New film series on Latino Americans on PBS

There is a new documentary series on PBS on Latino Americans that starts airing Tuesday September 17th. I thought it would be good for our audience to be aware of it. This post could also be a discussion space for commentaries and reviews about the film. The following article appeared in the New York Times.  intro by Nat Winn


The Hidden History of a Substantial Minority

‘Latino Americans,’ a Six-Hour PBS Documentary

by Anita Gates

Have you ever heard about the American pilot who took off from an aircraft carrier on Dec. 7, 1941, for a routine check of its next port, Pearl Harbor? His last words were a desperate "Hold your fire" message, just before he was shot down — no one is sure by which side — as one of the first American casualties of World War II. That was Ensign Manuel Gonzales, as viewers will learn through "Latino Americans," an important and enlightening three-part, six-hour PBS documentary that begins on Tuesday night.

Then there was the soldier who in 1836 shouted, "Remember the Alamo!" and led a regiment in Sam Houston's Republic of Texas Army to victory over Santa Anna's Mexican forces. You know: Juan Seguín. And the World War II hero who won the Silver Star for capturing 1,500 Japanese prisoners of war. That was Guy Gabaldon, a Mexican-American who, in the movie about his exploits ("Hell to Eternity," 1960), was played by the blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter.

For those who sometimes imagine that Latinos arrived in the United States in the 1950s, just in time to audition for "West Side Story," it is a particular revelation that Latino American history goes back quite a bit further and has been, to a distressing degree, Anglo-washed. The documentary's story moves along quickly, though: by the third hour, Dr. Hector Garcia is working with the Johnson administration in the 1960s.

"Latino Americans" is the kind of polished, intelligent documentary series that PBS does so well. The format is a traditional one now, with vintage film clips, zooms and pans of old paintings and photographs, and an assortment of thoughtful talking heads. But this time, those heads belong to historians named García, Montejano and Ruiz; political organizers named Gutierrez, Velásquez and Esparza; academics named Padrón; and journalists named Suárez and Salinas. Adriana Bosch, the documentary's Emmy Award-winning producer, moved to the United States from Cuba in 1970.

Most of the time, we meet the successful adults — like the actress-singer-dancer Rita Moreno, whose acceptance of her Oscar in 1962 we see at least three times — and then are familiarized with their backgrounds. Ms. Moreno was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York with her mother when she was 5. In one case, though, we hear about an activist's early years first. In 1946 a Navy war veteran everyone called C. C. desegregated a movie theater in Delano, Calif., just by taking a seat one night in the middle section with the Anglos. After this story, we learn that C. C. was Cesar Chavez.

By the middle of the 21st century, there are expected to be about 127 million Latino-Americans, nearly 30 percent of the projected United States population. Some Latinos see today as "the Hispanic moment" and urge that opportunities be seized now or lost.

The second and third parts of "Latino Americans," whose subjects include Chavez, the Chicano movement, the Dominican Republic, Central America, the battles against bilingualism and the Mariel boat lift, will be shown next Tuesday and on Oct. 1.

Latino Americans

On PBS stations on Tuesday nights (check local listings).

Produced by WETA Washington, Bosch & Company Inc. and Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB). Jeff Bieber and Dalton Delan, executive producers for WETA; Sandie Viquez Pedlow, executive producer for LPB; Adriana Bosch, series producer; Salme Lopez, supervising producer; Nina Alvarez, Dan McCabe, Ray Telles and John Valadez, producers; Sabrina Avilés, Yvan Iturriaga and Monika Navarro, associate producers. For re-enactment sequences: David Belton and Sonia Fritz, directors; Cathleen O'Connell, producer. Benjamin Bratt, narrator.


Elysium, a working class fantasy

This first appeared at Solidarity-US.

Traditionally there are two major styles of presenting a science fictional future. In one mode, class distinctions and conflicts over racial and national oppressions have melted away into a bright, technology-driven progress with sleek, clean spaces dominating the presentation. In the other mode, technological progress continues to leap ahead of social progress and all of the accumulated oppressions of past civilizations continue to dominate the daily lives of the vast majority in a world presented as something like a toxic slum. Neil Blomkamp’s new tale of planetary inequality falls squarely in the latter category.

Recalling the best Science Fiction of the 1970’s with its sharp political edge and dystopic flavor, Blomkamp’s Elysium manages to be a thoughtful fantasy reflecting the current state of the world and a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi action film all at once. Delving into issues spanning health care, immigration, ruling class factional struggles and more, Elysium paints a picture of the future by exaggerating the features of our own world. In fact, when asked by Entertainment Weekly if the film represents what Blomkamp thinks Earth will be like in 140 years, he responded, "No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now.”

The basic premise: the year is 2154, the population of Earth is ravaged by economic and ecological catastrophes. The wealthiest have taken refuge on a giant space station orbiting Earth run by robot butlers and guards, offering them clean air and almost magical healthcare technology. One can no doubt see the contours of the current world system within this framework, both within particular countries and between the core capitalist states and their oppressed periphery. Indeed in order to capture this dynamic, principal photography was done in the poverty-stricken Iztapalapa district in Mexico City to capture the scenes of 2154 Los Angeles, while Elysium station was captured almost entirely by CGI and filming in both Vancouver and the wealthy Huixquilucan-Interlomas suburbs of Mexico City.


Sorting a Mixed Bag

Originally published at Counterpunch here.

It is hot and humid, the last day in June.  I don’t have any milk for iced coffee at home, so I head out to the nearest square, before a caffeine head-ache sets in.  To get some milk from the store.

