I’m really looking forward to reading this…
The Story of the Iron Column: Militant Anarchism in the Spanish Civil War
Paul Sharkey (Translator) and Abel Paz
Publisher: AK Press
Release Date: 2011-07-13
The members of the Iron Column were among the most notorious anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. They were intransigent in the face of the fascist revolt, but also in defence of the revolution’s gains.
We say to all workers, to all revolutionaries, to all anarchists: At the front or in the rearguard, wherever you may be, fight against the enemies of your liberty and demolish fascism. But also make sure that your exertions do not bring about the installation of a dictatorial regime that would represent the continuation, with all of its vices and defects, of the whole state of affairs that we are trying to obliterate. Now with weapons and later with the tools of labour, learn to live without tyrants and to develop for yourselves the only road to freedom. These are the feelings of the Iron Column, and they have been explained clearly and simply.
Comrades: Death to fascism! Long live the social revolution! Long live anarchy!
~ The Iron Column, 1 October 1936
Abel Paz (1921-2009) was a fifteen-year-old anarchist when the Spanish Revolution began. After the revolution’s defeat, he spent several years in exile, returning to Spain in 1942 as a guerrilla fighter against the Franco regime. He spent most of the subsequent eleven years in prison. Paz spent his later years authoring biographical and autobiographical works and delivering lectures celebrating the achievements of the Spanish anarchists. His book Durruti in the Spanish Revolution, was published by AK Press in 2006.
Paul Sharkey, an accomplished translator, has almost single-handedly made available a vast body of non-English language anarchist texts. His numerous translations include the works of Nestor Makhno, Osvaldo Bayer, Errico Malatesta, Daniel Guérin, José Peirats, and Antonio Téllez.
Iron Column Records is a distro and label spreading the anti-fascist message through no-nonsense music and merchandise. We are 100% non-profit – ALL proceeds from sales are given to antifa groups or anti-fascists in need.
We have a growing range of music from some of the finest anti-fascist bands and labels on the planet, and we plan to expand it as money allows. If you are in a band or involved with a label that is sympathetic to what we’re doing, please get in touch to see if we can work something out.
We’ve also produced a range of t-shirts with eye-catching anti-fascist designs and are planning to release our first album under our own imprint in the near future – watch this space!
We hope that you find something you like in our list and we look forwards to hearing from you.
Iron Column Records.
The 75th anniversary of London’s Battle of Cable Street is fast approaching. here are some dates for your diary, if you live in that part of the world (plus one in Leeds).
On-going until 4th October
Friday 30 September
On our street there are artist studios, recording studios, social clubs and corner-shops. We bring you the best in Cable Street Talent – it’s 1936 and we are going to sing, drink, dance and laugh as if we don’t have a care in the world.
Manouche are an all-live, electrified, gypsy swing ensemble. Performing specially arranged works of Django Reinhardt and swing classics of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s, they fuse elements of Electro Swing dance beats and Surf Guitar into their own up-beat compositions.
There will also be a photo exhibition kindly donated by the International Brigade looking at those anti-fascists who then went on to fight in the Spanish Civil War. We also hope to welcome the Clarion Cycle Club as they arrive from Edinburgh.
Saturday 1 October
5.00pm Anti-fascist footprints: a walk through the East End, from Gardiners Corner to Cable Street Repeat walk, this time for Iniva Tickets: £6/£5 Info: http://www.iniva.org/events/what_s_on/anti_fascist_footprints_walking_tour
Dances and elegies at Wilton’s Music Hall. 730pm This concert provides a frame for the Cable Street events at Wilton’s – extraordinary music for extraordinary times. As the Spanish Civil war was starting, Benjamin Britten played his Suite Op 6 at a concert in Barcelona; the same evening, in the same city, the premiere of Berg’s ‘Violin Concerto’ was played by Louis Krasner, who later became Peter Sheppard Skaerved’s teacher. At the centre of the programme, a most English piece by a German composer – Paul Hindemith’s extraordinary ‘Trauermusik’-‘Music of Mourning’ for George Vth. This wonderful elegy for viola and strings ends with the chorale “Vor deinem Thron Tret ich hiermit”-better known here as ‘All people that on earth do dwell’-the ‘Old 100th’.
