shed light

•March 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

[Four minimalist abstracts, two of them collages, the beauty of old corrugated iron sheds in Australia, this one I found in Moss Vale, iron and afternoon light, hard softness, the beauty of rust, weathering, decay, ageing, old surfaces subtly subversive perhaps of the shiny new fake plastic unblemished eternally young & botoxed screen world…Perhaps also an example of ‘wabi sabi‘: “Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?). Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.” (Wikipedia)]

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The Great Tree of Poetry

•March 15, 2015 • 1 Comment

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

[A poem of mine written in my thirties in the year of Chernobyl, 1986. The Great Tree is referencing the Nordic Yggdrasil, the Great Tree archetype also found in many other cultures, a symbol of the universe. A sound, performance poem…Read it aloud, folks. Photo is of a native fig at Gerringong Boat Harbour.]

The Great Tree of Poetry

Hail language, living thing, not dried,
drawn, dirge- or death-cracked,
crumbled, not tied, sawn, not tracked
& tumbled, not numbed & mumbled,
hung on hooks in grammar books

not pinned, flayed on racks of rules,
rule-racked, gone to the wall
in unreal book-lined caverns
where collectors rot, inquisitors
creepycrawl along the stacks…

No! Yes! to free-flying taverns
of reeling whiskeywarm words
cursing, courting, coursing the sap
of the star-shattering megamind tree
firmly rooted in dung, death,
netherwormed, crucifiable, undead
& bearing the fruit of freeflow breath:

apple, fig,
squirrel, eagle,
trickster, unicorn

Nocturne

•March 11, 2015 • 3 Comments

640px-Rabbit_skins

[Poem of mine published in current edition of Australian Poetry Journal 4.2. A ‘roo’ is a kangaroo, ‘Insight’ is an audience talk show on local SBS TV. The last four lines reference the fact that the hare was often associated with the Mood Goddess, with lust, fecundity and mania. Rabbit populations are again exploding here in our region and in many areas of Australia with consequent serious ecological ramifications. Historical photo of rabbit skins in northern New South Wales.]

Nocturne

It’s chilling up to a three-dog frost
as the full moon’s sheen stretches
its cold milk glove over our north slope
defined by tense wire & tree shadows
that loom more felt than there.

My head lamp throws out nothing
but a blob of mousey grey, so we follow
Steve’s efficient head & twenty two
combing winter’s lawn like stalag two.

Suddenly it’s the exiled old man roo
at six feet near the manna gum
by the upper dam wall, sad eyes glum
& turning to the intruding light
like an euthanasia advocate on Insight,
slowly lopes off into the night.

Scurrying or sitting like dead ducks,
rabbits dot the white-out fields, as
Steve picks them off on high-beam.
It’s four each for the casserole’s steam
after a gut & good night’s hanging.

Two are does, four embryos each
like shiny dark planets in drag making
the dog a treat. The fur soft as
forgiveness, heads cute as long-eared
babies or Disney, what can we say
but sorry as we tuck into their bodies
tuned to the moon’s dark tides
of lust, fecundity, mania,
hare-brained triple goddess
of these continent-killing rats?

The Invisible Holocaust of Democracies

•March 4, 2015 • 5 Comments

Kiefer, Man under a pyramid 1996

[The following is an extract from the Introduction to a Black Dossier of over 100 pages I have compiled. It attempts to document the crimes against humanity, mass murders and atrocities committed by democratically elected regimes since 1942-1945. These crimes amount to an invisible holocaust very few people really know or talk about. They are usually not mentioned in school history lessons. They are the contemporary part of the collective shadow of industrial capitalism, consumerism and affluence that reaches back to the genocides of historical European colonialism that began with Columbus. Sources have again been omitted because WordPress won’t let me cut and paste them in with the text. Painting ‘Man under a Pyramid’ by German artist Anselm Kiefer.]

We now increasingly live, whether we know it or not, in two worlds: in our small, private human-scale worlds and in the non-human-scale world of global Empire, and these are inextricably linked in many complex ways. Perhaps we now need to develop something like a ‘bifocal’ vision that attempts to take in both realities, both worlds, and – more difficult by far – both personally and collectively begin to work out ways to live and act accordingly, without collapsing under the strain.

In the following Black Dossier I have restricted myself largely to the crimes of democratic-capitalist systems since Dresden and Hiroshima, with a particular focus on those of the now dominant US world empire. This is because this is the period, historical experience and social matrix of my own post-war generation, one largely defined both by the ‘golden age’ of an unparalleled long economic boom (1947-73) and by the Cold War (1947-1991) and the latest form of imperial ‘peacetime’, the so-called pax americana.

Nevertheless, like any other historical age, this period cannot be neatly separated off from the previous history in which it is embedded and which it continues. In this, our, period the immense shadows of the previous period, the ‘Age of Catastrophe’ (1914-1945), and of the two World Wars in particular ‒ the experience of our parents and grandparents ‒ still cast their subtle pall over the minds and souls of millions.