I pass a stout stucco church at the foot of the Hill, hear piano music and bells through the open windows, then head up the hill towards the nearby Square, past the house of the local campus police officer who got shot and killed by one of the Boston marathon Bombers.  The cops had this whole area blocked off during the big lock-and-load showdown.

Reaching the edge of the square, I stop to chat with the friendly mustached keeper of the corner store.  He’s from Pakistan.  He is sitting on a stool outside the door, smoking, and greets me with enthusiasm as “my friend.”  His smile is warm, though his eyes are red with sleep deprivation.  He asks me how I have been, and what I’ve been up to.  I tell him I just got back from a trip to Ohio, that I was at an academic conference.  What’s new with him? I ask.  “Still here, same place,” he tells me.

Between his hands, he holds an pamphlet, an Christian evangelist brochure, which he’s been flipping through.   I ask him casually what he thinks of all that religion stuff.   His face contracts and he makes a wobbling “mezza mezza” gesture with his hand above beside his head.

“A mixed bag, right?” I suggest, thinking of Marx.  How religion is adialectical and contradictory thing, the site of mystification and delusion as well as utopian yearnings and displaced solutions.  The “soul in a soulless world,” he called it, as well as the “opiate of the masses.” (This in an age when opiates were one of the only decent pain killers around.)  “The sigh of the oppressed.”

I have been thinking a lot lately of what it would mean for radicals and communists to take religion seriously, in the ways that Marx himself did, even in his atheism.  How to relate to the soul in a soulless world in this age of capitalist cynicism?  I want to hear what my friend thinks—he tends to be quite level-headed, a free thinker.

“People say one thing, but do another,” he tells me.  “How can people be so close with the religion,” he wants to know, “and then kill so many people?”  I mention the Crusades.  He nods and speaks of Hindu and Muslim and Sikh extremists in Pakistan, and in India, too.  Of how the people of India and Pakistan are the same, but are often divided by false ideas.  Of people killing people for religion.  People talking peace and making war.  Seeing my interest in the topic, he ducks inside and behind the shop-counter—the back wall plastered with scratch ticket dispensers and crowded with cigarette cartons—and fetches another Jesus pamphlet.   “This is the same thing, but in my language,” he says.  It’s a kind of comic book starring a tanned, clean-bearded, chiseled Jesus in white robes as hero.  The captions flow through a thin ornamental characters.  It looks a bit like Arabic to me, but he explains to me that it’s Urdu.  He flips through the pages, showing me.  His fingers handle paper with a kind of expertise, as if it’s an extension of his flesh and skin, though I’m not sure exactly what he is showing me.   It’s not clear if his interest is in the pamphlet’s truth or falsity, if he is agreeing or mocking it.  Perhaps he likes the colorful pictures, or just wants to show me what his native script of Urdu looks like on the page.  He speaks four languages, he tells me, including Arabic, and a local tongue from his region of Pakistan.  “From one village to another, people don’t speak same language,” he explains.  “I go over there, their word for one thing, different word from my village.  I can’t understand.”

Social as he is, I wonder if maybe he is reading these pamphlets just so he can make conversation with the person who gave it to him.  As if anything that can break the monotony of cash and plastic transaction is to be cupped, held, sucked, like an ice cubes in the desert.

He holds the two pamphlets side by side, cigarette in his lips, and flips through, sounding out the English subtitles, his calloused dark finger tracing across the white page, underlining the text:

Does life have meaning?”

Faith: An end to all suffering.

He is not preaching it to me, but, it would seem, struggling to understand what such questions might mean, or how they would sound in English, the language of commerce and money and banal pleasantries, of “thank you…come again.”

What makes life seem so meaningless?” He reads the words and lets them hang in the humid air.

He’s told me a bit about his life.  How he works 70 hours a week, split between two jobs.  How each one keeps him on his feet, shut in a space not much bigger than a phone booth.  How his shoe soles are worn paper thin.  How sometimes he does his night shift at the corner store in his collared uniform t-shirt from the upscale mall across town, where he operates a garage toll booth, controlling the descending arm with a button, like a plastic parody of an executioner’s axe.  Letting patrons out of the dungeon, once they pay the proper fee.  Though of course he knows better than anyone that any driver with the will could just plow right through, and probably get away with it, too.  He’d be the one left having to explain, the one blamed.

At the end of his shift, he rushes back across town, fighting traffic in his tiny compact; booth to box to counter.  Often, he lacks the time even to change his clothes.

On both sides of the city, he is endlessly handling money.  Other people’s money, money for the bank, for the building owners, for the boss, for the bills.   Thousands and thousands of dollars sometimes in a single day.  He spends summer days encased in plexiglass and boxed in by asphalt and blacktop, living underground, beneath the glittering glass encased shops and all the latest shimmering things, the odor of car exhaust and tire rubber and sometimes maybe urine wafting faintly through the air conditioner vents.   He is forever thanking people for paying him. For paying others through him.  Paid but ten dollars an hour for his labor, his hands have touched the presidential faces, his fingers oil have smudged the paper, of millions.  Out of the palm and into the box.  Out of the box and into the zipper bag.  Out of the bag and into the bank.  Out of the bank and off to pay bills.  He can read the bank number off a credit card like a blind man reads braille. A human cash register.

