Mementos 7: The Joy of Family, Stories of David

Mementos 7:  The Joy of Family, Stories of David

[I’m preparing for mitral valve surgery in November, 2016. One of the instructions is to bring mementos with me. The best way to do this without hiring a moving truck (Diana’s suggestion) is to put some of what I would bring with me on this blog. I can then access it on my phone. That is my goal here]

JoAnn held an annual Thanksgiving dinner for all of us expatriates (many from Los Angeles) without a Chicago family, where her legendary brownies were nearly matched by stacks of home baked pies and, of course, a huge turkey.  It was a family get-together for many engaged in political work, an opportunity to share conversation, watch a movie or a football game, and chat with Nelson and Sue.  In the summer of 1991 Sue had finally broken through my anxiety and persuaded me to take Diana out to coffee, then to dinner. In the early fall I went first to Ann Arbor for the Great Lakes Booksellers Association meeting, and from there to Waterloo, Ontario to visit Greta.  There I confided in her what a wonderful person Diana was, and how I hoped she would get to think I was too.  By November I was ready to ask her to join my Chicago revolutionary family (many of whom she already knew).  Courtney came with us, and this is the first photo I have of us together.

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Courtney, Diana and Lew sitting on a couch at JoAnn’s and Mike’s Thanksgiving 1991

Taking Diana home one night, late, we stopped at her apartment and noticed a homeless woman in front of the building across the street.  We talked with her for a while and then I walked Diana to her front door.  On the way home she had warned me that we should go slowly, be careful.  I agreed, and then I kissed her good night.  Later that December, close to Christmas, Diana got a call from her first husband, Matt, who was in crisis with their son David, and wanted to send him to Chicago immediately.  The fact that I didn’t run the other way as soon as I found out convinced Diana that we should plunge ahead and we were living together in our own apartment in South Evanston in March of 1992.

At one stroke I had two teen children, without ever having to go through diapers.

David, younger than Courtney, came to us from his dad as an unaccompanied child from Washington, D.C. Diana was working three part-time jobs at the time, jobs that were inflexible in her hours, while I could get away from the bookstore.  So when we found out David was coming, I drove out to O’Hare to pick David up.  Airplane staff were making him as comfortable as possible for a child who must have felt as unwanted as anyone could.  And then there I was, someone he did not know, had never seen and would quickly resent for taking his father’s place.  On my part I could not figure out what I would say when I met David.

I’ve told Diana that one thing I am grateful for is that without the experience with David and Courtney, I would never have experienced family, all that it means, its joys and its pains, and of course grandchildren with those joys and pains.  I will not hide the fact that there have been a lot of pains, but those pains are life, and these pictures, while recording the pleasure, still bring to my mind the dark side of pleasure as well.

* * * * * * * *

In June of 1992 Diana and I woke up one morning and decided it would be a good day to visit the marriage court.  For our honeymoon we took David camping, the first of many, to Door County, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, through Traverse City Michigan in search of the perfect cherry pie during Cherry Festival, into Wisconsin across the Mississippi to Minnesota and Iowa, across Michigan to Waterloo, Ontario to visit Greta.

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We were all much younger then

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In Door County

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With Caesar, Grandma’s golden retriever

In September Diana and I celebrated our marriage with friends and family at Margate Park.  Then, in winter after the Xmas rush of the bookstore, we had our usual post holiday party, this time at Nancy Singham’s apartment, where Joyce and Nancy presented us with a special map to find our way back from cloud nine.  We have never needed the map.

* * * * * * * *

This Story Begins . . . [I wrote this after meeting David for the first time]

The little brown-skinned boy standing in front of me is David.  I’m in the children-who-came-alone section of the American Airlines terminal at O’Hare.  It’s June of 1992. David is 11. David came 12 hours earlier than expected.  The airport, unable to reach Diana, finally three hours later found me, sitting at my desk.  Perhaps I was laughing with Nancy Singham about some funny newspaper article.  Perhaps I was having a late lunch. Maybe I was doing something important that bookstore owners are supposed to do:  worrying about making payroll this week; buying new books to restock shelves; planning author readings to bring more people into the store; telephoning a local homeless organization planning a major event to publicize their new poetry chapbook.  Perhaps I was taking a nap.

The telephone call woke me, whatever I was doing.  In minutes I had left a message for Diana and was out the door, to the last minute borrowed car, to the airport. Diana came shortly thereafter.  But the first face he saw, that knew who he was, was mine.  So I introduced myself:  My name is Lew.  And that’s when this story begins.

No.

David is Diana’s and Matt’s son.  The story began then. Twelve years earlier, or maybe more, maybe genetically more, or maybe the homunculus paradox defies a beginning. Perhaps, where the story “begins” is a semantic blind alley.  And now I begin to question why I’m searching for the beginning in the first place.  It’s convenient to draw a line and say: “My story begins here.”

But even my story with David doesn’t really begin here, at the airport. Maybe it began with my first real consciousness that Diana had children.  Maybe the first night, in my apartment, when Diana spoke to Matt under his threat to send David to her on the next plane the very next day.

But, I ask myself, if I begin this story here, at one of the various stages of getting to know David that I experienced, am i cutting out a whole wedge of David’s existence?I think it might be fairer to tell the story beginning with David in second grade; with David starting fires; with David breaking his arm riding a bicycle and not telling anyone. I never met those Davids.

But the small, brown-skinned boy staring at me, into me, silently reading me at the airport is a David who developed out of the Davids to whom I’ve alluded.  And now begins our story.

I didn’t exactly appear at the airport a tabella rasa, a blank slate. I came a 50 year old, recently-married-for-the-second-time-man. I came a man who despaired of having a “family” — children to raise for example. I came a recently divorced man, yearning to complete his life. I stumbled to the airport, awkward, realizing that I was about to meet a young man who knew nothing about me, except that I had (at least) intercepted his mother in her already estranged relationship with her former husband. I reasoned that he must feel that it was my fault that Diana and Matt could not reconcile.  I stepped into that holding area acutely aware of the concern and anguish that must be coursing through David’s mind about how we abandoned him.  I stepped into the holding area filled with hope, with optimism, with fear and uncertainty.  Worrying: do I shake hands as in a formal introduction? do I hug this frightened stranger? Should my first words be: “Don’t worry, Diana is on her way”?

And that’s when I said, “Hello, my name is Lew.”

Since then, since David and I stared at each other and made a halting approach at each other, made a handshake and a welcome, we’ve played a little game together. From my side of the game board, call it  “I wonder what he’s thinking.”  Sometimes the game expresses genuine curiosity, as in “I’d like to get inside his head and look out.  I wonder how I would see the world.”  Sometimes the game expresses my anxiety, as in “I hope I haven’t made him hate me.”  Sometimes in frustration, “I want to get inside his head because I can’t understand how he could possibly have done what he did.”  Sometimes my game bursts beyond the rules, out of bounds of mere thought: red-faced, knit-brow, gnashed teeth anger, my hands tremble with fear of what David might do, what I might do.

This story is a way to approach learning to live with all the complex Davids that confront me.  About David’s fears and about my fears. David’s love and mine. David gave me these stories, surely as he gave his life into our hands.  In that exchange, the stories became mine to discover, and as I discover them, I give them to you.

* * * * * * * * *

Chopping Vegetables [Written 3 or 4 years later, when David was at Sullivan High School and we lived across the street from the school on North Shore and Greenview. David had been out all night and not returned home.]

In a new book called Blue Jelly, the author writes of her sense of loss and finding solace in the task of canning fruit.  I stand at the window chopping vegetables.  A catalpa tree now shades my third floor kitchen window.  It’s almost a fourth floor apartment, and “now” because a month ago I questioned if the tree still lived.  This is our first spring in this apartment.  Catalpas sprout leaves later than most trees. And so, when in mid May little green nodes appeared on the bare twigs, we opened a bottle of wine and celebrated. But today David did not return home.  This story is about David.  Every story is about David.

I stand at the window next to the sink chopping vegetables with a Chinese cleaver. The zen of salad-making soothes the agitated soul. Each vegetable requires a different kind of stroke and preparation.You don’t strip the fibrous strings from a celery stick the same way you strip the strings from a pea pod. Cutting a tomato and a cucumber are sensual, but in different ways. Have you ever, for example, watched the sticky sap from a cut cucumber attempt to bind the wound?

I stand at my third floor kitchen window, chopping vegetables, looking at the green world below and around, listening to the birds singing in the catalpa.Today again the robin carols.  Yesterday, perhaps some finches. At another time a cardinal gave its shrill call. The zen of salad making is more than the art of chopping. I lose myself each day in the sounds and visions surrounding this apartment, sometimes dreaming, other times dreading.  Today I notice the cottonwoods are shedding delicate bolls to the gentle breeze’s play.  Today I notice buds on the catalpa trees.  The spring succession of blossoms proceeds, and soon the trees will leaf out to their fullest.  Tulip trees have yet to blossom.

My window, that I stand at chopping vegetables, opens into the embrace of catalpa branches. Once a short time ago they were bare. Then the twigs took on a green  tinge as tiny buds emerged.  They became small, barely noticeable leaves.  That they would ever become the kind of leaf you would imagine one could roll cigars in — well, that would be a miracle.  Of course one doesn’t roll cigars in catalpa leaves.  And in mid June they haven’t reached that size, yet.  But it is a miracle.

I stand at my window wondering what is a miracle, really. Another new book The Bible Code claims to analyze the Bible mathematically to come up with predictions. It’s author is an intellectual twin of the modern day mystic who claims to see the Virgin Mary’s image in the light reflected through spilled corn oil on a kitchen window sill not unlike mine.

An old story haunts me.

It’s 1970.  I have a real job. I get to take a vacation, for the first time.  I drive up to Vancouver from Los Angeles, along the breath-taking coast much of the way. After camping inland on the Russian River one day, I head north around historic Fort Ross and pick up three hitch-hikers: a man and woman in their early twenties and their young child, perhaps three years old. We rode together through redwood country.  I had a harmonica with me that I’d hoped to learn something about.  With company in the car, I talked instead about the miracle of redwood trees.  That they even existed seemed a miracle to me, even with my scientific training.  This young man would have nothing to do with miracles.  Science, he said, explains everything.  This between choruses of a song played frequently on the radio, Neil Young crooning “Down by the river, I shot my baby.”

Perhaps it was a miracle that we survived that moment, camped by the Trinity River, he, his partner, their child, and I.  To this day I wonder if he “shot his baby” later.  And which was his “baby,” mother or child?  That the redwoods survive may also be a miracle.  One miracle that did not happen: I did not get to know my harmonica.

I stand at the window chopping vegetables for a salad that I believe will be miraculous. It will be filled with red and green peppers, red and green leaf lettuce, jicama, tomatoes, celery, pea pods, walnuts, cucumber, green onions, cilantro, carrot, for and perhaps mushrooms.

Standing at my window, I assert that I do believe in miracles. They are not the reflections-in-the-corn-oil kind though. That the catalpa leaf grows like it does. That red and green peppers have such different tastes. That bok choy tastes so clean. That David will return home.  That things grow and develop, sometimes even in spite of what is done to them.  Sometimes in spite of what they do to themselves.

* * * * * * * * * * *

In 2016, David is no longer the small boy at the airport, and I’m glad to say I feel a certain ease with him that I’ve never felt before.  He and his partner Jeni have left Green Bay and moved in with us while they look for an apartment.

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David in Rockford

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Diana and David in Janesville, WI

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David and Diana in our living room at Xmas

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David, Lew and Jeni.  David without hair.

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Navea on the left and Dayshawn on the right (David’s children) flank Zachary in the center and John in back (Courtney’s boys).

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Dayshawn

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Navea

Mementos 6: A Tale of Four Bookstores, Following Dreams, Remembering Charlie Clements and Eduardo Galeano

Mementos 6: A Tale of Four Bookstores, Following Dreams, Remembering Charlie Clements and Eduardo Galeano

[I’m preparing for mitral valve surgery in November, 2016. One of the instructions is to bring mementos with me. The best way to do this without hiring a moving truck (Diana’s suggestion) is to put some of what I would bring with me on this blog. I can then access it on my phone. That is my goal here]

At 71 my father quit working and decided to follow his dream. George and my mother, Anna, moved to Los Angeles to be with Greta’s family and with me. The year was 1961. I left to go to college at USC the year before. Uprooted from connections to the Rosenbaum

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There sits George, perched atop the gear wheel, a location unknown.

family and friends in New Haven devastated him. Selling the house and packing our belongings exacted a corresponding physical toll. The person who walked off the plane and into my arms in Los Angeles was not the father I’d left behind.

There was his dream though. The 15 years of employment at Mayer Rogol’s clothing store in Seymour had been steady work, but the wages were meager and George chafed at working for Anna’s family. At home we were surrounded by books, most of which had come from what my father saved from his Corner Bookstore, part of a legendary used book section in New York. They rested comfortably in oak bookcases I remember him building in the 1940s. The only power tool he had was a drill; he fashioned them with hand tools alone. He came west hoping to use the proceeds from the sales of

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George’s Corner Bookstore, 120 4th Ave. in 1930s

the house to purchase a bookstore again. To do something he thought was really useful, to do something that gave him satisfaction.

We visited used bookstores around the city together – Partridge had just opened on Hollywood Blvd, right next to Pickwick’s emporium of books; we looked at Yesterday’s Books crammed into a dusty, corner space on Alvarado. And after just a few looks we realized that the dream was a fantasy: there was nothing that even the entire $20,000 could purchase. The light disappeared from his eyes, the walk slowed, and George settled into 5 years of disappointment and Parkinson’s syndrome before he died in a nursing home, debilitated with a stroke.

* * * * * * * *

Maybe my love of books came from watching my father’s hands craft those bookcases and wonder about the magic that they held. I adored one of the books on the shelves:  Jack London’s Call of the Wild.  The story of Buck resonated with me — early on it was Buck, the hero, who captured my imagination, but I think as I grew older I identified with the Thornton character and his relationship with Buck — and I read it over and over again.

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“Greta Rosenbaum”  inscribed in George’s hand on the inside front cover

That earned great praise from Anna (another reason for me to care so much for the book). Soon I started scouring used bookstores to find treasures.  From somewhere I knew that used books contained special value, though I did not know what it was.  By then I had begun reading philosophy, and especially Bertrand Russell, whose penetrating criticisms of organized religion were eye-opening. And then came my passion for Shaw, his prefaces as much as his plays. Visiting Greta in Los Angeles during summers in the 1950s, I made a habit of visiting the Goodwill Store in the downtown area as often as possible, where I’d pick up used editions for a buck or less.  I’d proudly show my acquisitions to my father, who dismissed them and therefore my ability to recognize what was good (valuable).  And then, for high school graduation, Greta gave me a complete set of Shaw plays.