The first, more clearly senseless, inter-imperialist (British, French, German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman, American) world war, of course cost mainly soldiers’ lives: about 8,400,000 have been estimated and more than 21,000,000 war injuries. Whereas the Second World War – a product of the Hitler regime’s attempt at imperial domination of Europe ‒ is estimated to have cost between 35,000,000 and 60,000,000 lives in total, the significant new historical phenomenon is the extremely large number of civilian casualties, often outweighing those of actual combatants. 7,000,000 of the USSR’s 11,000,000 dead were civilians, 3,200,000 of Poland’s 5,800,000 dead were Jewish civilians, 780,000 of Germany’s 4,280,000 dead, 672,000 of Japan’s 1,972,000 dead, 92,673 of the UK’s 357,116 dead. In fact, in Yugoslavia (1,200,000 civilians to 305, 000 combatants) and China (perhaps up to a staggering 22,000,000 civilians to 1,310,224 just Nationalist combatants) the numbers of civilian dead outweighed those of actual combatants by even higher factors.

Thus one of the 20th century’s many innovative, as well as symbolic, absurdities is the fact that as the century’s wars progressed it became relatively ever safer to be a combatant and ever more lethal to be a civilian. One estimate of the decreasing ratio of military to civilian deaths is the following: 20:1 (World War 1), 1:1 (World War 2), 1:5 (Korea), 1:20 (Vietnam), 1:100 (possible nuclear war guesstimate).

In taking 1945 as our epochal cut-off point then, the massive crimes and atrocities both of pre-world war western formally democratic or semi-democratic systems (e.g. of British, French, Belgian, Dutch or US colonialism and imperialism ) and of militantly anti-democratic fascism (appearing, in Germany at least, as a state terrorist , right-wing militarist-welfarist ‘solution’ to capitalist crisis) do not concern us here.

Neither do the, very considerable, crimes of Communist-Stalinist systems. The latter can be defined ‒ in the very Marxist terms to which these systems only paid ideological lip-service ‒, as state terrorist, totalitarian economies of ‘primary capital accumulation’ or state capitalist industrialization. From the classic Marxist perspective, they thus quite fraudulently called themselves ‘socialist’ systems. They inflicted horrific suffering, work slavery, brutal oppression and death on countless millions of people. The Soviet invasion and imperial occupation of Afghanistan alone may have cost over 200,000 lives between 1979 and 1985.

Its state capitalist work of primary industrialisation accomplished, the Soviet empire then peacefully collapsed in the early 1990s into openly capitalist, formally ‘democratic’ gangster economies. In these an oligarchy of now private capitalists (accurately termed ‘the oligarchs’ in Russia), crime bosses and (now partly elected) apparatchiki simply replaced the previous Leninist-Stalinist oligarchy (‘nomenklatura’) of state capitalists and apparatchiki. Often enough these were the same people privately appropriating the more lucrative elements of the defunct state-owned industries: the repressive authoritarian state apparatus, including the re-branded KGB and corrupt or dependent judiciary, remained largely unchanged.

Under the initial ‘shock therapy’ of ‘free market’ capitalism, these Eastern European countries have of course experienced mass unemployment, mass poverty, rising inequality and a veritable ‘great depression’ in terms of massive 20-40% reductions in GDP in 1989-99. The usual neo-liberal extreme form of class polarization has also occurred: while Russia was said to have 88,000 millionaires (and Moscow alone 33 billionaires) in 2005, it also had over 700,000 (increasing by 20,000 a year) ‘social orphans’, i.e. children falling into the abyss of impoverished broken families and the now indifferent state. Male life expectancy fell from 69 in the late 1950s to 58, making Russia ‘the first country in history to experience such a sharp fall’. A UNICEF study in the nineties estimated the brutal human costs of capitalist ‘reforms’ in Russia to be of the order of an horrendous 500,000 extra deaths a year while suicide rates jumped nearly 50% during the 1990s: around half a million people committed suicide between 1995 and 2003.

A similar economic ‘liberalisation’ and class polarization process is underway in the remaining soi-disant ‘socialist’ system in China, the next global empire. No doubt the day will come when Chinese entrepreneurs will imitate their old Russian models once again and open up the sites of their own gulag prison camps as lucrative tourist destinations. In the meantime, McStalinism, a ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, now of course also means that, as the party boss of the China Reconstruction Bank stated, the best way to put communist principles into practice is by maximising returns for shareholders.

‘Communist’ state capitalist systems are not ‘our’ systems. Thus their very considerable crimes, providing a dark, systemically stabilizing contrast to our supposedly democratic ideals and systems during the Cold War period, are thus, now, also relatively well known (or at least widely intuited).

Our system, in contrast, being designated ‘democratic’, is not, according to the tacit rules of official discourse, educational curricula and media propaganda, supposed to be linked to systematic oppression, atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity or international law, either at home or abroad. Our data reveal this as pure myth.

Even a general overview of the total figures would seem to bear this out. Historian M. White estimates that 188 million people were killed due to war and oppression during the 20th century. Of these, he estimates that 92 million deaths were caused by ‘communist’ regimes, 96 million by ‘non-communist’ regimes (which would include both formally democratic and right-wing authoritarian/fascist). Just on these estimates, the scales of horror would seem fairly balanced between so-called ‘left’ and ‘right’.

Of these 96 million victims of non-communist regimes, direct democratic (military and political) atrocities and direct support for atrocities would (on our own research presented below) account for, at least, eight million, and, possibly, even eleven million victims.

(As for the large discrepancy between these latter figures and White’s 96 million estimate, it should simply be remembered that our figures include neither the many millions of victims from 1900 to 1945 nor the infinitely even greater number of ‘economic victims’ since 1945, i.e. victims of hunger and starvation resulting from the ‘structural violence’ of unjust world economic structures and trade patterns centred on the capitalist ‘free market’ that is the other, even more deadly, historical shadow of our democracies.)

