Dan Bremer, a long-time member of News and Letters Committees, passed away in October. We remember his kindness, his profound grasp of world and local politics, and his steadfast commitment to a more humane world based on the Marxist-Humanist philosophy of human liberation. Besides writing articles for News & Letters, always carefully chairing meetings at our Conventions and Plenums and contributing his ideas and opinions as he participated with the Detroit Local, he was a well-respected practicing attorney in Flint, Michigan, where he had served on the Board of Genesee County Legal Aid.
He was famous among his family and friends as well as his News and Letters Committees comrades as “a man of few words”—a trait rare among lawyers and leftists. He contributed succinct commentary on social justice issues, especially taking up the Flint and Benton Harbor water crises to expose the rampant racism of Flint officials and then Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. He also clarified complex political events and their philosophical ramifications, as in his article on the May 2022 French elections.
On his Facebook page Dan always seemed to have located and posted the cleverest memes, quotes and cartoons to comment on modern-day society with his incisive wit. As a cat lover, Dan rescued many animals, keeping some as pets. But he went further and volunteered at a no-kill shelter in Flint, Tenth Life.
Dan was a unique individual who did what he could to change this world to one that valued all life. He will be greatly missed as we continue his fight.
—Susan Van Gelder
See https://newsandletters.org/tag/dan-b/ for a partial listing of Dan’s articles and Readers’ Views, Here is a small selection:
FLINT PLAY CAPTURES VOICE
“Flint” is a play by Jose Casas, an assistant professor of theatre and drama at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance. He interviewed over 80 people in Flint and wrote the play based on the interviews and on various speeches by public officials, scientists and engineers. His students acted as fictional Flint residents. The play was performed in Flint on April 16. It centers on the water crisis and there were two video monitors displaying running water and various scenes from Flint. But the play went into far more than that by eliciting “voices from below” about virtually every problem affecting Flint. The play was an attempt to capture the highlights of the interviews and speeches and worked incredibly well.
TRUMP AND DEVOS (2019)
It’s hard for me to understand how 20-30% of Americans can still support Trump, with all the recent revelations. He’s taken over the Republican Party. At the recent CPAC Convention he spoke two hours, 22 minutes. He’s a grifter, and a majority of the speakers there were also grifters, there for self-promotion.
Foul tap water in Benton Harbor
November 19, 2021
From the November-December 2021 issue of News & Letters
Benton Harbor, Mich.—Benton Harbor is a city of approximately 10,000 people, 85% of whom are African-American, near the southwest corner of Michigan on the shore of Lake Michigan. In 2018, tap water samples showed lead levels of 22 parts per billion. The federal lead action level is 15 parts per billion.
The water in Flint, Mich., had lead levels of 20 parts per billion at the height of the water crisis there. Samples from Benton Harbor have had lead levels as high as 889 parts per billion! Rev. Edward Pinkney, who leads the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, said that, before the testing in 2018, residents had complained of yellow and foul water from their taps.
On Sept. 9, 2021, a coalition of 20 environmental and advocacy organizations filed a petition with the federal Environmental Protection Agency urging federal intervention. Benton Harbor has obtained a $5.9 million EPA grant for lead line replacement and a corrosion control study. Governor Whitmer is proposing spending $20 million to replace lead pipes in Benton Harbor.
I liked the statement [on the Russian invasion of Ukraine] because it did not equivocate. It did not, as did much of the left, blame the Russian invasion on NATO expansion. NATO expansion occurred over a period of many years. Eastern European countries joined NATO because they had been occupied by Russia during and after World War II. I am not endorsing NATO but trying to explain that it is a red herring, unrelated to the reasons for the Russian invasion.
CAPITALISM, FASCISM & REVOLUTION
At a recent meeting we discussed a debate between Raya Dunayevskaya and Max Shachtman from May 1947 that has direct relevance to what is happening in the U.S. today. On the surface, the debate was merely over whether the Russian system was state-capitalism or bureaucratic collectivism. What was really at stake was whether capitalism in crisis would lead to socialist revolution or to a new non-capitalist, non-socialist society free of the contradictions of capitalism. Shachtman and his followers thought that revolution was off the table and that the movement should instead fight for democratic reforms. Today, capitalism in crisis has produced Trumpism. Again there is a fight for democracy, allegedly led by the Democratic Party and anti-Trump Republicans. We absolutely do need to fight to preserve democracy but political democracy alone will never defeat fascism in all of its ugly reincarnations.
The French election
From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
On April 24, Emmanuel Macron won a second five-year term as president of France. He won 58.5% of the vote and far right candidate Marine Le Pen won 41.5%. This runoff election followed an election held two weeks earlier with numerous candidates. Macron received 27.9% of the vote and Le Pen 23.2% in the first round, followed by Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise with 22%. The two candidates with the largest number of votes went to the second round on April 24.
FAR RIGHT MADE SIGNIFICANT GAINS
In 2017, Macron received 66% of the second round vote to 34% for Le Pen. Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had received 18% of the second round vote against 82% for center-right candidate Jacques Chirac in 2002. The voter turnout for the second round in 2022 was 71.9%, the lowest amount since the 1969 second round vote, demonstrating voters’ general disgust with both candidates.
Polling showed Le Pen won 58% of the working-class vote. Part of the reason is Macron’s neoliberal economic policies. Macron had proposed raising the retirement age for state pensions from 62 to 65, although he later changed this to 64. Le Pen demagogically took advantage of this as well as Macron’s indifference to industrial decline and the prosperity gap between the large cities and the periphery.
Like Donald Trump, Le Pen attacked “globalist” economic policies that have led to industrial decline by moving industrial production to low wage countries.
LE PEN FOMENTS RACISM
Le Pen proposed a referendum on reinstating capital punishment and a ban on Muslim head scarves. Her party, National Rally, was formerly known as the National Front (FN). The FN obtained a loan from a Russian bank and Marine Le Pen has lavished praise on Vladimir Putin.
The FN promoted anti-Semitism and xenophobia, which Le Pen tried to downplay while posturing as an economic populist. In 2017, without explicitly endorsing her, Trump said that Le Pen was the “strongest candidate” who would protect France’s borders. This year, Le Pen was outflanked on the right by Éric Zemmour, who received 7.1% of the vote. This may have helped to soften her image.
The rise of right-wing politicians posing as populists is a worldwide phenomenon aided by the neoliberal economic policies of centrist candidates such as Macron and Joe Biden. The absence of an effective left opposition, based on a philosophy of revolution, is also a large factor.
What has worked for socialist parties in the past no longer works because of the late stage of capitalism in which we find ourselves. It is far more difficult to enact reform legislation because the capitalist class resists any intrusion into its falling rate of profit.