Jewdas: ¡No Pasaran! Cable Street – Party like it’s 1936! In a time of austerity, riots, and a rise in the price of beigels, Jewdas returns to Cable Street………. Live Bands, Film, Talks, Cabaret, Fascist Baiting and Revolutionary Borscht. Live Music from: Daniel Kahn & Merlin Shepherd – a mixture of Klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret and punk folk, accompanied by top UK Klezmer clarinettist; Klezmer Klub feat. David Rosenberg – songs of Yiddish London telling the story of the Jewish east end from 1900 to the 1930s; The Ruby Kid – Hip-hop and spoken-word poetry, influenced by the cinema of Woody Allen, the politics of Hal Draper and the music of Aesop Rock; The Electric Swing Circus – electro swing sensation.Big band swing. Gypsy jazz. Thundering drum beats. Phat bass lines; + Stephen Watts reciting poetry of the East End; + Full film programme of riots, resistance and rabbles; + Talks on Gandhian resistance, Spanish Civil War, Anti-fascist activism today as well as performance poetry. + Communist-Fascist Arm Wrestling, The Three Yentas, Live Guernica tribute painting, Cantorial Drag; + DJ Notorious spinning speeches, 30s swing and hard beats; +…more. Dress Code: 1930s chic. Fascist, Communist. Yiddish Musical Hall. Free entry for all who were there in 1936! For the rest of you its £7 on the door and £5 if you book in advance here.
Sunday 2nd October
75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. March from Braham Street Aldgate at 11.30am to a rally at the Cable Street mural at 1pm. Speakers; Max Levitas Battle of Cable Street Veteran; Frances O’Grady Deputy General Secretary TUC; Matthew Collins Searchlight; Robert Griffiths General Secretary Communist Party; Bob Crow General Secretary RMT; Kosru Uddin Labour Councillor; Julie Begum Swadhinata Trust; David Rosenberg Jewish Socialists’ Group; Gail Cartmail Assistant General Secretary UNITE; Diana Holland Assistant General Secretary UNITE; Akik Rahman Altab Ali Memorial Foundation. More info on UnionBook.
Noon-10pm: Exhibitions and events at Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Grace’s Alley E1 8JB. firstname.lastname@example.org 020 7375 0441 12-6 // 12-6 Stalls all along Graces Alley by campaigning groups, local organisations and supporters with street theatre and music by Spanish civil war re enactment group La Columna, The Lost Marbles, The Fairly Fresh Fish Co, Klezmania andThe Cockney Awkestra. Plus, inside, Protest and Survive photo exhibition, featuring Phil Maxwell etc. // Launch of Five Leaves’ five Cable Street books at 3.00pm with Bill Fishman and other Cable Street veterans as guests. // Five Leaves’ panel on “Rebel Writers of the 1930s” at 4.00pm, with Andy Croft, Ken Worpole and Mary Jouannou. // Continue into the evening with Billy Bragg, Shappi Khorsandi, Michael Rosen and The Men They Couldn’t Hang. // Produced by Alternative Arts for The Cable Street Group. // full programme here.
JEECS Walk: The Battle of Cable Street Clive Bettington discusses the events of the iconic battle and discusses some of the myths which have arisen. 2pm Tower Hill tube £10 (£8 Jeecs members) 07941 367 882. Booking recommended
Monday 3rd October
7.30 Crossing the Street, Wilton’s Music Hall. Video installation by Shiraz Bayjoo and Jessica Harrington. Curated by Carole Zeidman, Commissioned by Wiltons Music Hall. The battle of Cable Street 75 years ago reveals much about the character of and the sense solidarity between its residents. The area has historically housed a celebrated mix of people from varying backgrounds, cultures and with different economic circumstances. The riots of 1936 were emblematic of an attitude and belief that people could be brought together successfully to fight for a shared interest despite other differences. 75 years on and the memory of Cable Street has entered local mythology, but how does it resonate with local residents now and what significance does the area hold for them today?