* * * * * * * *

I was in my second year of medical school when my father died, and two years later I quit school. In the mid 1970s I settled in at the Midnight Special Bookstore.  We moved the store from its tiny Venice location to the third street mall in Santa Monica, vastly improving both its visibility and its size.  We immediately began planning to take advantage of the new space we had, with author events and readings and special programming around social issues. The first opportunity we had came in the spring of 1984. By then, the Midnight Special was renowned for its selection of Latin American literature and history, especially for its concentration on Central America, then in the throes of conflagration.

Our store best sellers included any new book on El Salvador. Photographer Susan Meiselas published a book of her work, Nicaragua June, 1978- July, 1979, (Pantheon, 1981) which followed the revolution to the overthrow of Somoza and the triumph of the Sandinistas. She followed this up with a book on El Salvador, the work of 30 photographers. Grove Press documented the struggles in the countries of Central America with a series of books that quickly rose to the level of our best sellers. In 1984, then, it only made sense for Gayle Browning, who represented Bantam Books, to talk with us about hosting an event with

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The book cover of Witness to War.

Charlie Clements. Bantam, mainly a mass market publisher, had just published in hard cover Clements’ Witness to War, the account of his journey from the US Air Force pilot in Vietnam to serving as a non-combatant medic with the rebels in El Salvador. After leaving El Salvador, he testified before Congress and traveled across the country talking about the brutality of US foreign policy in El Salvador.

Born in 1946, Clements had graduated from the Air Force Academy and spent a few months in 1967 at UCLA. There he saw the campus vigils about the war escalating in Vietnam, perhaps even the same demonstrations on Wilshire Boulevard that I had seen and taken part in. Perhaps seeds of his future disillusionment were planted here, but at the time he looked at the protesters as misguided, and he went on assignment to Vietnam. After about 9 months and 50 missions, he had grown to recognize the immorality of the war effort, especially because of government lies about military operations in Laos and Cambodia. He refused to fly any more missions, was returned to the U.S., confined to a psychiatric ward and discharged with a 10% mental disability. He became a physician and, in 1980, while treating undocumented immigrant farm workers in California’s central valley, he heard from his patients about the growing U.S. involvement in the war in El Salvador. He feared another Vietnam was developing there. He volunteered his medical assistance in the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) controlled territory, and entered the Guazapo front in El Salvador in March 1982.

During the civil war in El Salvador, Charlie Clements worked as a physician in rural villages that were bombed, rocketed, or strafed daily by their own government. One day a peasant asked, “Why don’t you carry a weapon like the other doctors?” Clements explained that when he returned from the Vietnam War he became a Quaker and that Quakers believe in non-violence. The peasant shook his head in disdain saying, “You gringos are always concerned about violence done with machetes or machine guns. I used to work on the hacienda,” he said, pointing into the distance. “I fed the dogs there [in the hacienda] bowls of meat and milk even when my own children were hungry. If the dogs were ill, I took them to a veterinarian, but my children died without ever seeing a doctor. You will never understand violence or non-violence until you understand the violence to the spirit from watching helplessly as your children suffer.”

“Activists in the US [Clements wrote] . . . have always had to jump in front of the ship of state to keep it on a self-correcting course. Whether the issue was slavery, labor rights, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam, Central America, or Iraq, it is the determined protests of those who will settle for nothing less than justice or peace that have altered the course of history. The moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice by gravity.”

http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/charlie-clements (supplementary information from an interview with Charlie Clements https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYCge-l-GRU)

 

Of course we jumped at the chance to host this book party. Who else had the ties to communities as well as universities to bring an audience for an author like this? And then we realized what we had done. We had never had a publication for a hard cover book (most of our customers were paperback readers). We’d never done a signing with a major publisher. We had never done cooperative advertising with a publisher before. No matter our vision for what we would like to be, inseparably connected to the cultural life of the Los Angeles basin, our insularity as a political bookstore limited our possible outreach. The day of the signing I paced the length of the store in high anxiety, prowled the front of the store to monitor that we actually had customers coming to hear from Charlie Clements,

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Charlie Clements

and then when the youthful looking physician, four years my junior, walked in the door and we seated him at the folding table piled high with his Witness to War, when he began to talk about his experiences — the 50 some people listened in rapt attention. Then people lined up, around the wooden table shaped, we thought, like an amoeba to have their books signed.

 

I stood to the side, watching the flow, when one person stepped out of line to talk with me. Diane Glinos was a student at UCLA and a committed participant of the Nicaragua solidarity work. She had taken flyers about the event to her school and to the organizations in which she was active. She had an earnest expression on her face, her dark, intense eyes told me she had something important to tell me, when she whispered, “Lew, you should offer to introduce Jackson Browne to Charlie Clements.”   My quizzical look as I looked around convinced her to tell me that he was standing in line. No one in line wore a placard saying “I am Jackson Browne” and I had no idea what he looked like, so I suggested that she might want to do that herself.

 

Diane thanked me for the offer, but thought it would be more appropriate for a representative from the bookstore to do this. She was gracious enough to point him out to me (without making me feel any more stupid than I already felt). I asked Jackson if he would like me to introduce him to Dr. Clements, but he told me he already knew Clements and would wait his turn in line to say hello. But, he said, “I’d like to see if you can get a book for me. It’s a book of photos about Nicaragua. . .” and before he could get any further I told him we had the book in stock and how many would he like, and would he prefer hard or soft cover. On his request I brought two copies of Susan Meiselas’ book to him. On that day, he may not have bought anything other than these and copies of Charlie Clements’ book. But after this, Jackson Browne made many visits to the Midnight Special to find the reading material he needed, to find out the information he could not find elsewhere. Of 220px-jackson_browne_-_lives_in_the_balancecourse now I had to listen to Jackson’s music, so a bought his new release, Lives in the Balance.  The music just reverberated within my brain, “There are lives in the balance, there are people under fire, there are children at the cannon,” and then the magical pipes, the Latin phrasing of the the instruments.  So when Jackson called one day to ask about some books, I had to tell him what I thought about the album.  This precipitated one of the most influential conversations I’ve had.  I admit that until then I hadn’t much considered the artistry of rock and roll.  Jackson forced me to think of the seriousness with which rock and roll musicians pursue their craft.  And I’ve thought about that afternoon often ever since.

* *  * * * * * *

Eduardo Galeano sat at my dining room table in my Chicago apartment on Lill Street one block away from Guild Books, pen poised and a stack of books to be signed at his side. Breakfast consumed, he had reluctantly agreed to sign some books in advance of his appearance at the bookstore later that Saturday, 1988.   He was anxious, it seemed, and we had been warned that his health was mending after some heart issues. We didn’t press him to sign books, but were delighted when he agreed with our suggestion that some folks might just want to purchase a signed copy without talking with him.

I sat mesmerized with the tremendous accomplishment of getting Galeano to Guild; even more amazed by the good fortune of giving up my bedroom to him and my relocating to the living room couch. How did that happen?

Three years earlier, in 1985, I’d been a bookseller at Midnight Special Books in Santa Monica, California. I had done many things at the bookstore, but in 1985 I was mostly the person in charge of ordering books. While the consolidation in book selling and publishing had been well underway, it was still a few years before the tremendous expansion of super stores. It was still important for sales representatives to call on booksellers for book orders.

Doug Hodges, who later became a national sales manager for Random House, s0ld the Random House catalogue to me then. He always came to see me early in the season. He told me I prepared more thoroughly than any of his accounts for our meetings, and, even with the smaller number of imprints under the Random House rubric than I would later have to deal with, meeting with Doug could be an all day event. Start at 9 AM, break at noon for lunch, then come back to wrap up from 1 to 3. All independent bookstores relied heavily on Vintage paperbacks, Pantheon literary and political titles. Less important for us were the books in the venerable Knopf imprint, the Random House titles and Crown and Villard were least important. Nevertheless I always combed through each of those catalogs to find the gems, which was one reason Doug came early to see me. He said he learned a lot about the importance of some of the books that no one else knew about. This day in 1985 was going to be one of those days.

In the Pantheon catalog I found Eduardo Galeano’s Genesis, “the extraordinary first volume of a great and ambitious project” reads the flap of the book jacket. This is probably part of the catalog copy that leaped out at me. And the first thing I said to Doug as we sat down to the Pantheon list was: “We want Galeano in our store when he tours for the book. He has GOT to come here. No place else in Los Angeles area would know what to do to promote this book or who has the connections to get people to hear him.”

Hodges sat dumbfounded. “Who is he?” Doug asked.

I told him about how a generation of Mexican and South American intellectuals had cut their critical thinking eye-teeth on Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (two decades later Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would choose to present a copy to recently elected President Barack Obama); how that was the most consistent best selling book on Latin

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Eduardo Galeano signed the third volume of the Memory of Fire trilogy at my breakfast table in 1988

American history in that section of the store; how the most important Latin American studies departments/teachers in the Los Angeles area from UCLA to UC Irvine to Cal State Los Angeles relied on that book, all of whom we knew and to whose students we therefore had a direct line. And when I got through Doug reiterated that was why he came to the Midnight Special first. He had never heard of Galeano, he now had something to tell other booksellers when he showed the catalog.

But Random House was not planning on touring him, it was not in their plans at all, he was too unknown in the US, Random House could not afford to bring him from Uruguay where he lived. Excuse after excuse met my rants and raves and criticism of their short sightedness.

Random House did not bring Galeano to the US in 1985.

The situation repeated itself, complete with rants and raves and refusals from Random House in 1987, when the second volume, Faces and Masks, was published. This time, however, Doug knew who Eduardo Galeano was and thought he would pre-empt my tantrum by telling me in advance that Galeano was not coming to the United States.

At the end of 1987 I packed my Toyota Station Wagon with its rebuilt engine and its 200,000 miles and drove to Chicago to join the Guild Books staff. One of the first sales representatives I met was Random House’s Mary McCarthy. While poring over the Pantheon catalog I saw that Galeano’s third and concluding volume of the Memory of Fire Trilogy, Century of the Wind, would be published that season (1988). I guess the cumulative brow beating Random House reps had gotten from the likes of Richard Bray at Guild and me at Midnight Special must have taken its toll on the Random House touring brass.

This time Galeano would come to the US.  Richard had come to know Eduardo Galeano’s agent in New York, Susan Bergholz, who insisted that Galeano needed peace and quiet while he was here, recuperating from his illness. Some place away from what she anticipated would be a flurry of activists tiring him out and keeping him from getting the rest that he needed on what looked like a very strenuous tour. He hid out in my bedroom.

So there he was, in my dining room, at the table at which he had just finished breakfast, signing books, including all three volumes of the trilogy, Open Veins, Days and Nights of Love and War, and a copy of each signed to me, all signed “gratefully, mil mil abrazos,” and more importantly with the caricature of the pig with the flower in his mouth, a trademark he said he reserved for special autographs.

But, he said, “I will not read.” OK, we thought, we don’t want to press him on this, make him angry or more anxious. Yes bookstore patrons, our bookstore patrons, want the author to give them a taste of what is in the book and talk about it.   But here is a man who is clearly nervous about the upcoming event. So we backed off, and Eduardo went for a walk, returning directly to the bookstore an hour or so before the event was to start, declaring himself willing to sign more books in advance if we wished. And yes, we wished.

As he signed, the people began to arrive for the book signing. He was seated in the back room, but heard the commotion beginning to build, glanced into the store area, and said, “I think I will read. But I left my book with my notations in your apartment.” I ran to the building, ran up to the third floor apartment (yes, we had cleared with his agent that walking up 3 flights would not be too strenuous for Eduardo), found his book and ran back with it in time to start the program.

The crowd hung on his words, as he read in English but also in Spanish, and then answered questions, altogether about an hour and a half, and then began signing books, as the line snaked throughout the store. He talked with each person as much as the person wanted; he took pictures with the customers and their children. I stood at his side doing the task that all booksellers do in this situation: open the books to the pages preferred for the signature. And about 45 minutes into the signing ritual Eduardo turned to me with a broad but incredulous smile: “They like me. They really like me!”

Before he left, Eduardo toured the 3,000 square feet of the book store and spent some time

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The Haymarket monument sculpted by Mary Brogger, located just north of Randolph on DesPlaines. An abstracted wagon/platform now marks the spot from which the speakers addressed the crowd in Haymarket Square.

looking at the political and labor posters we had for sale, on display in a rack. He fingered the display, took some notes, and left. The next morning friends of ours recorded an interview with him on video and took him in search of Haymarket Square, a search that proved unsuccessful.

Four years would pass before Eduardo would return to Guild. In May, 1992 my divorce from my first wife was finally becoming a reality, my marriage to my second wife a month away, and the book Eduardo would be signing would be The Book of Embraces. The existence of the bookstore itself was tenuous as both a Barnes & Noble and a Borders had opened in the neighborhood and as the neighborhood became less affordable for our regulars. Our core clientele were moving away. We had to close one third of the bookstore and the Guild Complex, the not-for-profit literary organization we had spawned to take up the promotion of literary events, had to move (they occupied a performance space in the South Loop called The Edge of the Lookingglass. This is where Eduardo was going to read.

This time Eduardo stayed in a hotel off Michigan Avenue. We agreed to meet in the lobby of his hotel. There were some items he had to buy while he was on tour, and we could talk while I accompanied him on his rounds. We went to one of the “Magnificent Mile’s” most appealing shopping attractions, the Water Tower Place, where Eduardo wanted to pick up some CDs for his daughter and where I knew there was a small CD store. He picked up a couple of classical CDs and a jazz CD, off the sale rack at the front of the store, but then was stymied in finding the CD his daughter wanted.
Eduardo walked to the checkout counter and asked the sales clerk, in faltering but carefully pronounced words, “Do you have anything by the [clearly and slowly enunciated] Butt Hole Surfers”? A quizzical and sheepish look spread over his face as he said it, almost apologetic. But the clerk was the one who apologized, saying that he wished the store would carry them, but probably the best place to try would be Wax Trax Records (which was right across from the Guild Book Store!).

That evening at the Guild Complex at the Edge of the Lookingglass, Eduardo Galeano read to an even larger crowd than he had the first time in Chicago. And among the things he read was this tribute to Guild Bookstore, the “largest bookstore in Chicago” in this anecdote:

Forgetting
Chicago is full of factories. There are even factories right in the center of the city, around the world’s tallest building. Chicago is full of factories. Chicago is full of workers.

Arriving in the Haymarket district, I ask my friends to show me the place where the workers whom the whole world salutes every May 1st were hanged in 1886.

It must be around here,’ they tell me. But nobody knows where.

No statue has been erected in memory of the martyrs of Chicago in the city of Chicago. Not a statue, not a monolith, not a bronze plaque. Nothing.

May 1st is the only truly universal day of all humanity, the only day when all histories and all geographies, all languages and all religions and cultures of the world coincide. But in the United States, May 1st is a day like any other. On that day, people work normally and no one, or almost no one, remembers that the rights of the working class did not spring whole from the ear of a goat, or from the hand of God or the boss.

After my fruitless exploration of the Haymarket, my friends take me to the largest bookstore in the city. And there, poking around, just by accident, I discover an old poster that seems to be waiting for me, stuck among many movie and rock posters. The poster displays an African proverb: Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.

