past several decades, or at least critical aspects of it.  One of our chief difficulties—and criticisms—today is that there has been no such work, or very, very little of it.

pfunked Deviant Art
pfunked Deviant Art

Speaking very broadly, the past quarter-century has seen the emergence of a profoundly brutalized and brutalizing culture in the US.  Never in history has so much degradation (or trivia) been combined with such advanced technologies.  There is hardly an anti-social or psychotic impulse that has not made its way to the public by the most up-to-date means—and hardly one that has not found academic or intellectual justification, no less!  Human beings in the future will look back on all this with astonishment.clipboard write teach journalism
War has become perpetual.  In the 20th century by contrast, wars were shorter, horrible, they were exceptions to the rule.  They were considered a terrible waste of human resources, horribly destructive.  My father’s generation fought in World War II, my grandfather’s in World War I. Men (and they were mostly men) got out of the military, and they never wanted to put on a uniform again.  Often they didn’t want to talk about the entire experience.


When one thinks of World War I, certain films come to mind, especially Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion from 1937 (although for the most part I will be discussing American films and books), All Quiet on the Western Front (both Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel and Lewis Milestone’s 1930 film version), Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms(1929—also turned into films in 1932, directed by Frank Borzage, and 1957, directed by Charles Vidor) and, much later, Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957). …World War II was ideologically sold to the population as a war against fascism, and there was a powerful democratic sentiment felt by many of those who fought, but it remained an imperialist war, a war fought between the great powers for the division and redivision of the world.  The anti-fascist, anti-totalitarian theme found expression in many films, not only made in the immediate war years, but extending into the subsequent decade and into other genres (Westerns, film noir, science fiction).

American films about the Korean War tend to be bleak, perhaps because it was the first war US imperialism lost, or at least in which it was fought to a standstill.  In many of the films, US forces are taking, or have just taken a beating.  There is a lot of anti-communist rubbish and patriotism, of course, but the overall mood is one of gloom and disillusionment. …(A typical tale would envision a scenario in which) (a)lmost everyone is killed by the end, including the colonel (who awakes from his catatonic state only to rush into the fighting and almost immediately get killed), except for the sergeant and the lieutenant.  In the final scene, Ryan reads the names of the dead, while the Ray character throws their medals down the side of a hill.  (More recent materials receive an assessment in Part Two).”—World Socialist WebSite
"First flight2" by John T. Daniels
“First flight2” by John T. Daniels
         “(Throughout 1963, in speeches and columns and appearances, Malcolm X and Jackie Robinson debated how best to advance Black America’s hopes and interests.  Malcolm was Nationalist and Separatist and Militant; Robinson was Liberal and Integrationist and Non-violent).  Tensions cooled slightly in 1964.  After Muhammad Ali’s February defeat of Sonny Liston, Malcolm X called the boxer, then still Cassius Clay, the finest black athlete he had ever seen and one who would mean more to African-Americans than any before him.  (‘He is more than Jackie Robinson was, because Robinson is the white man’s hero.  But Cassius is the black man’s hero.’)
jesse owens black african american sports olympics
Malcolm X and Robinson’s beef represented two rival, but very real viewpoints in African-American culture in the mid-1960s.  Three months after the Clay and Robinson comments, Malcolm X, now completely removed from the Nation of Islam, embarked on his pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip forever changed his worldview.  He found spiritual wholeness for the first time in his life.  Gone were the beliefs of white people as exclusively evil.  He saw Muslims with ‘blonde hair and blue eyes’ practicing the same faith.  His calls for a separate black state vanished, too.

Many Americans, including Robinson, were astonished by this new Malcolm X.  Was he for real in wanting to cooperate with civil rights leaders, many of whom he berated only months earlier? What was his endgame?  In his rise to national prominence and controversy, Malcolm X won a legion of followers, particularly young people who adored his audacious attitude.  But at this time in his life, the hate surrounding his name perhaps outweighed the love.african american civil rights-Malcolm_X_NYWTS_2a
‘In my view, if Malcolm were sincere and honest in his new visions,’ Robinson wrote in The Chicago Defender on July 18, 1964, ‘he would reflect on how harshly and unjustly he has belittled and sought to discredit our national responsible leaders who have been working in the struggle for so long.’  Robinson was half-right.  For the second time in his life, Malcolm X was reformed in his thinking.  He was genuine and no longer indoctrinated by Muhammad’s teachings.  This was not the same man who mercilessly blasted him in a column less than a year ago.  But the ballplayer-turned-activist-and-columnist had a point.  Pre-Mecca Malcolm X offended many African-American leaders who, in truth, could help promote his new line of thinking and his Organization of Afro-American Unity he desperately needed to get off the ground.

