Monday, June 27, 2005

Remembering James Weinstein

I never met James Weinstein, but I certainly felt his influence. Doug Ireland has a long and very worthwhile tribute on his blog which is sort of a capsule history of the American left over the last century. You should read it all. And, if it makes sense, check out Weinstein's The Long Detour and subscribe to In These Times, the news bi-weekly Weinstein founded.

Here are a few highlights from Ireland's tribute

James Weinstein -- author, historian, teacher, editor, publisher, founder of In These Times magazine, and an important figure in the life of the mind of American radicalism for four decades -- died Thursday morning at his home on the North Side of Chicago, after a long bout with brain cancer. On his death, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- the Independent member of Congress who is a democratic sociast -- told the AP, ""Jim Weinstein was one of the intellectual leaders of the American progressive movement."

Jimmy Weinstein was the son of privilege, but he always put his inherited wealth at the service of his lifelong radical ideals. A New York City native, he was politically active in left-wing causes from the age of 14, and -- after leaving his undergraduate studies at Cornell in 1944 to serve 19 months in the Navy as World War II came to a close -- he returned to finish taking his degree, then went on to graduate school at Columbia University, where he joined the Communist Party. Jimmy broke with the CP in 1956 after the Soviet invasion of Hungary (left)-- and later, as a historian, Jimmy became one of the Communist Party's most intelligent and perceptive critics...

Jimmy wrote five books -- among the most significant, to me, is his The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-1925, which belongs on the bookshelf of anyone truly interested in the history of the American left...

Jimmy helped keep alive a history that has almost disappeared from the American consciousness. In the years immediately preceding the First World War, the socialist movement laid down deep roots in the Images_13 United States, in spite of many obstacles. Jimmy Weinstein's brilliant study of the Socialist Party altered many of the prevailing assumptions about American radicalism, showing that at its numerical peak in 1912, the party had 118,000 members well distributed throughout the country. It claimed 323 English and foreign-language publications with a total circulation probably in excess of two million. The largest of the socialist newspapers, The Debs Appeal to Reason of Girard, Kansas, had a weekly circulation of 761,747. In 1912, the year the party's leader, Eugene V. Debs (left) polled 6 percent of the Presidential vote, Socialists held 1,200 offices in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. As late as 1918, they elected 32 state legislators. In 1916, they elected Meyer London to Congress and made important gains in the municipal elections of several large cities.

Among many points made in his writings -- both in his books, and in scholarly articles -- Weinstein argued coherently that the Communist Party U.S.A. helped squander that rich legacy of native American radicalism by its slavish devotion and subservience to Soviet Russia -- which was utterly irrelevant to the needs and experience of working-class America.

The largest constituency in Israel's Labor Party...

Hint, it's not the kibbutz movement

From the National Committee for Labor Israel

For the first time in the history of the Labor Party, Arab members have become its largest constituency.

According to membership poll data the Arab constituency is approximately 22 percent of the Party’s members, while the rate of kibbutz members, traditionally a prominent Labor constituency, dropped from 16 to 10 percent. This shift is expected to have a crucial influence on the party's primaries.

The dramatic increase in the Arab constituency could benefit chairmanship candidate Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who drew 14,000 Arab members to participate in the census. Matan Vilnai and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, also candidates for the Party’s top position, are likely to suffer from the diminishing constituency of kibbutz members, their major support group.

According to the new party census, some 21,500 Arabs signed up as members, compared with some 14,600 in 2002 who were then approximately 13 percent of the total. This reflects a sharp rise of 47 percent in Arab members.

This was probably the result of massive efforts by Ben-Eliezer and Histadrut chief Amir Peretz, also a chairmanship candidate, to sign up Arab members. At the same time the constituency of the kibbutz sector diminished significantly. So far, fewer than 10,000 members signed, compared with 17,629 in 2002, when they formed approximately 16 percent of the total number of party members.

A column (off-line) in the Sept-Oct issue of Jewish Currents discussed polling done by Professor Sammy Smooha provides some background for this surprising development.
there has actually been a considerable moderation of "militant stands" in the Arab population over time. In the current study, a total of only 3.1 percent of Arabs supported violence, as opposed to 17.9 percent in 1976 (8 percent in 1988, 5.4 percent in 2002). A total of 54.9 percent said they feel closer to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, while 45.1 percent /" said they feel closer to Jews in Israel; in 2002, these numbers were 70 and 30 percent, respectively. In 1985, 47.1 percent responded that they were anti-Zionist. Now this statistic stands at 20 percent, with 78.8 percent responding that they are non-Zionists.