He still strains to smile for strangers, through sheets of glass and mental fog, seeking to bridge the strangeness.  To infuse the meaningless with meaning.  His cheek muscles pucker like a fist turned inside out.  His dreams, I imagine, are haunted by bells, the unstoppable ding of the register popping open, the bells jangling metal against the swinging glass door, yanking him back to his station—take their money, bag their boxes and bottles, to tell them to come again.    He knows the sticker price of ten thousand commodities.  He takes pride in never over packing a bag, never letting his customers’ contents spill out onto the pavement.  He’s confessed to me that he’ll let a hungry person who can’t afford it have a candy bar or bag of chips for free, but he shakes his head recalling high school kids who have tried to steal junk food by the box. Working alone, he cannot chase them far beyond the front door.  Cannot leave his station unattended.  The specter of looting lingers.  He hopes the cameras and monitors will deter anyone from pulling a gun on him.  The big money comes in from cigarettes and scratch tickets, deadly things he will never let his children touch.

He must know most of the people in neighborhood.  Hundreds of people a day come in.  Dozens and dozens of regulars visit daily, many of them stopping to chat.

His extended hours may be making him a stranger to his own children—a girl, 4, and a boy 11—but are making him a public figure, a minor city square celebrity.  Though for many customers, he remains an invisible appendage to a debit card machine.

His eyes smile through sleep-deprivation that gives him a constant headache.  Backed by shelves of boxed pain reliever, he isn’t supposed to sample the merchandise, only sell it.  The cameras record his actions, deter his impulses, too.  He asks me when we are getting another issue of the Boston Occupier newspaper, which he was happy to make available to for free, laid out by the coffee station.  His freedom extends at least as far as the countertops.  He calls me “friend” though we don’t know each other’s names, bending the verbal tags of commerce into something human.  The smoke from his cigarette at least can float free, up into the sky.

I happen to be carrying a piece of literature myself, and I take it out, a thin Kasama Project pamphlet—neon yellow with a tiger stalking the cover.  I crack a joke about my “religion” being “revolution,” about how I think the meaninglessness in the world is due to how capitalism reduces all of life to nothing but money and the need to get it, and how my hope for “heaven” being that we can change things in this world, rather than waiting for the next one.   Not sure if he’ll read it, or if I really even want him to.  Don’t want him to see me as just another evangelical, or as an oversophisticated, phrase-fat academic radical.  And surely he already knows the way this system works—its soul sucking routine, its overpricing of everything except labor-power. I was most interested in listening to him, as I said.  But he seems thoughtful and curious, and has downtime to fill, and it seems like he might have the English skills to handle the text.  Anything that staves off boredom may be welcome.

Maybe we’ll talk about the Kasama pamphlet next time.  But I’m thinking we need literature in Urdu, and Arabic, and Creole, and Spanish, and Portuguese.  I’m thinking we should have pamphlets with pictures, in color, with cartoons, with humor, with spirit.  I’m thinking about what it would mean for communists to rip a page from religion, to take the serious the meaninglessness that capitalism and materialism breed, the cynical yolk at the heart of every gilded commodity egg.  What could we make of the need that draws people towards this “mixed bag” of faith, spirituality, and religion?

He asks me if I’d like a bag for the milk.  I tell him no, thanks.  I’ll take it as is. We shake hands and I take the cool, plastic-encased Skim by the handle and feel good about this connection I have made with this local shop-keeper, over these last couple of years.  We have become friends in a way.  And who says that a friend can’t become a comrade?

I wonder how someone like him fits into the scheme of things, the class structure, the struggles at hand, the struggles to come.  It’s a family business he works for, with his brothers and cousins, though he puts in almost all the work-hours; and yet he’s a nearly full-time glass-boxed wage slave across town.   Is this man “working-class”? And does it even matter?  And how could someone like him—so kind and widely known in the community, so aware of life as struggle, so aware of global violence, hypocrisies, and inequalities—be won to revolution, moved from making change to changing the world?  Would, could such a project matter to him?

Before heading back up the hill, I catch sight of yet another corner store—there are three of them serving this minor intersection.  The married couple from India that run the place across the street are standing outside, looking my way, then ducking back inside.  They too spend their days cloistered behind a counter, only they do it together: a kind of husband wife team.  Do they see me as a traitor for the half-gallon of milk in my hand?  Are they resentful of their competitor’s popularity?  They were here first, after all, before this newer shop came along.   His friendliness and sociability to them must represent a threat, his smile a knife against their throat.  Every dollar he collects is a dollar they don’t get. They too, are working almost all the time, mostly to pay the bank, like him; like him, they hope to send children to college. There too, they call you “friend”—a bit of worry audible in their over-eager greetings.

Family versus family, “Indian” store against “Pakistani” store, competing for the market in this peripheral city square.  They sell mostly the same stuff, likely loaded off the very same supplier trucks, by even the very same delivery workers, off of the same dollies.  Probably paying off debt to the very same banks.   Fighting for the same crumpled dollar bills, courting the same nicotine addicts and scratch ticket junkies.  They are involved in the same enterprise of supplying people with plastic wrapped things that they need or want, in exchange for money…and yet they must experience one another as threats, as rivals.  They cannot identify with their own mirror image.

I wonder if their days would be less lonely and anxious if they could all find a way to work together, instead of against one another.  Merge or ally the stores together, share the work, socialize the means of distribution, cut the paperwork in half, confront the banks and corporate suppliers as a united front, stop undercutting one another’s prices, turn a rival into a friend.  Such local moves wouldn’t address the root causes, of course, but still….  I wonder how one might bring unity out of division here; about who can be united against what, by what means, on what basis….  Would it be an outgrowth of economic interest that small shop-keepers could come together, or only in light of some deeper, more universal political truth? How should communists approach the issue of small business?  How would socialist reorganization apply here, on this corner?