8pm – David Rosenberg illustrated talk with readings to Leeds Jewish Historical Society at Shadwell Lane Synagogue
Tuesday 4th October:
Film: from Cable Street to Brick Lane, by Hazuan Hashim and Phil Maxwell. Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Grace’s Alley E1 8JB. From Cable Street to Brick Lane” is an independent documentary dealing with the fight against racism and fascism in the East End of London. The film will explore how different communities came together in the 1930’s, 1970’s and 1990’s to challenge racism and intolerance. Focusing on the two iconic East London streets of Cable Street and Brick Lane, the film will feature interviews with veterans of the battle of Cable St and of the more recent struggles around Brick Lane. Driven by these eyewitness accounts and observations Hashim and Maxwell examine the impact of these interrelated historic events and how they relate to contemporary issues in East London. See www.cablestreettobricklane.co.uk for inspiration. email@example.com 020 7375 0441.
The Battle of Cable Street at LJCC. 10.30am-3.30pm £35.00. This anniversary falls during the Ten Days – there could be no better way to reflect on the conflicts of the past and prepare for the challenges of the future. Speakers will include Ian Bloom and David Rosenberg.
Wednesday 5th October
7pm at Housman’s Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, N1. Readings and discussion with authors Roger Mills and David Rosenberg about their East End/Cable Street related books.
David Rosenberg (Jewish Socialist Group) author of Battle For The East End and Roger Mills (Cable Street Group) author of Everything Happens in Cable Street discuss their new books, just published by Five Leaves Publications, in the context of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.
The Battle of Cable Street was a landmark event in British anti-facist struggles, when an estimated 300,000 demonstrators, including many Jewish, socialist, anarchist, Irish and communist groups, built roadblocks in an attempt to prevent a march by the British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Mosley, through London’s East End. Ignoring the strong likelihood of violence, the government refused to ban the march and a large escort of police was provided in an attempt to prevent anti-fascist protestors disrupting the march. Despite the actions of the police and the government the anti-fascist’s motto of “They Shall Not Pass” won the day.
6th October 2011
Images of resistance 1936 in film: Films about Cable Street and the Spanish civil war
At the Jewish Museum NW1. An evening of films documenting and responding to the anti-fascist events of 1936. The launch of Yoav Segal’s two commissioned films, The Battle of Cable Street and No Pasaran, supported by the Pears Foundation. Followed by Eran Torbiner’s film Madrid before Hanita about volunteers from the Jewish community in British Mandate Palestine, who joined the International Brigades to fight fascism in Spain. Meet veterans after the screening and join the Q&A. £10 including free entry to museum galleries. http://www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/whats-on?item=340
Sunday 9th October
11am inter-generational walk: How the East was won with David Rosenberg, for the Jewish Museum. For children aged 10+ accompanied by an adult. £15 for child+adult. This is part of the museum’s 1936 Radical Roots season
Monday 10 October: 7.00pm
Fighting Together for a Better Past: the story of Cable Street. Panel discussion with David Rosenberg, Tony Kushner and Nadia Valman
Jewish Museum London, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1 7NB. Free with museum admission Info: http://www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/whats-on?item=341
Tuesday 11th October
Everything happens in Cable Street. Talks, presentations and walk with Bernard Kops, Roger Mills and David Rosenberg at London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road EC1 in the morning and Cable Street Walk in the afternoon.Tickets: £15/£10
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7332 3851
Wednesday 12th October
David Rosenberg Reading/discussion at England’s Lane Bookshop
Thursday 13 October
5.00pm David Rosenberg on The Battle of Cable Street Presentation with images and readings Small Hall Cinema, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmith’s College, London SE14 6NW Info: email@example.com
Bernard Kops: The Battle of Cable Street, London Jewish Museum. 3pm. £10 including free entry to the galleries. Kops, who grew up in the East End and was 10 at the time, witnessed the events as they unfolded. In conversation with publisher Ross Bardshaw (Five Leaves Publications) Kops will read from his short play about the day’s events as well as from his memoir and his other written work. The reading and conversation will be followed Q&A.