All of the huge figures listed above and throughout the Dossier are of course contestable. They should be. The intention of the Dossier is to provoke democratic debate and maturation. It could only benefit from any evidence-based upward or downward corrections. A truly democratic society would probably experience intense debates and controversies over their methodologies and degree of accuracy and veracity. It is a measure of our lack of such a democracy that such debates are completely absent from the public arena. And perhaps, in the end, all this is less a question of accuracy and more one of meaning, significance, resonance:

Statistics don’t have to be accurate; they have to be significant. My theory has always been that figures don’t mean anything if you can’t make them sing. (E.F. Schumacher, Good Work)

Thus, in conclusion, if our figures are resonant, if they have been made to ‘sing’ to any modest degree at all, if they are anywhere near the truth, then their root significance may lie in the following general proposition: democratically elected leaders and formally democratic governments have been responsible or co-responsible for what – in purely quantitative terms ‒ amounts to a ‘second Holocaust’.

The necessary moral corollary of this proposition would be that the order-givers, perpetrators and colluders within our democratic political class (of ALL persuasions) are thus, objectively, mass murderers and genocidal criminals who should stand trial and be brought to justice rather than meekly followed or naively voted for. The fact that this Holocaust has – for most people in the west – remained, largely, a silent, invisible or hidden Holocaust, makes it no less real and morally devastating.

Being a Dossier, this text does not attempt to present any reasons for this invisible holocaust. Suffice to say the reasons are not reducible to the personalities or persuasions of the political perpetrators themselves. The ultimately, in my view, capitalist-systemic and economic reasons for these state atrocities, terrors and crimes ‒ most often committed in the name of ‘national security’, ‘the national interest’ or ‘reasons of state’ ‒ would require a separate treatise. Thankfully, no dry economic or laborious Marxist analysis is needed for a brief indication of such reasons: apologists for Empire are themselves often quite open about the occasional need for military intervention, war and (hopefully) mainly foreign corpses to keep the capitalist ‘free market’ system ticking along, profits increasing, the ‘business community’ happy and western affluence secured. On these (unfortunately rare) occasions, class interest is fairly openly expressed and all pious sentimentality about democratic and humane values is dropped.

Thus for the moment we can restrict ourselves to two quite well-known, marvellously succinct and unusually honest summaries of the ultimate reasons for ‘democratic’ human rights abuses as provided by two influential (and liberal) apologists for imperial capitalist democracy and empire. They span our period well, one coming at the beginning and the other at the dawning end of the pax Americana epoch in which we still live today. The first is from George Kennan, key US geo-strategist of Cold War ‘containment’ in the Truman administration of 1948:

We have 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality […] we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.

The second elucidation makes a similarly succinct and systemically honest point fifty one years later. It is by Thomas Friedman, liberal cheer leader for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and chief neo-liberal apologist at the New York Times. The classic liberal theory of the benevolently ‘hidden hand’ of the market is more honestly described as always in fact being based on the ‘hidden’ military fist:

For globalism to work, America cannot be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is (…) The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist – McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonald-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The most powerful agent pressuring other countries to open their markets for free trade and free investments is Uncle Sam, and America’s global armed forces keep these markets and sea lanes open for this era of globalization, just as the British navy did for the era of globalization in the nineteenth century.

The Black Dossier was written because, unlike liberal ruling class ideologues like Kennan and Friedman, ordinary citizens of democratic countries, for the most part, do in fact not consciously connect the ‘hidden hand of the market’ with the ‘hidden fist’ of militarism, torture and human rights abuses. They are, in general, unaware of the horrific crimes, suffering and abuses caused, committed or condoned in their names by their own leaders, governments or by their dependent client states.

This fact in itself would seem to provide another telling indication of the extent of our actual lack of democracy and some of its essential social and cultural features. As a basic minimum such a democratic society would, one could argue, have to include: truly free, critical and diverse media, workplace democracy and empowered participatory forums for open public debate at all levels, increased leisure time, material security and freedom from fear for all, a well-funded education system aiding the development of a broadly informed, actively engaged, critical and passionately democratic citizenry and, last but not least, critical, socially engaged and morally responsible writers, artists and intellectuals who are unbeholden to power and Empire.

In such an open and vibrant culture of democracy ‒ yet to be established ‒ we shall finally be able to collectively mourn the Empire’s victims that have been partly documented in this Dossier. The mourning will at some point necessarily include a collective debate on the ways and means of separating democracy from the ongoing social and systemic phenomena preventing it: i.e. imperialism, militarism, capitalism, the over-centralised state. Like Capital, its social antagonist, democracy can ultimately only live by extending itself into ever more areas. If democracy is to be realized, these areas must particularly include the crucial economic decision-making processes that ultimately define the basic structures of society. If the so-called ‘hidden hand’ of the market economy is not socially and democratically controlled, the ‘hidden fist’ of imperial militarism and all its atrocities will also never be. And, at this critical juncture in history, if both are not democratically controlled, it could be argued that the future of the planet and humanity are at grave risk of complete destruction.

