Friday, September 20, 2013

Anti-Americana: Anti-Imperialist Spectacle

This is a tourist postcard from Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic Republic of Korea. While tourism is not a major industry in North Korea, it does serve a public relations role in attempting to counteract the dominant western propaganda narrative built on standard anti-communist tropes of drudges walking around in a gray slave society. As a resident of the United States, which specializes in the manufacture of such tropes, I find it hard to accurately speculate on the actual nature of North Korean society; I suspect it's a country like any other, full of people just trying to live their lives in peace. I would reject out of hand both the giant prison narrative and the competing official rainbows and unicorns one.

Back to our postcard, this seems to be a shot of a stage spectacular. There's a projection of a spinning globe and a choir bearing red flags; actors gather in clusters around the stage posed in composed vignettes that suggest the dynamic groupings of people shown on propaganda posters. What's going on here?
Turning the card over, we get to the crux of the matter. The caption reads: "The revolutionary peoples of the world, unite more firmly under the banner of anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. struggle, and mutilate the U.S. imperialists in all parts!" Ouch!

The card doesn't say which, but this is clearly some kind of revolutionary theater production. As in cultural-revolution-era China, in North Korea there are a number of officially sanctioned revolutionary plays, operas, dances and films. One of them, "Sea of Blood," a story of resistance to the Japanese occupation, has apparently been running continuously since 1971. Another, "The Flower Girl," also about the years of resistance to Japan, is attributed to Great Leader Kim Il Sung himself. Sadly, I can't tell what work is represented on this postcard. But I'd sure like to see the show! I'm guessing this card is from the 1970s.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Forty Years Ago Today

Forty years ago today, the Chilean military, backed by the United States, overthrew the elected socialist government of Chile, and brought a bloody end to the "Chilean road to socialism," and the life of its architect, President Salvador Allende Gossens.

On that day forty years ago, neoliberalism introduced itself to the world, waving a bloody hand and pounding a mailed fist of repression, revealing the gruesome reality hidden in the pages of economic texts written by milquetoast academics in the service of capital. One day the oppressive theories and practices of neoliberalism will be heaped in a bonfire, and today's heirs to Kissinger, Friedman and Pinochet will be swept away to dim historical memory.

Last year I wrote a short analysis of Allende's Popular Unity government and its fall: Although a lot of the lessons of Chile are negative ones, nothing takes away from heroic, self-sacrificing example of Allende, who fell in combat for the people he loved. ¡Salvador Allende Presente!

Lasting vengeance will arrive with the real creation of People's Power, the creation of a just and equitable world of human liberation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Liberation Time Capsule

I'm not sure how it survived four moves and thirty years apparently undisturbed, but while rummaging through a box looking for something, this week I found a plastic bag filled with metal buttons from 1983. I wish my memories were as sharp, fresh and uncorroded as the pins folded on their backs. These pins date from the Lesbian and Gay Pride March of 1983, and there's a little story attached.

I was part of a group of leftists active inside the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, as the official pride planning coalition was then known. This was a year or two before Heritage of Pride corporatized and institutionalized the planning of New York's annual June festivities. It was a coalition of community and political organizations, run by an odd alliance of longtime activists who longed to make it into the halls of Democratic party machine politics and representatives from the gay business world, including some rumored to have deep connections to organized crime.

Everybody had an agenda. The folks in charge were trying very hard to figure out how to turn Lesbian and Gay Pride into a profit center; I don't remember if it was this 1983 march or the year before, but they engineered the redirection of the event from a march that burst out of the Village uptown toward a rally in Central Park to a parade that assembled uptown and funneled crowds downtown into a street festival and the bars and shops of a rapidly gentrifying gayborhood. They weren't terribly concerned with the politics of the event, though they sure didn't want it to be threatening.

I was there with my organization, the Revolutionary Socialist League, and allies in Lavender Left, CRASH (the Coalition against Racism, Anti-semitism, Sexism and Heterosexism), DARE (Dykes Against Racism Everywhere, Freedom Socialist Party, and the Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Male Socialists. It was time to come up with the annual slogan. Each year, the march and rally had a theme, and the theme's slogan was emblazoned on official banners and buttons. I have no memory of what the other slogans proposed were, but I came up with a slogan that encapsulated our own more radical, political agenda: "Diversity Is Our Strength, Liberation Is Our Fight." Oh, that first half doesn't sound like so much now in today's world of diversity programs sponsored by corporate Human Resources departments, but at the time it was a broadside against the whitewashing tendencies of a middle-class gay movement striving for middle-class respectability. The second half, in an era of struggle for New York's gay rights bill, set its sights on the evocative higher goal of liberation, achieved not through influencing politicians, but through self-struggle.