 

In 1995 Guild Books had been closed for two years, but the Guild Complex hosted Eduardo for his newest book, Walking Words. Diana and I drove him to the reading location, a settlement house in the Wicker Park area, and on the way crossed the Chicago River. Walking Words is a book of myths, some modern, some older, many of water spirits and animals, in a collaborative with Jose Francisco Borges, whose woodcuts illustrate the stories. Diana told Eduardo stories about the Chicago River, whose history included years of being set on fire from the materials polluting the waters, years of being unsafe to drink for the animals that populated the river, years of being attacked by the manufacturers who degraded the water supply and the people who lived on its banks. Eduardo listened, intent, with evident pain in his face. “But wait,” Diana said, “the river had its revenge. Last year the river refused to be contained by the man made barricades, burst through into the tunnel through which the subways run and up into the streets of the city, causing millions and millions of dollars of damage.”

“The earth has memory,” Eduardo said. “That is important. Memory is important. I want to know more about memory.”

 

We know now where the Haymarket was, where the rally was for which the Haymarket

galeano-we-say-yes-to-diana-and-lew

In his 1992 book of critical essays, We Say No, Eduardo wrote: “We say no to some people. And we say yes to Diana and Lew.

martyrs were arrested and imprisoned and executed. In 2006 Henry Holt published Eduardo’s Voices of Time, continuing the epigrammatic form he has worked with, this time “stories that I lived or heard.”   At the Guild Complex we convinced Susan Bergholz to take Eduardo’s strenuous tour through Chicago once more. He read for us at the Museum of Contemporary Art to a packed audience. For many, this was the culmination of what Guild Books had been about. For us, it was an opportunity of bringing memory, forgetting, and not knowing at all together, these themes that strike at the heart of Galeano’s work and of the revolutionary process.

May Day, 2006, just weeks earlier, I walked among almost a million Chicagoans along a route from Union Park to Randolph into the Loop and Grant Park. The steel, concrete and glass canyons resounded with the chants of marchers, many of them recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” reverberated from the walls of those buildings, the marchers swelling into the streets in a mass farther than anyone could see.

But before coming to the loop, just a few blocks out of Union Park, we came to Randolph and Des Plaines. I stepped to the sidewalk, stood in the shadow of the corner building and looked north as the throng walked by me. The contingent from one union, also looking north, paused briefly and saluted the sculpture across the way – a recreation of the platform from which the speakers addressed their audience that May, 1886. Most marchers seemed unaware of the historic place through which they were walking, although well aware of the historic day on which they were marching.

How could we bring this reality of American consciousness to the reading that Eduardo was going to do? We made sure that some of those union leaders representing the marchers and their consciousness of May Day introduce Eduardo. And so they did, and we had the chance to talk about the sculpture, the march, and that although many marchers did not know where Haymarket square was, the fact that their march reclaimed not only the memory of the martyrs but the reality of the struggle which continues.

* * * * * * * * *

My life after Guild Books led me to become an assistant manager in Barnes & Noble.On the day I received my pin for 10 years service and loyalty,  3 years away from my being able to retire with full social security, Barnes & Noble fired me for not pushing the employees to work harder.  For the first time in 30 years I didn’t manage a bookstore, didn’t have to worry about meeting payroll in my own store or maintaining a sane workplace in a store I didn’t own. I sighed with relief.  At some point after I had been forced into “retirement” I was talking with Nelson Peery, who had been instrumental in my coming to Chicago in the first place.  Don’t worry, he said, you’ll get a bookstore again, I’m sure of it.  I didn’t tell him that in the economic environment of  superstores that was the last thing on my mind.  I thought about my father’s own disappointment in 1962, and instead of bookstores I thought of what new chapter would open in my life, now that I would have the opportunity to follow my dreams of revolutionary activity. Fundamentally this story is about literature and revolution; It is about history and lions and how, by recovering memory, by making known what is unknown, the lions begin to write their own history.

 

Labor Day or Labor(less) Day? Thinking About A New Generation — Lew Rosenbaum

Labor Day or Labor(less) Day? Thinking About A New Generation 

Musing by Lew Rosenbaum on Labor Day 2016

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Detail from the Rogers Park Mural “We The People” by Diana Berek, Juan-Carlos Perez, and Chiara

Friday September 2.  The beginning of the four day Labor Day weekend.  How to think about what labor faces now, not just the trade unions which are the usual celebrators of this weekend, but about labor in its broad aspect, the class of workers including the partially working, the hardly working, the not working, the never to be able to work? Then Lynn Bremer said that that the “artist of the day” on XRT radio would be . . . performances of songs for Labor Day. At that moment he put “Bang The Drum All Day” on, I turned the radio up, and laughed out loud. I decided at that instant that not working would have to come on Labor Day itself, but until then . . .

Day One: What Is Working Class Life?

Diana interjected, as I listened to XRT’s Labor Day offerings, “The Eagle Flies on Friday.” If Stormy Monday begins the week, it’s payday when the paycheck comes and the eagle flies. YES!! Saturday we go out and play, Sunday kneel down and pray!

In between Sunday and Saturday, however, comes the workaday world.  Such a richly layered narrative of working class life in such a compressed, concise, framework,  Patty Griffin’s lyric resonates with me on so many levels. “You could cry, or die, or just make pies all day.”  Click here for “Making Pies.”

“Will the wolf survive” is the question facing us all as we find ourselves strangers in our own strange land, fighting for survival.  The visuals on this one lead into Day Two’s theme, with the migrant’s constant search for home.   Click here for “Will The Wolf Survive?”

Day Two, Saturday:  The Sharpest Expression Facing Labor Is Homelessness

This is the “Trump version” of “I ain’t got no home in this world.” At least we know where Donald learned his racism now. Check out also how it begins in the first verse: “The po-lice make it hard, wherever I may go.” No romanticism about good cops vs bad cops, it’s the role they play in society.   Click here for “I Ain’t Got No Home”

“No matter who you are, no matter where you go in life, you’re gonna need somebody to stand by you.”  Street musicians performing this song in streets all around the world, starting on the beach in Santa Monica, Ca.    Click here for “Stand By Me”

“If Woody Guthrie were alive today, he’d have a lot to write about,” says Bruce Springsteen introducing this version of his Ghost of Tom Joad.  A searing guitar solo leads into the final ” I’m sittin down here in the campfire light waitin on the ghost of Tom Joad”   Click here for the “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

Day Three, Sunday: How “Which Side Are You On?” Changes

Florence Reece sings the original mine workers song.  In Harlan County, there are no neutrals there.  Spare and sharp. Click here for “Which Side Are You On?”

Rebel Diaz launches a torrid hip-hop take on this classic. “The truth is, we’re in so much debt, the only way out is revolution or war.  So now the question is, which side are you on?”  Click here for the Rebel Diaz version.

“We’re on the freedom side” is Adam Gottlieb’s take on this song, updated to 2016 in Chicago.    Click here for the Adam Gottlieb version

Day Four, Monday:What Does The End of Work Mean?

This is the song I heard on the radio the Friday before Labor Day, part of WXRT’s Labor Day song focus, that kicked off my idea for this musical reverie.  Nelson Peery asks in The Future Is Up To Us, “What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about surviving”?  I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZclddLcOYYA  Click here to bang on the drums all day.

David Coe wrote, and in this version sings, a song made popular by Johnny Paycheck.  Thankfully I no longer have to say “take this job and shove it” (though more than occasionally I remember how little my social security covers, and I think wistfully I’d like to have a job to be able to shove) Click here to take your job and shove it!

Pete Seeger sings “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” my favorite utopian song of abundance, written by Harry McClintock, where they hung the jerk that invented work. Click here to find Big Rock Candy Mountain communism!

On My Mother’s 120th Birthday: The Ideas of a New Generation

 

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Anna Rosenbaum with Meyer Lederman, 1922

LEW ROSENBAUM· SATURDAY, JUNE 25, 2016

My mother, Anna Hodos, was born June 24, 1896. The place was Oshmyany, a town at that time in Lithuania. I write “at that time” because it was close to the border with Russia, and, from time to time, was either in the Russian empire. . . or not. Borders are often political constructs imposed by imperial states, after all.

My grandfather brought his family to the United States ahead of the Russian (czarist) army attempting to conscript him (we believe that he assumed the name Hodos to escape conscription; when we talked about it, my sister Greta and I could never be sure what their real surname might be). They came to the U.S. after the failure of the first Russian revolution of 1905, traveling across Europe and shipping to the U.S. from Liverpool, England. Arriving in Ellis Island in 1906, my grandmother was turned away because she had an eye infection, trachoma. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, trachoma was the leading reason for immigrants to be deported from Ellis island. She returned to Europe with her youngest child, to return some time later through Canada. I can only imagine her fear at leaving her family behind to go back to Liverpool, knowing no English; her strength returning to Liverpool, only to fight her way back to her family in the U.S.

The family must have had some kind of network to rely on. It was a time of great Eastern European immigration to the U.S. The garment factories and the tenements where the garment workers lived in New York were filled with Jewish refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Upton Sinclair wrote about Lithuanian immigrants to Chicago in his epic novel of the same period, The Jungle. Several Lithuanian language newspapers served that large community and periodicals in nearly every other European language brought the news to those working in the stockyards and the steel industry. Branches of my family would settle in New York and Chicago, but my grandparents settled in the small industrial and farming community of Ansonia in Southern Connecticut. The town was situated on the Housatonic River valley, the home of metal industries and textile mills. My family must have brought some resources with them, because they established a feed and grain store serving the agricultural community.

I believe that my mother finished high school. She was slated to work in the store while her younger brother went to college. Regardless of her educational level, she was caught up in the intellectual ferment of the period. She would have none of being bound to the small town store. Greta told me that she ran away to New York to try to make her way there, but her father came after her and brought her back to Ansonia. She remained rebellious, however, and joined the radical movement of the time, the YPSLs or Young People’s Socialist League, and was influenced by the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1919, John Reed (at that time perhaps the best known journalist in the U.S.) published his pathbreaking Ten Days That Shook The World, describing his observations while in Russia during the revolution. Anna got a letter from Reed along with a copy of the book. Reed wrote that “the Capitalist press is endeavoring to suppress the sale of the book,” refusing to review it and give it any distribution outside of the big cities in the Northeast. He appealed to the Comrades to help distribute the book and to make money for their collectives at the same time.

New ideas permeated the immigrant working class movement in this period. The big garment workers unions, headquartered in Chicago and New York, led organizing drives in New York and New England. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 killed over 100 workers and sparked the fight for labor law reform for the next two decades. The Bread and Roses strike engulfed the textile mills of Lawrence, MA in 1912, with 23,000 workers taking to the streets, defying ethnic differences that the employers had used to keep them apart.. Workers and intellectuals around the world rallied in defense of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, accused of murder in 1920 and executed in 1927 in Boston.

In this turmoil Anna met Meyer Lederman, pictured above in 1922 with her. He styled himself something of a “socialist Zionist,” though I never knew what he meant by that. There was, among the socialist leaning Jewish workers of the period and going back to the late 1800s, a trend who argued that wherever there was a Jew, the Jewish nation existed. This group refused to integrate themselves into the revolutionary organizations of the nations in which they lived, demanding a separate organization for themselves. This strand of socialism sparked debates in the garment workers movement. Perhaps this was a fundamental disagreement between Anna and Meyer; that I do not know. After the Communist Party was formed, she became part of that movement, but she and Meyer remained friends to the end of his life.

But somewhere in the early 1920s she met George Rosenbaum, whose last name she would assume without ever getting married. George never became a citizen.. Anna considered him an anarchist if he had any definitive political philosophy. He made friends with people on Book Row in Manhattan, worked in the Dauber and Pine used book shop, and then opened up his own store as the depression deepened. The store went out of business in a few years, and from the store he took what he thought were some of the valuable titles — and about 25 volumes of Russian and Soviet politics and history. The fear of deportation hung over his head throughout his life. His and Anna’s memory of the Palmer raids to arrest and deport radicals (1919-1920) revived in the post WWII McCarthy witch hunt.

From this union came my sister in 1928, and me in 1942.

I’m thinking of Anna today, June 24, of course, since she would have been 120 years old on this day. But there’s more. We are immigrants, the objects of the kind of hatred that the presidential race in the U.S. today is stoking. My people would have been those Trump would ban from immigration: after all, we bore the infection of Bolshevism. We were the wave upon wave of immigrants who took jobs from Americans in the steel plants and stockyards, driving the wages down. We were the scum feared by the voters in the British election to exit the European Union. I’m thinking of Anna today, because the Lithuanian/Russian border is today even more a figment of the political imagination, as is the U.S./ Mexican border.

In the era of globalization information flows freely ignoring borders. Capitalist relations have flown freely to the far reaches of the earth, leaving no nation untouched. Attempts to limit labor migration fail very much for the reason that labor follows the trail of capital and information. You can no more build a wall against labor than you can against electrons. But just as in 1919, when John Reed wrote to my mother, the new ideas and experiences of the immigrants in our society add to our understanding of the world. A social revolution is brewing today, even more than in 1919, because of the globalization and the electronic/technological revolution that has taken place.

Anna died in 1983, the same year that the bookstore I worked in got a computer. She would not recognize the world of today, almost 100 years after the third Russian Revolution of 1917. She would see instantly that the expectations of her working class life no longer beckon to the class created by the computer. And I suspect she’d quickly understand, that broad equality of poverty represents something fundamentally different in the new class structure of America and the world. Her generation could expect to participate in the expanding economic benefits accruing to workers. Reforms would take care of that. This generation can only reform society by taking it over, by wresting power from those who control the means of producing what we need to survive. By wresting power from those who are accelerating their calls to ban immigrants and build walls.

Our ideas and hopes, which come from the lived experience of our expectations, pose the real danger to the rich and powerful. I think Anna would be eager to distribute these ideas, just as she was called on to distribute the ideas of her generation.

.

When Corporations Are People: A Grim Fairy Tale by Lew Rosenbaum

When Corporations Are People:  A Grim Constitutional Fairy Tale

Or

How I Learned To Live With an Iron Heel on My Neck

poster by Doug Minkler

By Way of Introduction

This is the second of a two part series on the Constitution in history and how it has evolved.  The first part, by independent scholar Chris Mahin,  reviewed the revolutionary period of American history and its roots in the European enlightenment.  This part will deal with the Constitution itself, the debates leading up to its ratification, and the evolution of the political apparatus in this country.  We will look closely at how slavery impacted the development of the State, and how corporations and the State have been intertwined since the inception of the United States.  In the final analysis we want to look at these three propositions that are fundamental to understanding history and the present.

  • The Constitution is the legal framework upon which the State has been constructed. Within its content one can see the results of the debates that created it and can understand the class struggles that emerged from it. A general dictionary definition of “state” is: ” a nation or territory considered as an organized political community under one government”; a more specific definition, under which I am operating considers: “The State is a particular power of suppression”  (Friederich Engels).
  • The Constitution is an evolving document.  Interpretations of it have changed, depending on the forces in society.  Therefore, to rely on the thinking of the founders both discredits the revolutionary period in which it was written and makes us hidebound to the reactionary conclusions of that same period.
  • To analyze what is happening today requires that we understand history – but not be shackled by it.