18th October 2011
7pm 75 years on: the British Far Right. Discussion led by journalists on the strategies employed by far-right groups in Britain today. Join journalists James Montague, Rebecca Taylor (Time Out) and Nick Lowles (Searchlight) for a debate about activism, nationalism and political memor. At the Jewish Museum. £10 including free entry to museum galleries. http://www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/whats-on?item=342
Thursday 20th October
6.30pm Brick Lane bookshop, 166 Brick Lane E1 David Rosenberg/Roger Mills reading/discussion
Saturday 22nd October
Anarchist Bookfair, from 10am-7pm at Queen Mary College, Mile End Road, E1, includes meeting on the Battle of Cable Street at 11am
Monday 24 October
10.30am-12.30pm for five weeks Jewish Responses to Fascism in the 1930s A course based on Battle for the East End. Includes a guided walk around the East End. Tutor: David Rosenberg. London Jewish Cultural Centre, Ivy House, London NW11 7SX
26th October 2011
7pm The rear-view mirror: art and remembering. An illustrated discussion with speakers including curator Corinna Till (Whitechapel Gallery, Reclaim the Mural) and art critic and writer Sacha Craddock, for an illustrated conversation chaired by Michael Keenan (curator, studio1.1 gallery), based on the exhibition Restoring the Past – the Cable Street Mural Today At studio1.1 gallery. £10 including free entry to museum galleries. http://www.jewishmuseum.org.uk/whats-on?item=344 7pm, tickets £10.
The rear-view mirror: art and remembering: Conversation with Paul Butler at the Whitechapel Gallery. 7pm.
Mano Negra: Malo Vida
Jessica Goldfinch writes at Greens Engage on what Greens might or might not want to affiliate to. This is interesting on the echoes of the anti-apartheid movement in the “Palestinian solidarity” movement.
For the record, I can’t remember any anti-white racism in my Anti-Apartheid branch, but agree about the brushing under the carpet of some of problems within the resistance in South Africa. More importantly, my branch was unusual in that there was internal dissent. There was a significant Trotskyist group, mostly affiliated to eitherthe sensible (“Slaughterite”) faction of the Workers Revolutionary Party* or to Labour Briefing (with close links to South African Trots), who fought against the Stalinist leadership of AA and its slavish following of every ANC line.In particular, the Trots drew attention to ANC murders of internal dissidents, many carried out by or on the orders of the Stalinist Chris Hani, who later became something of an ANC martyr when he was in turn murdered by far right white racists. Those in solidarity with the dissidents were treated as pariahs within the mainstream anti-apartheid movement, and denounced as agents of imperialism. (Worth adding that the denouncing was often led by Jewish South African exiles.)
I was prompted by Jessica’s post to do a little googling around Searchlight South Africa, the group around Baruch Hirson and Paul Trewhela, South African exiles who had served time in apartheid prisons for their resistance to the racist regime who then fought to get the British left to recognise the totalitarian nature of the ANC leadership and its brutal treatment of dissenters. Few listened during the apartheid years, when most of the left wanted to see things in black and white (if that’s the right term to use!), and few listened during the presidency of Saint Mandela, but their warnings seem very relevant now. Here are some readings: the story of Searchlight South Africa; the table of contents; Inside Quadro, Trewhela’s expose of the ANC’s Stalinist repression; Trewhela on Mbeki and AIDS; Trewhela at Libcom; Hirson at MIA;Various documents on the Stalinism of the ANC (including “Inside Quadro”, mistakenly attributed to Hirson); Trewhela on John Pilger’s belated discovey of the ANC’s dark side; on the exile history of the ANC; Panduleni: A comrade they could neither destroy nor buy.In the 1980s, it was an article of faith across much of the left that apartheid defined the essential evil in the world, and that the ANC defined the essential good. More complex, critical, reflective thinking was almost impossible in this time. Those who raised questions about the ANC, such as the South African Trotskyists, were denounced as traitors and witch-hunted out of the mainstream left. It was right to resist the Stalinist groupthink then, and it is right to resist it now.
*Some day I will post my own recollections of this group of Trots. For now, Marko Hoare on the Slaughterite (“Workers Press”) faction of the WRP.