(Assassins cut Malcolm down before such a rapprochement could come to pass).  ‘The person or persons who murdered Malcolm have stilled his articulate voice, (Robinson) wrote in his March 1965 column for The Chicago Defender.  ‘But, in making him a martyr, they have only deepened whatever influence he may have had.  In addition, they have generated a senseless brutal … war which sees black hands raised against brothers at a time when we most need unity among black people.’  Robinson later referred to the assassination as a ‘tragedy of the first order’ in his autobiography.”—The Undefeated
Michael Brown flickr cc 2.0
Michael Brown flickr cc 2.0
         “20th Century capitalism is like a sun burning out, collapsing in on itself, consolidating into global monopolies to reduce competition and maintain private profit.  In order to form and protect monopolies, capitalists must dominate governments.  These monopolies were once national in scope.  Now they are global.  The form of government that capitalists have always favored is fascism – the integration and primacy of corporate interests in the government, for which the military is an agent.rect3336 space
Think Nazi Germany. Its purpose was not military domination or even control of individual liberty.  These were incidental to the first purpose: the global primacy of German corporations and the German 1 percent.  The point of World War II, from the German perspective, was that after the war, Daimler-Benz would be the world’s largest car manufacturer, Krupp and Thyssen would be the dominant steel manufacturers, IG Farben would be the dominant chemical and pharmaceutical company and Deutsche Bank would lead world banking and finance.rect3336 space
It didn’t work out that way.  The U.S. destroyed the physical plant of both Germany and Japan – our two main commercial rivals –  and U.S. manufacturers and banks had a field day.  The American middle class boomed.

(This temporary condition lasted no longer than the postwar ‘miracles’ of Japanese and German and former colonial economies, which induced selective investment away from the U.S.).  As the accumulated wealth of the American middle class was re-allocated abroad by the capitalist system, the capitalists began the drive to eliminate the drag on profits of global competition by consolidating into global monopolies.  That is the purpose of the Trans Pacific and Trans Atlantic ‘trade’ deals promoted by U.S. President Obama, British Prime Minister Cameron and the global cartel of banksters they represent, who provide the financing (debt) to enable the capitalists to compensate each other for lost future profits when one is aggregated into a new and larger monopoly by another.

(This has elicited resistance everywhere, from Brexit fanatics to Asian cold feet).  So Obama went to the U.K. to lay down the law and explain the dire consequences of any resistance to that New World Order.  Then he went to Asia to deliver the same message.  He will push for a vote in Congress on the Trans Pacific deal as soon as possible, while he still has the support of the pre-Trump GOP of Paul Ryan.  Capitalists of the world unite!  The fascist future is in reach.”—TruthDig

5.31.2016 DIH

An anachronistic fifteenth-century miniature depicting the sack of 410
An anachronistic fifteenth-century miniature depicting the sack of 410