Let’s restate some of the background of the years leading up to the revolution.

First, the revolutionary war was one phase of a century long struggle, in which European powers contested for global supremacy.  Viewed from our side of the Atlantic, it is often easy to ignore the monumental battles taking place between France, Spain, England and Portugal for control of the seas and hence the “right” to colonize the world.   Colonies provided the feudal nobility new sources of raw materials and other forms of wealth.  Some of the nobility who obtained the rights to colonize North America attempted to reproduce European feudal relations on the new landscape.  Every such extent failed within a few years of settling.  If nothing else, the opportunity for indentured servants, who formed the bulk of the early settlers, to escape (legally or otherwise) significantly altered their expectations.  The other feature that greatly influenced  development was the cash crop economy of the South, integrated into the emerging world economy by the production of sugar, tobacco and indigo.  What became known as the triangular trade– sugar and tobacco from the South and Caribbean shipped to England, where it would be sold and turned into rum and chewing and smoking products; money obtained from commerce or products thus manufactured then were shipped to West Africa where the profits would be used to purchase slaves; and the cargo of slaves made the return final leg of the triangle back to the South or Caribbean.  This was the beginning of a sophisticated capitalist process,

Triangular Trade

distinct from what was found in Europe, a process which shaped the history of America.

Second, this side of the Atlantic participated grudgingly in the revolutionary struggle, only coming late to the conclusion that this would need to be a war for separation of the colonies from England.  Even the idea of a “United States of America” was foreign to the colonists a short 20 years before the Declaration of Independence.  The revolutionaries themselves debated whether independence was necessary, up to the eve of the war and even after the victory.

Third, the American revolutionaries were by no means united on what kind of nation an independent America should be.  The reaction to the European conflict and the disagreements about how to relate to England can be found in the Constitution; but the main issues that writers of the Constitution fought over concerned what the new nation would look like.  And they made certain fundamental assumptions that were grounded in the theology and ideologies of the period.   The main, fundamental assumptions, codified in the Declaration of Independence, start out with this phrase: “We hold these truths to be self evident . . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

It is fair to say that none of the founders understood the radical implications of the statement that they had written in the Declaration and now were charged with carrying out in writing a Constitution.  We have discussed briefly in the first part of this presentation that  these words and the Constitution struck fear into the hearts of European monarchs in their palaces.  But the founders of the new, independent colonies deeply distrusted the implications.

They had, in the wake of their victory, written Articles of Confederation and effected a union that stumbled as it tried to stand.  The leaders of the new government could not raise taxes; could not pay their war debt; could not maintain an army; could not build the infrastructure to transport goods; could not protect the fledgling manufacturing and merchant interests from competition with the British Empire; and were everywhere confronted by former colonial administrations that resisted a centralized governmental structure.  Now 4 years after the Treaty of Paris certified the victory of the colonists,  many of the leaders saw the structure as a model of centrifugal force without a counterbalance.  The new nation was disintegrating and the cause was too much power dispersed.  Too much democracy.  In some ways, Shays Rebellion was the epitome of what was wrong.

Shays’ Rebellion

Daniel Shays was a Western Massachusetts  farmer who served as a lightning rod among all the other poor farmers threatened with high taxation and then foreclosures when they could not pay.  Leaders everywhere looked on with horror as the former Boston radicals, none more radical than Sam Adams, called out the militia on the rebellion of the poor.  What if this happened elsewhere?  What if this turned into a general insurrection to “alter or to abolish” the new government? What if a general slave insurrection would threaten the Southern planters?

The 55 men who gathered in Philadelphia in May 1787 had Shays and all he represented on their minds.  They were men of wealth and means, and highly educated for the time  —  when 1% of  the Americans had a college education, half of these men had been to college.  George Washington, probably the wealthiest man in America, presided over the convention.  Many of the men were people who had loaned the colonial army money and had much to gain by a central government that could and would repay them. In fact, they suffered under the Articles, because the government could not even pay the interest on the money owed them.

But they had some disagreements as well.

They did not agree on the extent to which democracy should be limited.  Who should be entitled to vote?  What offices should they be entitled to vote for, either directly or indirectly (through electors)? How long should an office holder be entitled to hold office?  What kind of man should be allowed to hold office?

They agreed (mostly) that they did not want to re-institute a monarchy; but how could they institute in the form of the government some way in which one of differing interests could not become dominant?  How could the powers of the government be effectively separated?

They did not agree on the relation between states and the central government.  How could the states maintain their autonomy within a centrally supreme structure?  How can the powers of federal and state and local governments be effectively divided? How can the sectional interests of the states be protected against the controlling tendencies of the federal government?

They did not agree on slavery, which was a sectional and economic interest but more than a sectional interest.  How could the South establish and maintain an electoral parity with the North? How could the property rights of slaveholders be protected from Northerners harboring escaped slaves? How could the rights of the slave traders be protected? How could free labor in the manufacturing centers of the North protect themselves against slave labor?  And what about the moral question of slavery itself?  81 year old Benjamin Franklin, petitioned the Convention for abolition, which in the final analysis the Convention refused to take up.

Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton, Madison and Jay took up the cause of the Constitution in a series of polemics published in the newspapers of the day, ultimately collected as The Federalist Papers.  Their opponents became known as the Anti-Federalists, which of course gave them a disadvantage from the start.  They were the “anti faction.”  Madison, soon to be allied with Jefferson and against Hamilton in the first administration under the new Constitution, wrote in the Federalist Papers that “faction” was the great enemy of democratic government, and that the faction most to be feared was that of the rabble, the majority, the poor.  The poor would always predominate in numbers, and the nation would need to find a way to enforce a government of the “best people.”  Madison and Hamilton meant that in a large nation, such as the new United States, electoral districts could be large enough, encompassing enough people, so that only those who were known to so many could stand a chance of being elected.  Only the best people.  The Anti Federalists disagreed among themselves about the degree of democracy, but leaned more toward a more direct democracy.

Madison and Hamilton also argued vigorously against a Bill of Rights.  This was the major platform of the Anti Federalists. In fact,  Anti Federalists blocked ratification of the Constitution until the Federalist majority agreed to make writing a Bill of Rights the first item on the agenda of the first Congress convened under the new Constitution.  Madison and Hamilton objected because they thought the rights were already guaranteed under the Constitution, hence redundant.  Given all the furor over at least the First, Second and Fifth amendments in our own time, perhaps Madison and Hamilton (and the Federalists in general) may have thought these too much a concession to the rabble as well.

_________________________________________________________________________________

What The Constitution Says

A line by line careful reading of the Constitution will reward anyone who seeks to, well, read between the lines;  but we are only going to review a few of the most significant points here.

The Preamble of the Constitution starts out with the well known phrase: “We the People.”  It is of course easy to recognize that this group of 55 men were not representative of the breadth of “The People,” even if you consider “The People” white males.

John Adams described the convention as a gathering of men “ability, weight and experience.”  He might have added “and wealth.”    Few men of ordinary means attended. . . nearly all were quite prosperous by the standards of the day.

At a time when fewer than one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans attended college, more than half the delegates had college educations. (Foner, p. 235)

But it is easy to understand why this elite of the elite wanted to cast themselves as representing the interests of all.  Still, this deception is not the most significant meaning of the usage.

For another, “We the People” distinguishes it’s origin from the contemporary divine right of kings, or from god.  Further, “We the People” should be contrasted with “We the several states,” or “We the People of the several states.”  It is an attempt to relegate the states to a secondary position under “the People of the United States of America.”  From the outset of the Constitution, the writers are sending a message that the federal government, which represents the interests of all “the People,” is supreme to the states, which represent the interests of a section of “the People.”  From the outset, they make the “division of powers” clear.

Very quickly the Constitution gets into the meat of what it is about.  The document emphasizes the role of the Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate. Remembering that one of the chief concerns of the framers of the Constitution was  to limit democracy, they defined the office holders.  Representatives were to be elected directly for a 2 year term and were to be allocated proportionally within the states according to a census to be conducted every 10 years, from districts created within the states.  The South Carolina, however, threatened to block the Constitution unless some accommodation was made for the large number of slaves in the South (who could not vote or hold office, but whom the South wanted enumerated for the purposes of representation).  In other words, the South foresaw the potential of domination by the non-slaveholding North, and wanted to shift the center of gravity. The “compromise” was the “3/5 clause,” which enumerated the slaves at the rate of 3/5 of a person for the purpose of representation.  Let’s avoid any misunderstanding: Southern politicians were not admitting that slaves were even partly human or part of “the people.”  The 3/5 clause was strictly a matter of preventive book-keeping, certifying in fact that slaves were stock.

On the other hand, senators were to be elected only indirectly, through a system of electors, and from each state as a whole, for a period of 6 years. Each state, regardless of size or population, would be entitled to 2 senators.   The Senate was to be a much more stable gentleman’s club, viewed as a counter to what was expected to be a more raucous House with much greater turnover.  The men at the convention from the bigger states resented domination by the smaller ones, but this also foreshadowed the debates of the first half of the nineteenth century to balance slaveholding states in the South with free states in the North, as more states were brought into the Union.

The discussion about how long a President should serve started at the extreme end with a proposal from Hamilton:  the President should be elected for a life term (much as is true of a Supreme Court Justice, who is appointed by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate, for a term of “good behavior”).  This got  little traction among delegates who feared the restoration of the monarchy.  They compromised on a four year term, indirectly elected.  (While both the 3/5 clause for Representatives and indirect election for Senators has been amended, the electoral college still exists for the President and Vice President). The Presidency is the only office which has a limit of two terms (amended after Franklin Roosevelt was elected for four terms).

What each branch is responsible for is the crux of the “separation of powers.”  For example, only the House can initiate a revenue raising bill; but all legislation must be approved by both House and Senate and then must be submitted to the President for approval.  The President can veto legislation (this was originally conceived as an exceptional circumstance;  the first significant use of the veto was Jackson’s refusal to accept the renewal of the national bank charter in 1832), and Congress must obtain a 2/3 majority vote to override the veto.  It was not until the Supreme Court ruled in Marbury vs Madison (1803) that the doctrine of “judicial review” was established: the right of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of Congressional legislation (extended a few years later to state legislation).

Fearful that the executive might accumulate too much power, the framers gave the Representatives the sole power to “impeach” the President, that is, to draw up articles accusing the President of a serious crime.  Under the Constitution, once the President is thus accused, the Senate has the sole power to try the case, and the Supreme Court Chief Justice presides.

Section 8 of Article 1 (The legislative branch) collects here the “enumerated” powers of Congress – those powers specifically assigned.   Here the legal framework for the State strides to the forefront.  Collecting taxes, coining and regulating the value of money, naturalization laws, bankruptcy law, declaring war, establishing and supporting armies, navies, a militia – all the necessary legislation to maintain the organs of force required by a national government.  While the power to “raise the armies” is given to Congress, the command is specifically given to the President.  Civilian control of the military is the principle here.  However, only rarely has the military been commanded directly by the President (e.g., Washington during the Whiskey Rebellion).   It is a legitimate question as to how much that separation of function really matters in a militarized society such as ours.

Sections 9 and 10 limit the powers of Congress and prohibit powers of the States respectively.  Generally these show the efforts of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists to compromise on the central authority of the federal government.  The power of the Southern representatives at the convention is seen by the first paragraph of Section 9:  the Congress is prohibited from abolishing the slave trade from overseas before 1808.  Even before the invention of the cotton gin made the South the source of the bulk of the world’s cotton, slave production of both sugar and tobacco were the source of great wealth in the South.  Many people including Southerners expected that slavery would ultimately fade away because of the tendency of tobacco production to deplete the soil.

It is worth while questioning, before going on to the amendments, who is entitled to benefit from the Constitution.  Who is entitled to political freedom or citizenship?  Who is entitled to hold office and vote?  Congress is given the power to establish “uniform rules of Naturalization,” but nowhere in the Constitution itself is a definition of citizenship given.  The document refers to “the People,” and “Indians” and “Indians not taxed” and “other persons.”    “Other persons” refers in all cases to slaves, who have no rights.  Even fugitive slaves, run away to free territory, must be returned to their owners just like any other property (Article IV, Section 2). The states can regulate how they want to treat free blacks.  Women are not mentioned in the Constitution and were subject to different regulations depending on the states.  Owning property was considered a measure of responsibility by the framers, and consequently became a measure of whether a person could vote or participate in society.  Limitation on democracy was evident everywhere, in conflict with the revolutionary proclamation “We the People” that starts this document out.

With Washington elected and the first Congress seated, the new government faced some significant questions that it had to resolve before it could find out, as we stated earlier, what kind of nation an independent America should be.

As indicated above, the first question they did address was writing a Bill of Rights.  The new Congress wrote 17 amendments, which were then consolidated to 12 amendments presented to the states for ratification.  Only 10 were ratified at first, and these have come down to us as the Bill of Rights.

The first amendment begins “Congress shall make no law . . .” and then goes on to enumerate what Congress is prohibited from infringing on:  religion, speech, press, public assembly.  For most of the nineteenth century, this was interpreted as a prohibition only against Congress.  States routinely promulgated laws that inhibited free speech.   The twentieth century saw the application of the first amendment to more peripheral cases, so that today it is generally applied to states as well.  But even after the Alien and Sedition Acts of the Adams administration (1796-1800)  were rescinded in the succeeding Jefferson administration, states continued to pass legislation that limited first amendment rights.

Amendments 2, 3 and 4 are closely connected to experience in the immediately concluded revolutionary war.  The presence and behavior of British soldiers on colonial soil gave rise to the right to bear arms (2), the right to refuse to have soldiers stay in your home (3) and the right to refuse officials searching your home.  Of these, the second and fourth amendments continue to be a bone of contention.  Note that the FBI raids on anti war and labor activists over a year ago and the seizure of computers, printed files and art work are seen in violation of the fourth amendment as much as the first (targeting those who exercise rights of free speech and public assembly).

The Fifth Amendment figures prominently in our own day.  The prohibition against being tried twice for the same crime (double jeopardy); the requirement for due process of law; and that one may not be compelled to testify against oneself are all wrapped up in this amendment. “Taking the Fifth” has been the last resort of those politically prosecuted, often to keep from implicating others as in the McCarthy era witch hunts.  The grand jury system, originally conceived of as a protection against unjust indictments, now effectively eliminates protection against self-incrimination when it offers prosecutorial immunity in exchange for testimony.  Under these circumstances, pleading self-incrimination can invoke a contempt charge and jail.

Amendments 6, 7, and 8 all deal with the conduct of the justice system, trials, bail, and cruel and unusual punishment, all intended to ameliorate any excesses caused by a punitive central government.  The extent to which these amendments have been successful can be judged by the length of time people are in jail now before trials take place or before final adjudication of their cases.