The members of the WRP (‘Workers Press’) with whom I collaborated in Workers Aid were among the bravest, most principled and most committed fighters for social justice and political liberation that I have ever met. When the Bosnian genocide was at its height and when much of the rest of the Western left was either sitting on the sidelines or actively sympathising with the perpetrators, these people built theWorkers Aid movement to bring aid to, and show solidarity with, the people of the Bosnian city of Tuzla. This was an industrial city with a proud left-wing and working-class history, whose own miners had supported the British miners’ strike in the 1980s and whose citizens maintained a social democratic administration in power throughout the Bosnian war. Members of the WRP/WP and other supporters of Workers Aid – sometimes risking their own lives as they guided their convoy of rickety lorries along the broken roads of a country at war and through sniper zones – built a movement of solidarity between British and European trade unionists and Bosnian trade unionists that defied the ethnic cleansers and their Western backers.
That is the WRP with which I worked in the 1990s, and to whose newspaper I contributed. Although I have since mostly lost touch with them, I remember with particular respect and fondness Bob Myers, Dot Gibson, Charlie Pottins, Bronwen Handyside, Cliff Slaughter, the late Geoff Pilling and others, some of whose names I don’t recall. It was an honour to have worked with them and to have contributed to their newspaper, and though I suspect they might not approve of my subsequent political evolution, I would do so again. So no, I don’t find my past association with them ‘embarrassing’ (I have advertised my former involvement with Workers Aid in the ‘About’ section of my blog since the day it was launched); they represented what was best in the British left.
Via Andrew Coates’ interesting post on Johan Hari and Toni Negri, I got to the website of Phil Edwards’ book on Italian autonomism, which I really want to read, and then on to Phil’s blog, The Gaping Silence. I’ve visited before, but will do so more often. Here’s two tasters to tantalise you.
The Belgian radical surrealist journal Les lèvres nues once featured a slogan which I found simultaneously funny, heartbreaking and intensely inspiring:
For someone with my kind of politics, “Remember Liebknecht” would be a great slogan, one to bring a tear to the eye and a clench to the fist; “Avenge Liebknecht”, even. But “Save Liebknecht” is something else – it evokes all those feelings but takes them somewhere else. As if to say, we’re not just going to bring about an irreversible transformation of capitalist relations of production and the everyday life they produce, we’re going to transform the past! The choice of Liebknecht rather than the more obvious Luxemburg is interesting, too – as if to say, we’re going to do a proper job; we’re not just going for the top-rank heroes here. History? The revolution spits in its eye. By the time we get finished, the wind will be blowing into Paradise!
Those crazy surrealist Belgians. But, visiting the British Library the other day, looking at a proof copy of “the Ballad of Reading Gaol”, I found myself feeling something very similar. The thought process went something like, “Oscar Wilde do two years hard labour? Stuff that. No way. We’ll have to do something about that…” And I realised it wasn’t the first time I’d felt the urge – the determination, almost – to change the past; I felt it when I discovered the work of Primo Moroni and realised he’d died the year before (aged 62). […]
Now listen to this:
Scritti Politti, “Hegemony”
There’s no getting away from it – at some level that’s the same song. (And yes, Googling establishes that Green Gartside was a folkie in his youth, and specifically a huge Martin Carthy fan. There’s a small puzzle here, though, which is that Carthy didn’t record the song until 1980, after Scritti Politti had recorded “Hegemony”. He did sing it as part of the score of the theatrical version of “Lark Rise to Candleford”, which was staged at the National Theatre in 1978 and 1979; perhaps Green was in the audience. Either that, or he heard Peter Bellamy’s version, released in 1975.)
I’m slightly staggered by this. Picture a fan of cutting-edge contemporary art who turns his back on the edgy echo-chamber of conceptual this and reinterpreted that, and rediscovers craft – good stuff well made. And imagine that, a few years down the line, he’s appreciating a particularly well-made pot, when he realises that it’s a Grayson bloody Perry. That’s me that is. Here’s a song which does what folk songs do, and does it so well – a slow, deliberate melody; lyrics that say one or two simple things, but simple things that have stayed true; a spare, delicate arrangement. No anxiety, no uncertainty, no rough edges, no contemporary resonance that wasn’t equally resonant 200 years ago. And here’s a song which is pure punk (intellectual wing): it’s all uncertainty and rough edges, an urgent, gabbled bulletin from the front line of one man’s confrontation with the world that faces him. And it’s the same bloody song.