We were shocked when the volunteers from all those other community organizations liked our slogan better than the one the CSLDC bigs seemed to favor. The grassroots political groups, the religious folks, the volunteers, they loved it. We were angrily opposed by the Stonewall Democrats, the mafiosi, and the other business interests. Our radical slogan swept the vote, despite an attempt to stuff a bag full of ballots. "Diversity Is Our Strength, Liberation Is Our Fight" became the official slogan of the 1983 Christopher Street March & Festival! We looked forward to seeing the graphic treatment the publicity committee would develop.

Fast forward a couple meetings. The new buttons and banner designs were in, and were about to be unveiled!

Our jaws dropped. For the first time in the 12 or 13 years of the march, the slogan was left off the buttons, replaced by an unappealing abstract design. The corrupt ringleaders of CSLDC had their corporate revenge. "But it will be mentioned in the program," they said, over our loud protestations. We were done with CSLDC. We had all learned a lesson about the gay establishment.

So we organized the "Militant Stonewall Contingent for Lesbian and Gay Liberation." I designed a logo for a button, using the pink triangle, the symbol of gay resistance in those pre-rainbow flag days. I still remember the laborious manual mechanical pasteup of these designs in those pre-desktop publishing days. "Stonewall" evoked nothing short of revolutionary turmoil for us: at the time the building that had been and now is again a bar called Stonewall was a bagel restaurant. We produced hundreds of buttons in English and Spanish. And apparently, sometime after the march was over, bagged up the leftover buttons in such a way that I wouldn't notice them again for thirty years.

Frankly my first few pride marches in New York City are a bit of a blur. I wish I could report confidently that our Militant Stonewall Contingent was a raving success. I think it was actually pretty good, drawing together many otherwise not-so-friendly organizations left of gay center, but I'm not even sure if the few march photos I have from that era were that year or another. I know we were young, happy and energetic; the worst of the decimating AIDS assault still ahead of us. The photo above is either from 1983 or the year before. I'm happy to say I can still call the guy front and center in this photo a friend.

Hey, anybody want a button?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Anti-Americana: Historical Optimism

"Vietnam Will Win! America Will Lose!" reads this Chinese poster, probably from the early 1960s. I'm not 100% sure of this poster's provenance, and would love to know more about it. The illustration shows a crowd of peasants attacking an American soldier; usually the careful compositions of Chinese propaganda art showed a measured balance between civilians, militia, and military. Also, I'm pretty sure the Chinese characters used predate the simplification engineered in the PRC in the 1950s, and there is no use of Pinyin, which seemed to appear on most Chinese posters predating the Cultural Revolution. 

As for the slogan, of course it turned out to be quite accurate. A myth of the invincibility of US imperialism emerged somewhere between the Spanish-American War and World War II, that the US always emerged victorious from war. This myth is largely preserved in popular consciousness, even though it's quite far from the truth.

The U.S. failed to make a decisive victory in its first major post-WWII engagement, Korea. Unable to defeat the North Koreans, who were heavily backed by the Soviet Union and more importantly the new People's China, the best the US could achieve was a military stalemate, easily claimed as a victory by the North. Vietnam ended in the ignominious collapse of a massive American war effort. Cuba brushed off the CIA attack at Giron in 1961. Some minor US engagements, on might call them episodes of bullying, like Grenada and Panama, ended in decisive US victories. However, its two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, while victorious in battlefield terms, probably count as net political defeats. The US seemed to win the cold war, though the resurgence of no-longer-even-claiming-to-be-socialist Russia on the international scene in the last few years makes it clear that that victory might have been only politically solid, leaving a potential military opponent standing.

Surely the US is hungry for a clear military success. Let's hope that proves elusive in Syria... or Iran.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Anti-War Anthems: Has the Bombing Begun?