Thus we would seem to live in dark times which, however, like the womb of night and the unconscious, are also creative and full of promise. It is well to remember, moreover, that our natural reactions of depression, grief and/or anger to the brutal facts of these times are also indications both of the depth of our concern and caring and of our essential human interconnectedness. In engaged Buddhist Joanna Macy’s words:

Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, for these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.

The Slap of History. A Movie

•February 27, 2015 • 2 Comments

help poster Russia 1921 famine by Orlov

[A psycho-historical prose poem from my latest book Cut a Long Story Short about my Russian grandfather Arkady, an artillery officer in the Tsarist White Army, and the Russian Revolution(s). The family manor was located near the village of Lachi in Belarus, now, like about 40% of Belarus, thoroughly contaminated by the radioactive fallout from the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl in 1986. Eisenstein is a famous Russian film director. The poster by Orlov is related to the great Russian famine of 1921, partly a result of the Bolshevik Red Terror of violent food requisitioning from the peasants during the civil war.]

The Slap of History. A Movie

flashback & I’ve been told both grandfathers leave their bog-bound farms in the tsunami of cities gathering might when Capital strikes rich baby rich yeah its factories coal oil manning the pumps of accumulation Marx first spells out getting his piles writing Das Kapital in the British Museum, factory cities Mammon like Ginsberg howled pumping moneyed nothings into safes & banks vampiric numbers now re-make the world into an image of its stern & glittering nothing self going round the bend of more baby more till it all peaks now in wanky machines & melting poles

that’s the intro folks now let’s zoom in on Russian grandad Arkady going to cadet school learning to time trajectories of horse-drawn guns getting posted to Siberia where he meets his Lydia a merchant’s lass from Penza a little below his class whence my daddy’s born an only child & difficult birth that both become the family tune & Lydia according to the genteel breast-droop wont farms out my infant dad to peasants’ wives for breast milk & a bit of bond, suck on that dad, while mornings he’ll kiss the back of her out-stretched hand & not see her again till bed; & by the way Arkady also has a lot to do

so anyway we’re building up to it as they travel the land as armies do but never home to his White Russian place that still sits millennial proud prosaic as history on a rise above its old serf villages it has sucked lean as ribs for centuries

& that’s where the slap comes in

because Lieutenant-colonel A. L-N also teaches his Tsar’s peasant soldiers how to read & write & add & one day he asks a soldier the sum of two plus two & he answers: five & he asks again & the soldier repeats: five, & looks him in the eye & Arkady returns the look, then slaps him in the face

cut

so this is where I pan out & howl & wonder does the ancient rock on which the manor sits at Lachi sigh & subtly crack at that moment when millennia of oppression issue without thought from peasant eye & gentry hand, a peasant soldier spits out the bitter truth of their inverted lives where nothing adds up but lies I wonder is the red cockerel already shaking its fire feathers in the wings of a bloody dawn rolling with armies, heads, justice, revenge as in some montage of Eisenstein’s I have never seen

whatever; the manor is razed in the revolution

fade out now let me tell you not a trace remains but a grey rock in a white expanse of radioactive snow edged by firs whispering unintelligibly in the wind, or so I’ve heard

My Father and the Shadows of the Holocaust

•February 16, 2015 • 7 Comments

Chagall, white-crucifixion

[Last month was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This essay is based on old taped interviews I did with my father who died in 2007. My collective karma via my German and Russian ancestries is much tied up with that of the Jewish people. Many of my important intellectual mentors, or ‘elders of the book’, were Jewish. The sources of historical information I quote below in square brackets and italics are from Davies’ history of Europe, Hosking’s history of Russia, the 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the second volume of Emma Goldman’s autobiography My Life. The image is by Belorussian Jewish painter Marc Chagall.]

The outbreak of the World War in 1914 finds my grandfather Arkady (artillery colonel in the Tsarist army) and family stationed in Kamenets-Podolsky in the Ukraine. What does my father Oleg remember about something the history books call ‘The First World War’? Playing in the yard little five year-old Oleg already fears overflying Austrian planes. Anxiously, he sees one in difficulties. It later turns out to be a Russian plane hit by friendly (Russian) fire. Then, for the first time, he sees a massed marching column of uniformed men; it takes a whole hour to pass him by.

As Arkady’s lung issue keeps him from the front, he is sent to the local HQ of the Ukrainian front in Berdichev. The HQ is perched up on a hill overlooking the predominantly Jewish town. Lydia fears going into the dirty town full of orthodox Hasidic Jews, there are rumours of ritual murders of Christian children…

Press Stop.

History intrudes once more, this time with considerable force, and darkly. A welling ocean of lean hungry ghosts and confused voices. Is this finding all the oppressive weight of history within the most personal, a dark macrocosm within the microcosm of a conversation between father and son? Reflect the reflection, tread warily and carry that anti-Medusan shield, Perseus, for here are monsters indeed.

The Shadows of the Holocaust, or: My Father as a Mask of History.

My father is an extremely kind, gentle person. And, although he would probably reject the term as another example of ‘Jewish intolerance’ of critique, my father’s unexamined memories here are clearly anti-Semitic. My father was no authoritarian character, never fanatical, hateful, or even angry, about anything and vaguely social democratic by political temperament. At this point in his narrative, my father expresses various theories about Jews that are stereotypical, logically incoherent and even delusional, that are, undoubtedly, anti-Semitic.