I pick up the pace and head back towards my apartment, needing coffee to stave off this caffeine headache. With my store-bought milk to cut the bitterness of the coffee.


Not much unique or special here, I guess.   It’s a familiar scene, one that you can find in many a city square.  Competition inverting similarity into rivalry, isolation preventing cooperation, human beings reduced to cash registers, talents being squandered, guts being eaten away by worry, freedom kept at bay by mechanical bells and counters that might as well be cages, lives traded in and smoked away for an educational scratch ticket and a chance at a better life for a son or daughter who grows into a stranger, even as strangers become “friends.” Humanity trying to raise its head and snatch a clean breath through the commodity smog.

It’s far from being the most extreme obscenity of a system that slaughters and starves masses of people daily.  From a global perspective, I guess, you could say that these aspiring struggling shop-owners are some of the “lucky ones”: here in American they are the custodians and peddlers rather than producers of commodities.  In exchange for a life of monotony and boredom, sore legs and swollen feet, they may—may—have a chance of accumulating a bit of property, acquiring higher education for their children, maybe even in fields that can provide them steady employment…But the social symptoms of a sick system are apparent nonetheless.

I try to listen closely, making friends, noting symptoms, but also seeking ingredients for the cure.

Joe Ramsey is editor of Cultural Logic: an electronic journal of theory and practice as well as a participant in theKasama Project .  He can be emailed at jgramsey AT 

Bambu & Geologic - We Should Read Some Books


Bambu's " rifle per family." is available on iTunes and at

"We Want Your Soul" by Adam Freeland


Poem: Imperial bird of prey

Things which distinguish the National Bird

Golden feet with
Razor sharp talons.
Cold reptilian eyes, as large as a human's
But four times as sharp.
A hooked beak evolved to tear through muscle and tendon,
but nimble enough to feed flesh strands to its young.

A shrill high pitched call that pains the ear--
produced not by vocal chords
but in a bony chamber located where the trachea divides.

Wide broad wings that allow it to soar almost two miles high
Without expending its own energy.
The eagle soars by catching drafts of warm air
that rise from the sun-cooked earth.

Its body is black and brown.
Its head, neck, and fanned tail--white.
Hatched, the eagle is brown-black from head to toe.
It takes around five years for its head to go "bald,"
its beak to turn gold.
There is no other large blackish-brown bird with a white head and tail in North America.

It looks to be a vicious bird of prey.
And it can be.
But it prefers carrion to live meat.
Close cousin to the vulture
It feeds on flopping fish,
seeks the fresh rot.

A predator and a scavenger
it sits atop the food chain,
yet is still vulnerable to concentrated toxins
that pool in the corpses it feasts on.
Its numbers in the continental US
have exploded, from a few hundred in the 1967
to almost ten thousand now.
Concentrated now in Louisiana and Florida
It remains the only eagle that is unique to North America.

The Eagle's secret is in its seven thousand ingenious feathers,
which serve as both an on board navigation and an insulation system.
Together the feathers weigh twice as much
as all the eagles bones do (beak and talons included).

The eagle's bones are hollow,
making its skeleton--when plucked of feathers and flesh--
extremely light.

Can work take new meaning?

The following piece comes from comrade Doug Enaa Greene. It originally appeared on Counterpunch. In the wake of Obama's reelection and his promise to create a million new manufacturing jobs, Doug digs into the what it means to be a worker in capitalist society.

Perhaps our struggle can take more conscious forms. We can see our individual condition as something that is not individual, but as the collective lot of a class comprised of those alienated and exploited. We can understand and see a perfect pattern. We can name our enemy: capitalism.

The Monstrosity of Capitalism: Observations on Work

by Doug Enaa Greene

With the election cycle over, President Obama has promised to create one million manufacturing jobs. Obama has also promised to cut taxes forsmall businesses in order to spur job creation. Considering the depths of the recession, the call for the creation of jobs is on the minds of millions. And for those out of work or barely getting by, getting a job seems like a godsend.

Many on the left are pressing for “jobs for the 99%.”  Yet the call for full employment  tends to ignore and obscure the nature of work under capitalism, which at its very roots is fundamentally exploitative and alienating.


Django Unchained: Who frees who?

“We all intellectually ‘know’ the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, but after you do the research it’s no longer intellectual any more, no longer just historical record—you feel it in your bones. It makes you angry, and want to do something.…

"I’m here to tell you, that however bad things get in the movie, a lot worse shit actually happened. When slave narratives are done on film, they tend to be historical with a capital H, with an arm’s-length quality to them. I wanted to break that history-under-glass aspect, I wanted to throw a rock through that glass and shatter it for all times, and take you into it.” 

Quentin Tarentino, Guardian, December 7, 2012

Django is a grandiose mixture of spaghetti western and blacksploitation films. The story is about a slave Django and a German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz who journey to free Django's wife Hilde.

Don't be fooled by the theatrical use of blood or flying bodies. The themes here are quite serious: slavery, black liberation, master and slave, inter-racism and the nature of America. 

Django comes out shortly after the film Lincoln. These two films lock together in a duel. In Spielberg's Lincoln, Black people appear in static forms whose liberation is handed to them through the courage of white men.

Django offers a counter to this narrative.

