July 28, 2005
FREE AKBAR GANJI: AN APPEAL TO IRAN
The imprisoned Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji is gravely ill and in the second month of a hunger strike. Reporters Without Borders has made Ganji a priority case, and a worldwide group of writers has sent the letter below (of which I'm proud to be a signatory) to the Iranian authorities demanding his immediate release. A copy of this appeal -- which first appeared on OpenDemocracy -- also appears in today's New York Times:
We the undersigned undersigned independent, non-partisan, international organisations and community of concerned journalists, academics, writers, intellectuals, and defenders of human rights, express our grave anguish over the critically deteriorating health of the jailed Iranian Akbar Ganjai and call on Iranian authorities for his immediate release. Ganji, a renowned Iranian investigative journalist, has been in jail since his arrest in April 2000, following his return from a conference at the Heinrich Boll Institute in Berlin. He was sentenced in January 2001 and, after an appeal court overturned his initial sentence, he was once again tried and condemned in July 2001. He was ultimately sentenced to six years imprisonment on grounds of his journalistic exposé (in 2000) of the serial murders of 5 opposition intellectuals by members of the Iranian security forces in 1998 as well as for the views he had expressed at the Berlin conference. Ganji remains a prisoner of conscience, serving a jail sentence for no more than his peaceful expression of views and journalistic activities. His case has been documented extensively by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, International PEN, and International Freedom of Expression Exchange, among numerous other independent international organizations.
Akbar Ganji is an Honorary Member of the Canadian, English, and Lichtenstein PEN Centers
July 27, 2005
THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE IRANIAN "GAY" HANGINGS
I wrote the following commentary for this week's Gay City News (New York City's largest gay weekly):
The report on the hanging of two Iranian teenagers for being gay, the controversies surrounding the initial reports, and the way in which the story has evolved illustrate a number of problems which should concern sentient gay and lesbian people here in the U.S.
Gay people in American culture are not exempt from the self-centeredness of the society in which they live. As a result, our national gay institutions--like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force--as a general rule pay so little attention to events touching gay people outside our borders that they have little experience or background in evaluating, reporting on, or mobilizing around such issues.
And the commercial gay press, which devotes endless, ad-revenue-generating pages to gay tourism, rarely pauses to examine the political, social, and cultural contexts in which gay people in other countries live out their daily lives.
Nor does our gay press generally have a perspective that situates gay oppression within the broader context of the challenge to human rights, or engage with human rights issues that are not specifically gay.
This lack of sophistication in dealing with the problems of same-sexers in foreign cultures is particularly noticeable when dealing with a closed society like Iran. In the Iranian police state, where the religious authorities and their political police enforce strict controls on freedoms of thought and expression, it is difficult even for national and international news organizations with large budgets and experienced reporters at their disposal to always distinguish what is false from what is true.
Add to this paradigm the institutional and individual homophobia that characterize such news organizations and many of their staffers, and the problems of covering gay news in particular are magnified, as often the will to do so is lacking.
In Iran censorship is an everyday occurrence. The operations of more than 10 newspapers have been suspended and journalists are constantly subject to arbitrary arrest.The international group Reporters Without Borders has named Iran’s senior spiritual leader, Ayatollah AliKhameini -- the "Guide of the Islamic Republic" (right) -- as one of the world’s foremost "Predators of Press Freedom." All this explains why bloggers have become an important part of the democratic opposition to the clerical-fascist regime of the ayatollahs--and why the Iranian government has been engaged in a massive crackdown on bloggers since last fall. At least a half dozen online journalists and bloggers have been arrested, and both international Web sites in English and local web sites in Farsi have been blocked by a filtering system (ironically with SmartFilter, a system manufactured and marketed by a U.S. company, Secure Computing).
In Iran, blogs are particularly crucial in helping gay and lesbian people to come out and form a specifically gay consciousness which does not generally exist nor dare speak its name in such a traditional, patriarchal culture (that has also succeeded in erasing from collective memory the strong literary and poetic same-sex tradition that flourished in Islamic cultures in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.) A large number of those blocked Iranian Web sites related to gay and lesbian and women’s issues, as well as AIDS, according to a report on Iran released last month by OpenNet Initiative, a project sponsored by Harvard University, the University of Toronto and Cambridge University among others. Yet the U.S. gay press and our national gay institutions let these events pass in nearly total silence.
As I noted on my blog, DIRELAND, when I first transmitted the reports of the hanging of the two Iranian adolescents for criminal homosexuality, consensual gay sex in any form is punishable by death in the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the Web site Age of Consent, which monitors such laws around the world, in Iran "homosexuality is illegal, those charged with love-making…Even kissing ‘with lust’ (Article 155) is forbidden. This bizarre law works to eliminate ancient Persian male-bonding customs, including common kissing and holding hands in public."
But Iran is a signatory to and has ratified two international conventions--The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights--both of which prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18. Besides the death sentence (confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Court) carried out against the two teens hanged on July 19 in violation of Iran’s treaty commitments, Iran is thought to have executed at least four other juvenile offenders in 2004, and at least 30 juvenile offenders are on death row. Besides Iran, only China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and the United States are known to have put juvenile offenders to death in the past five years.
The U.S. executed nine juvenile offenders during this period; the other countries are each known to have put one juvenile offender to death. Thus, the U.S. has not only been the world’s leading executioner of minors, but has put to death twice as many as has Iran in this period. Where were the gay community’s voices raised against these U.S. executions, every bit as outrageous as those of the two Iranian teens?
As protests by bloggers and online journalists within Iran brought the hanging of the two teens to worldwide attention, the Iranian government justified the hangings on the grounds that the two boys had participated in the rape of a 13-year-old boy. Immediately, U.S. gay organizations--mortified at the thought they could be implicated in the defense of a pedophilic incident--backed away from their initial protests of the teens’ hangings. For example, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) took its letter to Condoleeza Rice demanding the U.S. protest the executions down from its website.
I was initially skeptical about the rape charge, particularly because Iran is currently in delicate negotiations with Western European powers over its developing nuclear capacity -- hardly the moment to be caught in a violation of its international commitments under two treaties (i.e., the ones outlawing the execution of minors). When I asked Hadi Ghaemi, who runs the Iranian desk for Human Rights Watch, on what basis HRW was saying they were "90 percent sure" rape had taken place (as the director of HRW’s gay and lesbian program, Scott Long -- who does first-rate work -- told me) Ghaemi said his sole source was the daily newspaper Quds in the city of Mashad where the two teens were hanged. This newspaper carried statements alleged to be from the father of the 13-year-old who was supposedly raped, and from several of the passers-by who had interrupted the "gang rape" in a vacant lot, upon which, they were quoted as saying, they were threatened at knife point by a group that included the two hanged youths.
When I asked Ghaemi why the July 24 Associated Press dispatch on the hangings cited the executions as being only for "homosexual acts" without mentioning the rape, he said that the original charge against the boys was "sexual assault based on homosexual acts," and that the first part of the charge had been somehow "lost in translation." Ghaemi said he didn’t believe that Quds -- a newspaper controlled by regime supporters --had fabricated the quotes in the article about the rape, which had appeared the morning of the hangings (not after the protests). But he also said he had no independent confirmation from sources in Mashad of the accuracy of the rape charge.
So, did the "rape" occur? Until further independent confirmation is forthcoming, we can only surmise. Did the hanged kids claim "gay" identity? Most probably not--since the concept is virtually unknown among the uneducated classes in Iran. But that doesn’t excuse our national gay organizations’ cowardice in backing off their demands that the U.S. government specifically protest the hanging of the two youths for crimes committed when at least one, and possibly both of them were underage.
The moral of this story: American gays need to more fully engage themselves with what is happening to our brothers and sisters in other cultures, where oppression -- both cultural and political -- is commonplace. And not just engage only when there’s a crisis.
MUSLIM CLERIC'S "KILL GAYS" DECLARATION CAUSES FIRESTORM IN AUSTRALIA: When US imam Sheik Khalid Yasin (right) said Islamic law prescribed the death penalty for gay sex on Australian TV's Channel Nine program :"60 Minutes,“ it cused a firestorm of protest, the Sydney Star-Observer reports July 28. The sharia is very clear about it, the punishment for homosexuality, bestiality or anything like that is death. We don’t make any excuses about that, it’s not our law — it’s the Koran,” Yasin was quoted as saying.", it caused a firestorm of protests Down Under, reports the July 28 Sydney Star-Observer. "Yasin, who is understood to be visiting Australia at the invitation of a Sydney mosque, also said young Muslims should avoid attending university because it was a 'gateway for deviation'" according to the paper. "The chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Amjad Mehboob, told Sydney Star Observer Yasin’s comments had brought numerous complaints from the Muslim community....'People have a right to a lifestyle [and] that’s their choice. It’s not for us to condemn them or not condemn them.' Outgoing New South Wales premier Bob Carr joined Mehboob in denouncing Yasin’s brand of Islam, telling ABC Radio Muslim fundamentalists should be blocked from visiting Australia. 'If someone has a record of saying everything your country stands for is wrong – women should have no rights, homosexuals should be hunted down and persecuted … I don’t think they have a role here,' Carr said....." Yasin is apparently a well-known lecturer in the British Commonwealth, judging by a Google search, and is head of the London-based Islamic Information Network, which is trying to set up a "genuine" Islamic satellite TV channel...