Amendments 9 and 10 are the amendments which limit the control of the federal government by reserving rights to the people, so long as they are not enumerated nor prohibited by the Constitution.  This is the last defense of the advocates of states rights vs. national government rights.

In the next section, I want to discuss how these themes — slavery and democracy;  corporations, business and labor — have continued throughout our history, in the context of the Constitution.    Before we get there, I want to point out how some of what we discussed earlier was modified by the amendment process.  We will discuss the Civil War Amendments separately.  Note however that the language in the Constitution prohibiting a direct tax on the people was altered in 1913 by Amendment 16, which established the Constitutionality of the income tax and followed decades of attempts to resolve this question.

Also in 1913 the ratification of the 17th amendment changed made the election of Senators direct.  As a historical curiosity, the 27th amendment, which had been proposed in 1789 as one of the original Bill of Rights, was finally adopted in 1992.  This amendment requires that Congressional raises could not take effect until the session after they were approved by Congress.

Corporations and the Constitution

The period roughly from the first administration under the Constitution until perhaps 1830 is sometimes called the “Market Revolution.”   This term has a number of levels of meaning.  First and foremost, the former colonies that had been dependent on British imports (thus they were thoroughly integrated into the developing manufacturing system of Britain) now established their own manufacturing base.  Second, internally, within the former colonies, a market developed between city and surrounding countryside, between manufacturing areas and farming areas.  Third, the already distinct regional differences between North and South became exaggerated, as the slave economy actually inhibited the development of manufacture, and the bond between shipping, Southern cotton, and Northern manufactured products became strengthened. (The South did build some  textile mills in the large cities and ports.)

Immediately upon the completion of the Bill of Rights and its submission to the states, the Federalists put forward their program for what the new nation should look like.  Spearheaded by now Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, they proposed that the new nation needed to be credit worthy, therefore needed to pay off its debts (primarily to the investors who had bankrolled the revolutionary war) and needed to borrow more money (since it had none) and institute a system of taxation (to be able to pay off new debt and to pay for anticipated projects).  One such project was the establishment of a standing army (fear of invasion; need to put down rebellion).  Another was to subsidize new manufacturing initiatives and to erect protective tariffs against England.

Jefferson and Madison and others coalesced in opposition to this plan.  In their view, everything needed to be centered on developing an agricultural economy of “yeoman farmers,” that is people who owned their small farms and produced grain for export to the world.  Owning land guaranteed independence, in their view.  The factory system and wage labor simply reproduced dependence on the manufacturer. The banking system seemed to the Jeffersonians only an effort to produce a dependent population.

Where they mostly agreed was on the need to repay war debts and to protect both Southerners and Northerners against English tariff walls and other protective legislation.  American ship builders and Southern cotton planters had lost some of their best British customers.  The two sides reached a compromise, when the Republicans (as the Jefferson-Madison faction called themselves) agreed to all of the Federalists’ program except the manufacturing subsidy; and the Federalists agreed to establish the national capital in a Southern location, what became Washington, D.C.  By the mid nineties, what both Madison and Hamilton had argued against in the Federalist Papers and hoped to avoid had become commonplace, Not only had party factions developed within Congress and the states, but Madison and Hamilton had become leaders of the factions.

The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 changed the South and therefore the entire country.  The gin is a relatively simple machine that cleans seeds from the cotton boll.  This was a highly

The cotton gin

labor intensive job and therefore limited the amount of acreage that could be planted.  In 1790, the amount of cotton produced in the South amounted to perhaps 8.5 million tons.  By 1820, the amount had increased 20 times, the American South was the center of the world’s cotton production, and after 1833 when the British abolished slavery, the U.S. became the world center of a slave economy.  This had definite implications in regard to the slave trade, which we will go into later.  For now, however, it is important to emphasize that the concentration of the cotton kingdom further differentiated North from South, and integrated the slave system of cotton production into the world capitalist economy.

The first national bank, chartered in 1791 for 20 years, was an essential part of Hamilton’s plan.  Jefferson opposed the bank, a private institution, as undermining property rights and as a power not enumerated and delegated to Congress in the Constitution.   In contrast, Hamilton asserted that what Congress could do for a person it could do for an artificial person, namely, a business. You can trace the government arguments about banking, corporations and people back to this point.  The plot thickens, however, as the nation begins to develop.

The Jefferson presidency took advantage of a revolution that broke out in Haiti, along with the French engagement in a European war, to purchase the Louisiana territory, a land grab that doubled the size of the United States.  Note that Jefferson, who showed how conflicted he was about slavery in his writings,  took the opportunity to quarantine Haiti. His Federalist foes, whom he had defeated by branding them anti-democratic, welcomed the Haitian revolution. The Federalists were also quick to point out that such a purchase was not consistent with the enumerated powers either – not delegated to the President.  They argued that he spent money that the Federal government did not have to obtain land that it did not need.  But Jefferson foresaw an expanded frontier which would allow the yeoman farmer class, the backbone of the nation, to move West.  The purchase also gave the United States control of the port of New Orleans, which was the gateway from the Ohio and Mississippi river grain producing areas to Europe.    Jefferson was eager to achieve this.

In 1811, half way through Madison’s administration, which succeeded Jefferson’s in 1808, the charter on the first national bank expired and was not renewed.  The Republicans ran into trouble, however, in the War of 1812.  Unable to finance the war or to pay the debt that accrued from the war, Madison moved to re-establish the national bank.  This charter was passed in 1816 for another 20 year period, part of what became known as “The American System,” an economic package sponsored by the Federalists in 1812 to 1816 and then, as the Federalists fell apart, by the new party that emerged out of the wreck of the Federalists, the Whigs.

The “American System” was a continuation of the Federalist plan of Hamilton, focusing on the bank, high tariffs on imports, and federal subsidies for “internal improvements.”  The Whigs now aimed to finance the development of roads and canals to further the westward expansion and the trade that was necessary to support that expansion.  The opposition to this was led by Southern capital, which had no need for  federal subsidies for “internal improvements.” River waterways had always provided its primary internal traffic, and externally the oceans allowed for transport of the cotton crop around the world.  Southern capital did invest in railroads as the century progressed.  The purpose was to tie the cotton plantation areas with the ports and the newly built textile mills, constructed to compete with the more rapidly developing industry of the North.  Again the arguments raised were Constitutional.  Congress had no enumerated right to tax Southerners to pay for Northern improvements.  The arguments in favor went all the way back to the Preamble, to provide for the general welfare.  Monroe, who became president in 1816, relied on John Quincy Adams to prepare the legislative package;  Adams was thoroughly shocked when Republican Monroe had a change of heart and vetoed the internal improvements measure.

Chief Justice John Marshall

The Second National Bank, however, had been approved in 1816 and given a 20 year charter.  Three years later came the Dartmouth and McCulloch decisions of the Supreme Court.

In Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, the court decided that corporate charters are contracts that cannot be rescinded by future lawmakers.  The charter was a contract, and just because the members of the legislature changed did not mean they could unilaterally refuse to honor the previously negotiated contract.  Going even further, in McCulloch vs. Maryland the Supreme Court ruled that state laws could not be made in opposition to federal legislation that carried out Constitutional provisions.  In that particular case, Maryland attempted to tax the Baltimore branch of the National Bank, pursuant to a law that allowed the state to tax banks not chartered by the state.  The Court, in its ruling, indicated that the taxing power was being used not simply to raise funds, but to tax the bank to death.

John Marshall, presiding over the Supreme Court, here ruled first that the federal government has the power to establish corporations (e.g. banks) even though this is nowhere stated directly in the Constitution.  It is implied, he said, in that the creation of the bank was for the general welfare of the population, and it was not prohibited in the Constitution.

Further rulings in 1824 and 1837 clarified also that the states could not limit the right of corporations to compete.  And in 1830 to 1832, under the Andrew Jackson administration, a series of Court decisions relating to “Indian Removal” – expropriation of Indian land – asserted the primacy of contracts with the federal government. In general, the Supreme Court confirmed the “sacred rights” of private property.  The government, the Court repeatedly affirmed, is bound to protect property rights over personal rights.

By the time Jackson took office in 1828, the old Federalist Party had disintegrated.  Jackson’s own party, a reinvented version of the Republicans now called the Democratic-Republican Party or just the Democrats, was a states rights, pro slavery, Southern oriented party, with strength among Western and Northern farmers.  The Whig opposition based itself in the North, among artisans, manufacturers, workers and small farmers.  Jackson was opposed to the “American System” and especially the National Bank, which he saw as fraudulent.  Jackson was a “hard money” man.  He saw the banks as issuing worthless paper that depreciated the value of money and cut into the real income of wage earners and farmers.  In 1832, Nicholas Biddle, head of the National Bank, persuaded Congress to extend the life of the bank (even though it was not due to expire for 4 more years; he feared that after the upcoming elections Jackson would be able to organize to stop the bank renewal).

Jackson responded by vetoing the extension.  He was the first president to go over the heads of the Congress and to appeal to the whole people to “oppose the rich and powerful.” His message  called forth considerable criticism from Whigs, who denounced him for usurping the power of the legislature.  After the veto, and in spite of the Biddle campaign against him, Jackson won re-election by a sweeping margin as the defender of the “humble American.” In his second term of office, Jackson removed deposits from the National Bank and placed them in various state banks, often under the leadership of Jackson’s cronies (“pet banks”), where the unregulated issue of paper money was a factor bringing on the economic crisis of 1837.

It is worthwhile stopping here, for a moment, to see what the country looked like on the eve of the 1836 election.  48 years after the ratification of the Constitution, all but 8 years were under Southern administrations  (32 years were Virginia presidents).  The dominance of the South had played a significant role in limiting the development of what we have called “The American System.”  Still, objective forces pushed that forward.  Despite Southern objections, the National Bank was chartered for 40 of these years.  In part it was chartered because, despite the ideological convictions of the leadership of the Parties, wars had to be financed, the elite had to be repaid for financing the revolution, and taxes had to be raised.  Both sides were fundamentally agreed about this.  And underneath the political machinations, manufacturing advances were fueled by rapid technological discoveries.

We have already talked about the significance of the cotton gin, introduced in 1793.  The development of the steam engine from the early 1700’s to the introduction of the double acting steam engine in the early 1800’s rapidly accelerated the advance of industry.  Mills and factories that had depended on water power could now be located far from water power sources. Steam power was also fundamental to the commercial use of steamboats and railroads.  Steam also powered the printing press and the rapid expansion of newspaper publishing.  The Erie Canal, the Cumberland Road and other  canals, railroads and toll roads opened up the west to transportation of goods, and thus developed the market relationship between East and West.

Nation and commerce changed in this 48 year period.  We started with a loosely associated group of former colonies now called states that had two distinctly different regional economies. Northern farmers produced food crops, while merchant shipping served the triangular slave trade and as fishing vessels. The agrarian South depended on cash crops of  sugar, tobacco, indigo and cotton.  Politically the cash-crop South dominated the small farming and manufacturing North.  The goal of most families was land ownership, which conferred “independence”: that is the owner of land, like the owner of a business, is “his own man.”  This translates into the ideal of the Republicans, later the Democrats, as the “yeoman farmer.”  By the end of this period, the dominance of the South (politically) is on the wane.  The wealth in property is still concentrated in the South, but “internal improvements” have connected the separate states.  New England has become a manufacturing center, and the factory system has made huge inroads in the agrarian base of the North.  “Mill girls” flee the farms to find “independence” in the textile plants that crowd the landscape. The ideal of the yields to the practicality of the worker and the workplace, wages begins to replace land ownership. As the century proceeds, controlling the land becomes, for many, tied to the banks who own the land; while independence becomes identified with the workers’ freedom to move from one job to another. Farmers and industry in the North produce more than can be consumed in the region, and steam boats plying the Ohio and the Mississippi penetrate the heart of the South with food and finished and manufactured goods.

This market revolution of the early 19th century is, in a certain sense, being revisited in our own day.

The market has been redefined globally by a new form of production analogous to the steam engine. The technological revolution we have experienced in the last 40 years has introduced a new mode of production in the microchip and its spinoffs.  What was independence before (the promise of a good job and the freedom to find another better one) has become dependence once more; while electronics has created a class free from employment at all (i.e., no longer connected to the old production process, no longer likely to find work within the old environment).  Between the 1840s and the present lies a world of difference.  Now century old Supreme Court decisions on monopoly no longer seem to hold water, old rules no longer apply.   Corporations do what they want and government steps in to help out when they stumble.

In this context the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is consistent with the position of a large faction of those who wrote the Constitution. The decision is even more consistent with a global economy in which the microchip and robotics has ejected many wage earners into a permanently unemployed class. It is consistent with an era in which everything takes a back seat to privatization.

Slavery and the Constitution

James Madison

Let’s step back again, this time to examine how the Constitution laid the basis for the “irrepressible conflict” about slavery.  Madison, like Washington and many other framers of the Constitution, was a slaveholder. He recorded in his notes about the deliberations that color had become the basis for “the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man.”  (Foner, p. 258).  Later he assured his fellow Virginians, questioning whether they should ratify the Constitution, that the document offered slavery better security that was available under the Articles of Confederation.

Madison had good reason for assuring the Virginia delegation.  One of the most significant pieces of legislation passed by the Congress under the old Articles (in 1787) was the Northwest Ordinance.  The effect that concerns us here is that it prohibited slavery in the first “territory” created by the federal government for the purpose of ultimately admitting new states to the Union.  By this prohibition the Ordinance made the Ohio River the boundary between free and slave states.  The Ordinance also established the precedent that the Federal government had a right to determine whether a territory could engage in slavery. South Carolina, one of the states with the greatest slave population, came to the Convention determined to defend the “peculiar institution,” and by their efforts greatly affected the document.

South Carolina was responsible for the fugitive slave clause and the 3/5 Clause. Their delegates proposed the Electoral College and pressured the Convention to limit Congressional ability to levy taxes for fear of federal taxation on slave property. While New England and slaveholding Virginia wanted the slave trade abolished (Virginia had a large number of native born slaves), South Carolina threatened disunion if the abolition were not delayed (70 years later South Carolina led the secession movement and the military attack on the North that opened the Civil War).

The fugitive slave clause not only attached “extraterritoriality” to slavery – i.e. that slaves were still in bondage no matter where they traveled – but also created a mechanism that required all states to police the institution of slavery.  Further, the 3/5 Clause greatly exaggerated the national power of the Southern states, giving them much more representation in the House than their voting population would have allowed them.  Through that representation, they also influenced the Electoral College.  Jefferson won the presidency from John Adams in large part because of the 3/5 Clause.  Of the first 16 presidential elections, all but four placed a Southern slaveholder in the white house.

Finally, Southern slaveholders were even partly responsible for the opposition to the Bill of Rights among the delegates to the Convention.  Again we call attention to South Carolina, whose delegate Charles Pinckney, argued: “such bills generally begin with declaring that all men are by nature born free,”  while “a large part of our property consists in men who are actually born slaves.”  The words “slave” and “slavery” appear nowhere in the document, and as Maryland delegate Luther Martin wrote, “[his colleagues] anxiously sought to avoid the admission of expression which might be odious to ears of Americans,” but were “willing to admit into their system those things which the expressions signified.” (Foner, 258, 259)

Finally, while the first Congress passed a Bill of Rights, it shrank from hearing petitions and bills to abolish slavery.   Writing for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, Benjamin Franklin again sought to bring a petition before Congress.  Again he could not get a hearing.