Tarentino spoke about his desire to do 'a Southern' (not a Western). Meaning: A film placed in the Deep South and dealing with “America's horrible past with slavery but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to.” (from the Telegraph)

Tarentino doesn't explictly say why he makes the film oriented towards popular culture, as opposed to 'big issue films', but the point is that serious topics, even if dealt with through humor, are still exposed. Our laughter only lets us view the phenomenon from a different perspective. This is obvious in the scene where hooded riders, with the intent to hunt down Django and Dr. Schultz, have a group conversation about the tailor job on their hoods. The problem? Nobody can see out of them. The result is a demystification of the hooded riders as a terror. Instead, they barely know their doing. And in the end, most of them are killed off.

In the theatre that I saw the film, the audience (at least 90% black) laughed hardest at this scene. It made me realize how humor is connected to power: the KKK didn't symbolize fear, but vulnerability and theatrics.

Dr. Schultz

Usually, the story goes like this: white man finds black man in misery. White man frees black man. White man and black man become friends. The two fight evil. One dies, the other weeps.

This film avoided this cliché. Yes, there is death. Alot of it, actually. And the plot starts as something, typical. Dr. Schultz is a German who we find in America. He is a bounty hunter, a former dentist. He has tact, a master of social maneuvering. His wit is outdone only by the accuracy he performs with his guns. We don't get much background to his character, but his dialog more then makes up for this. Still, we are left to assume much here.

Mike Ely has written about German immigrant communists and beer during Civil War times. And although we don't hear about Marx or the '48 revolution in Django, we do know that this German, Dr. Schultz, despises slavery. Still, he makes the mistake of assuming that he has given Django freedom.

All in all he makes an attempt to be partners with Django, but because he feels 'responsible' to him. The paternalism is still there. He compares his job of bounty hunting to slavery, in that both deal with flesh: Slavery deals in bodies, whereas he deals in corpses. As the film progresses, we see Dr. Schultz face a moral dilemma of enjoying his freedom in contrast to the horrific world around him. He can kill freely as a bounty hunter, and this puts him in a similar position of power to the slave owner: both have power over life.

This reaches a boiling point. Dr. Schultz' ethics (which are perhaps proto-communist because of the experience that Germans like him had in Germany's 1848 revolution), freely chooses his own death over shaking the hand of the slave owner Calvin Candie. The redemption here is in the choice: Death over affirming the Candie.

The name here is no arbitrary decision: Candie, candy, sweets. The poem "Sweet meat has sour sauce" is exemplary here. Dr. Schultz choose death over comfort derived from misery, resolving that contradiction.

The Other

Calvin Candie : Dr. Schultz

Stephen : Django

Each confronts their other in this film. Each set is a contradiction. The film shows how each of these contradictions influence one another, and yet are resolved internally.

The cliché would have been either Django or Schultz (or both with one dieing through the battle) against Calvin Candie. What happens in the end is Django fighting Stephen. Now, no other actor could have pulled of Stephen like Samuel Jackson. It was suberb. But the metaphor here is surprisingly advanced for a white American film director, as it points towards the complexity of race: there is no heterogenous 'black' form.


After their plan is thwarted, Django finds himself back as a slave. Here, the lesson of the film Burn! (Queimada) is applied: you cannot be freed by another. This is when the film negates the genre's trope: instead of a white man coming to free Django, Django uses lessons learned through struggle to free himself. Django develops from a slave to an apprentice of Dr. Schultz to his equal to having the final word. The scene were he frees himself ends with two powerful sequences.

First, Django washes the white dust from a dynamite explosion off him. The water takes away the dust and reveals a rejuvenated blackness. This is him washing himself of a white coating, of his dependency on whites.

Second, a slave who formerly detested Django watches him ride off on a horse. His smile illuminates the screen. He is affirmed by his people.

Django then returns to free his wife and finish off those who wronged him. The final vengeance upon Stephen is the resolution of the internal struggle of blackness. Liberation is achieved only by the negation of the Django's other: the slave who has become subservient to the white man and willingly sends his own kind to their death.

Who Writes History?

As the film ended, the audience applauded. I heard one comment afterwards, “That shit was hot”. The soundtrack was a mix of Ennio Morricone and hip-hop. I'd never seen something like this before. The film itself was a success, although a bit lengthy and contained a usual failure of static-female characters. 

What do communists say about all this?

A lot of the debate revolves around one fact about the  film: that is a narrative of slavery that was directed by a white man. And some assume the whole issue is simple: Can a white director create film and narrative about the black experience?

I think the answer to that question is obviously yes. And any work like this should be evaluated in its own right (by its stand, politics and impact), not simply by the identity of the author.

From there however more difficult questions follow:

The question of liberation: how do an oppressed people achieve their freedom? In the U.S. the end of slavery involved the heroic sacrifice of African American soldiers, runaways, and resistors on the plantations. But it also involved them (necessarily, inevitably) in a broad, complex and highly contradictory alliance with antislavery and Unionist whites -- including literally millions of white soldiers, and the Lincoln government.

There is contradiction here. And that contradiction erupted in a terrible resolution with the ultimate betrayal of Black people that followed the initial emancipation.

And so: what is the relation between communist internationalism and black nationalism in a country like the U.S.? What kind of an alliance can lead to liberation today?"


Video: iGlide “Day Dream”

As if gravity didn’t matter…

Proyección comunista: Palabras, símbolos y rituales

“El templo de la perspectiva” de Tom Greenall y Jordan Hodgson. Es una representación artística de la historia de nuestro planeta y nuestro lugar en ello (en un pilar de capas) construido como monumento visual. Una exploración secular del significado, contexto y reverencia.

