From the September-October 2014 News & Letters
THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT AND THE BLACK REVOLUTION
I am in the movement still because of the Free Speech Movement (FSM)—it turned my life around. I studied everything about the New Left. I came to Berkeley and decided this is where I needed to be. I was a part of the People’s Park Movement, which has now turned into its opposite. Now it is a turf war: homeless people vs. youth who can’t afford to go to college. The worse society gets, the worse People’s Park gets. It’s a mirror of society. They are fighting over crumbs.
I appreciated the way N&L chose to excerpt Dunayevskaya’s writings on the Free Speech Movement (see: “The Free Speech Movement,” July-Aug. 2014 N&L). This being the 50th anniversary, there will be major Berkeley, Calif., remembrances of this defining event of the 1960s. Dunayevskaya’s analysis linked the FSM to the Humanist vision of Marx from the 19th century, thereby helping to capture the full significance of this youth revolt as it was happening. Publishing her view today—this fusion of the idealism and action of the 1960s youth with its Civil Rights origins and the emancipatory radicalism of Marx—far from being only a remembrance, reaches to the here and now. It can be a contribution toward grasping the methodology of uniting theory and practice, which is needed now more than ever in today’s freedom movements.
In Hal Draper’s book on the FSM, his big category to describe it was the rise of a non-ideological Left. That hides two aspects: 1. the movement itself as an idea is not merely ideological, but is thoroughly objective; and 2. The party’s theoretical constructs pretended to be scientific, but are really ideological, under which is subsumed the realm of the concrete. In contrast, Dunayevskaya brings out the idea, beginning with the Black struggle in the South, as the most objective element in reality, through which the concrete moves. When the revolt reached the university, the divide was not only over the role of youth, but also over differing attitudes “to ideas and reality.”
The essay “The Left and the Maidan” (see: The Left Agenda at the Maidan and After“) illuminates the thinking of young Ukrainian rebels as they swiftly became revolutionary, thanks to internal discussion in the face of outside pressures and inspiration from revolutions like the Arab Spring. In the article next to that, Dunayevskaya traced a similar transformation in the white college students whose eyes were opened by participating in the Black Civil Rights Movement to change the South. When they came home to face repression at the University of California, they could see themselves as revolutionary subjects alienated from their own humanity in the capitalist system, North and South.
Reprinting the FSM article helps reclaim our history that may be forgotten. The real challenge is not to leave it at past history. How do we write about the movement today the way Dunayevskaya was writing at the time? The articulation of what it would take for an organizing idea that can transform everything is the practice of philosophy.
MIDEAST AND U.S.
Angelenos want Israel to stop the bombing of Gaza (see: “Israel decimates Gaza as world faces global counter-revolutions“). We’ve had many demonstrations. On July 20, 800 to 1,000 gathered at the West LA Federal Building to demonstrate. The following Sunday, 300 protested there again. There were many Palestinian flags and signs including “Israel bombing—not in our name” and “Egypt, Open the Gaza Border.” On Aug. 2, about 1,000 protested against the Israeli bombing for five hours with LA police in riot gear and a squad of County Sheriffs standing around as we occupied four corners of high-traffic Wilshire Blvd. I was happy to be a part of those demonstrations that are taking place in cities throughout the world.
There is a part of the Left that refuses to condemn IS because they perceive that to do so would mean they support the U.S. But to not condemn IS means, among other things, that you don’t care about women’s freedom, that it’s OK with you for a group to demand allegiance to an oppressive religion and, if you refuse, to be put to death, that waging war against civilians is permissible—and the list could go on and on. The Left, in order to be considered Left, has to condemn religious fascism. To confuse that condemnation with support of the U.S. is just a stupid Leftist delusion.
VOICES FROM BEHIND THE BARS
Nuclear titans, East and West, are locked in a geopolitical struggle—China is rearing its head—for the world’s natural resources. The ongoing depredation of natural resources has so harmed the ecosystem that it is questionable if the earth will be able to sustain life as we know it. Environmentalists’ struggle to save the planet isn’t an issue separate from all other flashpoints of revolt. Immersion within a particular struggle should lend itself to relating to other struggles. There is an unmistakable commonality inherent in various forms of struggle that are grounded in humanism.
As a youth, I was in and out of prison, because I was scared of my abusive parents. To survive, I had to lash out, to do ugly things. I spent time in solitary. Being in solitary made me more vicious—that was the expectation I was living up to. I want to leave this world with human dignity. Solitary only breaks people. To be away from people is insanity! To continue to punish people instead of trying to help them is not the solution. I’ve been on hunger strikes before and it does not feel good. But if the only way I can be validated as a human being is going on a hunger strike, I’d rather not eat. I need human dignity more than I need food. In solidarity with the men a lot of us women refused to eat.
I am fighting to get the guards to do sheet exchange in this hole at New Folsom. We have not had clean sheets in almost three weeks. The others would rather sleep on soiled sheets in midsummer heat than risk the repression that may come down from the pigs for making them get off their ass and give us something that we are supposed to have coming in the first place! They tried to give only me new sheets. I refused them. The struggle is not about self. I will take them when everyone gets theirs. Fifteen, 20 years ago the whole unit would be flooding, setting fires, kicking the doors over treatment like this! My revolutionary ethics as a prisoner activist will not be watered down because of others’ will to submit to the guards’ inhumane treatment.
New Folsom Prisoner
It often seems that the prisoncrats are trying to cut us off from the world, especially when it comes to news and culture. The only reason guys get to see art magazines here now is because I donate my old ones (a present from a friend) to the library.