"Life is not easy, it is mixed with fear, uncertainty and self oppression. The biggest problem we are facing is that GLBT do not have info about their sexual desire. They simply can not find explanation to it. Why they feel as they feel (feeling for persons of the same sex), they do not know what it is. What it’s called etc. but when they get the knowledge, then it is becoming much easier. Not all Iranians have access to the Internet, there are no gay bars or clubs, so creating a network of GLBT is very difficult. Bear in mind that after 8 months of publishing MAHA, still a great number of GLBT people have not got the news. Many GLBT people are living with denial of their own sexuality, or they get married in hope to disguise and hide their deep homosexual desire or in hope to be cured of it." (The typos are in the original.) You can read the whole interview by clicking here.
AFL-CIO CALLS FOR IRAQ PULLOUT
The AFL-CIO -- under pressure by the split from the federation of the SEIU, the Teamsters, and other members of the Change to Win coalition of unions -- has adopted a major policy shift, as its convention in Chicago voted this afternoon for a resolution calling for a "rapid" return of all U.S. troops currently in Iraq.
A report on the AFL-CIO Convention's action released by U.S. Labor Against the War said:
"Eighteen AFL-CIO state federations, central labor councils and unions had submitted resolutions to the convention calling for an immediate or rapid end to the occupation and return of the troops. The General Executive Council, meeting on the eve of the convention, submitted a resolution that borrowed heavily from elements of those eighteen but failed to clearly call for a prompt end to the occupation.
"When it came time for the convention to act on the resolution Tuesday afternoon, Fred Mason, President of the Maryland/District of Columbia AFL-CIO and Co-Convenor of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), offered a 'friendly' amendment that clarified and strengthened opposition to continued occupation of Iraq. The amendment was accepted by the leadership and the modified resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of delegates following a parade of delegates who spoke in favor of its adoption (none spoke in opposition).
"(This action occurred after delegates of four unions - SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW, and UNITE HERE had already departed the convention after announcing their decision to boycott the proceedings. The SEIU and Teamsters subsequently also announced their disaffiliation.)
"Rising to speak in favor of the resolution, Henry Nicholas, President of District 1199 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) of Pennsylvania, told the delegates that his son had been deployed to Iraq four times and was about to be sent again. He said, 'In my forty-five years in the labor movement, this is my proudest moment in being a union member, because it is the first time we had the courage to say 'enough is enough.'" DIRELAND will have more on this later....
July 23, 2005
CUBA: A NEW CRACKDOWN ON DISSIDENTS
In Cuba, as part of what today's Le Monde is calling "the most important operation against dissidents since 2003," 18 oppositionists to the regime of Fidel Castro (left) were arrested last Friday as they were making their way toward a demonstration in front of the French embassy in Havana to demand the liberation of political prisoners (they were also protesting the French move toward normalization of relations between Paris and Havana, symbolized by the invitation of Cuban government representatives to the official French observance of Bastille Day-- which one should note was a remarkable lapse of taste, since La Bastille was where political prisoners were detained before the French Revolution.) According to PEN's Writers in Prison Bulletin, 68 political prisoners arrested on Castro's orders in March-April of 2003 and sentenced to prison are still in jail -- and 31 of them are journalists or librarians.
One of those prisoners, the economist Marta Beatriz Roque (left)-- founder and president of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (APSC)-- was released from prison yesterday on health grounds after a hunger strike, Le Monde reported. The 60-year-old dissident "was forced to sleep on the floor on two pages of newspaper," an APSC spolesman said -- Roque suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac insufficiency. Roque had been sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison under Article 91 (which deals with "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state"), principally for her work in setting up a website that reported unfavourably on the Cuban economy, said PEN. Roque had already served a previous prison sentence from 1997 to 2000.
The APSC is an umbrella group of 365 independent, non-governmental, civil society groups within Cuba. This coalition sponsored an unprecedented May 20 assembly of some 200 dissidents (left) to discuss how to bring real democracy to Cuba -- European lawmakers and journalists who had gone to Cuba to observe this meeting were expelled from the country before they could attend it. (Right, the dissidents at the entrance to the APSC May 20 meeting shout "Libertad! ")
I was proud to sign the statement issued by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, "Anti-War, Social Justice and Human Rights Activists Oppose Repression In Cuba," which said in part: "...As the Bush administration, further emboldened by its military victory in Iraq, threatens to wage 'preemptive' wars around the globe we reaffirm our support for the right of self-determination in Cuba and our strong opposition to the U.S. policy of economic sanctions that has brought such suffering to the Cuban people. At the same time, we support democracy in Cuba. The imprisonment of people for attempting to exercise their rights of free expression is outrageous and unacceptable. We call on the Castro government to release all political prisoners and let the Cuban people speak, write and organize freely...."
In a statement smuggled out of prison before her release on the effects of four decades of Castro's dictatorship on the Cuban people, Roque said: "Those who don't live in Cuba find it difficult to understand that the system maintains its political control principally through self-repression. Every Cuban has a built-in policeman. This complex mechanism whereby one assumes the conscience of a hunted person has been developed and perfected for almost 40 years. To those who see it from afar, it is almost imperceptible...." How this sort of self-censorship functions was well-described a decade and a half ago by my friend Miklos Haraszti (right)-- then a Hungarian dissident, later a member of the Hungarian parliament -- in his book The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism (Basic Books). This sort of soul-destroying "built-in policeman" is one of the most tragic features of a police state. One can only salute the courage of those Cubans who, instead of trying to emigrate, stay and fight for democracy. And, in view of the new crackdown being reported by Le Monde, it is more important than ever for the democratic left to speak out against repression in Cuba.
TRIGGER-HAPPY BRITISH COPS PLAY JOHN WAYNE AMID POST-BOMBING SECURITY HYSTERIA, SHOOT AN INNOCENT:
My cybercomrade on the other side of the pond, Richard Seymour (left) -- proprietor of the highly literate and always interesting blog Lenin's Tomb -- signals me in an e-mail from London just received that "The police now admit they shot an innocent man dead yesterday: (See the BBC's report that the man killed was not an Arab terrorist, but a Brazilian (lower right) , by clicking here).So anyone with the wrong skin-colour who doesn't feel like hanging around for a bunch of plain-clothed white guys who look like gangsters and are wielding guns could get it, courtesy of Her Majesty's finest....I knew it. I bloody well knew it. Friend of mine was stopped and searched yesterday as well, because train staff thought he looked like a terrorist - because he's Spanish and has slightly darker skin than some Londoners. Let's say after this, the Harry Stanley killing and all the others before it, anyone who isn't impeccably white and middle class has every reason to be nervous right now.",,,,,,,UPDATE: The AP has details on the Brazilian man's identity.
July 22, 2005
Letter from Rome: JUDGES ON STRIKE AGAINST BERLUSCONI
The following is the latest in a series of occasional dispatches from DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, longtime ex-pat journalist Judy Harris, former Italian correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, who has lived in Italy for decades.
LETTER FROM ROME, by Judy Harris
With customary statesmanlike elegance the Italian premier and billionaire financial tycoon Silvio Berlusconi (left) remarked the other day that politics is "breaking his balls," and that he is "bored."
Well, so are we all, and no less so because today, one of the many publishing houses he owns (Mondadori) issued a new book, at his personal suggestion, called Berlusconi ti odio (I Hate Berlusconi, right). In it are 500 insults which he has received from "leftists." Thief is only one of the epithets.
Was it boredom that prompted him to do this? More likely he has a canny political purpose. The single richest and most powerful man in Italy has always enjoyed painting himself as a victim: what better way? The problem with this is, for the rest of us, he gets away with it.
On Wednesday, his flagging spirits, if not ours, were further revived when a docile Parliament finally approved the the so-called judiciary "reform" bill which Berlusconi, a frequent object of judiciary interest, has been itching to see passed for years. Now it has, and the political independence of the Italian judiciary will be reined in, or, as he would put it, will be less "politicized."
The feisty, eighty-something President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (left) did what he could to block the bill, and the magistrates themselves opposed it with such fervor that they took the unusual step of calling three full-scale courthouse strikes to show their opposition. Feelings ran particularly high in Sicily, where the Mafia continues to thrive, and where the memories are still fresh of the brutal murders fifteen years ago of investigating anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone (right) and his close and affectionate colleague, the prosecutor Paolo Borsellino (lower left, the two judges together) --
On the face of it, the reform bill has a quality or two that are not a priori evil, to use the going word. Although the new law augments bureaucratic authority over the judiciary, it obliges judges and prosecutors to follow distinctly separate career tracks, which is not in and of itself negative, and, in what would normally seem a positive step, it provides for promotion by merit rather than via that beloved Italian institution which provides for getting ahead in life, seniority, meaning that as long as you reach the office and sit in your chair, you will advance automatically.
But there¹s the rub. To receive a merit promotion the magistrate or prosecutor must take special courses and examinations, meaning that, as one irate judge observed, "The magistrate who studies all day for the examination and does not bother to do any work will get promoted ahead of the person doing the work. What sense does that make?" My personally favorite bizarre clause makes a psychological test obligatory. Its purpose is to ensure that the future magistrate or prosecutor has the right kind of personality to serve as a judge. Anyone who cannot see the possibility for a political fix in this personality testing need not bother to read on.
There were predictable moans of protest from the battle-weary Italian left, which stretches from the cashmere Communists of Fausto Bertinotti, at left (the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista) to the moderate progressives who back the Catholic Romano Prodi (right), a soft-spoken, cycle-riding, orthodox pro-corporate economist. National general elections are almost certain to be held next spring, and the campaigning has already started. This splintered, fractious left will have to peddle hard to get ahead. Although it fared well in recent local elections, Italian voters tend to vote one way over local administrations and another way when it comes to the national government. Just as Tony Blair¹s position has been reinforced by the terrorist attacks on subway and bus lines, so the threat of terrorism in Italy is looming as a distraction which may revive Berlusconi¹s position.