[Gracias a Doxus Turquino por la traducción al español. Also available in English: Communist foreshocks: Words, ritual and symbols]

Mike Ely
18 de marzo, 2012

“La política es tan simbólica como analítica…”

“La audiencia que necesitamos es descubierta a través de medios sociales y culturales, no simplemente atraída con palabras.”

“Como señalara Lenin: el oprimido que se levanta demanda saber cómo vivir, y cómo morir (no sólo qué creer).”

“La gente necesita expresiones ínter-humanas vivas; expresiones sobre la concepción del mundo y la moralidad que sean más que simples catálogos sobre visión del mundo y moralidad.”

Siempre me he sentido frustrado con el presupuesto que podemos atraer gentes hacia la política revolucionaria principalmente “explicándolo” todo —como si, de repente, las personas adquirieran consciencia, militancia, y determinación en la lucha por una nueva sociedad, en gran parte porque se les diga una serie de explicaciones respaldadas por elaboradas estructuras de análisis. Yo he llamado este problema “el fetiche de la palabra”. Un nombre más formal (si necesitáramos otra etiqueta) pudiera ser racionalismo.

Entretanto vemos, tanto en la sociedad como en política a nuestro alrededor, sugerencias de que las “explicaciones,” incluso detalladas y correctas, no son suficientes —y vemos con frecuencia gentes quienes son atraídas a políticas bastante irracionales a través de poderosos medios simbólicos.

Podemos trazar el surgimiento y caída de la fantástica, extravagante, política de Louis Farrakhan —la cual combina el completamente engañoso misticismo con visceral llamado al auto respeto, superación personal, orgullo y mordaz enajenación política.

O podemos ver a grandes secciones del pueblo emergiendo a la vida política durante esta Primavera Árabe, liberándose de décadas de represión y, en su mayor parte, atraídos en primera instancia por la profunda resonancia de “¡Allahu Akbar!” y la ingenua esperanza en la justicia de la ley Shariah.

¿De dónde viene ese poder?

El racionalismo secular con frecuencia asume (en ocasiones con una intencionalidad inflexiblemente simple) que las “ideas incorrectas” provienen de la mezcla de ignorancia y adoctrinamiento por parte de clases “externas” —y así asume que el antídoto contra el error es simplemente martillar las ideas correctas en el desinformado— método que he llamado “tira tus ideas, toma las mías”. Hay en ello, no obstante, un elemento verdadero —nosotros debemos ser evangelizantes sobre el comunismo. Pero a menudo eso ocurre muy unilateralmente. En otras palabras, ese racionalismo concibe a la gente, las ideas, la cultura y el cambio de modo bastante plano, simple —y su fracaso lo confirma.

Yo creo en la divulgación de las ideas y exposiciones revolucionarias. Yo pienso que la teoría revolucionaria jugará un rol poderoso en el reagrupamiento del nuevo movimiento social revolucionario. A menudo me he sentido ofendido por el falso estereotipo del militante comunista “sólo como vendedor deambulatorio de periódicos de puerta en puerta, por los laterales”. Después de todo, yo he escrito, diseñado, redactado, promovido y fomentado periódicos radicales toda mi vida. Y pienso que nosotros deberíamos (¡ahora!) estar desarrollando penetrantes, atractivos, irresistibles centros de noticias, opinión, análisis, sátira, humor y teoría.

Pero… pero… además de todo eso, al mismo tiempo, pienso que deberíamos crear y usar nuestro nuevo medio revolucionario evitando la repetición ingenua de los presupuestos ideológicos y prácticas del racionalismo previo.

He aquí algo que con frecuencia se pierde: La política es tan simbólica como analítica. La atracción política es también visceral y cultural. Atracción que incluye “ganar” con las palabras. Ello nos requiere valentía sobre representar nuestras creencias.

Pero, de una manera polifacética, la audiencia que necesitamos será alcanzada por diferentes atracciones culturales y sociales, no sólo “ganadas” por las palabras.

Como Lenin brillantemente una vez describiera, los oprimidos que se levantan venían demandando saber “cómo vivir y cómo morir”, no sólo qué creer. Para ser capaces de ejecutar un proceso real de forjar una base política de masas, tenemos que aprender de nuestra audiencia (es decir, “del pueblo”) también; no se trata de un proceso con sólo una dirección de acción sino una interacción. Ese es el proceso que Mao llamó la línea de la masa.

Yo estoy diciendo (entre otras cosas) que los movimientos políticos necesitan afianzarse y conectar en un desesperado sentido de comunidad (en una sociedad de aislamiento y atomización humana). Un movimiento por una nueva sociedad necesita poseer poderosos símbolos y rituales (a partir de los cuales la gente tome sentido y exprese creencias comunes a través de vías no-racionales). La gente necesita expresiones ínter-humanas vivas; expresiones sobre la concepción del mundo y la moralidad que sean más que simples catálogos sobre visión del mundo y moralidad. (Y aquí nos referimos a cosas como rebeldía, no respetabilidad, internacionalismo, amor al pueblo, altruismo, solidaridad, pensamiento crítico, metodología científica, modestia, perceptibilidad, una honesta y auto-crítica fidelidad a la verdad, y más).