And so, at this moment, between us falls the shadow of history, the long shadow of European anti-semitism, the deep shadow of the Holocaust, the dark tenebrae of the 20th century that will forever painfully link the histories of Germany, Russia and Poland. In a sudden jolt of alienation I feel my father move out of personal uniqueness and become a historical character. The irony is that even as he expresses what he feels are his personal, reasonable opinions (the genesis of which are doubtless here in the parental and social context of his childhood), he becomes de-personalised, a persona, a mask, a mere mouthpiece of historical forces beyond his awareness…

I struggle with a double reality that will not jell into coherence: my father is a kind, gentle, compassionate man who would not hurt a fly and my father voices anti-Semitic propaganda. Is this a form of the ‘banality of evil’ Hanna Arendt famously diagnosed in the case of Eichmann? Is this how otherwise kind, gentle, good people can blindly uphold a state terror structure like fascism? Our conversational dance is broken, made dys-kinetic by the shadow of history. At this moment he and I seem to exist dys-synchronistically, as it were, i.e. in radically differing mental and temporal dimensions. I think of Ernst Bloch’s subtle analysis of German fascism: ‘Nicht alle sind im selben Jetzt da’: not all inhabit the same Now. My father was born in the 20th century and some of my father is also stuck in the 12th century. I listen with growing unease as my father’s persona, the mask, aware of my discomfort and irritated dismay, intones with increasing defensiveness…

Press Play.

‘Jews are not liked in the whole world…so they are careful and fearful and they look at everything as anti-Semitic. If you say a Jew murdered someone, they say: ‘Why Jew?’ If a Pole, no-one cares, but if it’s a Jew, it’s anti-Semitic.’

[Pogrom was an old Russian word meaning ‘round-up’ or ‘lynching’. It was used to denote a coordinated assault by one ethnic group against another, and had been applied to many sorts of victims, including Armenians and Tartars. After 1881 it gained the special connotation of assaults on Jews.

The crisis [in Russia] of 1878-82 had suggested that both Panslavism and revolutionary Populism had failed as strategies for reknitting the torn ethnic fabric, for bringing state and people closer together. The wave of anti-Jewish pogroms which followed the assassination of Alexander II encouraged the idea that a more successful way of generating patriotism among the masses might be to play upon anti-Jewish prejudice.

The church and the tsarist authorities went so far as to condone, and even encourage, the violent pogroms that were perpetrated against the Jews in 1881-82 and again in 1905.]

Press Play.

‘Secondly, in every religion people were starved or tortured for religious reasons and they were made saints. Why shouldn’t there be such things in Judaism? I can imagine they’re concerned about that and want to keep it secret because they’re disliked anyway, but that something like that is possible – that for me is indisputable. I have read, by the way, a book about ritual murders…’

[The ritual murder canard, or blood libel – i.e. the alleged sacrifice of Christian children at Passover – was first made in the 12th century. The legend was revived sporadically in eastern Europe and Poland and, in the 1930s, became part of Nazi anti-semitic propaganda, as did another instrument of 12th century anti-semitism – the compulsory yellow badge, which identified the wearer as a Jew.

Russian Orthodoxy was active as well in spreading the so-called blood libel, a superstitious belief in Jewish ritual murder which had re-emerged even in the 19th century (…). The most infamous recurrence of the blood libel in modern times, however, was the Beilis case of 1911-13, in which the tsarist government, with church complicity, sought unsuccessfully to convict a Jewish bookkeeper in Odessa of ritual murder.
]

Press Play.

‘The book no longer exists. If it isn’t true, why did they buy up all the books and destroy them, just like they did with the Protocols?’

I: ‘I don’t understand what you’re saying.’

Father: ‘They could just prove that it [ritual murder] is all just lies, then they wouldn’t have to buy up all the books or try to ridicule them.’

[Successive Ministers of the Interior, especially V.K. Pleve (1902-04), warned that [Finance Minister] Witte’s [modernising] measures were encouraging Jews (…) to tighten their grip on the country’s economy, to gain control(…). Witte’s opponents persistently characterized him as a ‘state socialist’ and ‘friend of the Jews’.

The anti-Witte campaign reached its climax in a document forged inside the Police Department of the Minister of the Interior. The so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion purported to be the verbatim record of a meeting of leaders of international Jewry, planning the final stage in their campaign to take over the world, a stage in which the Russian autocracy would be the chief target as the most serious obstacle remaining in their path after Western Europe and North America had fallen to them. It recorded how the slogans of liberalism and of the French Revolution had been launched by Jews to undermine legitimate monarchy all over Europe, how they had used industry and finance to destroy the landed aristocracy, had exploited schools and universities to weaken morality, and had preached atheism to turn people away from the church. ]

Press Play.

‘I remember as a child, there was a trial in the Ukraine, the Yushinski case. A boy had been found murdered with his blood let in the way Jewish butchers do it. They couldn’t do anything according to the law at the time because the suspects, visiting Hasidic Jews, had disappeared. (…) The interesting thing was that the Jews also sent their experts, but there was a Catholic priest who was a Talmud expert. And they said: ‘Our religion forbids us from using any blood’. (The Hasidic Jews allegedly ate the blood in their matzoth). ‘Yes’, said the priest, ‘but look at this,’ pointing to words in the Talmud. ‘That means ‘wine’”, said the Jews. ‘Maybe,’ said the priest, ‘but isn’t it the same word for ‘blood of a Christian’?’ (My father aggressively spits like a triumphant prosecutor who has nailed a point… QED!) ‘Anyway, everything petered out. (…) Anyway, that was in the newspapers at the time.’