Presumed credible threats from terrorists warn that, unless Italy withdraws its contingent from Iraq within thirty days, the country will be a target. But yesterday, the same day when the body of a young Italian woman who died in the London underground was returned home to Italy, the Italian Parliament formally voted to maintain its contingent in Iraq for the coming six months.
Predictably, the far right around the still-ailing Umberto Bossi (left, the head of the ever-truculent Lega Nord (Northern League), who is recovering from a severe stroke), is stoking the flames of fear of Mideastern terrorists to demand tougher controls on immigration. These fears are aggravated by a recent spate of rape cases involving dusky-skinned foreigners. The ultra-right's not particularly veiled racist rhetoric is echoed, as usual, by the dreadful Oriana Fallaci (right), who -- who, having already written best-selling racialist diatribes -- was given two entire pages in the Sunday edition of Corriere della Sera in which to praise herself for being the first on the block to tell Italy to get rid of the foreigners "before they knife you in your beds." Subsequent debates here suggest that, at a crotchety 76, la Fallaci has become an institution of sorts -- as in, "Now don¹t do a Fallaci," meaning, don¹t come on as a racist. -- Judy Harris (left)
July 21, 2005
IRAN EXECUTES 2 GAY TEENAGERS (updated)
Update August 14: While the following post is a bit dated, it is still relevant. However, subsequent information received from Iran since the post below was written indicates that the charge of "rape" against the two teens was entirely trumped up by the religious authorities who control the legal system and has no basis in fact. Moreover, we have received word of two more hangings of a gay couple scheduled in Iran for August 28. So, to be up-to-date on where this story stands, make sure you check out the update links at the end of this post, as well as my latest post on the two new scheduled executions of gays in Iran. And watch this blog for continuing coverage of the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, as we are continuing to work this story from Iranian sources and will be posting more news from Iran as reliable information is received and confirmed.
. Two gay Iranian teenagers -- one 18, the other believed to be 16 or 17, were executed this week for the "crime" of homosexuality, the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported on July 19. (The ISNA report is in Farsi, and was translated into English by the British gay rights group OutRage!, which released its report today--ISNA also provided the terrifying photos of the teens' last moments you see on this page. You can see an enlarged version of each photo by left-clicking on them) The two youths -- identified only by their initials as M.A. and A.M., were hanged on July 19 in Edalat (Justice) Square in the city of Mashhad in north-eastern Iran, on the orders of Court No. 19. The hanging of the teens was also reported by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
And the website Iran Focus not only confirms the story but provides more details, reporting that "Members of Iran’s parliament from the north-eastern city of Mashad, where a minor and an 18-year-old man were publicly hanged yesterday, vented their anger on Wednesday on foreign and domestic news outlets for reporting the ages of hanged prisoners...Ultra-conservative deputy Ali Asgari said that the two deserved to be hanged in public, adding, 'Whatever sentence is decreed by an Islamic penal system must be approved, unless proven otherwise.' Asgari complained of foreign and domestic reporting that the two were mere boys. 'Instead of paying tribute to the action of the judiciary, the media are mentioning the age of the hanged criminals and creating a commotion that harms the interests of the state,' the member of the Majlis Legal Affairs Committee said. 'Even if certain websites made a reference to their age, journalists should not pursue this. These individuals were corrupt. Their sentence was carried out with the approval of the judiciary and it served them right.' "
Consensual gay sex in any form is punishable by death in the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to the website Age of Consent, which monitors such laws around the world, in Iran "Homosexuality is illegal, those charged with love-making are given a choice of four deathstyles: being hanged, stoned, halved by a sword, or dropped from the highest perch. According to Article 152, if two men not related by blood are discovered naked under one cover without good reason, both will be punished at a judge's discretion. Gay teens (Article 144) are also punished at a judge's discretion. Rubbing one's penis between the thighs without penetration (tafheed) shall be punished by 100 lashes for each offender. This act, known to the English-speaking world as 'frottage,' is punishable by death if the 'offender' is a non-Muslim. If frottage is thrice repeated and penalty-lashes have failed to stop such repetitions, upon the fourth 'offense' both men will be put to death. According to Article 156, a person who repents and confesses his gay behavior prior to his identification by four witnesses, may be pardoned. Even kissing 'with lust' (Article 155) is forbidden. This bizarre law works to eliminate old Persian male-bonding customs, including common kissing and holding hands in public." And Outrage, in its release about the gay teens' execution, noted that, "according to Iranian human rights campaigners, over 4000 lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs seized power in 1979. Last August, a 16-year-old girl , [Atefeh Rajabi] was hanged [in the Caspian port of Neka] for 'acts incompatible with chastity,' [i.e., sex before marriage]."
In the case of the two teens hanged in Mashhad, "They admitted having gay sex (probably under torture) but claimed in their defense that most young boys had sex with each other and tdhat they were not aware that homosexuality was punishable by death," according to the ISNA report as translated by OutRage. "Prior to their execution, the gay teenagers were held in prison for 14 months and severely beaten with 228 lashes. The length of their detention suggests that they committed the so-called offenses more than a year earlier, when they were possibly around the age of 16."
"Ruhollah Rezazadeh, the lawyer of the younger of the two boys, had appealed that he was too young to be executed and that the court should take into account his tender age (believed to be 16 or 17). But the Supreme Court in Tehran Ordered him to be hanged." As a state party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Iran has undertaken not to execute anyone for an offence committed when they were under the age of 18 -- which means that by hanging the two youths Iran is in violation of international law.The Iranian authorities are putting out a cover story that the two boys had participated in the rape of a 13-year-old, but OutRage affirms from its sources that this accusation is a smokescreen for inhuman conduct and is without foundation. However, the Murdoch press (e.g., the Times of London) is putting about the Iranian government's story as a virtual statement of fact. But there is no mention of this Iranian government accusation in the original ISNA report, otherwise quite detailed.-- which rather suggests it's a recent invention. Furthermore, it is hardly surprising that, at the very moment at which Iran is engaged in the most delicate negotiation with the Western powers over nuclear materials -- the outcome of which will have a profound impact on the Iranian economy --the Iranian government, when caught in a heinous act of barbarity that is also a violation of Iran's commitments under international law -- should try to find a new excuse for the inexcusable. (Make sure to read the latest updates since this post was written, which indicate to a near certainty that the "rape" charge was fictitious and invented by the religious authorities -- see update links below).
Left-click on the third photo above and look at the enlarged version, which shows the younger of the two adolescents weeping as he's carried off in a police van to the end of his young life. Then, if you would like to protest the barbaric hanging of these two lads to whom nature gave same-sex hearts, follow the suggestion of the Human Rights Campaign which -- citing this blog -- has written to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice demanding that she formally protest these executions, which you should do as well. If you want to protest directly to the Iranian government, be aware that, while the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, there is an Iranian embassy in Canada. You may write, telephone, or fax the Iranian ambassador in Canada:Ambassador Seyed Mouhammad Ali Moosavi, Embassy of Iran, 245 Metcalfe St., Ottawa, Ontario .K2P 2K2 Canada Telephone (OO1-613- 235-4726, 233-4726; Fax, 233-5712
UPDATE JULY 27: For a commentary on the controversy over the hangings and the "rape" charge since the above was published, see my article for the Gay City News, which you can read by clicking here. UPDATE AUGUST 11: New reports from inside Iran and inside Mashad, where the boys were executed, strongly challenge the validity of the charge of "rape" for which the Iranian government claims the boys were hanged, and it is now virtually certain that the "rape" charge was invented by the religious authorities who control the legal system -- to read about these new reports from inside Iran, see the article I wrote for Gay City News -- the largest gay weekly in New York City -- by clicking here. Furthermore, as the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran snowballs, we have received reports of two new Iranian executions of gays which are scheduled to take place in the city of Arak on August 28. For news of these new death sentences for homosexuality in Iran, click here. UPDATE AUGUST 17: For the Latest from Inside Iran as the Pace of the Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown Steps Up, click here.
July 19, 2005
REMEMBERING HERBERT MARCUSE
Today is the 107th birthday of the late Herbert Marcuse (left), the political, social, and cultural philosopher -- a leading member of what is known as the Frankfurt School along with Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Max Horkheimer. The Frankfurt School wove insights from Marx, Freud, and Max Weber into new syntheses of social and cultural criticism. Marcuse is somewhat out of favor now in American universities -- but in the '50s, '60s, and '70s he inspired several generations trying to construct a new radical politics that rejected both Soviet communism and triumphalist monopoly capitalism and sought to create new cultural critiques and models.
One of my favorite Marcuse anecdotes is this: When Playboy wanted to interview Marcuse, and offered him a great deal of money to do so, he said he would only do it if he could be the centerfold! There are several good biographies of Herbert Marcuse available online: a quite complete biographical notice by Prof. Teresa MacKey, and a smart intellectual review of Marcuse's work by the proprietor of Blog Left, the UCLA Prof. Doug Kellner, as part of his quite useful Critical Theory website.
This fall, a major conference on Marcuse will be held November 3-6 in Philadelphia. The conference, "Reading Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization after 50 Years" -- sponsored by St. Joseph's University's Philosophy Department and the Philadelphia Philosophy Commission -- will include not only a re-examination of Eros and Civilization and its place in Marcuse's social philosophy; but also consider the influence of Marcuse's work in the past five decades; its place in a critical theory of society; and the importance of Eros and Civilization for fields such as psychology, aesthetics, and political philosophy; as well as prospects for a renewal of Marcuse's approach to social philosophy.