Remachando: Nosotros necesitamos entender qué significa que una frase (como “¡Allah Akbar!” o “¡Libertad Ahora!”) desarrolle un profundo poder simbólico. Y tenemos que identificar y apreciar esos temas culturales, y esas expresiones que tienen poder para los inconformes[1] y visionarios en nuestra sociedad —todo lo cual es aplicable (aún con inevitables cambios mayores) a nuestro proyecto de profundo cambio social y liberación.

Una política radical exitosa necesita palabras que sean evocativas y penetrantes —no es suficiente que sean palabras precisas. Todo movimiento social revolucionario exitoso (sin excepción) posee gran poder simbólico. Dentro de los Estados Unidos, el Black Panther Party, tuvo muy penetrante y poderoso espíritu inventivo cuando creó su poderoso simbolismo en política.

Hombres y mujeres negros vestidos con cuero, boina y fusil —en aquel momento, en aquel contexto, en aquella encrucijada— hicieron que millones de corazones palpitaran de emoción. Cuando los Panthers anunciaban a seguidores y enemigos por igual: “Blood to the horse’s brow and woe to those who cannot swim[1]” —allí había análisis en la poesía y poesía en el análisis.

Justo un ejemplo importante. El slogan de los Panthers “Power to the people” [El poder al pueblo] retorna una y otra vez desde los 60. Es un slogan de aquel tiempo que posee renacimiento continuo.

A pesar de las bien conocidas fallas de Eldridge Cleaver —nosotros haríamos bien al estudiar su brillantez desarrollando nuevos símbolos y poderosos slogans popularizando una política con palabras vivas que no eran híper intelectuales. Y obviamente, no podemos simplemente copiar slogans que fueron exitosos: necesitamos entender cómo el simbolismo cambia con el tiempo.

En los 60, slogans como “Black is beautiful” o “drop out and expand your mind  [2]” y en ocasiones una ingenua vibra comunal, tuvieron todos poderoso significado (y atracción) para millones de personas que emergían del racismo y conformismo de los 50. Incluso, cuando tales temas no fueron explícitamente políticos, en sentido estereotípico, ellos ayudaron a la formación del contexto y precondiciones para la política revolucionaria de masas. Pero entonces, justo diez años más tarde, la cultura Punk fue edificada sobre el enojado rechazo del pensamiento “paz y amor” Hippie —y expresó un nuevo lenguaje simbólico y artístico de rebelión. El Hip Hop tuvo entonces su propio lenguaje y estética, su representación del agravio y orgullo callejero. El tiempo pasó y nuevas expresiones ganaron poder simbólico.

Así, el rápido movimiento cultural puede poner pesada demanda sobre nuestra creatividad. Tenemos que estar bien atentos y prontos para, incluso, oír lo que se dice en el aire. Y tenemos que ser suficiente creativos para percibir el uso de expresiones nuevas, agarrar sus poder potencial y adoptarlas.

En breve: Nosotros necesitamos concebir el proyecto mismo de desarrollo alternativo de una sociedad postcapitalista mucho más allá que un asunto conceptual y analítico (tal como es expresado por ideas particulares e importantes: ¿Cómo desmantelar el antiguo Estado? ¿Cómo planear la economía? ¿Cómo reorganizar las fronteras para reconocer la autonomía y liberación de los pueblos indígenas?; etc.)

Nosotros además necesitamos estar desarrollando (articulando pero también manifestando) una moral alterna y sentido para el pueblo (en lugar de la actual competencia despiadada y en lugar del sentido egocéntrico, atomizado, burgués, enfocado simplemente en la acumulación para sí o placer para sí o la salvación religiosa de sí).

Esto incluye la identificación de “esferas de experimentos” (en nuestro alrededor) donde podamos (junto con otros) tratar de acarrear y refinar simbolismo, moralidad y conexiones a sentido, de modos tales que puedan representar al movimiento y la sociedad que sobreviene (análogo, quizás, a las bases de áreas rurales donde las fuerzas de Mao desarrolló su “Camino de Yenan” —cuya promesa entonces asió a China como una conversión de masa).

Algo de esto está dentro de los movimientos de lucha —donde el pueblo combina sus esfuerzos para demandar cambio. Pero no se encuentra solamente allí.

Iniciación Comunista 1

Yo tuve un amigo quien fue criado Católico Romano, y fue alistado (por alguno de nosotros) en la Unión Revolucionaria, una organización maoísta embrionaria. Tuvimos una “reunión” de reclutamiento —en la cual discutimos nuestra unidad política, desacuerdos, su pasado, sus aspiraciones, su situación, etc. Entonces le explicamos que había sido aceptado, y le dijimos dónde y cuándo sería la próxima reunión interna de la organización.

Nos miró contrariado, casi con espanto. ¿Cómo… —preguntó— sin ceremonia? ¿Sin ordenación? ¿No tengo que hacer juramento? ¿No hay celebración de bienvenida? ¿No hay ritual para compartir métodos secretos y conducta? ¿No hay entrega de distintivo, carnet, signos secretos? ¿No hay código de conducta privada? Mi compañero estaba disgustado —sentía que no había sido realmente “conectado”.

Él estaba entrando a un estadio superior en su vida, estaba pasando una “puerta” principal para su vida y la vida de la sociedad —estaba haciendo un profundo, consciente, cometido hacia el mundo, los oprimidos y el futuro. Eso, para él, y para nosotros, representaba todo. Y nosotros (como movimiento) no obstante, no marcábamos el evento, no lo corroborábamos, ni lo celebrábamos —ni sabíamos cómo.