According to the latest index, 90 percent of Arab citizens now recognize Israel's right to exist, and most want to be integrated into Israeli society; 67.5 percent would be willing to live in a Jewish neighborhood, and 80 percent would like to enjoy parks and share swimming pools with Jews. Only 13.4 percent would be willing to move to a Palestinian state. Almost 75 percent support the return of Palestinian refugees only to the territories, and 65.2 percent agree with the statement, "despite its disadvantages, the government of Israel is democratic also toward its Arab citizens."
There is, of course, still much work that must be done to achieve political, economic and social equality for Israel's Arab citizens, but isn't it way past time that the libel of Israel being an apartheid state is rejected as wingnuttery if not an expression of outright bigotry.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Back to blogging

About time to get back to blogging. I had serious computer problems in early June, which were finally been resolved at the end of last week. I was able to improvise for some of my computer-based efforts for Kansas Workbeat and LabourStart. I still have some big work to do for Kansas Workbeat, but should be able to get that rolling in the next few days.

My blogging efforts suffered the most.

Rather than trying to do some sort of comprehensive or systematic catching up, I'm going to just jump in and do the best I can.

Unfortunately, the computer woes kept me from following through with my inclination to travel to Kansas City last weekend for the Ribs and Rhythm Festival. I sure would have liked to have heard Karrin Allyson, Bobby Watson, Keb' Mo, and Kenny Garrett, but I did make it out to the Wichita Zoo last night for the Frank and Joe show. A very fine show.

It's been a busy couple of weeks. I attened a meeting of the Kansas Action Network in Topeka, meetings of the Wichita NAACP, ACLU, and the Wichita Hutchinson Labor Federation. I also attended and take photos at a forum on Kansas's important, but far from adequate, racial profiling bill. Also, I went to interesting Democratic luncheon with a speaker on farm and rural issues. Shortly, I'll be leaving to attend "Touched by Fire - Bleeding Kansas" a documentary with re-enactments at the Wichita Orpheum.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Garrison Keillor, George Orwell, and Memorial Day

I sometimes marvel how Garrison Keillor manages to combine homespun humor and sophistication. Some might object to calling the Prairie Home Companion host sophisticated, but in my book if you write for The New Yorker you're sophisticated. Heck, if you subscribe to The New Yorker you're pretty sophisticated.

On his May 28 Prairie Home Companion, Keillor talked about Memorial Day and made a suprising point, citing George Orwell, who he identifed as a socialist.

Here's my transcription

Memorial Day. You should find yourself a Memorial Day celebration wherever you are and go off to it. This is an important holiday. This is the time when all Americans are united . Republicans, Democrats Greens, monarchists and Socialists we are all united remembering what George Orwell said. He was a socialist. What he said was so true. “We sleep safely at night because we know that rough men are prepared in the night to visit acts of violence upon those who would harm us. “

If you’ve ever flown at night over this great county, you know enormous, how vulnerable it is, all those cities stretched out, all of those lights. We’re safe because people love this country and have chosen to defend this country over the years . We all know that. All of us know that.. And all of us can honor those people on Monday.
[Here's the segment starting at about 8:45. I got an error message using Real Player, but it worked anyway, so don't give up. Here the link for the entire May 28 show. It's segment five.]

Keillor want on to urge his listeners to be part of a Memorial Day celebration ("look for a cemetery") and celebrated American patriotic songs. ("My country 'Tis of Thee") is his daughter's favorite, Keillor said.

In contrast to Keillor's appreciation of our traditions and his linking to their progressive essence, I think some Wichita activists come off as "tone deaf."

Joe Rodriguez reported in Saturday's Wichita Eagle
Three groups will promote peace Monday not by demonstrating or hearing speeches but by picnicking and listening to music.

The Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, People of Faith for Peace and Inter-Faith Ministries will host their first Peace Picnic from noon to 3 p.m. at the gazebo in Central Riverside Park.

"We're not trying to drive an issue home to anybody," said Horace Santry, director of the Peace and Social Justice Center.

"We want to celebrate the prospects for peace, and Memorial Day seemed to be an appropriate day to do that, given the focus on those who have died, and a lot of them in the pursuit of peace."
This seems to me to be well-intentioned, but off the mark.

A celebration of the prospects for peace sounds like a good idea, but Memorial Day is the wrong day.

First, poaching on established holidays never really works. There was, for instance, something artificial about the attempts by American right-wingers to counter May Day with "Americanization Day." "Loyalty Day," and "Law Day." To take another example, Holocaust Memerial Day should be about remembering the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. It should not be watered down in a generic or all encompassing memorial of every people who have suffered genocide or oppression. the Armenian, Rawandans, and others deserve their own remembrance.

Memorial Day is not really about those "who have died." It is about those who have sacrificed in battle for noble ends. The History Channel
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.
Now here's the real clinker. The "peace picnic" ended at 3:00 PM which is exactly the time set by law and tradition for a moment of remembrance for those who gave their lives in the country's war.

For many decades, many Southerners refused to paricipate in Decoration/Memorial Day. Today, sadly, some progressives are alienated from America's national holidays.