Marcuse was a major influence on my own thinking, and so much of what he wrote is enormously pertinent to the world in which we find ourselves today. One of his most innovative and, for me, still contemporaneously vital concepts was his 1965 articulation of a theory of "repressive tolerance." Marcuse's thought, while accessible, is too densely contiguous to be reduced to a soundbite, but to give just a hint of the flavor of what Marcuse meant by "repressive tolerance," here is a particularly pungent quotation:
"It is the people who tolerate the government, which in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by the constituted authorities," Marcuse wrote. "Tolerance toward that which is radically evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence or more affluence. The toleration of the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda, the release of destructiveness in aggressive driving, the recruitment for and training of special forces, the important and benevolent tolerance toward outright deception in merchandising, waste, and planned obsolescence are not distortions and aberrations, they are the essence of a system which fosters tolerance as a means for perpetuating the struggle for existence and suppressing the alternatives...."
The entire text of Marcuse's must-read essay, "Repressive Tolerance," is available online -- as indeed is much of Marcuse's work, thanks to a rich and complete multimedia Marcuse website assembled by his grandson, Harold Marcuse (right) , a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. This official Marcuse website includes not only a host of texts by and about Marcuse -- including part or all of his books Eros and Civilization, One-Dimensional Man, and his 1967 lectures at the Free University of Berlin assembled under the title The End of Utopia and The Problem of Violence -- but audio tapes of Marcuse lectures, and a film and video section.
One of the jewels of the video section of the Marcuse website is the 1996 film, "Herbert's Hippopotamus," which recounts the controversy that swirled around Marcuse in the late '60s while he was teaching at the University of California's San Diego campus, at a time when he was considered the godfather of the New Left (a title and role he always rejected). The American Legion led a campaign to have Marcuse fired from the university, and even Ronald Reagan got into the act. You owe it to yourself to watch this captivating and revealing one-hour film, which captures Marcuse's personality brilliantly, and which you can view by clicking here (make sure that, if you have a DSL connection for your computer, you choose the high-speed version of this film).
My confrere Danny Postel did a long interview about Marcuse with the investigative journalist Lowell Bergman -- his headline-making probes have appeared in the New York Times and on the PBS series Frontline, and Lowell was also the "60 Minutes" producer played by Al Pacino in the 1999 movie about the investigation of the tobacco industry, The Insider (poster, right). Lowell recounts his experiences with Marcuse, how they led to Bergman's career in journalism, and the influence Marcuse had on Bergman's work:
"I studied with Marcuse as a graduate fellow in philosophy at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) from 1966 to 1969," Bergman told Postel. " It was a Ph.D. program in the history of philosophy.....My first real contact with Marcuse came [when] reading his book Reason and Revolution, which remains one of the best, if not the best, expositions of Hegel in English. It was—maybe there are others now—the only coherent presentation of his philosophical insights in relation to the development of Marx's thought. That book led me to read some of his writings from his time in Frankfurt [Ger.], especially a seminal essay on liberalism...
"...One-Dimensional Man provided a unique way of looking at the rise of the authoritarian state in advanced industrial society. The suppleness of the analysis provided a way of thinking that ran counter to the dominant notion of 'progress' and 'Nature' that permeated thinking on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Marcuse began to articulate ideas about the way in which the culture and mass media were no longer presenting information except for the sake of presenting it. There was no depth, no history, no analysis. Information for information's sake without any attempt to help people understand....
"]My] jump to journalism was...in 1969, " Bergman (left) continues. "The spark was the incessant appearance of editorials in the San Diego Union-Tribune demanding that the University of California regents fire Marcuse. This came after students in Europe ran around in 1968 chanting "Marx, Mao, Marcuse!" When Herbert went back to Germany that summer he was feted not just at universities but at outdoor rallies....Back in San Diego, the very conservative community reacted at first with virulent publicity and then physical harassment. Marcuse's telephone lines at home were cut. Someone drove by and fired at his garage door. There were phone threats. The tension was mounting. San Diego had an active right-wing vigilante movement, which I encountered later when I got into journalism. So his graduate students decided to start escorting him to school every morning, a 15-minute walk. This was in the time when UCSD was a small campus with a small undergraduate college and as many graduate students.
"This experience led the students to discuss the idea of putting out an alternative newspaper in what was and is a monopoly newspaper town. San Diego was not only the largest staging area for the Vietnam War; it was also home to a large military retirement community and politics that made parts of the deep South look liberal. Thus was born the San Diego Free Press, which a year later was renamed the San Diego Street Journal....The publicity [about Marcuse] in Europe—and it was then repeated in the U.S. press—that [Marcuse] was an ideological leader came to the attention of the anticommunist ideologues associated with the Copley Press (the San Diego Union-Tribune). In those days the paper, now a conservative but civilized rag, was to the right of Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon called San Diego his 'favorite city.'...
"Marcuse was a symbol, which became even more threatening when one of his students, a veteran of the Hegel seminar and before that a student of Marcuse's at Brandeis, went to work at UCLA. That was Angela Davis (below left). The ensuing row brought in [then] governor Ronald Reagan and more action to terminate her appointment. Marcuse's own reputation, enhanced by hers, made him a central target of the anticommunists of the Reagan right in the late '60s. ... I guess what I'm getting at is that one doesn't normally associate political upheaval and mass mobilization with philosophy professors—at least not in the United States. Moreover, the figure of Marcuse doesn't exactly square with the style and tone of the '60s counterculture. There was something of a baroque quality about him: By that time he was fairly ancient, wore nice suits, spoke with a heavy German accent. There's a striking scene in the documentary film Herbert's Hippopotamus in which a group of student activists are holding a demonstration of some sort on the UCSD campus. They're running around, banging on drums, singing—and then Marcuse steps up to speak, using language right out of 19th-century German philosophy. Yet he captivated them. They fell silent and listened to his every word. This struck me. What was it about him—because I think he was fairly unique in this sense—that so many young people revered and were inspired by?
"...Despite his Germanic professorial bearings and his old world roots, Marcuse was a captivating orator. His lectures on Hegel were phenomenal. The best way to describe them is to read Reason and Revolution. Few, if any, books on Hegelian philosophy and its aftermath are so cogent and to the point. In the world of UCSD at the time, Marcuse was an intellectual superstar. It was a little surreal, in the midst of San Diego county, high on a plateau, within sight of the largest military complex in the world....
"Marcuse's dialectical analysis did not depend on heavy-handed 'conspiracy' theories or mechanistic economic determinism. That would save me from falling into some of the simplistic traps that lure many people looking for tidy explanations...." You can read the entire interview with Lowell Bergman by clicking here.
I had the privilege of meeting Marcuse only once, when as a teenager I was detailed to go to his home (he was then teaching at Brandeis) and pick him up to bring him to a conference of youthful activists. But I was chatting on the phone this weekend with my former Village Voice colleague Jeff Weinstein, who these days is both culture columnist and Fine Arts Editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I asked him if he'd write for us his memories of Marcuse from the time Jeff also studied at San Diego while Marcuse was teaching there. Jeff was kind enough to oblige with these notes:
"Many of my memories of the time I spent at he University of California, San Diego are out of context, almost cinematic in their abruptness, and those of Herbert Marcuse are no exception. So it‘s all the more significant that I can say that even though I barely recall anything specific he said to me, to his classes or to the crowds of supporters he addressed, he a was crucial part of my coming of age, politically. Let me explain:
"I was a graduate student at UCSD, usually called La Jolla, in the department of English and American literature from 1969 to 1973. For many reasons, I became active in campus and off-campus politics – but I did not veer in the usual left direction. I was firmly against the war in Vietnam, and even more strenuously supported the unionizing of the United Farm Workers under the heroic Cesar Chavez. But my core belief, and in retrospect my only authentic political passion, was founded in my identity as a recently declared gay man. I was, for a while, the first and only out person on the campus. It was not a popular or attractive position to take.
"I actually had done my undergraduate work at Brandeis University, where Dr. Marcuse had taught, but I had never taken any of his courses. Yes, I studied "Eros and Civilization," and the concept of repressive tolerance was one we embraced because it challenged the Freudian-based criticism prevailing at that time.
"Yes, of course, Dr. Marcuse’s ideas were seminal. They provided—forgive the mixed metaphors—validating, thoughtful resonance for the intuitive understanding that the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin and drug-enhanced opening of doors were necessary to unravel conformity’s bonds and put the evil of capitalist hegemony, as we called it, somehow behind us. Marcuse dragged the gown into the town. He articulated what so many of us were beginning to know: that change was not only necessary, it was inevitable.
"Yet Herbert Marcuse was important beyond his writing, because he was a very brave man. He put body and soul on the line in demonstrations and sit-ins, stood up to threats from opposites of all stripes (even of death, from the Klan) with unfailing energy and wry humor. He was an authority utterly unafraid to stand up to dominant authority and the pernicious powers that fed it.
"I belonged at the time to a campus group called the Radical Coalition; for a while I was the only gay voice in it. At some point it fell to me to introduce Dr. Marcuse to an outdoor antiwar demonstration that turned out to attract not hundreds but thousands. Of course – this was 35 or so years ago – I cannot remember any of the pertinent facts of this event, but I will tell you that his example allowed me to take the mike and try to connect the reality of the lives of my friends --especially, and at last, gay men and women – to the demands of the day.
"I was told later that the gay issue was not something he could easily grasp, and a discussion he and I had about this has evaporated. But his personal example, as much as or more than his intellectual one, raised my and all our prospects higher." (The poster above left is from the May 1968 student rebellion in France, which claimed Marcuse as a major intellectual fountainhead.)