I: ‘Which newspapers?’

(My father ignores the question.)

[After bloody pogroms linked to the murder of an adolescent boy in Kishinev in 1903] The principal Bessarabian newspaper (…) persistently denigrated Jews for disloyalty and subversion, and for exploiting other nationalities economically. (…) The prosecutor were lenient to anti-Jewish protestors (…) Besides, the Tsar himself supported the formation of the [anti-Semitic and violent] Union of the Russian People, accepted the insignia of the movement and ordered that it be publicly subsidized. (…) [After a series of pogroms during the revolution of 1905-06] he wrote to his mother: “(…) evil elements boldly raised their heads, but then a strong reaction set in and the whole mass of loyal people took heart. The result, as is natural and usual with us, was that the narod [the people] became enraged by the insolence and audacity of the revolutionaries and socialists; and because nine-tenths of them are Yids, the people’s whole wrath has turned against them. That is how the pogroms happened.]

Press Play.

I: ‘Were you afraid of the Hasidic orthodox Jews as a boy? They did look quite strange…’

Father: ‘No. Later in Zhytomyr my playmate was a Jewish son of a local shopkeeper. I went to visit the synagogue out of curiosity. I wasn’t afraid and didn’t have any prejudices.’

[The third wave [of pogroms, P.L-N], in 1917-21, far exceeded all previous horrors. An initial massacre at Novgorod Severski was perpetrated by the Red Army, which had invented the slogan ‘Beat the bourgeoisie and the Jews’. Ukrainian nationalist and Russian ‘White’ forces proved themselves still more merciless. Denikin’s army flaunted the slogan Biy zhyda, spassiy Rossiyu, ‘Thrash a Jew and save Russia’. 1, 700 were killed at Proskirov (1919), 1, 500 at Fastov (September 1919) and 4, 000 at Tetiev. Total Jewish casualties exceeded 60, 000. How far they were victims of civil war, or exclusively of anti-semitism, is another matter.

(…) the pogrom organized in 1919 by Denikin [in Fastov, P.L-N] had been the most fiendish one. It had lasted a whole week and had taken the lives of four thousand persons outright and of several thousand more that had perished while escaping to Kiev. But death had not been the worst infliction, the rabbi said in a broken voice. Far more harrowing had been the violation of the women, regardless of age, the young among them repeatedly and in the presence of their male kin, whom the soldiers held pinioned. Old Jews were trapped in the synagogue, tortured, and killed, while their sons were driven to the market square to meet similar fates.(…) When the Denikin hordes tired of their blood orgy, they pilfered every home, demolished the things they could not carry away, and set the houses on fire.(…) In the Jewish hospital [in Kiev, PL-N…] we came upon the victims of the Denikin outrages in Fastov. Though considerable time had elapsed since the last pogrom in that city, many of the women and girls were still very ill, some of them crippled for life as a result of their injuries. The most fearful cases were those of children suffering from the shock of having been forced to witness the torture and violent death of their parents.(…) In the whole gruesome picture of Fastov two redeeming features stood out. The Gentiles of the town had had no share in the massacres. And no pogroms had taken place since the Bolshevik forces had entered the district.(…) One Gentile was pointed out to us as a physician who had done heroic rescue work during the Denikin pogrom. Repeatedly he had braved grave danger to save Jewish lives.
]

Arkady is an officer in General Denikin’s army. Was he in Proskirov, Tetiev, Fastov? If not, surely he at least would have known about all this? Did he condone it? If not, where was his notorious anger and sense of justice then? Uncomfortable questions. Father, you never told me any of this. Do you plead ignorance, too? Biy zhyda, spassiy Rossiyu? You do not thrash Jews, and you do not save Russia. But (and, father, why do you not see the irony?) Jews save you…Fast forward the story. A screenplay:

Flight alone with father’s orderly after Red attack on the White troop train at sidings. Bullets whizzing, ricocheting off the train. Father/mother at a dim-lit Jewish café in town. Running, running, lost, separated from parents. Dreamlike fragmented images of birch and alder woods, bogs, small rivers, distant gun shots, small artillery. Suddenly, as if by a miracle, found again at a crossing in the woods. Jubilation. (Ten minutes later and Oleg may never have seen his parents again…). No possessions with them at all, no food, no water, just the clothes on their backs. Reduced to nothing, to the human archetype of bare survival in the wild. A whole day of wandering without direction through the countryside. A trek into the unknown. What is ten year old Oleg feeling?

Nightfall. They are hungry and exhausted. They have no shelter for the night. Suddenly, a poor Jewish village in the darkness, a few dilapidated huts.

(His narration is inevitably over-layered in my imagination with the well-known Vitebsk images by Marc Chagall, Belorussian Jewry’s contribution to 20th century painting: Hasidic Jews carrying walking cane and bag over shoulder or dancing with violins on roads or roofs, huge cow and rooster heads, colourful elongated lovers floating above landscapes of church steeples and brown villages…Or else Isaac Babel’s depictions of peasant anti-Semitism and Jewish villagers during the Civil War in his Red Cavalry. Imagined imaginings…).