Anathema to some small farmers, a few aggregations of capital, and aficionados of nicotine, this date marks World No Tobacco Day; meanwhile, marking ‘great’ advances along the Nile in Egypt three thousand two hundred ninety-five years ago, a second Ramesses ascended the throne to become a pharaoh of all his people in the Nineteenth Dynasty of the long Egyptian imperial sway; seventeen hundred thirty-three years subsequently, in the current era’s year 455, a very different royal fate befell Petronius Maximus when a mob of angry ‘subjects’ stoned him to death as he sought to flee Rome; seven hundred ninety-three years prior to the present, Mongol interlopers defeated forces of the Ukrainian seat of the Russian nation near Kiev, at the Battle of the Kalka River; just past thirty-seven decades later, in 1594, the masterful artist and teacher, Tintoretto, drew a final breath; exactly three quarters of a century forward in time, in 1669, the estimable diarist Samuel Pepys ceased to record his thoughts because of blindness; fourteen years subsequent to that, in 1683, a little baby boy was born who would grow up as Jean Pierre Christin, inventor of the Celsius temperature scale; two hundred forty-one years back, across the wide Atlantic, leaders of the province of North Carolina adopted the Mecklenburg Resolves that called for practical independence from the English crown; a decade and a half onward in space and time, in 1790, the United States enacted its initial copyright legislation which had a term of 14 years that a still-surviving holder could extend for one period of an additional fourteen years; five years hence, in 1795, back across the Atlantic, this time in France, leaders of the Revolution suppressed art revolution french art-Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuplethe Revolutionary Tribunals and their concomitant Terror; two dozen years farther in the direction of today, in 1819,the male child opened his eyes who would rise as the estimable thinker and poet, Walt Whitman; eighteen years after that, in 1837, the Englishman Joseph Grimaldi, who had first manifested the performance of a ‘clown,’ lived out his final scene; another fifteen years yet later on, in 1852, the male infant took a first look at the world who would become the scientist Julius Richard Petri, whose dish remains a staple of experimentation to this day; thirty-five years thereafter, in 1887, over the wide Atlantic in France, an infant boy entered our midst en route to a long life as the poet and thinker and diplomat and Nobel Literary Laureate, Saint-John Perse; seven hundred thirty-one days beyond that conjunction, in 1889, back in the United States, a dam at a Carnegie-Frick resort property burst and inundated Johnstown Pennsylvania, killing thousands and ruining countless properties of the lesser mortals who found no recourse at law against those whose pleasure had caused them such devastation; nine years precisely past that moment, in 1898, a male infant was born who would mature as the master of ‘positive thinking’ and boosterism, Norman Vincent Peale; a thousand ninety-five days yet nearer to now, in 1902, the British acceded to a treaty that ended the Second Boer War and left them with control of cape town, south africa, city,all of South Africa; seven more years along the temporal road, in 1909, a group of prominent intellectuals and practical readers formed the National Negro Committee, which soon enough became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; two additional years onward from that, in 1911, Porfirio Diaz fled for Spain from the Mexico that he had off and on led, with the support of the United States, for more than three decades; a further decade down the pike, in 1921, local Whites attacked Black people and homes for two days, resulting in dozens of deaths and incalculable destruction of property, a ‘defense’ of White Supremacy and discrimination and segregations, and in subtly different depredations further North, the trial for murder of Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti opened in Massachusetts; three years henceforth, in 1924, six thousand miles Eastward over the ocean and across most of Europe, the young Soviet Union agreed to a treaty with China which foreswore all Soviet claims to Outer Mongolia; three years further along, in 1927, the final Model-T Ford came off company assembly lines; two more years toward the here and now, in 1929, the initial Mickey Mouse talking cartoon premiered, “Karnival Kid;” not quite a decade still later, in 1938, one baby boy came along in standard fashion who would grow into the ‘country outlaw,’ Johnny Paycheck, while another infant male shouted out on his way to life as the folk singer and lyricist Peter Yarrow; three years past that exact instant, in 1941, British forces reestablished their rule over Iraq, which had been in the thrall of a pro-German coup for a bit over a month; seven hundred thirty days afterward, in 1943, through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic, 25,000 autoworkers went on a wildcat strike to protest black employees’ gaining access to line jobs that had theretofore been lily white;two years subsequently, in 1945, back in the Eurasian landmass, a male child bounced into the world in the traditional way who would rise up as the filmmaker and screenwriter and social critic, Rainer Werner Fassbinder; three more years even closer to the current context, East in war torn Georgia, in 1948, a baby girl first reached out on her way to life as the thinker and journalist and lyrical prose aficionado Svetlana Alexievich, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature; twenty-three years still more proximate to the present pass, in 1971, Americans followed the time obsession of the Uniform Mondays Holiday Act to celebrate Memorial Day for the first time on the last Monday in May rather than on May 30; half a dozen years hence, in 1977, workers completed the monumental carbon delivery system that we call the Trans-Alaska Pipeline; a thousand four hundred sixty-one days more in proximity to today’s dawn, in 1981, halfway round the world in Sri Lanka, ethnic violence resulted in the complete drug drugs banner acid cocaine speed lsd ecstasy mind consciousness psychedelicsdestruction of the Jaffna Library and its nearly 100,000 volumes and manuscripts; ten years onward from that horror, in 1991, some amelioration of civil strife occurred in Angola, after decades of war and anti-colonial rebellion and counterrevolution, with the adoption of the Bicesse Accords that inaugurated something akin to multi-party democracy in the nation; four years thereafter, in 1995, the masterful prose craftsman and social commentator Stanley Elkin breathed his last; three hundred sixty-six days past that point, in 1996, the master of psychedelia, Timothy Leary, took his last trip; just one year forward from that, in 1997, Rose Will Monroe gave up the ghost after a life that included her work during World War Two as Rosie-the-Riveter; eight years additional along the path to today, in 2005, former Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Mark Felt acknowledged in a Vanity Fair article that he had been the “Deep Throat” source of leaks to the media about Watergate, which had played some significant role in bringing down the Nixon Administration three decades prior to that revelation at age 92.

