Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Odds and ends.....

First, an addition to the little philosophy we have going here. I'm currently reading a copy of Caetano Veloso's book "Tropical Truth", which is utterly mind blowing---and should be out in an affordable paperback for those without access to university libraries in october via DeCapo press.

One concept which he touches on, and which he says provides the touchstone of the Tropicalista movement is that of "The Death of Populism". The Death of Populism for Veloso was the death of Left wing manipulations of the populist spirit through manipulation and appeals to workingclass interests in a chauvanistic way.

What replaced that, for Veloso and the Tropicalistas, was an authentic exploration of culture, popular and otherwise, freed from the lodestone of having to placate "workerist" interests. Understand what this was about. It wasn't about denying the working class or sleighting their voice, but instead was a movement to give true liberation to society instead of settling for scraps with the name 'working class' attached to them.

As someone who, ahem, grew up largely in the working class I can tell you that there's no such thing as identifiable working class cultural interests etc...there are differences in culture and opinion, to be sure, but left wing groups, both Anarchist and otherwise, invoke the term 'Working Class' as if it was some magic touchstone by which the whole world could be understood. The working class wants, just like everyone else, to exist, to grow, to be, to explore-----it doesn't want to shoot itself in the foot by having to cram it's behavior into 'acceptable' working class molds.

Tropicalismo expressed that, I believe. Veloso cites the films of Glauber Rocha as examples of the new spirit----Rocha didn't romanticize his subjects but instead expressed their own beliefs and behaviors as valid within society, and within the world by extension.
Indeed, a poignant part of the book is when Veloso talks about a scene in Rocha's "land of anguish" when the star politico puts his hand over the mouth of a worker who wants to speak at a demonstration and says that his political consciousness isn't developed enough for him to speak.

I wholeheartedly believe in this death of populism concept; it's something that I've been trying to articulate for a long time within the anarchist movement-------how it is that I'm 100% for the working class, and yet like avante-garde concepts, and things from high culture, just because they're good in and of themselves, and are consequently things which it's perfectly normal an healthy to like.

In fact I screamed about it on Infoshop a few days ago in a reply to this hack named Arthur J. Miller, who replied later with another hack article saying "Should our class be led by people who couldn't find their way in the world on their own?".

I suspect it's Miller who has that problem, since this oracle of working class sentiment, which, as someone raised in that environment I should be---according to him----obligated to respect, has done nothing with his political enlightenment except turn out boring articles for the Industrial Worker talking about how work sucks.

I know work sucks.....but isn't the goal of liberation supposed to be something a little grander? Shouldn't Mr. Miller, if he really is liberated, be reading up on the classics and educating himself in his spare time, instead of sitting down at the bar after work and churning out industrial worker articles which are totally interchangable?

But anyways, yes, death of populism it is----death to all the blind workerist dogma that people like Arthur J. Miller would seek to foist on the working class in order to stop their liberation.

Oh, yeah, and about that Guild Socialism I mentioned a few days ago----it's a natural avenue for me to take, and for people who think along the same lines to take.

I had two irreconcilable beliefs going----the first, a nominal Anarchism, the second, a fully fledged Southern Agrarianism. They didn't relate well to each other. Southern Agrarianism was chosen for being both Anti-Statist, Anti-Capitalist, but also for being in touch with what I consider to be more realistic views of human nature, which are often expressed in religious terms, although they don't have to be.

It also connected with a very valuable school of conservative thought from the early 20th century which emphasized the dangers of a mass society and sought to enact programs to demassify man and to restore variety and content to life---Santayana springs to mind, as does Eric Voegelin in relation to this.

But no matter how interesting the particular Southern Agrarian philosophers were, the inescapable fact was that for their program to be realized society would have to go back to being largely a community of farmers. Although the reasoning behind the benefits of farming was, and is, impeccable, as a practacle proposal it's totally dead in the water.

So that leaves a nominal Anarchism, which isn't enough by itself.

Guild Socialism solves the contradiction between theory and practice and also reaffirms Anarchism in a context that can also incorporate the Southern Agrarian religious consciousness without contradiction, as well as connect to the real world through it's connections with Anarcho-Syndicalism.

And what's more, Guild Socialism has not only been native to North American socialism, but it even organized itself into a major party---the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation of Canada, taking the name from the Edmund Grunland book by that title, during the Great Depression in was a venture by Canadian labor, and not rich supporters, and it's influence is still to be found today in Canada's New Democratic Party. The NDP, you see, was a product in some ways of the CCF, and the CCF itself was incorporated into the Party, the results being that Guild Socialist ideas are still a living force in Canadian politics, whether known by that name or by that of Co-operative thinking.

So we have in the NDP something really unique: a Socialist party which incorporated two of the most significant working-class movements in North America, both of which died out in the U.S.

The first was the massive move to cooperative and generally "utopian" ideas, such as guild socialism, which took place around the turn of the century and after. Eugene V. Debs, leader of the American socialists, was originally for this sort of thing.
It was a nexus formed by many strands of thought, but it was demolished for good in the Red Scare that followed World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution.

The second great strand of working-class history which the CCF and the NDP embody is the little known movement among communities with strong labor traditions during the Great Depression and World War II to form local labor parties of their own and run candidates who believed in a totally socialist, worker run, worker organized, libertarian, society.

These movements rose up without the approval or initiative of the central beurocracies of the Unions involved, but where instead the product of working men and women making the decision for change on their own.

Staughton Lynd documents the movement a little in his book "Living inside our Hopes", and it should be considered within the general support for radicalism at that time.

Again, the little movements on the local level were wiped out along with their larger cousins by the McCarthyism that swept the country after World War II.

In Canada, though, both traditions survived, and they survived intact enough to be integrated into a party which still exists and which still honors them. I should say, as well, that the NDP is Canada's third largest party and is actually a functioning political party with representatives from all over Canada, and not a small clique of old radicals holding onto old traditions.

So maybe the NDP can help us out down here in revitalizing our own radical tradition?Maybe a good interchange of ideas could happen, which could make the North American socialist tradition ride again.

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