Our inquiry purposefully focuses on the legal (Constitutional) expression of the “irrepressible conflict.”  But at the same time I want to emphasize that rebellion and abolitionism, both taking place in the “extra-legal” sphere, were extremely important elements leading up to the Civil War.  While large, organized rebellions were few and far between, they did occur and were extremely significant; few because of the close overseer and state suppression that isolated them early, and executed those who threatened the status quo.  But from Gabriel to John Brown, armed insurrection was a threat which the South was bound to fear and the North to take account of.  It is just not the subject of this discussion.

If we fast forward to 1820, we find ourselves in an America caught in the middle of the market revolution.  This is an America where New York surpassed Virginia as most populous. Cotton production had reached 170 million pounds, 20 times what it was when the cotton gin was invented.  Population was rapidly increasing and settlers moved westward.  Land speculators, often families of the elite framers of the Constitution,  bought huge tracts.   From 1791 through 1820 Ohio, Illinois and Indiana were admitted as states from the territory of the Northwest Ordinance, along with Maine and Vermont, as states without slavery.  However the following states were also admitted, all of which allowed slavery: Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.  Southern states regarded their Northern neighbors with great fear.

In the 12 years following Congressional abolition of the slave trade, the “Up-South” border states had stepped in to fill the gap by developing a specialty as a breeding reserve of the plantation states.  Of course illegal trading in African slaves continued, but the insatiable demand of the cotton kingdom created the division of labor to fulfill the supply.  The concept of being sold “down the river” was a death sentence from overwork in 7 years. Then Missouri applied for admission as a slave state.

In 1821 Congress reached a “compromise” which pushed the conflict into the background for the time being.  Congress agreed that Missouri could come in as a slave state, but that all other states admitted from the Louisiana Territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri would be free.  With that, the South eyed expansion into Texas and carving five states out of the Texas territory.  This required taking the territory from Mexico, a process which took another 25 years before it was accomplished. Again, the details are beyond the scope of this investigation.  However, in a style which would be repeated many times in our history, the Federal government manufactured a pretext for invasion of Mexico and captured a vast territory including Texas, California and the states in between.

In 1846 Representative Wilmot proposed to Congress that no slave state be admitted from the territory taken from Mexico.  This was unacceptable to Southerners, for whom the expansion of slave territory was now a matter of dominance in the government.  The balance in the House of Representatives was turning against the South;  the Presidency was no longer guaranteed to a Southerner; the Supreme Court was still in the hands of the South.  The battle was now for the Senate, and thus the electoral expansion here was crucial to the slave power.  The conflict was so great that a new political party emerged in 1848 taking elements of the Whigs and the Democrats with them.  These Free Soilers ran Martin Van Buren for President.  That a former President would run on a platform limiting slavery showed that abolition had achieved a popular respectability not seen before.

Still, in 1850 the legislature did what it had done before, covering the conflict over with a “compromise” that allowed the voters of a particular territory to determine if the territory should be admitted free or slave. California applied for admission as a free state. John Calhoun, representing South Carolina, was intransigent representing the slave power, but finally agreed to “popular sovereignty” as long as Congress would pass a strengthened fugitive slave law, and as long as Washington, D.C. would remain a slaveholding area (the slave trade would be abolished in the District).

Once again the conflict arose about the Kansas territory in 1854.  With Calhoun and Clay, the titanic compromisers of an earlier era now dead, Stephen Douglas, hoped to position himself for a run for the Presidency.  He proposed to apply the doctrine of popular sovereignty to the Kansas territory.  But this was part of the territory already decided in 1821, all the territory being north of the Missouri Compromise line.  The firestorm this set off shattered the Democratic Party, from which the Republican Party was born, led directly to bloody Kansas (the struggle between free and slave factions), and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The Supreme Court set in place the legal capstone to the battle around slavery  with its Dred Scott decision of 1857.  Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that Blacks, not being persons, “had no

Dred Scott

rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  From definite limits to slave states, little by little the South had enforced their dominance while they had it. In Dred Scott the Court established that slave property existed everywhere in the United States. This direct challenge to the North set the stage for the consolidation of the Republican Party and the 1858 election campaign.

1858 was not a year for Presidential elections, but the issue was national:  what to do about the slave power and its threats against the Union.  The Congressional and Court battles against the Market Revolution often took the form of the structure of government and “states rights.”  John Calhoun, who had at one time championed the cause of internal improvements, became the champion of the Southern doctrine called “nullification,” meaning that states had the right to oppose legislation that in their view went against the Constitution.  From South Carolina he had also championed the Southern states’ right to maintain and expand slavery.  In 1858 Calhoun’s legacy was carried on by Stephen A. Douglas, running for Senator against the Republican Abraham Lincoln.  The issue was the slave power and how to contain it. In a hotly contested election, after a series of legendary debates, Lincoln lost, most likely because the shift in population to the northern part of Illinois (Chicago) was not reflected yet in the electors who chose the Senators.

1860 was a Presidential election year, and the Republicans nominated Lincoln.  His Illinois Senate campaign brought him to the notice of the national party, when Republicans could not decide among more prominent figures vying for the candidacy.   The Democratic Party was fractured by the slavery question, and ran two candidates:  Douglas ran as the Northern Democrat candidate, while Breckinridge ran as the Southern Democrat.  A fourth party, the Constitutional Union Party, ran a candidate as well.  With 40% of the vote Lincoln polled more than any other candidate and won the election.  Before Lincoln even took office, South Carolina’s legislature passed articles of secession from the Union, followed first by six other Deep South states. Four more states seceded to comprise the Confederate States of America.

Election of 1860

The political result of the Republican victory, the subsequent secession of Southern states, and the consequent Civil War was a Congress dominated by Republicans, all hailing from the North. Within this group were “radicals” who went further than limiting the expansion of slavery and the slave power.  Sentiment for abolition now resided at the highest levels of government.  While Lincoln maneuvered to get support, civil rights legislation was passed that formed the basis for what became known as the Civil War amendments to the Constitution.

The 13th Amendment, to abolish slavery in all of the U.S., was proposed by Congress January 31, 1865, as the war drew to a close.  (Less than 3 months later, Lincoln had been murdered). It was quickly ratified by the Northern States;  all but Mississippi of the reconstituted Southern states ratified it by the end of the year.  (The North organized the re-establishment of the Southern legislatures).   Lincoln’s vice president, Andrew Johnson, became President after Lincoln was assassinated.  A Southerner, Johnson hoped to re-admit the Southern states to the Union when they passed the 13th Amendment.  The “radical” Republicans thwarted this aim.  They wanted to maintain the power that the North exercised during the War,  not to return to the state of affairs before the War.  Further, when they saw the Southern states passing legislation to control the ex-slaves with violence, called “Black Codes,” they understood further action would be necessary.

Congress then passed the Reconstruction Acts, placing the former CSA states under military rule.  Congress prohibited Southern members of Congress from rejoining the legislature until their state passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  While aimed specifically at ensuring that the former slaves were granted citizenship and enjoyed equal rights, the 14th Amendment has been applied much more broadly.  All persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens (this is the first mention of citizenship in the Constitution), and no state can abridge their rights, privileges, or deny equal protection of the law.  Further, the 14th Amendment struck down the infamous 3/5 Clause, simply stating that Representatives are apportioned according to population.  Proposed in June, 1866, the Amendment was finally ratified 2 years later.

In 1870, under the new presidential administration of Ulysses S Grant, the 15th Amendment was ratified, making it explicit that ex slaves have the right to vote.

Having politically broken the back of the slave power, the Republican “radicalism” receded until, in 1877, the contested election of 1876 was decided by a compromise that withdrew troops from the garrisons that still existed within the former “military districts” that had governed the South under the 14th Amendment.  Peonage, debt slavery and sharecropping became the order of the day in agricultural Southern states, but now under the control of Wall Street.  W.E.B. DuBois, writing in Black Reconstruction, describes the political result thus: “Wall Street Controls the South and the South Controls the Nation.”

Just as the Market Revolution reflected a change in the economic forces in society, so too the political developments leading up to the Civil War and Reconstruction reflected a further development of those economic forces. The various compromises and Congressional battles and the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court all reflected attempts to shove under the rug an irrepressible conflict that forced its way out without regard to the wishes to ignore it.  Clausewitz’ famous dictum, “War is politics by other means,” certainly holds true here, as unsatisfying compromise after compromise yielded to armed conflict.  Reconstruction was a political continuation of the War and resulted in the political supremacy of the North along with the economic supremacy of industry and railroad capital.

Prior to the Civil War, the wealthiest individuals in the country were slaveholding Southerners;  the four million slaves, considered as property, were

Note how composition of capital changes over time, from primarily slaves to railroads to industrial capital to financial capital in our own day. Source: Power in America, John Keller, p. 58

collectively the largest percentage of capital.  The passage of the 13th Amendment legislated the largest expropriation of private property until that time – without payment to the owners.  It is not a coincidence that following this two sectors of society were immediately affected.  The elite of society, where the greatest accumulation of capital took place, was first (until the World War I) in the expansion of railroads (throughout the South and out to the West, an internal improvement that had not been possible under Southern domination) and at the same time a rapid expansion of industrial capital, especially with the expansion of the steel industry at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.  Between World War I and World War II, industrial capital became proportionally larger than railroad capital.

The second sector affected by the end of the slavery was the labor movement.  Karl Marx had written about slave and free labor that labor in the white skin cannot emancipate itself as long as labor in the black skin is branded.   He also famously predicted that ending slavery would lead to a rapid expansion of organized labor across the country “in 7 league boots” .  It is again no coincidence that 10 years after the cessation of military action the first national general strike took place – starting among railroad workers; and that the fight for the 8 hour day culminated in massive demonstrations May 1, 1886; and that the troops removed from military garrisons in the South at the end of Reconstruction were redeployed in the North to put down the strike movements of the workers.

The period from the end of the Civil War to the 1940’s in the South appeared to be a return to the pre-war days, without the name of “slavery.”  Perhaps nothing epitomizes this as much as the nefarious Plessy vs Ferguson decision in which the Supreme Court affirmed “separate but equal education. But the Market and Industrial Revolutions had changed the face of the nation forever and created the basis for further changes to take place.  The cotton picking machine finally ended the reliance on sharecropping, creating a vast section of unemployed that migrated into Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and New York, industrial centers in the North.  Black veterans returning from World War II were unwilling to re-integrate into second class citizenship.  And an American ruling class, poised on expansion supplanting the European colonial masters in Africa and Asia, began to position itself to represent a “democratic” alternative.  These forces, not entirely in agreement, took on the relics of the Democratic Party hanging on in the South.  Brown vs. Board of Education represents the judicial turning point, a reassertion of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

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So we return to where we started from, to recognize that the Constitution and its creation was and is a tremendously complex process. This has been a cursory overview, so cursory in fact that we have scarcely mentioned the First Amendment and its perils.  The Constitution is first and foremost the legal basis on which our society is constructed. Their time was the destruction of feudal society and the creation of capitalism; the invention of the steam engine and through that the creation of new classes and class relations. The Constitution was written to deal with these revolutionary changes.  But these are not our revolutionary changes.

We live in an age of the dominance of financial capital (since World War II), exacerbated by a microchip revolution that undercuts labor and consequently capital’s ability to profit from the labor of the worker.  Financial speculation is a response to this reality, represented also by new class relations and the growth of a social group that exists outside production, that has been expelled from relations in production.  This high-tech capitalism is perhaps the fundamental characteristic of what is called “neoliberalism.”  Flowing from this fundamental characteristic is the drive to turn everything into a commodity.  All public property becomes fair game, sold to the highest bidder or the inside trader. The watchword is “privatization.”  Corporations merge with the government, assume whatever mantle assures them most power (including but not limited to “personhood,” and all efforts at reform are met with refusal and then violence. Mass incarceration, disinvestment in education, privatization of public health (and other services) follow a familiar pattern, codified in the original Constitution in the 3/5 Clause, that focuses on Blacks and Latinos in order to attack the poor as a whole.  The racism of the 19th century is raised to a higher power to attack the “race” of the poor.

Whether we like it or not, the Constitution is the authority for what is most heinous in our society, including corporate personhood and other features of “neoliberalism.”  It is also the authority for what is most revolutionary in our history, no matter how restricted or how little envisioned by our founders.  Our attitude toward the Constitution requires that we reclaim from it whatever is revolutionary, while recognizing that our time is different.  Still, the demands that echo from that time to ours reflect the striving of centuries of fighters for a new society organized to provide justice, peace and equality.

We are taking up that banner.  The State system erected by the Constitution, and the corporations with which it is merging, can no longer contain or answer the demands of a population excluded from the benefits that the society can produce in abundance.  It is the “Right of the People to Alter or Abolish” a destructive government. That is our birth right.  It is our responsibility.

Suggested Readings:

Beard, Charles An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution (MacMillan)

Foner, Eric  Give Me Liberty  (WW Norton)

Keller, John  Power in America  (Vanguard Books)

Peery, Nelson  The Future is Up To Us  (Speakers For A New America)

Waldheim, The Historical May Day, and The Tactics of Today — Lew Rosenbaum

Waldheim, The Historical May Day, and The Tactics of Today

300,000 workers demonstrated throughout the United States on May 1, 1886,  40,000 of them in Chicago.  The story doesn’t begin here and doesn’t end here.  But this is what May Day commemorates for the working class of the world — the battle to limit the working day to 8 hours.   Four days later, in response to police killings of workers on strike on the South side of Chicago, a few hundred workers assembled in Haymarket Square — corner of DesPlaines and Randolph — to hear a list of speakers decry the rule of the employers, the exploitation of the workers.  Mayor Harrison, after observing the peaceful and dwindling numbers of about 200 at the rally about to break up at 10 pm, left the scene instructing the police to end their surveillance. However the police chief massed 176 officers at the edge of the rally and, under circumstances to this day uncertain, a bomb was thrown and the resultant melee left police and protesters dead and wounded.  In the aftermath, eight anarchist labor activists — 7 of them immigrants, most of them never even at the rally — were arrested, tried,  convicted and 5 sentenced to execution.

One, Louis Lingg, presumably killed himself in his cell.  The other four condemned to die were hanged on November 11, 1987, all appeals exhausted.  The gruesome fact is that they struggled at the end of the rope for more than 7 minutes, twitching while the noose strangled the last element of life from them.  Their bodies were returned to their families where they remained in state in their coffins, tens of thousands of Chicagoans filed by to pay their respect.  Then, at noon on November 13, thousands of workers proceeded down Milwaukee Avenue picking up the caskets from the families along the way, beginning with August Spies who had lived farthest away.  Historian Bill Adelman, in Haymarket Revisited, puts the number of onlookers at half a million.  From downtown Chicago the mourners took the train 10 miles west to Forest Home Cemetery (German Waldheim), where they were buried.