Jeff and I were hardly the only gay men influenced by Marcuse. As Jeffrey Escoffier observed in his note on Marcuse for the GLBTQ Online Encyclopedia, "...Marcuse's book Eros and Civilization (1955), a synthesis of the thought of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, also played an influential role in the writing of early proponents of gay liberation, such as Dennis Altman (left) and Martin Duberman (right), and it influenced radical gay groups such as the Gay Liberation Front's Red Butterfly Collective...." (left, a GLF poster.)
I also solicited a Marcuse remembrance from DIRELAND contributor Norman Birnbaum (right) who knew him well, and Norman responded thus:
"Here are some brief recollections of Herbert. There is little new to say about his intellectual and political influence. I have always thought of Eros And Civilization as a major work, combining historical insight and human imagination. Compared with the others of the Frankfurt School of his generation, Herbert was far more cosmopolitan, more committed, more courageous (I think of the disgraceful episode in which Horkheimer attempted to have the young Juergen Habermas (left) dismissed from the Institut fuer Sozialforschung because of his political views.) What I now think of, however, are Herbert's great human qualities: forthrightness, an enormous capacity for enjoyment, and a splendid sense of humor..
Another friend I asked to capture for DIRELAND readers Marcuse's importance to him was Ariel Dorfman (right), the prolific Chilean playwright-political essayist-poet-scenarist-novelist, who begged off because of work pressure, while nonetheless making comments I found so interesting and pertinent (Ariel's insights as a foreigner into the late-'60s U.S. New Left then are similar to my own, as I always had a disdain for "infantile leftism" and have long thought there had been a general mis-reading of Marcuse by too many), so I asked Ariel to let me share them with you, and here they are:
"I am totally overwhelmed - casting three plays and preparing my anti-war musical and trying to finish up who knows how many other things (I don't even know how many!).
"I owe so much to Marcuse - he was the first one, as I can recall, who made me understand why we had to oppose both the Soviet system and its capitalist twisted mirror. But I simply have not a moment to spare - and if I were to write something it should be a real reckoning trying to figure out what was so deeply right, but also what went wrong. Or maybe simply how we misapplied Marcuse. I have not given it much thought and should but at the moment simply can't.
"The only reference in my work which others may find interesting in this regard is the chapter of Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, where I tell the story of our trip to Berkeley from pre-revolutionary Chile in 1968-69, and then our return to Santiago to join the Allende revolution which was about to burst onto world history. I deal in that chapter with how deeply influenced I was by what I lived in the States (which is to say, by those who were reading and following Marcuse), and at the same time about how lacking I found those movements in maturity, relationship with real workers, capacity to comprehend that radical change means engaging vast sectors of society whose members do not seem to be immediate or obvious allies. Part of that chapter is a way in which I hint at how sexuality and revolution tend to have been at odds and should not be, a questioning of the limits between personal and collective liberation....But there you go, dear friend. . . That's as far as I've ventured in the Marcuse memory lane. . ."
I hope that these hastily assembled bits and pieces are tantalizing enough to have encouraged readers to explore the writings of Herbert Marcuse. They have much to teach us (especially, if I may repeat myself, "Repressive Tolerance") that is of enormous value for how to think about where we are today. Marcuse died on July 29, 1979, just ten days after his birthday. How one wishes he was still here -- but, in many ways, he is....
P.S. After the above was posted, another friend, Ronald Aronson (right), the distinguished Sartre scholar -- whose latest book, Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It, I can heartily recommend -- and who studied under Marcuse at Brandeis, where Marcuse was his doctoral thesis adviser, belatedly replied to my request for a Marcuse appreciation:
"Doug, Just got back from the best vacation - two weeks without email! The only communications I regret not seeing and responding to were your request for any memories about my teacher Herbert Marcuse, and your terrific reflection on his birthday. Today the most important effect of studying with him and being influenced by him seems to be the intellectual and political resiliancy I developed. From Althusser to postmodernism I remained unphased by the various fads and was able to hold on to a radical, indeed strongly Marxist perspective, and at the same time not forget that the ultimate political goal was to join theory and practice. His teaching was so clear, so simple, so powerful. Like Sartre, he produced few acolytes, many independent thinkers and actors. My "After Marxism" has an extended discussion of my encounter with him (the "Marxist Iiterary" chapter) as well as a coming to grips with his heritage in the final chapter. Bravo for capturing him! -- Best, Ron."
July 18, 2005
DID THE FBI USE GAY BLACKMAIL AGAINST L.B.J.'S SUPREME COURT JUSTICE, ABE FORTAS?
The History News Network today has published a fascinating article, "Did the FBI Try to Blackmail Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas?" by an associate professor of history at York University, and author of City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972 (University of Chicago Press, 2000), which I reviewed quite favorably for the Phildelphia Inquirer when it was published.
Fortas (left) was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose personal lawyer Fortas had been. Three years later, in 1968, LBJ tried to make Fortas Chief Justice -- but the nomination was blocked by a Republican filibuster.
Stein cites Laura Kalman's respected bio of Fortas, published by Yale University Press, as sayng, "No one who knew of Fortas’s enthusiastic heterosexuality would ever have accused him of homosexuality, but [New York Times reporter Fred] Graham and [Life magazine reporter William] Lambert were told, presumably by sources within the government who offered to ‘bootleg’ the information ‘out of the FBI’, that the FBI had a morals file on Fortas that included allegations he had once been involved in a sexual relationship with a teenage boy. Regardless of their truth, such stories were damaging.” Stein goes on to cite a number of other references in books and articles referrring to an FBI file with allegations of homosexuality against Fortas. He quotes from what purports to be a letter from the FBI's infamous Cartha DeLoach to Hoover's top deputy and boyfriend, Clyde Tolson (right) relating a visit DeLoach made to Justice Fortas to inform him of allegations of homosexuality involving him. (DeLoach was deeply involved in the FBI's COINTELPRO program and headed its media disinformation operation, was involved in the surveillance and wiretapping of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was the liaison for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (top left) to the LBJ White House through Walter Jenkins (lower left, at right in photo with LBJ aide Bill Moyers) -- the top LBJ aide who resigned after he was caught in a public toilet in a homosexual act.)
Stein relates how he identified the exact name of the FBI file, and tried to get access to it.. After first being told by FBI Washington headquarters that the file was only six pages long and that it wasn't worthwhile coming to Washington to examine it in the FBI archives, but that it would be photocopied and sent to him, Stein subsequently received a letter telling him the FBI file on Fortas' alleged gay conduct had curiously gone "missing."
If the file still exists and can be found, what would be its significance? Stein tries to answer that question:
"Whether or not the allegations about Fortas were true (by which I mean that they provided truthful accounts of Fortas’s sexual conduct), they will likely be of interest to historians of sexual behavior, sexual identity, and the relationship between the two. They also have the potential for influencing our understanding of national politics and sexual politics during this period, and especially the history of the FBI, the Senate, and the White House during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. As for the history of the Supreme Court, Fortas played an important role in several sex-related rulings in the 1960s, and we may want to understand the rulings and the allegations in relation to one another. In 1966 Fortas voted with narrow majorities in three obscenity rulings (Fanny Hill, Ginzburg, and Mishkin). In Ginzburg and Mishkin (which dealt in part with materials produced for the gay market), the Court upheld obscenity convictions, though Fortas later expressed regret about his votes. Then in 1967 Fortas was one of three dissenters in one of the Court’s first gay rights cases, Boutilier v. the INS, which upheld the deportation of a Canadian “homosexual” on the grounds that under U.S. immigration law homosexuals were excludable and deportable because they were “afflicted with psychopathic personality.” In the oral arguments on Boutilier, Fortas aggressively questioned the government lawyer on the INS claim that homosexuality was intrinsically psychopathological. Two months after the Court announced its ruling in Boutilier, the FBI’s DeLoach reportedly visited Fortas (if the Maloney documents are to be believed). Did Fortas’s sexual history influence his votes? Can the same be said of the other justices, many of whom extolled the virtues of family, heterosexuality, marriage, and procreation in decisions about birth control, obscenity, and interracial marriage in this period? Did Fortas’s votes in these and other cases lead to the FBI’s visit and to the FBI’s implied threats?"
The way in which closet queen and FBI Director Hoover (left, with boyfriend Tolson) rooted out information about homosexuals in government has been endlessly documented iin numerous histories of the FBI. So, too, has Hoover's use of FBI files to protect what he felt to be the bureau's interrests, as well as his own. And Cartha DeLoach was a top Hoover loyalist (he eventually became the Bureau's number three man under Hoover) who, the FBI histories tell us, was frequently used by Hoover to visit highly-placed political personalities hostile to the FBI (like Sen. Albert Gore Sr., --right--father of the vice president). So it's hardly implausible that Hoover could have sent DeLoach to see Justice Fortas and, in the velvet-gloved fashion indicated in DeLoach's account to Tolson, let Fortas know the FBI had the goods on him. Even if the allegations against Fortas weren't true, such was the FBI's power in those crushingly homophobic days that the threat of a smear alone would have scared the pants off most people (no pun intended.)
But, as the principals in this story are no longer living, it won't go much further unless the FBI suddenly "finds" the missing Fortas file. Of course, Stein's account raises another interesting question: how did that Fortas file that Stein was told was available for photocopying suddenly vanish? You can read Stein's entire article by clicking here.
(For more information the FBI's Cartha Deloach, See DeLoach's testimony before the Senate's Church Committee on Intelligence, Volume 6., December 3, 1975, and the final Church Committee report. )
July 15, 2005
Exclusive: Norman Birnbaum on GERMANY'S POLITICAL CRISIS -- And Why its Left is in Disarray (Updated)
Norman (left) is University Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University Law School, and author--most recently--of After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism In The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press), among other books. Norman was a founding editor of New Left Review, was on the editorial board of Partisan Review, and is on the editorial board of The Nation. Norman, who got his doctorate in sociology from Harvard, has also taught at the London School of Economics, Oxford University, the University of Strasbourg and Amherst College, has had academic appointments in Italy and Germany, and has been a consultant to the National Security Council.
After Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder convinced many in his own party to abstain in a parliamentary vote of confidence, he deliberately lost the vote, and asked the President to dissolve the parliament and order new elections. Those who, in his own coalition (Greens and Social Democrats), actually lack confidence in the Chancellor also oppose elections this fall, and prefer to wait until the scheduled date next summer -- they refused Schroeder's request and voted confidence in the government. It is somewhat uncertain that the President will agree to the request, as he might decide that Schroeder (right) can indeed govern, however beleaguered, until next year. If he does agree, some parliamentarians will ask the Constitutional Court to intervene and order the elections to be held on the original schedule, Whatever happens, however, it is clear that Germany is experiencing a major political and social crisis.
The major elements of the crisis are: high unemployment (at 11 %); the resistance of a majority of citizens to changes in the welfare state which reduce social protection without increasing investment; and the continuing economic and social crisis in the new federal states once comprising Communist East Germany. The ruling coalition won the election in 2002 narrowly when Schroeder succeeded in making his refusal to send troops to Iraq (and his general criticism of US foreign policy) the central issue. That issue is now subsumed by another one: will the European Union succeed in developing a foreign and security policy which would unite its members in autonomy of the United States?
The conflicts within the European Union -- brought to the surface by the referenda in France and the Netherlands in which their citizenries rejected the new European Constitution -- will have to be solved before that autonomy is achieved. Those conflicts include the effort by the managers of European capitalism to destroy the European social model, its welfare state --- efforts supported by many of the European Union’s senior officials in Brussels. The European Parliament is relatively powerless to reverse the process, and that intensifies another aspect of the present agony of Europe: the remoteness of the European Union’s decision making institutions and processes from democratic control. The European citizenries accept limitations on national sovereignty for the sake of achieving a more independent, prosperous and stable Europe. They did not sign on to surrendering their political rights.
To this is added yet another problem: the eastward extension of the European Union and the possible inclusion of Turkey strike many western Europeans as going too far, too fast. The potential inclusion of Turkey, in particular, reinforces the unease felt in France, Germany, Great Britain and the Netherlands about increasing the resident Muslim immigrant populations. The French referendum debate included considerable attention, as well, to the fictive figure of the "Polish plumber," (left) working at low wages outside the social protection system and taking jobs from French workers.
The incidence of these problems on Germany is considerable . The German public resents black market work by immigrants from eastern Europe---and the unions point out that large firms prefer to invest in new factories in countries like Hungary and Poland, where labor is cheaper..Indeed, the public in the old Federal Republic (what was West Germany) now thinks that the billions poured into public investment, subsidies and unemployment compensation in the Federal states that once comprised east Germany is good money thrown after bad. With some exceptions, those states are losing the more energetic and educated of their younger populations, who migrate to the west for employment ---leaving behind angry plebeians who are xenophobic and vote for the neo-Nazi groupings. The middle aged and elderly, meanwhile, begin to think that unification was not such a splendid idea. To a large extent, then, when the elections take place—there will be two, one in the west and one in the east.
The Social Democrats and Greens took office in 1998, after Helmut Kohl (below right)and his Christian Democratic Union and the German party of the market, the Free Democrats, had outworn their welcome --they'd been in power since 1982. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU) are social Christian parties---as much in favor of the welfare state as the Social Democrats and the Greens.The reforms to the welfare state in the period 1982-98 consisted predominantly of extensions of it---like the introduction of compulsory insurance for home care of the elderly. They negotiated with the unions and developed a large modus vivendi with them, the more so as the architect of Kohl’s social policies was himself a unionist (Norbert Blum.)
The two Christian parties are certainly more conservative in cultural terms (on issues like the rights of women and children, the rights of homosexuals, abortion) but they are quite aware that much of their electorate is quite secularized .The social Christian parliamentarians and thinkers who visit the United States regard the moral frenzies of our Protestant Fundamentalists and Catholic traditionalists as a strange reminder of a distant German past. They are decidedly more nationalistic in an ethnic sense, more likely to sympathize with parents and grandparents who were Nazis. Paradoxically, however, the social Christian parties have been from the beginning very active partisans of Franco-German collaboration in particular and the European Union in general. Throughout the Cold War, this was combined rather unsteadily with near total obedience to the commands of the United States.
The Free Democrats (FDP), on this point, were pronouncedly more independent. Their leader and Foreign Minister for 18 years, Hans-Dietrich Genscher (left), agreed to have US first strike weapons, the Euromissiles, stationed on the territory of the Federal Republic. He then called for an end to armed confrontation in Europe with the words, "Let us modernize our ideas, not our weapons." His successors, should they take over the Foreign Ministry , are decidedly deficient in experience, independence and talent. They, however, opposed their possible future partners, the social Christians, by agreeing to the present coalition’s major alteration in nationality laws, which allowed many immigrants to become citizens
The coalition of Greens and Social Democrats, led by Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (below left) and Schroeder (who was governor of the industrial state of lower Saxony) took office with four major projects. They were "Sixty-Eighters," veterans of the 1968 revolt of the students and the intelligentsia who wished to replace German nationalism with a European cosmopolitanism. That led to emphasis on reconciliation with Poland and Russia, increased developmental assistance to the Third World, an interest in international campaigns for human rights. It also led to the first armed interventions by Germany outside of its borders since 1945—in the Balkans first (Fischer argued that the nation responsible for Auschwitz had a responsibility to intervene militarily against genocide), and later in Afghanistan. It occasioned the present government’s espousal of eventual Turkish membership in the European Union (strenuously opposed by the Christian Democratic and Christian Social parties). It led, too, to German participation in the European Union’s overly discreet but definite support for the Palestinians. Finally, the new German consciousness of international responsibility led to the rejection of the insistent US invitation to send troops to Iraq---and a refusal to allow NATO to become, as it once was, an ancillary of US policy.
The philosophers Juergen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (left) termed the Franco-German rejection of the Iraq invasion a "European declaration of independence." Perhaps—but when you next land at Frankfurt airport, look across the field from the passenger terminals. There is the US base with a daily contingent of some thirty or so large transport planes flying to and from Iraq: a really independent Europe would have denied the US overflight rights. It has apparently occurred to the Bush administration that open campaigning for the opposition in the German election can only strengthen Fischer and Schroeder.: The systematic denigration of the German government as a band of irresponsible and ungrateful cowards has been left to entire regiments of eager ideological volunteers in our media and universities.
The second part of the Red-Green project was (and remains) cultural and social. The rejection of a conception of nationality based on German descent (often quite contortedly described) by access to citizenship for immigrants was a belated triumph for the ideas of 1789. (I use the date since the late Josef Goebbels (right) declared in 1933 -- on January 30, when Hitler became Chancellor-- that Germany had finally finished with the legacy of 1789.)
The Kohl government, strenuously opposed by the Vatican, had already liberalized laws on abortion and these were liberalized further.The rights of children and women were reinforced in measures both direct and indirect. Communist Germany had all day kindergartens (as does France), but the new government has been slow to introduce these or reintroduce these in all of Germany---which would greatly improve women’s ability to enter the labor market. Progress toward legitimizing homosexual unions has been slow, but the social atmosphere has been improved. (The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit (left) -- a Social Democrat -- is openly gay...but so is the General Secretary of the Free Democratic Party, to the impotent distress of the energetic conservatives amongst the social Christians.)
With the Greens in government, there has been considerable attention to environmental policy---notably, a gradual cessation of the use of nuclear power plants to generate electricity. Investment in alternative sources of energy have been increased (Germany is now covered with windmills). Consumer protection has centered recently on protection against genetically altered foodstuffs -- environmental consciousness in general is high in Germany (it was Kohl who initiated an environmental ministry.) Much of the debate is not in our terribly regressive terms (some regulation against no regulation) but entails arguments on the degree and rate of change to environmental protection. The present coalition claims, correctly, that its environmental policies have created jobs in new technologies.
All of these achievements pale, however, when contrasted with the huge failure of the government to have reduced unemployment. Indeed, it has increased steadily since 1998. There has been a considerable amount of experimentation—with subsidized low wage jobs, with subsidies for starting one-person firms, with alterations in the Byzantine tax code. These have had no long term effect because of a strike by German capital: it refuses, by and large, to invest a nd that is a matter of political calculation, designed to oust the government or force it to capitulate to capital’s program. What that program is was stated just the other day by a German economist working for the American Morgan Stanley bank. "Neither the SPD nor the CDU propose a profound deregulation of the labor market, an abolition of the industry-wide wage bargaining system, an end of co-determination, an increase in the pension age, or an overhaul of the federal system."
In other words, German capital seeks the Americanization of the German economy.
The most disastrous aspect of Schroeder’s policy has been its lack of clarity. His government, by fits and starts, has attempted to reduce labor costs, to rationalize a system of social benefits (for health, retirement and unemployment) which is directly tied to the job. He and his Ministers have been unclear, however, whether they are dealing with the consequences of demographic change (an aging population with fewer new entrants into the labor force), whether they are seeking to lift burdens on capital, and as to how far they will go in shifting social costs back to the ordinary citizen---whether in the form of cuts in government subsidies or increases in the burden on individual households in paying for essential social provisions. They have adopted—a grave strategic mistake---the term "reform" to designate reductions in social benefits, but have been unable to convince the citizenry that they have a larger design which will in the end maintain the German welfare state.