As it happens, although I was vaguely into folk in the 70s – and I did see “Lark Rise” – I never really heard that much of it: Steeleye, Pentangle and, er… By 1979 I had given up on it altogether, partly in reaction against Steeleye’s new direction but mainly because the cultural earthquake of punk had seemed to make it utterly irrelevant. So I never heard “Sweet Lemany” until after I’d got back into folk, 30 years later, in search of the well-made pots of the tradition. Even then I only heard it at singarounds; it was only when I heard Jon Boden’s version last week that I really listened to it. And suddenly I’m back with Green in 1979, agonising over the production of meaning and semantic instability in ‘beat’ music in that legendary Camden squat, and I’m in my room at Cambridge poring over the sleevenotes and feeling his sense of the utter necessity of intellectual work and his despair at the isolation it brings with it[…]
Ramy Essam: Irhal
Irhal means ‘leave’ (as an imperative) in Arabic and became the anthem of the Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square against President Mubarak’s dictatorial regime.
Popular poetry, improvised colloquial verse and a mix of high and low Arabic characterised the protest’s political slogans, and singer Ramy Essam set this particular chant to a simple acoustic guitar backing. He became a YouTube sensation and a revolutionary figurehead of the Arab Spring.
Mubarak finally got the message to ‘Irhal’ and was forced to resign, but when Essam returned to the square after this historic announcement, he was identified as an agitator, arrested and detained for four hours, during which time he was beaten and Tasered.
‘Irhal’ is one of the most influential songs on the mordern age. And so it should be, considering the source material: the song itself was stitched together from the catchiest chants Essam heard while camped out in Tahrir Square.
But what really makes ‘Irhal’ significant is how it caught the public imagination, and conscience, at precisely the right moment. ‘Irhal’ struck a resonant chord with Egypt’s dissatisfied citizens, and the rest is, literally, history. It’s this ability to give a unified voice to a disparate crowd which makes music such a powerful catalyst. Intriguingly, the acoustic flamenco stylings of ‘Irhal’ belie Essam’s actual musical tastes, which run more toward metal. He didn’t think he could make a living playting heavy rock, however, so it’ll be interesting to see if ‘Irhal’ opens up a new future for him.
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Here’s Richard King on Christopher Hitchens:
For Hitchens, who still considers himself a Marxist, it isn’t what you think that matters – it’s how you think. One of the finest pieces in Arguably is on the early journalism of Karl Marx. Here is the writer on the fact that Marx wrote some articles for the New York Tribune: ”If you are looking for an irony of history, you will find it not in the fact that Marx was underpaid by an American newspaper, but in the fact that he and Engels considered Russia the great bastion of reaction and America the great potential nurse of liberty and equality.”
The keyword here is ”irony”, by which Hitchens means not mere coincidence but that quality of contradiction and incongruity that has the power to capsize the ”official” narrative. Marx himself deployed irony in this way and so Hitchens is paying him an implicit compliment by identifying this aspect of his thinking. And, of course, in doing so he shows that a respect for the American ideal is congruent with the most radical philosophical elements. Not bad for a sentence of about 50 words.
Like Marx, Hitchens is steeped in literature. Indeed, he is the finest example we have of that vanishing breed: the political man of letters. Like George Orwell, he knows that a feeling for language is an invaluable tool when seeking to expose and counter the totalitarian world view. As he puts it in a piece on C.L.R.James, the Trinidadian Marxist historian: ”One notices time and again that [he] is moved to anger by the sheer ugliness and euphemism of the enemy’s prose style. His training in English literature was as useful to him as his apprenticeship in dialectics.”