I return here to the struggle for the 8 hour day, what seems something almost prosaic, defined in numbers.  Something as abstract as the concept of the working day.  How  do you

At the 100th anniversary in 1986

describe the working day?  What are its parameters?  Clearly the chronological limits are 24 hours at its maximum and approaching zero at its minimum.  There is of course a natural limit to the working day.  You can’t keep someone working 24 hours every day without killing the worker.  A worker who does not produce the minimum in value that is required to keep him or her alive starves to death.  Somewhere in between lies the length of the working day, and the struggle between capital and labor can be captured in that battleground.  While some have characterized this as the fight for a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.  Others as the fight for the workers’ fair share.  What’s fair is an ideological construct that sets the environment.  But the essence of this contest remains the requirement to limit the surplus value sucked, “vampire-like” as Marx says, from the arteries of the working class.  It’s a tug of war, sometimes pulling one way, other times pulling another, the ground shifting one way or the other.  As long as workers are engaged in production this  rope in the tug of war to determine the terms for the sale of labor power is something that neither side can possibly let go.

For the worker it is a matter of survival, a desperation that mere numbers, hours, percentages cannot evoke.  Beneath those numbers, the flesh and blood brought the workers in their hundreds of thousands out of their homes to look on and to take part in the funeral of 5 Haymarket martyrs (the other 3 were transferred to Joliet to serve out prison terms and were pardoned by John Peter Altgeld, Illinois governor, in 1893).

A number of sources indicate that Waldheim, the German non-denominational cemetery where the martyrs were buried, was chosen because it had no connection to an institution or church. The land had been used in part as burial grounds by the native people (one burial mound is preserved on the land today).  Following the Blackhawk War and the “Treaty of Chicago,” the native people (Pottawatomie) were driven west into exile.  The land was purchased by farmers and became used as a convenient place for laying Chicago’s deceased to rest, as health reasons convinced authorities in Chicago to prohibit more cemeteries within city limits. When the 3 surviving members of the Haymarket 8 died, they were also buried at Waldheim.  Since then, many labor activists and others have been buried here as well.  For a more complete history of Waldheim and the surrounding cemeteries, click here

Emma Goldman was buried here, as were many labor activists, anarchists and communists

In 1889, AFL president Samuel Gompers wrote to the first congress of the Second International, which was meeting in Paris. He informed the world’s socialists of the AFL’s plans and proposed an international fight for a universal eight-hour work day. In response to Gompers’s letter the Second International adopted a resolution calling for “a great international demonstration” on a single date so workers everywhere could demand the eight-hour work day. In light of the Americans’ plan, the International adopted May 1, 1890 as the date for this demonstration.

A secondary purpose behind the adoption of the resolution by the Second International was to honor the memory of the Haymarket martyrs and other workers who had been killed in association with the strikes on May 1, 1886. Historian Philip Foner writes “[t]here is little doubt that everyone associated with the resolution passed by the Paris Congress knew of the May 1st demonstrations and strikes for the eight-hour day in 1886 in the United States … and the events associated with the Haymarket tragedy.”

The first international May Day was a spectacular success. The front page of the New York World on May 2, 1890 was devoted to coverage of the event. Two of its headlines were “Parade of Jubilant Workingmen in All the Trade Centers of the Civilized World” and “Everywhere the Workmen Join in Demands for a Normal Day. The Times of London listed two dozen European cities in which demonstrations had taken place, noting there had been rallies in Cuba, Peru and Chile. Commemoration of May Day became an annual event the following year. (The Haymarket Affair)

A monument to the Haymarket Martyrs was erected in 1893.  Since then the area has been declared a national historical monument:

One of the most recent scenes in the dramas of Haymarket was the ceremony on May 3, 1998, marking the designation of the Waldheim monument site as a National Historic Landmark. Landmark status had been approved in 1997, and the plaque placed near the monument explained that it “represents the labor movement’s struggle for workers’ rights.” Once again the speakers were dominated by labor leaders, with the keynote address given by the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, who criticized the latest instances of what he termed corporate greed and disregard for the welfare of workers. Present also were descendants of the martyrs, a representative of the National Park Service, the combined German-American Chorus of Chicago, and the German consul.

There are two things left to talk about here, that take this from the realm of a history lesson and pose some real questions of strategy and tactics for today’s movement.

The Haymarket Martyrs were immigrants, nearly all of them. They had come to the US from Europe looking for a better life, and were trade unionists.  They were propagandists, dedicated to introducing new ideas into a burgeoning working class movement, swelled by a Civil War that put an end to chattel slavery.  It was Marx who said that “labor in the white skin could not emancipate itself, so long as labor in the black skin was branded.” He went on: “the first fruit of the American Civil War for the abolition of slavery was the agitation for the eight-hour day, a movement which raced from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California with the seven-league boots of the modern locomotive.” Immigrants have  once again sparked a movement which has touched every section of our country, this time from Pacific to Atlantic.  Many of the immigrant marchers of recent May Days, along the parade route that took them past Haymarket Square, knew of the significance of May Day even if they were unaware of the hallowed ground on which they trod. And once again they are being squeezed by a tug of war:  this time often a tug of war from which they (along with their brothers and sisters in the countries from which they came) have been permanently excluded.

The second point is the matter of numbers.  That zero we referred to earlier.  From the introduction of machinery into production, the time necessary for workers to produce an equivalent value for their survival has dropped.  That is called “productivity.”  For a time, as long as the market of purchasers could increase, “productivity” could expand.  In order to gain a temporary advantage over competitors, corporations strive to increase productivity.  If for the corporation the ideal number would appear to be zero for necessary labor time (everything is surplus value), it means absolute starvation for workers or — workers that do not eat, wear clothes, take coffee breaks or need health care.  That is what immigrant workers and public sector workers alike are competing with:  an era of electronics and robotics that have made many categories of workers obsolete.  This puts the teacher, the sanitation worker, the auto worker, the garment worker on a par in terms of replacement. This is why the rhetoric for improved education is matched equally by deteriorating public schools that are no longer expected to fill the factories and and offices.

A new movement is about to be liberated, birthed. And if the one of the late 1800s moved with the speed of the “seven league boots of the modern locomotive,”  the new movement will move with a multiple of that speed, the speed of gigabytes on silicon chips, and what is loosing this energy is the chain reaction that separates labor from its time immemorial tug of war with its exploiter.

On this 125th anniversary of May Day, it’s time to rededicate ourselves, but not to the old tug of war. It is time to do different things,  to recognize the new nodal point at which we stand, to introduce the new ideas of our own era. Paying homage to the Haymarket martyrs does not mean bowing to nostalgia. It means recognizing the way that they broke with shackles of their times to migrate into their new era.  There is a metaphorical way in which we are now all immigrants.  The borderline on which we stand is the end of the era dominated by corporate-private-property, on the verge of potential economic abundance.  We must move, we must emigrate, but we cannot run away.  No matter what, the people must reorganize society in their interest, or corporations will  organize society to destroy humanity. The fate of humanity depends on what we do.

In addition to the sources in the text above, the following are essential resources:

Haymarket Revisited, William J Adelman (Illinois Labor History Society, 2004)

Haymarket Scrapbook, Franklin Rosemont and David Roediger, (Charles H Kerr, 1986)

Will The Wolf Survive? An Essay on Identity by Lew Rosenbaum

A map of the earthen walls on the bluff overlooking the Little Miami River at Fort Ancient.

A year ago, when I first decided to go to my 50th high school reunion, I recognized that there was an element of nostalgia involved.  I’m 67 now, almost 68 in fact, and I wonder what happened to those 50 years that intervened, when no one else in my high school annual has changed one iota.  According to their pictures, that is, which remain frozen, unlike the change visible in my mirror daily.  Who was I then, I wondered, and how did I become who I am today?

With both Diana and me free to take a longer trip, I made some extensive plans to visit places we knew, as well as to explore places new to us. In retrospect, what happened was a quest for identity, but not, as might be gathered from the first paragraph, simply a personal identity.  Here is what happened.

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In Southern Ohio, the Ohio River valley, native peoples built the epicenter of an extensive cultural network, beginning more than 2,000 years ago.  From 200 BCE to about 600 CE, culturally related peoples we call “mound builders” ranged from as far north as what is now the Canadian border and upstate New York to Florida, west to Oklahoma and Minnesota.  They appear to have lived in family groups of perhaps 50, often in semi-permanent, year-round locations for perhaps several years until resources such as fire-wood were exhausted.  They did not depend on agriculture;  instead they found abundant animal and vegetable food in the prairies and woodlands where they lived, only supplementing this primary food source with gardening. Diet seems to have been very good.  Corn or maize was not a major source of calories for the Hopewell cultures of Southern Ohio, as they have been named (after the settler, Mordecai Hopewell, on whose property the first mound excavations were undertaken). Although many people lived into their 60’s, the average age appears to have been about 35 (many seem to have died in childhood or infancy).

At Fort Ancient, people began building these earthen walls 2,000 years ago.

Evidence seems to indicate that people spent relatively little time reproducing their means of survival.  Leisure was a significant characteristic of their lifestyle.  With their leisure, the Hopewell peoples learned much about their environment and built massive earthen architectural wonders that demonstrate this knowledge.  In other words, they lived in small groups and had a relatively short life-span, still they surmounted these obstacles to build multi-generational, multi-family walls through which the people could read and celebrate the solstices and a complex 18.6 year lunar cycle.  Within these walls, burial and ceremonial mounds were built, some as high as the mounds we have come to associate with Egyptians’ pyramids and Inca temples.

The first archeologists called these earthen walls “forts.”  Drawing on the experience of their own century, they believed the early peoples built these walls to protect them against their enemies.  But they could not explain on this basis the many gaps in the walls surrounding “Fort Ancient.” This highest point in Southern Ohio lies on a plateau overlooking river valleys. Here Hopewell peoples built walls along the perimeter of this bluff, several miles of earthen works 3 to 6 feet in height. Near the structure that now houses the Fort Ancient Museum are four small mounds.  What distinguishes these otherwise nondescript mounds is that they are at the corners of a perfect square, 512 feet apart.  From one of these mounds one can sight, through gaps, significant astronomical events, e.g. the setting solstice sun.  This kind of formation is found elsewhere in Southern Ohio as well, hundreds of miles away, showing that the knowledge had been communicated throughout the area.  Further, the amount of earth that was moved to create these mounds means a huge amount of surplus labor was available, more than any one group of 50 could muster, perhaps more than any multiple of groups of one generation could bring together.

Around Chillicothe is the Hopewell National Historical Area, with at least four different mound groups having similar geometrical alignments, oriented in the same directions and perhaps

Map showing the geometrical formations aligned to astronomical events typical of a number of Hopewell sites.

connected to the same astronomical observations. East of Columbus, at Newark, the “great circle” gives another example of the massive scale of the Hopewell ceremonial spaces, again a geometrically complex place only limited by the fact that a golf course now occupies the sacred ground of the square and smaller circles. This pooling of social labor and accumulation of empirical information required a highly complex social organization.

And yet there is no indication that this complexity resulted in (or from) a need to defend themselves.  There is no indication of enemies, no indication of warfare or weaponry (aside from the weaponry required for hunting food).  The Hopewell legacy began to die out and was gone by about 600 CE.  It disappeared.  Only to be replaced around 500 years later by a culture that did have enemies, conducted some form of warfare, built stockades to protect themselves, and, perhaps most significantly, now subsisted on agriculture, primarily corn.

Who were these new people? Were they really “new,” or did their life style gradually change to one which was more labor intensive, allowed for less leisure?  Why did they abandon their ceremonial structures (the Great Serpent — the longest effigy mound, more than a quarter of a mile in length — lies near Peebles, Ohio)?  There are no texts, no oral tradition to tell us.  What we do know is that an economic revolution took place that was independent of anyone’s will, and that between 500 CE and 1200 CE native peoples crossed a chasm.  It was the same leap that took place throughout the world, starting as early as 10,000 years ago, cultivating rice in Southeast Asia.  This leap, this nodal point, describes the change between a cooperative society within which some hierarchy is evident without economic classes to a new, class driven hierarchy. While some societies survive today in this earlier stage, there is no evidence that societies that have made this leap have crossed the chasm back to an earlier stage.

The Seip Mound, located near Chillicothe, Ohio, rises at least 30 feet in height and is part of a geometrical formation aligned to astronomical observation.

There is a philosophical outlook — dialectics — that helps to explain this leap. Change takes place through uneven, back and forth motion that accumulates quantitatively until a point is reached, an eruption takes place, and the change that emerges is qualitative.  Something new emerges, something that can not be stuffed back into the skin from where it came.

When we talk about the dialectics of human societal development, the usual argument proceeds from metaphor or analogy. The butterfly cannot re-enter the cocoon,  You cannot stuff the baby back in the womb, return to pregnancy and pre-pregnancy.  The evolutionary process proceeds, not in a circle to return to the same place from which it started, but in a spiral.  Perhaps we reason thus because that is the only way we can understand these complex processes.  To my mind, it is not much different from attributing these changes to the gods. True, we have much more empirical data.  But we are not dealing with babies, only new processes to which we attribute the human characteristics of babies.  We are not dealing with orbits of planets or DNA

The wall around the Great Circle at Newark, Ohio, was built by digging a trench on both sides of the wall and massing the dirt thus excavated.

structures, but motion to which we attribute characteristics similar to planetary relations, similar to nucleic acid structure.

How then can dialectics go beyond metaphor to help explain the leap?

The peoples who lived in the Americas 5,000 years ago were humans, of that there is no doubt, according to any scientific definition of our species. In that sense, I am identical with them, though my direct ancestry lies elsewhere. They are nevertheless my people; I claim them as my ancestors. What angers me is that I never learned about these remarkable peoples in school.  I am outraged that my schooling took away my history from me.  MY history is what I’ve lost. My journey to Southern Ohio was a quest to identify what makes me human, what is the essence of my humanity, what is not as immediate as my Eastern European ancestors who fled the Czar, but more fundamental to my presence on earth?

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In Pittsburgh a few days later, visiting my niece, Robin Alexander, we went to the Children’s Museum to see the art work installed by Mayumi

Art work created by children under the direction of Mayumi Matsuo “floats” in the hall

Matsuo, Artist in Residence from Hiroshima.  Matsuo worked with young children to produce floating panels, hung in a hallway, on the theme Remembering Hiroshima, Imagining Peace. We were fortunate to be accompanied by the artist, who completed the installation by inscribing, using traditional Japanese brush calligraphy, the character that represented her title for the exhibit:  Harmony.

Robin was one of the coordinators of a series of events remembering Hiroshima in Pittsburgh.  One small exhibit at Carlow University included photographs of the devastation within a month following the bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Also represented were puppets, sculpture, drawings by Pittsburgh artists responding to the devastation, condemning this chapter in our history.