It's been a couple years, but sadly it's time to break out a new entry in the "Anti-War Anthems" feature here at The Cahokian. Today, it's a video I've seen floating around Facebook. "Has the Bombing Begun?" by David Rovics. I don't know anything about this guy, but this song captures something about this moment: the sad resignation that once again, the world has to go through this, because of the willful evil of people who once claimed better.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Anti-Americana: Remember Norman Morrison, I Am Today and You Are Forever

I don't usually run two Anti-Americana features in a row, but the onslaught of pro-war propaganda as the Obama regime and his bipartisan allies attempt furiously to drum up support for their apocalyptic attack on Syria seems to demand it. Shown is a stamp from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam, issued in 1965 to honor "Noman Morixon," otherwise known as Norman Morrison. The stamp shows Morrison's smiling face, shown above an apparently American anti-Vietnam war demonstration with signs in English.

Morrison would be eighty this year had he not sacrificed his own life to protest the Vietnam War, then rapidly escalating. Morrison was a devout pacifist Quaker; in November of 1965 he doused himself with gasoline and burned himself to death in front of Robert McNamara's Pentagon office in Washington, D.C. Self-immolation has, of course, a long and tragically noble tradition, from the South Vietnamese monks who Morrison was probably emulating, to Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunisia who set off the Arab spring with his own supreme sacrifice.

Morrison became a folk hero in Vietnam. An incredibly moving poem about Morrison, his daughter Emily, who he carried along with him on the day of his death, and his act of political and social protest, was written by Vietnamese poet To Huu. I tracked down the poem, in its original Vietnamese with English translation, on a Vietnamese blog of poetry, Tay Bui, which I repost below. It's angry, profane, and really evocative of both the moment of Morrison's sacrifice and the horrible murderous moment in Vietnam he was protesting. Be sure to go to the original blog and thank the blogmaster for making this powerful poem available. Tay Bui offers some further information on Morrison in English and in Vietnamese.

I weep that once again, as warships steam toward Syria, this refrain of tragedy has the ring of now. It's past time to rid the world of the scourge of U.S. aggression, once more under the false flag of humanitarianism. How many more will die this time?

Emily, Child (Ê mi-ly, con)

Ê mi-ly, con đi cùng cha
Emily, come with me
Sau khôn lớn con thuộc đường, khỏi lạc...
Later you'll grow up you'll know the streets, no longer feel lost
- Đi đâu cha?
- Where are we going, dad?
- Ra bờ sông Pô-tô-mác
- To the banks of the Potomac
- Xem gì cha?
- To see what, dad?
Không con ơi, chỉ có Lầu ngũ giác.
Nothing my child, there's just the Pentagon.
Ôi con tôi, đôi mắt tròn xoe
Oh my child, your round eyes
Ôi con tôi, mái tóc vàng hoe
Oh my child, your locks so golden
Đừng có hỏi cha nhiều con nhé!
Don't ask your father so many questions, dear!
Cha bế con đi, tối con về với mẹ...
I'll carry you out, this evening you'll going home with your mother...
Buổi hoàng hôn
Ôi những linh hồn
Oh, those souls
Còn, mất
That remain or are lost
Hãy cháy lên, cháy lên Sự thật!
Blaze, blaze the Truth!
Tội ác bay chồng chất
You fucker, your crimes accumulate
Cả nhân loại căm hờn
All humanity detests
Con quỷ vàng trên mặt đất.
The yellow demon upon this earth.
Mày không thể mượn nước son
You cannot borrow the crimson waters
Của Thiên Chúa, và màu vàng của Phật!
Of God, and Buddha's yellow.
Mác Na-ma-ra
Mày trốn đâu? Giữa bãi tha ma
Where are you hiding, asshole? In the burial yard
Của toà nhà năm góc
Of a five corner building
Mỗi góc, một châu.
Each corner a continent
Mày vẫn chui đầu
You still squeeze your head
Trong lửa nóng
Inside hot flames
Như đà điểu rúc đầu trong cát bỏng.
Like the ostrich buries its head in the scorching sands

Hãy nhìn đây!
Look over here!
Nhìn ta phút này!
Look at me right now!
Ôi không chỉ là ta với con gái nhỏ trong tay
Oh it's not only me with my little daughter in my arms
Ta là Hôm nay
I am Today
Và con ta, Ê-mi-ly ơi, con là mãi mãi!
And my daughter, oh Emily, you are forever!
Ta đứng dậy,
I stand awake,
Với trái tim vĩ đại
With the great heart
Của trăm triệu con người
Of a hundred million
Nước Mỹ.
Để đốt sáng đến chân trời
To flame, light up the horizon
Một ngọn đèn
A light
Công lý.
Of Justice.