5.31.2016 quote

In the main, the things I shall tell about Cleveland are the things that might be told about any city or state.  The source of the evil; the source of the good; the source of the shame and corruption; the contest between opposing economic interests; the alliance among those identified with the franchise corporations on the one hand, and the unorganized people on the other, is the same everywhere.water river lake drip drop
(The author, a businessman in Johnstown who went on to become a proto-socialist mayor and reformer in Cleveland, Ohio, described the crushing cataclysm of a sixty foot high wall of water that destroyed all in its path, leaving tens of thousands without homes or means, while thousands of bloated corpses came to rest on street and lawn as the waters receded, waters that resulted from the way that wealth dealt with poverty, from the manner in which privilege undertook to exercise its perquisities).  To meet the problem of a community with no money was not easy, but we were presently confronted with the graver problem of a community with too much money.  The greatly exaggerated reports of the loss of property and of human lives, the first press dispatches placing the number of the latter at ten thousand, brought a correspondingly great volume of relief.hoover dam infrastricture water
That curious inconsistency which make human nature quite complacent in contemplating the annual slaughter of infants in our great cities, the physical, mental and moral crimes involved in the employment of little children in industry, the menace to the race in over-working and underpaying women, and the terrible social consequences of forced unemployment of great numbers of men, but which moves it to frantic expressions of sympathy by the news of an earthquake, a fire or a kidnapping, caused the American people to empty their purses and their children’s savings banks for the benefit of Johnstown.

CC BY by davidwilson1949

When it was known that three millions of dollars had been sent in, the town quit work and it seems as if every inhabitant was bent upon getting a share of the cash.  The hungry were fed, the naked clothed, the homeless housed, widows pensioned; charitable acts, every one, and made possible by a generous charity fund.  But these expenditures didn’t exhaust it.  They hardly made an impression on it.rect3336 space
Roads were repaired, bridges rebuilt, the river widened, cemeteries laid out, monuments erected, hospitals established; public work every bit of it with no legitimate claim on the charity fund.  But still there was money left!rect3336 space
Three million dollars doesn’t sound like much when you say it, so familiar have we become with figures which represent the fortunes of the one hundred men whom Senator LaFollette named by name for the enlightenment of his professedly skeptical colleagues, but when you take three million dollars and go out to buy things with it, real material things, it turns out to be a very great deal of money.rect3336 space
When we had managed to use perhaps a million of the fund a meeting was called to decide what should be done with the rest of it.  The situation was extremely serious.  The flood of gold threatened as great disaster, though of a difference nature, as the flood of water had caused. The residents couldn’t be induced to work and workmen had to be brought in from the outside, thus further taxing the capacity of the already overcrowded houses.rect3336 space
The Governor of the State, James A . Beaver, frightened us by counseling delay and investigation of individual cases.  Others urged indemnification for losses.  This was clearly as improper a use for a charity fund, a fund given to relieve actual suffering and immediate distress, as the public work had been.rect3336 space
Surely no body of men assembled in conference was ever faced by a more unique situation.  At this meeting I shocked everybody by advising that the money be converted into silver dollars, since it could not be returned to the donors, loaded into wagons, hauled out and dumped into the streets where the people might literally scramble for it.  It was now absolutely certain that nothing could be done until we got rid of it, and this plan had the merit of speed to recommend it anyhow, and I wasn’t at all sure that it wouldn’t result in about as full a measure of justice as any plan that could be devised after protracted investigation.  Mr. Moxham and I were for any plan that was quick.rect3336 space
In the end the committee reimbursed losers, giving each a certain percentage of estimated losses.  Before the people were completely demoralized the money was all given away or appropriated, and then the town went to work, went back to the sober pursuit of every-day affairs, and life assumed a normal aspect once more.rect3336 space
Lest some reader of the foregoing paragraphs think I condemn the motives which prompt charity let me disclaim that! It is not generous impulses, not charity itself, to which I object.  What I do deplore is the shortsightedness which keeps us forever tinkering at a defective spigot when the bung-hole is wide open.  If we were wise enough to seek and find the causes that call for charity there would be some hope for us.rect3336 space
In Johnstown it was a defective dam used for the recreation of the well-to-do.  A great reservoir of water in which fish were kept to be fished for by the privileged members of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club of Pittsburgh.  This property, comprising some five hundred acres, had been acquired by purchase.  Originally a part of the State canal system it had passed into the hands of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company when the latter purchased the canal in 1857-58, and became private property in 1875 when Congressman John Reilly bought it.  He later offered it for sale at two thousand dollars, when it was purchased by the originator of the Club above mentioned and two other Pittsburgh gentlemen.rect3336 space
It was suspected that the dam wasn’t safe.  I myself had gone to look at it one day the summer before it broke and had speculated on what might happen to us in the little city eight miles down the valley in case the dam should give way.  The innocent cause of the catastrophe when at last it did come was some leaves which clogged the spill-way.  Citizens living in the vicinity wanted to remove the wire grating which held the leaves back and caused the water to go over the breast of the dam, but were refused permission to do so, refused, forsooth, because some of the privately-owned fishes swimming around in the privately-controlled pool might escape-might be swept over the confines of their aristocratic dwelling and eventually be caught with a bent pin attached to a cane pole, instead of being hauled out of the sacred waters, in which they had been spawned, by that work of art know as a high class rod and reel equipped with a silk line and a many-hued artificial fly.rect3336 space
Yes, the Johnstown flood was caused by Special Privilege, and it is not less true that Special Privilege makes charity apparently necessary than it is that ‘crime and punishment grow on one stem!’  It is cupidity which creates unjust social conditions sometimes for mere pleasure-as in this case-but generally for profit.  The need of charity is almost always the result of the evils produced by man’s greed.money_flying-transparent
What did charity do for Johnstown?  It was powerless to restore children to parents, to reunite families, to mitigate mourning, to heal broken hearts, to bring back lost lives.  It had to be diverted to uses for which it was not intended.  As charity it has to be eliminated, as we have seen, before the people could save themselves.