The Chancellor, despite his own working class roots, must bear some of the responsibility for his government’s failure to reassure its own electorate. His own familiarity with and ease with the managerial elite has not been reciprocated. That elite has been relentless in its sponsorship of its large demolition project---with a veritable army of economists and publicists working for it. The conventional wisdom in Germany once insisted on the superiority of its social model: capital-labor cooperation, investment in the education of a very skilled labor force, the state as legitimate agency of redistribution and economic steering, lifetime employment with an assured share for labor of the nation’s increasing social product. Now, everything has been reversed: one only has to read Der Spiegel, once the relentless defender of Germany’s post-war social achievements and now bitterly denouncing them.
The jagged course of the coalition, its political emergencies and defeats too numerous to enumerate, may flow from an initial conflict. The party’s chair on the eve of the 1998 election was the Governor of the Saarland, Oskar Lafontaine (left). Lafontaine, raised as a Catholic and much influenced by the Church’s doctrines of social solidarity, was originally a physicist. He attracted the hostility of the US by his leadership in the protest movement of the early eighties against the stationing of the Euromissiles, was always a proponent of an independent Europe (I remember a West Berlin politician telling me: "What does Oskar know of the rest of the country—he goes to France for dinner every night."). It was he, however, who proposed that Schroeder run as candidate for the Chancellorship—since he doubted his own national electability. Schroeder, in turn, left the formulation of the common program with the Greens to Lafontaine and took the view that in politics, as in industry, managerial talent was everything. That talent failed him: it became obvious that he had no long term project of his own. In the first months of his government, he agitated the party by issuing a letter with Tony Blair praising the Third Way and its encouragement of individual responsibility and competitiveness, but not mentioning social justice and redistribution. Lafontaine retained the Chairmanship of the Party and was Minister of Finance. Convinced that he was being undermined by the Chancellor, he abruptly resigned in March of 1999 and for the time being left political life altogether. Lafontaine and his advisers were skeptical of the utility and necessity of adhering to the European union’s "stability" pact, which limited the members to budgetary deficits of three percent of Gross National Product, were critical of the anti-inflationary and monetarist concerns (which they rightly thought of as obsessions) of the European Central Bank, and advocated policies which we could term "left Keynesianism." The present situation, in which fear of unemployment and uncertainty as to social provision has led Germany’s citizens to save rather than spend---a situation replicated in France and the Netherlands as well---is one bit of evidence that suggests how right Lafontaine was. To a strike of capital there has been joined a strike of consumers -- no wonder the European economy’s growth rates are low.
The Schroeder government has been practicing involuntary economic asceticism ever since. Its measures have included a complex and as yet untested fusion of unemployment benefits and welfare, an unsuccessful attempt at partial privatization of pensions, the imposition of increased payments for the provision of health services. The budget deficit has continued to rise, despite the selling off (under pressure from the European Union bureaucracy, which seeks to eliminate the public economic sector) of state owned assets.
The SPD's own political deficit has risen, too. Despite the narrow victory in the 2002 elections (made possible by votes in the east), there have been a succession of defeats in state elections. The states of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Saarland, Hamburg were lost in the first term (1998-2002.) This year, there were serious defeats in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhineland-Westphalia. Schleswig-Holstein is small but had Germany’s only woman Governor, who actually won the election but was sabotaged in the secret vote for the Governorship in the legislature by someone from her own party. North Rhineland-Westphalia is Germany’s largest state and had been governed by Social Democrats for forty years---ever since the Catholic workers of the Ruhr began to vote Social Democratic. With large scale unemployment and uncertainty, their offspring switched electoral allegiances.
That precipitated what Schroeder thought of as a blow for freedom. No sooner the defeat in North Rhineland-Westphalia confirmed than he announced that he would ask the President to dissolve the Parliament so that new elections can be held. His argument is that he has no governing majority, since the opposition controls the upper house (Federal Council) and can use its two-thirds majority there to block legislation passed by the Social Democratic-Green coalition in the Parliament. More surprising is Schroeder’s frank declaration that his own party and coalition partner’s party are likely to vote against his program in the Parliament. He reached the decision to ask for new elections virtually alone, possibly against the advice of his very intelligent chief of staff---with the man who succeeded him as Chair of the Social Democrats last year, Franz Munterfering (left).
Munterfering has had to deal with vertiginously declining membership in a party which served its members in the recent past as a secular church, with the extreme discontent of both those who think Schroeder has moved far too far to the right and those who think he has not gone far enough, and with the large possibility that after the election, he will be the sole leader of the party. Defeated, Schroeder is very unlikely to continue in politics.
Munterfering, from the industrial Ruhr, is a traditional Social Democrat---and that accounts, no doubt, for his sudden rediscovery of the existence of social classes the other week, when he shocked those who think that class conflict these days is decent only when conducted from the top against the bottom. The managers of international capital, he said, with their German allies, behaved like "locusts"—moving in on Germany and then moving on after devastating it. Indeed, the Social Democrats’ hastily devised electoral program promises to revive the institutions of solidarity and save the welfare state. The public, polled, does not believe this—but it is equally skeptical of the declarations of the other parties. That is regrettable in one respect, since the Greens have produced a document both honest and thoughtful.
The major development of the campaign thus far, however, involves not the established parties but a half new one. A year or so ago, dissidents within and from the Social Democrats began to meet to consider their alternatives. The group consisted of trade unionists, party activists, some academics---but lacked leaders with profile. The group, WASG (Electoral Alternative For Employment And Social Justice), ran candidates in the North Rhineland-Westphalia election and scored a dull two and one-half percent. Five percent is necessary in state and national elections for a party to enter the state and local parliaments. A leader with plenty of profile has now re-emerged, Oskar Lafontaine. He has talked with the leaders of the post-Communist party, the Party of Democratic Socialism -- led by Gregor Gysi (left) -- and they are succeeding in forming a common electoral coalition, east and west. The latest poll showed this new WASG coalition as the leading party in the east, with over 30 % of the vote---and with a score of at least eight percent nationally. The Social Democrats are managing a dismal 27%, the Christian Democratic Union and the Bavarian Christian Social Union together get 44%, the Greens a very solid nine percent, and the Free Democrats obtain seven percent. This last would be enough to qualify them as coalition partners of the Christian parties in the next government.
It is, however---quite apart from the question of whether the election will take place in the fall at all -- far too early to be making predictions. Angela Merkel (right), the pastor’s daughter from the east who leads the Christian Democratic Union, has never fought a national election (or, for that matter, one in a state.) She has been effective in out-maneuvering the older national and younger regional leaders of her party---but they, in turn, are hardly enthusiastic about her becoming Chancellor. Her electoral program is vague, but in agreeing to raise the Value Added Tax, she has opened the party to charges that it will depress consumption even more while placing unfair burdens on ordinary citizens. She and the rest of the party are counting on the fact that many Social Democratic voters no longer trust Schroeder to represent their interests---and are beginning to emphasize that they as social Christians are the authentic defenders of the welfare state. To that has to be added an intimation that immigration ought to be severely slowed, skepticism about the European project in its present form, and a very discreet promise to improve relations with the US---as well as extreme opposition to having the Turks join the European Union. As far as the foreign policy possibilities of a government led by Merkel are concerned, I cite the depressed prophecy of a very senior Christian Democrat who will not be part of it: "She and Stoiber (Edmund Stoiber--right-- the Bavarian Governor who lost the election last time to Schroeder) will manage to antagonize Poland and Russia, the Czechs and the Turks, alienate the French, and cannot in any event drag the nation back into submission to the US, which they might prefer. . We re headed for a disaster."
That much said, one should not under estimate the electoral skills of Fischer and Schroeder (left). Lafontaine has just declared that, were it not for him and his new alliance, the other parties would be talking about strengthening the market. Now, he says, they are outbidding each other to demonstrate their fidelity to Germany’s welfare state traditions. I have, he adds, pushed my old party to the left again—and everyone else, too.
- It is simply too early to make any single prediction. The most likely result remains a coalition of the Christian parties with the Free Democrats---notably weak in talent and likely to exhibit as many internal divisions as the Social Democrats. Of course, the Social Democrats could increase their present score to let us say, 32 %, while the new left alliance WASG -- led by Gysi and LaFontaine (left) -- could obtain eight, and the Greens another eight. That would allow a left coalition. Schroeder has declared he would not participate in any such arrangement, but other Social Democrats have been loudly silent on that score.
A more probable alternative result is that, with some five percent of the electorate throwing away its votes on right wing parties which do not get into the next parliament, the Christian parties and the Free Democrats would lack the seats to form a majority. In that case, the Social Democrats would be able to function as junior partners in a coalition with their adversaries. Schroeder would leave, of course—but Munterfering would presumably be the next Foreign Minister. In the opposition, meanwhile, Greens and the new left alliance would lay the groundwork for a new opening to the left.
Those are optimistic scenarios, in their way. Should unemployment continue, the state become ever more impoverished, the European project disintegrate, the older demons of German history could return. The German crisis is part of a larger European one---just as in the fourth decade of the last century. On Germany, however, falls the burden of assuming a vanguard role in leading Europe out of it. The gravest criticism one can make of the present government is that it did not take its European responsibilities consistently and seriously enough---leaving the French and Italian left coalitions on their own and allowing the oleaginous Blair to pose as the defender of Europe’s political distinctiveness. Still, Germany is always good for historical surprises: let us hope for a modestly positive one. -- NORMAN BIRNBAUM
UPDATE, JULY 17 -- PDS CHANGES NAME: Deutsche Welle reports today on the special PDS party congress, at which the PDS has confirmed its participation in the coalition-merger with WASG by changing its name. "With the move, the PDS will now be known, together with the WASG party headed by former Social Democrat chairman Oskar Lafontaine, as 'Die Linkspartei,' or 'The Left Party.' The letters 'PDS' may still be tacked on at the end, an option that particularly the party's eastern German branches intend to make use of," Deutsche Welle said.