Hỡi tất cả chúng bay, một bầy ma quỷ
Hey all you fuckers, pack of devils
Nhân danh ai?
In whose name?
Bay mang những B 52
You bring B52s
Những na-pan, hơi độc
Napalm, poison gas
Từ toà Bạch Ốc
From the White House
Từ đảo Guy-am
From Guam
Đến Việt Nam
To Vietnam
Để ám sát hoà bình và tự do dân tộc
To liquidate peace and national freedom
Để đốt những nhà thương, trường học
To incinerate hospitals and schools
Giết những con người chỉ biết yêu thương
Murder people who only know love
Giết những trẻ em chỉ biết đi trường
Murder kids who only know going to school
Giết những đồng xanh bốn mùa hoa lá
Murder green fields, four seasons of leaves and blossoms
Và giết cả những dòng sông của thơ ca nhạc hoạ!
And even murder rivers of poetry, music and art!

Nhân danh ai?
In whose name?
Bay chôn tuổi thanh xuân của chúng ta trong những quan tài
You bury the bloom of our youth in coffins
Ôi những người con trai khoẻ đẹp
Oh, those strong, handsome sons
Có thể biến thiên nhiên thành điện, thép
Who can transform nature to into electricity, steel
Cho con người hạnh phúc hôm nay!
For people's happiness today!

Nhân danh ai?
In whose name?
Bay đưa ta đến những rừng dày
You bring me to dense jungles
Những hố chông, những đồng lầy kháng chiến
Spiked pits, muddy fields of resistance
Những làng phố đã trở nên pháo đài ẩn hiện
Villages that become fortress that disperse to reappear
Những ngày đêm đất chuyển trời rung...
Nights and days where the heavens and earth shake and jolt
Ôi Việt Nam, xứ sở lạ lùng
Oh Vietnam, a strange land
Đến em thơ cũng hoá thành những anh hùng
To the children who become heroes
Đến ong dại cũng luyện thành chiến sĩ
To the wild bees who train to be warriors
Và hoa trái cũng biến thành vũ khí!
And the trees and flowers become weapons!

Hãy chết đi, chết đi
Go ahead and die, die
Tất cả chúng bay, một bầy ma quỷ!
All you jerks, a pack of demons
Và xin nghe, nước Mỹ ta ơi!
And I ask that you listen, my America!
Tiếng thương đau, tiếng căm giận đời đời
To the voices of pain, of eternal hatred
Của một người con. Của một con người thế kỷ
Of a child. Of a person of this century

Ê-mi-ly, con ơi!
Emily, oh child!
Trời sắp tối rồi...
It's beginning to get dark...
Cha không bế con về được nữa!
I can carry you no further
Khi đã sáng bùng lên ngọn lửa
When I ignite, light up as a flame
Đêm nay mẹ đến tìm con
Tonight, your mother will come find you
Con sẽ ôm lấy mẹ mà hôn
You'll hug her and kiss
Cho cha nhé
Her for me
Và con sẽ nói giùm với mẹ:
And tell your mother this for me:
Cha đi vui, xin mẹ đừng buồn!
I left happy, mother don't be sad!
Buổi hoàng hôn
Còn mất?
Remains or is lost?
Đã đến phút lòng ta sáng nhất
It's come, the moment when my heart's brightest
Ta đốt thân ta
I set fire to myself
Cho ngọn lửa chói loà
So the flames dazzle
Sự thật.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Anti-Americana: Kids Do the Darnedest Things

An Anti-Americana twofer today, with two North Korean images of unknown provenance. Both show cartoonish militarized children — an airman, a nurse, a soldier, and a seaman — using the tools of their trade to stick it to the man, in the form of a helmeted U.S. soldier. In the top image, the U.S. imperialist is joined by a Japanese imperialist: the North Koreans have long memories, not easily forgiving the brutal, forty year occupation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century.

I recognize these classically composed propaganda images cross the line from archetype to stereotype; still, I can't get enough of 'em. Frankly, with all the hypocritical sabre-rattling against Syria, I can't think of a nicer target for derision than U.S. imperialism.

If you enjoy these images, Anti-Americana is a regular feature here on the Cahokian; see old entries here. You can also subscribe to my pinterest feed of Anti-Americana by going here and clicking "follow." Also, check out the "Anti-Imperialist League" on facebook, in which I'll be trying to contextualize and historicize today's struggles in the long annals of organized popular resistance.