This devastation was barely 1400 years since Hopewell.  Yet we who dropped the bombs are the same human species.  How did we get this far from the cooperative society of that time?  Who are we that we are capable of such contradictory activity?  What is the dialectic that unites us?

The easy way out is to blame this on Europeans, or the European influence, or racism.  The reality is the Europeans crossed this same chasm only a few thousand years earlier; and their ancestors only a few thousand years before that in other parts of the world.  The blink of an eye in the totality of our anthropological existence.

The tools of destruction Hopewellians employed were limited to chipped flint, mined at a ridge not far from Newark, Ohio, and used widely throughout the Hopewell distribution.  How did we get to tools of destruction not at all related to finding food?  What leap got us to atomic weapons, where the photographic evidence confronting us showed humans evaporated from the intensity of  heat? There were children destroyed in Hiroshima 55 years ago;  today children in Pittsburgh “remembered” them with bright colors and pastels, a hope for a new harmony  belied every day by American drones bombing Afghanistan, by Israeli bombs in Palestine, by the bombs of the powerful pounding the powerless. What do I identify with here?  What is my identity in this mass of contradiction?

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Along the Finger Lakes, on the way up to the Adirondacks.

Leaving Pittsburgh, we drove north, in the rain, through Erie to Bath, along the finger lakes to Cranberry Lake, finally to Lake Placid.  The home of the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980 is today a town filled with tourists and shops for them.  Just south of the town is the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, some 240 acres purchased from Garret Smith, a wealthy New York merchant who was also an abolitionist.  In 1849 John Brown moved his family to the vicinity, then called the Lake Elba area, on land provided by Smith to settle free blacks.   Smith was fundamentally a Jeffersonian Democrat, who took the idea of the yeoman farmer seriously.  He used his wealth to give free blacks an opportunity to own land. Smith called his project Timbuktu.

Brown surveyed the land, helped teach the new farmers fresh from the city how to grow crops, and then bought the land on which to situate his family. But “Old Brown” was committed to the abolition of institution of slavery more than to the establishment of a few independent farmers;  he left his wife and

John Brown’s farm house, with the barn in the background.

daughters on the farm, taking his sons with him to Kansas to insure that the territory entered the union as a free state.  Once he left Kansas, he traveled the country raising money for the cause of abolition, a task which culminated for him when he and a group of followers seized the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859.  Surrounded by federal troops led by General Robert E. Lee, Brown himself was badly wounded and many of his followers killed, including two of his sons.  Brown survived long enough to be executed.

From the time he left Lake Elba to the attack on Harper’s Ferry, John Brown visited his farm only seven times.  Mary Brown and her daughters had help from the neighbors (certainly the families settled in Timbuktu — the name of one of these settlers, Lyman Epps is engraved in one of the ceiling beams in the original Brown house, which remains on the site).  Life was exceedingly difficult in winters where the temperature reaches 30 below zero. the effects of which were mitigated by the assistance of neighbors. Running water was not available, the snow piles up in huge drifts, the wind sweeps off of White Face Mountain almost through the timbers of the houses themselves.  It is difficult today to imagine the effort that it took to have enough wood around to boil the water needed to bake one or two loaves of bread daily and to provide the heat for the winter.  One can see some evidence of it with stockpiles of wood next to Adirondack houses all along the way, none as much as would have been necessary to get through a winter then.

Old Brown’s “thinking rock”

With the growing season so short, the main crop was potatoes in 1849 to 1859, sold to the starch mill in town.   Potatoes are still the main agricultural crop for any who choose to farm such an unyielding land.  Of the original Timbuktu settlers, only one family lasted into the twentieth century.  The Epps family survived because Lyman Epps did not depend solely on farming for his income: he taught voice lessons as well.  The others left Lake Elba, driven away by their lack of experience (they were all city dwellers, unaccustomed to farming) and the difficult challenge the soil and climate presented any who dared to take it up.

Imagine “Old Brown” — the road to the farm is “Old John Brown Road” — taking respite here after his war in Kansas; after strenuous journeys arguing here and there about the need to abolish slavery; coming back to Lake Elba, sitting at the large rock a hundred yards or so from his house (he called it his thinking rock), wondering where he could go next for support for his project;  plotting his next steps toward the seizure of Harper’s Ferry; writing letters to those he hoped would support him in his endeavors; talking with his sons about what would follow Harper’s Ferry.

Brown is buried here, as are his two sons killed at Harper’s Ferry and 10 other comrades killed there as well.  Brown was hanged at Charleston.  His execution initiated a firestorm of protest throughout the North.  A year and a half later the country was engulfed in a bloody civil war that ended chattel slavery.  Ten years after the civil war was over, the first national strike of workers erupted, evidence of the transformation that had taken place in the country.  Marx, writing about the American Civil War, said that the abolition of slavery would allow the organization of labor to proceed with “seven-league boots” across the land.  The last quarter of the nineteenth century proved him

Two of John Brown’s sons were killed at Harpers Ferry. They are buried here with John Brown and the other martyrs of that battle.

prophetic. This is not to say that the American Civil War ended racism or exploitation of ex-slaves. It did not initiate a paradise for workers. One cannot ignore, however, the historical consequence of the federal expropriation of the largest investment in private property in North America at the time:  4 million human chattel slaves.

Standing at the grave site;  standing next to John Brown’s thinking rock; standing in the farm house where Mary Brown and her daughters toiled those many years; I could only feel I was standing on sacred ground, sacred as any ground in the United States of America, sacred as the ground trod by the Stono rebels in South Carolina, 1739, more than a century before Brown was executed.  Sacred, in its way, as the Hopewell ceremonial grounds.

Here, after all, were buried martyrs who had struggled against an institution embedded in our history since 1619, codified in our own Constitution of 1789, and defended by our political leaders almost universally until the emancipation proclamation.  This is, after all, the great cause, without the understanding of which the Mexican War, the Trail of Tears, and the Spanish American War are incomprehensible. If we hope to grasp our identity as Americans, we had better grapple with the contradictions that emerged as the American Civil War of 1861- 1877.

The dialectics of the Civil War involve much more than the battle against slavery as such.  For the end of the Civil War found Americans enslaved again — this time in a form of peonage called sharecropping in the South, now along with what workers in the North had come to call “wage slavery.”  By the end of the century, with Wall Street clearly in control of the South, American finance capital had broken the back of Southern agriculture’s hold.  To paraphrase the words of W.E.B. DuBois,  Wall Street controlled the South and the South controlled the nation (on behalf of Wall Street).  An economic revolution independent of the will of the American worker, slave, industrial capitalist, or slave-owner had swept across the country, driving all before it. The American landscape was fundamentally different afterwards.

But not as fundamentally different as when the Hopewell “disappeared,” only to be replaced by an agricultural people.  That was a world historic change from property in common to private property. The U.S. Civil War marked a change from one form of private property to another, a nodal point of a different kind, from one form of capitalist property in agriculture to another form under the heel of capitalist industry.

How does this help me in my quest for identity?  I stand on the hallowed ground of Lake Elba and sob for my ancestors who fought against slavery, ancestors from whom I am perhaps only slightly more directly descended than from my Hopwellian kin. I know my identity does not lie with “Old Brown’s” antagonists.  Perhaps now, however, I can begin to parse the human identity that puzzles me about the chasm between people  — whether between the Hopewell and their descendants or between the slaves and the slave-holders.  What then is the meaning of identity?

*             *             *

There is, of course, the question of who I am now versus who I was 50 years ago.  Humans go through different stages of development in our lifetime.  The riddle of the sphinx is one (physical) way of approaching this question:  What animal walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs ant noon, and as night approaches walks on 3 legs?  Of course this riddle has its mental or cultural equivalent (and can be related to our changes as a species as well).  Seeing so many of my classmates from 50 years ago helped me again to appreciate the physical and cultural aspect of this riddle.  We are not the same people we were 50 years ago.  That is why I looked forward to this opportunity to apologize to one of my classmates for being such a beastly child. I was also eager to see how people had changed, who was doing what.  I was not prepared for how few of my classmates I remembered at all.  Which speaks to how isolated, how much of a recluse I was as a child.

Much of what I knew as a child is now gone.  Gone in the scheme of urban renewal foisted on New Haven by the Yale Corporation.  Housing projects and “drug free zones” occupy the  Shelton-Dixwell neighborhood in which I grew up. Newhall Street, which ran along the train tracks a couple of blocks from where I lived, demarcated black from white in those days.  That boundary has been obliterated;  last I saw it, the Stetson Library on the corner of Dixwell and Thompson had been abandoned.  The house where I lived while in high school, on Chapel St. one house west of The (now Ella Grasso) Boulevard, is in disrepair along with the rest of the neighborhood.

Further west on Chapel Street is Edgewood Ave. Park  on one side, a forbidding marsh on the other, and then Yale Bowl, the citadel of Yale football. When I was 13 or 14 I walked to the Bowl one Saturday, sat  freezing in the end zone, and took pictures with my new Ansco camera during the all-important game with Harvard. But for the next four years that I lived there, I never walked even a few blocks further west, to what we called “Westville.”  That was a different boundary, a boundary that still holds, though my eyes see it a bit differently today.  That was where the “rich folks” lived.  It was where I did not belong. I knew this without going there. Somehow I absorbed through my integument that I would not be welcome there.   Even further west than that were the country clubs, (like Grassy Hills, where the reunion banquet was held in Orange).  I would listen to the dismissive voices of my mother and father talking about the opulence of these places.  This was where the wealthy Jews, who were not welcome in the goyishe clubs, would gather and lord it over their poorer relatives.

Today the dilapidated housing of West Chapel Street ends with the marsh, a few houses from where I lived.  Where houses take up again, on the other side of the Bowl, they are what might be termed “middle class” today — the disappearing section of the working class that each candidate appeals to when he or she decries raising taxes on “the middle class.”  The wealth of corporate America has penetrated downtown, around the village green, and surrounding the historic 3 churches on the green, butting up against the Yale buildings that dominate the center of town, making New Haven appear a vibrant community. A Barnes & Noble has taken over/displaced the venerable Yale Co-op.

These are not the streets I walked with my mother, to visit the communist-sympathizer dentist who fixed her dentures at a price she could afford to pay.  These are not the streets to which my family escaped to have a rare night out at the Chinese restaurant — the first floor joint called the Chungking, where my father always ordered “subgum chow mein” and my mother chicken chow mein for 95 cents each; or, if we were feeling ritzy, the Far East across the street, on the second floor,  a large room with fancier waiters, where sitting at a window table commanded a view of the bustling street below.

This is now, that was 50 years ago.  The city is not the same, nor am I.  Identity.  You can’t make an antagonism into an identity, even when that antagonism emerged from an “identity.”

*                *               *

I began this exploration with a hidden premise:  that I (we) have become what I (we) have because of the leap taken by humanity all across the globe, but typified by the Hopewell peoples of Southern Ohio somewhere around one thousand years ago.  The leap from a cooperative society came about to correspond to an economic revolution happening independently of the will of the individuals transformed by it.  That revolution is the fundamental turning point that led to Hiroshima and the Hubble telescope, with all the ambiguity and potentiality that implies.  The ambiguity and potentiality convinces me to obsess over antagonism and identity.  I’m trying to find out who I am. There is an old turn of phrase that answers the question “Where do you come from”? by answering  “My people are from Vilna.”  But a Lakota saying has it that “We are all related.”  In part this search for identity transcends the narrow meaning of that word, embraces the universal, claims a heritage in the species wherever it is.  In part the search also recognizes divisions and walls that arose (in the mound building areas of North America) only about 1000 years ago, hence recognizes an identity in a common group of propertyless in all social formations, rejects the formulation that all men are my brothers.

How we are “all” related is not the same quest as trying to understand the gulf that separates me from early humans, where class divisions do not yet exist.  Yet it is connected.  Now I want to find out how to leap the chasm that is opening again, but not to go back to what once was. I want to understand the emergence from the chrysalis of classless society into agriculture, in order to understand the development of the cocoon called capitalism.  That cocoon is disintegrating.

Here’s the problem.  The objective destruction of capitalist relations means the destruction of the value of the worker.  Not that what the worker has produced is worthless, can’t be used. Instead, what the worker has produced contains less and less labor-power embedded within it.  The use of the worker in production is eliminated, therefore his or her value (in terms of wages) is eliminated, and therefore she/he is unable to buy what is produced.  This schism separating buyer from seller forces the question of distribution of the socially produced wealth — whether automobiles, health care or education — back to the forefront.  It makes the distribution what is produced by the intricate web we call society something that should be organized on the basis of need rather than ability to pay. This transition converts the social product owned by capitalists to property owned by society.  That means the revolution also forces what is now capital to figure out how to cross the same chasm that will end capitalism while maintaining private property.  These are antagonistic interests.  In the face of an objective movement to distribute goods and resources according to need, the only way to maintain the extortion of payment is by violence. In my book that is the new form of fascism.

Who says, “We can’t go back”?  Those who refuse to embrace a culture in which childhood death is frequent (and hence life span is short), in which the store of food, while normally abundant, is still insecure;  in which peoples who strive to communicate with each other are severely limited.  In a million different ways, the collective survival of our species as we exist today renounces, both consciously and unconsciously, going back to that kind of existence even with its advantages.  Working more became a trade-off for the survival of increasing numbers in a way that facilitates the communicative (evolutionary) strengths of human socialization.

But what about if we are at another nodal point, another chasm, and another revolutionary change that is objective is propelling the motion forward, independently of human will.  A nodal point that offers choices about working  for what we want and love.  A vision of what is possible:  a new kind of abundance, so different from early society,  where childhood death is minimized,  resources are conserved for all, and where the biological imperative of collective survival uses the gifts developed by cooperative human evolution. What is different at this juncture is that the experience of the last 10,000 years can be summed up consciously. While the corporate capitalist class does not do this, we can and must make decisions that will assist our surviving the leap.  Or we can abrogate our historic responsibility.  If we have learned anything from the motion of the last 10,000 years, it should reflect how classes emerge, take control, and preserve their interests in a changing world.  This was true in the leap from Hopewell to Fort Ancient, from hunter to cultivator.  It was true at the time of the leap from agriculture to industry in the Civil War. 

What class is emerging now that is the special product of the revolution we are undergoing? What is required to maintain the infrastructures we have built?  Libraries have been destroyed in the past, accumulated knowledge torched.  Yet humans have rebounded again and again.  What is to say that the conversion to digital libraries will not again lead to the destruction of those examples of accumulated knowledge?  Are ethereal libraries more fragile than those “brick and mortar” libraries that preceded the digital?

Who has the most interest in seeing this accumulated knowledge generalized, preserved, augmented so that all can benefit? Without a doubt, the class in power today has demonstrated that it can destroy the capacity of humans to survive.  While it strives to maintain its control of private property, the corporate class has embarked on a suicidal course for our species.  As the corporations continue to play havoc with the ecological and political environment, the special product of the new economic revolution is a class that is moving in the direction of permanent separation from employment under capitalism.  This vast majority of human beings is the only group who can be educated for and trusted with the stewardship of — rather partnership with — the earth.