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Great interview by Kate Webb of Sheila Rowbotham at the Third Estate. Kate’s website, New Mills, is fantastic, and being added to my blogroll. Here’s what you’ll find: Alienation Angela Carter Arms Trade Bette Davis Bohemia Brecht Christina Stead Class Clifford Odets Communism Ecology Economics Fairy Tales Feminism Film Globalisation Hollywood J.G.Ballard James Agee James Joyce Janet Frame Jon McGregor Journalism Kate Atkinson Kurt Vonnegut Lorna Sage Luise Rainer Michael Ondaatje Migration Narcissism Paul Mason PovertyRealism Reggae Rock Against Racism Salka Viertel Samuel BarberSheila Rowbotham Short Stories Ska Storm Jameson Tradition Unemployment Violence Virginia Woolf
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…not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious. (Walter Benjamin, died Catulunya, September 1940)
So we set out, with cameras at the ready, for New York, another city of my dreams assaulted on another September 11, again a Tuesday morning when fire fell from the sky. Though by 2001 very few people in the world recalled the existence of that remote Chilean date, I was besieged by the need to extract some hidden meaning behind the juxtaposition and coincidence of those twinned episodes bequeathed to me by the malignant gods of random history. There was something horribly familiar in that experience of disaster, confirmed during my visit to the ruins where the twin towers had once reached for the sky… every citizen of the United States forced to look into the chasm of what it means to be desaparecido, with no certainty or funeral possible for those who are missing. The photographs were still there in 2006, pinned on the wires separating the ogling spectators from the abyss… (Ariel Dorfman, 2 September, 2011)
Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the horrific attacks on New York and Washington, carried out by far right Islamists. Below, Bruce Springsteen’s “My city of ruins“ fanfare for the common men and women killed that day, and his hope for a new, better tomorrow. 9/11 is of course also the anniversary of the 1973 military coup in Chile, which replaced Allende’s elected government with one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time, a dictatorship supported by the American and British governments.
In the first months after the coup d’état, the military killed thousands of Chilean Leftists, both real and suspected, or forced their “disappearance“. The military imprisoned 40,000 political enemies in the National Stadium of Chile… In October 1973, the Chilean song-writerVíctor Jara, and 70 other political killings were perpetrated by the death squad, Caravan of Death (Caravana de la Muerte). The government arrested some 130,000 people in a three-year period; the dead and disappeared numbered thousands in the first months of the military government.
One day I asked grandfather ¿where is God? My grandfather was sad and gave me no answer. My grandfather died in the field without prayers or confessions, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum. When I asked ¿father where is God? my father got serious and gave me no answer. My father died in the mine without doctor or confession, sweating the miner’s blood for the boss’s gold, and was buried with the Indian bamboo flute and drum… I sing when I am free and when I’m in prison I feel the voices of the people who sing better than me… God watches over the poor, maybe yes or maybe not but he surely lunches at the table of the boss.
September 11 is also the Catalan national day. Being an anti-nationalist, I will not play the turgid Catalan national anthem, “Els Segadors“, but rather “El Cant dels Ocell” (The Song of the Birds), a Catalan folk song which Pau Casals always played at the end of his concerts, looking forward to the moment when Catalonia would be free of fascism, and when humanity as a whole would be free.
From Ariel Dorfman’s Open Letter to America:
How could I not wish you well? You gave me, an americano from the Latino South, this language of love that I return to you. You gave me the hot summer afternoons of my childhood in Queens when my starkest choice was whether to buy a Popsicle from the Good Humor Man or the fat driver of the Bungalow Bar truck. And then back to calculating Jackie Robinson’s batting average. How could I not wish you well? You gave me refuge when I was barely a toddler, my family fleeing the fascist thugs in Argentina in the mid-Forties. One of you then. Still one of you now. How could I not wish you well? Years later, again it was to America I came with my own family, an exile from the Chile of Pinochet you helped to spawn into existence on precisely an 11 September, another Tuesday of doom. And yet, still wishing you well, America: you offered me the freedom to speak out that I did not have in Santiago, you gave me the opportunity to write and teach, you gave me a gringa grand-daughter, how could I not love the house she lives in?
Where is that America of mine? Where is that other America? Where is the America of ‘as I would not be a slave so would I not be a master’, the America of this ‘land is our land this land was meant for you and me’, the America of all men, and all women, everyone of us on this ravaged, glorious earth of ours, all of us, created equal? Created equal: one baby in Afghanistan or Iraq as sacred as one baby in Minneapolis. Where is my America? The America that taught me tolerance of every race and every religion, that filled me with pioneer energy, that is generous to a fault when catastrophes strike?