"By merging with Lafontaine's leftist splinter party, the PDS hope to turn The Left Party into a socialist force to be reckoned with should early elections go ahead in September, as widely anticipated. Pollsters have already forecast that the alliance could win 12 percent of the vote. 'This is an extremely important chance for us," said Gregor Gysi (right), the charismatic leader of the PDS. "Who would have thought in 1990 that we would be part of a pan-German party that is left of the SPD? I have to admit I couldn't have imagined it.'
"At Sunday's congress of the PDS, party chairman Lothar Bisky called on members to agree to the name change to pave the way for yet another new start, this time at the side of Lafontaine and the WASG. Bisky stressed that the alliance was the best way for the PDS to make inroads in western Germany, where the party has traditionally turned in a dismal performance at the polls, due to a high degree of scepticism on the part of westerners about its communist roots," Deutsche Welle added.
Also, in response to a query from a DIRELAND reader about Gysi's role following revelations of a one-time connection to the Stasi (the GDR's secret police), I wanted to confirm my own impressions of Gysi (given in my response to the reader in the "Comments" section below) by checking my perceptions with Norman Birnbaum, who replied, interestingly, as follows:
"I think that what is held against Gysi in the left is not so much the Stasi connection but the fact that he quit his job as City Commissioner in Berlin (Senator, they call it, he was in charge of the economy) to continue to star on TV as a very frequent talkshow guest. As for the Stasi, it was very much a situation of being either a hero or 'normal' [for the GDR], i.e., working with the Stasi--in his case especially disturbing, since he was the lawyer for the dissidents... but his argument (I never talked with him about it) is that he was able to help them somewhat, obtaining somewhat clement results like exiling to the West (at one point for Barbel Bohley, right). The SPD has its Stasi inrterlocutor too, the Transport Minister and former Minister-President of Brandenburg, Manfred Stolpe, left ( whom I knew when he was the Legal Counsel and Director of Administration for the EKD DDR, the Protestant Church in the GDR.) And the CDU had one, too, the lawyer Lothar De Maziere (Hugenot family, cousin on the other side of the East-West line was a chief of staff of the West German armed forces) -- De Maziere (lower right) was the only elected Premier of the GDR in the last months of its existence [while current CDU leader Angela Merkel was, at that time, De Maziere's deputy spokeswoman.] I have no doubt that Gysi and Stolpe and De Maziere thought it [cooperting with the Stasi] a compromise they had to make to remain effective and not marginalized, and in view of their belief that nothing would change--i.e., that the regime was likely to last for another two generations---one understands the choice, even if I would have made a different one, maybe. As for Gysi, he is very much a media star. very quick and lively, in striking contrast to the dullness of most German politicians, left, right, center (even the neo-Nazis are dull and the Greens, with some exceptions, are increasingly stolid -- vide Joschka Fischer's transformation, while the women are like department chairwomen at large universities....Gysi is an ambitious man, but I would not think him likely to betray the general cause or become too routinized," Norman Birnbaum added.
UPDATE: ELECTIONS SET FOR SEPT. 18 -- Germany's President Horst Kohler has announced (July 21) that he's dissolving parliament, and that nationwide elections will be held on September 18. For details see the report in the International Herald-Tribune. ......UPDATE, July 25 -- Deutsche Welle reports today that " Police departments in three federal states use a software program that records whether or not a person involved in a case is homosexual. One parliamentarian said it reminds him of the Nazis' notorious 'Pink Lists.'..." For details, click here.
July 13, 2005
HOW TO CELEBRATE BASTILLE DAY
July 14 is, of course, Bastille Day -- which has entered history as one of the landmarks in the eternal struggle for human freedom. The storming of the imposing prison (RIGHT, in the painting by Ingres) by the people of Paris has long been commemorated, not only as the day on which France celebrates its national day of deliverance from the tyranny of the monarchy and the beginnings of the modern, democratic French nation, but as the day which epitomized the French Revolution's ideals, embodied in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted a few weeks after the taking of La Bastille. None has painted in a word-picture the fall of La Bastille in its political context better than Tom Paine, in his famous polemic against Edmund Burke, "The Rights of Man."
Despite the lasting symbolism of the fall of La Bastille, the reality at the moment of its fall was rather different than the myths perpetuated by Hugo and Dickens in their novels. The political or thought-crime prisoners in La Bastille, many of whom had been dissident aristocrats or haute bourgeoisie, were allowed to bring their own furniture to their unfurnished quarters, some of which were quite spacious -- the Marquis de Sade put luxurious drapes on his walls during his imprisonment there -- as well as provide their own food and drink, and were also allowed their books and writing materials. Voltaire (RIGHT), when he was imprisoned as a freethinker for criticizing the monopoly of Catholic church and pleading for religious and intellectual tolerance, wrote his Oedipe there. By the time the revolutionary sans-culottes stormed the prison, all they found in La Bastille were seven prisoners: four forgers, once accomplice to attempted murder, who had been locked up in the Bastille for over 30 years, a count who had committed incest and was sent there at his family's request, and one feeble-minded wretch, also kept there at the request of the family.
Nonetheless, Bastille Day remains an important symbol around the world for the never-ending project of human liberation -- and I can think of no better way to observe it than to celebrate the radical magazine Monthly Review, which has deliberately chosen Bastille Day for the launch of its new adjunct, the website MRzine. If you'd like to get acquainted with MR and what it stands for, begin with an article in the current issue by an Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Stephen J. Fortunato, "The Soul of Socialism: Connecting with the People's Values." Judge Fortunato's pithy testament of a socialist's faith is admirable.
Founded in 1949 as the Cold War, both domestic and international, gathered steam, Monthly Review, then as now, called itself "an independent socialist magazine" -- the first issue carried as its lead article "Why Socialism?" by Albert Einstein (right, as Time magazine's Person of the Century), one of MR's ardent supporters. The magazine's guiding spirits were its founding co-editors, the Marxist economist Paul Sweezy (left), co-author of the influential Monopoly Capital with Paul Baran; and the radical labor journalist and teacher Leo Huberman. This fearless duo jointly edited the magazine until Huberman's death in 1968, after which Huberman was replaced by Harry Magdoff (right), who still co-edits the monthly today with the sociologist John Bellamy Foster (left). These days, MR also appears in Spanish, Greek, and Indian editions.
The magazine's global reach has been matched by that of Monthly Review Press, an arm of the magazine, which has been publishing radical books since the magazine's earliest years. One of the most significant books MR Press has published recently is Whose Millennium? (Theirs or ours?), the last book - "my testament," he called it -- of my dear late friend Daniel Singer, who was The Nation's European correspondent for two decades after having served for years as The Economist's correspondent in France, and who Gore Vidal called "one of the best, and certainly the sanest, interpreter of things European for American readers." During the years I lived in Paris, I spent many happy and instructive hours in the small, narrow house which Daniel (right) and his wife Jeanne (an economist) had bought on the cheap decades earlier in the rue de Bievre (left) -- a tiny little street on the Left Bank five minutes walk from Notre Dame, which was also the street housing the personal apartment of Francois Mitterrand (about whom Daniel wrote a superb critical political analysis for Oxford University Press, Is Socialism Doomed? The Meaning of Mitterrand).
I cannot think of MR without thinking of Daniel -- he wrote often for the magazine and cared about its survival, and today MR each year publishes the winning essay awarded the $5000 Daniel Singer Millennium Prize, given for "an original essay of not more than 5,000 words exploring the following question: In the struggle for socialism, what should be done to attain and sustain equality and justice? What should we mean by equality and justice?" -- with the proviso that the essay "should be based on fresh, concrete ideas rather than on Utopian dreams," in line with Daniel's own work and thought, which were always grounded in the real world. (Deadline for submissions for the prize this year is August 31. Last year's Singer Prize essay, "What is the Soul of Socialism?" by Andrew Blackman, is in the current issue of MR, and available on its website.)
I've read MR (and MR Press books) since my teen years, and while I have differed frequently with its politics on a number of questions over the years, I've always found it a necessary and stimulating forum for radical ideas and theory. That's why, as a democratic and libertarian socialist, I'm delighted that MR, tomorrow, launches its new MRzine -- which promises daily content characterized by "clear, jargon-free and non-technical writing. At the heart of magazine and webzine alike is political economy in the Marxist tradition and anti-imperialism....Dispatches from the front line of activism, ranging from labor struggles around the world to resistance in Palestine and beyond, fit the webzine format. In addition to the core areas of political economy and history, questions of teaching/education, sex/gender/sexuality, or culture, not often addressed by the magazine should appear in the webzine. Short reviews of books, art, film, performance, music or computer games can appear. Audio/visual pieces (interviews, photographs, drawings, paintings, animation) become possible for a webzine." It sounds like an engrossing mix.
So, celebrate Bastille Day by checking out MR Webzine tomorrow. I certainly will, and I'll be a regular visitor. Vive Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, et Socialisme!
P.S. NationBooks a few months ago published Deserter from Death: Dispatches from Western Europe 1950-2000, a posthumous collection of Daniel Singer's pieces. It's a fascinating, superb survey of many of the most critical events of the last 50 years, from the Algerian war, thorugh May '68, to the birth of Solidarnocz, the collapse of Communist totalitarianism, and more. I highly recommend it.