Father, even (or especially?) in his nineties, most clearly remembered the beauty of the still moonlit night, the fresh clean air, the sound of frogs. Arkady knocks on the shutters. An old Hasidic Jew with the traditional flowing beard and long curled sidelocks appears at the window, his wife and little children in their nightgowns anxiously peering over his shoulder.

Welcome, pan. Make room for the three Russian gentiles, move over, make room on the straw bedding on the floor.

In this orthodox Jewish household, there is room at the inn for the strangers, for the Gentile father, mother and son fleeing persecution. This ethos was laid down around two thousand years ago to remind Jews of their own first persecution and exile from their homeland: ‘Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:21). For ye were strangers. The memory of exile kept over the millennia. An empathy with the stranger is shown that is rarely shown to themselves, the perennial strangers, the wandering exiles. Just as one thousand nineteen hundred and eighteen years previously another couple fleeing persecution, the woman pregnant with a famous only child, were given refuge among the animals in the stable of an inn.

Saved. Saved by a Jew and his family. Without the compassion of that old oppressed Hasidic peasant you, father, may not have survived, or at least, if caught, never have left Russia. And, as you were always pregnant with me, in that sense I may also owe my own existence to that old compassionate Jew and the warm milk of his human kindness.

The Good Jew saves, the Bad Jew threatens. Father figures, God and Satan, good daddy/bad daddy, the simple polarised dualism of the infant and small child. The small child we all still carry within, for better or for worse. Abraham is willing to sacrifice Isaac. The ultimate mystery of universal sacrifice or, more simply, just infantile fear of threatening Big Bad Daddy? Psychoanalytically, he may be the Oedipal rival, the castrator, the tyrant, the punisher. This individual psycho-dynamic can easily become collective, psycho-historical trauma. Especially at times of social and demographic upheaval, ‘bad daddy’s’ threatening power and demonic intent can be projected by both the socially powerful and the collusive socially powerless onto some ‘other’, weaker, marginal group or nation. In the case of Christians this has often been The Jew, ‘the killer of God’s Son’ (conveniently ‘forgetting’ that this son of God was of course himself a Jew). A projection, an image arises among the smoke and mirrors.

Anti-Semitism and Infantile Castration Anxiety

My father’s infantile anti-semitism and its unconscious dimensions are perhaps visually represented in a typical Renaissance woodcut of an imagined ‘Jewish ritual murder’ of a Christian boy. It is possibly a depiction of the purported death of a Simon of Trent in 1476 . In this anti-Semitic image a naked five or six year old boy is standing on a table and held by three Jewish men who also stick knives in his arm and chest. Two Jews are at his feet. One of them is sticking a knife in his genitals while the other catches the resulting blood in a dish, presumably to incorporate into ritual food. Two other men and, interestingly, a woman, a mother figure, look on as the phallic torture and castration proceeds. Psychoanalytic, Christian and social data, projections and deformities here seem to blend into a potent, darkly psychotic brew.

Anti-Jewish pogroms and massacres go back centuries, particularly and fatally in the three European nations I find myself born into: Germany, Poland and Russia. The Holocaust was geographically and spiritually centred on the death camps of Poland, original land of my paternal ancestors and perpetrated by Germans, countrymen of my maternal ancestors. Anti-semitism is thus a collective psycho-historical shadow that I cannot escape from, its collective ‘karma’ a part of my own. It will play a significant role in our inter-generational conflict of the sixties over the painful question of responsibility for the Nazi Holocaust. Conversely, the multi-facetted and rich legacies of the Jewish diaspora and its millennial and dissenting traditions will have a lasting influence on the development of my own philosophical and political mindset through the mediation of my overwhelmingly Jewish personal ‘elders of the book’: Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Gustav Landauer, Herbert Marcuse, T.W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Ernst Bloch, Günther Anders, Murray Bookchin.

Can it be that father, five to ten years old, in the ‘medieval’ phase of his development as it were, simply needing his ‘bad bogey man’, unconsciously transfers his repressed Oedipal fears and resentment of all-powerful daddy Arkady onto those black-garbed Hasidic Jews?

Psycho-history and history, little world and big world, seem inextricably interwoven in most subtle and complex ways. Who can unravel these fatal threads of transference, displacement, projection? Who can follow the blood-red thread through the shadowy labyrinths that may lead from the abandoned darkness of a child’s chamber, a Renaissance woodcut or a Grimm fairy tale to the gas chambers of Auschwitz? And yet, if we do not try, could not such unconscious threads again lead to new historical horrors?

Global Activist Think-Tanks, Foundations and Media

•February 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

toddler with laptop

[This is the second part of the list I’ve researched relating to global grassroots movements, radical organizations, think tanks, foundations and media. ‘Another world’ might already be there but has as yet not become self-conscious of itself as a possible system-transforming power. This list is part of a conversation about how to get these movements and organizations to come into dialogue, find common ground (perhaps around saving civilization from climate chaos), develop a more coherent common narrative about a desirable future, a good society, a global democracy of people power, and how to get there…Suggestions for further inclusion welcome.]