Los fundamentalistas reciben a sus nuevos miembros con pasajes de renacimiento y bautismo —con palabras y rituales comunales que las gentes han hallado plenos de significado por siglos. Toda agrupación histórica ha recibido a los nuevos convertidos mediante eventos distintivos. Eventos que marcan la identidad y pertenencia (incluido el bautismo y el bris del mohel[3]). Hay evidencias, de los albores de nuestra emergencia como especie, que muestran una asombrosa diversidad y poder de signos, rituales funerales y entierro de los muertos. Los fundamentalistas estimulan a la gente quebrantada y afligida a que sean “nacidos de nuevo”. Los católicos disponen de un sofisticado sistema para el auto examen y la confesión. Muchas agrupaciones sociales han desarrollado sus ideas sobre el perdón y cómo expresarlo.

Pero, aquí, durante los embrionarios días de nuestro nuevo movimiento comunista de los 70, habíamos prestado atención sólo a las palabras que nos definían (las explicaciones). Identificábamos las necesidades legalistas de transición (fundamento de unidad, acuerdos, acometimiento, y aceptación de la disciplina). Pero nosotros ignoramos (casi militantemente) el simbolismo necesario, los marcadores culturales por medio de los cuales los humanos definen el significado para sí mismos, y el sentido de su momento.

Ahora, al inicio de nuevos proyectos, no queremos hacerlo de una manera exagerada…haciendo una parodia revolucionaria de las sociedades secretas. Sin embargo, tenemos que hacerlo.

Y, aun siendo un movimiento tan lleno de palabras, nosotros con frecuencia no hemos sabido hablar sobre estas cosas —más allá de “ninguna cadena tradicional nos atará” (la cual es una preciosa noción de negación, al margen de la necesidad creativa de afirmación crítica). En otras palabras, si no estamos ligados por tradiciones, bien —entonces ¿cómo estaríamos vinculados? ¿Cómo expresaríamos esa unión, ese vínculo, ese lazo de comunión unos con los otros? ¿Y cómo todo este vínculo emerge, mientras la revolución avanza de ser la convicción de un pequeño grupo social, hasta ser el clima político en comunidades enteras?

Yo pienso que hay elementos de la práctica comunista que son buenos puntos de partida —incluida la orientación de Mao Zedong en “Contra el liberalismo” (un ensayo argumentando a favor de la honestidad y el proceder correctamente entre revolucionarios). En la práctica colectiva que los maoístas llaman “crítica mutua y autocrítica” —enfrentando los errores (incluso, grandes errores) por vías colectivas de tal modo que se ayude a los compañeros en la superación a través del compromiso y confianza personal para la transformación.

Iniciación Comunista 2

Yo asistía a una conferencia de jóvenes comunistas en la cual hablaría sobre investigación, escribir y la expresión de ideas. Y escuché la historia de un joven hermano indagar con un veterano comunista (una persona mayor) por consejos sobre la forma “correcta” para iniciar relaciones sexuales con alguien él consideraba muy especial.

Había algo conmovedor y positivo en esto. Él estaba consciente sobre la actitud machista que como norma enfrentan las mujeres. Y él estaba consciente sobre el deseo de nuestro movimiento para crear las condiciones que permita a las mujeres jóvenes unirse, sin que se sientan “carne fresca” para los hombres sin compromisos dentro del movimiento. Y este joven quería iniciar unas relaciones consistentes con nuestros valores y demás.

Pero, desafortunadamente, él había entrado a un movimiento que no había vertido mucho pensamiento sobre este asunto. No había (que yo sepa) mucha discusión, debate, síntesis, ensayos, sumarios sobre estos procesos cruciales en la vida humana. Estos procesos están profundamente envueltos en la liberación e igualdad de la mujer —maternidad, noviazgo, matrimonio, intimidad, experimentación, solidaridad viva, cuidado de los niños, educación libertadora, divorcio, resolución de conflictos interpersonales, perdón y transformación, cuidado y responsabilidad uno por el otro en la enfermedad y muerte, formas de celebración y festividades.

(Colateral: Hay un interesante libro sobre la proliferación de festivales de comunidades en la Rusia Soviética… ¿cuánto entendemos de esto como parte de una nueva sociedad y su cultura?)

Un movimiento revolucionario vivo necesita ser envuelto por un sentido de nueva cultura revolucionaria, no sólo arte sino modos del ser y sus significados. Vías simbólicas que expresen ese significado y ese ser. Un movimiento revolucionario vivo necesita acumular, transmitir cuerpo de prácticas y debates de la nueva “sabiduría,” la cual ayuda a la gente imaginar (en el ahora), cómo una nueva sociedad puede manejar todas las muchas contradicciones de la vida humana.

Un sistema cultural como ese no puede ser inventado desde cero —como si nosotros y la sociedad fuéramos hojas de papel en blanco. Es un sistema que los pueblos vivos crean, recrean, refinan y transforman una y otra vez —un proceso de experimentación al cual deberíamos dar bienvenida y en el cual deberíamos participar activamente.

[1] La traducción literal de esta frase poética no hace sentido en español… y no encuentro ningún significado por el cual pueda traducirla. Lo más cercano que puedo decir en español es “Candela al jarro hasta que suelte el fondo” pero no ajusta en el contexto. Mi mejor opción es no traducirla.

[2] Negro es bello y Descuélgate y expande tu mente, respectivamente.

[3] Mike se refiere al Brit Milah o ceremonia judía, el pacto de circuncisión. En lenguaje yiddish: Bris. El Mohel es la persona entrenada para realizar la circuncisión a niños a los 8 días de edad.