"Lspn comet halley" by NASA/W. Liller - NSSDC's Photo Gallery (NASA)
“Lspn comet halley” by NASA/W. Liller – NSSDC’s Photo Gallery (NASA)

Materially Johnstown was benefited by the flood, just as so many other communities have been by similar catastrophes.  And material prosperity seems so important that we have acquired a habit of saying, ‘Oh, the fire was a good thing for Chicago or London,’ ‘The flood was a good thing for Johnstown,’ etc., etc.  But is it not true that when human lives are lost the price paid for material benefits is one that can’t be counted?  We must leave this out of the reckoning then when we say that the flood was a good thing for Johnstown.rect3336 space
The town went forward as one united people now no longer divided by separate borough governments, and on the wreckage of the former city built up a great manufacturing community which to-day numbers more than fifty thousand souls.  It was a marvelous thing to witness such utter destruction and in so short a time such complete reconstruction, and the spectacle made a profound impression upon me.  When I became mayor of Cleveland twelve years later I was faced by problems of a different character, but problems due to the same root cause from which Johnstown’s difficulties came.  And many, many times when these problems seemed hopelessly entangled I reasoned with myself that there must be a way out, since in Johnstown under apparently greater disadvantages we have always found a way.rect3336 space
In Cleveland we made progress by slow and painful degrees.  No complete picture presented itself here as in Johnstown, but, leaving out the element of time, the cases were, to my mind, so similar as almost to parallel each other.rect3336 space
The problems which had to be met in Johnstown and which are being met in Cleveland have their counterparts in all other communities, and sooner or later will present themselves for solution. J ust as surely as we meet these problems with remedial measures only, with charitable acts and time-serving expedients,–just so surely will great catastrophes in some form or other overtake us.rect3336 space
If we seek out and remove the social wrong which is at the bottom of every social problem, the problem will vanish.  Nothing could be simpler. If, on the other hand, the cause is not eradicated the problem will persist, multiply itself and all the evils that go with it, until one day that particular catastrophe which goes under the dreadful name–revolution–occurs.”    Tom L. Johnson, My Story, Chapter Five; “The Lessons Johnstown Taught:”