Global Activist Think Tanks and Foundations [28]

Adbusters (global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age, Canada)

Beautiful Solutions (website connected to Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything, ‘gathers the most promising and contagious strategies for building a more just, democratic, and resilient world’)

Great Transition Initiative (Tellus Institute in Boston, its network ‘continues to expand and diversify as a forum for engaged thinkers and thinking activists to advance together toward a vision and praxis for a decent planetary civilization’; working towards a ‘massive and coherent’ Global Citizens Movement for essential systemic change)

Social Justice and Democratization Space (International Sociological Association at University Complutense, Madrid, Spain, aiming ‘to build a global community who can access and share resources through an open participatory approach to research, policy, pedagogy and practices on social justice and democratization’)

European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies (Austria: explicitly understands its cultural activity of ‘art, theory and politics’ as ‘a form of commitment whose context is a transnational struggle against neo-liberal hegemony’, a linkage to ‘the concrete activism of a leftist “counter-globalization” movement’)

P2P Foundation: The Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives

Resilience.org (US site linked to Post-Carbon Institute: both information clearinghouse and network of action-oriented groups: focus on building community resilience in a world of multiple emerging challenges: the decline of cheap energy, the depletion of critical resources like water, complex environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, and the social and economic issues linked to these)

May First/Peoples Link (US organization that ‘redefines the concept of “Internet Hosting Service” in a collective, progressive and collaborative way’; ‘growing networks to build a just world’)

Babels (international network of volunteer interpreters and translators whose main objective is to cover the interpreting needs of the World Social Forums)

Association for Progressive Communications (mission: to empower and support organisations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability; both network and organisation: 50 members in 35 countries in 2010, the majority from developing countries)

Open Source Ecology (developing open source industrial machines & sharing designs online)

Workerscontrol.net (international worker self-management site)

Association Autogestion (France, worker self-management site)

CrimethInc (US libertarian org)

Ruckus Society (US, non-violent skills training)

Waging Non-Violence (US, news and non-violence advocacy)

Institute for Social Ecology (US)

International Forum on Globalization (educational think-tank, US)

Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (leftist foundation and think-tank, Germany)

Focus on the Global South (leftist think-tank, Thailand)

Transnational Institute (US, radical informed analysis on critical global issues, builds alliances with social movements, develops proposals for a more sustainable, just and democratic world; established 1974 as international network of activist researchers (“scholar activists”) committed to critical analyses of global problems, aiming to provide intellectual support to movements struggling for a more democratic, equitable and environmentally sustainable world)

International Forum on Globalization (North-South research and educational institution composed of leading activists, economists, scholars, and researchers providing analysis and critiques on the cultural, social, political, and environmental impacts of economic globalization)

Centre d’études et d’initiatives de solidarité internationale (France, involved in the International Solidarity campaign against the various evil effects of neoliberal globalization, a European alliance of civil society groups)

Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos (Mexico, integrado por cerca de 130 miembros, de alta reputación moral, nombrados por el Consejo de la Fundación Internacional Lelio Basso y la Liberación de los Pueblo; ha respaldado y acompañado las luchas de los pueblos contra las violaciones a sus derechos fundamentales, contra la negación de su derecho a la autodeterminación, contra las invasiones extranjeras, las nuevas dictaduras, las esclavitudes económicas y la destrucción del medio ambiente)

Ubinig (Bangla Desh, action research and support group for social movements)

India Resource Center (works to support movements against corporate globalization in India)

South Asia Citizens Web (‘linking dissent in South Asia and beyond since 1996’)

Simplicity Institute (non-profit education and research for the Simplicity Movement, Australia)

[Avaaz (global clicktivist site claiming 30 million members in 194 countries)?
[Sum of Us (global clicktivist site claiming five and a half million members)?

Radical Media [33]

Indynews

Linksnet (online site of all left media, Germany)

Graswurzelrevolution (German direct action, anarcho-pacifist magazine since 1972)

Contraste (German magazine for self-organisation)

Roar Magazine (US: media collective seeking to contribute to the ongoing wave of global uprisings by freely sharing information and breathing inspiration into the CreativeCommons)

Occupy.com (US)

Zcomm (US)

Common Dreams (US)

Democracy Now (US)

Truthout (US, a platform for transformative ideas, through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis to spur ‘the revolution in consciousness and inspire the direct action that is necessary to save the planet and humanity’)

Rabble (Canada, ‘blurring the line between readers and contributors, provides a needed space for issues, a place to explore political passions and an opportunity to expand ideas’)

Open Democracy

Samar (‘South Asian magazine for action and reflection’)

India Together (independent critical journal)

The Electronic Intifada (Palestine-Israel)

Mosireen (Egypt, a collective space dedicated to supporting citizen media of all kinds)

SubMedia.tv (video production ensemble which aims to promote anarchist and anti-capitalist ideas, and aid social struggles through the dissemination of radical films and videos)

Global Uprisings (independent news site and video series dedicated to showing responses to the economic crisis and authoritarianism)

Reel News (UK, activist video collective)

Kaosenlared (Spain)

Madrilonia (Spain)

Rebelion (Spain)

Desinformemonos (Spain)

Reports from the Edge of Borderline Democracy (journalists based in Athens, Greece)

Everywhere Taksim (Turkey, ongoing solidarity and news about Turkey)

Sendika (Turkey)

Bianet (Turkey)

Diha (critical Turkish online newspaper in English)

Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files (News and documents about protests in B-H)

Que Se Lixe a Troika! (Portugal)

Abitare nella crisi (Italy)

Infoaut (Italy)

World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC: international non-governmental organization serving the community radio movement, with almost 4 000 members and associates in 130 countries; goal is to support and contribute to the development of community and participatory radio along the principles of solidarity and international cooperation)

 
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